Today is the 83rd birthday of my mother, Janet McCray House King. She was born in rural Rhode Island and raised on a poultry farm. Her mother often went days without speaking a word and her father left one day, when my mother was a teenager, and never came back.
She married my father on August 28, 1951. He had two children from a previous marriage and I was born on July 19, 1952. She bore five more kids.
Mom was never one for small talk. She played the piano:"Lola," "I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," Rachmaninov's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor." She bought me books: The Secret Garden. The Wind in the Willows. The Velveteen Rabbit. There's a longer version, but the short version is that I put her through hell with my drinking and then she got it together to contact a counselor, staged a family intervention, and in 1986 more or less saved my life.
I moved West in 1990 and have gone home at least once a year since, though as is true in every area of my life, I've not been nearly as grateful, generous, forgiving, forbearing, or kind toward dear old Mom as I could have, or perhaps I should say as I would have liked. For the last two years, she's been in the Wentworth Home in Dover, New Hampshire. She has what I keep calling early-stage Alzheimer's but is really simply Alzheimer's. She no longer knows how many children she has, or our names, or where we live. Last week she called me--I was amazed she managed to find and dial my number--to tell me that her television wasn't working. "I asked the people here but they said they couldn't do anything," she said, sounding vague and lost. I hated that she didn't understand that I'm 3000 miles away. I hated that I couldn't rush to her side and help. I called my brother who lives closest by and said, "I hate to bother you but someone needs to go over and see what's up with Mom's TV." No answer. I waited a few hours and called his home phone. No answer. I waited a few hours and facebooked his wife: "Someone needs to go over and help Mom with her TV. Can you let me know if you got this, please? Thanks so much." She e-mailed back: "I will tell him."
I will tell him? I will TELL him? I will TELL HIM!!! Poor Mom doesn't have a TV and nobody even cares? Poor Mom doesn't have a TV and everyone's just going to go about their LIVES? That is IT, I decided. I have to move back. I have to simply pack up my stuff and get a little tiny cell-like room in Dover, New Hampshire and take care of my mother. I'll go visit every day. I'll take her out for a ride. I won't even tell THEM. I'll just run into them in Target or someplace one day. "What are you doing here?" they'll ask. "Oh, nothing," I'll reply airily. "I just came home to TAKE CARE OF MOM."
Luckily, I chanced to think to run my idea by my trusty spiritual mentor/guide/keeper. This woman is genius. She is so not into drama, especially mine. "I think I'm going to have to move back to New Hampshire," I announced. "My mother is simply not being taken care of properly." "Well, your mother isn't being taken care of the way YOU think she should be taken care of," she observed, "but if you're thinking of moving back, why not make a pro and con list?"
Well, that alone brought me up short for before even putting pen to paper I knew there was one pro--I would get to see my mother more often--and a zillion cons, chief among them that I had absolutely no desire to move back to or live in New Hampshire. "You can do anything you want," she continued. "But you have to be very clear on the fact that if you DID move back, you wouldn't be moving back for your mother. You'd be moving back for yourself, to relieve YOUR anxiety."
I did some very deep thinking over the course of the next couple of days. This is where Simone Weil comes in again (see post below). Because I realized the truth is I have always wanted to be the kind of daughter who would give up years of her life, come home, and take care of Mom--but I am not. I have never been that person and I'm never going to be. The truth is I want to save my mother and I can't. The truth is I want to be two places at once and I can't. The truth is I want to roll back the clock and make up to my mother for the worry and hurt I caused her and die in solidarity with "the poor" like Simone and I can't. I suppose I COULD move back home, out of some sort of insanely misplaced martyrdom. I'd be miserable and depressed and resentful and make everyone around me miserable.
|THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL|
All I can say is: Not a sparrow falls but what He knows, and thank heaven for that. Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you for loving me the way I am and--forever--for the books.