The Mom of No: Memories


The Mom of No

Recently I experienced a spell of temporary craziness known as “it is time to declutter and organize my wardrobe.” The goal of this project is always the same: to assess every item of apparel I own and ruthlessly sort out the good from the bad, then expel the bad from my home forever. This project always appears simple during the planning stages. I envision inspirational music playing in the background as I start my day by easily picking out a coordinated outfit from my well–organized and clutter-free closet, and then go forth to conquer the world, no longer bound by excess clothing items.

In real life, it does not work like this. I encounter various roadblocks in my wardrobe culling: This will fit if I lose 10 pounds. I might need this if I go to the Opera some day. One can never own too many t-shirts.

The hardest reason to overcome: My mom bought this for me so I can’t get rid of it.

Even once I became a real adult, complete with a mortgage and dependents on my income tax return and was completely able to buy my own clothes, my mother would, from time to time, buy me a shirt or a pair of holiday-themed socks and send it to me. She’d usually include a note that said something like, “I found this on sale and I thought it would look good on you but don’t feel obligated to wear it.”

Most of those items eventually found their way to the Goodwill basket — even I know that I will never need another maternity jumper, ever — but I still have several Mom–selected items hanging in the closet or in my sock drawer, and I cannot bear to part with them.

Recently, the tables were turned on me in regards to buying clothes. I e–mailed the Grandpa of No to ask him what he thought my mother would like for Christmas. Let me think about it, he replied. A couple of days later, he emailed me. She needs clothes. A new nightgown, or a sweatshirt. Blue is a good color. It felt odd, buying clothes for my mother. If it had been something extravagant or special, it wouldn’t have felt weird, but these were utilitarian items. I was buying her a nightgown because she couldn’t buy one for herself anymore.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. She has no idea that it’s Christmas, let alone that she would want a gift, or what she would like that gift to be. Her birthday is right after Christmas. As I completed my shopping, I stood in the card aisle of the store, trying to decide if I should get her a card to go along with the gifts — one nightgown for Christmas and one sweatshirt for her birthday. What kind of card would she like? Flowers? Cake? Kittens? I couldn’t find one that seemed appropriate.

In the end I opted not to get a card at all. When I saw how she struggled to open the wrapping on her Christmas gift, requiring the assistance of the Son of Never Stops Eating — “Mom, how come Grandma doesn’t even know how to open a present?” — I knew I’d made the right choice.

That’s why I can’t get rid of the shirts that she bought me, even though I suspect I may never wear some of them again. It’s for the same reason I sometimes run my hand slowly over the quilts that she made me, years ago, and think about the hours and labor and mental planning that my mother put into her quilts. When I see the clothes she bought me hanging in my closet, I think about how she had stood in the aisle of a store, looking at a shirt or a cardigan or, for several months back in 2000 and 2002, maternity clothes, and wondered, “Should I buy this and send it to my daughter? Will she like the color? The style? Will it fit?” I remember the way she was, not the way she is now, and just for a minute she is there with me. These clothes, like her quilts, are remnants of the way she used to be, and in my closet they will stay.

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