Self-Portrait #9: Wearing a Smile

Blog Childhood Mom and Me For as long as I can remember, my mother has been my best friend. I can’t imagine my life outside her shadow. She has been a sounding board, a beacon, a shelter and a launching point from which to view the rest of the world.

Lately, we have been dealing with our share of health issues. Chronic allergies, sinusitis and ear infections have led to prolonged steroid use for me, which in turn has had some serious side effects: high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, mood swings. Following this last round of prednisone, my A1C readings reached diabetic levels.

On her part, my mom has osteoarthritis, is getting cataract surgery this month, and faces knee replacement surgery in May. Both of us have chaotic lives; neither of us likes to be in a weakened state. We both have an unspoken philosophy that life is doable as long as we keep going; we hold everything together. Only now we can’t. For the moment, we are each having to accept our limitations.

For me this has means some lifestyle choices: I am working on changing my diet, reducing stress, pursuing some long-held dreams. But these things don’t come easily and they take time. It is hard to work on dreams when life feels like a series of setbacks. My Mom has to face her upcoming surgeries, the possibility of being first bedridden and then temporarily handicapped as she learns to adjust to her new knee. In many ways it is easier for me to accept my own limitations than hers.

I look at the picture of me as a child and I wonder where the years went. How did my Mom become old enough for cataracts and osteoarthritis and how can I be dealing with a life-altering illness when I’m just starting to make some headway on some of those dreams?

Illness, surgery and aging are a mirror into one’s mortality. When you stare mortality in the face, you have two choices: you can become immobilized or you can keep on living.

A wise friend of ours once advised Mom and I to take a margarita day every now and then – he didn’t mean literally go out and buy the drink, although we could. He meant relax, take it easy, live it up and have fun. He told us we had to let go of our omnipotence – the feeling that we could control everything or that we had to. The other day after reading my blog, a friend commented that when she looked at me in high school, she didn’t see a chunky girl, but one with a smile on her face, who looked like fun. At the self-portrait review the other day, people too remarked upon my smile. I inherited it and the ability to laugh from my mother. She instilled in me her faith, too.

I don’t like to think of either of us aging or the 20 years between us that means someday I may be here without her. I really wish I could go back to eating whatever I want and that she could move more freely without pain, but I know one thing, we will never be immobilized. I have seen my Mom face life crises that could be the stuff of a Lifetime movie – stories for another time – but she always moved forward. The years between my child portrait of us and the adult one do not merely illustrate time spent, but tracks left as we blazed a trail to the future. And, if you notice, she’s still laughing and I, as her daughter, am too.

Blog Adult Mom and Me