I’m back in Michigan this week. It’s my third trip here this year, which considering it’s only March I think is a new record for me. My brother, who has been here taking remarkable care of my dad for the past month and a half, was invited to speak at the Smithsonian about cultural entomology and his research about sleep and bees. He was concerned about going because my dad was starting chemo and needs somebody here. I cleared my schedule and told him not to worry about it. (I hope his talks go well!)
In the meantime, it was hard to say goodbye to my husband and kids again, but I’m glad to be able to help my parents. Helping my dad means keeping track of his constantly misplaced cane, reading to him during chemo, and driving him to and from various appointments at the hospital and physical therapy. Helping my mom means pulling up episodes of Project Runway to watch together while we drink peach-ginger tea.
It’s very easy to focus on the person with the illness when doling out care, but there are moments when the ‘sick-adjacent’ need help too. I think mothers in particular can relate to how easy it is to take on responsibilities to another to the detriment of their own needs at times. My mom may not be going through chemo herself, but it still has a direct impact on her own life. She’s been through a lot lately, and she has such an overwhelming amount of work to do closing down her business that I worry for her. There is only so much I can do to help, but I’m making sure we get a little time to hang out and do nothing more taxing than cheer on Tim Gunn as he tells people to make it work. It’s nice.
My children are being pretty understanding about my absence this week. At home Mona has developed a recent habit of crawling into bed with me for a cuddle before going off to her own bed to sleep. She calls it “midnight snuggle” and she’s very serious about it. I’m not sure what was its inspiration, but it has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day. We talk about projects she’s working on and things she’s interested in while we lie with our arms around each other and she gives me intermittent Eskimo kisses. (The only problem is it’s such a nice time that Quinn wants in on it, and announces he’s there for midnight snuggle, too, which really gets on his sister’s nevers.)
Mona was concerned that my being in Detroit would doom the midnight snuggle, but we’ve been doing it over the phone. She sits on my bed back in Milwaukee and we chat and hug the receivers. I can hear her hugs because her footie pajamas make a scrunchy rustling noise when she holds the phone close. Then she takes the phone around to Aden and Quinn and has them say goodnight too before hanging up.
It’s complicated to be needed in more than one place, but it’s nice to feel needed at all. I keep thinking about how hard it was for my grandma when she began to really seem old to not be able to help with things. She was used to being the person who cared for others, and having someone else make the meals or prepare the beds or clean the counters just never sat with her right. She enjoyed those things because they made her feel useful. I think I’m at the most responsible, most needed, most useful point in my life so far and much of the time I feel stretched too thin, but I’d rather feel a bit overtaxed and making a difference than bored and unproductive. Which is good, because it doesn’t look like I’m in danger of getting a break anytime soon.
So I will take my midnight snuggles over the phone for a little longer while being useful in Detroit, but I’m looking forward to the real thing. (I even kind of miss the claustrophobia inducing ‘pile on’ my kids do when they find me in bed some mornings. One of them shouts, “Pile on Mama!” and then there is a weighty heap of kids on me and a lot of giggling. My parents are fun but they don’t do that.)