SuperMum: Part 2

“I’ve made the decision to move in with Carol and Michael.”

Mum’s words, measured and gently delivered, put a knot in my throat. Several moments passed before I was able to tell her why her decision on September 10th was making me cry.

“I’m not stupid, you know,” she continued, “but I am proud.” She confessed that her pride kept her living alone in the beautiful home she and Dad enjoyed for their last 15 years together. “And I miss the sound of other feet in the house.”

Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.
Mum reading my novel a few weeks ago.

Despite her wonderful neighbors and friends who checked in on her and took her to lunch and expected to see her at McDonald’s for oatmeal on Saturday mornings, Mum was lonely.

“And I know you’re crying because you see this as my last transition.”

Mum has always joked that the two of us are twins separated by years, but I’ll be damned if she wasn’t reading my mind as I sniffled at my end of the phone.

“But this makes me really happy, too,” I told her.

I spent a couple of weeks with Mum after Dad’s death just shortly before their 65th wedding anniversary and was blown away by her strength. I’m not sure why I should have been surprised. She managed our estrogen-filled household like a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company until all five of us “little chickens” flew off to build our own nests, and was there to help ensure each new nest was decorated and arranged tastefully.

The Bernier family a few years ago.
The Bernier family a few years ago.

I’ll never forget my husband’s response while living in one of our houses when he learned of an upcoming visit from Mum and Dad. “Just keep her out of my underwear drawer, okay?” Mike tolerated her proclivity toward rearranging things when she visited, but he had to draw the line somewhere. In each of our houses over the years, Mum has derived great pleasure in rearranging things, always with an eye toward efficiency, and I have always appreciated her talent.

Dad used to joke about being afraid to get up to pee in the middle of the night because the bed might be in a different location when he returned. I miss Dad’s jokes, and Mum misses so much more.

Dad never put Mum on a pedestal. He didn’t need to. They were partners. Anyone spending any time with the two of them would walk away knowing how much he adored her. And she loved, respected and defended him unwaveringly. We five girls knew the futility of trying to play one off the other if we wanted something. They were a united front.

Mom and Dad were always a team.
Mom and Dad were always a team.

Sure, they had squabbles. Sure, he could be brusque and she could interrupt his stories. And I don’t know how many years Mum hid sweets in the house knowing he would find them when she went to the store.

“Just give me a nickel’s worth!” is still Mum’s response to any offer of dessert or treats, and it has me baffled to this day because I inherited Dad’s sweet tooth. To me, “a nickel’s worth” is just a tease, and certainly does nothing to satisfy a craving. But I think Dad understood Mum’s desire to keep her man healthy, he being genetically predisposed toward heaviness, and I’m pretty sure Mum “hid” things as a compromise. I guess I should ask her about that. It amuses me to think they both understood the game.

After 65 years together, I’m certain the games they played were plentiful, and I loved the way Dad’s joke—about why they had so many children—always made her laugh.

“It’s because your mother was hard of hearing,” he would say.

“What do you mean?” someone would ask.

“Well, if she was busy, I’d ask her if she wanted to watch TV or what, and she’d say, ‘What?’ ”

They joked together, teased one another, laughed with, kissed and held one another until

Hugging. Always hugging.
Hugging. Always hugging.

the very end, and Mum remained stoic at his funeral service because she knew he would have wanted her to be the pillar she had been for him his whole life. She was not about to fall apart in the presence of all who came to honor my Dad.

So her decision to accept my sister and brother-in-law’s request that she move in with them almost two years later startled me only because I had just visited her a few weeks ago at her home. We had the most relaxing, wonderful time together, though I did bring up a few concerns I had.

Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.
Mum always does something with my hair when we visit. I love it.

A tad taller than I am, she weighs a mere 101 pounds despite allowing herself to enjoy more than a nickel’s worth of dessert now and then. And her driving, which once could have rivalled Mario Andretti’s, has become overly cautious. I’ve been worried about her, as have my other sisters, so I finally choked back my tears to tell her we all believe she’s making the right decision.

And by the end of our conversation, I could finally take a deep breath knowing that this move does not mean the end for her, but rather a new beginning, one she will accept with the grace and dignity she has modelled for her ever-growing family for over half a century now.

I have ever-so-much more to say about Mum, and Mum and Dad, but for now I’ll leave you with thoughts of your own transitions. Will you share?

We're a family of huggers.
We’re a family of huggers.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter



“Are you telling me I’m a bobble-head?” asks my mom.

When my father died recently, just shy of what would be their 65th wedding anniversary, I had the good fortune to spend two weeks alone with my mother to help her transition into widowhood, a term we both decide—instantly—we do not like. Amidst the piles of paperwork requiring attention are her medical records.

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” I tell my 85-year-old mother. “You’ve been doing it for years.”

“You’re kidding me!” she says with a horrified expression, looking at me as if my head, too, were not completely secured on my neck.

It strikes me as peculiar that my father, my four sisters, and mom’s lifelong friends would not have mentioned the “familial tremor” that has been obvious to us all for so many years. It’s a slight jiggle, and it’s more pronounced when mom is looking down, but it’s certainly apparent. I am just as guilty as them all, however, in assuming that someone had surely mentioned it before.

“You might want to talk with your doctor about it when you see him next, but really, if it’s not bothering you, then I don’t think it’s a big deal,” I tell her, hoping to make her feel better.

