My mother, Sylvia, may be the bravest woman I know. Currently in lockdown at a for-profit assisted living facility in New Jersey (not my choice), she reads her New York Times, listens to jazz and opera and sips a single malt Scotch nightly.
Since her incarceration in her room (no activities other than exercise 1/2 hour and a shower two days a week), her outdoor reading in the sun has been replaced by an open window with the birds and bees her only companion since March 14th. If I could change her life…and I’ve offered…I would.
But here’s the good news. We are closer than ever because of our evening sojourn to what I call Viva Las Vegas. A cut-throat card game of Blackjack (3 round) followed by Gin Rummy and tonight, BINGO!
Since she is not a smartphone fan or will accept a tablet or ECHO, we do this all by phone. During the two hours on the phone, we share what she ate for the day, memories from her childhood, sonnets from Shakespeare and ever so often I pop a birthday card she send me that mimics a champagne bottle opening sounds. It never grows old.
I tease her that she has Aces up her sleeve and a pile of Queens stashed somewhere we won’t mention. She cackles with glee. Our evening card game has brought us closer than ever. I stop work at 6, eat dinner and watch the news, call her at 7 pm. If I am ten minutes late, she says petulantly “You forgot me.” I never would or will.
I prefer her company to a swim, a walk, Netflix or socially distanced visits with friends. These times are priceless. Last year, same month, I quit my job and moved to NJ to make sure she lived through my father’s dying. I would never give up that time that dad and I grew close, but for mom, it was fraught with control issues.
Now, thanks to COVID-19, we are closer than ever. As close as we were when I grew up in New Jersey and she was my best friend and warrior. The woman who only did two years of college, then went back after I graduated Cornell to become a geriatric social worker. The woman who mentored so many other girls becoming women. The woman who rode horses as a girl, loved opera and on her 90th birthday, insisted the family go to Lincoln Center for the ABT performance of Romeo and Juliet, starring Misty Copeland.
That’s My Woman, she says. I say the same. So let the game begin and the confidences shared. “My father used to play the card game War with me,” she starts. Then we talk about her Bridge skills and newly discovered Poker face. “Your Israeli cousin Neuron would be proud of me,” she says about my movie star cousin, thrown out of the game at assisted living with my Mom, a legendary Atlantic casino player.
What have I learned during our card games? That my mother is remarkably resilient, a true champion of the underdog (her conversations with the caregivers makes them love her forever), and a fierce competitor.
After the cards have been shuffled and stashed, we do mental time travelling to see where we should meet in Dreamland that night, a trick I learned from Astronaut Mike Kelly in a NYTimes article. “Spain, Greece, Berkshires, Tanglewood,” all are suggested, places she and my father Phil visited.
But the Penguins in Anarctica are her happy place. Dear God, I hope I can get one time behind the scenes to see the Empire Penguins. Her room is filled with stuffed and ceramic penguins, a wind-up toy and more.
We may be physically apart, during COVID-19, but we have never been more spiritually one. Love you Mom. See you soon. #1 Daughter