Home with Mom

My mom has been my keystone, even when we lived thousands of miles apart. Being with her has always felt like home. Sure, we can irritate and frustrate each other and in some ways, are opposites, but no matter how much we bicker, we relish each other’s company.

I love the way she smells, a combination of Irish Spring soap and the soft-leaded pencils she special orders from my hometown stationery store.  I love that we both believe deeply in destiny, god’s omnipresence and the universal wisdom of women and age. My mom taught me that dreams are opportunities for interpreting our psyches. That a day without reading is a day without purpose. That nothing feels better on an upset stomach than diet 7-Up.

When I left my full-time job at Choicelunch three years ago, my mom and I had more time to spend together. Each Sunday, we’d plan our week and go to matinees, have lunch or shop at Target. When the treatments began for her breast cancer last year, my mom and I became even more entwined. I’d drive across town to her condo in order to treat a deep wound left by a botched lumpectomy and she’d take me out for eggs at one of  three or four favorite lunch places – we both love breakfast foods at non-breakfast times.

When it was clear that Shane, Jack and I had to leave California for Shane’s job, Shane and I took my mom out to a trendy burger joint. In a cavernous restaurant with Edison light bulbs and exposed brick, I begged her to move with us. My dad had died just a few months before and mom blew me away with her willingness to leave all her life-long friends, our extended family and her beloved native state full of sunshine and comfort. Mom’s bravery was tested as we discussed the living situation, whether she’d sell her condo and how she’d manage visits with my brother Alex and his family in Portland, but she remained enthusiastic and very encouraging.

As the reality of the move across the country set in, I grew increasingly nervous. Mom and I hadn’t lived with each other for close to 25 years. It’s one thing to meet up for an hour or two and discuss Colbert’s monologues or go to doctor’s appointments together.  It’s another thing to figure out how to share space, without intruding on each other’s privacy. Shane and my mom have a deep connection, but their relationship has never depended on the other’s willingness to close the bathroom door.

I worried that her inclination to keep newspapers stacked untouched for days would drive me mad. I thought about how a shared calendar could be set up to inform everyone of the schedule (a schedule I dictated.) I created mental lists to codify the housecleaners’ schedule, the cable bill breakdown and the rules of engagement with Jack who’d likely be confused on who exactly was the ‘boss.’  Living with grandma was different than visiting her once a week and I worried she’d overindulge Jack. My need to control would cause her frustration but my own fears of chaos would surely drive me towards bossiness.

Have you read ‘Of Mice and Men?’ I haven’t since 6th grade (Thank you Mrs. Beebee!) but I remember the scene when Lennie crushes his puppy by petting it so hard, he squeezed it to death.  Lennie was so lonely and desperate for the puppy’s companionship, he suffocated it. As the two months between our small family’s move to VA and my mom’s arrival approached, I grew more and more anxious about how this would all workout. I wanted her close, but as the big move loomed, I increasingly worried we could both suffocate with the proximity. Like Lennie, we were both prone to loneliness, but the potential was there to take the breath out of our friendship.

It’s been two weeks since I went to California to bring mom back to Virginia. We’ve endured some a few sleepless nights, a torn ligament in her knee and one breathless marathon-like sprint through the Kansas City airport with three bags, a wheelchair, a cane and her giant green faux-fur winter coat circa 1996.

Our intertwined lives are a work in progress, a puzzle with many holes left to patch, but something magical is transpiring.

After the initial logistical challenges, I find myself relaxing. Her humor is infectious, for Jack, Shane and I. We’ve spent the last few nights building routines; I make dinner, she clears the dishes. I get show-time snacks prepped, she turns on the electric blankets, lays them across the blue couch and by the time Jeopardy starts, the L-shaped nest is warm and toasty. Shane still tucks me in bed and we cuddle each night, but on Tuesday night, instead of him solitarily returning to the TV to wait for the election results to come in, he and my mom celebrated collectively at the miraculous Democratic victory.

Don’t get me wrong, this is all a work-in-progress. Today Jack stomped downstairs at 6:20 am and likely woke my mom up and there’s a good bet I will roll my eyes at her more than once today (I can be nasty when I am hungry!) But my mom has made me feel more at home in my home the past few days than I have since I boarded that plane back in October. Thank you, Mom, for always being home to me.


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