After my mother had surgery to implant a pacemaker, my siblings and I took turns taking care of her, since she wasn’t supposed to do housework, drive, or be under stress for six weeks. Taking care of my mother is no small task. She never sits down. Every meal is made from scratch, the house is scrubbed every day, the garden tended, and the laundry washed, but never dried in the dryer, as she likes the clothes hung out on the line. She’s a homesteader living in suburbia.
Initially, neither my older brother or sister called me to schedule the week I was taking care of our mom. Why? Because I am the youngest. It doesn’t matter how many mortgage payments I make or jars of anti-aging cream I buy, they all still see me as the baby, not capable of much of anything, and especially not taking care of my mother. So I called my brother, and told him I was coming to help. It was time to show my family that I was a responsible, reliable, and fully-realized adult.
When I saw my mom she looked smaller. I hugged her, and she told me not to squeeze too hard as it hurt. I started making dinner to her liking: soup, salad, an entrée, and a vegetable side. She sat in the kitchen watching me and criticizing my methods. I knew it was because she was frustrated that she couldn’t just do it herself, but trying to be the best daughter ever wasn’t easy.
When I finally served her the meal, she looked at it skeptically and then exclaimed, “Look at this! My little girl can cook a full meal for her sick mother!” It was a start. And she hugged me hard even though it hurt. I basked in her approval.
The following day, I decided that since I was on a roll of conquering, I should go to the gym! I pack gym clothes every time I travel, but I would use them this time! The closest gym was about 3 miles away, so I asked to borrow my mom’s new car. That silver Honda SUV was a gift my mother gave to herself once all of her kids were out of the house, and it meant a lot to her. She reluctantly handed me the keys and said, “Don’t be long.”
I walked to the garage reveling in the fact that I was doing a great job. I was proving that I was helpful and that I could be there for my mother. I slipped behind the wheel more confident than ever. As I backed out of the tight garage, my self-congratulatory thoughts were interrupted by a loud CRACK, followed by something that sounded like metal crunching. I hit the brake and glanced out the window. Oh my god! I backed up too close to the garage door and completely cracked off her driver’s side mirror.
In a shocked state of delusion, I put the car back into drive and moved forward — to, you know, reverse time. The dread started to drip down my body. This was terrible! She is going to freak out! I can’t tell her — she’s not supposed to have any stress!
I drove off, thinking maybe it wasn’t that bad, perhaps I could glue it back on and paint the scratches with some silver nail polish. When I got to the gym parking lot and surveyed the damage, I couldn’t avoid the fact that it was even worse than I thought. The mirror was smashed, dangling by some wires, and a lot of paint was missing and scratched on both the mirror and the door.
I didn’t know what to do. So I went into the gym and hopped on the treadmill. It was the perfect metaphor because I wanted to run away but was going nowhere. As I sprinted, I went through scenarios, “Maybe I could say it was a hit and run, and I just noticed when I came out of the gym, or maybe I could take out money from the ATM and say that a guy smashed it but didn’t want me to file a claim, so he just gave me cash to get it fixed!” Something about these ideas sounded familiar. Then it dawned on me that I had used them as a teenager to explain odd dents and bangs that I had inflicted on her old car to avoid getting in trouble. I’d used up all my lies.
There was only one way out of this mess. I had to tell the truth and just own up to it. I hoped when she heard it that the pacemaker would kick in.
I’d rehearsed my speech on the drive home, but when I saw my mom, my eyes filled with tears, and I blurted, “I did a bad thing to your car!” Her eyes widened and caught on fire. I sheepishly explained what happened and apologized. She nodded, full of parental disappointment, and said to no one in particular, “Well, what are you going to do?” I knew I had reverted back to child status in her mind, although in mine, owning up to wrecking her car was the most adult thing I had ever done.
The next day I found a body shop that could finish work in a couple of days for $400, which was out of my budget, but my mother insisted we split it. When it was all fixed and parked back in the garage, I apologized to my mom again, and she said, “I forgive you, but I think we should agree on one thing: We should never mention any of this to your older brother because he will never let you live it down.”
Even when I was trying to take care of my mom, she still managed to take care of me.