My mother grows smaller during my absences. I am afraid to hug her too hard, for the bones beneath her skin seem to have become avian, crushable tubes meant for flight, rather than for earthbound life. Her hearing fails, even when she remembers to put the little buds into her ears, and I always talk too fast, too mumbled, too full of clauses and asides. We struggle to be in the same conversation.
But that struggle has always been between us. Fifty-nine years together has not simplified one bit the conundrum of our difference. We had a brief respite when the boys were little, and raising children became a common interest. She was pleased, I think, to discover that I did pay attention to many of her suggestions, and I made sure to never let on which ideas I was shelving away into my “Oh God, Not That!” file. But now the boys are grown, and I remain the daughter of difference, the cowbird’s brown-headed interloper that somehow she raised as her own.
So I hug her fragile little body gently, and try to speak loudly, and simply, of nothing much that matters to me. And she loves a daughter, who she has never understood by half, who always manages to hurt her somehow by leaving and flying away.