When I arrived at the Hebrew home at 3 PM, I found my mom in bed under the covers.
She was facing the window, so she couldn’t see me as I entered. Without announcing my presence, I sat on the bed alongside her and touched her hair.
She turned and saw me, and smiled brightly.
“Beth,” she said.
“Hi Mom,” I said.
I moved off the bed and sat in the rocking chair right next to it. I kept caressing her hair.
“I wanted to call you so many times,” she said. She was smiling. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”
“I know, Mom. I didn’t tell you.”
We sat like that for a few minutes, my fingers touching the waves of her thinning hair, fluffing them out. They were pressed against the back of her head from the pressure of laying on the pillow.
“You don’t usually… you don’t do this to my hair,” she said.
“No, I don’t,” I said. “Do you not like it?”
“Yes, I do like it,” she said.
“What are you doing in bed?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Just… just…”
“Not … no. I don’t think so.”
“Hmmm… maybe… I’m just…”
I let it drop. She was fully dressed, so I knew she had been up. She didn’t seem sick. She must’ve just wandered back to her room after lunch.
“Come on,” she said. “Don’t you want to get on the bed?
She moved over, and I lay down next to her.
“What is this place?” she asked. “Is this your place?”
“It’s your place, mom.”
“Yeah, look at the pictures on the wall,” I said. “They’re yours.”
“Oh,” she said. “That thing is mine?”
She pointed to the needlepoint Debbie had made and framed for her twenty years ago.
“Yes,” I said.
Her feet were cold and she wanted to wedge them under my legs.
“You’re so warm!” she said.
“It’s very hot outside.”
I’m not sure she knew what outside meant.
“Yes. Ninety degrees or more.”
I’m pretty certain she had no idea what that meant.
I suggested we call Kathy.
“Which one is she?”
“Your daughter,” I said.
“Oh, you call her. I can’t.”
“We’ll both call her.”
We used my iPhone and put her on speaker.
“Hi Kathy!” my mom said. As if she knew who she was.
We talked for almost 30 minutes.
We talked about the bean salad Kathy was making for her party, with black beans, and my mom said, “Yuck.” We joked about how all the guests would be farting. My mom laughed and laughed.
Then we sang the bean song (“beans, beans, they’re good for your heart…”). She remembered part of it and sang what she could. Then she laughed.
Kathy told her about the ants she had found in her basement earlier that same day. Kathy and I happened to be talking on the phone when she’d seen them, and she had vowed to call Terminix. Mildly annoyed by her distraction, I had jokingly tried to sympathize with the ants, saying maybe God had sent them (Kathy has become very religious these days).
“Don’t kill them!” I had told her and went on to quote the one bible verse I know about the advisability of entertaining strangers (“for by so doing, some have unwittingly entertained angels”).
“Beth thinks the ants are angels,” Kathy told my mom, “but ants don’t have wings.”
“No, they don’t!” my mom said and laughed and laughed.
Then I started to sing the ant song.
“The ants go marching one by one … hurrah, hurrah.”
Kathy laughed, and my mom started to hum it.
“You remember it!” I said.
We sang a few more verses, my mom not getting the words right, but following the tune. Then we played with the words and found our way back to farting (or, actually, poop), and we all laughed.
Kathy’s daughter Kaitlin was home from her summer internship, but she wasn’t going to the party where the bean salad would be served.
“She’s going to a wedding,” Kathy said.
My mom said she wanted to go to a wedding, too – no, not just go to one, but have one of her own.
“You’ve already done that, Mom,” I said.
“So what!” she said and laughed.
“Well, I guess you could do it again,” I said. “But you have no one to marry.”
“I don’t care!” she said, smiling. She still wanted the wedding.
“Okay,” I said. “It will be a very boring wedding with no groom or church or reverend or even cake.”
“No…?” she started and paused.
“No groom or church or wedding or cake.”
She smiled and reconsidered. She wasn’t sure she wanted it after all.
She was snuggled up next to me when we hung up the phone, and the pillow was pressed against both of our heads.
It was like many of the conversations I have with my mom these days, where I say yes to every silly thing she says and she reciprocates, because she can still do that. She can still say yes.
And that small bed becomes a site of creativity and play and love and infinite possibility. We live in that moment, and we don’t need to go anywhere.