I believe that anyone who has worked long enough to retire deserves to be celebrated, and I have never been happier to see someone retire than my mother. She was a single mom for most of my childhood and worked full-time as a special education teacher. To say she was worn out after teaching and mothering for 30 years is an understatement. She put her heart into everything she did and, boy, did she earn a break.
One of the things she was looking forward to most after retiring was getting to spend more time with her grandchildren and also helping me. Right away, she began coming over to my house on a regular basis to babysit. The timing was perfect; soon after she retired, my second child was born, and balancing the needs of both my children while working from home part-time was no easy task. I needed help, and she offered it without my asking.
She comes to my house once or twice a week, usually in the morning after I drop my third-grader off at school. School mornings can be tense around here, and she walks right into the thick of it. As soon as she arrives, I take off for a jog then rush off to the grocery store while she plays with my preschooler. I pack as much activity into her visit as I can.
My mother and I don’t always get along; we butt heads about the little things. I complain that she gives the kids too much chocolate or screen time. She tends to rile up the kids and excite them just as I want them to wind down. She’s chatty; I’m quiet. She’s messy; I’m super-organized. But the truth is that she is one of the most generous people I know, and I am grateful for those hours each week that she comes over to help me and play with my children.
I’m aware of how much she gives. I thank her all the time, and her answer is always “of course.” She understands how hard it is to be a full-time mom, part-time worker, and simply everybody’s everything. And although much of the time I spend with her is filled with the busyness of my life, I make a point to show gratitude as much as I can—usually in the form of meals.
Growing up, my mother was never much of a cook. Oh, there were some things she made exceptionally well. She made the best French toast—really eggy and buttery, with a pinch of nutmeg. She made great rice pilaf and yummy chicken drumsticks. But the truth is that she never loved to cook, and she was often too tired at the end of her long days to be very domestic.
I learned early in adulthood how to cook, clean, and keep house. And so, every time my mother comes to babysit, no matter how busy or stressed I am, I make her a hot plate of food.
Usually she’ll say, “No, don’t go out of your way,” or “Only if you’re making yourself some anyway.” But I want to feed her. And it’s not just because it’s lunchtime and I’m cooking anyway; it’s not just because I put love and thanks into the egg and spinach omelet I prepare for her.
Each morning as I stand in front of my stove preparing her lunch, I think ahead 10 years, 20. I think about the fact that while I may be in the thick of family life right now, and she may still be able-bodied and energetic enough to help me, our roles will one day be reversed. Although I am a full-fledged grown-up, I still rely on my mom for so much. But in a blink of an eye—if she and I live long enough—she will be relying on me as much as I’ve always relied on her.
My parents getting older and needing more of my help is not something I like to think about. The pain of their aging hits me in the gut. And yet, there is a sweetness I’m looking forward to. I want to give back to them. I want to be there as they’ve always been there for me.
So I make my mother lunch, and thank her, hoping this little token of love and nourishment is enough and looking forward to many more years ahead of spending time and taking care.