My ninety-five-year-old mother is deeply demented, and there's not much I can do for her on Mother's Day. She nevertheless still likes to eat, so I'm sending her a soul-food sweet from Spain: chocolate-covered orange slices. She won't know who they're from or why she's eating them. All I'm hoping is to give her taste buds a momentary thrill.
As recently as three years ago, however, I could have given her a much bigger thrill, one that would have stayed with her for a long time. I could have recounted some of the ways in which she had been a good mother to me.
I could have said, "Remember how you used to read over my high school term papers and make suggestions on how to improve them? You taught me how to think."
I could have said, "You used to make fantastic sauces. No two were ever alike and none could be repeated because you invented them on the spur of the moment. But they were terrific."
I could have said, "You made me feel loved every minute of my life, which created an expectation in me that others would love me too, and that helped me to find and keep love."
But instead of saying these things, I would go out and buy a gift, making sure that it arrived on time, and write "Happy Mother's Day" on the card. Not bad, but I could have done better. Unfortunately, at the time I lacked the imagination to realize that parents need to hear from their adult children that they did in fact do a good job of parenting. Or at least that they got some things right.
I did once years ago, quite by chance, say to my mother that her relationship with my father had taught me how to be married. I was surprised when she burst into tears. Now I know how she felt.
"How sharper that a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child," poor sad King Lear complained. I can think of a corollary to his words: how sweeter even than chocolate-covered orange slices it is to have a child who is grateful, and tells you so.