If My Mother Was My Boss…


The holidays had brought forth what felt like the Twelve Days of Mom.

In that approximate time, Mom experienced two ER runs, one in which I drove her, the other in which I didn’t dare. She was diagnosed with three infections, multiple scab wounds, pain and discomfort from shingles, a disease for which most folks are given chicken pox vaccinations, or don’t live long enough to experience the adult onset of chicken pox. And a week of the runs caused another ER run.

And this was AFTER Mom’s trifecta of seizures, soap swallowing and sun exposure earlier in the year. (See soap blog, part 1 and part 2).

By the end of the year, I was tired. I pondered a change.

Back in my corporate days, New Year’s had signaled job change. Or at least, looking for a new one. The rush of the holidays always led to a significant energy drain. Like any good employee, I directly attributed the drain to my job or boss, but never myself.

As 2017 approached, I had found myself in the same mode. Tired. The kind of tiredness that comes from knowing what comes next in my mother’s moment, and also, not knowing.

At month’s end, when I spoke to her house doctor, he flipped through her bulging chart. After five minutes or so, he looked up at me. “She’s one tough lady and you have one tough boss.”

Yes, in what job could I be employed by a boss who forgot all the good years I had put in, for the sake of one awful moment in which I accidentally bumped Mom while trying to hold down her arm so the nurse could get the blood pressure cuff around her triceps long enough for Mom to yell, “Oh, no, oh wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute?”

In what job could I work for a boss who voices a long stretch of No’s when she doesn’t like something? Remember what Ralphie said about his dad in A Christmas Story? “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” If Mom were still in northern Ohio, she would have blanketed all five Great Lakes with her words.

Where else could I find work where I will never get a promotion? In fact, I’m not sure I would want a promotion, because that would mean the woman I worked for is no longer in need of me. In essence, downsizing of the most tragic kind.

Where else could I be chastised by the boss for what I was wearing, as if there was a dress code for visitors at the care home? “What the hell are those things on your feet?” “Umm, boots?”

In what job could I endure my boss’s harassment for which there is no name? Its not ageist, nor sexist. The closest approximation I can come is reverse genetic harassment, in that my boss only harasses those to whom she gave birth to and is directly related.

Where else could I work where there is no strategic planning by the boss? When I plan to visit for the Christmas show, my boss takes a snooze. When I hope to bring the boss home, my boss bawls loudly and sometimes growls.

Where else could I sit at a job, thinking about all the other things I could be doing while my boss is fast asleep, but holding me in place by the death grip? If she couldn’t leave, neither could I.

In the end, the calendar turned over. My tiredness waned.

Lucky for Mom – and me – she was not my boss. But if the years with Mom taught me anything, my most important job was to sit in her quiet space and make room to meet her where she was, ER or not, furniture mover and all, and hope to one day receive a raise in hugs.


Closing Down Summer

The water shimmers in early morning.
Fog slides away into coves, gloves coming off fingers,
Exposing nearby fishermen huddling in their brawny bass boats.
Blue gills hunker down
into the dark recesses of cat tail stems and roots,
bobbing around black walnuts
that plunk into the water to the tune of nature’s beat.

When we close the lid on summer,
floating the green tarp, then the gray, over the boat,
the lake is brimming with memories –
of a kayak under a full moon
with each stroke of a paddle,
a quick glance over the shoulder –
is that a chainsaw
or the buzz of cicadas leftover from last year?

Of mornings made new by a puppy
first learning to boat, then float
finally to paddle, a stroke backed into, after losing his footing on the dock.
Of meanderings in the marital bed quietly taking a back seat
to canines, canoes and cornhole.

Of learning to drive a boat – again.
“Idle” moves the boat forward –
has someone reported this to Webster’s?
And in “neutral” the boat slithers across the water,
drifting into buoys and sludge.
Of cuss words when ropes are caught in the motor
and kudos when a skier cuts a swath through the wake,
drops the rope, then slowly slides away.

Of fireworks bursting above the walnut trees.
Then after, while silently watching these side by side with my brother,
boats putter past the dock, lit up green and red like Christmas.
Of Left-Right-Center, a game for all ages.
Mother removes her chips from each pile instead of giving them up
determined to win though she has forgotten the game.

Finally, when smoke off the fireworks fades, the sky fills with stars,
a Lite Brite board after the holes have been poked.
Each star is reflected upon the crest of the silent waves,
each light point becomes a memory
when we look back in the mirror
of our summer and see ourselves –
Young, old, tan, rested, aching from hauling wood and furniture
and kayaking through coves, catching the same stinky fish twice,
suspended in the water by jackets, buoyed by life.

The next morning, the ladder is lifted from the lake,
jelly-like eggs still cling to the rungs
waiting to be hatched in order to be caught.
The last campfire is resurrected,
sturdy cherry logs stubbornly will not burn away.
Brief flames consume stale marshmallows
that slipped off sticks the night before.
Then, in the smoldering,
a distant memory drifts across the ghost in the graveyard field –
summer taking its last breath.