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I Should Have Been A Bad Kid
When I was a baby, Mom had a hard time keeping me still, and one day I did a back flip out of her arms and landed on my head on a silver box. The doc said that I was fine. The box, however, was not, which is a testament to the hardness of my head.
I was a sleepwalker too. My Indian name was Walks with Diapers (kidding), but one night when my parents were sleeping, I managed to climb out of my bed, open the front door, and stroll off the property in only my diapers, headed toward the main drag where I would have been Gerber road kill if my psychic Mom hadn’t awakened and screamed, “The baby’s outside!” Luckily they found me in time, but they scared me awake and the diapers came in handy.
So you can imagine how traumatic it might be for a little jumping bean to get stuck in the Alice in Wonderland spinning teacup ride with her Mom, trapped in the dark, ascending structure, the Mad Hatter jumping up and down maniacally during every painful, horrifying minute. They eventually had park staff climb up and carefully usher each one of us out of the cups and back down to solid ground. Disneyland was never my cup of tea after that.
I also had a penchant for strange, wild animals. I was clumsy and fell a lot, and I was obsessed with boys in kindergarten. Other than that, from what I hear, I was a pretty good kid. For some reason, I must have had George W’s blood in my veins (Washington, not Bush) because I could not tell a lie. If I broke it or did it, I told on myself.
The adage is that if you are a pain in the ass as a kid, your parents will get you back later. Maybe it’s some kind of ancestral curse and it typically plays out in your own kids, but I never had any. But sometimes it plays out in your parents.
So it was time to start thinking about selling Mom’s house and moving her to an adult community where she could enjoy life and not have to worry about the upkeep of a fifty-seven year old home, a huge yard, cleaning, and cooking. She was hot and cold about the idea, but seemed to start embracing it. That is, until the time really came to make the move.
“I’m not ready,” she said. “I have to go through all of this stuff.” It reminded me when my parents had tried to get me to go to bed at night. I was the negotiator. Payback, I thought. “Five more minutes, Daddy,” I would plead. And the minutes turned into an hour, sometimes more.
That stuff included unidentifiable fragments of once operational things, old cough drops, unworn clothes, safety pins, cassette tapes, dead bugs, lone jelly beans (she liked the black licorice ones, but I couldn’t tell the beans from the bugs), broken clothes pins that she still used to hang her things outside on the line in her backyard, inherited items from siblings who had passed on, way-beyond-the-expiration-date food, dust, and a lot of memories. I understood. For me, as I got older, simpler was better. For her, all of these things were her life and we were about to take it apart and reorganize it in a new way.
Mom’s delays turned into a year, and then three. But her memory was starting to give her problems and she knew it.
“Maybe it is time,” she said one day. And as I choked back the tears, I agreed. Sometimes daughters know best and there is that tipping point when the parent becomes the child, but this was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do, harder than even walking away from a romantic relationship.
So I went out and I bought dots, lots of them. Red dots. I told her that she could put them on all of the stuff that she absolutely couldn’t live without and we would take that to her new home and she could come back at her leisure to go through the rest of the stuff, and we would sell, donate, or toss anything else that she didn’t want. It sounded like a great idea to me, but it was like losing control of her life to her.
And the long ordeal began. We found a place, the best and most highly recommended in the area. It was so nice that I was ready to move in. Three squares a day and a housekeeper? Sign me up.
Mom had loved my little apartment, so I fixed up her new place in the same way and had it all ready when she walked in. Lights, candles, action. She loved it that first night, but soon afterward, things changed. “When can I go home?” she asked. “Mom, you live here now. We’re selling the house, remember?” I said. She scowled at me and her mouth turned into a straight line. I was scared. “You told me I could go back there. I don’t like it here. These people are all sick and old and I’m BORED.” When I was a baby and they took my bottle away, Mom said I did so well with the transition. “Bottle all gone, Mommy!” I proudly proclaimed.
But I only had my bottle for a few years and she had her house for fifty-seven, and I realized that there was no comparison. I had moved eighteen times during those years, so I obviously welcomed change, but change frightened her and it made her mad. Damn mad. So mad that I began to wonder if there was a daughter protection program.
And I began to second guess myself in much the same way that I did when I used to come to that point in my relationships with men when it was time for a change, but my little voice kept telling me that this was the right thing to do. She needed to be safe and she needed available and qualified medical care.
Mom might have been losing her memory, but she still had her super-powers. She convinced an unsuspecting old codger who still had his driver’s license and who fell under her spell, to take her for a ride in his fastback Mustang, a ride right back to her house which we happened to be dismantling at the time. She looked like she was ready to explode, but luckily I had a handsome friend helping me at the time and she fell under his spell for a few hours, and we sent Mr. Mustang packing while we did the same.
There were times when I went back to the house alone during this process and as I walked through the rooms, the dust covered memories ran through my mind. I saw the holes from my Dad’s tie rack and I remembered all of the times he had yanked it out in anger, disappearing for two or three days until he calmed down, until the last time which was the last time. He never returned. Mom said he was going to come back, but he ended up dying instead at the young age of forty-four.
Tears started to run down my face and mingle with the fifty-seven year old dust. “I miss you, Daddy,” I cried. “I wish you were here.” Now I know why she had been so resistant to leaving the house. The walls were speaking to me now, in much the same way that I am sure they did to her each night for all of those years. Then all of a sudden, I felt the urge to turn my head and my eyes landed on a drawer in the hutch in the living room. It must have been that little voice of mine (or his), but I opened it and pulled out a manila envelope that was marked “Personal,” but it wasn’t in either of my parents’ handwriting.
I didn’t even look, but reached inside blindly, not knowing what I might find. And when I opened my eyes, my heart skipped a beat. It was a card from my Dad, an Easter card he had written when the Beatles were my favorite band. “Happy Easter to Robyn Beatle from Daddy Beatle. I’ll always love you.” That card had to be hidden for over forty years, in fact I don’t ever remember seeing it at all. And all of a sudden I felt cocooned in indescribable warmth and I cried for two hours straight. I could feel him. He was there with me. I also found a little card that he had given Mom the day I was born that said, “Glad it’s a girl!” I had always wondered about that too.
I suddenly felt stronger and as I went through more drawers and more boxes, I started to get to know my Mom again. I found self-help books from years past, incense, candles we had made together and recipes I wished she could still make for me, exercise videos, knitting projects, goofy family photos and beautiful portraits, old Sinatra records, pay stubs from the jobs that she had, and more. That was what was bothering her now. All of this represented her passion and purpose and now she had to let it all go.
I started to feel as though this was a rite of passage for both of us and I thanked God that I was able to find pieces of my Mom’s life while she was still alive and was able to talk about it with me. There was no way that I could have done this had she passed away. Compassion flooded my heart and my soul. At first, it felt a lot like pain, but I feel pain in my stomach and I sometimes double over to try to get it to stop. Compassion hurts good and I felt it in my heart as it ripped apart at the seams of my psyche. This was cathartic.
So when Mom tells me that her bed isn’t her bed and her clothes aren’t her clothes and that everyone is taking her things (because she can’t find them), I realize that perhaps she is stuck in the teacups of her own reality now, and know that somehow, someday, someone will gently escort her back to safe and solid ground as they did for me that day amongst the jelly beans, bugs, and Beatles.
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