May 13, 2015

Parenting children, parenting parent

I don't think this crazy, right wing-nut
throwing money around is actually our mother . . . anymore.

______________________________ email to my brother

Chicago 1998

I talk, text, email my brother almost every day, and always about the same topic...our mom. Our mother has always been argumentative and combative. She answers innocuous questions evasively. She has always preferred the most complicated, convoluted plans involving the most people, preferably with extensive letter-writing and emailing, when a single phone call will do. She was always like that, so it is hard to see the decline in the past few years. Somehow the ante has been upped.

We used to bicker about the ease of ATM or self-check out at the grocery store, now I am demanding to know why she is sending checks accompanied by letters via US Post to her property management company, when we set up an automatic debit for that. "I don't trust the people at the bank to send it on time," she told me. "There is an accurate computer to do the transaction," I sighed. "There isn't actually a person in the back with a quill and an eye shade, touching your money."

My friend Darren, who knows Mom from the old Ohio days, describes my feelings as "sangry." Yes, I am sad to see her acting foolishly, but I am angry that she won't listen to reason. I keep questioning myself as to whether this is really a change. It has been such a gradual decline, and a decline in someone who has always been eccentric, so it is really hard to tell.

However, the crazy right-wing rhetoric has convinced me that our mom is really gone, and the person I am talking to is some strange through-the-looking-glass avatar of her. I write so that I remember her, the founder of a program for impoverished urban kids to spend a vacation with another family. (OK, it WAS the 60s.) She hosted a number of exchange students; she led Girl Scout troops. She owned properties once, and when someone asked her why she rented to family with children, she replied indignantly that poor families had a right to live somewhere, too.

Mom has always been a person without any vanity or snobbery or prejudice, so it is unnerving to hear her spout stuff that would make Fox News look centrist.

It is tragic to lose a parent, of course. But that is the human condition, people have children and usually children outlive them. But Mom has outlived herself. We know someone who looks like her, and has her clothes, but isn't really her. Once in a while though, she is so lucid and cogent and in-the-moment, I have this pang that I have misjudged her condition. I suspect these moments will become rarer and rarer.