Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Time to Pass it On


On the first day of first grade, Daniel got dressed, tied his shoes, ate breakfast, and brushed his teeth without prompting -- all the things I'd nagged him to get done quickly last year. We were even early for school. Sporting a new haircut, squeaky new shoes, and stylish clothes, he walked down the hall and straight into his new classroom without me, not even looking up as I later dropped off school supplies. We spent six years readying him for the world and now he actually walks through it all by himself. And I want my little boy back.

My husband says we should think about ourselves now, which seems simultaneously selfish and outrageous. He means we've sacrificed so much, in careers and money especially, and that it's now time for me to finish my degree program and find work outside the home again. But I'm ready for a break. Last year, both my parents were ill and needed help, and then there were the concerns over my own health crisis (a misdiagnosed heart condition). The piles of books and papers in a jumbled mess on my desk need attending so I can graduate. I hope to get back into my writing routine, but first I need to walk my dog, to take a rest. But I know life has a way of happening, and I'll have to adjust.

It's probably no coincidence that a huge bout of fear gripped me the first day of school, about money, again. My gut reaction was to pray and then work the steps on it. So I attacked my fears on paper and discovered all the unreasonable "I'll never have" or "I'll always have" fears in my mind. My sponsor suggested that I retreat to the first step and really feel the powerlessness -- and examine why I have it: because self-reliance fails me. And the answer remains the same: trust God, truly rely on Him, and open my mind to answers outside myself. Then, get out of God's way. Freedom from fear is more important than freedom from want.

Now I also sit powerless before my mother, who has Alzheimer's. It's terrifying to live alone with illness, and Mom is afraid. But I can't be. I must sit with her so she won't be alone. Mom is halfway between gone and present, unpredictable. I don't want her to think we're talking about her behind her back. She is still in the room and the lights are on. I hope to be near as long as she's here, to stomach all this, and to not regret that I let her go before her time because I couldn't stand to look. At 70, Mom has the smoothest skin and the bluest eyes and the whitest hair and the most unsteady of gaits and the blankest of looks.

I no longer carry Daniel, or even hold his hand when he walks into school; meanwhile, my brother had to carry our mother downstairs recently after she'd fallen. Both generations are still needy, and to take care of others I must take care of myself. I have to live and let live, making sure my simple needs are met so I'll be able to carry another. The discipline to love -- this, too, is God. This, too, I can't run from. I sit still in the powerlessness of my mind over my mother's illness. I submit to the unknowable, life's last mystery of disease and death, to God's cure, his treatment, feeling that He can and will restore us all someday. For now, I need to shore up my spiritual condition. I'll need the power to carry out whatever He has in mind.

I can't cure Mom's mind, I can't hold Daniel too closely, and I can't make my debt disappear overnight. But I can walk my dog, make lunch, enjoy my family, and do the work that's in front of me. I have to let go of the need to know how and why. This world is so vast and beautiful and full of mystery -- if I knew it all, how fun would that be? It's said that drunks never get used to the world, and that's something I can turn to my advantage. Like Daniel, I can wander a patch of woods and call it a planet, turn over rocks and be surprised, poke things with a stick.

Daniel got off the bus the first day and dubbed first grade "great." It's okay that there's no play time, that he sits at his own desk and writes all day. He's psyched for the weekly spelling test. He said he learned all the kindergarten stuff and now he's ready for this. He is not afraid, he is willing to learn, open-minded and honest in his needs and loves. He's my boy, and he's growing up. Even if he is full of false bravado, at least he's acting as if he's mature, until it really kicks in. A good lesson.

I don't ever have to drink again, and I never have to be alone again, either. I've got a great family and a large community of drunks and writers keeping me company. Sometimes we pass the love on to our children, and sometimes the world reverses and we must pass it on to our parents. Thanks for sharing the journey this last year, for trudging the road to happy destiny together.

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This was such a moving piece. I just sent my older son to Kindergarten, and had many of the same feelings about working, money, worry, personal time etc. I also worry for my own mother, who is fine, but caring for my grandmothers. You pieced all these feelings so beautifully in this column...thank you.
That was great. As the pp said--so moving...
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