Aging Parents, Memories, Midlife, Women

The Day I Realized My Mother is Old

Mother at the age of 18.

Mother at the age of 18.

As I woke up this morning, I noticed I had numerous missed calls on my cell phone with an unidentified number. Living overseas in Saudi Arabia, I have realized that 99% of the time the “unidentified calls” that I miss are my Mother calling me typically around 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Even after me living in Saudi Arabia for over ten years, my mother still always forgets the time difference and calls me typically during the middle of the night. Her 3:00 a.m. calls are nothing I have ever attributed to her being 60 something years old, edging closer to 70, but more so because that has always been my Mother. She is artistic, intelligent, beautiful, and yes a bit on the whacky unconventional side where some social constructed conventions of acceptable behavior she firmly observes, others have never been a boundary for her, such as the time of the day she calls my older sister or me.

I am used to my mother saying “Kimberly, what’s wrong? I can hear it in your voice!”

My response is often, “Mom it is the middle of the night and I am sleeping!”

Although I must admit, Mother’s intuitive premonitions are often right on target. I cannot recall how many times I have received these calls just after finding evidence of pivotal people in my life latest escapades, or times when I am questioning the paths I have taken and if perhaps other avenues would have led to destinations that are more productive. Instead of feeding mother’s intuition, which is also coupled with her fears of the worst case scenarios unfolding in my life, I often answer with a curt “Everything is fine Mom”, except for those moments when I regress into a 5-year old child that needs her mother to wipe away the tears and tell me “everything will be ok”. Mother always has taken the small obstacles in life and asked the foreboding questions that make the obstacles seem like mountains, but she also had the unique ability to calm a raging storm during times of my own desperation to help me see the sun behind the dark clouds. She sees the worst in everyday situations, but becomes a pillar of strength in situations where most people would be reduced to rubble.
During the same time of all the missed calls, I also received a flurry of messages in my Facebook inbox from my mother “I know you are there”, “I see you are signed on”, and “Kimberly…Where are you?”

I note the messages and missed calls and I make a personal note to myself “Call Mother this afternoon”. I have told Mom numerous times that I typically do not log out of my Facebook account, but that does not mean that I am actually “signed on”. I did not have much concern about the missed calls and messages because I assumed she was calling me to either check on me, tell me some of the latest family gossip, or vent about her own life circumstances. These are the typical late night calls and the legacy of our ever-unfolding drama of the women of our family.

I did not feel uneasy until my oldest daughter walked into my office, as I was finishing drinking my coffee and she began complaining about “Grandma feeling sorry for herself”. It was the day after Easter, and I silently cursed myself for not calling my Mother on the day. The holidays always hold a poignant sadness and guilt for me because of Mother. I moved to Saudi Arabia with my husband and children over 10 years ago leaving my Mother alone in the United States. My parents divorced when I was in my 20’s and my sister and I both moved to distant locations, leaving Mother by herself. Although Mother has since remarried, I know her dreams of growing old with my father, with her grandchildren sitting quietly by her rocking chair while she listened to classical music and read them books was partly destroyed the day her divorce from my father, and completely destroyed when I boarded the plane to leave for Saudi Arabia. My sister never chose to have children, and as a result, I earned the nickname of being “the ovaries of the family” with my contribution of producing four granddaughters for the broken family. Although my own unconventional lifestyle choices, which I am sure that I inherited from my eccentric mother, also played a part in my actions of marrying outside my own culture and moving to a distant land taking my mother’s living legends with me.

