The Radical Homemaker’s Guide to Watching Your Parents Age

When my mom had a medical emergency on Mother's Day, I was reminded to cherish the time I have with her.

Photo from Shutterstock.

The heroine walked down into the basement alone. I knew she was making a mistake. It was a trap. But she was the world's last hope—the only one who could prevent the apocalypse and spare the world from domination by fiery demons…

My mother is supposed to be a permanent pain in my ass, not a temporary one.

And then Mom walked into the kitchen where I was sitting, listening to my audiobook, and measuring spices for sausage making. She asked me something. Couldn’t she see the earbuds in my ears? Couldn’t she see the mask over my face, protecting me from inhaling the spice dust?

If I stopped to talk, I would get tangled in wires and risk losing my place in the ingredient list. More importantly, I wanted to know if the heroine was going to capture the demon before he ripped her heart out and ate it. I pretended not to hear her.

Mom swore at me and stormed back outside. The heat’s getting to her, I thought. Yeah, it was Mother’s Day, but I’d already cooked her a special dinner the night before. After all, I’m a mother too, and I wanted a day to be in my own head, listen to a great book, and chip away at my to-do list.

I figured she’d forget swearing at me after 20 minutes, especially since I had pretended not to hear. I finished measuring out the spices for the sausages, sealed up the bags, and went outside to find her. She was standing in the driveway, staring at the house.

“I feel dizzy,” she said.

“Have you had any water?”

She shrugged. I touched her arm and pushed her gently toward the kitchen. “Let’s go to the house and get some water.”

We walked back to the house. But as soon as she got to the sink she turned around and went toward the sunroom instead. “Would you look at these seedlings?” she asked me. 

I walked over and touched my fingers to the soil where a few broccoli plants were just poking their heads up. “They look good,” I said. “Why? What’s the matter?”

“I just don’t know what to do with them,” Mom said as she tossed them back on the shelf in disgust.

Just then Dad came in and sat down. “It’s hot!” he exclaimed over the din of Saoirse and Ula’s giggling outside. Mom went and sat down next to him.

“I feel kind of dizzy,” she said again.

“Mom! You never drank any water!” I admonished her. I went over to the sink, filled a glass of water, and walked it back to her.

That's when she rolled her eyes back in her head and stuck her tongue out at me. Dad began to laugh.

“Mom?” She didn’t move. “Mom!” I shoved the glass on a nearby table and began to shake her. “MOM!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Suddenly Dad realized something was seriously wrong and launched from his chair. I dove for the telephone and dialed 9-1-1 but the call wouldn’t go through.

“Adele! Adele!” Dad was screaming at her now, slapping her face. “Oh my God! What if she’s having a stroke?”

Just then Saoirse came running in. “What’s happening?” she asked, her eyes wide with fear.

“I don’t know! Something’s wrong. I can’t get through to 9-1-1!” I was still shouting. “Go get Ginny and Victor! Tell them to call! Run!”

Without another word, Saoirse ran out the door and down the road to the neighbor’s house. I turned around and saw Dad pressing on Mom’s heart. He slapped her face again. I tried the house phone again. This time I got through.

“She’s awake!” Dad screamed from across the room. “I’ll get her an aspirin!”

“What’s going on?” Mom’s voice was softer than usual, confused. Saoirse was back now, breathing heavily, and fiercely holding onto her grammie’s arm

“Mom? Do you know where you are?” I yelled. She looked at me for a second, and then nodded. “Can you tell me what year it is?”

She paused and then slowly said, “2015.”

I returned my attention to the 9-1-1 operator. “I’m not sure, but I think she might have just passed out from the heat.”

“Would you like us to send an ambulance?”

“Yes, please.”

I hung on every mundane word, realizing how precious they were.

While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Dad gave Mom two aspirins. Ginny and Victor pulled in the driveway and came to sit with us. Ula poked her head in from the porch and looked at me. “Is Grammie going to be okay?” she asked softly, afraid to come inside. I held my arms out to her. “I think it’s going to be okay,” I said. She ran and hugged me, then threw her arms around her grandmother.

“What are they going to do to me?” Mom asked, when the ambulance drove up the driveway. She hates hospitals. “I won’t leave you for a second,” I assured her. “We’re just going to make sure you’re OK.”

Once we were confident that she hadn’t suffered a stroke or heart attack, we convinced the paramedics that she didn’t need to go to the hospital. We assured them we’d follow up with her doctor. Saoirse and I decided to stay the night in case there was any trouble, so I took Ula home to Bob.

When we got back to the farm, Mom had gone to bed. Saoirse and I made up the pull-out couch, which is just below the vent to my parent’s bedroom. We read together for a bit, and then she settled down in the dark with her own audiobook. I closed my eyes to meditate in an effort to calm my nerves.

I breathed deeply. I let my body surrender to gravity. I watched my thoughts. I focused on the feelings in my chest. And then I began to weep. I stayed quiet as the tears rolled down my face, not wanting to alarm my 11-year-old daughter.

My mother is supposed to be a permanent pain in my ass, I thought, not a temporary one. So much shit flies between us on this farm. So many insults, manipulations, and middle fingers.

But she’s my mother. And I love her fiercely. And I cannot bear the thought of losing her.

I wept because, in that moment, I hated my choice to be so close with my family.

The tears kept flowing. I wept for relief. I wept for fear that someday I won’t have that relief. I wept because, in that moment, I hated my choice to be so close with my family, to share this farm—this sweaty, accident-prone minefield of grassfed meat and family dysfunction. I wept because I have so many people to love, and so much pain to feel when I someday lose them. My heart will be ripped out again, and again, and again.

I opened my eyes and looked over at Saoirse. She had her own earbuds in, immersed in her audiobook. I dried my eyes and sat up. In spite of the heat of the day, I began to shiver.

“Are you okay, Mom?”

My teeth chattered. I could barely speak. We both stood up and scrounged around the living room to find extra blankets. We laid back down on the mattress and pulled the covers up. My trembling calmed. I heard Mom and Dad’s snores from upstairs.

“It was actually a pretty good day,” Saoirse whispered to me in the dark. “You finished your manuscript. And Ula and I had a great game of hide and seek.”

“And I finally got to cut the grass,” I added, following her lead. “And lunch out on the screen porch with Daddy was really nice.”

“And we got to have hollandaise with asparagus again! I love hollandaise!”

“And the raspberries are all cleaned out, and the blueberry bushes look good,” I said.

“It was just one bad moment with Grammie,” she murmered, her voice growing sleepy. “And that turned out OK, too. It was actually a nice Mother's Day”

That night Saoirse slept deeply, but I tossed and turned all night. Each time I woke, I listened for signs of slumbering upstairs, then rolled over and resumed the game Saoirse had begun.

The spices are mixed and ready for sausage, the sheep are almost done lambing, the garden is ready for plantingAnd I would find my way to sleep once more by counting my blessings, until I heard Mom and Dad’s alarm finally go off at 4 a.m.

When Dad came down to get ready for their morning affairs Mom lingered under the covers a bit longer. I crept up the stairs and perched on the edge of her bed. We sat in the dark and talked.  About the sausage. About the vacation she and Dad were going to take. About the farmers market. About how she was feeling. About meat deliveries and processing schedules.

I hung on every mundane word, realizing how precious they were. And the next time she swears at me (which will likely happen very soon), it will be a sweet, sweet sound.