Blueberry muffins and tea

by | Apr 22, 2016 | Other News

My parents visited us for two weeks. I see them at least every two months, but I always drive to New Jersey. This time it was their adventure to take the train to Richmond and see some sites, as many grandchildren as possible, and of course, me and my sister who live here.

We were appropriately anxious about the trip, as they haven’t aged well. My dad had a stroke and heart valve replacement as well as brain surgery. He has also had lots of joints replaced by the best son-in-law ever. But he has slowed down. My mom had a bad fall two years ago and broke her back suffering infection and further surgeries and a stroke during one of them. I feel like we lost an entire piece of her— making that which remains, even more precious.

When they got off the train, they looked old, tired, lost and fragile. I was heartbroken and went into my default overprotective mother bear mode. I remained in that mode the entire visit. I had to tone it down as my dad has his complete faculties and found it obnoxious. His response was to act like a rebellious toddler and do the opposite of all my helpful recommendations.

“Don’t drive dad” led to him taking down the entire fence in our front yard while heading out to brunch. “Let’s not go up and down the stairs” (steep, wooden, unforgiving), led to an immediate need to go find whatever he could think of upstairs. “Dad why are you eating peanuts? You just had three slices of pizza” led to “I had four slices actually.” His mom, bless her soul, must’ve been a patient woman!

My mom, on the other hand, just wanted to be as close to me physically as possible. She is now under 5 feet and still one of the loveliest ladies I know. She is elegant and sweet and her Italian laced accent is musical. But she has lost her shortterm memory, so her face often looks panicked or resigned as she searches for words, thoughts, memories. It is heartbreaking. She asks daily when the girls, both in college now, will be home from school. That makes me tear up every time, as I already miss them so. She asks where my crazy black dog is hiding and I remind her we put her down last summer. She, once the most fabulous Italian cook, reminds me we need to make lasagna, but then drifts off as I pull ingredients and end up baking alone while she stares at the same old photos on the fridge she looked at the hour before.

Part of me is soft, but a part is hard. I hate this and I’m angered by it. I sharply remind her that we just put in the chicken to roast and she can’t take it out yet. I lose patience as she rummages through her purse looking for nothing again and again.

I sigh heavily as she asks tenderly when I have to go back to Georgetown (I graduated in 1987), because she will miss me so much. I want to scream, “I miss you mom. When are you coming back?” Instead, I watch my dad as he is lost in the CNN news blaring at deafening volume about some hideous new tragedy.

I have become unhinged in longing for my parents. The ones I knew three years ago. Now I cook the meals and do the laundry and remind them to brush their teeth. To please not let the dog out and not race up the stairs and have only one cookie. What has happened? How did this get so twisted?

On the day before they would board the train home again, my mom and I made blueberry muffins. I would be sweet, kind, loving and patient if it killed me. We worked together side by side. I gave this once culinary queen the small tasks of stirring or cleaning bowls that she could handle successfully. I made us tea as the muffins baked and filled the house, my home, with the scent of comfort.

As she sat down sipping her tea, and the hot vapor rose to soothe her languid gaze, she spoke in Italian. She does that now since the stroke. It is the language of her war-torn childhood. I handed her a muffin, hot from the oven. She looked up with the joyful surprise of a child and my mother said in her mother tongue, “ Oh how lovely. When did you have the time to make these Lisa? You are so wonderful. I’m so happy to be here with you.”

And the world was right again.

by Lisa Bertini