When I was a little girl, my pretty young mother used to go to parent-teacher meetings at my elementary school. To the best of my knowledge, Dad never accompanied her. Those were different times and children were primarily the mother’s responsibility. I know those meetings intimidated her: she had to quit school in her mid-teens so she could leave home and start making her way in the world and – although she later acquired her high school diploma by correspondence courses – her lack of a formal education always embarrassed her. I am sure she would have been grateful for my Dad’s company, but men didn’t ‘do’ those sorts of things back in the 60s and 70s.
I often thought of Mom making those lonely, intimidating visits to speak with our school teachers as my own kids entered school and I attended their parent-teacher meetings in turn. My children’s elementary school was a progressive one: the kids frequently took part in those meetings and occasionally squirmed a bit when some of the news from their teachers included less-than-exemplary marks or behaviour. But I was glad to go; glad to be made aware of my children’s improvement as well as what they needed to work on.
What I never expected, back in those days, was that I would be required to attend such meetings one more time before the end of my life.
Each April, my sister and I receive a letter from the seniors’ home where my mother and my step-father are now living, inviting us, not to a parent-teacher meeting, but instead, to an adult child /adult caregiver meeting to discuss how Mom is doing.
The meeting is impressive, thorough and – the first time, at least – a little intimidating. We always sit at a good-sized conference table with our Mom’s doctor, the resident dietician, the building director, the recreation/spiritual director and the nurse practitioner. Occasionally, a student nurse sits in on the meeting as well. Each of them gives us a brief report on their area of expertise regarding our mother. We are also invited to prepare questions ahead of time. True to our nature, my sister and I always take this task very seriously, working together to carefully prepare a list of questions and observations a few days prior to the meeting. We always leave the meeting feeling listened to, informed and reassured that Mom and our step-father are getting the best care possible.
Unlike the parent-teacher meetings I used to attend for my children, however, each year that my sister and I attend these meetings includes a list of Things Mom Lost Along the Way: her declining mobility, her pain management, observations about her increasingly-childish artwork, her spelling mistakes, her occasional angry outbursts and of course, her memory, as she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago.
It is the complete opposite of a progress report, in other words.
We already know Mom is happy there: she tells us that herself all the time. But oh, how different these meetings are from the busy, encouraging, hopeful progress reports I recall getting for my children all those years ago at their parent-teacher meetings.
There is a sad finality to a life winding down. Perhaps it is to prepare us, her children, for the reality that lies ahead. Perhaps it is to remind us, at every stage in our lives, to treasure every moment.
Even the temper tantrums…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com