Two days ago my mother was transferred from the rehabilitation centre where she was sent following a recent hospitalisation back to the hospital again. Apparently the medicine she was taking for her heart was all out of whack in her bloodstream. On top of that, she is having other problems far too complex to go into here. But, she is not well and the nurses have said both that what is bothering her is fixable and she's not out of the woods yet. So, I sit and wait and call and talk to the nurses and I worry.
Let me tell you a bit about my mother. My mother was born in Boston at the end of the 20s. She was the middle child and the only girl. She was raised by intelligent and accomplished parents and with two wonderful brothers, Davy and Gil. Mom earned her Bachelor's Degree from Wells College in upstate New York. She had been accepted by Vassar, but was 'unaccepted' when they realised they had too many students from the Boston area (they had some sort of quota system then). As a young woman during the forties, she wore rolled up jeans with bobby socks and loafers; she had a portrait taken with a gardenia in her hair, she was so beautiful and just a little bit glamourous. I have no doubt my father fell in love with her at first sight, although she says her love for him developed over time. Her first impression was that he was a goofy, skinny Southern guy, overly extroverted and often telling jokes to a captive audience.
Mom is pretty brilliant. She does NY Times crossword puzzles every day and is a very accomplished bridge player. And she was a wonderful wife to my father. They were a real team - true partners. I always hoped and dreamed of having a marriage like theirs - one that was as intellectually well matched as temperamentally. My sister and I used to kid about writing a book called, 'Adult Children of Intellectuals.' Our dinner table was the place of many long and fascinating conversations about everything from Winnie-the-Pooh to Machiavelli and everything in between.
When Katie and I were little, Mom exhibited endless patience with us - letting us apply makeup to her (with resulting cheeks that had perfect circles of red from the little compact that held her red rouge), playing shoe store with her or attempting to make her breakfast in bed ('I'm sorry the eggs aren't cooked enough, Mom, but the toast was burning!'). She had some wonderful dresses for special occasions - I remember a strapless black number with a huge tulle skirt. I always thought Mom looked like a young Rosemary Clooney.
The reason my sister and I both love writing is because of her and Dad. As far back as I can remember, she loved reading to us at night. When we were unable to read for ourselves, even after we learned to read, she would read to us every night. Today,when I read 'Disobedience' by AA Milne, it is my mother's voice I hear, particularly when I come to the part where you are supposed to whisper. I remember her reading Kipling's 'Just So Stories' to us and how we would recite with her, 'For I am the cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.' She allowed our imaginations to run and we sat, entranced, as she read to us from 'Peter Pan,' or 'The Water Babies' or, my very favourite, 'A Little Princess.' How could my sister and I not have grown up with a deep love of the written word. It was so much a part of our childhood. (I once asked my mother why she never read the final chapter to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories to us. She challenged me to read it aloud to her. I didn't get very far, the tears choking me as I read about Christopher Robin telling Pooh goodbye because he was going away to school.)
As I grew, Mom and I would often share our favourite books with each other. When I discovered the wonderful Richards Adams and 'Watership Down' I quickly recommended it to Mom. After she had read it as well, we would read favourite parts out loud to each other, both of us weeping. What a pair! But she could be ever so silly as well. I remember one year, before Christmas of my senior year in college. I had had some surgery to remove some benign tumors from my inner arm and was unable to help with chores. It was horrible when the snow fell and I couldn't help them shovel the walk. But I remember, on this one occasion, that Mom came up behind me and knelt on the sofa, her arms on the back as we stared out the window at the blizzard. Then she said, very manner of factly with a very put-on Southern accent, 'My, that's a fiiiiiiine snow.' We both collapsed with laughter. One morning when my sister was home and for whom mornings were not the best time, my mother came to me and said, 'Let's go try to wake up Katie and see how ticked off she gets.' She cackled with laughter. Mom was a bit like the little girl with the little curl - when she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was naughty!'
When I had my daughter, I knew I had to name her after Mom. Not only to continue a tradition in the family, but because I wanted to honour her that way. My mother has always been a bit of mystery to me regarding her New England reserve. She rarely gets emotional about things, but after my daughter was born and I called Mom to tell her she had arrived safely, I asked Mom what she thought I named her. She repeated the name I had told her because I wanted it to be a surprise. I replied, 'No, Mom, her name is...Caroline.' I could hear her gulp loudly. 'That's lovely,' was all she could muster. She and my daughter developed a very strong bond. She and Caroline love each other very much and spent much time together when Caroline was little. She would spend days with them when I was working, helping Mom with the groceries or the laundry. There was nothing Caroline wouldn't do for Mom. We were so happy when Mom met her great-granddaughter. She has now seen Catherine twice - and she loves her as much as she loved us or my Caroline.
My relationship with my mother has been complex, as are most mother-daughter relationships. Bottom line is, despite the fact that there have been plenty of times when we have gotten on each other's nerves, I know she loves me and I love her. It is not something she says often, but I understand. And when she does say it, it means even more. She's been saying it a lot lately, as have I. And I know she counts on me to be there for her. I am there for her in spirit now, as I am so far away. But I am there and I keep her in my thoughts and heart all the time.
Why am I writing this now? I don't expect and I don't want Mom to leave yet. But I want her to read what I want to share with her and with everyone. She always asked me to remember her when I would write about Dad. I want her to have this whole blog to herself. My brilliant, elegant, funny mom.
Get better, Mom, please. I'm not ready to say goodbye yet.