It was the moment she called me "mother." I was upset and blurted out, “Mom, I’m your daughter.”
She hesitated, and then answered slowly. “Oh, yes.”
Too quickly I butted in. “Mom, you know I’m your daughter.”
I commanded, rather than asked, selfishly realizing, at 56, I still needed a mother.
“Yes, of course,” she answered. “But a daughter shouldn’t have to take care of her mother,” she added, carefully.
Mom hasn’t addressed me this way again. And yet, the exchange generated new fears for my brain to tease through. I thought I had reached all the milestones associated with my parents aging. But now, it is different.
I share time with Mom. She sometimes asks me about my day, but less often offers advice. I rarely tell her my problems. I read my blogs to her, and sometimes she helps me choose the right word. We sit together by our special rivers and at our favorite parks. I play music for her on my iPhone. We don’t talk politics much. I am thankful for what we have.
I used to think I was like my mother. Then, later, I realized how much I was like my dad. Now, I see bits of myself from each of them and wonder who I may be like as I age? Will I die quickly like Dad; with my mind clear, but my heart exhausted? Or will I outlive my cognition? And what might that bring to my daughters? But really, what does it matter today?
The sun is shining. I have a new book to write. We have problems in our world that we need to solve. I will get old someday, or not. I may die like my dad or like my mom or not like either of them. What I do know, is, for today, I will be there for Mom. And for this moment, none of the rest of it matters.
What gifts do we share, late in life? The gift to sit, in silence to the chirp of birds or whistling of the wind. The gift of story, those that happened, new ones that might have been. I sit with Mom, who taught me how to be strong and independent. Surreptitiously, I pick a sprig of lavender one day. She laughs when I hand it to her, as I learn I don’t have to always follow all the rules. I’m learning from her the time to leave behind regrets and accept what you bring to this world is sooner rather than later. To know that change is constant, and not all of it comfortable or happy. To look to a parent as a teacher, still, even if they call you Mom.
And what I will say when she asks again, is, “No, Mom. I’m your daughter and helper. You are my teacher no matter what we pass through together. And you will always be my mother.”
Dede Montgomery is a sixth-generation Oregonian who writes about past and present Oregon in her blog, Musings on Life in Oregon, and her 2017 memoir, My Music Man. Dede’s first novel, Beyond the Ripples, will be released by her publisher, Bedazzled Ink, in 2019. Dede also works in research outreach and education at OHSU.
A longer version of this post appears on Dede's blog and you can read it HERE.