Today is International Women’s Day. I’m celebrating it with a salute to lipstick, and the woman who never leaves home without it in her purse.
A few weeks ago, my mother suffered a fall at the lifelong learning class she and my father attend throughout the winter at a local university. It was her day to thank the speaker, one of a series of weekly lecturers in various fields, and so she did, after attending the session all morning with a broken hip. At its conclusion, she was taken to a nearby hospital and underwent successful surgery. Since then, my siblings have rotated shifts at her bedside.
I’ve lived much of my life near my mom. I figure I’ve got this one but it turns out, you’re never too old for lessons from your mother.
This is the first time I’ve slept with another man in my room, Mom announces to the nurse who is attending to her, and two other patients, both male, in their shared room. The nurse laughs, as I do because she’s not kidding.
Wow, Mom, you have great colour today? Did you sleep well?
It’s my lipstick, she tells me, best makeup for shipwrecks and post-surgery pick-me-ups. Large colour prints of familiar faces, photocopied and taped up by Mary on the wall across from Mom’s bed, are the first thing my mother sees when opening her eyes, and the best way to signal staff that there will be visitors. No point in learning names. Mom was an only child with five children and eleven grandchildren, some of whom remind her of relatives they’ve never met. Did any of them have her skin, still soft under my washcloth as I wash her face?
Find out his name. He’s so lonesome, Mom motions to the thin man across the room, who stares out his window. Unlike Mom, he has had no visitors crowd his bedside. He has little English but I ask anyway and he points to the name sticker on his IV tube. Hien. I smile and offer up my adult colouring books. Mom busies herself with the paper. I used to read the birth announcements first. Now I read the Obits. and Sports.
You used to read the paper at dawn. Front to back.
A few days later Mom is transferred to a rehab hospital.
Give her one of the stems. Mom eyes the bouquet I bring to her new room and directs me to the woman in the next bed. Carol is Mom’s new roommate. She’s a big reader, whispers Mom, who runs a decades-old book club on the street where I grew up. A card sits on her hospital tray with healing wishes from all the book club members.
Aren’t I lucky to share this room? I concur even as I know neither of us really believe in luck. Yes, Mom, you’re lucky.
Hand me that scarf and I’ll show what I do to drown out the noise of the clock at night time. Sarah has brought a wool shawl the colour of Mom’s eyes. Mom wraps it around her head nightly. Nights are hard here. She misses Dad. To Mom’s great chagrin, Dad’s tall frame is too big for naps in a hospital bed. Her smile greeting his visits is radiant.
Let me do it myself becomes her daily refrain; linking my mother immediately to my children as they were when toddlers and teenagers. Within days, Mom is up, attending physical therapy sessions —surely they decided to release her when she switched from a shuffle to a scurry down the hall?
Jane gets Mom home, home to three sets of stairs, one of which leads to a bedroom Jane and I once shared at the top of the house, across the hall from John. How many times did Mom climb those stairs and then descend again to do a load of laundry two flights down?
Those stairs will be her undoing, we five ponder, cramming in conference calls. Whispering outside her door never works. Unlike Dad, Mom has razor sharp hearing (and hands that still find the right notes on the piano).
Up and down, the march of a mother.
Those stairs kept me young, our mother responds firmly when we suggest a lift for the staircase.
Up and down, the march of a general.
Today is a good day for a salute. To soldiering on, Mom.