All The Candy You Want

It is both a beautiful blessing and kind of an odd curse to be so close with your parents. I cannot imagine my life without them.

Every time my mother falls, often hitting her head, I feel like I’ve been punched in the throat. Yesterday she fell while I was visiting and though I was able to help her somewhat, I was not able to lift her up. So I made her comfortable on the floor and I fed her ice cubes while we waited for my father to return home from golf (she did not want me to call 911). Apparently they had perfected a way of him lifting her up:

“He should be finished his game by now, but he might be having lunch at the club. Call the restaurant.”

I called and he had just left. God forbid my dad actually bring his cell phone with him. So my dog Lexie sat with us on the bathroom floor for 45 minutes and every so often she tried stealing ice cubes from my mother’s mouth, convinced they were treats.

Having just turned 80, my dad is in relatively good health, but recently he’s been looking much older. When it’s hot and humid out and he insists on playing golf three days in a row – even though he returns home looking haggard – I’m tempted to call the club and scream:

“How could you let this man play so many days? He’s going to die out there and I swear to God I will come for blood if that happens!”

Of course I am not that un-hinged, at least not yet, so instead I use my loving daughter skills to convince him to take a day off. I think he’s happy to have the rest. On some level he knows he needs it.

At dinner he regals us with funny stories from his youth. Like the time he drove an out of town date to a garbage dump to watch bears scavenge for treats (he grew up in Northern Ontario):

“You did not do that dad!”

His face lighting up, he answers:

“I did.”

Chiming in, my mom says:

“He was hoping the girl would jump in his arms for protection.”

Almost every day my mother falls asleep at the breakfast table. Many times I have found her slumped over, newspaper on the floor. Fearing the worst, I shake her frantically:

“Mom, mom wake up, WAKE UP!”

Though her feet and ankles are gnarled like old trees from arthritis, my mother still jazzes up her orthopaedic sneakers with brightly colored shoe laces. I love that about her. She also keeps jewelry in pill boxes and stays up until 3 AM writing cards to relatives. After her children were grown and out of the house, she went back to university and got her Master’s Degree and PhD. My mother lives for literature, ceramics, art and gemstones. Everyone loves chatting with “Mary” and everyone knows her:

“Oh is this cappuccino for Mary? Are you Mary’s daughter? Say hi to your mom for me,” Starbucks staff say.

The idea of my mother not being around to write me cryptic, all CAPS emails, signed “L, MOM” is inconceivable.

Until the age of three I was very happily an only child, when much to my dismay my brother appeared. According to family lore I tried murdering him by pushing his baby carriage down a steep hill. That sounds a tad dramatic to me, I mean I was only three. But my mother swears I tried to kill him. A year and a half later another brother came along and I remained un-impressed. I had loved being an only child and didn’t understand the need to complicate our lives with these loud, ridiculous boys.

Speaking of dramatic, my father has developed the most dramatic, terrifying cough, apparently due to “particles in his lungs.” Of course he only got that diagnosis (and an inhaler), after my mother and I badgered him for six months:

“You sound like you’re dying, could you PLEASE go to the doctor?” we pleaded. He keeps his inhaler in their antique writing desk and likes demonstrating the correct way to use it:

“You have to attach the inhaler to this thing – the chamber – and you have to inhale TWO times, not one.”

When my father needs my help with something having to do with emails, his computer, or things like vaccine paperwork, he often slips back into his “I’m a lawyer and you’re my secretary” mode and I have to check him:

“Dad, don’t use that work voice, I’m not your secretary.”

He loves wearing only one hearing aid so that multiple conversations are happening simultaneously:

“The Russians invaded Ukraine,” I’ll say.

“I know, there’s too much rain here,” he’ll answer.

The idea of my father not being around to drive me nuts is inconceivable too.

“When you were a baby we drove to New England with you in a laundry basket in the back seat,” he tells me over blueberry pie and ice cream.

“Ummm, that’s a little crazy!” I answer laughing. He loves seeing me get worked up over his stories.

Recently I said to my mother:

“You guys can’t die, I can’t live without you.”

“I know. But you’ll get through it. The grief will be horrible, but then it will start coming in smaller, less intense waves.”

Hugging her I said,

“No, I won’t get through it.”

“You can have me made into jewelry and wear me.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked my mother horrified.

“You can turn my ashes into a diamond, I read about it in The New York Times.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Then again, it might not be such a crazy idea. Better than a Catholic funeral. I remember my grandmother lying in her coffin in Hartford CT: the mortician had done a half assed job of sewing up her mouth. I leaned down close to her face, (closer than is proper etiquette), fixating on her stitches.

“But imagine if I lost you. Like if I lost your ashes-to-diamond jewelry?”

“Not a problem. You’re really good at finding things.”

That’s true. Whenever my parents lose something I usually find it within minutes.

Pre-grieving my parents’ death is of course an insane way to live, so I’m trying my best to stay in the present and enjoy every minute with them and write down all their stories:

“The neighbourhood boys tied me to a telephone pole because I wouldn’t give up my candy,” my mom recounted casually one day to me over shortbread cookies.

“OMG! That’s horrible, how scary.”

“I know and I was really upset because they took all my candy. When I didn’t come home from the store my mother went looking for me and and when she found me tied to the pole she said:
‘Mary, you could drive a saint to drink.'”

