Untarnished

No matter how old we are, when we’re sick we want Mom.  When we hurt physically, that’s who we call out for.  When we have been wounded emotionally, we want her more than anything.

Several of my bloggin’ buddies asked me to repost this piece for Mother’s Day.  I am delighted to grant those requests.  Because one of the best things about writing is that it lets you bring back folks you miss, hold them again, and let them know that you love them.

I love you, Mom.  And thanks for being such a nut.

*     *     *

My Silver Lining

Thursday, November 22, is Thanksgiving in the U.S.  It is also the 30th anniversary of the surgery I had for what was then thought to be severe ulcerative colitis.  It was a difficult time for me, but one for which I will be thankful for on Thanksgiving and really every day.  Yes, I got my health back as a result of the surgery, but that wasn’t the best part.

The most important part, the silver lining, was that I got to know my Mom, and it started a close relationship that lasted for the rest of her life and that I will feel grateful for for the rest of mine.

Mom was the sweetest woman on the planet.  My friends adored her.  Our house was always open to hoards of kids.  We lived near the beach, and it was convenient for everybody to just hang at our house.  But it was more than that. For years dozens of teens used our house as their home away from home.  There was always room, always plenty to eat, always a welcome.  No one was ever turned away, and the answer to “can So-And-So stay the night” (or “the weekend” or in some cases “the summer”) was always “sure.”

But we weren’t close, Mom and I.  I was Daddy’s girl from the start.  Mom, well, I loved her.  I even liked her, mostly.  It’s just that there wasn’t a whole lot about Mom to make me respect her.  She was completely helpless, you see.  Hopelessly so.  I can’t stand that and never have been able to deal with dependent people.  And “helpless”?  That was Mom in a nutshell.

She didn’t drive.  She didn’t shop without Dad.  She didn’t go for a walk alone.  She didn’t try to take control of family problems and help figure out how to solve them.  She waited for my dad to get home to reprimand, make a decision, to blow her nose, or so it seemed.  She was utterly and totally dependent upon my Dad.  It was incredibly annoying to this girl growing up in the late sixties and seventies during one of the strongest pushes for equal rights for women.  My friends’ mothers were out protesting the Vietnam War.  Mine didn’t even vote.  They burned their bras; Mom ironed hers.  They voiced their opinions ever more loudly.  Mom looked to Dad to indicate which way was up.

After I left home and became more self-sufficient, my irritation at Mom’s inability to do anything without Dad’s help, grew.

So when Mom announced, just weeks before I was to have radical, difficult surgery, that she was going to come to help, well, I panicked.  She was going to help me?  Yeah right.  Her announcement sent me into apoplexy.  It was the worse possible news heaped on a whole ream of really shitty news.  Who the hell was going to help her?

I lived with my roommate, Keily, and my 120 lb. alcoholic German Shepherd, Goliath, in a tiny Washington, DC, townhouse, in a not terribly safe area.  I was sure that Mom would get mugged — she’d make an easy target.  I feared that she would let the dog out and they would both die.  I drove a battered and temperamental VW Bug with a stick shift that Mom didn’t know how to use.  And of course, I wasn’t going to be able to help her because I was going to be recovering from having my guts totally ripped open and reorganized.

I couldn’t believe she would do this to me.

At the same time I couldn’t hurt her feelings and tell her that I didn’t want her.  Nope.  I could never have done that.  Not if my life depended on it.  Which of course, it might.

But once she dropped that bomb, I stopped worrying about the surgery, about the recovery, about everything except how I would take care of my caretaker.  Thankfully, my brother Fred came to help too.  He could drive my car; he could help with Mom for the week he took off from work.  My roommate, Keily, was a star, too.  (That’s a whole different story.)  But Mom came for what was a very long recovery, 2-1/2 months, so felt like I’d be pretty much on my own in taking care of her.

It wasn’t long after she arrived before I realized that Mom without Dad was a different person.  Dad loved the caretaker role, and she was happy to let him play it.  Without Dad, Mom had opinions on stuff, could make decisions and could give savvy and sage advice.  I decided quickly that maybe she and I were related after all.

And as soon as we got to the hospital, I was incredibly glad she was there.  I was admitted and headed up to my room, sending Mom and Fred to get settled in their hotel.  It was about dinnertime, which didn’t matter to me; I’d been on a clear liquid diet for about a week.  And while I was starving, I knew I couldn’t eat.  I had my instructions from my doctor:

(1) Do not eat;

(2) Continue taking your medicines just like you are now;

(3) Show up to the hospital.

Always pay attention to the details when your guts are on the line.

