Once one’s child is twenty-seven years old, opportunities for hands-on mothering are rare. Should this child live far away in another city, be male, have a steady girlfriend, a good job and a nice apartment, one gets at most a courtesy call in situations where one would once have played a leading role. Or would at least have been required to supply a credit card number.
Generally, this is a good thing, a parenting success story. But there is an ache in that phantom limb as well. So when one’s poor grown-up child requires ACL repair surgery and will have to lie flat on his back for weeks, along with the worry and woe comes a sizzling rush of maternal energy. Just tell me the date and I will come!
Within seconds I was imagining the ice packs and miniature meatloaves. I lined up my ex-husband to stay with our fifteen-year-old, rescheduled some classes, and booked my flight.
Hayes’s two-room apartment is on the fourth floor of a small brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue near Fenway Park in Boston. It is sparkling clean, ergonomically outfitted, and filled with sunlight, but it is also a walk-up. For this reason, he initially planned to recuperate across the street in the elevator building where his girlfriend Maria, a beautiful Ecuadoran dental student he’s been dating since they met as undergraduates, shares an apartment with a roommate. Good plan — but since I was dead set on bringing my beloved dachshund, and Maria’s building doesn’t allow pets, he changed the arrangements, imagining he would be able to get up the stairs at least once.
(Why the dog? Well, I could give all kinds of excuses, like he was Hayes’s dog in the first place, and he’s very cuddly and therapeutic, and he’s never boarded in his life though he’s almost eleven, and he can fly under the seat on Southwest, but what it adds up to is that I am mental about the dog and my family is well aware of this.)
Fortunately the anesthetic had not completely worn off when I brought Hayes home from day surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in an Uber and he clambered slowly up by butt and crutch. It was not a pretty sight, and it was my fault.
I got my comeuppance with the very athletic form of nurturing that ensued. Not only did the dog have to go out several times a day, natch, but also we needed about ten pounds of ice every twenty-four hours for the leg-icing machine, not to mention additional groceries from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, a thermometer and other supplies from CVS, two bottles of mommy-juice from the liquor store, and some items from Crate and Barrel to be discussed below. Luckily these places were all less than a mile away, and after its Arctic-style winter, Boston couldn’t have had a lovelier June. Every evening when I’d make the ice-and-ginger-ale run to the 7-11, there were crowds of blissed-out Red Sox fans milling on the sidewalk, smiling at my dog.
But the hard fact is that there are 57 steps up to Hayes’s apartment, which makes 114 per round trip. I mentioned this to one of his neighbors when I passed her, both of us sweating on the second-floor landing, and she said, that’s funny. I’ve lived here fifteen years and I’ve never counted.
In fact, Hayes was worried about my knees, which are known to be in their twilight years prior to artificial replacement, and while it’s true that I don’t usually hike around town and climb hundreds of steps, a soupçon of martyrdom is not an unfamiliar or even unwelcome part of the motherhood experience.
Hayes was basically almost helpless, so with Maria gone all day at school, it was a good thing I was there. In between my sorties to the outside world, my main jobs were refilling the ice cooler, dispensing and recording medication (the second day was very rough pain-wise, but I had been instructed at the hospital to be generous with the oxys), moving the patient and his Continuous Passive Motion machine and other contraptions from room to room, and of course providing meals.
The first night’s Thai steak salad was perhaps a bit much for the post-operative appetite, but things picked up through the week and the mini-meatloaves were indeed a festival of nostalgia, served with cauliflower-millet mash and mushroom gravy. The mussels in wine and shallots over linguine were proclaimed the favorite, but were also the source of some tension. This was a pretty messy meal to cook, and Hayes’s fancy Gaggenau stovetop has only two crowded burners and a grill. I had to boil the pasta water on the grill since the mussel pot was taking up the other side, and what with the steak drippings, there was a sort of indoor campfire.
Hayes viewed this from across the room in horror. I tried to assure him that I had it under control, and the fire did eventually burn out, but somehow I managed to get burn marks on his kitchen towels and dishwashing mat. These were not my only violations of my son’s high standards of domestic order. By the time I accidentally cracked one of the nice Crate and Barrel tumblers, I knew restitution was required. I went and picked up a replacement glass at Crate and Barrel, along with a colander, a lemon reamer, a ladle, some serving pieces and a pot to transplant the basil. I was a hero again!
I tried very hard to do everything right, like not moving the pain pills and water glass and crutches out of Hayes’s reach, not putting the fancy pots and knives in the dishwasher, and secretly rewashing the scarred dish towels with Oxyclean. Really there was very little tension throughout the week, considering how awkward dependency can be (no, no I’m fine!). I tried not to be a noodge, and Hayes tried not to be a jerk, and even when his vibe got a little dark and my vibe-sensors started quivering, he still said “Thank you, Mom” every chance he got.
The most pleasant hours of every day we spent binge-watching Mad Men, which neither of us had seen and we both loved. For me it was a weirdly profound experience, since I was a very small child in early ’60s; my father and mother were the age of Don and Betty Draper. My father worked in Manhattan, we lived in the suburbs, they drank martinis and smoked cigarettes all the time. We even had potato chips delivered to the house (one of the secretaries has a failed date with a potato chip delivery man). Within days, Don Draper began to appear in my dreams.
But that was 1960, and here we were in 2015. Maria went off in crisp blue scrubs every morning to see patients and take classes at Harvard Dental School. As delectable as Don Draper, sans the smoking, drinking and promiscuity, she was the man of the family. I was the little woman, stationed at the stove getting dinner ready for her return, eager to please. Baby, it must be noted, took his infantilization manfully, participating in conference calls for work, organizing an upcoming bachelor party, and requesting a very specific preparation of his morning coffee. It involves a French press, a Ninja blender, and a tablespoon each of coconut oil and Kerrygold butter. He read about it on the internet. It slows the release of the caffeine, apparently.
I guess this metaphor won’t survive the fact that Daddy and Baby smooched on the couch after dinner, while Mommy conked out with her boyfriend the dog.
One thing I have not mentioned is how the accident that destroyed Hayes’s ACL and damaged his meniscus occurred. Let me say I consider reckless showboating leading to self-inflicted injury to be an inherited trait among Winiks — my father blew out his knee doing the Russian kazatsky at a party; my whole body is a historic battlefield of idiotic behavior. I would say something about Hayes’s younger brother here but as readers may recall there is a gag order in that department.
In any case, Hayes is the most cautious and strategic among us and only rarely does the predisposition break through. The short version is that he got hurt jumping off a skateboard though he is not now nor has he ever been a skateboarder. You would think trading your birthday dinner for a night in the emergency room would be a high enough price to pay but no. Knee surgery and year of recovery. Jeez.
The day before the dog and I left Boston, Hayes crutched down the stairs and we took an Uber over to a physical therapy appointment, where they were happy with his progress. Afterward, we moved him and all his stuff across the street to the building with the elevator. And there I left him stretched out on the floor, hooked up to his gizmos, refrigerator stocked with leftovers, ready to watch the next five seasons of Mad Men without me. And then return to his busy, self-sufficient life, at least until the ever-unfolding drama comes up with another reason for me to pay a visit. (I’d love to meet the writers on this series.)
But how I hated to leave him. It seemed too soon.