Thursday, January 5, 2012

Resolving to remember potato chips


My mom has been hobbling around on her bum knee for years.  If the weather was colder or if she spent an exceptionally long day chasing after grandkids, it was pretty obvious in the cockeyed shuffle she perfected.  But enough had finally been enough, and she recently went in for knee replacement surgery.
The procedure itself went well.  Her recovery in the hospital was as it should be, long, painful physical therapy, and mediocre (at best) food.  None of this was new to her, because she had her other knee replaced just a few years ago so she knew exactly what she was getting herself into.
On her third day in the hospital, I went to visit her for the first time since the operation.  I walked in and when our eyes met, I immediately saw that quiver in her chin, that automatic response that somehow keeps our eyes from turning into water faucets.  No mother ever wants to break down in front of her children.  We instinctively want them to always see us as strong, unbreakable, and the care-givers, not the ones who need the care.  Having faced a number of heath hurdles myself in the past year, I know this feeling all too well.  But here I was, staring my mom in her watery eyes.
Because my family is better at making jokes than facing reality, my dad and I instantly went into humor mode.  “Karrie, come eat this soup.  It’s like a dead chicken ended up in a toilet and they heated it up and poured it through a dirty sock.” 
“Oh yum, I can’t wait!  Is there enough to share?” I answered, and this is how we got through the first few awkward moments.  To get through my mom’s physical therapy, she had me dig out the sweat pants that my dad bought for her to wear home—a size 3X.  My mom does well with a Medium, and so when I put both of my legs into one of her new pant legs and danced around the hospital room, we all couldn’t help but forget about the pain my mom was facing.
Before long, therapy was over and my mom was going to be released to go home.  My dad left early to prepare their house, and I was left alone with my mom who was fighting the pain and hadn’t eaten much all day.  She said she wasn’t hungry, but I knew it was more than the dirty sock toilet chicken soup, and even a daughter knows when her mom needs a little something something.
There was a small bag of potato chips left over from her lunch still sitting on her tray.  My mom can’t resist a salty snack, but when I offered them, she sadly passed. 
So I plopped down in the chair, threw my feet up on the side of her hospital bed, turned on a cooking show and tore into the tiny bag of chips.
Making conversation, I crunched on a chip and slyly handed her one to eat.  We chatted about how much we disliked the dish that was being prepared, and I handed her another chip.  The nurse came in to check on something, and when she left, I held out another chip to my mom.  By the time the next show came on, she had eaten pretty much the entire bag of chips without even knowing it, leaving me hungry, craving salt, and smirking at every chance I got.
I’m not sure she’ll remember eating the bag of chips for all of the pain medication she was on, but I will never forget it.  It was one of those tiny little moments of life that can slip by if we don’t take the chance to pause for a second and realize just how good we’ve got it. 
How ideal that this all happened to me as people everywhere are making ridiculous resolutions for the New Year.  Instead of trying to make drastic changes to my life, maybe I’ll make drastic changes to the way I appreciate little moments.  And, of course,  potato chips.

(Ten bucks says my mom cried when she read this, almost as much as I cried when I wrote it.)

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