Now Hopkins is one of the best hospitals in the country and it was also one of only two places in the country where the operation I was to have could be performed.  The surgery was brand, spankin’ new – just a smidge beyond experimental.  It was dangerous.  It was highly specialized.   My doctors were to take out my large intestine, rearrange what was left of my plumbing so that things worked normally, and close me up.  Two surgeries were involved – they had to give me a colostomy (ewwww – a bag) in between the two surgeries while my innards healed.  Only 100 of these surgeries had been done in the world.  I was my surgeon’s 7th.  I was scared shitless which is saying a whole lot for a girl with bowel trouble.

But when I got to the hospital, everything went wrong.  They tried to insist I eat; they tried to give me the wrong medicine; they forgot about me and left me hanging out in my room where I fell asleep for several hours before someone wondered who I was.  The grand finale came when two nurses wheeled in an EKG machine, hooked me up and turned it on – and the machine started smoking.   The nurses, trying valiantly not to laugh, had to quickly unplug it and get it out of there.

“MOM!!!!”

I called her at her hotel in a complete panic, hysterical.

“I am not going to have this surgery.  What kind of a hospital is this?  They can’t even get an EKG machine to work.  It was smoking Mom, SMOKING!!!!  I’m not.  I’m not. I’m not.”

How is it that Moms know just how to calm down the most hysterical daughter?  I was and she did.  And she didn’t need Dad one little bit.  Yup, she calmed me down, and then, I heard later, called the nurses’ desk and chewed them out royally.  I’m pretty sure that was the first time she’d ever chewed anyone out.  But she wasn’t going to let anybody or anything upset her daughter or get in the way of the surgery that her daughter desperately needed.  And whatever she said worked.  Nothing else got screwed up.  They paid attention to her daughter.

In fact, Helpless Mom became SuperMom.  She corralled doctors when they didn’t come in a timely manner, she sweet-talked most of the nurses and they seemed to come around more and more often as they laughed and joked with Mom.  She was on a first name basis with all the residents and interns, knew if they were married, where they were from.  They got a little bit of mothering whenever they came into the room, and she charmed the lot of them.

She was always full of laughter, encouragement and fun.  Except when her sixth sense told her that I was feeling sorry for myself; then she’d tell me to stop sniveling.  Sometimes I needed that.

Back at home, she was great too.  She found the grocery store and walked to and from, lugging bags of food.  She fed me and Keily, gave beer to the dog, helped me get upstairs and downstairs.  Helped me do many things that were totally disgusting.  She helped me be independent again.  We laughed our way through Christmas together and then my birthday in January.  We laughed for two months, barely coming up for air.  We talked a whole lot, too, about everything.  We became fast friends.

There is one incident though, that made me realize that I’d never really known her before.  Could this crazy woman really be my Mom?

We’d driven my VW to Baltimore for a pre-surgical checkup before the 2nd surgery, scheduled for the 9th of February.  It was late January, and there were several inches of snow on the ground.  On the way back home, the VW died in the center lane of a busy highway.  I managed to coast to the side of the road, where the bug sighed once and died.  Shit.  I was still not at my best, and the promise of a long snowy walk was not a pleasant one for either Mom or me.

But a blue Honda Civic two-door driven by a big burly guy pulled up along the roadside next to us.  He rolled down the window and asked if we needed a lift.  I was about to explain that my car had just died and would he please call a tow truck, when, well, Mom jumped into the back seat! I stood there with my mouth flapping. Because I could hear her voice from my childhood talking in the back of my head:

NEVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET INTO A CAR WITH A STRANGE MAN.

THEY ARE ALL RAPISTS

But there she was, the woman who taught me never, ever, to get into a car with a rapist — she was in the back seat of a stranger/potential rapist’s car.  WTF?????  What the hell was she doing?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I got into the front seat.  And there on the floor was something else that shocked me:  A  teddy bear with a green t-shirt that said “I’m Going To Steal Your Love.”

“Wonderful,” I thought, “a rapist with a sense of humor.”

As it turned out, the guy wasn’t a rapist!  He took us to a reputable garage where they agreed to tow and fix my damn car.

But the adventure wasn’t over yet — we still needed to get home.  The hotel across from the garage had a shuttle bus that went to BWI Airport.  From there, we were told, there was another shuttle bus that could get us back to DC.  It sounded perfect.

Perfect except for the fact that we had hardly any money left  The shuttle to DC only took cash.  No credit cards.  No beads.  No chickens.  Cash.  Shit.

We didn’t have enough for the fare, and couldn’t have come up with any more money.  But that didn’t stop Mom.

