My mother and I have a sickening competition, or rather we have a competition about sickness. I’m not usually competitive, especially against people’s mothers, but this rivalry developed naturally over several years. Right now she’s winning. Unfortunately for her, that also means she’s losing. As the aphorism says however, “Sometimes you have to be frequently and spectacularly ill so that you can gloat to your son about it.”
Is that not an aphorism where you live?
As best as I can remember, it all started when I was in college. I used to move with ingenuity and grace, yet not discretion. (The reverse is generally the case now, especially with regards my current lack of grace.) I kept injuring myself by attempting unusual behaviors in inopportune places. For example, once I decided to put (as in shot put) stones from the top of a hill. My spin ended slightly forward of the hill top though, so I followed my stone through the air and tumbled down the hillside into a swamp.
Afterwards, to make light of it all, I playfully boasted that I had been to the hospital more times than the rest of my family combined. My mother objected. First and foremost she objected to my numerous hospital trips, because that’s her job as my mother. Then she disputed my claim. According to her estimation; between her own injuries, her illnesses, and her delivery of four children; she had a higher tally than I. (Originally I argued that pregnancy shouldn’t count, because I figured that I was unfairly disadvantaged by not being able to partake. You can imagine how short-lived that argument was.)
Over the next few years, it happened that both she and I would get ill at around the same times, even when we lived a thousand miles apart. Naturally we each joked that the other was purposefully attempting to steal some of our rightfully earned pity. It grew from there:
“Guess what! I’m in the hospital because severe illness is collapsing my throat!”
“Oh yeah, well I just had a foot of my intestines removed!”
Now we joke about competing. Of course, what I’ve discovered is that my mom plays in a league for which I’m entirely unfit. I can’t keep up with her. If I call with a cold, she has the flu. If I call with the flu, she has pneumonia. If I call with pneumonia, she’s being rushed to the hospital. If I call because I’m being rushed to the hospital, she’s having emergency surgery for something. She’s like Deep Blue to my frightened chess novice who at one point probably heard of Garry Kasparov in passing but didn’t bother to investigate. (Not to say that my mother is a machine; merely an impressive competitor.)
Which brings us to her vacation a few years ago. She and my dad were camping in the mountains when sudden illness necessitated the removal of her gallbladder. God provided nicely of course; they found a friendly hospital with helpful and excellent surgeons. There had been some concerns beforehand–my mom had had surgery so many times before that her doctors worried about an escalating risk of complications–but everything went smoothly.
Also, perhaps as divine provision–you’d need to ask my mother–the mountains in which my parents vacationed was a half day’s travel from my house. Considering how far away they live, half a day’s travel is luxuriously convenient. Visiting seemed like the obvious choice.
My thoughts went something like this: “Oh no! My mom, whom I dearly love, is in the hospital! I must hurry to her bedside! Also, I think she must be cheating at our game! No one can have surgery this many times! Eventually she’s got to run out of removable organs, right?! It will be good to have a chance to investigate!” (Apparently, when my thoughts are exclamatory, they’re all exclamatory.)
That’s the typical response of a loving son, right? It might help to say that my wife and I also made a gift to take. We put a lot of thought into it and crafted it ourselves. Granted, it better matched the theme of “where have all your internal organs gone” than “get well soon, Mom!”
We made a sign for her to wear on her belly. It said “Vacancy.” Surprisingly, I don’t think she ever used it.
For those keeping score, my father also had his gallbladder removed recently. Neither my mother nor I felt the need to respond with an illness of our own though. My dad is so low in the general classification that he’s basically out of the running for a medal. Also, he didn’t want to wear the “Vacancy” sign either.