Bonnie Bing

Roles reversed; now it's time for me to take care of Mom

The blue-and-white Kleenex flower said it all. It was part of a Mother's Day card I made Mom in second grade, a mere 57 years ago.

My brother and I discovered it recently as we took a difficult but pleasurable trip down memory lane, going through my mother's belongings in the house she had lived in since the mid-'50s.

Mom, who now lives at the Masonic Home, didn't throw away anything with sentimental value. Or even things with no sentimental value.

As I sniffed the flattened Kleenex flower (I had, after all, dabbed perfume on it), my brother asked me about it. I told him I made it for Mom when I was in Miss Noblett's class at Alcott Elementary School. Everyone in the class made similar flowers, attaching them to Mother's Day cards using pipe cleaner stems.

I had a wreck on my bicycle on the way home and the flower became detached, which worried me more than my skinned knee. Mom said she liked it that way, put it in a jelly glass and displayed it in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. When one day it was gone, I figured she had thrown it away. But all these years later, I discovered otherwise.

The day we moved Mom out of her house was one of the most difficult days of my life. We moved a few pieces of furniture to her new residence, prompting her to say optimistically that her stay at the Masonic Home was probably temporary and she'd be back home before long.

Chicken that I am, I couldn't tell her the chances of that were slim.

Before her bed was moved, she and I lay down on it to talk things over, just as we had done a million times before. I felt bad for her, but knew it was a move that had to be made. And I felt sorry for myself because I knew I'd no longer come through that back door yelling, "Mom."

For those of us blessed with a happy childhood, there is a wonderful familiarity with the house where we grew up. It proves to be a safe, comfortable place no matter how old we are. It's always home.

Many of my friends had told me how tough it is to move a parent or parents out of a house they've lived in so long, a place that's almost an extension of them. But for their health and safety, it's sometimes necessary.

That's when you know you're in the midst of role reversal.

They say there's no manual for parenthood. Well, there is no manual for adult children dealing with aging parents. Yes, there are thousands of books written, but read what you will, there is still a feeling of being unprepared. And that catches most of us by surprise.

My mom put up with a lot, whether it was making a dress for me for Glee Club at the very last minute or waiting on me hand and foot when I had a broken leg. She did mom duty better than June Cleaver, although she didn't wear pearls and heels while running the sweeper.

And now it's my turn. As I looked through old photos at her house that day, I realized something that made me smile. I will take care of my mom for the rest of her life, but it will never be equal to all she has done for me.

One thing is certain: I'm going to make her a new and fragrant Kleenex flower.