Sometimes the chaos on the inside becomes apparent on the outside. At least, that’s presently the case in my family’s life. We have known for the past six months or more that my mother needed knee replacement surgery. In fact, we learned last fall that she would first need cataract surgery in January followed by knee replacement in May. As I have written, my mother hates to be vulnerable in any way. A certain need to be in control at all costs has been ingrained in both my Mom and me. It’s not a desire to be the boss. It’s a desire to be healthy and strong in order to take care of those around us. There are lots of reasons for this belief, not least of which is the fact that our house, smack dab in the middle of town, functions in many ways as Grand Central Station. Add to that our big family with all the happy challenges and complications that brings, and there just isn’t time to be sick or out-of-commission. It has taken a concerted war effort to get Mom to the point of acceptance that her surgery needs to be done, but that hasn’t stopped a storm of anxiety from churning inside her and if I am to be honest, myself as well.
This last week the storm spun out of control. My mother wanted some minor renovations done to the house prior to surgery – some bars put up in the bathroom, a railing by the downstairs steps – or so she claims. I think this may have been Mom’s master plan to postpone surgery. Because no sooner had these minor renovations started than a major overhaul ensued.
“You’re not really planning major renovations to the bathroom three weeks before your surgery?” I asked, as my parents began to look at walk-in showers.
That’s exactly what they were planning. This became apparent as the handyman arrived, removing rotten floorboards, broken toilet flanges, and the like. Granted, the bathroom was sorely in need of a makeover. Turns out only a few floorboards were not rotted through and the bathtub was indeed ready to come through the kitchen ceiling. Yet, I still looked at my parents in wonder two days later when my mother expressed that she hadn’t thought it was going to take this long and my father had yet to order any of the appliances all of which supposedly would take four weeks to deliver. This is sort of par for the course in my family. And, as much as it drives me crazy – I’m left pondering are these people plain nuts, oblivious or mad geniuses – it always seems to work out for them in the end.
Today, we went to visit Mom’s surgeon for her pre-op appointment and he declared that there was no way Mom should have her surgery amidst this upheaval – see, you might conclude this her plan after all – but he also put our minds at ease saying she could postpone to July or even this fall if she’d like. Her knee would not deteriorate too much more in that time, although he acknowledged it is a horrible case. Still, being granted this small reprieve to get the house together and our minds around the situation was exhilarating. I think we both felt like prisoners being given a new lease on life.
The renovations to the bathroom aren’t the only stressful things going on at the moment. Both my father and I are also having some health issues, so it’s probably best not to put Mom under the knife until her support staff has received a clean bill of health. But I had to laugh as I stared at our gutted bathroom and the whirling mass of wood and rubble surrounding it, seeing it as a certain metaphor for the emotional havoc we have all been experiencing over the last six months. What is it they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? They often go awry? I would agree with this, but I think, in this case, Mom’s plan came to fruition – she got a stay of execution. I am only left to wonder what brilliant tactic she will employ next time around.
Perhaps it’s just a series of delays. Two days into the project, we learned that the handyman was going on vacation for a week. “Did you know he was going to do this when he began?” I asked. “You realize that you were supposed to get your surgery next Friday and that there is no way he could have ever finished in time? Plus, is Dad ever going to order the appliances?” Mom simply stares at me nonplussed and seemingly innocent.
Then again maybe it’s not a cleverly manipulated scheme. Maybe it’s luck or as I mentioned, an outward manifestation of the anxiety we’ve all been feeling. Perhaps our bathroom’s disarray represents the chaos we’ve been experiencing and thus, now as we take a breath and calm ourselves, it will magically right itself – the renovation coming together in brisk order with sparkling new appliances standing as testament to the sparkling new knee joint to come. Perhaps each will emerge as we make ourselves ready for them.