A few posts ago I quoted Elinor Lipman's insights in her book, I Can't Complain, on the joys of having brought up baby--that is, the delight in having your small child grow into an independent adult. But one of her essays also looks back at her mother's influence on her--the chicken soup recipe, the gardening tips.
She also writes in an essay called "I Still Think, Call Her," about how, when her mother was widowed, she moved her mother across the state to live near her in a condo of her own. The two of them went shopping together to pick out curtains, rugs and dishes. She took her mother on a variety of outings, both personal and professional--despite noting that "parents at a distance are a little more charming than they are close-up." Nonetheless, the picture she drew of her relationship with her mother had me tearing up when her mother dies in her 90s--not because I identified with her loss, but because I couldn't.
When my mother became ill and needed more care than I could give (she lived a three-hour plane ride away), I asked her to move to live near me. And, yes, I was relieved when she said no. I didn't press her further. Ours was a difficult relationship--not particularly charming even from a distance. She said no for the usual reasons--not wanting to be a burden, I supposed, but even more a rootedness in her home: not wanting to leave the apartment she had filled with the memories and memorabilia of her days as a full-time wife, mother and homemaker.
What strikes me now, after reading Lipman's essay, is this: I hope I can be generous enough to my children to let them help me if and when that time comes. I can see how much it meant to Lipman and see how much I lost out by not insisting that my mother move. Not that an insistence would have necessarily worked. But I didn't make sure that as she reached her 80s, as Lipman's mother did, she felt wanted and needed. It turns out, it was my loss.