The Pink Fairies
I wonder if I’ll ever tell anyone about the fairies. How they’re floating on the breeze near the cherry blossom tree at just the right angle so she can see them through the picture window. “What are those?” she asks, waving her arms excitedly from her perch on the couch in the living room.
“Fairies!” That’s what I tell my mom. “In pink hats and fancy dresses.” And I add the part about how every so often they glide to earth and if you’re lucky enough to see them and fast enough to catch one, she will grant you a wish. This is the same story, more or less, I told my daughter when she was two or three. But my mother is in her eighties. And yet the delight is much the same.
The delight continues when I read The Secret Garden to her. Sometimes we don’t even make it through a chapter before her eyes grow heavy and her head bobs to one side or the other. But on good days, she sits up straight, hanging on to every detail of Mary Lennox and her uncle’s grand house on the Yorkshire Moors as if she’d never heard the story before, as if she’d never read it to me.
Her reading to me seems long ago and faraway, although sometimes sitting here with her in the house where I grew up, I’m not so sure. Time has a way of unexpectedly shifting on me. Back and forth. To and fro. Here I am. There I was.
But on this day, sitting here is a sobering reminder of the present. That this has become my mother’s favorite activity says more than any doctor could ever tell us about the effects of Alzheimer’s. She is slowing down. She is withdrawing. She is spending more and more time here, retreating to her world on the blue couch.
What a difference from the mother who raised me, the Navy wife who fearlessly crisscrossed the country as my dad served in three wars, setting up one home after another, finding schools for us, meeting neighbors and making friends wherever we went. I can see it all so clearly. The Girl Scout leader prodding us girls up a rocky trail. The after-school cookie baker greeting us with warm sweetness after a difficult day. The bookkeeper heading back to work to help make our family’s budget numbers add up. The ballroom dancer glamorous and glowing on the arm of my dad. There she is. The gardener sporting a big straw hat tending to the zucchini, radishes and tomatoes she carefully planted in the backyard. The patient nana showing her grandkids what magic, not to speak of the mess, they can make from flour, sugar and cinnamon. The student earning her college degree, one night course at a time, just because she loved to learn. No matter how busy she was, she managed to pull it all off with remarkable grace and poise, an understated elegance evident in everything she did.
But time has caught up with her. She is sitting more, doing less. Listening more, talking less. Accepting more, attempting less. Still, despite all of the changes, my mom and I are okay. I know this. I feel this. We’ve got the kind of understanding that goes without saying. The memories might have faded, the thoughts might have slowed down, the energy has undeniably waned. But the connective tissue between mother and daughter remains as strong as ever. We are good. And I am grateful.
I wonder if I’ll ever tell anyone about the fairies. How they’re floating on the breeze near the cherry blossom tree at just the right angle so that the dark clouds can’t come into view. All we see is pink flitting and fluttering, painting a rosy lens on our picture window, at least for the moment. At least for today.
Photo by Nikita Taparia