Cradle to Cradle

My mother with her friend, Quacky, the stuffed duck.  Photo by Callen Harty.

My mother with her friend, Quacky, the stuffed duck. Photo by Callen Harty.

Some people never live long enough to get old. Others who do live to old age live a little slower physically but with their full mental capacity until the day they depart this realm. For many, though, they fit the idea of coming full circle, from the total dependency of infancy to a similar dependency in their waning years. My mother is in her second infancy.

Life is full of cycles. Nature moves that way.

Like a young child my mother often does not have the words that she needs. She is unable to move on her own (in fact, she cannot even get out of bed anymore). She wears adult diapers because she is bedridden. She is dependent upon others to feed and bathe her. She sometimes does not know who the people around her are, she can’t remember who is living and who is dead, and she sees things that others do not see. At times it can be hard to see her like that. She was the provider when we were babies. She was the strong woman and our protector when we were children. To see her so incapacitated, knowing how strong she has been her entire life, can be so hard.

Yet, there is life in her eyes. She still smiles and enjoys what life there is for her. She accepts her condition with grace. None of us can know what is really in her mind because her ability to share those kinds of things is limited these days, at least to us. My mother has several stuffed animals that have become her friends. She talks to them and they understand her better than I do. They come to her every day and watch over her and it makes her happy that they care so much. There is a certain kind of joy in this. Like a child with an imaginary friend or a favorite Teddy bear these things comfort her and make her life so much easier. We accept these things in children. Why can’t we accept them in adults?

Most of us are so worried about our jobs, families, and making ends meet that we have little to no time for our imaginations. At some point in our growing up we let go of the Teddy bears and comfort blankets. We take on a seriousness and a stoicism that gets us through the difficult days of adulthood, but I think we lose something in the process. It is very young children and very old men and women, as well as some of those with what are called mental issues, and perhaps a handful of others, who are not bound by what most of us consider reality. They can talk with stuffed animals, they can see things that we can’t see, they can talk with those who are no longer here. They accept a reality that the rest of us cannot see or even begin to comprehend.

I have often worried about losing my mental faculties. When I can’t come up with the right word or I can’t remember something I should be able to remember I start to question whether I am in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I am far less worried about losing physical ability than losing my ability to communicate. But then I look at my mother’s smile and I see a depth in her eyes and I think it may be okay. She is happy and when I look into her eyes she is still there. She is still the same woman who always loved me, and I can see that love resonate from her. I kiss her forehead again and tell her how much I love her. She tells me that she loves me, too, that she always has. I say goodbye to her, and make sure that I say goodbye to her friends as I leave.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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