A few (nursing home) notes

1. While I put something in the communal freezer, Astrid zeroed in on my mother, asleep in the barca lounger on the far side of the main activity room. They often wheel the chairbound over to that side too. My mother was never over there last summer.

2. Some of the usual suspects are still regulars at the activity table, reading and playing games. The activity leader must know more trivia about the mid-20th century than those who lived through it. Miss Jean wasn't sure that she wanted to leave her post observing Astrid to go play, but I assured her that we would be watching.

3. Astrid shared her berries with my mother. She would extend her arm up holding a single blueberry and say "Grammie". My mother could not coordinate the handoff, so I plucked the berry from my daughter's hand and pressed it to my mother's lips, whereupon she understood to eat it.

4. Nursing homes are filled with affirmation for the young and healthy. Mr. G. likes to chat to himself without pause. He was seated next to my mother, tapping out a beat on the table before him. When Astrid arrived on the scene he struck up with

There's is pretty girl
look at her go
such a pretty girl
there she is

look at her go
she has a ball
look at her

there's a pretty girl
she's a good girl
yes, a good girl

For a moment I thought about all of the advice we receive not to praise little girls for their looks or their goodness and then I pushed it away. Who's to argue with Mr. G?

5.The other day I spoke with my mother's neighbor and his wife. He has advanced considerably since last summer in his physical limitations. He and my mother now eat with a third woman at a separate table, at which they receive assistance with their utensils. His mind, however, remains very sharp and he followed the long conversation that I had with his wife. At is turns out, they have a son in Oakland. Not only that, but this man suffered a brain injury in his late twenties and was treated at SF General hospital, in the trauma ICU. Here we are on the other side of the country, our loved ones neighbors in a facility for people with extreme neurological conditions, while decades apart my husband and her son occupied beds in a trauma ICU for severe brain injuries. Such threads connect us over space and time, tightened in this moment of conversation in an enclosed garden where my mother waits in the gazebo.


Plus ca change

My mother does not seem as different as I had expected after eleven months apart. She needs assistance with her flatware when eating and she seems to speak even less than last summer, but she still responds with a smile and she spoke occasionally in response to the children. The most beautiful part is just how happy she seems in their presence--smiling as they ride her adjustable bed up and down, patting Astrid's downy head at the piano.

Others I recognized from prior trips, including Sally, who called out "You're a pretty girl" as I passed with my mother. A man who last year tried to follow me out of the locked unit entrance in search of his wife is now confined to a wheel chair, his head and limbs wilted. The residents of this closed ward all suffer from some version of dementia, yet seeing them year after year grouped so closely together, I notice the differences in their individual experiences of this disease more than their similar symptoms. Why do some people talk so readily, while my mother surprises us with a few linked words? Why do some move swiftly from one stage to the next, while others transition placidly at a pace measured in decades rather than months? How can we know which of these experiences is easier to bear? All that I can say is that I still see happiness in my mother's eyes.

The piano man is singing through a playbook of songs about different states. I do not feel much about Oklahoma or Kansas and I notice that my mother has already fallen asleep. The children are eating ice cream in the kitchen. Felix even has chocolate sauce. Those residents following along turn the playbook page and just after Viva Las Vegas, we are singing the Al Jolson version of  California, Here We Come. Not Joni Mitchell but the Woody Guthrie. Here in the heart of New England, I felt myself humming along.

When the wintry winds starts blowing
And the snow is starting in a fall
Then my eyes went westward knowing
That's the place that I love best of all
California I've been blue
Since I've been away from you
I can't wait till I get blowing
Even now I'm starting in a call

California, here I come
Right back where I started from
Where bowers of flowers bloom in the spring
Each morning at dawning birdies sing at everything
A sun kissed miss said, "Don't be late!"
That's why I can hardly wait
Open up that golden gate
California, here I come

California, here I come, yeah
Right back where I started from
Where bowers of flowers bloom in the spring
Each morning at dawning birdies sing at everything
A sun kissed miss said, "Don't be late!"
That's why I can hardly wait come on, come on
Open up, open up, open up that golden gate
California, here I come
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/al-jolson/california-here-i-come-lyrics/#dxpCWYtSpdg04gTG.99



[While lying in the dark on the bottom bunk next to him]


No more talking Felix.

I just want to thank you for bringing me into the world.

That is incredibly sweet. Thank you.

[moments later come the sound of tears from the top bunk]

Soren, what is wrong.

I...never...say..anything..that..sweet (sniffle)

Oh honey, don't worry, neither do I!


SJS, my mother

I think of my own mother all of the time and wonder if she thinks of me. Of necessity it has been so long since we have seen each other and without conventional means of communication open to us to traverse this distance, she becomes, in some ways, someone of the past. When we do see each other I expect this feeling to dissipate, as it always has. The maternal body, even when housing a very changed maternal mind, still offers familiar comfort.

Until this year I thought of Mother's Day as a day on which to honor my own mother, rather than a day on which to reflect on my own motherhood. In the wake of Peter's accident, however, I have given more and more thought to how to mother our three children, who need comfort now more than ever. In this last half-year I have finally come to see myself as a mother, too.

I remember a dinner in Nolita years ago, on the night before I left New York. My mother was already sick, but still driving, and she'd come to the city to help me pack up my apartment and to drive the uhaul back to Boston with me. We shared dinner and a bottle of wine with two friends who had packed the truck with us and I have a glimpse in that warm glow of the sort of loving adult friendship that she and I might have had. She, instead, grew more childlike than her grandchildren over time, moving through a phase of anger and paranoia towards the innocent sweetness and diapers that they were leaving behind.

I am grateful that my memories of her are so overwhelmingly positive: of steadfast support, quiet joy, refusal to dwell in superficiality. I have wished so many times that she could still mother me, and never more so than in these past six months. Into that void have stepped so many other mothers who offer their support and guidance at one time or another. Some of these women have their own children, often my friends, and others do not, but each has mothered me in some way in the practical absence of my own. I once thought to name these women here, but now I think it better to leave the space open.

Love, I know, is boundless and contains these multitudes without diminishing the glow surrounding my own beautiful, loving mother, Susan Jane.



On the one hand, it seems impossible that seven years have passed since Soren came into the world and our lives; on the other hand, it seems as though so many lifetimes have been fitted in to that time that he must, surely, be ancient.


Prolonging the moment

I stepped out the pick up some groceries and I took my time. The children are asleep and Peter was waiting to join them. He has never been one to wake easily. I only realized as I was putting the filled bags into the trunk that I had taken ages to buy a few things. I have always loved grocery stores and the pleasure of looking down the aisles at leisure overtook me. Uncharacteristically, I also managed to get most of what was on the list, but really I just enjoy looking at what is on offer. I drove home to find my previous parking space still available, but I did not rush to unload the back. The heater was running and I wanted just another moment all on my own. I could have had that moment now, back in our house with everyone else asleep, but I wanted it there, alone in the car. The feeling reminded me of the longer showers I started taking after our first child was born. A minute or two passed and I forced myself to step out into the night.

Overhead, a white funnel cloud streaked across the dark sky.