This December it’s my 88-year-old mother who’s expecting. While she’s definitely in labor and the birth of her book is imminent, we don’t know exactly when the final editing will be compete. Since the due date was Christmas Day, this creation will be late. She has accepted that. Still the nearness of letting this brand new one go out into the world is very present, finally certain and exquisitely exciting. The time of waiting and hoping and holding and caring is almost complete. It does help to have the proofs.
I know what it’s like to be pregnant in December since that’s when my first child, Clarke, came. I have also published a book so I can relate – the effort, the struggle, the inevitable doubt is all there, along with the rich possibilities creativity entails. For me, it took about nine months to craft my story into a product suitable for public consumption so the analogy to pregnancy was clear. Daring to let my vulnerable wee one go out into the world felt like birth in a way.
Yesterday – bless me! – I was the midwife alongside Mom. We sat side-by-side for several hours on her chocolate-brown loveseat. Each of us lovingly fondled a draft copy of Haiku Memories in one hand and a stern red pen in the other. Fortunately, her co-creator (Kristin Carroccino, a talented developmental editor) had constructed a bound version of my mother’s poetry and photos. It was almost ready to publish. We could afford to marvel and coo over it because few corrections were needed. Lucky for me, the author herself – my own mother! – was right there in the flesh beside me accenting certain memories as they flowed by. I found myself reflecting on how much I actually like this person.
It is not always this way for me. I have often thought that by now, six months after Mom’s move to the nearby retirement home, she’d be more settled and capable again. After all she ran a university’s nursing department once upon a time, for God’s sake. I also thought, frankly, that I’d be more patient and loving having added a half year to my understanding of things. After all I call myself a Christian, for God’s sake.
Instead in the rush of my job and home life (including those afore-mentioned wild kitties), I often find myself flat-out irritated when Mom calls to say, “The computer’s broken and I can’t get my email” or “I forgot the password to my phone” or – my favorite – “The laptop says I have a virus and need to pay them $200 to save my memory” (as if $200 could actually do that). Sometimes the difficulty is a financial puzzle. Or her problem cuts closer to the bone like when her shoulder harbored excruciating pain and the doctor found nothing wrong.
My pervasive annoyance is not the worst part of living near Mom for me. Instead I am often disappointed in myself. How could I be so heartless and pissed about the disruption to my precious plans? What am I thinking?! She’s my mother, for God’s sake!
Then, on a recent snow day, I was unexpectedly home from work. My calendar opened and any prior obligations fell away. Rob, my intrepid all-weather driver, had an early appointment near Mom’s and dropped me off for the morning. First, we located Mom’s holiday CDs and chose music. Then we decorated her little Christmas tree. We stopped for a cup of tea. When Rob returned, he played the keyboard for us while we chatted. She invited us to stay for lunch. And the best part for me was that in the midst of it all, I accidentally paused and noticed, “Hey, this is fun. I am really enjoying this. I am loving her, and Rob, and me too.”
Later I found myself noticing her giggle during the family gift exchange, her pleasure while hosting my friend and me in her community’s dining room, her delight when she called to happily announce the books had arrived. Yes, of course I could clear my own agenda and come see them. I couldn’t wait to pour over those priceless words and photos that are her very life. I was beyond joyful to help polish them, adding any sheen I could.
But mostly we could sit in the comfortable womb of her sofa together, captivated for the afternoon. We were practically squealing with glee as we studied this beautiful synthesis of her retirement years. The collection is at once a tribute to my late father – a love story really – as well as a tale of rebirth and legacy after the great darkness that his death and the aftermath were for her.
Haiku Memories tells the story of her post-work years in one jewel after another. I am grateful to wait and hope with her for its published arrival. Yes, I know my aggravation, when it comes, is my way of avoiding the deep sadness of eventually letting her go. Before that though, on this Christmas Eve, I am grateful to get such a wonderful up-close-and-personal picture of her LIFE.