Wednesday, June 1, 2011
A few years back my Mama tried hard to teach me an important life lesson. I am not sure I was a very apt student.
I was visiting her at the time of year when the great grands were having their season ending ballet performances. Mama's love of ballet is notorious as is her witty commentary about Dame Margot Fontaine, Nureyev and Barishnakov to name a few. Some sisters and I all had the starter lessons at 5 or 6 but I don't recall any proud moment Mama stories about our talents. It's different with these E-Ticket greats. These girls produce proud moment stories for three generations of Mamas. A proud for them Aunt Fishy too. All justifiable as the word talent, used with these girls, is an understatement. They have got the goods.
For this particular visit, I was the point person for getting Mama to the ballet. This means arriving hours early to help Mama get dressed in her going out social clothes, hair and makeup and , getting her transferred to a travel wheelchair. It really isn't unusual for the temperatures in Florida to be in the 90's on a late Spring afternoon. This means the temperature in a parked car, in the sun, is maybe 120 and therefore, unsuitable for little old ladies in wheel chairs. So somewhere in the getting Mama ready activities, when you think you might be getting close to a possible departure, you must run get the car started and the AC blasting but you cannot move it to the entrance of the ALF. Once you are ready to depart you must wheel the chair to the entrance,get Mama signed out, get her situated in the vestibule where the automatic doors will not impact the wheelchair, fetch the car, fetch Mama and the chair from the vestibule, get her transferred, get the wheelchair stowed all without breaking a sweat, wrinkling your own clothes or God forbid, getting wheelchair tracks across your lap. It isn' t hard to do, but it can be ridiculously stressing.
Once we were in the car speeding across town in the horror traffic Mama said,
" Fishy, we have to stop at a florist to get bouquets made for our girls".
" We can't", I reply " We'll miss the curtain."
" Fishy, you know I am not stepping out of this car without flowers "
" Yes Ma'am"
On that we could agree, "stepping" out of cars for Mama was history.
I never could fool her and this time was no different.
" I believe there is a florist on the corner of blank and blank, we'll stop there".
" We cannot. We will be lucky to not be late without stopping. But I tell you what, we can call the florist now, order the bouquets and I will sneak out and pick them up during intermission."
" It isn't safe to talk on cell phones while driving. That's on the news every night"
" Fine, here's the phone, you make the call"
" Truth is Fishy, I want to stop and pick the flowers myself"
Feeling frazzled I replied,
" We cannot stop! We are already rushing to just get there!
I cannot get you and the chair in and out of the car rapidly.
I'm sorry but this just isn't going to happen."
I could feel her stiffen as she turned her face to the side window.
She was acutely disappointed.
It is hard, hard, hard to no longer captain your own ship and suffer disobedient offspring.
Harder still to feel a glimmer of your old self only to be confronted with your broken body reality.
I reached over to give her a comforting pat which garnered me a withering look.
She did not speak to me the rest of the journey.
I felt wretched.
This was such an eagerly anticipated outing how could I possibly compromise her joy? And yet, being late wasn't an option either. If we arrived after the curtain I would not be able to wheel her
to the third row reserved seating with the rest of the family until intermission. I wasn't sure if the girls parts occurred before or after the intermission. I did know if we were in the very back she would not be able to recognize them. We simply could not stop. I felt terribly sad.
Arriving is departing reversed.
Get to the drop, put on the flashers, fetch the wheelchair, practice all the safety precautions for wheelchair transfers, don't get wrinkled, dirty or sweat. Get Mama inside to the air conditioning and handed over to the care of other loves. Rush back to the car, park 2 blocks away in the asphalt sea and run in heels back to the theatre because rental cars don't come with handicap permits.
When I got back to the lobby Mama was holding court. A talent I've always admired but did not inherit.
She was vibrant, charming, witty. Excited to be out in the world and ,she was picking flowers. Some smart fund raising group had a booth in the lobby. Thank God there were pink roses and white roses. Mama, of course, knew the names of every rose, even the detested red and lavender ones. She was making selections, charming the volunteers and all of us extended family present. Mama was beautiful, happy, engaging and fully living in the moment.
Of course the ballet was fabulous.
Of course our E-ticket ballerinas were the best of the best.
Of course our girls were the prettiest too, not just the most talented.
Afterwards the girls, still in costumes and theatrical make-up, came out to join their waiting family fans.
Proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins were all beaming with open arms. The girls made a beeline for Mama, chirping their excitement like brightly colored birds. Mama knows exactly the questions to ask so the girls responses and their joy spilled forth without reservations. I caught a glimpse of their beaming Dad watching his daughters rush to be with his adored grandmother. He had that expression that says,
But in this era of busy, busy lives it wasn't long before folks started turning cell phones back on and made ready to depart. There was no family after party scheduled.. The Lobby visits before the ballet, the intermission and this mini celebration for bouquet waving and picture taking were the 'social hour' for this outing. It was plenty. Mama loved it all.
I went to get the car cooled down.
Mama was mostly quiet on the return trip.
She made a few comments about the roses, the girls, the costumes, what people wore to the ballet these days. We were no longer traveling in a strained silence but we were a long way from chatty.
We were a good many years past the days where Mama could go out to eat after an event. But we did stop at a favorite drive thru for a Mocha milkshake, her favorite.
By the time I got Mama back to her recliner she was exhausted.
It had been a busy day and a big outing for her. I knew the following day she would want to chat plenty about all that had been seen and heard but not then. This abrupt exhaustion of the elderly is not terribly different from toddlers. As we all know, a toddler can be running one minute and the next drop to the floor reaching a deep sleep in seconds. Mama, a former insomniac, could now beat a toddlers record for reaching REM sleep. One of her few pleasures of aging. She would be asleep in her recliner within seconds of my departure. I gave her a hug and turned to leave when she said,
" Don't be sad Fishy, live your moments."
" None of our tomorrows will be the same as our todays. Even here, in this facility, where there is monotony and bleakness everywhere, each day is different. Don't be sad about what has gone before and will never be again. Find the joy in the moment and live it."