One of the first things I noticed when I walked into my mother’s house last Sunday night was that she had taped the same printed message on little pieces of paper all over the house – on her bathroom mirror, on the wall across from her bed, the refrigerator, by the front door, and in her office next to the computer. The message was this:
“Be aware of my body sensations. What do I want? What do I need right now?”
At first, I rolled my eyes. Maybe it was that the message was in all caps, like she was shouting to herself.
“It’s from my therapist,” she explained when I asked her about it, referring to the man she’s been seeing for the last 30 years, and now on Zoom once a week.
“Be aware of my body sensations. What do I want? What do I need right now?”
My mother has other important messages taped by her phones that she can look at when she’s talking, probably to one of her four children. “I hear you,” she’ll say. Then, “Uh huh,” and, “I understand. Tell me more.” Then there’s a note to remind her to repeat the last few words she heard the caller say.
Sometimes when she’s telling me about what a great game of tennis she played, or how delicious her salad at lunch was, I say, “I hear you, Uh huh, I understand, tell me more.”
“Oh screw you!” she says, laughing. Then she takes her middle finger, pretends to be picking her nose and gives me the finger instead. She got that from her rascal of a father.
These moments of levity make up for the patience I think we both need to employ around each other. I’m the oldest daughter who’s come home to check up on her. Eyes and ears on the ground. A total killjoy. Tonight I made her agree she won’t walk the dog in the dark alone anymore, even though she’s lived on this street for 63 years.
“It’s different now, Mom,” I say. “I wouldn’t walk on any street alone at night.”
I’m sure she thinks I’m humorless, no fun. And it’s true. I’ve turned into the little sergeant around her. My brother gives me the orders before I arrive. “Check her safe,” he says. “See what’s in it.” Then he asks, “How high does she keep the heat on in her house?”
“Don’t you dare tell him!” my mother warns me.
Once when her driver’s license had been suspended, she drove her car the equivalent of a mile. “Don’t you go saying anything to your siblings about this,” she said.
The last three years haven’t been entirely easy for me and my mom. During the pandemic I spent more alone time with her than I ever had.
There was one 8-week period that it was just the two of us by ourselves in a house in Hawaii. I’d gone there with friends, and then my sisters and brother and I organized an intervention because mom was losing her shit in L.A. She’d been sheltering alone for months. Trump was still in office, and George Floyd had just been killed by the police. The fires were burning all over California, and for anyone who would listen, my mom would go on and on about a civil war in the streets, and people coming out of their houses with guns. January 6th was still a few months away. “You’ll see,” she kept telling us. “You’ll see.”
The world was coming apart and my mom was feeling it like an animal sensing a storm before it rolls into town. We decided to send her to Hawaii to be with me where the tropical breeze would surely help her to forget all that crazy talk.
“Be aware of my body sensations. What am I feeling? What do I want? “
In these last few years, she and I have reversed roles. Not that she needed me to become her warden, but as my friend Kirsten reminds me, at some point we start treating our parents like toddlers – and not in a good way. They’re a little slower, a little more forgetful. I’d become impatient, which had morphed into a kind of superiority.
In my better moments, I ask myself, why shouldn’t my mother at 86 be trying to continue to wake up, and pay attention to what her body is telling her? And why shouldn’t I, at 62, think that message isn’t for me?”
There was a day last year when we were packing our suitcases, and I was quietly barking orders, avoiding eye contact, just wanting to get the job done. She turned to me with big eyes and said, “Laurie, I can’t feel you.” I caught my breath, and I turned toward her and instinctively put my arms around her.
I couldn’t feel myself either.
We stood there for a long minute, our arms around each other, and then she pulled me in even closer, her breasts smashed against mine.
Holding me tight, she began to murmur, like a mother does to a child, a soothing sound like she was trying to give me something. Then I felt it coming into me, and my body told me to let it in.
*Note to the reader: I am lucky to have a cherished group of writer friends who I can send my pieces to when I know there’s something I can feel in my work, but cannot see. I rely on these wise friends, as I have in this piece.
