Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Mothering my Mother" by Tessie Lagtapon

I have been on a job-training program for the last four years. I am a slow-learner, but the truth is, I don’t have the right temperament for the job. Half of the time I am in denial; the rest of the time I go on protracted guilt trips. You see, since my mother turned 90, she’s been feeling insecure and I’ve taken on the role of caring for her – and doing badly at it. The role of mothering her is as alien to me as Krispy Kreme is to Martians.

I should maybe be better at caring for her. Except for three years when I first came to Canada, we have always lived together. We even made history when she moved into my university dormitory in Manila.

Staunchly protective, she threatened my husband-to-be with death, were his intentions dishonorable. I saved his life by marrying him.  Fiercely devoted to her grandchildren, I wasn’t allowed to bathe them, until she was sure I was not going to drown them.

We used to stand tall together, but now, I am a head taller. She says she cannot see, but she can see the wrinkles behind my bangs. She claims she cannot hear, but she laughs at my husband humming a Klingon love song. She bemoans her fading memory, but remembers which trees she climbed as a child.  She tells me I am a good daughter, but changes her mind quickly when I contradict her wishes.

Like when I had to take her to the daycare at Peel Manor. She put up a fight, because although she’s terrified to be alone, she wanted the comforts of home. The arguments and negotiations escalated, but by the time I dropped her off, she had completely changed into an affable, social being. She had forgotten what she put me through. Or perhaps, seeing Matilda, Cecilia and their staff welcome her with genuine warmth and care, transformed her.  I take longer to get out of my scrunched up, miserable face.

But when I do, it is because of her. She sings in church, even sways with the music. The hymnbook is open in front of her. When she notices she can’t see, she discreetly checks if her glasses are sitting on her nose. She dozes off during the homily. When I nudge her, she opens her eyes, looks up at the good Father and a guilty smile cracks up her face. I can’t help but chuckle.

She loves candies and cookies, especially the ones Child No. 2 brings home, because they come all the way from Chicago. She looks forward to Christmas, because she says, “I’m going to have lots of gifts.” She did rival my grandson in that respect. But what she loves best is going out. Comfortably belted with her stash of food beside her, she doesn’t care where we go; the longer the trip, the better.

So why am I falling short of my expectations? It’s the flip side of the coin that puts me on trial.

When she refuses to take her pills, I hit the ceiling. When she fails to understand why I cannot take her to work, I strain for control. When she expresses her fears of the shadows she sees in the dark, I sigh in frustration. When she forgets to tell the doctor what ails her and insists on going back to her doctor the next day, I lose it. When she asks me for the hundredth time where everybody is, I am up in arms. When she tells me in anger that I am an ungrateful daughter, I go completely nuts.

Then I remember. She’s 94, for crying out loud!  Why can’t I give her the patience and understanding that Gina, her caregiver, a complete stranger until last year, gives? As I kiss and tuck her in at night, I ask for forgiveness.

“It is hard to be old,” she says.

She has forgotten the details of what I’ve done, but I feel dreadful.

Her selective memory however had book marked her birthday celebration.  Like a child, she was excited that she would be opening some gifts and donating some to our church. Her wish was that her great grandchildren would remember her by the plaques at the back of our church, honouring her birthdays, forever.

Way to go, Nanay. May you have more birthdays to come.


Teresita (Tessie) Lagtapon has lived in Brampton 48 years, raised four children and now has four grandchildren and four grand dogs. She wrote a column once a month for ten years for the Brampton Guardian. She was also a Realtor for 30 years and has been semi-retired for the past four years. Her daughter insists she’s fully retired; Tessie is still in denial.

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