Sunday, December 28, 2008

Small Victories

Yesterday morning, while my 86-almost 87-year-old mother was bathing, I went into the bathroom to help. Really, I went in there because company was ringing our doorbell, and even though it was one in the afternoon on a Saturday, I was still in my nightgown. My husband, already dressed for the day, went to answer the door and I escaped into the bathroom with my mother, thinking I'd help her dress and then shower myself.

The morning before, Mom had hit her forehead on the far wall of the bathtub, the result of her iffy depth perception due to her being blind in one eye. Even though I was mostly escaping my social obligations, I thought that I could still make things easier for my mom. I reached to help her out of the bath. "No," she said. "I have to do this. You won't always be around so I have to keep doing for myself, or I'll lose the ability." So I sat, ready to spring to her assistance should she need it. She edged to the end of the bath bench and maneuvered herself out of the tub, steadying herself by holding on to the basin. She dried, powdered, deodorized, began to dress. She got to her bra. With her slow arthritic fingers, she turned it inside out and upside down so that she could close the hook-and-eye clasps from the front, then move it to the back and pull everything up, slipping her arms through the straps.

As I sat watching her, she reminded me of no one so much as my now 19-year-old neice when she was two years old, lips pressed together in dogged determination to button her own overalls. My mom struggled to connect the clasps, one, then another, then another. When she managed the whole thing after a few tries, she raised her arms and exulted, "Thank you, thank you, Father." I think she even shifted her hips back and forth gingerly in a tiny jig.

"That's a big deal?" I asked her.

"Oh, you have no idea," she said, eyeballing the waist of her slacks as if calculating how she would get her legs inside. "Sometimes I stand here for twenty minutes trying to make the hooks meet, then when I get one, another comes undone. It doesn't always go this well."

We laughed a little, but inside, I was imagining all the unsung heroic actions she quietly undertakes each day, determined to keep doing for herself. My heart just swelled with love and admiration for her. And some sadness, too.


  1. She sounds so much like my Mom. And they are the same age.

    My mother's fingers are twisted with arthritis, and she has that very same determination to do for herself. Even when it is painful, and takes so much longer.

    My Mom lives 7 hours away, and I haven't seen her since Christmas. I talk to her every night on the phone, but I still miss being near her. Your post made me a little weepy. :)

    I wish you lots more moments like that one with your heroic mother.

  2. Thanks Ellen. Here's to our heroic moms.

  3. I never read this. It is beautiful.

  4. I hadn't read this either. And I love it. Good heavens are you an amazing writer.

  5. What a beautiful post! Certainly the signs of a strong woman! We'd be a lot gentler on ourselves if we considered our own small victories in our day to day interactions!