Listen to Laurie read the piece …
This is so timely, validating and meaningful to me right now. Thank you.
I am 60, and lost my mum 15 years ago, so relate to this differently. I see myself in years to come, and how my daughters will feel about me. And how I might feel about myself. I hope that at 86 I am still here, in every way. I love to listen to you read your work.
I love this. I can feel it. So intensely evocative. What a beautiful piece. I wonder if you’ve read it to your mother.
What do I want? What do I need right now? I ask myself these questions. Not often enough. Interestingly I could connect to both you and your mother. Felt it all and memories flooded. Thank you. 💚🙏💚
You know I love Suzy. And you. I miss you a ton.
Thank you for allowing us to share this journey with your mother.
I am inspired by your writing and moved by your mother’s willingness to be vulnerable. Thank you so much for sharing this piece.
Laurie, thank you. I have always loved your stories about your relation ship with your mother. She is an extraordinary woman, and you an extraordinary daughter. Thank you for sharing her with us.
Beautiful Laurie. Tender and true. Our relationships with our mothers, with our elderly people, with ourselves…an invitation to go deep; one I want to answer. Thank you xx
Thank you for this Laurie. Mother love. Your writing is so truthful, visceral. It gives us permission, frees me to dig deep. What did I feel? What do I feel?
Miss you mucho!
oh, the calluses over our hearts.
Thank you for sharing this relationship so authentically Laurie. I’m 62 too with a 81 year old Mom and a 41 year old son. I see layers of myself and my loves in your poem. Its message to me is, Take Heart…
That was lovely and made my day. I am the caregiver for an independant 102 year old mother who wants to go but has not found the way to make that happen… weird role reversal…
Oh gosh. The situation with my mum right now is not good. Maybe one day I can write about it. Thank you for this.
Thank you Laurie. I am 77 now and can recall vividly while reading this emotional piece how I reacted similarly to my mom. Now I am in my mom’s seat. Beautiful .
Also timely for me. I just turned 55 this weekend and yesterday my 90 year old mother took me out for my birthday lunch like we do. It was painfully awkward, I had to keep whispering to myself to be kind. Thank you for giving us a peek into your relationship. The mother daughter relationship has no cookie cutter shape, for certain, it’s often a lump of raw cookie dough and every day a different shaped cookie. Laurie, your writing speaks to my heart.
Thank you Laurie. Your writings about your relationship with your mom always resonate with me as I think of my Mom who died in her mid seventies. I’m a bit younger than your mom and the mother of middle aged sons who is grateful to have women friends who love and support me.
Pre-Pandemic (Note the caps designating that century an official epoch to be studied and memorialized); three new pals – Susie, Sedra and me–
meandered down the dusty streets of San Miguel into the sunset. Surprise: what was at the end of the road was a tasty meal and precious time to unwrap the wonders hidden deep within each of us. Delicious!
“My patience has morphed into superiority.” You nailed it for me with these words. Thanks for holding the mirror up for me today. Just so grateful for your words today.
💕Gives me things to ponder. Always wanting to be a guiding light to my children and still their youth will outlast mine.
I like the sensuality of this piece, and also how the ending resists tying up anything. Thank you for this love today.
Thank you for letting us take a peek at mom and daughter. Mine is not so kind. and you? dear lady so open to touch another peek at your real…. <3
I love this, Laurie. I “lost my shit” when your mother turned to you and said, “I can’t feel you.” Everything (leads to Grandma’s house) in this piece leads to this, Laurie.
I can feel you, Laurie.
This brings back memories of my times with my mom before she went into the nursing home. I would visit her in New York and scold her about still living in 4 floor walkup. I remind myself daily that she was able to live like that until she was 90 We should all be so blessed…
I love Suzy. She represents the best of her generation: openess, physicality, awareness of a bigger picture. But I cannot know the smaller picture of 62 years of a day-to-day history between a mother and daughter. And that, dear one, is why we remember, write, and remember more.
