My mom turned 88 last week. Since she loves coffee and donuts, I stopped the morning of her birthday to get her coffee and a donut after I dropped Lily off at school. When I got to the window to pay, the cashier said, “The lady in front of you paid for your order.” I was so caught off guard and touched by this small gesture I almost cried. I have paid for other people’s orders but have never been the recipient of a random act of generosity like this. It hit me right in the feels.
Back to the birthday girl. My mom moved in with us shortly after my dad’s death in 2011 and has declined physically and mentally over the past 7 ½ years. When she first moved in, she was vital and independent. She drove and shopped and had lunch with friends. She paid bills and handled her money and made her own appointments.
But that’s changed.
She’s faced a broken hip, withdrawal from a decades-long Xanax addiction, an emotional breakdown, multiple back injuries, hospitalizations, stints in rehab, and loss of independence including giving up driving. I’ve faced my own set of emotional struggles around caring for my aging mom and watching her deterioration.
Mother-daughter relationships can be difficult even for the best moms. I know some exceptional moms who struggle in their relationships with their adult daughters. I work incredibly hard to be a great mom, and yet, my daughters have found me lacking — and other unflattering adjectives — at times.
Shortly after she moved in, I started writing about my often-difficult relationship with my mom. I hashed out some childhood issues, some adult issues, and some fundamental character flaws in her person, i.e., ways she is not like me. We are very different, and in a lot of the ways we are different, I found she — as they used to write on report cards back in the day — “Needs Improvement.”
I talk openly, and she prefers to sweep uncomfortable subjects under the rug.
I prefer honesty even when it’s uncomfortable, she prefers pleasantries even when it’s fake.
I prefer keeping it real; she prefers keeping secrets.
I prefer assertiveness; she prefers passive-aggressiveness.