Eventually I have trouble getting my mom in and out of the bathtub. Not that she’s being difficult, but she doesn’t understand my commands anymore. “Lift your leg” is as foreign to her as “Diffuse the bomb.” I don’t want anything to happen on my watch, so each Saturday morning I line up a bath helper: a sister or sister-in-law, a friend.
Karen’s been my best friend since we were six, so she’s known my mom almost her whole life. She kicks off her flip flops and walks into the bathroom without knocking. My mom’s sitting on the toilet topper, which looks a lot like a big plastic throne with grips on either side, or really, what it is—an adult-sized potty chair.
“There you are,” Mom says to Karen. She’s got no idea who anyone is, but she’s affectionate to all. She greets visitors with “there you are” or “where did you come from” and says goodbye with “nice seein’ ya.”
For a moment I’m self-conscious that I have to wipe my mom in front of my friend. Mom wiggles her toes with their bright red nails. “Look at these,” she says to Karen. We all laugh. I do the wiping and help her stand.
“Ok,” I say to Karen, “I need you to take one arm and help me get her into the tub. Sometimes she forgets how to step in, so we have to guide her.”
She nods. Karen is so at ease I want to cry.
My mom splashes and waves her feet in the water. “I don’t know who did this to my toes, but it’s pretty.”
I’ve heard this during each bath since I painted her nails in May, maybe five weeks ago now, but it’s new to Karen. She bursts out laughing—which causes my mom to let out big guffaws. Mom always liked to laugh, and she still does.
I wash my mom’s hair. She’s forgotten how to rub the shampoo around herself. Karen is behind me, leaning against the counter. I say, “Does this remind you of giving your kids a bath?”
She doesn’t respond. “Are you crying?” I tease her.
“Nope,” she says. “I’m done crying.”
“I bet that’s not true.”
Karen’s daughter and my son graduated from high school last week, and we’re both weepy. Our kids are two months away from leaving for college—leaving us—and here we are doing something that I never dreamed we’d be doing together: bathing my mother.
Karen puts her bare foot on the edge of the tub and pulls my naked mother up as I steady her. Mom is out of the tub in two moves.
I want to ask Karen if she’s done anything like this before, but I’m afraid I’ll burst into tears again.
We towel off my mom and help her into her robe. “You girls,” my mom says.
We all sit in the living room together, and I put lotion on my mom’s arms and legs. She says to Karen, “I bet you have a boyfriend. You can tell me. I’ll forget anyway.”
When Karen leaves, my mom says, “Who is she to us?”
Later that day, I leave a voice message for Karen: “You were so good today. Thank you. But don’t think that I want to see YOUR mom naked anytime soon.”