My mother rarely calls or messages.
I call or message my mother even less than she calls or messages me. About the only time I call or message or go see her is for a birthday, holiday or when one of the carnival games of her illnesses and injuries – some real, some feigned – makes another round with the same enticements and false promises of a carnie barker.
Every few months, my mother calls to say she misses me. Sometimes she calls to say she’s been thinking a lot about me. Sometimes she calls to say she’s been worried about me.
I used to remind my mother that she comes through my town several times a week. I used to remind her she’s never more than a couple of blocks from where I live when she passes through my town.
I used to remind my mother of all the times I’ve invited her for coffee or lunch when she comes through my town. She passes through a few times a week when she’s here buying groceries or on the way to or from another doctor’s appointment.
I used to remind my mother all she needs to do is let me know when she’ll be through and I’ll set aside the time for us to meet and chat.
I used to remind my mother I’ll gladly put aside an hour or two any morning or afternoon to sit with her for coffee or lunch on my dime.
I used to remind her of all the times I’ve reminded her of how we could easily meet, but she’s never accepted the offer. I used to remind her it’s been a pretty generous offer that she’s always declined by never accepting.
I used to remind her how easy it would be if she would prioritize, then exercise the mindfulness of making it happen.
Now I’ve all but given up on all the worthless reminding.
At first, she said she didn’t call or stop to meet because she always forgets.
So I said the reason I never call or message her is because I forget too.
Now she says after visiting the doctor, she’s too tired for coffee or lunch.
I tell her on a day when she’s not too tired, she’ll know where I’ll be.
My mother has nothing but her husband and a dog and her ailments and her garden.
I had a nice yard. At one time I gave a lot of attention to my landscaping.
Though I give much less attention to my landscaping now, there’s still remnants from when I cared more about it. There’s perennials all around the yard that still pop up every year.
There’s phlox and lilies and irises and peonies that still come up and bloom beautifully every year.
My mother called me several weeks ago.
She gave me the same old thing about worrying and missing.
She asked what I’d been doing.
I said, “Not much.”
She asked if I was still tending to my landscaping. She said she was worried I was depressed. She said I seemed to be in a better mood when I was working more on my landscaping.
I said it was true that I wasn’t working nearly as much on my landscaping anymore.
She said, “But you’ve still got some nice flowers coming up in your yard.”
I asked how she knew.
“We’ve driven past a few times,” she said. “I saw the phlox and tulips and daffodils in the spring. And it looks like you’ve got some lovely lilies and irises coming up too.”
“You’ve driven past, but you never stopped?”
“Your car’s usually gone,” she said. “And when it’s not, I’m afraid if I come by unannounced, you won’t be awake. I don’t want to disturb you if you’re sleeping. You have a funny schedule, so I never know.”
“You can call ahead to find out,” I said. “You can give me a heads up the day before. That way, I can be awake. I can be awake to meet you somewhere for coffee or lunch – my treat.”
“I’m usually very tired too,” she said. “I’m usually in need of rest after I spend the day with the doctor. Of course, I’d love to see you, but after a day at the doctor’s, I’m usually worn out. So we’ve just driven by and admired your flowers without taking the chance of bothering you.”
“It’s been so long since we’ve seen you,” she said. “I was hoping you might stop by sometime soon. We really miss you. We’d love to see you again.”
“I’m kind of busy,” I said.
“I know. That’s why I’m inviting you here for lunch. That ought to make it worth your while.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Maybe. Sometime.”
“It would be great for us to spend some time together,” she said. “It’s been so long.”
“Maybe sometime this month,” I said. “Or next.”
“That would be wonderful,” she said.
“Alright,” I said.
The silence that followed was as predictable as the changing of any season.
“Well, when?” she finally asked.
“I don’t know. How about I wait for you to decide?”
“Okay,” she said. “Let me think about it.”
My mother is conniving. It’s something I must have inherited since I knew she wouldn’t think about it past the hour.
“And by the way,” she said. “I was just wondering, when you come here for lunch, maybe you can bring me some starts for my garden. Your lilies and irises look really nice. I don’t have any of the same colors.”
Like I said, my mother’s conniving. But, to her eternal dismay, she’s never possessed the cunning to go along with it.
“You can stop here and get some for yourself,” I said. “I give you permission, even if I’m not home.”
“It’ll seem weird,” she protested. “Your neighbors seeing some strange old woman out digging in your landscaping.”
“It’ll be alright,” I assured her. “If they call the cops, you can call me and I’ll tell them you’re my mother.”
Weeks passed. I never heard from my mother.
Then, one night, I came home with a note stuck in my door.
She’d written, “I stopped by and got a few starts. You were gone, but you said it would be okay. Now, when I look out at my garden, there’ll always be something to remind me of you.”
I wadded up the note and threw it away.
It was far more of an effort going through my flowerbeds gathering starts for her garden than going for coffee ever would have been. It was far more tiring to dig through my landscaping than accepting a lunch date ever would have been.
I knew full well the starts she took from me had nothing to do with any remembrance of me. It had only to do with beautifying her own garden. And, even though what she wanted came free from my yard – the fact that she had to do it herself – those flowers still weren’t free enough.
I hated it. I despised the way I was always being played.
But, at least she’d gotten the starts for herself.
That, for once, was something. It was finally a start, even though the finish was only a few steps ahead.