Where to begin?
Let's rewind to Christmas time 2015. My mom is not an easy person to shop for. Closets are littered with gifts that were never used or tried once and forgotten. Even if it's exactly what she asked for. Usually we are forced to play gift roulette and spin the wheel of Mom's disappointment or confusion over what she's supposed to do with that. Birthdays, Mother’s Days, anniversaries, holidays…. And I'll tell you something else, local stores don't exactly carry cards that express my feelings for or my relationship with my mother. After more than 30 years with her, I can't bring myself to hand her a card bursting with sentiment about how she's the best mother who always put me first. And even if I could, my dad’s chortle of laughter at the message would piss her off anyway. I'm looking for: "I love you but I’m not so trusting that I wouldn't sleep with one eye open around you.”
Hmm, that might sound a little more bitter than usual. Let's move on.
I wanted to get my mom a gift that wouldn't collect dust in a corner but wasn't a gift card for a restaurant (food being her gift of choice). Since my mom isn't subtle (she thinks she is) I'm aware when I go out and about without her, that puts her in a jealous snit. I decided to do an activity with my mom as her gift. And an activity can be a dicey proposition, so something that doesn't really require interaction would be ideal. Having had a positive experience taking Mom to see a touring Broadway production a few years ago, I ordered tickets to see the tour of Dirty Dancing. She knew the story. (Easier for her to follow that way) She knew the music. (She likes music and this was mostly upbeat songs she knew.)
Life has been so busy, neither of us realized the show was coming up until I saw a reminder the day before. Those tickets? Sitting in the Christmas card they came in, under a stack of dust-collecting crap. The good news about Mom not remembering the show was coming up is she didn’t have several days to obsess and worry about it, backing out of going every three hours. But I didn’t think about the show taking place in March, a time of great instability for her.
While I got ready, after finding clothes she insisted she didn’t have to wear and my dad making her get a shower, she tried several times to convince my dad to tell her she shouldn’t go. See, it’s not her decision if she convinces someone to say the words for her. More importantly, it gives her someone to throw under the bus later when she’s upset about the decision.
I knew they would be searching purses at the door of the theater, standard operating procedure for just about any venue lately. To my relief, I wasn’t going to have to explain that to her and spark a fresh panic because she wasn’t going to bring her purse. She was, however, going to bring with her a big bottle for night time pills she usually takes at bedtime. She was worried about someone having a problem with her pills. I’ll skip to the end here: she didn’t end up taking them until after we were home.
The biggest hurdle I was bracing for was walking to our seats from the parking area. Which is right.freaking.there. My mother had been practically skipping around the house the previous few days. That night, out and about and around people? She was suddenly weak and feeble and kept trying to throw herself forward as she walked. I have no other way to explain it. She walked just fine and then as soon as she saw another person, she’d threaten to fall to her knees and throw her upper body forward like a diver attempting to jackknife. If we were walking to a restaurant from the parking lot, she’d have left me in the dust.
Luckily, I factored the potential for extra needed time into our arrival. What I had not factored was my mother refusing to let go of my arm as we approached security to check my purse. Thankfully, I got a guard who seemed to understand or at least empathize, who offered to come to us instead of my putting the bag on a table. I feel safe in believing had this been the TSA, I’d still be in an interview room being detained. Luck did not hold out and the ticket taker was bogged down by the folks ahead of us having ticket trouble. As the hiccup unfolded, my mother pitched wildly while we stood in one place.
I’m compelled to point out here that had I brought my mom in a wheelchair she doesn’t physically need but desperately wants in some bizarre hang-up, we couldn’t have gone. The handicap seats? Those are conveniently located in an area that costs 3 times as much as our tickets. And then there are the people who honestly, actually need those seats. The ones who can’t run into a restaurant.
I was relieved when they finally allowed us into the seating area. I was relieved until I showed them our tickets and the usher told us to go to the left and up the stairs. Stairs? With my mother? I was 75% sure she was about to meltdown and demand we leave. It was a conservative estimate. There was no elevator for that level, but I’m positive if there had been, it would have been on the other side of where we were, outside, down two flights of stairs, and in an underwater cave. Why? Because only maybe 10 stairs stood between us and our seats. You’d have thought they were asking us to hike up Everest.
Even without sherpas we eventually made it, the head of a convoy of little old ladies with canes climbing up to the nosebleed seats beyond us. The usher on this level was patiently cheering us on. “Slow and steady. There’s no rush. Take your time.” We weren’t going up a whole flight of stairs. I took comfort that there were others, quite a bit older, but there were others. I'd managed to get us aisle seats, so I figured once to our personal summit we were golden. Wrong. Mom was so flustered from those 10 stairs and her annoyance with having to go up them, she couldn't figure out how to sit. Butt in seat wasn't sinking in. Anxiously I waited for her to throw herself onto the floor, but eventually she sat. It took a bit of convincing, but I finally got my mom to relinquish her own cane for me to lean against my end-of-the-row seat. I really didn’t want people tripping over it. Or worse, Mom whacking somebody with it as she maneuvered around in her seat.
I sat simmering beside her, mentally berating myself for thinking this would possibly work out well. I’m leaving out a whole hissed back-and-forth before showtime where she let me know that she wasn’t happy about anything. I’ve kind of trained myself over the years to quickly dismiss these conversations from my mind. I can easily enough recreate one from the sheer volume if necessary, but I have made that commitment to being positive and happy. I’m positive that I’m happier letting go of what she said. So I sat silently looking to the stage as we waited. In the blink of an eye, as only my mom can, she turned to me and patting my knee, smiled benignly and told me to enjoy myself. Like the last 45 minutes hadn’t happened and I was being moody.
The show began.