Jun 26, 2007

84-Year Old Granny Hikes 125 Steps.
Or: Family Visit

Life kind of stopped for the past couple of weeks. My 84-year old mother and my 11 year old niece came to visit us. Niece Emily came for four days and my mother stayed on for a full week.

The week prior, Larry and I had an argument. We don't have many. It's remarkable how well we get along and manage to work through disagreements. But this time we both got hurt. We resolved it later that night, talked about it again the following day. But for the next week we were tip-toeing around, the distance around us expanding and contracting like a jellyfish. finally the night before our guests were to arrive, we talked about it. We both still felt hurt and raw. Relationship books and seminars make it seem like, all you gotta do is talk it out and it resolves things. It does to an extent. But feelings remain.

Friday just as I was running out the door to the airport, I got an email from Lar. He'd had a revelation . "I was making you responsible for my feelings. I had to slap myself silly on the way to work. Come on Lar, be a man."

That's mojo.

We were worried about how on earth my mother was going to make it up the 125 steps from the street to the house. My mother is frail at 84. She had a stroke that left her weakened and damaged her language skills and short term memory.

But lo and behold Mom marched up the steps. One at a time. I had placed a chair at the half way point, but she declined, and kept going. Way to go, Mom!

My niece is only 11 years old. Her parents are very protective of their kids. They moved to rural Colorado in part to get away from the debauchery of the American culture. My friend Lori Rooney pointed out, billboards for American Apparel with teenage girls in sexually suggestive positions. Come on, do we really need adverts for pedophilia?

We drove to Blockbuster to pick up "March of the Penguins," a safe G-rated film that had received great reviews. Emily and I walked into the M section and there sat a soft core porn DVD. Hot chicks in bikinis french kissing each other. I maneuvered myself in front of her and got out of that aisle. But I still couldn't avoid tthe death metal rock on the loudspeakers.
I'm sorry about that, I told Emily.
She shrugged. That's OK. We get it in Colorado too.

How could she not? The supermarket check out is littered with People and Us magazines.

Larry and I were both excited about entertaining Emily. It was her first big adventure away from home. But we were concerned with how well my mom would fare in the heat and the exertion of the steps. I got a free wheelchair on loan from the Convalescent Aid Society. We pushed Mom down to the beach, to Griffith Observatory, we went on walks through Pasadena, past Craftsman homes. And we sat at home and ate scones, we watched Peter Pan and What's Up Doc. Both twice.

My niece is such a creative, expressive, gentle, funny, and beautiful young girl. We were delighted to have her.

When Emily left the house got noticeably quiet. But it was nice to have time just with my mom. My mother and I never got much time together, alone, just the two of us. It wasn't until 1999 when she came to New York to visit me. A year and a half later she had her stroke that would rob her of some speech, mobility, and short term memory.

It was great for Larry to spend some time with Mom. During our quick courtship, Mom was in Colorado, except for a few days around the wedding, and a couple of days over Thanksgiving. So she got to know him this visit.

"Your husband is very nice," she said when he was at work. "I'm so glad you married him."
"Me too."
"He's a very lucky man."
"And I'm a lucky woman."

Mom's vocabulary is damaged from her stroke. She can't find the word, she'll talk around it until you say the right word and she'll remember. I was "Emily" some times. Larry was "husband." Oddly enough, her Spanish is impeccable. She chatted up the waiters and busboys at restaurants, and chatted back when she heard it on the street or in parks. Perfectamente. Makes me want to re-learn Spanish, just to have conversations with her.

The oddest moment was the day Emily left. Mom asked if Emily had gone back (short term memory loss). When I reminded her we had taken her to the airport she said, "Yes of course. ... But you.. When does YOUR little girl wake up?" I reminded her I don't have children. "No, but you have a daughter." I wondered if she was trying to say husband or Larry. I convinced her I did not have any children, and when I asked if she meant 'my husband Larry? He's at work,' she brushed it off. I think she tried to cover for herself.

My mom climbed the stairs every day without a problem. Until the second to the last day. she had been walking along a flat section and reached for the railing. I think she grabbed the light cord instead and fell back. I was a distance behind her when I heard her cry "OH!" and heart a horrible thud. I found her lying on her side. She had a huge bump on the back of her head, but she said she was alright. I brought down a chair and some ice. We sat for about 20 minutes, and then she climbed up. She was fine in the end, but it was a terrifying moment.

It has given me a lot of respect for my sister's family, who take care of mom mostly year round. It's also reminded me that it's a privilege and honor to care for your parents. And it's also reminded me that the chance to serve her may not go on much longer.

We were standing in the kitchen one afternoon. She took my hands and said, "I remember you once said you couldn't go on without me, Susie."
"I remember that too."
Well, you'll do just fine," she smiled.
"You mean, now that I have Larry?"
"Okay but please don't go just yet."
"Okay not yet."


Stephanie said...

Susan, for proof of the veracity of this statement, you can ask Larry ... and you can believe me when I say this. You don't need to worry too much about Emily - I'll tell you why.

She is growing up with a HABIT of trust. Her parents are teaching her that God can be trusted - counted on - the way they can be. Because she is growing up with Trust as her native tongue, she will not be at much risk for the blatant and gross temptations of the frenetic world around her. It's not that her life will be easy because of it -- it's that she is becoming strong and straight and true. A girl who grows up like that - intact like that - she's going to be able to handle her life. I know this.

Lori said...

That's a rocking Marvin the Martian t-shirt Larry has on. And it's so cool to see pics of you people enjoying the house.

robyn blaikie collins said...

my dad was recently diagnosed with cancer... and don't you think that facing mortality like that, right up in it's fact ...makes the loving richer, the words more important than they've ever been and the touches invaluable. what a gift we've been given, this microscope on our "now"... and it appears you've received this same push from the Holy Spirit. he is so good to teach us what we need to know, when we can hear it.
i bet when your mom left and you said "I love you!" You meant it more than you ever have...

until the next time,
your new friend...robyn collins

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