Most of the time in my adult life as parent, writer, and Western Massachusetts resident, I am aware of being a daughter in relatively adult ways: I love checking in with my mother, catching up, sharing news. There is a sense of kinship and more importantly, of friendship (although, still her child, I feel that I go “first” way too often, pouring out the news of the day). Bottom line: I am very fortunate; I like my mother, I really, really like her (for the record, my friends and hubby do, too).
My mother and I share in love for the youngest generation (I guess that if you have children, another aspect to this being an adult daughter has to do with making parents into grandparents. When our first—my side’s first grandchild—was born, my mother rushed from Philadelphia to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton and once newborn Ezekiel was in her arms, she glanced over to exhausted, exhilarated hubby and me and said, “Okay, your job is done, you can go home now,” with a wide, contented smile.)
At this point (and for many years, now) home, to me, is my house in Northampton. The house where my mother and stepfather live, that’s their house (I never lived there, for one thing). And given that my adult life has stretched longer now than my childhood and adolescence, that makes all sense. Philadelphia has become a place to visit, generally at Thanksgiving.
We did our evening drive on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania (a day ahead of the biggest rush, after evening commute, all in hopes of avoiding traffic—and it worked). Important preface to last Tuesday, though: it was, by our (dear husband’s and mine) estimation just about the worst day in our parenting lives ever. Fourteen years in, you gotta know we are talking a no-good very bad day of the head to Australia type here. I do mean quality misery.
About a week later, I’ve practically blocked the memories (already? Yup, the day was that bad). Practically. I can offer a few details, though.
Imagine a water leak that compromised the electrical system at school, forcing a last minute day off from school, just before the holiday break, on the last day your kids were going to school, the day that held a freelance deadline and packing for trip in it during school hours, a sick teen at home, a toddler at her school for three, precious, quiet hours. Imagine one child—the second one, age 11—doesn’t always do well with unexpected breaks in routine. Imagine trying to get that child—suddenly free—to finish the homework due for the day of school now cancelled, the homework that would still be due upon return to school. Imagine the eldest, on break from school already, doesn’t feel well and after spending the day in bed, despite having been asked whether he’s feeling well enough for the trip, decides less than an hour before departure, that actually he cannot go (night has fallen; car is packed). He’s not a little bit miserable; he is sobbing and screaming and going for broke on the melodrama. In other words, imagine a daylong hot potato game in which the hot potato is a child falling apart. Oh, and for good measure, add in the fact that for the last three nights, the toddler, who is usually a good sleeper, has spent considerable portions of the sleeping hours awake—and crying—leaving the parents acutely sleep deprived. There you have it. That was Tuesday last.
By the time we arrived in Philly, all was calm and cheery (and three out of four children were finally asleep). Just four hours after we all fell asleep, Saskia awoke, and thus, I did, too. Around noon, an invisible vice clamped itself round my forehead and hour-by-hour tightened its grip. By evening, my throat hurt and I started sniffling. The next day, I had a sore throat. Happy Thanksgiving.
Not so fast. Thanksgiving afternoon, they (that’d be my husband and my mother) sent me upstairs for a nap (what is this thing you call a nap? I am not entirely familiar with it. I’m told you lie down on a bed and sleep during the day!). I got up for the holiday festivities. By midday Friday, though, my mother and husband determined that my continued exhaustion wasn’t simply exhaustion, it was illness. Well, I was kind of warm. Breathing wasn’t all that easy. My head, yes, it felt fuzzy. Back to bed I went.
The three ambulatory adults—my husband, mother and stepfather—took four kids to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. For five hours, I lay in bed, reading, resting, napping, spacing out and listening to the wind knock large branches around against the house like matchsticks. No one spoke. No one screamed. No one laughed. I listened to the wind’s action and that was all. It was as good as illness gets, almost deliciously so.
While I like to say—and Hosea confirms this—is that his mother has the tissue out at the “ah” of ah-choo. Mine wasn’t like that. She was more of the ginger-ale’s-in-the-fridge-see-you-after-work kind of mother when we got sick. Back when I was a young teen, I think (well, I know) I longed for a more cater-to-you kind of mom, of the cookie baking and always-gives-rides variety. My mother was divorced and working and she would readily admit this, somewhat distracted. Not so long into my teens, my longing for an at-home mother disappeared and I was relieved that she was otherwise occupied (I’ll say no more here, but believe you me, I’ll make sure my kids’ household is just a tad bit more, uh, occupied).
In retrospect, the best part about having had a mother who worked and was trying to forge a happy, full adult life for herself along with raising two kids was this: she modeled that adults can—for that matter, should—have adult priorities beyond parenthood. I know that her example, as my female parent especially, helped me, when I became a parent, feel good about trying to manage my own balancing act of work, adult life, and parenthood (one I cannot claim to pull off successfully, simply one I am attempting, always, to finesse).
The other best part—a whole other subject—was that perhaps in part because of her distractedness, she didn’t always pay such close attention and at times, that was a big blessing, the blessing that people have a name for these days: benign neglect. (While I may be more present than she was, I am a big fan of benign neglect, and practice it regularly).
When I look back to Thanksgiving weekend, 2009, the weekend of my second annual Thanksgiving illness (2008 had me far sicker, so the trend is actually promising), I feel extremely fortunate for the chance to be so well taken care of by my mother. She (and Hosea and Bob) helped to make it possible for me to have that quiet (save for the wind) time to recover.
And I was reminded how, at any age, it’s really nice to be taken care of every once in a while.
* Note, the blanket pictured is by Crispina ffrench and it wasn’t on the bed at my mother’s and I don’t have one at home, but I’d love to get one, so pretty the sweet dreams must naturally follow.