A friend of mine needs to put his poor aging mother into an assisted living facility. It seems she’s spent her entire life caretaking—first it was her parents, then her inlaws--- kids, ailing husband. So now she’s shed her human burdens, it's finally time to kick up her heels, and hey, she’s 89 years old and can’t quite make it safely down the garden path on her own. The cruel irony of timing seems a bit like getting divorced from your jealous, smothering and non-supporting husband only to find he’s left you with a contagious and incurable STD.
And what exactly is ‘assisted’ living? The modern urban lifestyle of every single yuppie wife/mother in my building? They’ve got cooks, dogwalkers, babysitters, private yoga instructors, masseurs, piano tuners, window washers, caterers, decorators, art advisors, accountants, tutors, psychologists, nutritionists. I could go on. Hairdressers, stylists, makeup consultants. And if that’s not enough they’ve got magazine subscriptions. Oprah. One of them informed me in the elevator she has a Personal Assistant. For what? To write out the placecards for her pretentious dinner parties? To pick up her dry-cleaning? Program her Blackberry? Because she can’t seem to press the buttons in the elevator with her freshly-manicured nails. Wouldn’t it be nice, she sighed, if there was a ‘remote’?
I think I am afflicted with some kind of crippling disease. Or else I am a blue-collar control freak. Because I can’t remember getting a single grocery delivery in my life, including in my ninth month. I clean my own house. Maybe it’s not post-modern sterile like hers, but I’ve always had a certain discomfort factor sharing my sexual secrets with a woman who washes my sheets. And don’t think these housekeepers who clean up for Naomi and Paris don’t yap about their personal hygiene to their girlfriends. They do.
I’ve always felt uncomfortable passing the personal buck to some poor schmuck whose lot in life is one rung below my own poor-schmuck status. Plus I can do it myself. And I do. I nursed my own babies and changed every single diaper. I held screaming infants while I had dysentery or food poisoning because there was no one else there. I washed every load of laundry and cleaned every bathtub. I don’t even have a dishwasher. Okay. Maybe I have a martyr complex. Maybe I look ten years older than these new urban princesses whose most challenging manual chore is text-messaging.
I sound like my father who had to roll out the tennis courts and put up the net before he could play. I feel like whining ‘ Why, when I was a kid, we had to rotary-dial. We had to wait seconds for the number to engage. We had to pull vinyl disks out of 2 difficult sleeves and place them on a turntable-spindle with an arm and a needle. It took several moves. And we had to flip them over halfway in the middle. Then we listened. We actually listened to five consecutive tracks by the same artist.'
And maybe while I was lifting amplifiers and riding busses and hand-washing dishes, I was thinking about stuff. I was listening to something inside. Maybe. I feel different from these people. When I speak to them, they look at one another as though I am using a foreign language. They think I am crazy. Ready for assisted living. But not the kind their husbands provide for them. The kind my friend’s Mom will receive from the state after all those years of scrubbing floors and changing diapers and cooking for the sick and elderly.
My 17-year-old son went to his Junior Prom last night. It was an agonizing process; first clearing the academic roadblocks and detentions which were supposed to block his privileges. Then the on-again, off-again girlfriend thing, she holding the carrot like the manipulative bitch she is. Then the clothing decisions, the haircut, the shoes, the choice of belt, tie or no tie…sleepless nights, IM fighting with the girl, endless teenage agony. It was a party on a boat. $90 I could have used toward a root canal. Four weeks of groceries. At 9 PM the sky suddenly opened into a deluge. Everyone was soaked and soggy and freezing. They ended up drinking 40’s at some guy’s house downtown until 3 AM. My version, this is, because he rarely if ever speaks to me. One word. That facial shudder like even acknowledging my presence is hazardous to his health. Painful. Toxic. He actually came in exhausted and depressed. ‘It sucked’ was all I got out of him, for the $90. Mother’s Day today. For this one, I'll consider myself lucky if he simply avoids me. I'll make it easy and avoid him, too.
I don’t have the heart to tell him that a lot of life sucks. The more you look forward to something, the bigger the letdown. Sometimes. Then again, I ended up in some art gallery today and they just happened to offer me a glass of champagne with fresh strawberries and I ran into an old friend who bought me the best cup of coffee I’ve had in weeks. Even the weather was a gift. The city was sparkling and crisp and there is nothing like a New York spring Sunday. My guitar sounded great tonight even with the old strings. I worked out in my gym with women who don’t have kids, and I kind of felt sorry for them. It’s good to be a mother. Even if your kids ignore you. I’m old enough to know any prom will probably suck if you wait around for something great to happen. I didn’t get the Hallmark life. But hey, I can play music. And I can share a laugh when our local homeless guy wishes the assisted-living mothers from my building a Happy Mother’s Day, and once they are safely in their taxi, sends them off with a little hand-jive and a ‘See you Lateh Mothah-Fuckahs’.