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Sacrifice

"Mom. You can't let this situation stay this way."

Matthew Lickona's mother. "I play a little game. I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."
Matthew Lickona's mother. "I play a little game. I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."

"Careful, Ma; don't spill your soup," I warned. "First time you spill, that's it — you're going to the home. I'll know you can't take care of yourself."

Mom's reply was immediate. "I know. I've picked out what I want to take with me." First item: her teardrop-shaped Waterford crystal lamp, the one that sits on her nightstand. I don't remember the rest, but I can't forget how quickly she responded — almost as if she had really planned for this eventuality. I was unnerved. Did she think I was serious?

Mom taught me what little I've learned about acceptance. During my senior year of college, I had decided to ask my girlfriend Deirdre to marry me. If she said yes, I was going to take her to Ireland for our honeymoon — neither of us had ever been. Deirdre came to me a couple of months before graduation and told me she was planning a post-grad trip with two of her girlfriends -- to Ireland and England. I'd been scooped. I was, ridiculous as it sounds, unhappy about this. My mother's response: "Women sacrifice more than men. When she's older, she'll be happy to have this to look back on." I guess Mom would know; she went to Europe during her college years. And she has sacrificed.

My parents did not buy a second car until the mid-'80s. Up until then, we had no need; Dad walked to work. But when my mother's mother developed the mouth cancer that would eventually kill her, Mom started making weekend trips to Albany, four hours away. Once she got there, she visited her mother, took her father out to dinner, and cooked enough meals to get him through the week. He had never lived on his own.

When my grandmother died, my grandfather came to live with us. Mom took care of him for five years, until he died in our guest room in 1994. My brother Mark and I were out of the house by then, but a couple of years later, Mark moved back into my parents' house with his wife and children while he attended film school. It was not easy having two mothers under one roof for two and a half years.

Mark and his family moved out, but not before my father's parents moved in — to a gentleman's farm my parents bought them in the next town over. They had grown too frail to live on their own in Florida. After my father's father died, Mom began spending more and more time at the Farm, taking care of Grandma. Eventually, she started sleeping there, though she has never regarded it as home. Now, she shares time at the Farm with Grandma's only daughter, Cheryl, and Cheryl's husband Chad.

Me, home for Easter, trying to make pastry dough for dessert: "Mom, where's the food processor?"

Mom, with pain in her eyes: "Oh, Matthew, it's at the Farm."

Why the pain? Maybe partly because she herself was frustrated at the division of her kitchen — of her whole life. But partly, I think it was because she feared I would be upset. She was right; I was upset — not so much about the food processor, but that my mother's life was so obviously not her own. She wanted me to accept, as she had accepted.

I do better at it than some, which is why Mom was able to share the following revelation with me. Mom wears a crude beeper; when Grandma presses a button, the beeper produces an oscillating electronic ring. "Sometimes I play a little game," Mom told me. "I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."

She was counting on me to laugh about that. She gets to vent, to the extent that she ever gets to vent, to me. I'm the one she can joke with. Sometimes, I won't even give her that. If she shows me too much, I get mad like everybody else. "Mom. You can't let this situation stay this way." But she doesn't want advice or even sympathy. She just wants to laugh about it for a while.

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Comical and clinical

“I would rather not”
Matthew Lickona's mother. "I play a little game. I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."
Matthew Lickona's mother. "I play a little game. I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."

"Careful, Ma; don't spill your soup," I warned. "First time you spill, that's it — you're going to the home. I'll know you can't take care of yourself."

Mom's reply was immediate. "I know. I've picked out what I want to take with me." First item: her teardrop-shaped Waterford crystal lamp, the one that sits on her nightstand. I don't remember the rest, but I can't forget how quickly she responded — almost as if she had really planned for this eventuality. I was unnerved. Did she think I was serious?

Mom taught me what little I've learned about acceptance. During my senior year of college, I had decided to ask my girlfriend Deirdre to marry me. If she said yes, I was going to take her to Ireland for our honeymoon — neither of us had ever been. Deirdre came to me a couple of months before graduation and told me she was planning a post-grad trip with two of her girlfriends -- to Ireland and England. I'd been scooped. I was, ridiculous as it sounds, unhappy about this. My mother's response: "Women sacrifice more than men. When she's older, she'll be happy to have this to look back on." I guess Mom would know; she went to Europe during her college years. And she has sacrificed.

My parents did not buy a second car until the mid-'80s. Up until then, we had no need; Dad walked to work. But when my mother's mother developed the mouth cancer that would eventually kill her, Mom started making weekend trips to Albany, four hours away. Once she got there, she visited her mother, took her father out to dinner, and cooked enough meals to get him through the week. He had never lived on his own.

When my grandmother died, my grandfather came to live with us. Mom took care of him for five years, until he died in our guest room in 1994. My brother Mark and I were out of the house by then, but a couple of years later, Mark moved back into my parents' house with his wife and children while he attended film school. It was not easy having two mothers under one roof for two and a half years.

Mark and his family moved out, but not before my father's parents moved in — to a gentleman's farm my parents bought them in the next town over. They had grown too frail to live on their own in Florida. After my father's father died, Mom began spending more and more time at the Farm, taking care of Grandma. Eventually, she started sleeping there, though she has never regarded it as home. Now, she shares time at the Farm with Grandma's only daughter, Cheryl, and Cheryl's husband Chad.

Me, home for Easter, trying to make pastry dough for dessert: "Mom, where's the food processor?"

Mom, with pain in her eyes: "Oh, Matthew, it's at the Farm."

Why the pain? Maybe partly because she herself was frustrated at the division of her kitchen — of her whole life. But partly, I think it was because she feared I would be upset. She was right; I was upset — not so much about the food processor, but that my mother's life was so obviously not her own. She wanted me to accept, as she had accepted.

I do better at it than some, which is why Mom was able to share the following revelation with me. Mom wears a crude beeper; when Grandma presses a button, the beeper produces an oscillating electronic ring. "Sometimes I play a little game," Mom told me. "I see how long I can sit down before Grandma calls for me."

She was counting on me to laugh about that. She gets to vent, to the extent that she ever gets to vent, to me. I'm the one she can joke with. Sometimes, I won't even give her that. If she shows me too much, I get mad like everybody else. "Mom. You can't let this situation stay this way." But she doesn't want advice or even sympathy. She just wants to laugh about it for a while.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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