“See you next year,” Mom would say as she tucked us in on December 31. Implied was the promise of something new, an optimism about the future, of life being different when we awoke on the first day of the new year.
Year’s end is coming round again, and we are spiraling downwards into unknown territory. Mom is less mentally acute. She is less able physically. In contrast, I am more accepting of Mom’s quirky behavior, more open to caring for her. Today, as we were crossing the street, I realized Mom was panicking. She tightened her grip on my arm and backed away from the road pulling me with her. Whereas before I might have persuaded her to cross the street, even pulled her towards it, I realized it was much more sensible to wait until the road was clear. She also becomes tired when we’re walking back to her apartment. Sometimes we rest on the benches along the way and enjoy the winter sunshine.
Mom still appreciates my goofy jokes. I told her the one about the policeman who steps into a room full of cows. “Alright,” he shouts, “nobody moo.”
It is difficult to give all your attention to Mom all of the time. I get reports from my dad that Mom will slip into bed at 7:00 p.m., because she’s bored and her bed is a safe place. For someone who doesn’t read or watch TV (too many characters to keep straight in any given show) or even hold conversations, there’s not much else to do. Thankfully, Mom’s musical memory is alive and well. Daddy has successfully set up music on his iPod that allows Mom to conduct symphonies from her bedroom.
It is not without fear that I step into the New Year. There is no rewind in this movie. No prequels. No way to change the script. There is only going forward. And as the movie progresses, the previous scenes are erased from Mom’s mind forever.
Life, however, is never all black or all white. We live in a permanent grey zone where everything has nuance. Even as she forgets herself, I am there to remember.
I am holding on to the sparks of life that Mom still possesses as if they are precious stones. They have weight and substance. They glow with happiness. Her ability to sing with me, dance around the living room, enjoy simple jokes, laugh with abandon. I cherish these things. I store them in my memory so that when the black days do come, they will help me find balance.
When my new oven finally arrived, the first thing I baked was fabulous chocolaty zebra cookies. Unlike life, food can be black and white. Everyone enjoyed them, including Mom.
This recipe produces a thick fudge-like dough. If it feels too sticky, add a little extra flour. You can also wet your hands before rolling the dough into balls to cut down on the stickiness.
½ cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1½ cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and oil, then add sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until dough becomes a thick fudgy mixture. Using your hands, make about 25 walnut-sized balls. Dip each one in the powdered sugar before placing on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Allow room between cookies as they expand while baking. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes.