It used to be my mom and I used to joke every time we'd visit each other about how much of a baby we'd become when one of us had to return back home. We'd always jokingly say, "I'm a big girl," meaning we weren't going to boo hoo. But that was just a joke because we knew we were going to cry. Dropping my mom off at the airport or getting dropped off at the airport was ridiculous. Trying to stop the flood of tears was never going to happen. Those visits were such a strange emotional rollercoaster of real big highs followed by real deep lows.
Back home going to church with my mom and uncle had me having to fight sobs the entire time. Each visit home I'd look at how impossibly old they were becoming, and how much of this time of their lives I was missing. Strange. It's kind of like a reversal of the absentee parent. I was the absentee kid. They both seemed shorter, thinner. Their skin looked almost transparent. They weren't the well put together people they used to be. They seemed helpless, messy and old.
For a while, my uncle was still rather independent, but his driving scared the bejesus out of everybody. It got to the point where I forbid my mom from ever riding with him again. No one wanted him to drive, but then again no one really wanted him not to drive. That too was a strange mix of feelings. I mean obviously we didn't want him to drive because it wasn't safe for him or anyone else on the road (or sidewalk). But also telling him he was no longer allowed to drive meant a piece of his independence had vanished forever.
Growing old is hard on the one growing old and on those who love them. We see them fading from an independent person and transitioning into a person highly dependent on us. It hurts. It's sad for you, and for them, and for you as you imagine how it must feel for them. Thus I cried a lot in those days.
When my mom arrived last Christmas (2017), and I was instantly thrown in the pool of adult child caring for her parent, I didn't cry during that time. Actually I was angry a lot during that time. I didn't even realize I didn't cry until I looked over at her the other day and felt a softening within me. The familiar moist eye rims caught my attention, and at that moment I realized or rather I remembered how much I used to cry each visit home. Hmmm, now it's occurring to me that I don't think I ever really cried when she visited me. I guess my tears were tied to being back home. To those (my) memories. To those (my) friends. To those busy days that used to be when my step dad was alive, and I lived at home, and all the stuff we used to do.
This past September I officially ended my childhood phone number we had since I was 7 or 8 (somewhere around there when my mom married my step dad). In October, my mom set in motion the plan to sell my childhood home (we moved in right before my 5th birthday). Also in September, I filed a change of address for my mom and finally her mail is coming here.
I asked her yesterday if she missed home. She quickly said, Stop it. She said she has no friends here. Not like she used to have. All of her friendships here are new. All of them. There isn't that person she's known for 60 years, that neighbor across the street who lived there since we moved in (and who passed away two or three years ago), my uncle who lived around the block from the two family flat we lived in before we moved to the house she's now selling (who also passed away two Christmases ago now), the uppity ladies and men at the bridge club she loved to go to where she would also slip into the role of uppity snobby woman. Ugh. She liked playing that role amongst those folks, even around the church folks too. That was until she became the source of gossip among all when she started arriving everywhere with unkempt unwashed clothes, frizzy hair, loud makeup that was seriously inappropriate, moth eaten clothes, smelling of a strong mix of weed and perfume, over medicated, sleepy, sloppy, confused, dropping money from her purse every where she went, purse dragging on the ground, coats that didn't fit and were never quite right for the season, lonely and all alone.
Murmurs began when I would return home in those later years. I began to see the side eye looks some would give me when I visited my mom. Why doesn't her daughter do something was what I began hearing either said directly to me or indirectly. Truthfully I was never fully ready to accept that my mother was no longer capable of being fully independent. Kind of like taking the car away from my uncle. He and my mom were no longer the person they used to be. It was all done, period. And also truthfully I didn't know what to do or how to do whatever it was I was supposed to do. I just didn't know. I lived in one state and she lived in another. I made far less than she did, and I did not want to live back in my hometown in my childhood home.
Fast forward to the present day. I bravely had my mom call one of my cousins the weekend before last to let her know my mom now lived here with me. The last time that cousin and I spoke, she made it her duty to speak on behalf of the entire family of my mom's inability to live by herself. I was hot. She wanted my mom in a nursing home. If they're there in the same town, why don't they make it their duty to check on their aunt regularly, daily. I argued. They (she and her husband, and all of the other cousins who were in agreement) make so much more money than I do. Everyone knows that. She (my mom) took this cousin in giving her a place to live when she was a teenager. She (my mom) took care of a lot of my cousins when they were younger, but that reciprocity I guess my mom hoped for never came. There was and still remains one cousin who is more like a sister to me than a cousin. She always did help my mom and still helps her. As for the others, I was livid. I guess I expected those folks to help out more too. They would, after all, refer to her as their favorite aunt. But none of them helped. Just the one, and maybe one other on occasions.
