Every winter for the past eight years, my mother – now 85 – and I flee Ontario for two weeks at a snazzy Mexican resort. The unwritten rule is that we don’t whine when things go wrong – and mostly they don’t. But last year, on day one, Mum tripped and toppled onto the lobby floor of the hotel. Does time slow down in such moments? If only it did; perhaps then I would have shot out a hand and performed the rescue. Instead I stooped onto the floor beside her, cradling her head, and watched in horror as a bump rose on her forehead and her right eye began to swell shut. She winced as I helped her to her feet.
‘My wrist,’ she cried.
Hours later we returned from the storefront clinic where a doctor wearing stilettos took X-Rays and diagnosed una fractura of the wrist. Mum’s bound forearm now rested in a sling. We tiptoed along the resort’s path toward our room while I gripped her good arm. Suddenly the place looked like an obstacle course: why on earth did they build rocky steps to the beach and countless stairs around the pool area with no handrails in sight?
Mum’s multicolored shiner, walnut -sized forehead bump and bandaged arm meant every guest wanted to hear the sorry tale. Elder abuse, they were probably thinking. Can’t she look after her Mum better than that?
Each morning I stepped into the shower with my mother and soaped her hair while she gripped the safety bar. Later, when we ventured from the room, I seized her good arm and never let go, even in the elevator. As she scouted the buffet, I was right there, an ever-present shadow. I held her pina colada in the bar while she turned the page of her book. I leaned down to fasten her sandals.
Ruined vacation? Not really. Because of Mum’s startling appearance, staff whisked loungers in place for us under the umbrella and brought over extra-strong drinks. Surcharge for lobster? Not for the walking wounded.
When the bus pulled out of the resort two weeks later, Mum said sadly, ‘This’ll be the last time we do this; it’s too much responsibility for you.’
I didn’t argue, yet I felt sadness too.
Fast forward one year: Mum calls over from her lounger on the Playa del Carmen beach, ‘Time for a drink.’ She pulls herself up to a sitting position, not an easy task on the plastic cot, even with a mended wrist. I jump to help, but she waves me off. I watch fretfully as she swings her legs over the rim of the lounger, grabs the palapa pole and heaves herself up to her feet and begins to thread her way between sun-worshippers. For a moment I lose sight of her in the sea of flesh and feel a familiar prick of alarm: I shouldn’t have let her go solo. Playa del Carmen must have a clinic: what’s the word for ‘hip’ in Spanish?
She returns, moments later, clutching two frothy margaritas.
Ann Ireland is a former Governor General’s Award finalist. Her novel, “A Certain Mr. Takahashi” was the basis for the 1991 feature film The Pianist. Other books include “The Instructor” and “Exile.”
Photo Credits: canbalci, cdwheatley