You are loved, Laurie.
As with all your writing, the way you turn into what you are describing and not away invites me to do the same. I so appreciate the call to bravery and listening to what the body, heart and soul are speaking, particularly in those charged moments embedded in the closest of relationships. Thank you, my friend. And to Sherri as well, for her bravery and heartfulness. Much love.
This is a beautiful telling and I appreciate knowing you ran the piece by writer friends because of your proximity to “the feels.” I, too, am a parental kill joy. Oldest daughter and only child (of two) who along w my husband, is responsible for 94 year old dad. He is a pragmatic, resilient man and these times are trying, tender, raw, and exhausting. I hope to find a way in, to write from “all the feels” about what it is like from this place.
So beautiful, moving, and honest, Laurie. I’m in my early 80s now and can identify with both you and your mother. My mother died nine years ago at age 101, and I still miss her and even remember with fondness the time she called me “the queen of mean” during a silly argument. Thanks for writing with such honesty and courage, Laurie.
Loving…role reversal has its moments to be sure, but when my Mom passed at the age of 97 after holding on long enough to say good-bye to her favorite caregiver one morning in June, she softly and peacefully let go, allowing me the time to pack up all my gear at the end of my busy school year, knowing full well what I needed to do for her lay ahead…she worked in “personnel” all her life, and left on her own terms, when and how she wanted, even though we both had practiced the transitioning stage months before she left. Moms are like that…always looking out for our best interest, leaving us with those pearls of wisdom we need to glimpse and savor one last time…BJ
Interesting and thoughtful essay about your relationship with your mom. Particularly interesting to me as I am on the other side of the equation (I’m 83) but with sons rather than a daughter. My sons keep tabs on me and their father, very respectfully and lovingly, but I also understand they probably simply want to know that we’re OK so they can go about their lives without worrying too much about us. Which is fine :-).
As an oldest daughter, and mom in mid-70’s so much tenderness I feel. Thank you for sharing. So intimate. also, my dad recently passed, and entering his place, he had these “mindfulness” notes everywhere, so his style. your mom reminded me so much of him in that way. no matter our age, they mom us. so tender and sweet, even when the roles start to shift and we parent them.
We feel you. And your Mom. xo
Laurie! You make me think about my mom and my dad, and all the challenges they going through while they get okder…. Getting older is not for cowards!!
Love how your mom is through uour eyes!
Such a beautiful piece, Laurie — thoughtful, elegant, delicate, exquisitely paced.
I think the moment you both embraced when mom couldn’t feel you; was impactful for me…really powerful…and coming from the same family how our relationship with mom can be and is very different. Mothers and daughters; the weaving dance of feeling one’s needs, sensations, and desires…for vulnerability and closeness.
I hear your words to us writers in your mother’s “Be aware of my body sensations. What do I want? What do I need right now?”, reminding us to pay attention to the immediate now in response to the prompt. My mother never hugged me like that. Perhaps it is a mother/son thing. Though I do remember having stand-up wrestling encounters when I was a teen. She quite strong and gently fierce with her love.
Thank you for sharing this so beautifully, for your willingness to be vulnerable.
My half-side and I moved from California to Iowa a year ago as it was becoming too much for my sister to deal with all the care my 88 yr old mom needed after her (thankfully mild) stroke. This hits home.
I lost it at “Laurie, I can’t feel you.”
Thank you for the reminder to check in with my own body sensations and to ask what I want and what I need right now.
Oh wow-I love this and it’s all relatable and well-written but also interesting to read. When your mom said she couldn’t feel you…wow…I love that. So powerful!
What a blessing to listen to you reading this… at times I don’t feel myself either, so I feel what you say there. Thank you.
So honest and powerful. Full of admiration for being able to let her in.
Beautiful rhythm, writing, message. Inspiring and powerful. Funny and moving. It’s honestly one of your best pieces ever—which is saying a lot.