Sunday, April 20, 2008

Living with Mom

One thing I’ve yet to talk about is the whole experience of moving my now-85-year-old mother up here to live in the cottage we built for her. It seems so normal and obvious, but it isn’t. I left home at 17 (gee, that sounds like a great start to a song….) b/c we couldn’t bear each other a minute longer. A couple of crises helped mend the fence between us, but all my adult life, my mother and I have been a once-a-week (or less) phone call and 2X/year visit relationship. Close? Sure, in some ways, not in others. We’re very different and, frankly, she’s very fragile in her way. Strong in others.

So, the idea that we would live 40 feet apart and I would cook her dinner every night would have only 10 years ago sent me into gasping hysterics of giddy laughter. Impossible. Ridiculous. No way.

And yet, here we are, two years later. Moving her was a spectacular ordeal, involving several friends and me driving the largest moving van available to non-union drivers AND towing her car – a concept I know for a fact I simply repressed before and even during the 2000 mile adventure in order to convince myself that I could finish what was started. I literally started shaking as I turned onto our tiny country road and was weeping openly as I pulled the truck to a stop by our driveway. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Worried about insurance, I’d driven the whole way, asking my young and generous friend Meg to keep me company with wit and song. She performed admirably and is probably the reason we’re both alive today.

My mom was there with camera. I’d sent her on her way a week before, so that my friend Shelley and I could essentially torch her house and then, after I put Shelley on a plane back to her family, my friend Meg flew down and I drove this ludicrous mountain of crap up to my mom’s new digs while Mom herself could be busily making curtains and finding shelves for ancient canned goods.

40 feet. We were 40 feet from nose to tail and wow is that some kind of fun to park. Also, Wyoming. The Wind State apparently. Not sure why folks are looking for oil over there; the wind thing seems like the way to go. Anyway, we made it from central NM to Vashon in 3 days, which seems unbelievable now but felt like common sense when we were on the road.

But, I digress. The real point is, here we are, me in my 40s and her in her 80s, living 40 feet apart and it’s just fine. More than fine, it’s really quite lovely. We lead our separate lives – she has much bridge to attend to (in the absence of tennis) and I have 4000 things to do. On occasion, we talk during the day, but it’s not often. Instead, most nights I call her to let her know what time we’ll be eating and she shows up, her bottle of extra-cheap wine in hand, to chat with me while I finish the last bits of dinner or empty the dishwasher or whatever. I try to orchestrate it so that essentially it’s just us, and we have a half-hour of just mother-daughter time.

Most nights, it works. And it’s great. In two years, we’ve had just one disagreement, worked out the next day. Maybe that’s bad – we’re not being as honest as we should be – or maybe it’s good. Two people, so very different with such completely different expectations of life, putting down their philosophies and morals and ethics and just being family together. I mean, I can’t help but wonder: how many other people have a pleasant and enjoyable meal with their parent most every night of the week?

I never thought my mom could in a million years be part of my lesson to my child of why family is important – in so many ways it is unbelievably ironic – but here she is, and no less a wonderment to herself than to the rest of us. How did Marjorie McFadden, run away from home at 18 to marry and join the war, married six times, and had one child who left home as soon as was possible, how can she be the main story line in the tale of Family? Well, she is. Because we brought her here, and forced her to live among those who love her and refuse to allow her to grow bitter and old. Because she’s a tough old bird, yes, but one who demonstrates again and again a miraculous openness to learning and is learning still and has learned, not a little bit, all those things that are truly stupendous about her only grandchild and the beauty of a true life partnership from Mark and I – something she never got but can surely recognize.

Is she a saint? No, she is no saint. (but neither am I) She is not some storybook kid’s granny who knits and has a secret recipe for chicken soup. She has never knitted or crocheted and we didn’t even bother to put a stove into her house because the microwave was essentially invented for my mother. But, in a certain vein, about certain things, my mother is absolutely fearless. And not only deserves credit for being so, but has valuable lessons to teach all of us.

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