After a visit with my mother a few weeks ago, I came to realize something bizarre: she’s old. As children, if we’re lucky, we never have to think of our parents as impermanent. They seem omnipresent, often overwhelmingly so. Now, I can’t call my parents without thinking of a time when speaking to them will be impossible. It’s a double-edge sword. I appreciate them more now, but everything is tinged with a hint of premature grief over what will come.
Of course, my mother’s age also has obvious implications for how nubile I may still be (or not). According to her, my chances of marriage go down with each passing second, along with the viability of my ova. Surely in biological terms, this is true, although I have to say that pointing it out doesn’t make for pleasant dinner conversation. There must be some biological imperative that sets in when women get to a certain age and realize that their daughters are capable of producing grandchildren without shaming the family. With my mother, it seems to get more intense every year.
In one of those twists of fate that biology throws at you, the childrearing urge that my mother so desperately wants to encourage in me often gets directed right back toward her. That is to say, I find myself treating my mother like a child. I don’t mean to be disrespectful: quite the opposite. It’s just that she seems so fragile, and has trouble with the sorts of things that kids struggle over too—steep stairs and food that’s hard to chew and accepting certain realities of the world that one would prefer to be otherwise. It’s strange to have to help my mother open her umbrella or get on the bus. It’s strange to feel protective of her when she’s spent much of her adult life being protective of me.
Maybe the urge to take care of my mother does have to do in part with my childlessness. Further evidence of redirected energies: the plants in my apartment are so well cared for that I have to be careful not to drown them; my boyfriend complains that I throw out leftovers the instant he puts them in the fridge; and most damningly, I have an impeccably clean bathroom. These are all things that tend to go by the wayside when one has a child, at least judging by the state of the homes of my friends with kids.
And then there is that strange sensation of being part of an endless cycle that no one can opt out of. Looking into my mother face is like looking into one version of my own in thirty-eight years. It’s inescapable, such intimations of death. “Don’t ever grow old,” my dad likes to tell me. “You wouldn’t like it.”
And I don’t know if my mother minds me fussing around her, just like it used to drive me crazy when she did it when I was a kid. It’s a delicate balance between acknowledging the authority she’ll always have over me (“I changed your diapers, don’t forget that!”) and recognizing the changing reality of our comparative capabilities. I don’t like it much, and I don’t think she does either. But if it’s that or having to give up having her around, I’ll choose the nagging for grandkids any day.