Eyes in the Back of Her Head

Mom's superpowers do not diminish with age

Marti and I were sitting at the kitchen counter, talking to my mom on speakerphone. We started with the old chestnut, “How are you feeling? Mom dove headlong into a too-graphic description of her recent go-round with the stomach flu. 

Without missing a beat, Marti scribbled “Adult Diapers” on the top of a yellow index card and pushed it toward me. Our eyes locked. I knew what she was suggesting: I needed to ask my mom if I should pick up some Depends at the store and bring them along on my next visit.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Not over the phone.

There are some topics—pregnancy or cancer or adult diapers—that you just don’t utter for the first time over a landline. They’re better said in person, where the gravity of the issue can be faced eye-to-eye.

Except my mom’s eyes aren’t so great, either. This comes as a complete surprise. My mom used to have 360-degree, 20-20, X-ray vision. She could see my brother and me accidentally drop candy onto the backseat of our Oldsmobile 88 while she was driving. I would insist it was an accident and shriek, “How can you even see that?!” 

She always gave the same response: “I have eyes in the back of my head.”

All moms seem a little alien-like. Some have strange superpowers. Amber’s mom knew when she’d eaten sugar. Lisa’s mom could sense when she was lying. My mom had super vision. She had eyes in the back of her head. 

Mom could see eight blocks away into my classrooms at St. John’s Elementary; she knew every time I’d gotten into trouble. She could see around corners and through walls. She saw a friend and me spill salsa on the basement carpet at midnight even though she was upstairs in her bedroom sleeping.

On childhood road trips, I spent countless backseat hours begging my brother to stop poking me, while carefully investigating every square inch of the back of my mom’s head.

I could never find those eyes.

But I was sure she had them. 

Now Mom’s vision is going. And it’s not the only thing. My brother—who is eight years my senior with a mild learning disability—is Mom’s primary caretaker, and even he admits that she’s sometimes a beat behind. The irony: the woman who once directed all of Ron’s daily activities is now accepting direction from him. 

I don’t want to face any of this. Not her loss of sight. 

Not her memory lapses. And certainly not her need for adult diapers.

My mom and I have struggled over the years. Sometimes she was cruel. And sometimes I was unforgiving. But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready for her to get older, to lose her sight, or her independence. Mom turned eighty-five in January. In February, I turned forty. I’m in my midyears, and I still haven’t reached the age Mom was when she and Dad  adopted me.

Mom is conscious of her years, and anxious to get on with it. She’s ready to join Dad at that Big Party in the Sky. Recently, she’s started pestering me about which pieces of china to take, and whether I’d like to have her wedding ring. 

Then, a few months ago, she upped the ante. She asked me to be her power of attorney. 

She didn’t ask me over the phone; she asked me eye to eye. 

Of course, I said yes. And now the gravity of the  situation is taking hold. Mom’s becoming more dependent. She needs more help. And I’ve decided that I’m going to bring the same seriousness to this role that Mom brought to hers. I’m not going to be half-assed or half-hearted.

Besides, Mom would know if I was slacking. She has eyes in the back of her head.


Rebecca Ryan is an inter-nationally acclaimed speaker, author and consultant who helps clients understand what’s coming next. She’s based in Madison. Her new book, ReGeneration, will be released in 2012.

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