I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Since the beginning of time, mothers and daughters have had notoriously fraught relationships. "Show me a mother who says she has a good or great relationship with her daughter," Jane Christmas writes, "and I'll show you a daughter who is in therapy trying to understand how it all went so horribly wrong."
To smooth over five decades of constant clashing, Christmas takes her arthritic, incontinent, and domineering mother, Valeria;a cross between Queen Victoria and Hyacinth Bucket of the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances;on a tour of Italy.
Neither has been to Italy before, but both are fans of ancient art, architecture, and history. Will gazing at the fruits of the Italian Renaissance be enough to spark a renaissance in their relationship? As they wander along the winding Amalfi Coast, traverse St. Peter's Square in Rome, and sample the wines of Tuscany; walkers, biscuits, shawls, and medications in tow; they revisit the bickering and bitterness of years past and reassess who they are and how they might reconcile their differences.
This is the choice of my book club for November, but I got mixed up about which book was next and ended up reading it early. I’ve heard Jane Christmas interviewed on CBC radio (although not about this book) and had been curious to read some of her writing.
I came away from this volume wondering a bit about what kind of person Christmas actually is. She reveals herself to be impatient, intolerant, and overbearing and I’m not sure that was her intent. Mind you, we can all behave badly in stressful circumstances and she seems to find her mother’s presence to be one of the most stressful circumstances. I came away from the book thinking that both women lacked a certain amount of self-awareness.
On the other hand, I see many of my friends in my age range dealing with some of the same problems. For instance, can my parent still drive safely? Are they trustworthy in the kitchen or are they potential fire hazards? If we go to such-and-such a place, will they be able to make the required walking distance? If so, how quickly? It’s a fraught situation, as you want to make sure they are safe and comfortable, but you also want them to retain as much choice as they can. I have elderly friends and I see them clinging to the last remnants of independence. One shopped around for a doctor who would renew her driver’s license—I had to make a stand several years ago and tell her that I would no longer be a passenger in her car and I think the doctor that granted her request ought to have to ride with her a few times. But she’s not my mother (or any other relative), so it’s not my call and her sons seem to be willfully blind about the whole matter. Another friend was absolutely determined to stay in her house, until a health emergency landed her in hospital—because she had not chosen to move, she had to take what was available, thankfully a very nice, new facility. One can’t always end up in such happy circumstances. I’ve been travelling with both of these ladies, in fact I think I was along for each of their last international trips—and they experienced difficulties along the road (including altitude sickness, and yes, incontinence). About that, they are both realistic—one has limited herself to North America, the other will probably not ever leave our city again. The desire to take “one more trip” led to convincing themselves that they could do whatever the younger tour members were planning.
I can also see this from the perspective of someone who is starting to experience physical limitations of her own--arthritis in the knees, cataracts in the eyes, and much less stamina than 20 years ago. I’ve begun to use walking poles and choose my international tours carefully. I’m travelling as far afield as possible right now, while I still can do it and will restrict my destinations as my difficulties increase. I’m trying to use the examples of older friends as a guide and not end up being a drag on my travelling companions and tour groups.
Maybe I’ll have to do what one of my aunts did—a very religious lady, she decided to pray about whether she should continue to drive and she asked God to give her a sign. The next morning, she found her car had been stolen—sign received, and she quit driving and sold the car when the police recovered it. We should all be so lucky that the universe gives us that clear a message.