The maternal instinct never dies, even though sometimes it feels as if it is going to wrap itself around your neck like a noose and smother the ever-loving life right out of you.
There is no bond on earth quite like the bond between mother and child, but at times it is about as welcome as the bond you got the time you accidentally super-glued your eyelid shut. (Never rub your eye when you are trying to glue the handle back on a broken teacup.)
My mom, who passed away in May, was very sweet and funny, but refused, almost to the end of her life, to relinquish her role as a protector and caregiver of “the kids,” as she still referred to us. When she passed, we were all over 60. Hardly kids. It was touching, but at times infuriating.
I noticed she was very different with my adult step-siblings. When I questioned her about it, she replied, “Well, you have to tread carefully with stepchildren. I never interfere with their personal lives, criticize, or offer unsolicited advice.”
“Is that right?” I asked sarcastically. “Do tell. How does one go about getting on that particular list?”
“Forget it,” she said with a chuckle, “You’ll never get on it.”
While on a mini-vacation with mom and one of my sisters, Mom immediately fell into her old role. She began to refer to us both by our childhood nicknames, Deney (that’s me) and Susie (my sister).
Every single time I got out of the driver’s seat of my car I was asked, “Have you got your keys?”
As we were being seated at every restaurant, I was asked, “Now, Deney, do you need to go potty before we sit down?” Once in mid-meal at a seafood restaurant, she reached toward my back and I swear I thought she was going to burp me. Instead, she tied a bib around my neck as if I were a three-year-old.
Later at the mall, she thought I had lingered too long in the dressing room at the department store and got worried. She came looking for me.
I could hear her wandering among the curtained cubicles, plaintively calling, “Deney, are you all right?” Later I found out that she had soundly scolded my sister for “letting me wander off.”
“Susie! Why weren’t you watching your little sister?” she asked.
“I am not responsible for her anymore!” Susie snapped. “She is 50 years old!”
A few weeks after we got back from our mini-vacation, I got a call that Mom had been badly injured in a fall at home and was on her way to the hospital in a life squad. I raced to the hospital, praying that if she would just be ok, she could baby me all she wanted.
When I got there, she lay on a gurney in the emergency room, nearly incoherent with pain. She signaled for me to lean closer. I wasn’t sure what she would say, but I assumed that it would be something deeply profound that she needed to impart, in case this was “it.”
Grimacing in pain, her badly broken arm twisted into the shape of the letter “S,” she gasped, “You got here awfully fast. You weren’t speeding, were you? You know I don’t like that. And isn’t that skirt a little short for someone your age?”
Something told me that she was going to be all right.
After the surgeon had rebuilt her arm, using several pounds of assorted surgical hardware, she spent several weeks recuperating at my house with my husband and me.
In her dramatic retelling of the accident, to everyone from the mailman to the garbage collectors to the neighbor’s dog, she told them all that “the surgeon dug at my wounds with a rusty Boy Scout knife,” as if the surgeon’s precision surgical tools consisted of assorted Craftsman stuff he scavenged from his garage.
I came home from work a couple of weeks later to find her lounging on my couch, finishing off a bag of Doritos, watching a trashy daytime soap opera, and reading the National Enquirer during the commercials.
“What’s for dinner?” she asked.
“Mom,” I said, “now that you are getting around so much better and off of the pain pills, do you think you might want to go home?”
“No, I am still in a lot of pain,” she answered. “If I have to suffer, I want somebody around to hear it. It is kind of like that saying, ‘If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?’ thing.”
While she was staying with me, we fell into the same patterns of my youth. I was beginning to worry that she may try to breastfeed me.
The more she babied me, the more I regressed. I could almost feel the pimples popping out on my forehead. She resumed her old role as the vigilant guardian of my once- teenaged virtue.
She lurked around corners, hoping to catch my husband and me in an embrace, just so she could say, “That’s enough of that, young lady!”
My poor husband was thoroughly intimidated by the presence of his mother-in-law mere feet away in the spare bedroom. He knew that at any moment she just may burst into our bedroom at an inopportune moment and shout, “Aha! I thought so! Get your filthy hands off my daughter!” I didn’t bother to reassure him, because I knew she just may do it. She would do just about anything for a laugh, but somehow I didn’t think he would be amused. I probably would have laughed, but it would be the end of any action for the evening.
We resorted to sneaking behind the garage for a little grope and giggle. She stood just inside the living room door flicking the porch lights off and on, which was a signal in my teenage years to get out of my boyfriend’s car in the driveway and get in the house immediately!
In order to get some time alone, my husband and I went to a movie. I knew when we got back, just like when I used to go to a drive-in with a date many decades ago, I would be expected to describe to Mom the plot and action of the movie, in detail, to prove that we had been watching the movie, as opposed to finding something more entertaining to do in the back seat of the car.
She was pretty easy to fool back then. She hadn’t been to a movie since 1957. I could make it up as I went along and she would buy it. This was where I first began to develop my story-telling abilities. I should have thanked her.
I was in the midst of a very eloquent fictional description of the movie (little of which my husband and I had seen or heard) when she noticed that I was missing my ever-present glasses, my hair was disheveled, and my blouse was inside out and buttoned crooked.
“Young lady, he will never buy the cow if he gets the milk for free.”
“Mom, he ‘bought the cow’ in 1970. Let it go. And stop referring to me as ‘the cow’ in this scenario.”
My husband and I had hoped to ‘”go to the movies” again the following weekend. Unfortunately, I was grounded.