Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Miles and Nancy
Scott was about five-year's old when his mother, Nancy, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He doesn't remember it being a big deal. In fact, besides the daily medication, the only lifestyle-difference he noticed was that she enrolled herself in swim-aerobics at the local YMCA. "You know the kind where the ladies are all in their one-piece swim suits and white swim caps and they 'run' on the bottom of the pool?"
By the time he was in his teens, Nancy seemed to move a little slower, but there was still no real outward sign of the disease. And it wasn't until the she began to use a walker in the last 20 years or so that other people started to see her MS as a disability. And then in 2012, three years after the death of Harry, her husband of 46-years, Nancy received a second diagnosis. This one was not so easily ignored. It was a rare form of cancer that required immediate surgery. Scottie had flown back and forth to Virginia several times during that year and the next, taking care of his mom. There was no one else. Nancy has no siblings or cousins. Scottie is her onIy child.
Would a 12-day road trip be too much for Nancy?
My mom Linda, Scottie, Miles, Justin, Lily, Nora and I all sat around a large road map of the United States that was spread on top of our kitchen table.
I narrowed my eyes at Scott, trying to catch his attention.
"What if we brought Nancy?" I asked him.
"Yes! Invite Nanny!" said Lily.
"Nanny!!" cheered Nora.
"Nancy?!" Miles's voice scaled up. "But how can she come?!"
"Same as all of us," I said with a diplomatic tone. "She'll drive with us."
"But, she lives in Virginia" he said with a pained look.
"She'll fly here."
"And it's hard for her to move around quickly."
"Miles..." I cautioned him with my eyes. "Let's just talk about it okay?"
"We'll have to pay for another hotel room," he said in an attempt to appeal to my frugality. "She could share my room," my Mom offered.
"But she's not going to want to eat anywhere we want to eat!" he continued. "She only likes to eat the kind of food she grew up with."
I turned my back to Miles and faced Scottie.
"Why don't you ask her, Hon?"
"I honestly don't know that it's going to be like for her next summer," he said. "She's still doing treatments now. She could be better then, but I really don't know."
That December, Nancy took a break from her chemo treatments and came to spend Christmas with us. Miles kept mainly to himself, participating with minimal enthusiasm when we ate dinner or watched tv together. When Nancy asked a question about an actor or questioned something on a menu, Miles's response was noticeably short. When Scottie or I brought up July's road trip, Miles refused to discuss it in front of Nancy.
"I'll be in my room," he said with a sulky look every time I tried to include Nancy in the road trip planning.
On the third evening , I pulled him aside and sat him down.
"What's going on?" I tried to keep the anger out of my voice.
I had really hoped that after he'd spent time with her, he would soften and want her to come on the trip. But at that point I would have just settled for him being kind to her.
"Nothing," he said sullenly.
"Why aren't you being nice to Nancy?"
"I'm not being mean to her," he challenged. "I answer all of her questions."
"Yes," I said carefully. "But with one-word answers. You're not exactly being mean. But you're not being nice."
"She keeps asking me questions about food."
"Yes," I said. "Because you know a lot about food."
"It's too much. I don't want to teach her everything."
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment before speaking.
"Please try to be nice," I said placing my hands over his, "please?"
"I'll be nice if we don't talk about the trip in front of her."
"It may not matter anyway" I said. "I don't think she's going to come."
"I just really think it will be a different trip if she comes," he continued as if he hadn't heard me. "We won't be able to walk long distances or even go up steps."
Miles was sitting straight up with his shoulders hunched toward his ears. His mouth was scrunched up like he was in pain.
"Miles, come on!" my frustration was reaching a boiling point. I decided to try a different strategy.
"I'm asking for that sweet boy I raised to show some consideration and act better than he feels. I'm not sure why you're so against Nancy coming, but the way you're expressing it is hurtful. Can you please try and be nice? Not just for me, but because it's the right thing to do?" I took a deep breath as we locked eyes. Miles's eyes are a deep, clear brown. I tried to see beyond the iris into the sensitive young man who I knew was in there (somewhere). He stared back at me with an I dare you look. It was our game of "chicken." I put my face closer to his. His skin had the faint fragrance of the Neutrogena cleanser he had just started using.
I kept my gaze steady. I knew I couldn't look away first
"Okay, I'll try," he said finally, releasing his gaze and lowering his shoulders.
I exhaled and nodded my head okay, cupping his neck and the back of his head with my hand, "Thank you, sweetie."
The next morning I was awakened by the sound of Anthony Bourdain's voice blasting from kitchen tv. I looked at my nightstand clock ,
I felt the anger rising from my stomach into my chest as I put my slippers on.
Miles is going to wake up the whole house!
I burst in to the kitchen but stopped short once I turned the corner.
Nancy and Miles were both sitting with their backs toward me at the kitchen table. Nancy had her walker "parked" next to her seat and was eating a bowl of Raisin Bran. Her eyes were glued to the TV screen. Miles had a heaping plate of cheese-eggs and bacon in front of him. He was standing there at the table next to her, busily buttering two huge homemade biscuits. I bit my tongue as I surveyed the kitchen. It looked as though an entire farm had exploded; half-empty cream bottles, an open sack of flour, several egg shells and a block of cheddar cheese littered the counter tops. But the smell of the freshly baked biscuits was intoxicating. My stomach growled as I observed that the bacon grease was still popping in the cast iron skillet on the stove.
