Our children spend a lot of time asking our permission to do things.
They ask us if they can have a snack, play outside, or invite a friend over. Their schools also send us endless permission slips for everything from field trips to pizza parties. Kids look forward to the day when they no longer have to ask our permission to do things. I know because I remember that feeling, that longing for independence, independence from my parents’ rules and regulations.
I started thinking about how in my role reversal with my mother, who is suffering from brain cancer, permission comes in to play. She is now asking my permission for things that she wants and needs.
“Can I go to bed now? I’m so tired,” she asks every day with pleading eyes when we return from her radiation treatment.
“Can I just have some ice chips instead of a drink,” she asks when I greet her with a tall cup of water at her bedside.
“Can I eat in bed instead of coming to the table?” she asks every night when I try to get her to let me wheel her into the kitchen for dinner.
I keep telling her that she doesn’t need my permission to do anything, that she is still my mother, and she is still in charge, even though I am caring for her. I will do anything she needs me to do, and I will facilitate her doing anything she wants to do. This is her right.
But there is something about a lack of independence, the lack of independence that comes with being disabled that makes someone feel obligated to ask permission, just like when we were children.
Her main area of permission surrounds her treatment. It has been grueling, and she is almost done. But she has repeatedly asked my permission to allow her to stop after this round, to allow whatever will happen take its course.
This is the hardest kind of permission for a daughter to grant a mother. Our instinct as human beings is to fight but, in my heart, I know that fighting at any cost is not always worth the suffering someone must endure.
I have told her, and I mean it, that she is in charge of decisions about whether or not she wants to continue her treatment. I’m not sure she quite believes me yet, but I keep telling her this. No matter what decision she makes, the answer will always be the same — permission granted.