I didn’t visit my mom on Mother’s Day. I had something else to do, and I couldn’t be in two places at once.
I figured I’d buy her a Mother’s Day card at Target that night and visit her the next day, on Monday. We’d celebrate then. It’s not like she even knows when Mother’s Day is.
When I’d taken her to the Easter service in April, she’d held the hymnal and turned the pages to the wrong hymns. I had to use my finger to guide her through the words of every song, so that she knew what we were singing, so that she didn’t turn the page too early.
“Do you remember Easter?” I asked her.
She looked at me quizzically.
“We used to go to church,” I said. “They always gave us flowers.”
“Do you know what Easter is?”
She shook her head no.
“It celebrates when Jesus ascended to heaven. You know, after he died on the cross.”
A blank look.
“Do you know who Jesus is?”
“Jesus … Jesus…” she said. “Oh sure.”
But I didn’t really believe her.
Sometimes, she recognized a tune and started to hum it. That made me happy.
I thought about that on Mother’s Day night and didn’t bother to buy her a card. I realized it’s not that she doesn’t know when Mother’s Day is. It’s that she doesn’t know what it is. And no amount of explaining was going to help her understand.
She was standing in the hallway outside her room, talking to two ladies, when I arrived Monday after Mother’s Day.
“Oh … hi!” she said when she saw me.
“Hi, Mom.” I hugged her.
“Do you want to come with us?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I said. “Where are you going?”
“Oh, you know … ” she said. “But let’s put your stuff inside.”
As we entered her room, her friends walked away.
“Where are you going?” she asked, but they didn’t answer and she didn’t pursue it.
“Oh well,” she said.
I took her downstairs.
“I’ve never been here before,” she said as we entered the elevator.
We got off and walked to a lounge area where there were tables with chairs. I was carrying some coloring books and markers, and I put them on the table.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“Color,” I said.
She needed me to show her how to get the cap off of the marker and what to do with the marker. How to hold it.
“Color anything you want, Mom,” I said. “Anything on the page.”
I pointed to Charlie Brown’s hat.
“Color this,” I said.
“This?” she pointed with the pen.
“This?” she pointed again.
She pressed the marker to the page, and the ink soaked into the paper.
“That’s right, Mom. Now move the marker.”
She made small, discrete motions, not fluid ones, and the color went outside the lines.
“You’re doing great.”
She kept coloring, but the activity seemed foreign to her.
“How can you tell what color it is?”
“The pen cap shows you the color of the marker.”
She didn’t understand.
We switched from the Charlie Brown coloring book to the book featuring Mandalas, and she started filling in little teeny dots with green color.
“I’m doing red?” she asked.
“No, Mom. Green.”
“I thought I was doing red.”
We kept coloring.
“You’re fast,” she said.
“You’re doing fine,” I said.
“Do you do this every day?” she asked.
“I think it would be too much,” she said.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
We continued for a while, and then she put down her marker.
“I’m tired,” she said.
We got into the elevator and went back to her room.
“Lay down,” I said, pointing to her bed.
I lay next to her.
“Let’s listen to music,” I said and opened the YouTube app on my phone. “I have a song I want you to hear.”
“Listen, listen, listen, okay?”
“Okay, okay, I’m listening.”
An ad started playing.
“No, sorry … don’t listen to that.”
“Just wait … okay, listen.”
She didn’t recognize the first few piano chords.
“Yuck,” she said.
“You must remember this … a kiss is still a kiss …”
Immediately she started humming.
She didn’t know the words, not most of them, maybe only one or two. But then Sam sang the verse many people don’t know, and she came out with a whole line, intact, a beat before he sang it.
“It’s still the same old story …” she sang, and then he sang it. Then he followed it with the next line, “a fight for love and glory,” and she hummed it.
Into the next song, sung by Doris Day, her breathing changed. Her head was on my shoulder, her arm around my stomach, her legs snuggled next to mine. She could have been my child or my lover. Or, I guess, my mother.
When I walked her down the hall for dinner, we were almost at the dining room when she stopped in her tracks.
“Hey,” she said, looking at me with longing. “I didn’t know you were Beth!” As if I’d kept it a secret from her. But she was so glad she’d learned it.
“Come here,” she said. “You can use this,” and she tried to get me to share her walker, to lean on one side while she leaned on the other, because I’m her daughter, and she wanted to share with me.
I was leaving her soon, and while I was so happy she’d recognized me, I was worried our departure would hit her harder than if she’d seen me as just a pleasant stranger.
Was I just a pleasant stranger when she’d let me show her how to color? Or when she’d nestled her body next to mine and fallen asleep with her head on my shoulder?
I want to say I was her daughter then, for sure, but I can’t say anything for sure. She is free with her time and easy with her affection, indiscriminate when it comes to her relationships. She could have known me forever or have just met me, and it would likely have made no difference in how she treated me.
Sad, I thought.
But only sad for me.
She gets to love without regard to the object. Without barriers, without end. She can put her head on someone’s shoulder — anyone’s shoulder — and fall asleep. She can get comfort from the world. She can have endless love.
Not such a bad fate after all.