Blink! First day of school.

Summer flew, as summers fly. Robin did her “nerd camp” and then a volleyball skills camp. Josie, as promised, did “nothing,” which means she reread all the Harry Potter books and invented board games and wrote trivia questions and swam and did a kids’ triathlon and spent time with her parents and grandparents. Aaron worked on the house. I had a lull in my workflow. We all went to California to visit the west coast contingent of Aaron’s family and do some sightseeing.

In most years I’m overjoyed to get everyone (including me) back into a routine come September. I love it down to my bones, the new edge to the air, the earlier nightfall, the promise of all we’ll learn and do and feel when we get Back To It.

This year’s different. Robin’s starting high school, Josie middle school. I don’t have a child in elementary school any more. And it just seems like with the start of this school year, I’m one big step closer to their leaving me. I know, that’s as it should be. I know, it’s no more significant than any other sunrise in the inevitable march of time. I know, they were always going to leave, and I know, something would be wrong if they didn’t.

But yesterday nobody in our house was a high school student. Today, someone is. College is, like, tomorrow.

I have so little time left with them, and it’s hitting me kind of hard, just now.

Baselines

A friend joked with her forgetful mother on Facebook. She said, “how will we know it’s Alzheimer’s, Mom, if this is the baseline? LOL!” Good-natured family banter ensued.

I thought about my own mother, and her diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. Mom’s diagnosis was an aha! moment. A lot of things made sense in retrospect. Now I know why she was so extraordinarily hostile and disoriented after surgeries. Now I understand why she insists she hears neighbors talking about her, and says such hateful things about them.

But what about the behaviors that have always been? Rick and I shake our heads over this sometimes. How could we know it’s dementia, if this is the baseline? Our mother has always been kind of dopey when it comes to anything managerial. She’s always been self-centered and lazy. She’s never been great with the truth. She’s oddly dismissive of Rick to this day — he doesn’t even take it personally anymore. She’s always said mean things about neighbors, and been critical of our friends to the point of embarrassing rudeness. (These days I just tell people ahead of time to be prepared. When it happens, they sort of blink in astonishment, then remember I’d warned them, and don’t experience it as a direct hit. Later I say, “told ya.”)

Maybe — especially if you can’t imagine saying such things about your own mother, or if your mother has passed on and you’d give anything for more time together — you’re thinking I’m being too hard on her. Maybe you’ve met Mom and think she’s a lovely person, which she can certainly be. There are people she doesn’t cut down behind their backs. I might even be one of them. (When people say to her “you’re lucky to have such a great daughter so close by,” she says “It’s not luck. It’s management.”)

I try not to be hard on my mother for the hollow satisfaction of it, but I don’t feel inclined to make excuses for her, either. She’s got that part covered. A very indulgent therapist in the 1980s encouraged her to “set aside feelings of inadequacy and guilt.” At the time, I would have preferred she focus on being less inadequate and guilty, but what did I know. I was a child, and some of her inadequacy and guilt affected me in ways I am just beginning to understand, as a mother of daughters myself.

My daughters’ childhoods are several orders of magnitude happier than mine was. Maybe mine was several orders of magnitude happier than my mother’s, and maybe with more insight, I’d achieve a gentler mindset. As truth-challenged as she is, there’s no point in asking for it. I piece together clues as they come.

Sometimes, when the clues make me realize, deduce or remember things about my childhood, I am furious anew. I am nowhere near being able to write about what these things are. But what do people do, with anger at their mothers? When they realize, as parents themselves, how much power there is in that role? When they look back on parts of their childhoods and think, how could you. How could you?

Probably, they see therapists.

I am always heartened to see women hanging out with their moms, each enjoying the other’s company. It shows that it’s possible. It means everything to me that my daughters and I should have that when they are grown women as well. I tell them I’m not perfect and try to own and improve on my shortcomings (except for swearing. I can’t seem to clear that particular hurdle). I include in our “prayers” every night a request to the Universe for help being a good mother to them, because they deserve the best mother I can be. They deserve it.

