The Flip Side


I wrote about my Mom last week and the difficulties of dealing with her progression into dementia.  I had an email from my sister Candy a few weeks back that reminded me that life with Mom has not always been difficult.  She wrote:

I think all three of us–you, me, and Ellen–have longed for the approval and encouragement from Mom. She expressed her love in other ways: doll clothes, school lunches, and dire warnings of disasters.  Yet she did encourage us in so many ways. I remember she helped with my Bluebird group, sewed dresses for school and for dolls, made delicious meals, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and took time and care to wrap gifts, make picnic lunches for Vashon Island adventures, bathed us when we were sick (remember hot lemonade? the special bath soap only used when we were sick?) and so many other expressions of mother love and concern. Some people are great at parenting for one age group, but not for other age groups. Mom was, I think, best at being a parent for the younger years, when little ones needed to be shepherded more closely and she could do all the homemaker things for us and Daddy. Teenage years were more difficult for her (and us!) to navigate.  Sometimes I wish I could be a little girl again, bouncing on Mom and Dad’s bed on Christmas morning, opening red flannel stockings stuffed with goodies. But it is Christmas in my heart.

I realize I have spent my whole life looking for Mom’s approval and support, I now know it is something she can’t give because she never had it herself.  It is letting go of wanting it from her and understanding that all that love, acceptance, approval and trust comes from within me and my source.  Candy has reminded me that our childhood was not all “Don’t!” every time we turned around.  I have been working on coming to terms with Mom and how I see my childhood and my relationship to her.  For the past few years living here, I have only been aware and remembering the things that drive me crazy – learning to take the emotion out of it is not always easy.  Before Mom goes, I would like to have the great memories and feelings in the forefront, to keep that in mind, especially in those very frustrating times.   I’d like to ask both you and Ellen to start a list of things that were special for you, things that Mom did or said that you appreciated.  I would be interested to see how many we all put on the list and what is different – I realize both of you had different views of things and I would like to know more about that.

  •    Alcohol back rubs when we had flu – so soothing and refreshing
  •   I asked for sliced black olive sandwiches for lunch and she would make them.  I loved the meatloaf sandwiches.
  •   Coming home from school and Mom was there, baking cookies or downstairs  ironing, the smell of fresh clothes.
  •   She took us to the library after school for books.  I have a picture in my mind of being in the library in Madrona with Mom and Dad, everyone had a large pile of books to check out.  So appreciate their example of reading – it has always been one of my greatest pleasures.  I don’t remember learning to read, it is as if I have always known how to read.
  •   Saturday outings to different places, Mom making two lunches – peanut butter and crackers for Candy to eat on the ride, a proper lunch for all of us later.
  •   Mom trying out new recipes for dinner, enjoying the creativity of it.
  •   Yes, I remember the doll clothes for Christmas, clothes for Christmas and I especially remember that huge blue stuffed horse she made for Candy one year in Manhattan Beach.  it’s head was so heavy it always drooped to the side.
  •   When I could order a blouse from Sears or Ward’s and spending time deciding which one would work the best.
  •   When we went camping Mom did all the cooking and  planned lunches.   Remember when she would go into the grocery store and come out with bread, lunchmeat and a spread of some sort?
  • I always felt loved and wanted.  They gave us manners and integrity, respect for other people and their property, discipline and boundaries we could test and find they stayed in place. We always did things as a family; whether it was yard work, outings, playing cards, etc.  Now the boat is a whole story by itself.
  • Mom had a great sense of humor, we laughed a lot and she would come out with unexpected things that made us laugh.
  • Mom taught us how to make beds with hospital corners, to iron and clean house so we would be able to do when we were on our own.
  • We all had fun making root beer, all the steps.  We did a lot of hand cranked ice cream as well.
  • She helped welcome Eddie into the family and make him feel a part of it.  I think he has felt Mom and Dad were like his own parents.
  • Hot chocolate after going to see the Christmas ship
  • Making Christmas cookies
  • Birthdays – the birthday plate, chocolate cake with white 7 minute icing, candles, birthday parties and the birthday box with pink and blue crepe paper

My sister Ellen is working on her list, though one thing she did mention – as well as remembering alcohol rubs when we were sick – was “the biggest thing for me is my great gratitude for my college education”.

Somewhere inside this stubborn, irritating and unpredictable woman is that witty, loving and creative mother all three of us girls remember.    I would much rather remember all of the loving things she did rather than how it feels at this moment.

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