Family and stuff…

10 Oct

by Kasi Alexander

Last week I spent five days in the company of my mother and sister. I know that doesn’t sound like anything unusual, but for us it was. It’s been probably thirty years since the three of us hung out together for more than a couple of hours. Not that we’re not friendly, but we each have our own lives and they just don’t mix very often.

But this was a prime opportunity for us to reconnect. My sister’s daughter had been working at the Mount Rushmore KOA for the summer and she needed help driving back to Michigan. (Well, she didn’t really need help, but my sister wasn’t comfortable with her doing the 24-hour drive on her own.) So Janice (my sister) and my mom flew to Denver and I drove them to Custer, SD to meet up with my niece.

I was a little nervous about it, but I’m really glad I did it. My mother has Alzheimer’s and it’s getting to what I would say is mid-stage. She hasn’t lost much of her long-term memory yet but her short-term is getting pretty bad. Janice is the polar opposite of me, at least politically, religiously and socially. Let’s just say if she had the option to go Amish, she wouldn’t think twice. But now her children, who were home-schooled and had very little contact with the world other than their church and pre-1980 television, are beginning to venture out and explore the world. Janice is a little distressed that her oldest girl is starting to wear jeans and skip church. But she’s letting all of the kids kind of find their own way, which I admire a lot. I’d expected her to really freak out when they started discovering that there’s a world outside of their rural Michigan environment. But we had a very interesting talk about that and I admit I was impressed by her attitude.

“I think I’ve given them a strong foundation,” she said. “Sure, they were very sheltered, and people are always telling me I should have exposed them to more of the world. But I think what I gave them was the knowledge that even though there are lots of things out there to experience, there is a place that’s safe and comfortable, and their parents will always be here to offer love and guidance.”

Okay, maybe those weren’t her exact words, but that was the gist. I still think it’s risky to try to keep all knowledge of the world away from your kids. It’s important to learn to think for yourself at a young age, and I don’t think a strict religious upbringing provides that. But I do agree that she did the best for them that she could, and I think she was a really good mother. My sense is that, while they will never discuss their love lives with her, they will always think of her as the strong foundation that they were able to build on. And that’s not a bad place to start.

As for Mom, It’s sad to see your parents get old and dependent, especially when you’re used to thinking of them as forceful and independent. But in a strange way it’s also a little empowering. I discovered that I’ve always been afraid of my mother’s disapproval, but now I don’t really have that fear anymore. There’s no point in worrying about what she thinks of my lifestyle or whether she approves of my writing. She’s just a person, and I am an adult who can take responsibility for myself without the need of her approval. I know she will never understand why I live the way I do, and that she would be horrified if she read my books, but that’s okay. Now we need each other, not to approve or disapprove, but just to provide that little bit of support and encouragement that only family can provide.

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