As I climbed into the car this morning to take my cat, Jack to the groomer, I felt a sense of sadness, coupled with guilt and unease. I tried to tell myself it was just a culmination of different personal situations that have occurred lately, but my mind kept drifting back to my mother and the missed calls and messages. After contemplating whether to call since it was 3:00 am in Oklahoma where mother lives, I finally dialed her cell phone number, which went directly to her voice mail. I waited a couple of minutes before calling her back hoping that she was still awake and desperately wheeling herself around the house trying to find her misplaced cell phone. And yes, this is another attribute I have inherited from my mother, in which I never remember the last place I have left my cell phone. I thought of mother and her electric wheelchair, which has given her some mobility back, but represents to me a despised icon of my mother’s failing health and fragility. Failing health and fragility that has been brought on by a lifetime of unfair situations and experiences that has fueled an emotional habit of eating to fill the voids left behind, robbing her of her ability to walk freely without pain. The hated icon that represented my inability to take my mother to the places she always yearned to see, but had been too busy during her days in which she was blessed with vitality by investing her time in her career and raising her stubborn, rebellious, and selfish daughters.
Mother answered her phone the second time I rang her cell phone. Her voice sounded weak, feeble, and sad.

I put on my most charming voice and belted out “Bulk, bulk…Thank you Easter bunny” as had been played on the Cadbury egg commercials from my childhood.

Mother gave a half-hearted laugh at the expression my sister and I have always used during the Easter holidays. Although my Mother has always struggled with health issues since the time she was born as the lone surviving twin of her and her twin Charles, to the leg braces she wore as a child to correct her physical limitations, to the numerous surgeries through her early and middle adult years to correct the physical defaults of her anatomy, and her battle with a lifetime of depression, usually a phone call from my sister or me, was enough to lift her spirits. For the first time in my life, I heard the voice of a women who was aged beyond her years, perhaps by the different obstacles and experience she had lived. Mother began telling me the story of how she had fallen and was now covered with bruises over her body. She recounted how she landed on the concrete and laid there fearing she had broken her hip. For the first time, I realized my mother had become old and was perhaps nearing the end of her physical existence on earth. Although I have watched my mother physically deteriorate for the last 10 years, I have never really faced the reality of what life would be without my mother. The realization sent fear coursing through my body, with the realization that the one person who consistently has been my cheerleader, as well as a reminder of all the mistakes I have made in my own life, may not be there for the next obstacle that are to be thrown in my path. Even though I am 43-years-old, in some ways, I have never had to be a complete “adult”, because I knew my Mother and my Father would always somehow help me pick up the pieces of a broken heart, broken dreams, or cushion the blows of reality.

My Mother is by no means a woman of perfection, nor is any of the rest of us that have lived, but she is a woman of passion, of surviving, and of strength. Although my Mother has embarrassed me with recounting some of the stories that both my sister and I spun during our years on earth, with her endless chattering that annoys the depth of my introverted soul, she has always been there to wipe away my tears, and hold my hand even metaphorically through distance when I at times did not have the energy to move forward. She has always been a pivotal figure in my own personal ethics, in teaching me to speak out against corruption and situations that serve to marginalize others. She made sure that my sister and I were introduced to the arts, music, and embracing different cultures, and people in our efforts to find ourselves. Most importantly, she has taught me that love is not conditional, and that trying to find the positive traits of others is pivotal in not only loving life, others, but also ourselves.

My Mother has always loved to entertain people by telling them that even as a child, I did not like her and would scream whenever she tried to hold me as a small infant. What Mother has never realized that her own intuitive traits have been passed on to me, and with that intuition, I feel the pain, emotions, and energy of others. A trait that made me a good therapist, as well as teacher, but also has made me prefer the solitude of quietness and peace, to a world filled with numerous social interactions. I have always felt my Mother’s sadness and disappointments and the pain she carries in her soul from losing her own mother at an early age, and other life events that followed, but there are two people that I always turn to in my own obstacles: My Mother to help me pick myself off the floor, and my Father as my protector and hero to slay the monsters. Regardless of my choices and directions in life, my Mother has always been the one person that could still hand me a lantern to travel by, when it seemed the light of day would never appear to enlighten a path to travel.


4 thoughts on “The Day I Realized My Mother is Old

  1. Eliza says:

    Leaving mom ‘behind’ is something we don’t feel until our own children leave. Living overseas is the price we all pay.As a young couple we don’t feel it as such…but when we look back on our time here….I know we wished we could/should have done more. I know too many families that complain about sisters and brothers who live the next state over, and visit even less, than us international dwellers, that’s a real shame.

    Liked by 1 person

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