God Bless Middle-aged Daughters

As I walk into the skilled nursing center where Mom is rehabilitating, I see other women like myself and think, “God bless middle-aged daughters.”

We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen.

On the street, we often go unnoticed, although we’re attractive. We dress well, but in age-appropriate clothes. No six-inch heels or short skirts. We may carry 10 to 20 extra pounds, but we’re fit, trim, and solid enough to carry the weight of the world.

On our lunch hour, after work, or during weekend visits, we go see our failing mothers and fathers. We bring them flowering plants small enough to fit on a bedside table/hard candy/clean sox/good cheer.

We comb their hair and smooth hand cream on their veiny hands and swollen feet. Once they could manage a demanding job or their family’s busy schedule, keep track of birthdays, recipes and grocery lists, but now they can’t remember what you told them five minutes ago, so we answer the same questions again and again. The times they emerge from the twilight, smile and say, “Oh honey, I wish you could always be here,” are heartbreaking treasure.

As we go back to the office, drive home, or head to the airport, we sigh at the slippage and blink back tears at the losses. Then we put on our game face because somebody else needs us. We keep moving—plan the marketing campaign, schedule the meeting, throw in a load of wash, or make a decent dinner.

We are careworn. Our lives are not glamorous (and never were—we didn’t aspire to that). We don’t expect much. We can be made happy with so little—a compliment when we don’t feel sexy or a hug from a kid who often seems oblivious.

Photo credit: Bokal @ Vecteezy.com

Photo credit: Bokal @ Vecteezy.com

Sometimes we need to push back our realities for a little while, so we laugh ourselves silly over a stupid joke when we’re out with our girlfriends or sink into the sofa and pour a second glass of good wine.

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Leaving Elmview

As I do the messy tiring work of moving my Mom from her 3-bedroom home to a senior apartment, what is surprising to me is that I am so dry-eyed. But this isn’t the house I grew up in. It’s the smaller, all-on-one-floor place my parents bought when they retired at  52 (!!!—so envious) after my siblings and I had all moved out.

After more than 30 years of being houseguest here, I have these memories:

Wide awake at 5:38 a.m.

Wide awake at 5:38 a.m.

Lying awake in this guest bedroom. Up too early. Up too late. Anxious. In 1979, this unfamiliar room still felt like a refuge from Minnesota, where I was homesick and overwhelmed in my first year of teaching. In the summer of 1982, I spent several weeks here after my Minnesota teaching job ended and before my Missouri teaching job started. I was heartsick, missing a guy who was no good for me. I felt trapped and scared. I didn’t want the Missouri teaching job, but it was tenure-track and I needed a job. I schemed and schemed but couldn’t come up with any alternative, except unemployment and living with my parents until I found work. I didn’t know I would meet my husband in Missouri. In 2011, I could barely sleep after my Dad died. Grief wound me up and I made lists for the funeral, sent emails, and worked on the eulogy my husband would give because none of the rest of us could do it. Today, I again sit in this bed with my laptop propped on a pillow. It’s 5:38 a.m., and I’m up for the day. Soon enough I’ll get up and resume packing.

I have good memories of this house, too.  The sunny dining room where I have spent so many mornings with Dad and Mom, drinking coffee and reading The Blade. Placemats and breakfast crumbs scattered. Dad and I (the morning people) were up before Mom, and often we had some of our best talks then. Every morning when Mom wandered in sleepy and a little dazed, Dad gave her a big hug and kiss, and then patted her rear, a ritual that made them both laugh. Mom and I still take our time over coffee every morning.

Coffee with Mom and Margo

Coffee with Mom and Margo

The dining room was the scene of many spaghetti and meatball dinners made especially for my sons and husband. When we visited in the summer, Dad grilled steak/hamburgs/pork chops to go with the sweet corn and tomatoes. When we ate here, my guys had to remember to pause to say grace before eating, something we are lax about at home. For years, my guys peeled 10 lbs. of potatoes on newspapers spread over the dining room table, so there’d be enough mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s. On birthdays, the table stretched to accommodate 10, 15 or more as the birthday person blew out candles and cut and passed cake.

During visits, my sons slept on sleeping bags in the small warm office—one guy with his head under the behemoth of a desk Dad made (his first attempt at furniture). The other guy slept wedged near the closet door. Both guys slept surrounded by their Gameboys/iPods/cell phones/laptops (their electronic toys evolved over the years). One wall of the room is filled with shelves where Mom stored board (I’m bored) games, dolls and toys for when grandkids visited. Though the space was crowded, especially lately, now that my boys are men, they didn’t seem to mind. Or maybe they did, but they didn’t complain.

Countless times during visits, one of us heard a tap on the door of the only bathroom and someone said, “I really need to get in there. Are you almost done?” desperation clear in their voice.

porchSome of my favorite memories are of sitting on the screened porch in my nightie on summer mornings while the air was still cool and fresh, drinking coffee and reading. I also loved eating dinner with the sun filtering through the blinds, while an occasional breeze lifted and resettled them. After dinner, Dad would sit in his black rocker while the rest of us sat in miscellaneous lawn chairs, drinking wine and talking as the heat gradually left the day and crickets began their evening song.