She walked up to the shuttle driver and chatted her up.

“Do you think you can let us both on for $16.50?”

“Sorry M’am, the adult fare is $10.”

“What’s the child’s fee?  I mean, after all, she’s my little girl.”

The driver let us both on, shaking her head and smiling at Mom.  Feeling like she’d done a good deed (she had).

Mom was there for my second operation, and then she headed home with Dad who had come up for it.  When he arrived, Mom didn’t just let Dad do everything as she always had before.  She showed him around — showed him her turf.  She had realized that she really liked feeling in charge, and doing things on her own, for herself and for me.

For the rest of Mom’s life, she and I had a whole different relationship.  I had always loved her, always liked her.  But her care for me, and her resourcefulness and sense of duty and just plain fun let me develop a respect for her I’d never had.

I’ve always felt lucky in a way to have had these health problems.  Because they gave me my Mom.  I would never have known her, never have laughed with her so very much.  I wouldn’t have heard the stories of her life, told with love and humor, the way she did everything.

*     *     *

On Mother’s Day, I will raise a special toast to Mom, my SuperMom.

76 Comments

Filed under Humor, Childhood Traumas, Family, Health and Medicine, Bloggin' Buddies, Dogs, Holidays

76 responses to “Untarnished

  1. That was really wonderful……..Enjoyed reading & happy that finally u understood ur mom…….There is no one in the world who can take the place of mother…..

  2. Beautiful! Just beautiful. Your piece proves our sisterhood in a past life, Elyse, since my siblings never get that Mom and I reached a ground – as you did with yours – unknown to them. One day when I can write as well as you do, I will write of it. For now, just know reading your piece warmed me through in the loving goodness of mother daughter love. Thank you for this beautiful gift of story and real life for mothers, daughters and all others who mother. xo

  3. Your mom sounds like one hell of a cool chick . Ahem, madam. Glad she found her footing, life does funny things to people. And that teddy bear – priceless .

    • Thanks, Duck. My Mom was pretty cool — I am just so thankful every day that I got to realize it. Seriously. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      And thinking about that teddy bear will crack me up for as long as I live. I mean, what sort of rapist was he?

      • (: I have no words.

        For the teddy bear though, I would not have thought what you thought, I’d have been sold in a heartbeat on that thing. He’s just a harmless could’ve-been rapist. Speaks volume for me, talking to a stranger on the bus today haha

        • I spent many years hitch-hiking (without my mother). Hoping into a car with a strange man was NBD for me — but for Mom???????? Oy!

          • Haha ! Omygoodness, I would/do not have the guts for that ! In fact, saying goodbye to the bus-stranger at the cross way I just thought of your post – I should totally go with him wherever and have a ride. Least then it’d save me the trouble to having to think about what to post.

            • I did it in the 70s — I wouldn’t do it today (I shouldn’t have done it today but everybody did.) It’s sad, it was a great way to get around, meet people. And I never once met a rapist. Not even one! (Yes, I know how lucky that is because you never do know.)

  4. OMG I can identify! No wonder you come visit me…I am your Mom. And, next week I’ll be with daughter who needs me. For now with tears in my eyes, I will just say, “What an absorbing read.”
    Prayers for my daughter, single mom, etc. who is trying to make it out in CA, a place she calls home.

    • OMG, Georgette! I’m so happy we are related! And I’m happy that you enjoyed this post.

      I’m sending good Karma to your daughter. I’m sure she knows what a treasure you are.

      (I put the full text into comments. Just because I love you!)

  5. I’ve been following your blog long enough to have read this piece before–and I enjoyed it even more this time! Children and parents sharpen each other in such amazing ways. I am thankful to have great relationships with my mom and my mother in law; they are fiercely loving and protective of their now adult children.

    Reading your piece was also timely for me as I care for my two little ones who have strep throat. I am moved by my 8-year old son’s increased affection and sweetness when he doesn’t feel well. My daughter is clingy but defiant about not being sick. But I am so honored to hear the calls for Mommy.

    Your post is a wonderful way to honor your mom. Blessings to you. –Alison

    • Hi Amphomma,
      We all have many moms, in some ways don’t we. I have been lucky in my own Mom, my Mother-in-Law and the love of the moms of friends from childhood on.

      Your daughter actually sounds very much like me, even today. Admitting that I am sick is really difficult for me, and sometimes it gets in the way of getting better. Hopefully she isn’t quite as stubborn as I was.

      Happy Mother’s Day to you. And thanks for stopping by and for reading this twice!

