Wild in the Streets and My Mother and the Kennedys

Wild_in_the_streets_dvd_coverI was 11 in the summer of 1968. My friend and I hanged Barbie and Skipper from the proscenium arch in my Barbie Little Theater, read Tiger Beat, and saw the movie Wild in the Streets.

Was it my imagination, or were we more confused than usual?

It was a year of social unrest.  On January 5, Dr. Benjamin Spock and three other men were indicted on charges of conspiracy to counsel evasion of draft.  On January 31, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive.   On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Then Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5.

This last was most shocking to my Catholic family, who had regarded JFK’s presidency as a triumph over prejudice against Catholics and had deeply admired Robert and believed he would be president.  For days and days we watched the bleak TV coverage of the assassination.

Robert Kennedy for president test257_1The Kennedys were the most glamorous figures of my childhood.  My mother, a political science major, adored them.  When I was six, she gave me Jackie and Caroline paper dolls.  We watched the special on CBS where Jackie Kennedy gave a tour of the White House.  I grew up with Caroline and John-John.  There were pictures of the Kennedys playing football in Life and Look.

A few days after the assassination, my family gathered at the building site of my aunt and uncle’s new house.  Mill and throng, drink Kool-Aid out of a thermos, walk around looking at the boards, and talk about the CIA conspiracy theories.

There was some tension between my aunt and my mother, though both were  mourning Robert Kennedy. It may have been my aunt’s complaint that she was “mad at” my uncle (my mother’s brother) for getting her pregnant again.  More likely it was about fashion.  My very pregnant aunt wore short shorts.

Women shouldn’t wear shorts, my mother told me later.  Women’s knees look terrible after 30, she added disapprovingly.  I never looked at anyone’s knees.  Later, in my thirties, I wore miniskirts from the Gap.  Perhaps my knees were not the best.  I still wear shorts on my bike.  I do wear slacks or capris to the mall, though.  My mother would be proud.

Throughout her life my mother stuck to her “women-shouldn’t-wear-shorts” rule and collected  books and magazines by and about the Kennedys.

After her death, I didn’t know what to do with the books and magazines.  Some of them are good; some of them are not. There is a whole People magazine devoted to the death of John Kennedy, Jr.  I do not think we needed a magazine about that tragedy.

My Beautiful Mother

My Beautiful Mother and I

My Beautiful Mother and I

My beautiful mother is very, very ill.

I held her for a while this evening.  The drugs are not working.  She is shaking and terrified.  A staff member told me to hold her hand and tell her it’s all right for her to go if she has to.

I cannot do that.  That is the job for her primary caregiver. I just cannot.

She is being given “End of Life” treatment.

The first words out of her mouth when she saw me,  “You look so good.”  (Mom, thank you! )

She mumbles and mumbles.   Then:  “I might die,” she said clearly.  Mostly she mutters,  “Help me.”

I couldn’t understand what she was saying at first.

It seems to calm her if I put my hand on her shoulder or my arm around her.  She dropped off to sleep for a while.

Undoubtedly she is the best mother ever, the strongest, and smartest (when she is not drugged).  I love her dearly.  What other mother could  have given the gift of indestructible confidence to such an ordinary daughter?  Not only was I as good as anybody else, but much better!  (Well, yes, I am much better.)

See, that’s what she did for us.  I have been called a bitch (a compliment, no?) and a sweetie (an even greater compliment).  It’s all compliments–see?  That’s my mom!

But she isn’t sleeping. She wakes up after 10 minutes.   “Couldn’t you give her Ambien?”  I asked.  I am an expert on Ambien.  It is the only drug you will ever need if you can get it.  Throw out your Prozac and whatever else.  Just go to sleep.

Here is what I know about my beautiful mother.  (Surprisingly little.)  She is a good mother.  When I was in the hospital for a tonsillectomy and almost bled to death, she did not leave my side.  She set up Barbie patio furniture on my bed.

She is  good at everything.  Bridge?  The best.  Want to see the prizes?

Badminton?  Pretty good.  I remember a day of playing badminton after t my father didn’t come home one day. It was an occasion.  She rarely played with us.  She was fun, but somehow frail.

She never stooped to playing Bingo.

She has many, many, so many  friends.  I can count mine on one finger, to quote John Mellencamp.

Sometimes life is too ridiculous to live
You count your friends all on one finger
I know it sounds crazy just the way that we live”–John Mellencamp, “Between a Laugh and a Tear”

She saw EVERY movie, and I do mean EVERY movie.  She fell asleep when we went to Pollock.  We laughed over the last movie we saw in a theater together,  Bridesmaids.

She knows politics. She is sharp.  She was a political science major. She waited for hours on the Old Capitol lawn to see Hillary and Bill Clinton.  “I hoped to see a woman president in my lifetime.”

She saved Holy Cards (a really nice one of St. Patrick), the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church Dedication Liturgy (a new church was dedicated in 2009 after the destruction of the original church by a tornado), and a surprisingly good Special 25th  Anniversary issue of People magazine. (I have been reading about Madonna, John Travolta, and Karen Silkwood’s children tonight.)

I would like a pack of Holy Cards.

Note how beautifully dressed she is in the picture above.  That is a cashmere sweater she later gave to me.

She introduced me to reading.

Baby Animals:  that is the name of the book we’re reading in the picture.  I am one year old.  I already have a huge pile of Golden Books.  Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Kittens, The Poky Little Puppy, The Little Red Hen.  Every time we go to the grocery store I get another Golden Book.  (My panda has been abandoned for a good book.)

I meant to post a much more glamorous picture of her, but I couldn’t scan it.   It simply wouldn’t work.

I think the whole family should have met before an End of Life decision was made.  Families often fight about this, my doctor told me.  He knows of a case where a brother and sister came to blows.

If they’d tell me her weight and the dosage I could figure out the dosage of Ambien on my calculator.  Just call me Doctor World Wide Web.

I want her to be comfortable.  I do not want her to suffer.

I do not want to say goodbye to her.  I want her to survive.

I’m red-eyed from crying, but will not be red-eyed tomorrow.  I will be strong.  It is what I can do for her.

I called my dad, but he was cold.  “Let me know if anything changes.”  They have been divorced 40 years.

That is when I knew that it was hopeless.  Nobody is going to step up to the plate.  If anyone steps up, it has to be me.  I saved her life twice. But I have been ill, and this time it has gone on too long without intervention.

And I will leave you with a Bob Marley song that isn’t very practical here.

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!

It should be:  Get up, stand up:  stand up for your Mom!