The Crazy Face

It’s hard to describe in words, that is the facial expression mom directed towards me across the kitchen last Sunday.  Imagine the head tilted slightly to one side, eyes widened with a hint of bulging, the chin dropped which caused the mouth to gape. I am not kidding here, if you had met a stranger with this same facial expression it would have caused you to run. Any direction, it wouldn’t matter. That is the face mom made when she was trying to convince me that she would walk down Eastern Avenue for her mani/pedi. I’ll practice. The cars stop for pedestrians.

What about walking back up Eastern Avenue? I said. At this point, I was ignoring the other obstacles including crossing a very busy Main Street and walking down Eastern Avenue. Oh, and the other important point that I was willing and able to drive her to this appointment. Oh, she said. It’s too much for you to take me twice in one day.

It’s not too much, I will do errands and go to the college. The crazy face finally went away and somehow, I felt that a strategic move had been played. There is so much sub-text to these conversations that it’s hard to keep up. For example, when she says I am doing enough already, it most likely means I am not doing enough. Or, if she talks about crossing a busy street or walking up a dangerous hill it’s a test of my commitment to her safety and well-being. Or, if she mentions how much a friend’s adult children are doing for them it means I am not doing enough. Not nearly. Then there is the statement about my self-care activities such as yoga. She says I take good care of myself, but that means I am neglecting her for my own selfish pursuits.

I experimented with imitating the crazy face as a way of discerning how it might feel to the wearer. It made me laugh out loud because it felt truly crazy. Try it. But only in the privacy of your home with no witnesses.

The Same Womb

On Tuesday, mom and I went to her bi-monthly Ophthalmology appointment for Macular Degeneration. She has been undergoing injections to stabilize her vision for the past 10 years. I appreciate her doctor’s skill, compassion and professionalism. He takes all the time in the world that each patient needs. It’s old school and a dying art. I also appreciate mom’s commitment to this terrifying process. First we check in with the technician Steve who is an extrovert. Over the past 18 months, we have learned that he moved here from New York City; he is Jewish;he and his wife divorced amicably; he has many female friends; he organized a monthly potluck with his single female friends and he likes Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black. In other words, he is a really cool nerd.  It goes without saying and I will say it anyways, mom cannot relate to him but she enjoys the attention.

Next, we met with Dr. Walsh who moved here from Montana. We know that he left Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital after one year because of philosophical differences. Dr. Walsh puts patient care ahead of billing goals. He started a private practice in a lovely house in Lebanon. It is decorated shabby-chic style. He is originally from Montana and calls women “gals”.  He goes on wonderful trips to places like Disney World and Carribian. During this latest appointment, Dr. Walsh drew us a map that provided a short-cut route to the local mall and Italian Restaurant. He called it “lover’s lane”.

At this point, you are probably wondering why the Ophthalmologist drew a map while waiting for the Novocaine to smooth the way for the injections. We told him that we would be going out to lunch and shopping after the next appointment in two days. Oh my, he said, I will draw you a map to the Powerhouse Mall. He mentioned a lot of plunging here and there. It sounded like a great adventure.

Thursday morning, mom called and asked if Yvonne could join us. I told her that we were going to the Powerhouse Mall and she said “I want in on that.” I am certain that most everyone at the St. Johnsbury House wanted in, but Yvonne is the anointed one.  I said Of course. And then thought to myself that this would not be a normal doctor’s appointment. Who am I kidding. None of these appointments are normal.

When I picked them up at the St. Johnsbury House, they could hardly contain their excitement. I asked mom if she had warned Yvonne about Dr. Walsh. She said No, I want her to be surprised. Yvonne said Oh yes, I know that he runs late because he spends a lot of time with each patient. Mom said Well, today he is going to rush so that we can go to lunch on time. I said I don’t see how that is possible. Mom replied He will fit me in between patients. You’ll see. What was she talking about you ask? It’s a question I ask myself with every mom encounter.

We arrived at Dr. Walsh’s office and mom went into the technician’s office. She emerged 5 minutes later and informed Yvonne, myself and the rest of the patients that Steve told her Dr. Walsh was rushing through his appointments so we could go to lunch on time. I said Steve was kidding you. She gave me a withering look and said No he was not.

Next mom went into Dr. Walsh’s office for the two day check to monitor the eye for infection. At some point, Dr. Walsh came out of the office and said I thought you were going to lunch on Tuesday, but it’s today. I smiled and said Got the map. There was no rushing. Yvonne seems to ignore the meta-story that weaves in and out.  It’s like  she and mom came from the same womb.


Chess Moves

Mom has moved in and out of St. Johnsbury many times during the past 20 years. The first time happened to coincide with the parents’ separation. It all began with the parents  visiting my youngest sister in California to help her out following the birth of her “Irish twin” Jenna. Irish twins are born exactly one year apart or less than a year apart. In this case, it was 11 months. The parents were providing much needed diaper, feeding and rocking duty. Not to mention the supervision of a rambunctious 11 month old boy. Dad got ansy or irritable if I am to be honest and insisted on leaving California and returning to their home in St. Augustine Florida. Mom was horrified as she tells it and insisted back that they had to stay and help my overwhelmed and exhausted sister. Dad threw down a threat. Leave or I will divorce you. Mom said in return I am not leaving. I believe this discussion went back and forth a few times until dad got into the car and drove hell-bent all the way back to Florida. When he arrived in Florida he called and said If you don’t come back, I will divorce you. Mom responded Do what you want, I am staying here. And that is how they came to be divorced. Not because mom wanted a divorce. Rather because dad followed through on his threat and mom was committed to helping my sister and the children. I describe the divorce because it helps set the stage for mom’s passive role in her own life. When it came to all of the major events in her life, she was a bystander pulled along by the force of another person’s will. That includes engagement, wedding, childbirth, child-raising, marital separation and divorce, and the many moves following the divorce leading up to the current residence at St. Johnsbury House. Mark me, as Bonnie Prince Charles likes to say in Outlander, mom is the Puppet Master who is a brilliant and formidable life strategist.