Driving Mom Crazy
David R. Weiss – June 1, 2022
“Is that your red car out there?” asks Mom, looking out the living room window. “Yes it is,” I say, anticipating her next request. “Would you like to take me for a ride?”
This is about her only request these days, but she makes it at least a dozen times a day. (Almost always to Dad; I just happen to be in town for a couple days.)
Dad tries to limit her to two 30-minute rides in the winter when the daylight is short. By summertime, even though Mom rarely rises before noon, she’s hoping for a ride right after her noonish breakfast, again before supper, and again in the evening. And by “hoping,” I mean “demanding,” because she’s pretty relentless. Plus, her memory is so short now, that within 10-15 minutes of finishing one ride, she doesn’t remember it anymore and so is asking, not for the “next one,” but for the last one all over again; as far as she can tell each ride is the first one of the day.
When Dad hears her ask me, he reminds her, as he often does—and with subtle exasperation in his voice, “Carol, you’ve already had three rides today.” “Oh!” she says with a hint of her own exasperation, “I guess I don’t keep track!” An her tone implies that anyone who counts rides must have nothing better to do with their time.
Dad’s exasperation is because he actually does have better things to do than count rides, but he’s interrupted so often by Mom’s requests for rides these days, that counting rides is about all the focus he can muster. Mom, for her part, has nothing better to do with her time than go on rides, because outside of solitaire, which she still plays religiously (although also with frequent rule-bending so the games come out in her favor with uncanny regularity), the comforting sway of a car ride and the passing scenery are the best entertainment in town as far as she can tell.
Anyway, I say, “Sure, Mom, I’ll take you for a ride.” I initially question whether this will only feed the cycle of her requests and further complicates Dad’s life, but I am genuinely happy to drive her around for thirty minutes. Later that night, as we sit on the swing in the back yard, Mom asks me for another ride (which, for her, as I’ve just explained, is always more or less the one she just took and just as quickly forgot) about ten times in a twenty-minute period. She remembers the requests no more than the rides, so my offer isn’t going to increase the number of asks at all. They multiply of their own accord.
“Shall we drive past the lakefront?” This is the usual route that Dad takes her on, although, having lived in Michigan City all 85 of his years, he knows a near infinite set of way to reach the lakefront (and other routes as well) that I can’t even begin to map in my head. So I stick with the familiar.
“Sure,” she says. “I’m not a fan of water [that’s true], your dad likes driving down there.” Also true, although “drive by the lake” appears frequently in her own frequent requests, so I’m not sure if I’m hearing unusual candor on her part today or just an offhand remark to an unusual driver.
As we drive, she asks if she’s ever ridden in my car before—(she has, several times)—and then somewhat dutifully adds, “I probably have, but I don’t remember.” She reads off the street names, with some measure of recognition, then looks around and remarks, “That’s now how I remember it.” But, of course, she doesn’t remember it at all.
As we approach the lake, I mention that I hear the cooling tower for the power plant (not a nuclear plant, but it features the same type of cooling tower), long part of Michigan City’s skyscape, is going to be torn down. “What are you talking about?” she asks. I start to explain, but she cuts me off, “Don’t tell me anymore. I don’t know anything about that, and I don’t want to.”
We ease our way over the bridge as I realize that without a summer park sticker, I won’t be able to drive up past the lakefront itself, but no matter. We roll to a stop at the entrance gate and I confirm that we can avoid the entrance fee by turning immediately to our left and heading back to the exit. On our way we pass the little basin in the marina where Mom took me—and decades later, my son—to feed the ducks. I share this happy memory, but she stops me. “I don’t know anything about that.” Which wasn’t always true, but surely is today.
I tell her about my son, Ben (whom she mothered as an infant when he and his mom lived with my parents for more than a year), the first grandchild who swelled her heart so. She loved each of her six grandchildren, but it’s fair to say that she learned the ropes of grandmotherly love enthusiastically on Ben. Sadly, “loved”—past tense—is also fair to say since she doesn’t remember any of them any longer.
She listens to me talk with mild curiosity. I say he lives in Arizona now. “Have you visited him there?” “Not yet,” I say. And I explain that last year he still lived in California, where my daughter also lives—(“You have a daughter, too?” she asks.)—and that Margaret—(“You’re married?”) and I visited Susanna and Ben and Jess (Ben’s wife) in California last May, but they have moved to Arizona since then. “Oh, you better stop telling me so much. I won’t keep any of that straight.” And she’s right. But I tell anyway her for the joy of retracing the lines of loves that were once the gossamer threads that decorated her heart.
Those threads seem lost to her now, but I retrace them as much for me. Wistfully grieving what isn’t any more by graciously pretending it still might be if only I speak the words just right.
On our way home we skirt the edge of Greenwood Cemetery. “Big cemetery!” she observes. And, at least as Michigan City cemeteries go, she speaks truth. Halfway along the perimeter she adds more quietly, now herself wistfully grieving what isn’t anymore, “I think I have a son in there.” Too much truth. “You do,” I confirm. “And I have a brother in there. Do you remember much about Don?” “No, I just know he’s there.” And what is truer grief than that—to know of a sadness you no longer feel, and yet to name it, perhaps hoping that some echo of its pain might still be found in your soul?
I seize the moment to share a memory or two of my own. “Don was taller and more slender than me. We both took piano lessons, but his fingers were longer and narrower than mine (and I show her my right hand with its comparatively stubby digits), I always hit double keys, but his fingers found each individual key. He could play really good.” “Okay, okay. That’s enough. I don’t need to know anymore.”
Mom inhabits only the present moment these days. And it seems a very crowded and selfish present moment, with little room for anything else.
We’re just half a block from home when she meekly inquires, “Can we just go around the block before going home?” And, of course, we can. We turn past a sign, “Be alert—children at play.” Mom adds, “I think all the children must be out playing out in their backyards.” They clearly are none in sight. I think, but don’t say, “All those children have left by now, just like your memory. The sign is still there, but there’s no front yard or backyard that holds any kids … or any memories these days.”
If you’d seen us pull up together in front of our house, you might’ve thought to herself, “How sweet—the son is in town and has taken his mom for a ride down memory lane.” Sorry, that lane’s not on this map anymore. It’s just me driving Mom—crazy.
But I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.