      • My little girl is exhaustingly stubborn. I know it has the potential to serve her well as she grows, but right now I’m a little batty from it! “My nose hurts”, “Can we go to Pump it Up tomorrow?”, and “I’m not sick” are all in the same breath, along with “hold me” and “I don’t want to eat dinner”. Being sick magnifies her stubbornness. Maybe it helps fight it off.

        A happy Mother’s Day, to you, too. I am mostly hoping NOT to get sick. :)
        –Alison

  6. A great story and wonderful relationship between the two of you. You are blessed.

  7. That was a magical post. Just magical.

  8. I remember this one … and it’s wonderful the second time around.

  9. They say that men may spend time with, and even adore many women throughout their lives, but there is only one woman they truly love – their mom.
    That’s partially true. I loved my mom, and contrary tradition, I loved Tamy’s mom. That woman went through years of Hell being eaten from the inside out by cancer, but she never played the wilting flower or long-suffering object of pity. I love my wife, but I also love – and sorely miss – both my mothers.
    Well done, my lady. Well done indeed. :)

  10. Oh, Elyse, I have to echo Speaker, this is a magical and lovely tribute to your mom. I am just all weepy reading it again. I love that photo of her.

    • Thanks, Darla.

      You know those people from cultures who thought that the camera stole their soul? I think in this picture, the camera captured my mom’s soul and put it out for us all to remember. I keep that picture on my dresser and look at it every day.

  11. I remember this! The twinkle in your mom’s eye is a delight to behold. Happy Mother’s Day to her and all of our moms.

    • Thanks, Peg. I do love that picture. I’ve never known anyone whose personality was so vividly captured in a photograph as my Mom is in that one. I can’t look at it without feeling her hug me.

      Happy Mother’s Day to you, my friend!

  12. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this story! Beautifully told!

  13. I read this before, but read it again cause its awesome. Your mom was a wonderfulwm woman, and its easy to see where you get it from.

  14. Happy “you-have-such-a-great-Mother”‘s day.

  15. I remember this post! And I really love the twinkle in your Momma’s eye. Thank you for sharing it with us again!

    • Isn’t that the best picture ever? It makes me smile every time I see it, which is quite often as it sits on my dresser in my bedroom.

      I said this to Darla above, but it bears repeating: You know those people from cultures who thought that the camera stole their soul? I think in this picture, the camera captured my mom’s soul and put it out for us all to remember.

      Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!

  16. I remember enjoying this last time too.
    Happy Mothers Day, Elyse.

  17. I love this post. And that picture.

  18. Clinton

    I love this one, thank you.

  19. I love this even more this time than I did the first time. Thanks for reposting it. I love that impish grin in her photo.

    • Thanks, Michelle! Isn’t that the best picture? It was taken at my wedding. I wish I could remember the names of the photographers who captured her to give them credit.

  20. “I’ve always felt lucky in a way to have had these health problems. Because they gave me my Mom.” Isn’t that the truth?

    Your Mom was a fierce Mom, that’s easy to tell. Read this story before and it’s just as wonderful the 2nd time.

    HMD to your Mom in Heaven

    MJ

    • She was quite a character, MJ. She laughed more than anybody I’ve ever known. I am lucky indeed. Thanks for your wishes and I send them back to you — HMD to you and your mother.

  21. I read this the first time, loved it then. I read it this time, still love it. You were so fortunate to find the ‘real’ woman your mother was under the ‘wife’. She was a lovely person in each of these roles, Mom and Wife.

  22. moi

    Excellent post, A friend of mine has had the same operation as you because of colitis.

    • I hope she (he?) is doing well. It gave me years of good health and I’ll always be glad I had it done.

      • moi

        it is a he, yeah i think it was around a year ago, he seems to be doing ok, i remember visiting him in hospital and he was real low at the time.

        • I did quite well — but it turned out that I had Crohn’s which has come back, but nowhere near as severely as when they thought it was colitis (sometimes it’s hard to distinguish without dissection). But if he wants to talk with someone, feel free to have him email me.

  23. So awesome -thank you!

  24. We often our best gifts through our biggest trials. Great post.

  25. so much wisdom in that expression…

  26. I think everyone deserves that moment of understanding with a parent. Glad you found yours. Happy Mother’s Day!

  27. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    This is just lovely. And actually, has me feeling special about being a mother. Thank you very much – and I’m sure your mother had a wonderful day :)

    • Thanks, Words. Being a mother is a pretty powerful position, isn’t it. Thanks for your kind words. Sadly my Mom has been gone many years now. We lost her on Easter in 1997.

      I’m sure she had a good day anyway! She always managed to.

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