There Will Be No Letter Grades

When you are slogging through adult life, when in a single day, you have cleaned the poop of your mom and the poop of the dog, when you wake up and get the kids out the door and want to go back to bed for the rest of the morning and somehow don't...there is no one to give you credit. There is no applause, no gold star, rarely even a thank you. Because you are doing nothing more heroic than being an adult woman of relative means and good circumstance, with a great life and kids and partner, who happens to be facing the same generational pulls as any other upper middle class white lady.

And yet, it is a lovely thing to be acknowledged by your sweet friend. To be seen.

 

Mothering

There is paper evidence of her decline. In July, she paid the bills, recorded the checks, marked the bills PAID and filed them. In August, she paid them, recorded the checks and marked the bills PAID. In September, she paid them and barely marked the bills PAID. As the months of summer passed, her handwriting grew wobbly and veiny: written proof of what she was losing. Had I seen this feeble writing instead of her perfect Palmer method cursive, I would have known.

Instead, I found out when we had brunch with her in mid-October, at her invitation, and she admitted she’d fallen the night before and had to call EMS. She was so frail. She proceeded to fall three of the next four nights. We hired help. The help worried. We added hours of help. Her beloved housekeeper Leonor found Mom on the ground the morning of her regular cleaning day, and when I rushed to meet her at the house, we were both in tears: ¿qué le ha pasado? Leonor agreed to stay the night as long as we needed her. Leonor, who calls Mom “mi Dianita.” Leonor, who’d been making her meals and caring for her far more than I’d known.

Over the course of three weeks, we cobbled together 24-hour care. And yet she (we? I?) needed more: more skilled, more consistent, closer to us. I began to look at personal care homes — basically group homes for older people that have some level of nursing and a high level of service.

We found one: a sweet place in our neighborhood, halfway between the office and the house. We see her every day, sometimes more than once a day. It is a miracle this place exists. She is close and cared for, and that feels good.

And yet she’s so far from us. In such a short time, she’s gone from confusion about her September bank statement to not being able to work a phone to being lost about the day’s events and losing words. I can’t reconcile the dragon lady of my childhood with this docile mother I am now mothering. I just can’t.

I am not giving up on her, even though I’m getting little support that there may something acute going on beyond the cruel progress of dementia.

I feel so guilty for all the ways I failed her and am failing her.

And if she wakes up from this fog and sees her hair, which I haven’t had time to get cut and styled amid her many more urgent appointments, she will beat my ass. It’s one of the things I pray for.

At Your Service

Dear Children,

I love you. I made you. I am devoted to you.

And yet.

This is not the White House. While your respective jobs of being awesome 12 and 7-year-old humans and students are super important, you are not running the free world. And you don't have "staff." You have parents.

And today, just one day in the life of this family, one parent or the other (not a staff member)...

...drove carpool, made both your lunches, washed the dance clothes, volunteered at library, came home to find dance clothes still wet, put dance clothes in the laundromat near the office, drove you to get your head re-checked for lice, raced back to the office to deliver the dance shoes mistakenly taken in the car, spared you the horror of gymnastics by letting you hang out at the office, took you to get more dance shoes, drove you to dance class, bought you dinner, stopped at the grocery store to buy your lunch items. Oh, and then did homework and bedtime.

We do a lot for you two. Cut us a little slack.

Sincerely,

The Management

It's Lunch, Okay

Lu got her "expander" yesterday, which is part II of the semi-medieval thing we call braces. As a result, she was suddenly tender-mouthed and rejecting many normal foods. So, at her request, I sent her to school with a can of soup. Not homemade, not even organic. Just sodium-laden, old-fashioned Campbell's.

Only it was the condensed kind. And she was faced with having to try to add water from the water fountain or something humiliating. And then she was rescued by Frank, whose classroom at Kealing is basically a dorm room, complete with microwave, fridge, coffeemaker and more. The price of his saving lunch? Judgment:

 

Evening habit forming?

Oh, here I am again, back after one week. Bet you never thought you'd see me again for another year. Mmm hmm. Back, baby.

I'm back to report that we lived. The week-long record-scratch, summer hangover recovery, fall time-zone adjustment that was this week...is done. And I didn't kill anyone (but Sunday was rough).

And this evening was actually...good. Jason made hamburgers. Milo did piano practice and didn't want to stop. Lu did homework, then interrupted herself to work out the chords to the Beatles' "I Will" — inspired by her generously singing Milo's bedtime music (with ukelele). The night's not done, but some evening harmony and peace was welcome after a hard re-entry. Here's hoping it continues.

Club Kids

Lu is in the thick of pre-pubescent social sorting, and, bless her, she is finding (or feeling) herself on the outside. There are the Coder Girls, anointed by the technology teacher, against what rubric and serving what mission, I have no idea. I only know her sadness about seeing herself on the outside. Most recently there's the Ladybug Club, which Lu was either tacitly or explicitly excluded from...because she may or may not have accidentally killed original ladybug "Fat Genius." Not since Biggie's death has there been such a scandal. 

Part of me wants to say, "Kid, these are the character years. This suffering and humiliation makes you who you are! Jane Austen was NEVER cool. And you know Judd Apatow wasn't. David Foster Wallace is dead. Shrek?! This outsider narrative is going to serve you well."

Then this other super-healthy tack: "Oh, babe, I had it way worse. I ate lunch in the restroom for the better part of sixth grade. You're doing great."

But what does a non-striving, non-projecting, well-adjusted parent (ahem, me?) say to her extroverted, confident, well-adjusted, isolated, questioning child? I have no idea. Well, I have an idea, when it's an academic exercise, but when it's heartfelt pillow talk...what I REALLY REALLY wanted to say was a bunch of shitty, insulting, protective/defensive things, but I didn't. Somehow.

Tonight, I went with:

I love you. You are an amazing human being.

I've been there. Feeling like you're on the outside is a very powerful and sad emotion, and I know it well. I survived, and you will, too.

I will snap the heads off your enemies. Name them. Their academic and career prospects will be limited with their heads so far from their bodies. (This is our running joke, but I. will. do. it.)

We have been having versions of this same conversation for days. And we will have it so many more (I hope). I love that she wants to have it.