By Sarah White
This was written in response to the Madison Moth StorySlam prompt “Grown”. I took that in the sense of “grown up.” The format of the Moth is spoken word, so imagine me telling this to an audience, no notes or props. I chose this week to share this, in honor of its subject, who died on October 31, 2020.
How many of you have had children? All that constantly being vigilant, all that responsibility for providing what they need–Did that make you feel grown-up?
Those of us who never had children—we never had to grow up. We never had to choose between something we wanted and something our child needed. We could feel young forever. It’s been great. At least it was great until my mother came.
Sometime in my thirties, when I decided babies weren’t for me, I had realized that taking care of my mom someday was likely to be my only run at caregiving. It was early 2018 and she had been living in Florida for two decades when she called and said, “Find me an assisted living facility near you.”
Oh shit. I’m pregnant. I have a 95-year-old baby on the way. It’s time to grow up.
If you’ve had kids, you know what comes next. When you find out you’re pregnant, you buy stuff.
I raced out to find a facility for my mom and buy everything she’d need. It was clear I’d need a different car—a minivan that could accommodate her walker. Yes, my big grown-up baby came with a big grown-up stroller.
The first thing I had to do was figure out how to amuse her. The facility took care of my mother’s physical needs, but I became responsible for all the rest—social director, personal secretary, life coach. She was a part-time job.
My mother hated the age segregation of her new world, so, like a young mom finding playgroups for her toddler, we sought out places where we’d find families. All the scenes I’d avoided by not having kids myself–Farmer’s Market. Olbrich Gardens, any community festival—we were there. It seemed like my big grown-up baby was feeding on the energy of all those youngsters. They were keeping her alive.
At about six months in, I went to a psychic. “How long is this going to go on?” I asked. “Three years,” the cards told her. Okay, deep breath. I can do that.
If you’ve been a parent, I bet you’ve experienced that same feeling. In just a few short years, I can drop my baby off at Pre-Kindergarten. Okay, I visited hospice facilities, not nursery schools. But still, same feeling. I tried to pace myself and stay positive.
Keeping my mom amused was important, but keeping her safe was the Prime Directive. Like toddlers, she was a master at dashing off suddenly. (You parents have lived in fear of that toddler dash, haven’t you.)
In spite of using a walker, she could still achieve startling bursts of speed. Thanks to glaucoma, her eyesight was terrible. Fast and blind, time and again I caught her just before she dashed into disaster.
Until the time I didn’t. I was picking her up for a doctor’s appointment. Another oldster had just fallen in the vestibule. My mom sprinted past the accident scene like it might be contagious, and before I knew it, got several yards ahead of me. Then she misjudged a curb, fell, and broke her ankle. It was on her 96th birthday.
I felt as awful as any mother of a toddler whose child got broken. I was two-and-half years into my caregiver role, and I was flagging.
Then came COVID.
We couldn’t get out and feed off the energy of young people any more. My mom began flagging, too. She agreed to enroll in hospice, mostly because they promised more visitors—nurses, volunteers, and a chaplain. But under COVID, only the nurse materialized.
Still, it proved to be a good thing. When my mom began sinking into another bout of pneumonia, our nurse arranged admission to the hospice inpatient facility. An ambulance took her there, me following in the minivan with the big grown-up stroller.
My mom, in her semi-conscious state, seemed intrigued by the adventure. She liked the attention from the nurses.
I left that evening, exhausted and hopeful that she’d get what she needed. I was just like a mom driving away from the kindergarten after the kid runs off without a backward look.
As part of admission, they tested my mom for COVID. When I returned the next morning, they had the result—positive. An administrator hustled me out of the facility and sent me home to quarantine. I forgot to even say goodbye.
Four days later, she died.
And just like that, the need for me to be a grown-up was over.
© 2022 Sarah White