The first 1100 miles are easy, unless I have an epic air travel experience. I get to see my kiddos and visit with them for a precious day or two. And, of course, do my NYC walk abouts. Oh, how I love that city!
Then, I usually take the bus from Manhattan out to Mom or drive. The first 60 miles or so are pure Long Island Expressway. Not much to write about except whenever I pass The Pine Barrens, I always recall that classic episode from The Sopranos. Best episode ever! Chrissy, Paulie and the ketchup packs. Oh my, I miss Carmela.
At about the 67th mile mark, with a simple fork in the road, I arrive at the North Fork of Long Island and life rolls back 20, 50, 100, 100's of years. Big box stores and fast food restaurants left behind, I pass by new farms, bi-centenniel farms, some homes built in the 1600's, old churchs and graveyards, farm markets, vineyards, diners, osprey, seagulls, and plenty of kitsch until there, at another fork in the road, is "it"..the first glimpse of the sea. So peaceful.
The first view of Peconic Bay...
Up until that point, I can do the trip as it happens, unscripted and unpracticed. Even the ferry trip to Shelter Island is OK. I love the ferry ride and must have 100's of pictures of "ferry foam". I wish I could bottle that sound. The crossing is fun because Peconic Bay is an ever changing stage for sea life...fishing boats, sailboats, birds, storms, night lights, fog horns, etc. And I am caught up in it all until I have to disembark on Shelter Island.
Then it hits me. There is no one here to pick me up. Dad and Mom used to come and then just Dad when Mom got so disabled. Now Dad is gone. And so, I start to work on what I have practiced.
Scene One: I usually have to schlep my always too heavy stuff up and down hills to my Mom's. It's almost a mile and there is no other way to do it. No matter what the weather. Last February, there was a freak 23 inches of new, unplowed snow on the ground. I only got about half way with all my bags. Exhausted from hauling myself and the suitcases through 2 feet of snow, I left one suitcase in a field. An hour or so later, I regrouped and went back for it and slugged through five more inches of fresh snow. I made an awesome snow angel though. She lasted a week!
Scene Two: I get to the door of my parent's home and again realize, there is no one there to meet me. I have to get the key and let myself in and not look too winded. If I arrive huffing and puffing, Mom will feel bad and immediately launch into her worry mode.
Scene Three: I am in and standing in the foyer. Still out of view from my mom, but out of the corner of my eye, I can see my dad's empty chair and table. His basket of jellies is still there and I half expect him to be, too. On his table are a pair of my reading glasses I left last visit and a new pile of papers and lists for me to go through.
This is when I have to collect myself and mentally go back over what I have practiced. I can't forget to breathe. As I round the corner and head into the den, it is like the curtain going up on stage. I hope my face will not betray me. The first sight of my chair-confined mom is always heart-wrenching and I am not quite used to seeing her so disabled and immobile. Is that really my mom? She closely watches that first impression reflected in my face and learns in an instant whether she is "holding her own". I know this and enter with a smile and a cheerful "Hi Mom! How are ya, sweetie? You look great!" And she does. I am so proud of her.
That is the role I have: delivering hope and confidence, care and companionship, good cheer and comfort. While making a few changes as I morph from child to mom of my mom, like "Hey, Mom, you know feather-y haircut you like so much? It would look great on you!", I am very careful to make decisions that play up her positives while addressing her needs. Ones with a delicate "balance of power" that don't strip her of her dignity, her remaining independence and will to live and that don't make her feel like I am taking over. I am not always sure of the decisions I help her make and like most children, worry that I am doing the best I can for her.
Surely, it will continue to get easier, as the fearful becomes the practiced, the anxious becomes the calm.
She is radiant and wonders if ice cream and a cookie, maybe two, would be a good idea. Absolutely! To the kitchen I go.
Ben and Jerry's New York Chunky Fudge for her and for me, my newest dairy-free treat:
And, hold the cookies. I have some Natural State Granola Bars in my suitcase!