The Kangaroo Complex: take a minute mother

complexe du KangarouI sent two birthday cards to my sister Georgia one read “A mother never quits.” The other one said “Sisters are forever.” Talk about ties that bind.

Georgia considers herself the mentor of an informal group of older women -70 to 80- who still have mothering duties. One of them has three daughters who are in various stages of Huntington’s disease. The rest are not quite so challenged by their children’s illness, but bad enough.

My Belgian niece, Sarah Moon Howe, is about to premiere her documentary film called Le complexe du Kangaourou about several young mothers who have children with various physical and mental difficulties that are going to keep them in Mama’s pocket for years to come. Sarah Moon’s own son, Jack, is such a child.

It’s not a distinction reserved for women of course. Jack’s father and grandfather are also part of the project as are a great many other dads, grand dads, uncles and friends. My brother, Sarah’s father, has made it a point to befriend such young men and teach them life skills. Wear underwear and your false teeth, for example.

But just at the moment, it is a group of women I am involved with.

When Sarah Moon thought she would lose her mind with Jack’s many surgeries and need for constant care, she started dancing again. Jack was happy playing in the dressing room and being mothered by all the dancers. Sarah Moon made a movie about that as well.

Georgia advised the Huntington’s mother that she should remove the boxes in her living room belonging to the daughter who had just moved back in, which the daughter is incapable of moving. To storage or elsewhere. It was mother’s living room after all and sorely needed for relaxation. Then she should set about getting them a two bedroom apartment.

When I phoned Georgia this morning on Skype, I didn’t get hold of her, but in a few minutes the land line rang. She said, “You didn’t sound good in your message.”

Where to start? But Georgia and I are used to waiting until the other person gets her sorry story together. Briefly I was/am ill with the worst lower back pain I have ever had and that’s saying something. But there was more.

Our Aunt Mae was a wise woman who could see the future. She told us we had to live to be old and healthy because we would have jobs to do then. She said there would always be chances to go before our time and we had to watch out for these, stay alert and not get sidetracked from our -what?- she would never have used the word “destiny”. She probably just repeated “job”. One of the reasons we chose to be teachers is that we would get a pension. I never actually believed I would live to collect it and it is true I had to retire early to survive. Mae also assured us that all would be well, laughing as she did. When I doubted that, she said, “Joycey, don’t take things so to heart.”

Georgia didn’t. Georgia believed entirely in what Mae said. Things would be hard. They already were, but they would turn out all right in the end. Georgia would have said, if they’re not all right yet, then it isn’t the end.

So on the long trip back from Los Angeles to the mountain yesterday, I was staring out the back window at the unending series of hills and I suddenly had the impression that one of those false doors was available. I woke up, vehemently rejecting the possibility.

What to do, I asked Georgia. Well, of course I needed to come home for some rest and rehabilitation, she said, a few weeks at least. It might not be possible just now, but soon. She talked about how she looks after herself, how she is able to be slightly less wholehearted than I am. In times of great stress, she can withdraw part of herself and reserve it. I’m sure that’s what Sarah Moon realized and why she turned to dancing in spite of how “neglectful” it may have seemed to some. Chinese medicine says, “First, heal the mother.”

What could I do in the meantime? At present, I am reading as usual, blogging as usual and doing the tai chi exercises. I can’t watch the programs I usually watch because the internet connections up here are too slow. And PBS in this area is really lame, no British drama. I do have my own TV on which I can get the 3 networks. That leaves with me NCIS, CSI and the Good Wife. With no car of my own, I can’t set off exploring the wilderness.

Then this afternoon, I found myself on the deck doing a tai chi set for the first time in weeks. Good grief! That’s what I needed. For 20 minutes, I was lost in the familiar, slow-paced moving meditation. Not only that, the set has the benefit of including a “sit” in every move, up tall, then down, weight on one hip or another. It is the hip that my change of season illness has settled into. Two birds and all that.

Plus I remembered how to seize moments of peace instead of being eternally vigilant.


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