Last night of taking care of my mom

It’s my last night of putting


To bed.

Eleven days and nights of caretaking her

For my dad, who’s on a trip.

I haven’t touched her this much since I was a child.

Steering her thin arms with their

Cool, white, wobbly skin,

Anchoring my hand to the only solid part of her left:

The hips and lower back,

Disentangling her clutching fingers from straps and pieces of clothing,

Pulling her pants up the haunches with their empty hanging sacks of skin.

I see things I remember about

Her body

From when I was a child:

A mole on her lower back,

The way her thin hair streaks against the base of her skull when

Pulling a shirt over her head,

The knuckle-knobs on her hands.

We have the same hands:

Long narrow fingers,

Knobby knuckles,

Blue vein tubes leading into the wrists.

I used to press on her hand veins when I was a child

When I was holding her hand.

But at a certain age,

10 or 11 probably,

I didn’t want to

Touch her

Or be touched by her


If I ever handed her something and her fingers,


Would brush against the top of my hand,

I would wipe off her touch on my pant leg.

And now,

Here I am,

Her nurse.

She is easy, as Alzheimer’s patients go.

She is light enough to lift,

And gentle, agreeable, trusting, quiet.

(I am sure I will not be so easy if my mind goes.

I will be heavy and contrary and paranoid and I will

Screech nonsense constantly.)

But still.

It’s been hard.

A dependent child

Seems like a worthwhile investment of energy.

They’re the future of the world, after all.

Investing energy in an elderly dependent parent …

They’re at the end.

It’s just comfort now.

What’s the return?

(The return is for me in the giving, I suppose.

Another tough-love parental gift.)

Giving comfort doesn’t come naturally to me.

I would make an efficient,


Perhaps harsh nurse.

The kind a sick person would cringe at,

The kind who would jerk an injured limb,

Or scrub a wound too hard.

So not only am I touching

And touching

The maternal body I avoided for 25 years,

But I’m trying to be

Gentle and


Yesterday was hard.

She spilled her cereal, juice and milk

On her pants and the floor,

Broken glass.

Lifting the bird-like body in and out of the car.

Mutterings and delusions.

She messed up my plans.

I wanted to go to both


And a 12-step meeting.

But I could only choose one.

This caregiver got one hour off duty.

And driving to yoga,

Alone in the car, I thought,

“You know how people say they won’t want to be a burden to their children?

Well, Mom, you’re a burden.”

But at the end of class,

Sweat-bathed and lying on my mat,

I started crying silently,

My tears mixing with the sweat rolling down my temples into my ears.


Laying her into bed,

I looked into her eyes and said,

“I love you, Mom.”

And her blue eyes focused for a moment and she said,

“I love you, too too.”

And I said, “I miss you.”

And she closed her eyes.


The hours before my boy leaves for the summer

Six hours before my

Small boy’s

Plane leaves,

And he and I are at the zoo.

I’m always the one who wants to come here

Before he leaves for the summer with his dad.

“I don’t want to go to the zoo,” he says as we’re leaving the house,

But I don’t give him a choice.

The impervious rhythms of the animals

Are a comfort to me.

And anyway,

He likes the sharks and

The giraffes and

Buying lunch in the cafeteria and

Cotton candy from a cart,

And a small toy from the gift shop.

Today we were watching the snow monkeys when my

Chest tightened up like a drawstring.

Nine weeks, he’ll be gone.

The gestation period of a dog.

Today driving here, I thought

There must be other mothers who put their

Kids on airplanes for the summer,

Who dread the last days of the school year

(“Any fun plans for summer?” people ask.)

Who take extra pictures and videos,

Who think melodramatically:

“What if he dies while he’s gone?”

Before remembering:

“I suppose he could die here with me, too.”

I say cheerily,

“You’re going to have so much fun this summer!”


As a tear tracks down my face.

And he will.

He’s got his life over there, too.

I don’t share much in it,

And that’s okay.

He’s not mine, really, anyway.

It soothes me to think that

He’s a child of God out in the world,

And I’m one of his guides.

Among my many duties,

I take him places like the zoo,

And let other people take him places

Without me.

On airplanes even.

Training children like the animals they are

Kingdom: Animalia

I was reading this book on

Disciplining children,

And it offered this strategy:

Don’t think of your children as



Reason and

Logic to

Help them



They should

Behave in certain ways.


Think of them as

Wild animals

To be


Huh, I thought.

We are animals after all.

Kingdom: Animalia

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Genus: Homo

Species: Homo sapiens

When my son was born,

I remember studying the

Whorls of the hairs between the small shoulder blades,

And running a finger down the

Knobs of his spine.

“He’s a little animal,

A small creature,” I marveled.

Five years later,

The whorls have faded to blond and the

Spine knobs are usually covered by a t-shirt.

He is starting to be


Which I guess is my job as his


It’s difficult to not rely on

Reason and logic to

Make a case to him.

But it’s true.

When I ask him


He did a certain unacceptable thing,

He shrugs and says,

“I don’t know.”

And I believe him.

I think he really doesn’t yet have the

Self-awareness to

Know why.

Or when I try to create

Golden Rule parallels for him:

“How would you feel if someone

Did [something inconsiderate] to you?”

He just looks blank.

Or when I try to explain the layers of

Reasoning behind why I tell him not to do things:

“Do you see how sharp this knife is

That you just tried to grab?

It could slice into your finger,

We’d have to go to the hospital,

You could get nerve damage,

Maybe lose the use of your finger!”

I’ve lost him after “sharp knife,”

Which is more of a fascination than a

Deterrent anyway.

Best, the book says,

To just say “No,”

Offering no explanation or reason,

And follow with immediate–




Wow, it’s hard.

I have to pretty much

Train myself to shut up

Before I even start to train him.

It’s probably good for both of us.