As you may know from my February 3rd post in the “Thursdays with Dr. Mama” series, I have for years viewed the song “Love Rollercoaster” as a mothering theme song (done in the seventies by the Ohio Players and more recently by the Red Hot Chili Peppers). I’m thinking this week though that it extends to mother care as well, that is, the care of one’s mother and not just of one’s children. While I haven’t soared to breathtaking heights emotionally over the last week, I have moved swiftly if jerkily between multiple emotional points as I move toward focusing on my mother’s health and financial care. And all of this of course while still mothering my son in middle school and my daughter in college and nourishing a career and a marriage.
The major problems from my mother’s blood pressure spikes and other simultaneous illnesses seem to have receded at this point so we are not living on the edge quite like we were last week. But things are changed now. I am thinking about my job in terms of what my parents need, I am thinking about my finances not in terms of personal savings or home improvements but in terms of the housing I may need to help fund, or even fund outright, and in terms of how on earth I can do that. I am thinking about my career and family demands in terms of whether I can get away and make the 2.5 hour drive to my parents’ place. I was confronted this week with a couple of real professional challenges and I thought, “Do I need this now? Do I really care about this now? I need to save my energy for my mother.” Of course the tricky part is that, while I don’t need to invest unnecessary emotional and spiritual energy into my workplace, I DO need the salary at this point. I do need this now. Two weeks ago I was still deciding whether my promotion to department head was something I was really enjoying and “into” and whether maybe, at this point in my life, I want things to be easier. Now though, my thoughts about whether or not I should stay in the position are off the table until I figure out how the higher salary that comes with the job plays into my parents’ care. My fantasy-of-the-hour is that I’ll be able to figure some clever way to help both my daughter, who is looking for an apartment, and my parents, who may need to move nearby. (Surely there’s a clever way to do it, even if that rough-looking duplex just off the highway isn’t quite the answer…though with some ear plugs and a thick coat of paint and some Febreeze….)
It takes the acquiring of some pretty fancy dance steps to move from a mother’s care of her children to a daughter’s care of her mother. I feel awkward in this dance; I stumble around and misstep. Because I am not simply transferring maternal care over to my parents. I don’t feel like I’m mothering my mom. Maybe if I did it would be easier; I could just draw on familiar maternal patterns and make mild adjustments. Instead, I’m inventing for myself very different methods of care, being mindful of the difficulty of the life transitions she is going through and careful to afford her great dignity and respect. I do not know more about life than she does, do not need to teach her life lessons, am not helping her build the adult she wants to grow into—all things that apply to mothering my children. So I try to step gingerly around or through the complexities and hope I’m doing right by her. Probably the hardest thing though, truth be told, is my sense that so much of the foundation on which I’ve built my own identity is constructed from parts of my mother’s identity and life force. And it’s difficult, with all these dance steps I’m trying to learn, to keep my balance and develop some new rhythm when the foundation on which I stand feels unstable. Who am I—as a woman, as a mother, as a teacher, as a writer—when the force I pull from my mother changes?
BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee.