Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Role rehearsal

When I was EB's age, I don't think I had ever at that point seen my mother cry. She was, and still is, a stoic. Earbaby's grandmother, my mother, is 88 years old, yet I can count on one hand, with many fingers left over, the number of times I've seen her cry. She wept a little at her own mother's death, and even a little at news of a train accident because she thought some of her work friends traveled that way  (no one she knew was hurt). But she was still stoic, although sad, when my father died. Anger is a more familiar emotion than true sadness for her, and I can say that even when I've heard tears in her voice, I've never heard outright sobbing. Ever.

So as my mother moves slowly closer to the end of her days on this plane, my sisters and I find it harder to actually take care of her. She is used to taking care of herself, and her family. The vulnerability that I'm learning about myself is unfamiliar to her. I believe she would consider being vulnerable as a character flaw. She doesn't understand that asking for and accepting help from your loved ones is a sign of strength, not weakness. She's gradually loosening the reins of control and allowing her daughters and granddaughters, the extended family of nieces, great nephews and great nieces, do their part in the role reversal of caretaking.

I'm different from my mother. I'm only stoic to a point. When I knew I was going to have surgery, I tried not to make it such a big deal. After all, even though the surgery was serious and invasive, I was hardly at death's door. Even a drama queen like me knows how to dial it back. I briefly mentioned it to a couple of coworkers that I would be out a few weeks, asked my pastor to pray with me the morning of my surgery, and made sure my family knew when I was out of surgery and safely into recovery.

But that whole thing about not crying? Not me. For one thing, I'm a crybaby from way back. I was a big crybaby growing up. You could elicit tears just by looking at me cross-eyed. Seriously.

I've since learned not to take any perceived slights or teasing as grievously as during my elementary school days, but I am still inclined to cry. I joke that just about anything emotional can get me started. EB's first dance recital at age 4, a sad movie or television show, the car commercial when the dad is looking at his daughter behind the wheel and imagining her to be about 8 years old, supermarket openings ... let's face it, I'm usually a mess.

All of this embarrasses EB. When we attended a ball game on the Fourth of July, there was an emotional presentation before the first pitch when one of the troops came on the jumbo screen to greet her family who had been invited to the game. Suddenly this brave woman's message ended and she came across the field to greet her startled family. "She's here,'' I and everyone else said. Of course with all the applause and cheers and tears from her family, my waterworks started. "Don't cry, Mom," EB repeatedly warned. Ah, she knows me so well. That's actually a familiar refrain from her, "Don't cry, Mom."

I'm not sure it's a bad thing for her to know at such a young age that Mom is fallible. I don't think it's bad for her to know that I am emotional, especially about her, that I feel physical and emotional pain, that I make mistakes (OK, rarely), and that one day I'm going to have to surrender my independence and let her help me.

She's more than equal to the task. When I came home from the hospital, she insisted on sleeping next to me (so what else is new), so she could help me. I was in intense pain and she actually was an incredible source of comfort. When I cried out, she was there, to shift pillows, get my medication, or just offer me a hug, which made me feel better. The roles briefly switched. She said, "if you need anything, Mom, just wake me up." It really wasn't that long ago that I was thinking that for her. Probably only a couple of weeks.

This past week was a dress rehearsal for 30 or more years down the road. I hope I won't go kicking and screaming like my mother is. I hope I'll trust that we've raised a loving daughter who will only want what's best for us, and will make the right decisions when we can't do for ourselves. EB still needs me to be Mom for a while longer and as I grow stronger day by day, I'm happy to re-enter that role. We've got a few years of arguing, laughing, crying (Don't cry, Mom) and living before she becomes the caretaker and I become the cared for. But this kid, she's golden. She's on the right path.

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