“That’s a horrible reaction, she was blaming you,” I said, but then we both burst out laughing. Later that night I noticed that there were several boxes of candy in the kitchen cupboard: chocolate balls, jujubes, hard toffee with creamy insides, turtles, mints…Now she gets all the candy she wants.

Maybe if I had kids of my own I would be too busy raising teenagers to spend so much time fixating on my parents. They would have loved to have had grandchildren. Instead my mother buys her grand-dog cozy velour blankets in every shade of the rainbow; Lexie has her own section in their hall closet. And my father adores her:

“You’re the best dog aren’t you? You’re the very best dog,” he says as he pets her lovingly.

In the TV room Lexie sits next to my father on the couch as he watches the news, or above his head on top of his giant reading chair as he reads The Wall Street Journal.

I’m fiercely protective of them and the older they get the more Mama Bear like my love for them becomes. Now if only I could find a way to keep them safe and healthy forever.

JLo Glow

“You know when you cut open an orange only to realize it’s one of those dried out ones with no flavour?”

“Ya,”

“That’s what I feel like. All my juicy-juice goodness has dried up. I hate being middle-age,” Donna said.

Becky sighed:

“You’ve always been like this. Remember your 25th birthday? You had a meltdown and claimed your life was over and that you had nothing to show for it.”

They laughed.

“Ok, but back to my orange analogy. I could get fillers or Botox, but really I’m looking for ways to get my inside juicy self back.”

“Why don’t you go on a wellness retreat and have an affair.”

“Umm, because I’m married. That’s the worse advice ever, you’re nuts.”

“Affairs at wellness retreats don’t count – just like Vegas, but with green juice. Plus, I read that affairs can actually rejuvenate women better than Juverderm.”

“Very funny. I’ll never have an affair and not because I’m a perfect upstanding citizen. But because I have terrible taste in men. I would end up sleeping with someone completely deranged: the kind of guy who drives a mini-van even though he doesn’t have a family.”

“Oh those guys are creepy. And what about the guys who keep freezers in their garage? Never trust a man with a freezer in his garage.”

“Totally.”

“It’s true that you used to have bad taste in men, but then you married Jack and he’s a decent guy – you could have done a lot worse. Remember Melissa James from college? She just found out her husband has a whole other family. Can you believe that?”

“How do people have the time and energy to keep secret families? Jack and I can barely handle one teenager and two cats. Honestly, I don’t think either of us could pull off an affair, we’re too tired. Even before the pandemic we were burned out. Now it’s a miracle if we’re able to stay up late enough to watch an episode of The Crown.”

“That’s sad,” Becky said laughing.

Donna continued,

“I just watched JLo’s Instagram reels and she is the juiciest fifty-two year old. She literally glows from within. She has this light, happy, sparkly vibe. I bought her entire skincare collection.”

Becky started laughing harder:

“Stop it, I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Donna stretched out on their blanket:

“I forgot to put on sunscreen today,” she said, surveying the park.

“Oh who cares – so you get a few more age spots. If you get enough age spots they’ll blend together and you’ll looked nicely tanned,” Becky said.

“I’m so glad you find me amusing.”

Becky passed a peach scented gum drop to Donna.

“Is this candy or an edible?”

“It’s an artisanal CBD edible. You should see the packaging – so chic. I read about them in Vogue.”

Donna popped it in her mouth.

“Delicious, thanks.”

“Okay, now back to your problem: You need to start putting yourself first. You still make breakfast every morning for your husband and teenage son – like a freaking 1950’s housewife.”

“It’s just this little ritual we have, it’s sweet.”

“It’s not sweet, it’s pathetic. Take that morning time and spend it doing something you like. You love reading those alphabet thrillers. So start your mornings with coffee and a book, the guys will survive without bacon and waffles.”

“I don’t know, it’s like this family bonding time—”

“Is it really though? Aren’t they both usually on their phones?”

“Well, kind of, but—”

“I think that you not feeling your juiciest is partly because you let people take advantage of you, including those who love you. Start making yourself a priority or you’ll become resentful. And nothing ages a woman more than resentment.”

“Wow, you’re fired up this morning. I feel like I have a bitchy life coach. Ok I’m doing it. Starting tomorrow the boys are on their own for breakfast.”

They lay in silence for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze.

“And a yearly girls trip. We should start doing a yearly girls trip. No partners, no kids, no pets.”

“Jack wouldn’t like that, he doesn’t like me travelling without him.”

“Too bad. You deserve a yearly getaway without any mothering or wife-y duties, that’s not a big ask. You’ve really given away a lot of your power, it’s upsetting. If you want JLo’s juicy vibe you’re gonna have to reclaim your damn power – that’s her secret, not her skincare line.”

A few minutes passed and Donna kicked off her Birkenstocks.

“You’re right, I have given away a lot of my power and it’s a sickening feeling. But because I’ve given away so much of it, it sort of feels impossible to get it back. Like I don’t have enough power to get my power back, if that makes sense.”

“It makes total sense. But I know you can do it. And unless you want to feel like a dried out piece of orange for the rest of your life, you have to do it.”

Becky reached out for Donna’s hand:

“I hope I’m not being too harsh, I just love you so much.”

“I love you too babe. And isn’t my hand soft? It’s JLo’s body moisturizer.”

Photo: Jlobeauty.com