Rice Lake is always strange days.

I am finding this a harder visit than it has been in other years — though it is never easy. I visit my mother once a year for the holidays, and I take a trip a year with her; we talk on the phone periodically, and send occasional texts. (There are sometimes one or two other meetups in there, somewhere, somehow.) I write this and it sounds desperately remote, and actually, so it is; but it is all the room I have — all the time, all the ability to deal, all the energy. It’s also all the room I feel safe offering. I know why she is the way she is and I feel enormous compassion for that; but understanding why she acts as she does doesn’t change the fact that she acts like that, which makes it hard to keep my boundaries clear. So visiting is always a weird mix of companionableness and tedium and defense moves. Sometimes even this leaves me feeling corroded and depressed.

It was easier when my dad was alive. He was Asperger-y and sometimes hard to parse, but his flaws as a father (to me, anyway) were those of omission, not commission; and as I grew older and he started to lose himself into the Alzheimer’s, my relationship with him flowered in unexpected ways. My visits to Rice Lake became chances to make new connections with him, even as there was less of him to connect with. Seeing Mom when she was critical or dismissive was easier because I knew I had this other, strange, positive, thing.

Mom had been under an enormous amount of stress trying to keep my dad from going out some sub-zero night and freezing to death; after he was gone, she was able to lay that down and I could see her stretching out a little, as though she had been in a cramp of fear and resentment and frustration and sorrow. But she is 85. The energy freed up by no longer living with a man she didn’t have much in common with, someone who wasn’t even that man by the end — that energy is absorbed now into ageing, the hard work of growing old. Pain doesn’t bother her much — she’s always had an insanely high tolerance — but incapacity does. She walks carefully; she hobbles a little. She slumps if she is not constantly vigilant. She won’t carry a cane. It’s icy and snowy right now: My heart is in my throat every time she gets into the car or walks into the grocery store. But she would snarl and snap if I tried to help. She snarls anyway, at all sorts of things. It’s not Alzheimer’s, because she was always like this.

I really don’t need or want advice for dealing with her, or for how to handle the holidays, or much of anything. That’s why I have therapy. I have made a lot of changes over the years, learned a lot of tools. This is actually as good as it’s going to get, and believe me, it’s a triumph. But not all triumphs are the shining cleansing of all past stains. Some are just…keeping the floor clean.

This week gets the angry baby pic.

When I was a baby and small child, Mom had a Minox camera, which took closeups better than almost anything else. There are therefore lots of closeups of me, including this one.

Definitely a peevish week: caught a cold which delayed everything; caught conjunctivitis in both eyes plus a middle-ear infection; started taking Sudafed to keep the Eustachian tubes draining, which means I haven’t actually slept in three days; destroyed my four-month old phone, losing four months of photographs and texts and notes to self and coughing up obscene amounts of money for a new one; caught a sore throat. I postponed a lot of meetings with grad students and cancelled seeing a friend who was in town, and was not able to work on the 7×7 story or the next original project. So, grrr.

That said, there have been some lovely moments. I am getting more excited about attending the World Fantasy Convention next week, where I find myself with the posh-life problem of needing not one, but two evening/cocktail dresses (current number owned: 0). I will get to see a lot of friends I don’t often see, plus being invited to a black-tie dinner (which I never get to do).

I also am looking forward to catching everything up, because I can see that it’s still feasible; the times I want to hide in the leaves until everything goes away is what I can’t see how I will ever dig out.

And fall is here at last: not a fancy one, all crimson and cherry, but a discreet one of dusty golds and sienna browns. On Monday afternoon, the air was suddenly loud with the sounds of hundreds of grackles in the trees overhead, and then, delightfully, a pattering like rain on the roof and deck, as they in their hundreds dropped the hard little black berries they had found somewhere and carried into my trees to taste. On Tuesday night, I heard a family of coyotes just past my deck yipping and chortling at one another. On Thursday I had to honk to get a young doe to stop staring at me and get off my driveway. The squirrels and rabbits are coming now: one squirrel is so small that she squeezes through the tiny gaps between my patio’s rails to grab a single seed, then squeezes back outside to sit on the narrow edge of a plank and eat without being harassed by the others. This is worth everything.