i never knew how to say goodbye to you. you, the little girl who clung to her mother like a baby koala. all love and insecurity and abandonment issues carried in tidy train cases from a previous life.
i never knew how to say goodbye to you and so i never did. i averted eye contact. i snuck out. which later, i learned as you blossomed into womanhood and motherhood, had only triggered more anxiety in you. my aversion made you cling to me more tightly. mothering, back then in the 1970’s, was a slow suffocation, an endurance marathon with a side dish of tuna casserole.
all hindsight is 20/20.
i did the best i could with you. and i see how you are with your son. you’re all eye contact. you’re explanations. you’re comfort in the discomfort. and i like to think that i taught you that, perhaps from my mistakes.
the screen door gave us away and your brothers and the baby sitter couldn’t hold you back. your face pressed to the screen. we, in the datsun, reversing from the driveway. i couldn’t stop looking at your little face. tear-stained. open-mouthed screaming, “mommy!” as if i were dying. as if i would be lost to you forever. for in your five-year old mind that’s how it felt i’m sure.
i hated to think that my mother guilt ruined my evening out with your father. i deserve an evening out don’t i? some time away from you and your insistent yet quiet but never-ending needs? mothering is not for the faint of heart. mothering makes us stronger than we ever imagined. mothering makes me question every. single. decision. i. ever. had. to. make.
i think you said goodbye to me today but i’m confused. i will sleep here you say and i see the light of windows and familiar faces of people who look like us on the wall. but it’s a long hallway and too many doors and people asleep at the table and a strangely unfamiliar bathroom. yet everyone seems perfectly nice and polite and comforting.
i think you said goodbye to me today when you held my hands and kissed my cheek with a smile. those sad eyes of yours are hard to hide. you have your fathers sad eyes. little girls never grow completely free of their needs for mommy. i don’t wonder why i’m here. i just am. here. now. the light from the windows is quite lovely. there should be a bird feeder out there. i like to watch the birds.
i think you said goodbye to me today when you looked me in the eye and your words fell from your mouth like loose teeth and tooth fairies and the light from the windows is so inviting and i think i’ll sit awhile and rock because something is missing but i can’t quite put my finger on it and i’m tired from standing. maybe if i sit here awhile it’ll all come back to me. birds and flowers in the garden and a sparse closet full of my clothes and a mirror reflection of an old woman i don’t quite recognize.
over spring break i flew to virginia to move my mother into a nursing home/memory care facility. she is a 68 year old with Picks Disease. and after nearly 2 years of my father caring for her needs 24/7 it came to the inexplicably hard decision that she required more care than what we could offer at home. it was quite possibly the hardest thing i’ve ever had to do in my life. decorate an empty room as if for a college student. introduce my mother to her new space then leave here there without me, without any of us.
every. single. thing about this visit made me cry. i found myself wordless, sitting often at the beach being whipped by the wind. these words above were the only words i wrote during my time there. and i don’t always know where to put them. so they end up here. this space has proven to be part of my processing. if i let it go from my mind i can get up and keep moving forward. and so it’s what i do.
the last thing i want is for this space to become the debbie downer of dementia. but this is my reality. my life right now at this moment is very much this space. and there’s not much left to do but embrace it. as i do my mother as she is now. in all her childlike innocence with the cognitive level of a sometimes three-year old. mothering your mother as the child she might have been is one thing. being left behind as a motherless child is something else entirely.