I am a very organized woman. I like everything in its place. I like my obligations spelled out. So when I began having children, I needed to list out what my basic duties to them would be. What were the things I would give them that would bring them safely, happily and well adjusted into adulthood? As any new mother does, I looked at what my mom gave me, what worked, what didn’t, and I vowed to give those things to my children.
I came up with three things: my mom decorated all of my bedrooms, including my first apartment, she made all of my Halloween costumes, and she threw me great birthday parties. I don’t recall her verbalizing that these things were very important for her to give her children but they meant enough to me that I knew I had to give them to my own kids. I felt that this would ensure their comfort, well-being and happiness. I figured if I could give my children those three gifts, then they would turn out OK.
So when I was pregnant with my first child, I decorated his room to look like an aquarium, painstakingly painting fish around the perimeter, picking out curtains and bedding. I didn’t worry about Halloween, as he was due in June and I had a year to plan his first birthday party. I was one-third of the way to giving him what he needed!
I never thought about why I needed to do these things until I had an opportunity to spend six days with my mom in the hospital. She has Alzheimer’s disease and something went awry in her already muddled brain. She needed to be hospitalized until they could stabilize her meds. Here was a 79-year-old woman, who was midway through the disease and she was frightened and confused. It was with trepidation that I flew out to be by my mother’s side to, hopefully, give comfort.
I arrived to find a very confused woman whose face lit up when she saw me, recognizing me on some level. I don’t think my mom has a dream for her life anymore but I do know she misses her family when she doesn’t know she is with them, I know she doesn’t want to be afraid and I know she wants to live with dignity. I was able to give this to her for the time she was in the hospital. She knew I was family, either a sister or a daughter. She wasn’t scared when she was with me, and I was able to comfort and go to bat for her when the indignities of a hospital stay compromised her sense of self. I like to think I was able to give her comfort. I even made her laugh.
Last year when my mom was not as deeply into her disease but still did not always know who I was, confided in me that while she loves all of her children, she wanted to do other things in her life besides be a mom. I’ll never know what they were. But I do think that she felt, for whatever reason, she couldn’t pursue these dreams but she was going to make sure her kids realized theirs.
I’ve always had cool bedrooms with white princess furniture, shag carpeting, neon pink walls. My mom thought nothing of popping open a gallon of paint and going to town. Whatever struck my fancy, she made happen. I had great birthday parties. When I got married, she threw me a wedding worthy of a princess. Halloween was always fabulous. My mom would create a costume for whatever I wanted to be with one caveat: you could never be a bum. She’d say, “I don’t make bum costumes. You have the rest of your life to be a bum.” But I think the hidden message was: you will never be a bum, ever, on my watch.
While mothering my mom in the hospital, I began to think of my upbringing. Of all things, why were bedrooms, birthday parties and Halloween costumes so important? Why did those things top my list ahead of doctor’s appointments and saving for college? I realized that my mom was always giving my siblings and me the opportunity to use our imaginations and create whatever vision we had at that moment in time. It finally dawned on me! My mother was giving us the tools to create and realize our dreams.