Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Voice from the Bed

My mother was sick recently. Like really sick. Hospitalized sick.

First there was my mom at 80 - spry, the mall walking, seniorcizing ball of energy. Then there was her auto accident a little over a year ago and things changed. Suddenly there was my mom, her couch, her TV remote and her phones lined up in front of her. A smaller life and an older mom where suddenly taking a walk meant walking to the kitchen.

So she got sick like that, just sitting on the couch with not even a breeze blowing by and it was the usual mayhem in the hospital - seven sisters showing up here and there, and grandchildren and husbands and the nurses wondering exactly how many offspring one woman could have anyway?

I knew I had to leave for Chicago right before she was getting out since I was appearing at a Jewish United Fund event for my book but how was I supposed to leave her that way?

I was pondering that, sitting in the hospital room, the oxygen machine hissing away, watching the IV drip, when I suddenly heard my mom's voice from the bed.

"What are you wearing for the presentation? You bought something new?"

Like swimming out of the murky depths of old age, my mother suddenly reappeared before me, as evidenced by her lifelong obsession with the buying of clothes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing could convince me my mother was on the mend more than her quizzing me about clothes.

(that's me in the center at JUF event)

"I have a great outfit, Ma. A brown sweater dress, Clark boot shoes, brown tights and a jacket."

She looks at me askance. She's unhappy, but not exactly with my outfit. She's unhappy that I've taken care of it already and out of my own closet without going shopping. Going shopping in my closet doesn't count. With my mother every event must be shopped for anew even if you have the clothes already. Then she moves on to a different event.

"What about for Joan Rivers?" Somehow, she can't remember how to boil an egg but she remembers my itinerary in Chicago with a mind like a steel trap.

"Gray dress, black jacket, black boots and tights."  
She nods but I can tell that she's a little let down. She really wanted to plot out a shopping trip, a meandering path of me traipsing from store to store to store searching for the perfect outfit. Or, based on her history as a lifelong seamstress, her sewing it for me.

When I see that she's about to question me about all the other clothes I'll be wearing and, more importantly, whether I'll be dressed warm enough, I take over and I become the mother again.

When I return from Chicago, she's out of the hospital but back on the couch, the oxygen hissing next to her. But there's still part of her there. I visit her the morning after we return, sit down next to her on that couch. She says, "How'd the outfit go?"

Is there any one topic that your parent(s) love talking about or that you know when they bring it up that they're on the mend? Any aging parent issues?

Linda Pressman
Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Mother's Closet (a Faceshuk post)

Daughter is now twelve. This means a few things. Like she's sprouted up to over 5'3. (Though, somehow, she still only weighs 89 pounds...) It also means adolescence - female adolescence - has set in causing her to fight with me each day like I fought with my mother before me.

But it also means this: her clothes doesn't fit anymore or they're too babyish, or not cool enough, or any of a thousand other reasons she can no longer wear them. She stomps into my bathroom while I'm getting ready each morning, says she needs to go shopping, and then goes shopping. Right then. In my closet.

On the one hand I know I should be pretty grateful she wants to go in there. I am 39 years older than her, after all. Also, I'm glad that we actually fit in some of the same clothes especially since I don't weigh anywhere near 89 pounds. But what's the chance of me having anything hip enough for her?

Turns out that the clothes that are now too young for me are just the right age for her. The clothes I monitor carefully, aware that there's a thin line between dressing well and looking like I'm longing for the 1970s and my own teen years. The stuff that doesn't make the cut gets trotted out for the tween.

This wasn't something I could do when I was a kid in Skokie. First of all, even if our mother's clothes had been attractive to us, I had five older sisters who would have gotten there first. Second, her clothes were never going to appeal to us. I was 12 in 1972, for goodness sakes. I wanted - needed - hippyish clothes, maybe a leather bandanna for my forehead, a halter top, bell bottom baggy jeans, maybe a fringed vest.

My mother's closet was not the place to find these items. The most noticeable thing upon opening its door was the smell of mothballs. Then there were the brocade dresses, the handmade suits, the torturous pumps, the foundation garments. My mother's clothes could actually stand up and walk around by themselves, they were that stiff, they didn't need a human body in them. For a free-wheeling 12-year-old who didn't want to dress like Jackie Onassis, that wasn't the look I was going for.

But here in Scottsdale, in 2011, with a mom who writes at home and has her professional clothes gathered neatly in one side of the closet, it's a windfall for the kid. She looks around at the clothes I think would be perfect for her, rejects them all, steals my favorite top off its hanger and sneaks off before I completely notice what she's doing.

As I'm exiting the bathroom I notice another thing: Bar Mitzvahzilla coming in half-dressed, insisting he also has no clothes to wear. The last thing I see is him heading off to his own shopping spree - in Husband's closet.

Did you ever "shop" in your mom's or sister's closets? Can you? Does your daughter "shop" in yours?

Thanks for reading!
Linda Pressman, author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, in many local libraries, and at Changing Hands in Tempe.
(The "Faceshuk" in the title and this code: 3daa678fe7c57f042a0645dfc6668578 are intended to establish my blog ownership on the Faceshuk site. Check it out!)