If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother

Adair Lara's funny and touching essay about growing up and making peace with her mother.



I now see her shelves of literary biographies and plays (before I noticed only the film biographies), the piano, the surprisingly good landscapes she’s painted over the years. I ask questions about her childhood. Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that my mother, once a big mom-blur wearing some sort of turquoise or pink, a snappish mom or friendly mom or whatever other mom I projected onto her on any particular day, might even be an actual ordinary person. (My adult daughter, Morgan, still believes that I am a figure in mom-shaped clothes that deflates when she leaves the room. As connected as we are, she glazes over when I prattle on about a problem at work or some such. I can imagine the day when she cocks her own graying head at me and says something like, “Tell me something I don’t know about you.”)

My mother has been receiving care from a home hospice organization for a year and 10 months, to those fine folks’ consternation (the average is 10 days). We play Scrabble so much, I can’t read the paper without thinking, Crux—I should make that word next time I get an X and a C. I can buy clothes for her now. It’s as if I couldn’t before because I never noticed what she wore. I ignore her lifelong aversion to being touched—the woman has never had a  manicure!—and muss her hair playfully, getting a big surprised smile. I even tease her about backseat driving. (She says, “What are you waiting for?” I say, “For there to be no other cars on the road at all. Safer that way.”) I got her a toy wheel for her side of the car. Last week she said, “You never called up and asked me for cooking advice.” When I stopped laughing, I said, “Mom, why would I do that? You cook badly, and I don’t cook at all.” I reminded her that we used to say, “This is good. Just like Mom used to try to make.”

Her friends envy her—so many daughters! I think this time in hospice has been among my mother’s happiest, because we are no longer judging her needs or feeling bullied by them, but simply doing our best to do what she wants. “Everybody’s being so nice to me,” she says. “Somebody must have raised us well,” I answer.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I said, “I love you, Mom,” as if I’d been saying it to her all her life. And she said back, “I love you too, even though you let the cat out.”

The author's mother passed away as this article went to press.

Adair Lara is the author of  Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter and an Adolescence Survived, The Granny Diaries: An Insider's Guide for New Grandmothers and Naked, Drunk and Writing. She also teaches writing classes and does manuscript consultations.

Originally published in the December 2007/January 2008 edition of MORE.

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