An Update From My Mother

Mom playing golf
My mother called today with some urgency in her voice. I braced myself. She has a tendency to begin good and bad news in the same ominous way: “I have something to tell you,” she said. After an unnecessarily long pause: “I’ve decided to move faster.”

I was relieved. Was that all?

“I was walking, and then I was playing golf, and then I was playing badminton,” she said, “And I realized. I am very slow. Why am I  so slow?”

My mother has always moved very slowly, but a little over two years ago she seemed to have slowed down even more, causing us (mostly my father and I) to crack jokes in which we likened my mother to sloths and glaciers, until a family friend with Parkinson’s noticed distinct similarities – like muscle stiffness that wouldn’t go away and a weakened sense of smell – between my mother and herself. A short while later, the summer before I moved to New York, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

She’s doing well. Between the exercise and the medications and our family’s support, she’s successfully kept the disease from progressing too much. Her young, NYU-educated doctor – a handsome Indian man with brilliant teeth and long, thoughtful fingers – calls her his star patient. He tells his other patients of the woman who maintains excellent mobility and good mood because of her dedication to various exercises. This might be thoughtless advice at other hospitals – golf, badminton and gym memberships are expensive not to mention time-consuming – but the doctor can be reached at Newport’s Beach’s Hoag Hospital, where Benzes’, Range Rovers and Bentleys sit side by side in parking lots lined with imported palm trees and manicured hedges, waiting to be driven back to multi-million dollar beach front properties.

Unfortunately, my parents don’t have a multi-million dollar beach front property or a Benz, Range Rover or Bentley. But my mother does drive a Lexus – a very nice car, but amongst luxury car aficionados probably nothing to ooh and aah about. It is a long, pearlescent boat of a vehicle, bought some years ago to replace an older model she drove for ten years and which she used as though it were a pickup truck: hauling plants, dirt and fertilizer about as though it was her day job.

On one occasion, I found three lady bugs crawling over a small pile of spilled dirt, riding in the backseat with me. On another, a spider crawled up my arm and I twisted around to find that it had made a motor home of my mother’s car, having spun a delicate web in the corner of the rear window.

My father – his own car always spotless inside and out – would shake his head and mutter something about getting my mother an actual pickup truck, but Lexuses were known to be safe and easy to handle – built like a tank – so that even if my mother exercised poor judgment and continued to underestimate the size of parking spots, scrape curbs and beams (luckily, she is lucky and has yet to hit another car) or if someone else has poorer judgment and rear-ended her, she would at least be safe. When the time came to replace my mother’s car, they went with the same.

When the new Lexus arrived, its bells and whistles were wasted on her. She hardly ever glanced at the rear view camera, preferring to rely on an initial glance-back before she got in the car; had not once retracted the sunroof, never listened to music, used neither the seat warmer nor the bluetooth or any of the other fancy features the Lexus had to offer. She simply drove, either at a heart-pounding speed down our 15-mph hill and other local roads, or at a snail’s pace whenever her tires hit the freeway, where other cars sped by, honking and glaring at the sunglass wearing Asian lady, always grateful she – not they – were perpetuating the stereotype.

Sometimes she drove while on the phone (though now she’s learned to use the headset but this is more a phone feature than a car feature) and if the conversation ran long, would sit in the parked car, in the dark garage, to finish her conversation. On several occasions we expected her back hours before, only to call her and learn, “Oh, I’ve been home for a while. I’m just in the garage talking to your aunt.”

Anyway. I am getting carried away. My mother called to say she made up her mind to move faster.

“So what happened then?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “I got in the car to go to the driving range. I told myself, ‘moving faster starts now!'”

I put my hand to my face and was not surprised by what came next. She began her new life of speed by slamming her foot on the gas to reverse out of the driveway and promptly flew into two out of three large trashcans. Trashcans large and tall enough to be mistaken – if one had very bad eyesight – for two buffalos. Trashcans large and tall enough to be unmissable in both the rearview mirror and the rearview camera, to neither of which she paid any attention.

She spilled garbage and recyclables over the road and shattered her right tail light.

“Of course I didn’t want to,” my mother said, “But I had to go in and tell your father.”

“What did he say?”

My mother laughed, “He didn’t say anything. But I’m sure he thought a lot of things.”

Like how he probably should get you a pickup truck, I thought, Or a bus pass…

“Anyway,” she said, embarrassed but still buoyant, “I thought I’d tell you a silly story about your silly mother. I have to go play badminton now.”

We hung up and I went to the window to watch the traffic on 9th Ave stand just as still as when my mother first called. I imagined her hurtling down the hill in her long white car with the broken tail light and smudges of garbage on its pearly white bumper, golf clubs and badminton racquets rattling in the trunk. Despite the risks, I hoped my mother wouldn’t slow down.

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