Only my mother knows whether she was the best mother she could be. I seem to have turned out all right, even if sometimes I feel broken (and I don’t imagine many people get through this life without feeling that way sometimes). I don’t hate her for her limitations, but I don’t have to respect her for how she’s addressed them, either.

And now, it’s hard to know where her personality leaves off and Lewy Body Dementia begins, which is both funny and sad.

Vanity, Self-pity, and Wallowing, oh my!

(So, this was written in a particularly down moment, in a mindset I don’t occupy for long — but the fact remains, I’m having a tough time with the aging thing.)

Lately when I look in the mirror all I see is “age spots” and lines, dark circles and sags, pastiness and doughy bulges… all capped by flat, mousey hair in one hell of a stupid cut (thanks to the most frequently recommended salon in town, an experience I won’t repeat).

I’ve become plain. I know this because I wasn’t, always, and the difference is something I can feel.

Recently I had lunch with a friend who confessed she’s having a hard time with turning 50. I didn’t realize she was hitting that milestone… at 47, I look easily ten years older than she. Not intending to hurt my feelings, she asked if my LinkedIn picture was taken many years ago, and, haha, if I thought my term on the school board accounted for the difference in my appearance between then and now. “Because I think of that picture, and then I saw you one day and how tired you looked, and I was wondering if it was really beating you up… but I guess we’re all just aging.” This is not a catty person. She was just talking without thinking – and I think I don’t seem like someone likely to be hurt, so maybe sometimes people don’t take the care they might otherwise.

It did hurt, though.

“I shouldn’t leave the house without makeup.” I always thought that was a ridiculous thing for a person to say about herself! But what an easy conviction to ridicule, when you’re young and pretty. Young and pretty people, take note. Those conditions are temporary. You too will grieve when they pass you by.

I know how my friend felt, looking at me, because I’d just had a similar experience with  another friendly acquaintance the previous weekend. It had been a few months since we’d seen each other, and we were chatting away. As the afternoon sun crossed her face, I suddenly thought, wow. I can see just what she’s going to look like as a nice old lady. You know how sometimes you look at a child and get a glimpse, through some little mannerism or expression, of what they’ll be like as a young adult? It was like that. I saw the thinning, speckled skin, the graying hair in a perpetually unflattering style (why do we have bangs? In my case it’s because my hair just breaks off, now), the thin lines not just around her eyes and mouth but beginning to appear, crepe-like, across her cheeks.

It was an unsettling moment… one I relive in the mirror, daily. Oh, vanity. (Did I say anything to her about it though? NO I DID NOT.)

So I guess I am vain, but I also have a hang-up about spending money on trying to look nicer when there are college tuitions and retirement to be saving for. I think of my friend Jane, a near-constant smoker who, though unemployed and without prospects, willingly forked over hundreds of dollars last week to have some kind of filler injected into her face to push out deep lines caused by three decades of sucking on Marlboro Reds. (No sense in just quitting fucking smoking, I guess.) She looks just the same as before, as far as I can tell. I think of many friends who spend regularly to maintain flattering and gorgeous (if somewhat improbable) hair colors. Looking good is worthwhile to them, and it shows. They are lovely.

I admit to feeling a little judgmental toward Janie, mostly because I don’t want to lose her to lung cancer. But I truly don’t begrudge anyone their salon expenses. So what holds me back? There’s a kind of Puritan superiority buried in this frugality, and it’s just as unbecoming as my mouse-brown hair. Are highlights in order, expense be damned? Because surgery is out of the question, as are injected fillers or neurotoxins.

Do makeovers really help a tedious midlife crisis, or am I better off just trying to come to terms with how I look now?

The most appropriate response to all this is “SHUT UP AND GET OVER YOURSELF BEFORE I SHOW YOU WHAT A REAL PROBLEM LOOKS LIKE.” I know that. I have friends who’ve lost their beautifully colored hair to chemotherapy and would trade that for mine any day.

It’s just that having someone say to (and about!) your face, essentially “you look really noticeably worse than you did five years ago”… well. It stings, maybe worse than those injections. Here’s hoping the effects are just as temporary.