86: Mother for Life

86: Mother for Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

Mother for Life

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

All I wanted to do was go home, eat a sandwich, check in with my two teenage children and my dad, and then spend the afternoon at the university library. And I’d do a load of laundry and put supper in the Crock-Pot while I was home. On the way to the library, I’d stop by the post office to buy stamps and mail a package to return a bathing suit that was too small.

I had to get the research finished at the library for my thesis. And I had to get at least two chapters of my paper written before school started in a couple of weeks. After school began, I’d barely keep my head above water — teaching sixth grade, finishing my thesis for a master’s degree, parenting a high school student and a college student, helping Dad, and just day-to-day married and home life. I sat at the kitchen table with my daughter as we ate lunch — ham sandwiches and apples.

“Mom, do you think we should get matching bedspreads? Can we go shopping this afternoon and look for ideas?” My daughter Alicia was excited about decorating her new dorm room and having a college roommate.

Eric, my son, answered the ringing phone. I heard him say, “Sure. She’s eating lunch. Come on over.” He turned to me and said, “That was Papa. He wants to talk to you, Mom. He’s coming over to eat lunch.” After Mom’s death four months earlier, Dad had moved from their home forty miles away to an apartment just a half-mile from my family’s home. I saw him almost daily, and he often ate meals with us.

“And, Mom, my practice uniform is ripped. Can you fix it before tomorrow? I’m going to the Y,” Eric said. His summer schedule was to work out with his basketball team in the mornings and lifeguard at the YMCA during the afternoon. I’d waited to take summer classes until he had his driver’s license and could drive himself to all his activities. After spending the past several years taking one graduate class a semester, this was the summer I was taking two classes and working on my research paper. I hoped to finish by December.

“Maybe. Remind me later. Have a good afternoon,” I told Eric. I turned to my daughter. “Alicia, I really must go to the library today. Let’s shop over the weekend. I promise I’ll help you get things together for your dorm room. Just not today.” She nodded her head, but her whole body slumped with disappointment.

Alicia opened the refrigerator and said, “I’ll make Papa a sandwich. I know you’re busy, Mom.” Dad walked into the kitchen carrying a manila folder. He’d adjusted well to being a widower, but needed me to share in his daily life and decisions. He kissed Alicia’s forehead as she placed his lunch on the table.

“Look what I found,” Dad said. He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “A house for sale and not too far from you. Close to town and all the space I need.” He opened the folder and laid a picture of a gray brick home on the table. “I saw the inside of it this morning and told the realtor I’d be back this afternoon. You can go with me, can’t you, Susan?”

I’m sure Dad didn’t know why Alicia laid her sandwich on her plate and stared at me, but I did. Quite often, since Mom’s death, I’d put Dad’s needs in front of everyone else’s. He was seventy-nine and had some health problems. “We’ll go whenever it’s good for you,” Dad said. “I just need to call the realtor.”

“I’m not sure,” I told Dad. “Let me make a phone call. I’d planned to go to the library.”

I hid in my bathroom and stared into the mirror. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I breathed deeply. Controlled, long breaths. How did this happen? My children were almost grown at ages sixteen and eighteen. And yet, they still needed me. Fix something. Look at this. Look at that. And now, Dad wanted me to do those same things.

I hated that I’d just told my daughter that I couldn’t spend the afternoon with her and then felt forced to go along with Dad’s plans. I’d often heard Mom say, “This, too, shall pass.” When? When would being pulled in all directions pass? Or would it ever?

I had a talk with myself — as mother, daughter, and student. At that moment, I knew my priorities needed to fall in that order — mother, daughter, student. After a short, intense prayer, a few hard sobs and a cold-water face wash, I walked back into the kitchen. Dad and Alicia were eating chocolate chip cookies. “Are you okay, Susan? Your eye is red,” Dad said. I told him that a hair had gotten in it and I’d made matters worse trying to get it out. Alicia’s grin let me know that she didn’t believe me and knew why my eye, both eyes, in fact, were red.

“About the afternoon, Dad,” I said. “Do you think the realtor could meet us at the house about 4:45? Alicia and I have some shopping to do first. So how about we see the house just before supper-time and then you and I and the whole family can eat out somewhere together? Then I’ll go the library tonight.”

The next morning, I mended my son’s uniform, a five-minute chore. Alicia and her roommate, with very little hands-on help from me, decorated their dorm room a month later. My husband, son, and I helped Dad move into his new home two months after that. I walked across a stage to receive my master’s degree the following May. It all got done.

And I had many more face-to-face mirror talks. That day, when all I wanted to do was eat lunch, check on everybody, and get back to the library was a watershed time. A turning point. A time that I revisited often. My children were just that — children. Their needs changed, just as Dad’s did. One thing didn’t. Being a mother was for life.

~Susan R. Ray

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