by Beth Whitman
With the exception of a chronic infection in her right eye that began with a case of shingles, Mom’s eyesight and hearing are near perfect. She has always been very attentive to what is going on around her — in fact, it’s hard to sneak anything by her. She’ll hear noises in the front of the house and wander in to find out what’s going on. Or if a car drives by on the road in the distance, she’ll comment on it.
So I was mildly surprised the day I walked into her bedroom and she failed to look up and greet me. I called her name softly — still nothing. I walked around to the side of the bed she was sitting on and leaned down toward her to look more closely. Mom had her jewelry box open and was taking each piece out, one by one, admiring each item. Utterly absorbed. I walked away without her ever noticing me.
This was a first. Not examining the contents of her jewelry box — she often opened it up and went through it. But this single-minded focus, to the exclusion of everything around her, was something I had never seen in Mom before. Usually if I walked in when she was admiring her things, she would either beckon me over to look at something with her, or if she were in the process of wrapping it, she would quickly hide the thing under her pillow and then greet me.
But this time she was completely absorbed in her immediate surroundings. And this incident marked the beginning of a shift in her behavior. She was becoming fascinated with the shape and texture — and even the response — of the objects around her. For example, Mom would spend 30 minutes turning on and off the lamp next to the couch just see what would happen each time.
And then one beautiful spring day, when I was working outside in the garden, and she had wandered out to sit on the porch, I noticed that she had placed her cane on the edge of the banister and was carefully “aiming” it.
I grabbed my camera. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I kept filming anyway. After a couple of false starts, Mom abruptly pushed the cane over the edge of the porch, watching it fall harmlessly into the garden below.
I retrieved the cane, put it back on the banister, and she did it again. Over the course of the morning, she experimented with throwing the cane, throwing the blanket, throwing her hat, just to see what would happen, over and over again. Gleeful but determinedly single minded, she was acting on her curiosity, but also having fun. Luckily, just as I was starting to tire from this all this experimentation, Mom did as well and wandered back into the house.
I remembered a cartoon I had seen a long time ago (was it Peanuts?) about a baby (was it Linus?) who kept throwing all of his toys out of the crib just to see what happened. And suddenly, I knew that I had just gotten a precious glimpse of my mother as a young toddler.
Beth Whitman lives in Maine and is a member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, a developing community on the coast of Maine focused on multigenerational living and sustainability.