We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. —T. S. Eliot
We have arrived at the longest day. We will take a breath tonight, to boast and toast with friends around a fire, weave flowers into our hair and dance. Tomorrow we turn our steps to the journey back toward the shortest day. I’m wondering, as I turn into my 66th year, how my life might be different at the winter solstice. The potential is there: I could be “orphaned,” though I seriously doubt it. For sure I won’t be spending nearly a third of each week with my two youngest grandchildren. What will I do with those newly freed 48 hours? Or will they, and more, be folded into increased care of my mother?
I left Raleigh on the summer solstice, five years ago. I had been anticipating the move for a while, but seven years ago I had no idea this would be my life. I am grateful for it. Being back in the Pacific Northwest is a 36 year dream realized. These years with the two littles is a gift that will forever be the woof woven into the fabric of my life. Although their brains will forget the year I spent with each of them, I hope a knowledge that they were well-loved by their Gigi as they began their exploring will remain in some hidden space within them, forming the foundation—the warp—for the years they will remember.
I hope in some hidden space my mother feels well loved, though that is a tricky one. As she comes to the end of her exploring, I am impatient with her, ready for her to take that last step away. I’m weary of hours spent in her downward spiraling world. I want to spread my 65-year-old wings again, while I still can. I fear it too often shows in my interactions with her. “I’m sorry that you have to deal with me,” she said a few days ago. She usually expresses apology (disguised gratitude) when I think I have tried the hardest to be patient and loving. Perhaps it’s then she remembers her own struggles to be physically and emotionally available to her mother.
Mama walked independently when I arrived here. Five years later she is unsteady, even supported by her full time walker, holding onto it with one hand as she stretches her other arm out for something else to grab when she sits down. One-year-old Adrian is at the exact crossing point with her: just about to take his first wobbly independent steps, but for now continuing to hold on to anything he can reach. Tomorrow, or the next day, his legs will become more sure and then his confidence will be unstoppable. He will fall and get up, fall and get up. Before we know it he will be running full tilt. Tomorrow, or the next day, Mama won’t get up from her chair without assistance, and even with the walker she will fear falling as her weakening legs threaten to collapse. And then she will not get up at all.
Three-year-old Elliot has rocketed beyond his great-grandmother, learning new words every day as fast as she forgets those she has commanded for decades. He recites the simple text of library books after hearing them one time; she can’t hang onto what she she was just told. (Though she still recites the poems she memorized in school. They bring comfort when she can’t sleep at night. Saying them aloud to us is proof, in her mind, that all is not lost.) The most maddening thing is she doesn’t believe she forgets, but that everyone else is batshit crazy, and it irritates her. Elliot expresses the same frustration when he is crossed.
Mama has arrived back where she began and is knowing it as for the first time. And she doesn’t like it. As my life with her continues, it is both easier and harder to face my own aging. As I experience some persistent ligament pain the past few weeks, I think it will be just tomorrow and I will be unable to do what I have taken for granted. I press on through the pain in a stubborn refusal to give myself a break—perhaps a final lesson passed on from mother to daughter, albeit not a good one to embrace.
On the other hand, I am surely many long years away from the infirmities she is experiencing. I will never be her, will I? I will do it better, won’t I? I will never make life difficult for my own daughter, will I? Except I suspect I already irritate her. The mother and daughter relationship is an impossible one to do well, at least in my lineage. My mother, no doubt, thought she would do it better than her mother did too. Her mother had no mother, no mother-daughter relationship to model or improve on. My daughter has no daughter. It’s up to me to get it right, this one moment in time. What can I do differently now better to navigate old age, and to respect those who will care for me, when the sun circles back around to my turn?
Meanwhile, the summer solstice. The weather this winter, spring, and summer is more like it was when I lived here before—at least in my memory—and less like the heat and drought of recent years. The garden is struggling. We all need sunshine.