Recently my mother went missing. Or maybe it was me. I certainly didn't recognize myself or her after all this.
I was spending a week in the guest quarters of the assisted living facility in which my sister and I installed her last year. We should all be so lucky. It's a very cool campus, with many educational and exercise activities on a daily basis. They have a gym. They have a library. And the food ain't bad either.
The day I arrived, I was to meet her at a piano concert downstairs at four p.m., and then sup with her and her new friends in the formal dining hall. I dressed up, came to the concert area, grabbed a couple of seats for us down front, turned, and started scanning the hall for her.
Through the sea of nearly identical, little white-haired octogenarian Jewish ladies I couldn’t tell which one was Ma!
I was startled to see a sea of identical, little white-haired octogenarian Jewish ladies with similar canes and pastel cardigans and familiar falling features all beaming back at me. About a hundred crone clones. Oy. I couldn't pick Ma out of a police line up in this mob. Spooky. At any moment I expected the Rod Serling voice over to kick in.
"...you've just crossed over...into the Twilight Zone."
And the concert was about to begin. Panic arose. Either she or I was terribly, terribly lost.
"Ma? MAAA?!" I cried out plaintively, and, as one, the entire mass of hamisha, maternal matrons, leaned toward me, clucking, like small, smiling, slow motion lemmings. Trying to help this poor waif locate her mother evoked the same atavistic energy in them all, these hundred mommies, aunties and bubbes all still knowing their roles so well. To protect and serve fatty foods. To drive us crazy with their love. Then one of them standing right in front of me took a tone that resonated to my childhood core.
"So? Where were you?!"
I asked her maiden name, and made her quote one of my articles to assure myself it was really her.
"Mazel tov. You look very nice... for a change," she said, and sat.
Yeah, definitely her, except that now, she’d joined a cult of Jewish pod moms.
En route to dinner, they all approached to meet me to comment on how young and beautiful, and, get this, tall the kindelach was. C'mon. I'm late middle aged and 5' 4" and if I stretch my neck like a giraffe eating treetops in high heels, maybe 5' 6" tops. I always think I look okay in my own mirror, but believe me, next to some goddess in her 20's, I look like a thumb. Fortunately none of those were around the entire time I was there. In the halls and mirrors and eyes of this place I was Ms Jewish America. And her posse was brainwashing my mother, too, in a good way. My dinner conversation, saltily peppered with my usual schtick, was met by gales of happy laughter, even my mother’s.
"Oy, I think her hair is a little messy with all that moose oil in it," she giggled.
"No animal products were harmed in the making of my mousse, Mom."
"Your daughter is sooooo funny!" they chortled.
"She must get her humor from you," they flattered.
“Oh, she does, she does!” Ma beamed.
I haven't had that sort of positive energy infused for such lame material since I was in the post op recovery room after my tonsilectomy regaling a bunch of non English speaking nurses from amidst my druggy haze. This place was so good for me. And these new friends were so comforting to my mother.
Soon they began to speak in the cloned tones they'd use with their own kids, but speaking through my mother to me, like ventriloquists.
“It's cold. Maybe she should wear a sweater?”
“Maybe she should put on a little weight?”
“Maybe she should try out the gym?”
“Oh, I know, I know,” moaned Ma.
My ma and her gang-- they are a heavy meddle group.
Next morning, she and I went to the gym where they all worked out in full force. I’m proud to say, wussy workout woman that I am compared to LA mishiga jogaholics, here I was able to almost keep up with them all on the treadmill, hoisting my tonnage of small barbells. By their standards at this place, I was witty, young, gorgeous, strong and tall. This joint was better than any beauty spa I’ve ever attended, believe you me, and far cheaper, too. Then, Mom and I entered the heated pool—so warm it could make group soup out of the bevy of aging beauties here assembled if we lingered too long. We swam and swam for twenty minutes. My final victory lap was Mom’s only lap, but we finished in a tie and I praised her to the skies for her efforts, as all cheered.
“She’s making make fun of me!”
That’s what makes her my unique Mom! She hears the irony in everything.
A week at this retirement spa made me appreciate that Ma has found her people at this place.. They’re a great influence, this flock of wise females. They got her and me to see each other in a whole new way.