"Well, good morning!" I said.
Neither of them could hear me above the tv. I untied my silk "sleeping scarf" and stuffed it in to my robe pocket as I stood there watching them.
"Now, is that the restaurant you want take everyone to in Chicago?" shouted Nancy, pointing at the TV.
"No" said Miles forcing patience into his voice as he placed the freshly buttered biscuit in front of her.
"This is the place I was telling you about in Nashville. Since you like Richmond BBQ, you're going to love this place."
Was Miles smiling?
"Oh, I see," said Nancy, looking down at her biscuit.
"Do you want honey?" he said squeezing large, golden globs on the side of his plate.
"Well, that sounds good!" she said, pushing her plate towards him.
Scottie walked in to the kitchen behind me. I placed my hand on his leg to stop him. I felt as though we were observing a deer family in the back yard. I didn't want him to startle them.
After Nancy went back to Richmond, Scottie, Miles and I had several speaker phone calls with her to plan the upcoming road trip. I could hear Miles exercising restraint as they discussed what she should eat at each restaurant.
"No, they don't serve pasta there, Nancy. It's more Northern Italian. I'll just order for you when we get there."
He couldn't wait for spring break when we would all be together again at our house for the final planning session before the trip. He had a special meal planned for Nancy's 6:00 pm arrival. Each course represented a city that we were going to visit. The house was alive with the smell of cajun-spiced gumbo and mustard-based,barbecue pork. After the meal was on the table for 15-minutes or so, he started to get antsy.
"Can you call them again, Mom?"
As soon I heard Scottie's voice, I could tell that something was wrong.
"What happened?" I asked. "Did she miss her flight?"
"No, she didn't miss her flight. We're on the 405 now, we're almost there." His voice was heavy with melancholy.
"What's wrong?" I was imagining all kinds of tragedy.
Did she fall down? Was she in a wheelchair?
"By the way, you're on speaker phone with both of us," he said with a sigh.
"Mom says she can't come on the road trip. She feels horrible about it. But she doesn't think she's up for it."
"I don't want let Miles down," Nancy's voice had a slight tremble as though she might be crying. "I know he's really counting on my coming."
"It's okay," I said stiffly. I knew that Miles was watching my face.
"He'll understand," I tried to soften my tone. "We'll see you when you get here, ok?"
Miles barely waited until Scottie had helped her in the house before he started in on Nancy. "Nancy..." he said calmly, taking a seat opposite her.
"Yes, I know you're disappointed, Miles," she said folding up her cane and placing it in the basket of her walker. "I'm really, very sorry."
"Just tell me why you can't come," he was staring at her with the intensity of a cat stalking a sparrow.
"Well, for one thing, I just can't move around too well," she started. "I'll just slow you all down too much."
"We'll get you a wheel chair," he said confidently, leaning closer to her. "I'll push."
"So will I!" said Lily.
"See?" he grinned. "What else?"
"Well," she said, "it's not as easy for me to fly anymore. I'll have to fly all the way out to California again in two months and then fly back Richmond again after we finish the trip. That's a lot for me."
Miles looked around at each of us for help. Then you could see a lightbulb go on.
"Maybe, you can meet us in Chicago," he said happily. "Then you wouldn't have to fly so far." "But the driving may be hard for me too. Twelve days is a long time on the road."
"Nancy, you can fly home whenever you want to. If you get tired, I'll put you on a plane home myself. I promise."
Nancy opened her mouth to say something else and then closed it again. "What else?" He was smiling now. "Well, stairs are more difficult for me now."
"We'll take elevators."
"Bu..." Nancy started.
"And if they don't have an elevator," he continued. "We'll go somewhere else."
Nancy looked at Scottie for help. He shrugged his shoulders. "He's right, Mom. But it's still up to you."
"See, whatever it is, Nancy, we can make it work for you." Miles's words had the smooth cadence of a used car salesman.
"Just say you'll come. It's a family road trip. It won't be the same if you don't come." "Please Nanny?" chorused Lily and Nora.
Scottie, Justin, my Mom and I joined in with them for a moment with sheepish grins on our faces, "Yes, please Nancy...?"
She was clearly overwhelmed. Her eyes started to fill with tears.
"Hey guys," I said holding up my hand. "That's enough."
Nancy composed her self and turned her attention to the plate of cornbread next to her. We were all watching her like she was on display.
"Well, all this food sure does look good," she unfolded a napkin and placed in on her lap like it was any other meal.
"Nancy!" said Miles. He stood up and bent down so their faces were just inches apart. "Will you come?"
She looked around at all of our faces. There were still tears in her eyes, but her lips were starting to form a smile.
"Well, I believe that is a deal I can't say no to," she said after a moment. "I'll have to say that I'll go -- for now."
"Yes!" Miles fist pumped in the air as Lily, Nora and Justin did silly victory dances around in circles.
Nancy smiled at my Mom.
"Your grandson is very persuasive."
"Yes," said my mom, beaming with pride. "Yes, he is."