My Daughter Became My Mother

by Barbara Goldberg
Barbara Goldberg

One of the best mothers I know never actually gave birth. In fact, I gave birth to her.

Just two weeks after my daughter Maura’s 23rd Birthday, I was hit by an SUV while riding my bike in New Jersey.

It wasn’t clear at first whether I would live. I ended up spending months in the hospital and then a rehab center. I was as helpless as a newborn, with a traumatic brain injury, twice broken jaw and many more fractures.

The daughter became the mother.

She helped me relearn how to walk, how to feed myself. When it was clear I couldn’t handle movies more complex than a Disney film, this hard-core mother agreed to watch Moana with me — three times!

One of the film’s most beloved – and definitely pathetic – characters is a googly-eyed chicken with zero memory. I completely identified.

My brain was betraying me too. For months, I couldn’t remember even the simplest bits of information just moments after they were given to me. Family members said one of the most painful moments was watching me stand in front of a bathroom sink for several minutes, unable to remember what I was supposed to be doing there.

That Moana birdbrain was me. Yet Maura managed to help me find a bit of self-deprecating humor in it, calling me “Chiiii-kennnn?”

Like any other mother, Maura was juggling so much — her job in New York City, and the commute on New Jersey Transit, which was a daily nightmare.

While dealing with all this, she was handed a red-hot poker. My husband Mark — her father — was told that his decade-long struggle with prostate cancer had taken a drastic turn for the worse. His oncologist said he would live no more than two years.

Maura did what any mother would do — she took that on too. Now that she’d gotten me past the toddler stage, she turned her attention to her next needy charge.

She assumed responsibility for organizing family caregiver shifts so that Mark could live out his final days at home. She administered his medicines, searched for foods he could tolerate, and posed the hard questions to his oncologist.

But like any great mother, she also extracted whatever joy could be mined from those deep, dark days. And she served it selflessly to the rest of the family.

I remember one day in particular.

Mark was a Yankees baseball fanatic, and months earlier, Maura had bought him stadium tickets. But by the time Game Day rolled around, he had become too frail to use them.

She quickly came up with Plan B.

She rallied us around the television and painted red baseball stitching on his perfectly round and pale bald head. It looked like a baseball ready to be fired at home plate. Between the two crescents of signature red stitching that hugged his scalp, she painted a Yankees logo.

Barbara Goldberg

It was a hilarious home run that brought us together around Mark. For that single, precious afternoon, the focus was not on Mark’s cancer but on rooting for the home team.

It was those hard-earned laughs and brave smiles that pulled us through the despair and helped keep us together in Mark’s last days.

Maura is going to be a great mother. Someday. And once again.