I'm no longer angry. I have accepted it, my mom's new stage of being fully dependent and my cousins' lack of help. I do pay for my mom's caretaker out of pocket. I mentioned this before. And she does not qualify for any financial aid. She makes too much (which is far from true). Financially this is kicking both of our combined asses, but I am determined to make it work.
God Bless the caretaker, N, who has been with us now since late last winter/early spring. For the past few months she has allowed me to pay her late. She is struggling too, and I know it. This year has begun with less work on my temp work schedule so even that is precarious. But I will confess that oddly things keep working out. Money keeps popping up lately. Not enough to catch up to what I owe N, but maybe we will be moving forward this year staying in the green.
I look over at my mom these days, and I am so very happy she is here. I see the faraway looks in her eyes every now and then, and I suspect she is reflecting back on her memories of the life, friends and times she once knew. I can only imagine how it feels. My mom used to love to dress up, look pretty, and party. She liked pretty things around her too. Her home was surrounded by flowers early spring to late autumn. Christmas decorations went from the front yard through the house to the back yard. She wore long fur coats and long leather boots (sorry vegans and animal activists). She was a big flirt too. Even when she went for her early morning 5 AM walks with her neighbors, she put on her jewelry, makeup and matching workout clothes. Now my heart aches for her. Those memories must still be there. And I and N make sure she still looks cute.
I think about too the relief she must feel not being so very much alone. And I think about the sadness she must have felt at times when she realized how alone she was, how far away I was, how my cousins and relatives had their own lives in their own houses away from hers. I feel like too she must have recognized at some point that the only people willing to spend time with her were the people who sought to use her. They were far from the fancy people with whom she once hung out. They were unemployed and living like squatters in a home with boarded up windows, brown lawns, and furnished with what must have been street finds. They began to do laundry at her home since water was more than likely compromised at theirs and they probably simply didn’t have a washing machine or at least have one that worked. I think she knew what was going on, and some of that is what fed her need to be perpetually numb. When she tells me she feels more like herself these days, I think about how clear headed she has been allowed to be. She’s not over medicated or high. She’s sober, clear and present. She had to sink to some pretty ugly lows to have relationships back then. That’s kind of like those places some of us visited in our younger days that we're so very glad are behind us.
Over time, the hate I once felt has dissipated. It’s been replaced by compassion. I care again about the woman who lives with me. I care again about me. My mom often says she feels like herself again. I notice so do I.
This year having my mom in my care has not only created a change in my mom, I see the changes in me too.
So here is how living with a social butterfly (AKA my mom) is changing me:
1) I used to be such a hermit secluded within my home. Used to be I seldom if ever let people through my front door. It was not unusual for me to talk with guest right in the hallway outside my front door. And I'm not talking about for seconds, I am talking about 15 or 20 minutes out there.
But truthfully, I know what that habit came from. I developed that habit as a kid. Back in the day, if you came through my childhood doors there was a strong possibility you'd see somebody (on any given day, at any given hour) fall down drunk or trying to stagger to the door. When I was way too young, I had already learned to race to the door like the house was on fire in order to get there before a drunk family member. I especially had to get to the door first if it was one of my friends, doing my best to block their view or just rush outside to visit with them -- kind of like I was doing in my adult life.
Now, with my mom living with me, people come through my front door almost everyday.
2) For 20 years I lived isolated in my little one bedroom apartment. I've had two roommates: one for nearly five years; one for just about six months. My five year roommate and I were equal as hermits. My 6 month roommate/cousin called me a hoarder...yikes. When you don't have guests in 20 years, there's no need to make your home ready for company. I am not counting the occasional boyfriend or date in this equation. I was never really inspired by any of them to hook up my home. I was deeply becoming a hermit: my home was dark, my blinds stayed closed, very very few people entered who did not belong. In addition, I was embarrassed, too, by those friends who were clearly well off with fancy beautiful homes and things, beautiful families, or who in my head were always doing better at this thing called life than I was.
So my mom moved in, and I was abruptly and uncomfortably booted out of my comfort zone: my hermit's cave of an apartment. I needed my mom to feel like she was "home." She complained about not having friends here and I actually listened. So, I began to invite friends in my neighborhood over. I began to let them in my cave. I invited people I knew would be the kind of people she would get along well with, and she did. She just wanted to have company, to socialize, to engage with people in the home. It wasn't enough for her to go out to socialize. For her, that social world needed to include home, and I did it. I want to recover as much of her mental health as I can, if that's posible.