But now I can tell that she is going to be very aware of this new revelation, and I feel a little bad that I am the one to spill the beans. Still, I believe it’s something she deserves to know.

“I’ve always felt so sorry for those little old ladies in church who do that,” she tells me, and then starts to laugh. Perhaps she is considering that at age 85, all 102 pounds of her, she is now one of those little old ladies.

I remind her of a statistic she once quoted, erroneously, years ago. We had been discussing percentages during a family trip, and mom told us all, with great authority, that the human head weighed 80 pounds. After a short silence in the car, someone was brave enough to say, “Um . . . I really don’t think that’s true,” and when we all stopped laughing—miles down the road—we realized that she had meant to teach us that when drawing the human figure, the head is 1/8th the height of the entire body. Mom is an artist, not a scientist.

She chuckles with the memory.

“But that would certainly explain why I can’t hold my head still on my skinny neck,” she says, and when the two of us stop laughing, I know that Mom will be just fine, 80-pound bobble-head and all.


No Trampoline Tonight!

I suppose it’s a good thing that my goal is to live to be 110 because after spending the last several hours cleaning my son’s apartment, I may inadvertently have sacrificed a year or two.

He didn’t ask me to do it, and he certainly didn’t expect that I would. We were supposed to be enjoying a merry old time tonight with a group of his friends who invited us for dinner and then an evening at the local indoor trampoline park. Awesome, right? Yes, I was ready to don a set of Nick’s sweats and hop till I dropped this evening, but an unexpected call from his workplace changed our plans, leaving me with four hours to entertain myself, and no cable television.

“I guess I’ll have some time to write after all,” I tell him as he hurriedly dresses to cover a shift. He looks great in his dress pants, shirt and tie, but cuts himself in his rush to shave.

“Why are you using a disposable razor?” I ask, knowing from personal experience how unforgiving they can be.

“I don’t know,” he says, pressing a piece of toilet paper to his chin. “A leftover habit from when I didn’t used to shave every day, I guess.”

If he could, he’d likely never shave, but his job now requires it. I make a mental note to buy him a real razor.

He leaves, and I open the refrigerator to rustle up some dinner. Looks like it’ll be a celery and peanut butter extravaganza, and when I open what should be the fruit drawer to see if there’s anything I might add, I recoil in horror.

No, there’s no severed head or any other body part in the drawer, but there’s clearly something growing, and not something anyone should eat. I decide that my young bachelor could use a little help, and set aside the celery for later.

I survey the small apartment and decide to start with the floors, drab beige-brown linoleum that almost hides months of neglect. After running the vac (note: buy new vacuum bags), I fill the tub with bleach water and search for a mop, but find only a dry-mop. Into the tub it goes, and I instantly feel better slopping it across each room and capturing all the dust bunnies.

The color of the tub water when I rinse the mop makes me think that I should repeat what I’ve just done, several times, but my time is limited and there’s much still to do. Like clean the tub, which is blooming both black and an unnatural pink. And the toilet, which rocks when you sit on it, and the sink, which is attached to the wall at the perfect height for a Lilliputian.

I look for a new sponge (note: buy new sponges), to no avail, so I use the one that keeps the bar of soap from slipping into the sink; it’s in considerably better shape than the scary one Nick has been using on dishes in the kitchen. My hands start to look like old lady’s hands (I’ve only just hit my middle-age) and I wonder if I should be wearing a haz-mat mask, but it’s too late. I’ve gone too far.


After dousing all bathroom surfaces with bleach (note: buy more bleach), I scrub what I can, including the abused trash can. Then it’s back to the kitchen. I open the refrigerator again, hoping that what I saw an hour ago isn’t really as bad as I first thought, but in fact, it is far worse.

When I remove the drawer to clean it in the sink, what I find under it at the bottom of the refrigerator defies description, and for a moment, I consider pretending I’ve not seen it. I could clean and replace the drawer, and no one would be the wiser. But then I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Ever.

And so I do what I must with a skanky sponge soaked in antibacterial spray (note: buy more antibacterial spray), and as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. I do my best not to breathe each time I go in for a scrub, but I start to hear the doctors’ dialogue when I’m 108.

“Poor old girl,” they say. “I’ll bet she cleaned her son’s refrigerator when she was just middle-aged. There’s no way she’ll make it to 110 now.”

Nevertheless, I know that I will finish what I’ve begun.

When all of the red-green gooey jelly-like substance is gone, I finish up by scraping a meal’s worth of food from the inside of the microwave and wipe down the stove front and hood. The sponge can handle no more, and my peanut butter celery is calling me.

I clean the kitchen trash can, toss in the mangled sponge, and scrub my flaky hands with the last drop of antibacterial spray. Time for dinner (note: buy more celery) and three, yes three brownies. Hey, I’m only going to live to be 108 now, so I might as well enjoy every moment!

Nick returns shortly after 10 p.m. and I note a brief expression of concern on his face. He senses that something is different, but cannot put his finger on it.

“Wow. I normally just carry the whole trash can to the dumpster. You were brave to pull out that flimsy bag,” he tells me when he sees the over-full bag by the front door.

I tell him just how brave I’ve been.

“Thanks, Mum,” he tells me, and I know that we both will sleep well tonight.