I traveled home for several days this past week to help my mom with all that a scheduled surgery entails. I’ll keep the details to that because not everyone related to me asked to have a blogger in the family. As I reflect on the the public and private of the event, I am able to share this: it was not only a journey away from my boys (all three of them) to my mom and family, but it was a larger journey to meet a new part of myself in the process. It was in the corridors, and the elevators, and with my hands wrapped around the hospital bed rails that I discovered Catherine as caregiver, advocate, coach, protector, and champion of her parent. It was a new role-and one I found out I was quite prepared for, and pretty good at.
Sitting at the airport cafe with a bowl of soup alone, was terribly strange for me though. I go to my job alone, I don’t travel in a plane alone. Where was everyone? Packing took about five seconds, instead of two weeks: jeans, pajamas, sneakers, book. A girlfriend prepared me that I might not hate it the entire time. She was right. Things like reading a book on a plane and going into the bathroom alone are novelties. But waking up on a bench in a hospital is not something made better because you are alone. It is something made possible because you are alone. Being that far from the kids was mostly surreal. I tried not think about what I would do IF something happened, and I needed to get back home. I felt so much compassion for other single parents who do not have the luxury of a partner they trust to leave the kids with, if they needed or wanted to. I felt so incredibly blessed again, and again.
Shrek was beyond amazing. Before I left he said; “I don’t know if it will be harder on you if it goes poorly when you are gone, or if it goes well.” He knows me too well. Control freaks do have a little work cut out for them leaving their kids, their schedules, their lunches, their night-night needs, and their sweet “mommy does it this way” requests for such a long spell. Truth is that Shrek’s way is not as good, or better. Instead it is Shrek’s loving way, and it is absolutely enough. There was not even a strain in their voices when we talked on the phone. No tears, no crisis, just three boys on an adventure. One night the boys spent with my girlfriends to give the boys some girl time, and Shrek some time with dear friends out of town. More great reports came in. The boys are happy, confident, and secure. Translation: I could be fully involved in the experience that I was having back home. I had no idea how critical that would be for me and Nana.
I have to say the entire experience was a huge gift to me on so many levels. I had never had the chance to reciprocate in the care department with a parent before. The chance to be fully, and unconditionally present for another human being was in a way effortless for me. There were moments, like seeing your own mama suffering for even a few minutes that were excruciatingly difficult to experience. But at the same time, the opportunity to remedy that by advocating for her clearly and quickly because I was there and I could made me feel nothing short of Herculean at times.
Before I left my mom shared her deep gratitude for my stay with her in a way that landed in a new place of our mother daughter connection. It wasn’t a shifting of roles- it was a deepening of a core relationship. A deepening that I imagine came from her being the more vulnerable one at that moment. Perhaps parenting doesn’t afford us enough “acceptable” opportunities to be “safely” vulnerable with our kids? I’m not sure if that’s the case, but I wonder suddenly how that plays out in my relationship with my kids too. Just a thought.
I have written this from two airports, one hospital lounge, and now ensconced again at the kitchen table after the sweetest homecoming ever. Shrek was wearing his SHREK mask, and the car was draped in holiday lights. The seat cushions were covered in home made cards, and the next three hours cuddling on the couch eating popcorn and watching holiday videos was healing for all. I feel as if my own capacity to love everyone in my family suddenly increased in ways I didn’t know were necessary or even possible. Loving in a new way, allows me to love in new ways. It’s almost as hard to know where to end this post, as it was hard to leave my mom to go to the airport the other day. I miss her presence in a new way, and I miss the me who was invited to show up for her in a new way. Have you had the opportunity to care for a parent or important elder in your life that moved you in ways that surprised you? How has it shifted how you see other relationships that are dear to you?