Last Tuesday, my husband and I took a mid-week break and flew to Florida for a visit with his parents. While we were away, our youngest took off for his Spring Break to the Bahamas, our middle one flew off to her Spring Break in Puerto Rico, and our oldest turned 23, and bemoaned the fact that while his family vacationed in the tropics, his “Spring Break” was spent on a business trip to sub-zero Syracuse, N.Y. Welcome to the real world, I said, laughing.
How, I asked myself, was all this possible – that our entire family was airborne, nearly simultaneously, and flying in all different directions? I, who once was such a fearful flyer, have become not quite cavalier, but resigned to air travel as the only means of going anywhere substantial, not to mention, to seek warmth in winter. Not to mention that I, who once tracked my children as though I was a radar controller at NASA, was able to let them fly without letting angst get in their ways or mine.
It was exactly one year ago, March 19th, that my mother suffered her stroke which has left her both paralyzed and brain-damaged. It has, unquestionably, changed HER life. Of course, what she doesn’t know, and what I say with a modicum of guilt, is that it changed my life as well. As a matter of fact, the last two years have changed my life, or perhaps I should say my outlook on life, as I have, for all intents and purposes, lost my mother, sent my “baby” off to college, and endured a marital separation that ultimately resulted in a reunion of strength and affirmation of what I always believed was, as corny as it sounds, a true and eternal love.
I have come to question whether it’s that certain things are out of our control or whether it’s just a question of playing the cards that Fate deals. I don’t believe there are any winners and losers… that it all boils down to playing the hand and staying in the game.
But with these cards I hold, there are no more nine a.m. phone calls to my mother knowing that both of our husbands have left for their offices. No more chit chat and laughter as we start our days. Oh, don’t get me wrong…we argued. We downright fought sometimes, and what I wouldn’t give for just one more mother/daughter battle with her. I believe that I have come to realize many things about her that I never knew before and wish I had known. As my father is bare without her shield, I am beginning to fill in what were once blanks about my mother as a woman, wife, and mother. Perhaps it’s all just wishful thinking…who knows? I have come to understand myself without her shield, and conclude that much of what I do is in opposition to how she did things when it comes to marriage and children. And then there are the things I have taken with me and embraced. I only hope that I have taken what I should and renounced what I should. Her absence is a strange mix of both loss and liberation for me, and I’ll never know if I would I have come into my middle age as confidently as I have if she were “here.” That’s one question where the blank will remain.
There isn’t a day when I don’t feel surges of anger about my mother… wondering why she “left” me. My anger is amorphous, not directed at her, but rage is often easier to capitulate than grief. She asks every day where I live, and although I tell her, she retains none of it. The notion that she is not “here” to see that we have kept her mother’s chairs and reupholstered them to fit the Art Deco style of our new Manhattan apartment makes me sad. As I said, anger is easier.
As for marriage, it is, once again what it was meant to be in the beginning: the union of two people who chose to spend a life together because a life apart seemed incomplete. You learn to change your expectations of both yourself and your mate. I have come to realize that we are all such flawed individuals, and no one can be perfect or attempt to be – most of all ourselves. I was brought up to believe that anything in myself shy of perfection was unacceptable. I was brought up to be more resilient than I felt I could be. I suppose that in the last two years I have learned, more than anything else, that saying “I can’t” is more rewarding that saying “I can,” although I will always try. I have discovered that admitting to hurt gives greater relief than carrying around a false stoicism. And again, I wonder if my husband and I would have come to these conclusions about marriage and ourselves had we not been apart. More unanswered questions as to why certain things have to happen the way they do.
As for my children, letting go is imperative – because as their wings spread, no human mother could possibly chase them in flight. I used to read to them at bedtime when they were small, in particular, a book called The Runaway Bunny about a mother rabbit who promised she would find her children and cling to them tenaciously no matter how they tried to elude her grasp, regardless of how great a wind came along that threatened to send them sailing, she would retrieve them. And with that, my children would slumber, assured of my presence. For older rabbits, and older rabbit mothers, the chase is too exhausting. This isn’t to say I am not there still to field the myriad questions, do their errands, give the guidance…but the wind carries them now, and it gets pretty gusty out there.
So, these days, I often picture myself hang gliding, navigating the currents, sailing the calm breezes when they come around. Trying not to ask too many questions which probably have no answers, or have answers I don’t care to hear. Basically, just trying to wing it.