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To be or not to be cool

By May 12, 2021 Life

Note: I have kept journals off and on since tweendom but a daily habit was entrenched January 1st, 2020, as I began to address the loss of my dad and father-in-law who died within months of each other in the latter half of 2019. 2020 was to be the year of possibility and joy. Little did I know a global pandemic would follow. Some of my entries are illegible, even to me, their author. Some I share here, in this space.

May 12

Wake-up was at 4 am…again. I tried every trick to get back to sleep but gave up shortly after 6 and did the PJ sludge to take the garbage out to the curb. For once, why not beat their trucks that rumble down the street at a schedule only the raccoons have figured out? Then, back inside to get my phone to snap a few photos of the tulips in the front yard, at their best, thanks to a cool spring. They are even better at dawn; a secret discovery sending a sliver of pleasure through me, almost as good as that first hit of coffee. Outside, mug in hand, I begin to shake off brain fog and remember what the plan is today. 

It’s Wednesday. The day I visit Mom. Hump day, we used to call it in the Before Time. 

My phone is filled with thousands of flower pics like this #suckerforcolour

The cardinals are still at it, and I stall work a few minutes longer to watch their mad dance across the yard.  On some days, the red flash of their flight is the only certainty.

Later, brain fog still permeating, en route down to see Mom, I stopped to grab another coffee only to discover the Starbucks now boarded up. I crossed the street to Tim Hortons; already annoyed after forgetting Mom’s cookies at home; muttering madly to myself about leaving my mask in the car, going back to retrieve it; annoyed again when a woman ahead of me in line told me to step back and pointed to the six feet reminder arrows on the floor—she appeared drunk— annoyed again when a dishevelled dude asked me to buy him an iced Cap after seeing mine in hand. I mustered a rushed “sorry” and headed back to the car, ready for the nose swab and waiting that follows as assessing my health every week is now the only way I get to see Mom.

The staff at Mom’s long-term care home doing the rapid testing are cheery despite the monotony of tasks. I remind myself again to borrow a little of their grace.

Arriving up on her floor, I spot Mom easily. Wearing a sundress and matching cardigan, Mom stands out among the other stone-faced residents, if only in my mind. 

Let’s pretend we’re going to a picnic in the park, Mom.  You look the part. Maybe if we’re lucky, there will be pink champagne. 

Wheeling her outside to the courtyard garden, I tucked my wrap around her —she often feels cold in the shade— a little sad I have to cover up her garden get-up. Once in the sun, we settled ourselves in front of a show of colourful blooms, and I remember the Timbits bag in my purse. We’re both giggling about how many to have when a staff member strides over to tell us we were not allowed to be here, in this garden.

This area here is not for long-term care residents but the retirement folks on the other side of the building.

In other words, the able-bodied, able-minded folks get the floral extravaganza. Mom and her peers in the memory loss ward are permitted only in a gated shade area. A clumsy metaphor surely but perhaps it makes sense to someone.

Good news, though. Beginning next week, you can take your Mom around the paths.

The sky was too blue for anything but peace, so I dipped into my bag, pulled out Mary Margaret’s Tree to read to Mom, a favourite among many in the collection of picture books still on shelves at home.  We’re bad at giving up books in this family.

Mom commented on the artful illustrations, her eyes widening when I told her that, once upon a time, we hired an artist to copy some of the drawings on Kate’s wall. The result was a large tree with flowering branches hugging her green childhood bedroom walls and ceiling. You are never too young for tree worship, right, Mom?

When we moved, we took the girls back to say goodbye to the empty house. Kate threw her arms against the wall and kissed the tree mural. I cried a private tear too.

We are bad at goodbyes in this family.

Last Christmas, Kate gave me a photo album of tree photography from all the places she has travelled to and some from right in front of her UK flat. Inside the pages are quotes about trees from favourite books.

Mom smiled as I tell her stories she once knew well.  However diminished, she remains gracious. She tucked a hair behind her ear as the breeze picked up. Her old backcombed hairdo would have held fast in a hurricane. I imagine her childhood in the thirties. In the black and white photos, Mom has the same haircut she sports now, a cute new bob cut. 

Does she recognize herself in the mirror?

You’re doing a good job, Mom told me as I wheeled her out of the garden when it was time for me to go.
Good at navigating the chair, not life, on that we agree. Up the elevator, back to her floor, and now she appears anxious.

Where am I to go? she asks. Where’s Daddy? 

I wheeled her into her place int he small dining room, thinking how much Dad loved the ritual of the dinner meal, even in his last months. 

She’s okay, Dad, I whisper to no one; we’re watching over her

I remind her I will be back soon and give her a squeeze. Touch still feels delicious but illegal, despite our mutual vaccines.

Never once have I left these visits to my mother without thinking I should spring her. Throw her now more diminutive form up on my back, run out to a waiting getaway car, head to a patch of grass, put up a tent, stay up all night, drinking ginger ale, and singing camp songs as loud as we could. We would not run out of stories ever.

The more we get together, together, together,

The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.

For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends

The more we get together,

The happier we’ll be.

I hit traffic on the way home and turned onto Redpath.

Bumper to bumper, and I don’t even have the energy to turn on the radio. It’s been a long time since I was a news junkie and knew all the headlines. 

Next to me, going the opposite way, a cop with a beautiful smile leaned over from his open window as our cars stood idling side by side. 

You look super cool, he says grinning, as his car moves slowly past the open roof on my freedom wheels, the first-non Mommy car I’ve driven in almost three decades.

He had kind eyes, that I remember.

I am, and always have been, decidedly uncool.  Thanks to the face shield and mask worn earlier, my hair is a mess and even sitting behind the wheel, anyone can see I’m hardly convertible-skinny. There’s a giant Caregiver sticker slapped on my chest, and my sweater is sprinkled with big white daisies. It’s baby blue. The last time I checked, baby blue does not belong in the pantheon of cool.

Before I can smile back, the traffic has moved. My shoulders are already looser. Arriving home, I stay for a while inside the car on the driveway, wishing I could have spotted the cop’s badge number. People who throw fairy dust need thanks.

Just how long was I brooding in that traffic line-up? Was my sad face a beacon?

Cool, I could have been, if, inside the coffee shop earlier in my day, instead of rushing like a halfwit, I had indeed stopped to buy an extra iced Cap for that guy who asked— one too for all his buddies loitering outside on the pavement.

Out of the car, my brain now clear, I take a long slow walk out to the backyard, past the tulips even taller now, without their dawn lustre. Statuesque show-offs in sassy colours, fighting for essential status. Aren’t we all?

Peter was making drinks, so I guess it is Hump Day, after all, Pandemic Style. I flopped on the patio cushion, closed my eyes halfway to see if I could catch one of the blooms opening on the ancient crabapple tree overhead. It blooms every other year. It’s late this year. Usually, it goes all couture on Mother’s Day. Usually, it deserves a party. I’ll have one anyway by myself. It’s just that damn special.

Emily joined us outside for feedback on an old summer skirt. As usual, she has no idea how beautiful she is, no matter what she wears. Peter was busy decoding his Greek playlist again, translating the lyrics. Lucy jumped up beside me for a tummy rub. I wish you could have come today, I tell her.

 Mom and Lucy are old pals. In the days before we moved her into long-term care, Mom would pet Lucy like a champ at every visit and ask, 

“Who owns this beautiful dog?”

Let’s order in, I murmur. Friday is the takeout day around here, but the older I get, the more some rules are fun to abandon. That lesson I got from Mom. What came before cool? Whatever it was, she wasn’t fussed either.

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