I thought that was quite the compliment, coming from a 13 year old boy. While I was proud that he knew what imagery was, and more than a little flattered that he thought his mom's writing was good, I couldn't help but notice the astonishment in his voice. Was it really so difficult to believe that I could write?
I'm not taking it personally. I am, after all, his mother. Truth be told, I think we all have a rather distorted vision of our mothers. Or at least an incomplete picture of who she is. My son may know things about me - what I do, things I like - and he may have heard some of the stories from my past, but to him I am simply Mom, the one who fulfills a particular role in his life. Nothing more and nothing less. And I am perfectly fine with that.
I think things get more complicated, however, as you get older and roles begin to change. My 84 year old mother recently moved into an assisted living facility ten minutes from my home and two and a half hours from hers. While my brother, sisters, and I (and to a certain degree, my mother) all believed it was for the best, I can't imagine just how difficult it must be for her to make such an abrupt change to her life. How do you give up everything you've known for the past six decades? What effect could that possibly have on your own sense of self?
The other day she told me that she had told herself that she wouldn't complain, but we had to expect there would be days when she would be depressed. While I get that, I have to fight the urge to try to make everything okay for her. Perhaps it's my own mothering instincts kicking in, wanting those I love to always be happy, even while I recognize the futility of that desire. When I was a kid I remember seeing my mother upset, but I don't think I ever really questioned what was upsetting her. That didn't seem to be my job. It was her job to take care of me. It was her job to understand me, not the other way around. Like me with my own sons, I suspect she was perfectly fine with the role, too. It's a role she has played for over 60 years, and one she has played well.
And she continues to play it.
Which probably explains more accurately than any other explanation I could offer how she ended up in an assisted living facility. There, she has people to take care of her. People who are not her children. People who did not grow up being taken care of by her. She is there, not because her children don't love her, but because we do. We love our mother, and this way, that is who she remains. Our caretaker. The strong and wise one who will listen to our problems and offer words of comfort or sage advice.
Our roles remain intact.
I hope that my mother finds a measure of comfort in knowing that a core part of who she is remains even when so much of her life has changed. As we all sat around my kitchen table last night for what has become our routine Sunday night dinner, I felt what a blessing this change is, for my children and me at least. My children get to spend more time with their beloved grandmother, and I get the opportunity to get to know my mother, the woman she is outside that role, a little bit better.