What I Learned From People Who Can’t Even Tie Their Shoes

Nov 9, 2012

Brooklynn and Olive shifting into gear

I snapped awake to the sound of my son’s voice calling up the stairs. “We’re leaving now, Mom.” His voice was gentle and low, but I bolted out of bed, brushed my teeth and hurried down stairs. What if the girls woke up? What if they found no one there? Would they cry when they saw me? Worse yet, would they just try to be polite but distant? Ama’s here again…that crazy old lady that flies around on big planes.

I wrapped myself in a blanket, conscious of my pajamas suddenly, and sat on the couch…waiting. It was very early but the day swarmed before me and I made mental notes of about a dozen fun things I had thought of to do with a four year old and a two year old. I was excited but already a little tense from the pace I had marked for myself. Okay, I’m a grandmother but I’m a young one. Right?

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to Acadia National Park and we made some observations. Our generation, the boomers, well there’s a lot of us. This is not news but we were shocked at how crowded Bar Harbor was and they all looked our age, maybe a little older we like to think. As we were eating our lobster lunch we watched them parade past our window. We noticed they wore comfortable shoes. We saw a few canes. Then a walker. Then a guy pushing an oxygen tank, THEN a guy pushing his wife in a wheel chair. Sorry, it’s my macabre sense of humor. It was like watching a cartoon. I expected to see a funeral procession next. Later that day we climbed a small mountain and I had to stop and catch my breath twice. CB said it really wasn’t much of a mountain but I heartily disagree. It was Everest to this granny.

So I’m not gonna let a couple little girls outpace me. I feel ready, equipped, I feel…nervous. Just then I heard the soft drumming of two little feet padding down the stairs and Olive appears, blond curls all wild and as she takes in the situation, just Ama in her pink jammies, a peculiar smile settles across her face that says; Ok, Ama’s cool. And then she accepts my invitation to snuggle in the blanket. Phew! A few minutes late another set of flying feet are heard overhead and Ollie looks at me and in a low raspy voice whispers, Bookin, a two year old-ese for Brooklynn. Her sister rounds the corner and checks us out snuggling in the blanket and decides it’s a Jammie Jamboree and then we are all snuggling and giggling and I feel something in me unwinding.

Breakfast is a bit of a free for all as I remember my Grandparent’s Right To Spoil clause, so as I sip my coffee they run back and forth from the table, chewing on bananas and last night’s pizza. They are shifting into second gear now as Ollie shows up with a dolly under her arm, sort of in a headlock and Brooklynn is spreading a picnic across the den carpet and entreating her sister to join her. But now Olive is distracted by a pile of necklaces she found and she has left the picnic and her babies behind. Soon I am invited to the picnic,and with a few groans I stretch out of the carpet and begin to partake of corn, carrots, cake, tea, and more pizza, the wooden kind. And as the picnic comes to a close I reach over to the bookcase and pull out a few of my favorites, like Barnyard Dance and Hippos Go Berserk. I think a couple of hours have ambled by and we are all still in our jams, hair messy, and thoroughly loving the day. These girls are showing me something.

Five years ago my mom had her first stroke, then another a year and a half later. Both were caused by an artery rupturing in the frontal lobe of her brain. The first one mostly affected short term memory, some speech. She seemed happier and we concluded that it was because she was unable to remember what she was so sad or mad about. After she was felled by the second one, we anxiously waited by her bedside to assess the damage. Neither stroke left her physically impaired. But the frontal lobe contains all the circuits for judgment, reasoning, memory, speech. My 80 year old mother woke up at about age two or three and a few weeks later I took her home with me, hoping I could help her find her brain again or maybe just a few pieces.

That winter, after a breast cancer diagnosis, I plunged into the world of chemotherapy and despite my stubborn Yankee spirit that will never lie down, never rest because I NEVER get sick, I surrendered to my body’s cyclical deterioration as the poison that was hopefully killing the bad cells, killed a bunch of good ones too. Mom was happily oblivious. She frowned at my bald head like she would’ve when I wore a skirt too short and the word cancer held no meaning for her. Just once I saw a look of worry cross her face and she brought her hand up to my cheek and held it there like when I was a child.

“You all right, Bird?” Yes, mom, I’m alright.

And it was there in that cycle of sickness with the simple company of my demented mother that I realized life has more than one rhythm, that as Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.” We rode out the winter together, sometimes the sea raged but mostly it was a subtle breeze and the rhythm of the gentle waves as we held on together, secure in His everlasting arms.

It makes sense that Jesus admonished us to be as little children. Brooklynn, Olive and I eventually got out the door but once I relaxed and slipped into their rhythm , even getting dressed was fun. I got lost trying to find Monkey Joe’s but Brooklynn confidently told me Ama, I think I can help you get home. OK I don’t need a walker yet but is it OK to use a four year old for your GPS? We did find our way, and as I looked into the rear-view mirror at two sweet faces fast asleep, their expressions pure and unworried, I thought Thank you both for reminding your Ama how to live today and thanks, Jesus , for leading the way. Oh and one last mental note: naps are good, for everyone.