So as I landed outside of my comfort zone inviting folks I've known for years into my home for the first time ever, a strange thing happened: I wasn't judged. Yes, these were different friends. These weren't the fancy folks I knew. These were folks I related to already on a more personal note. These were folks I already felt comfortable with, folks I could relate. Then a reciprocal thing began to happen. These folks invited me into their homes. Turns out we were equal who were equally imperfect. We equally had our struggles on display in our homes.
With my mom here, I see that the energy and life that comes through my door regularly (the energy I used to say I hated) actually gives life to my mom. The same energy has even calmed my dog, brought my cat out of hiding, encouraged me to want to regularly welcome guests into my home, and as a result is helping me to shape my home into the type of home that is openly welcoming of guests. Suddenly my home here is like how open my childhood home was. While as a kid, I tried my best to keep folks out, my mom and step-dad always had folks over. They liked to entertain, to laugh, to socialize, to have a lively house. So today, I open my door differently. I no longer barge out into the hallway to greet folks, I stand back so they can say hello to my mom if they want.
3) The days leading up to New Years Day I purged my bedroom. That entire weekend I shut myself up in my bedroom and purged tossing out bags and bags of stuff and things. I rearranged my furniture too into a more functional set up.
There's a brightness now and even a functionality to its flow. I like being in there again after so many years. Actually I am falling back in love with my entire space. My mom entered my room since my purge and simply said WOW. To be honest I'm not done. I even purged my closet and drawers. After 20 years, there really is a lot to bravely let go of. But it feels like my room is shaping into a welcoming space. A space where guests can gather too (like some seem to do). And I WANT to have guests.
I look forward to continuing my purge, to creating space for a positive energy to move about freely. After my room, I will purge my mom's closet, the kitchen cabinets, the hallway between my room and the front door, then I must bravely empty my bookshelves of at least 50% of their contents. It feels like a new life has awoken within me. Oh, and something has happened since I have freed up this space in my bedroom. I'm not exhausted all the time. I mean before I used to always feel tired. I slept a lot for years. Since my room has been freed from stuff, the space is clearer and organized, I love looking at it and I am not tired as much. It's almost as if the old clutter suffocated my energy.
4) I am becoming better with my budget, or at least acknowledging that one must exist and that I must be better about it. I lived so selfishly before. I am not saying that to be judgmental. I am trying to say I was only responsible for me so I thought only of me, but I also only thought in the right now and the immediate. I don't mean I was living in the zen of the moment being fully present. I was without clear focus or a plan. I functioned haphazardly, which is another way of saying I was broke all the time. Having my mom in my care and being responsible for her well-being, having a caretaker who we both adore, having friends and neighbors of my mom back home who continue to help out back home, has required a more deliberate structure my financial life.
So, I have finally, after 12 months of taking care of my mom, decided we will not end this month in the red. I have decided to be deliberate and intentional with my spending for us. Which means, not just buying something spontaneously but planning for it. I have even included my mom in this goal. Letting her know repeatedly when our money is at its leanest. And this time as we enter the month, I put some money aside to be used when we dip into red territory to hopefully pull us back up into the green. Yes, this does mean I am robbing Peter to pay Paul. But I am more determined to keep us out of the red, to put us in the green and to get us moving up in the green from here on out.
What is my new year's resolution?
I have already been asked this question a few times. and I don't have the type of answer I used to have. So I will just write what I've been thinking. Actually it's a word: Action. I keep flashing on the word action every since I felt moved to purge my room, to write a short scene to read with a scene partner from my acting class, to cancel my gym membership, to put on my favorite music in my fabulous room and move my body. I think my new year's resolution is to take action, to do something, and to be consistent, intentional and deliberate with it. What I like about this is that it is a singular focus, and that it is a focus. As I sat on the ride home tonight from work, I wrote out a few actions to take this evening. One was completing this post tonight. I began it on January 4th, but never reviewed it to post. Well, it is now 1:14 AM and I am finally completing it to post. I actually completed it earlier but of course that draft did not save. I almost went to bed promising myself I would do it in the morning, but I decided to keep to my action for the night. Yeah, so my new resolution (I deliberately left out year because I think I want this to be for life)...so my new life resolution is to take consistent, intentional and deliberate action for each day's tasks so that I may chip away at what I visualize.
By the way, I was looking for before and after pictures of my room to post, but I never took before pictures. I guess that was the hermit in me who preferred to stay invisible. So I will put here one of my favorite memes that I think best summarizes my new experiences:
My year of hate
I can't believe how angry I am so much of the time
But what I hate is..."