Monday, May 24, 2010

May column

I have a monthly column in the local newspaper. Sometimes I re-print it here, sometimes I forget. This one was particularly difficult to write. It deals with my mother's stroke and my own visions of mortality. I did not want my mother to ever read this (I don't know how people who write bestselling memoirs get away with the things they say about their family and friends). I have always shied away from writing about my parents. Mostly because, unlike my kids, they are old enough to have opinions about what I say. My kids are largely oblivious to their mini fame here in town. When people say (and why do they say this?), "I read all about you in the paper!" the kids give them blank stares. Which, I guess is how it should be.

My mom did end up reading this after she was well on the road to recovery. "Was I really that bad?" she said.

Hard to say. Hard to know how much I draw from actual facts and how much I make up. Brian seems to think I make up quite a bit. I think of it more as improving the story.

All this to say, my mom is much, much better since I wrote this. She is sounding like her old self again on the phone and I can't wait to see her in June.

Actual column in paper here.


It’s a freak warm day in early spring and the kids and I are at the beach. We build piles of shining rocks and shells on a bleached driftwood log. Everything here is glowing in the sun, polished by water and time.

It gets hotter, and we strip to our swimsuits. As I slather sunscreen on everyone’s winter white limbs, I marvel at how tightly each kids’ skin fits their frame. It makes a perfect seal, elastic and unscarred. There are no sags, no bags. These children are light and taut like raw new energy.

The contrast with my own skin is shocking. Mine’s much loser on the bone, speckled and dabbled with the years. I rub the sunscreen into my arms and watch my skin pool at the wrist. My hands are becoming old-woman hands. Ben pulls at the veins and asks if I have swallowed worms.

Three weeks ago my mother had a stroke. This is the thing I cannot get out of my head, even here on this gorgeous day with the kids.

Three weeks ago I wrenched myself from my little family and took the night train to Virginia to sit with her in the hospital, and then back at her own house. I was gone for three days. Simon still blinks back tears at the memory of that parting.

My mom has recovered physically, but she’s not the same. Our relationship, I think, may never be the same. My mom lost her sister this year, the person she talked to every night on the phone. I have always been a once-a-week caller, but I now call almost every day. I am taking nothing for granted.

My lovely, independent mother is diminished. Her body has betrayed her and she is rightfully scared. She wishes I lived closer, and sometimes so do I.

I sense the shift beginning. I have always known it would come and I’m in the middle of it now. My parents, always formidable and well in charge, are becoming less like parents, and I, less like a child. The roles are starting to rotate. I have taken a few warm-up swings of the bat and I feel myself stepping up to the plate.

My mother’s body is dwindling. Parts are missing; organs are missing. The arms that held me will no longer carry a bag of groceries. This woman, a public health nurse who once knocked on doors in city slums, no longer trusts herself to drive.

I sit in the sand and watch my children splash and run in the freezing ocean water. I cannot keep my feet in there for more than a few seconds, but the cold does not touch them. They are invincible, these kids.

If all goes well, I too will grow old. My grown kids will call once a week and visit when they can. They will bring me stories and treasures from their far-flung lives.
And I hope they’ll remember this shining day. Remember me as I once was.


  1. Oh Pam, this is beautiful. I have these fears about the role reversal with my parents, although, thankfully I have so far only been forced to think about it by very minor things - their health is still good. But I feel so dependent on my Mother, who also lives far away, that as we both age, the prospect of one day losing her begins to haunt me.

    I also appreciate how you use the skin as a sign of age or resilience. Every time I look at my hands that's all I can think - "old lady hands." Ugh.

    And I have often thought the same thing about what people say in memoirs about their family. You must have to be thick-skinned to be related to a professional author.

    Anyway, you're a very talented writer. Thanks for the good cry.

  2. Thank you, Gretchen. Life is whizzing by at warp speed these days. I'm trying to capture each moment, but they keep getting away from me. Long runs seem to be the only thing slowing time.

    Yes, hands. Old lady hands. And I caught a peek at my bum by mistake in the locker room mirror last winter after a swim. Old lady ass. Or at least middle-aged. Oh, dear.

  3. Hi Pam....

    Sorry to hear of your mom's stroke and all it's related issues. Good you have your kids to watch and love in these times.


  4. Amen, Steve. She's much better now. Thanks.

  5. I am so sorry to hear about your Mom's health. Hang in there. Beautifully written post. Thank you.


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