“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
That’s me, insane. Einstein was a genius and he said this, so I must be. I made a vow to myself to take a break from Mom, since my compassion meter was running on empty and my last visit with her left me more exhausted than usual. So I didn’t see her last Sunday, and instead took a walk in the park, practiced harmonica (I’m teaching myself) and watched TV. I was going to take today off too, since I have a bad cold, but when I called her to say I wasn’t coming, that familiar hysteria crept into her voice.
“Where are you?” she said.
“Mom?” I said.
“I can’t hear you. Where are you?”
She was holding the phone wrong, as she does sometimes, so I shouted into the phone, “Ask the nurse to help you with the phone.”
The nurse helped her.
“Where are you? Why aren’t you here?” she said.
“I have a bad cold; I don’t want to make you sick. I was going to stay home.”
“No, please come, I need you,” she said.
Dutiful fool that I am, I agreed, against my husband’s wishes who said I needed to stay home and rest. I told him I’d feel worse staying at home and wondering if she was getting worse.
I sat in GW Bridge traffic for over an hour, and made it there by the 5:00 dinner hour. I wheeled her into the day room and gave her the cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee I brought.
She took a sip. “It’s cold,” she said.
“Well, I was sitting in traffic for an hour.”
I asked her if she was feeling any better and she said, “Not really.” I rubbed her shoulders intermittently.
Then, “A very nice girl helped calm me down and gave me some potato chips.”
“What’s her name?” I said. She didn’t remember.
The dinner trays arrived. Dinner consisted of a beef and bean burrito, cut green beans, potato croquets, coffee, orange juice, a mixed fruit cup and a cup of Dolly Madison ice cream. Mom cut into the burrito.
“I don’t like this,” she said, before even taking a bite. The tortilla was a bit tough, so I cut the burrito into pieces to make it easier for her to eat.
I told her it was a burrito and that I ate a lot of them when I lived in Los Angeles with Dad. “They sold them at the school cafeteria,” I said.
She ate a few more bites. “It’s a burrito?”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
Other people complained about their meals too. One woman stood up and said she had ordered chicken, not what was on her plate. Mom’s friend Lois, who sat at our table, started choking on her food and asked for water. Nobody heard her so I told one of the aides. Lois was alright after drinking the water.
After she was done, I wheeled Mom into her room and showed her the box of oatmeal cookies I brought her.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” she said. Then, “Where’s that card from Rick?”
“The Mother’s Day card,” I said.
“Yes.” It was on her side table and I gave it to her.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she said, and started reading the inside greeting. “Although I may not say it every day, know that your son loves you today and always.”
“That means so much,” she said, with a wistful half-smile on her face.
“Yes, it does,” I said.
I felt sick inside.
I’m glad that the card gives her comfort, but it hurt. It hurt that this is the “chosen” card among her Mother’s Day cards and the one that gives her comfort, despite the fact that my brother hasn’t visited her since last August and has done nothing to help her over the years, and leaves all the dirty work to me. Perhaps that makes me spiteful, but it brought me back to a childlike place, where nothing I did ever counted for much, no matter how much I did for her. It was always Rick’s small gestures that impressed her the most. It was an indication of who she loved most, at least that’s how it struck me.
Doing and doing and trying and trying, giving blood, sweat and tears to someone who will never really value me as much as she values her son. I must be insane.