I remember hearing a documentary on CBC about two artists: One was Russell Braun, the baritone, and the other may have been Renee Fleming, the soprano. I have a love/tolerate relationship with opera but this documentary had my complete attention. It wasn't so much their voices, although the beauty of Fleming's voice has made me weep, but it was the support they had from their parents that held me. I was envious of the nurturing, creative environments that they grew up in...and angry as hell when I looked at my own.
My parents, both of good hearts and intentions, were lousy role models and horrendous communicators to each other and to the three of us kids. My grandmother on my father's side started a train wreck with her overbearing, relentless analysis, like some dark and musty Dickens character. My father would pace, my mother would avoid him, and my grandmother would sit at the table and judge everyone. She was a lawyer. She was good at this. As the train gained speed, through my early teens, it started to become clear that this family was troubled. My mother began to drink and left me with tenuous attachment at exactly the wrong time in my emotional development. My father wanted to save the world, but his DNA, loaded with the propensity to depression, tripped him at every turn until he took his own life in 2004. My mother continued to drink until, well, here we are, 2015, and she has borderline dementia, no friends, and nothing to do. She smokes, follows baseball, and watches the dates change on the calendar. Frankly, I don't like her much. She brings little to the table. She's arrogant and prideful, but she's my mother. She is at a tipping point where, if she stays on the train, she will need some kind of care and I do not have the steam to put her in some facility.
The trick is, to prolong her sanity and avoid the warehousing. How do you do that with someone you really don't like? Well, I have a plan: I've always found that cycling helps most things. I grew up on a bike and got serious in my teens though never competed until recently. So, I signed up for a big race and have taken mom on as trainer/data-keeper. We're going out to get bristol board and pens and she's going to make charts and keep track of my nutrition intake, and workout information every day. She is going to learn about carbs, protein, hydration, fueling, and recovery and everything involved in the effort. She is even going to time my post-ride cold baths. But I'm getting her a stopwatch and she's going to have to workout too. She will have to walk and chart her distance and time. She will record her heart rate. She will have to keep track of what she eats, how much water she drinks and, I specified, how many cigarettes she smokes. She agreed to this. Jesus. I agreed to this.
I can't tell you how much I don't want to do this. She was never, ever there for me. Why should I show up at all for her? Why don't I just let her keep riding the train? I don't really know. I guess I've learned a lot about myself in her neglect (and make no mistake, it was neglect. I have the hours of therapy to prove it.). I could have just crawled inside a bottle and been a victim, like her, really. Nothing has been easy. I have fought my way to the present. But I guess the real impetus for me is coming from somewhere deep: I do have this gnawing compassion for her at some level and am lead, somehow, to try to cap the end of her life with something meaningful, to try to tap her in to days of purpose and some level of excitement while it is still possible. It might not work, this plan. It might go off the rails in the first week. But I'm going to try. She did have good intentions after all. She did. I have to believe that. It was just that bugger of a train...