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 …