Ringing in spring

Garvin girls on TowniesMargaret marches through her dining room and appears to ignore us. I’m sitting around the table with my parents, Margaret’s caseworker and two staff members. This is her annual assessment meeting and the first time I’ve attended.

With the caseworker leading the charge, we talk, among other things, about Margaret’s life skills, her health, her social life and her ability to make choices.

Margaret wheels around and comes back through the dining room, this time looking at me out of the corner of her eye. I haven’t seen her since last fall. I’ve missed her, but I know better than to try to hug her.

This meeting was scheduled for two weeks ago on a Monday. My mother tried to explain to the caseworker that Mondays were not good. On Mondays, Mom picked Margaret up for coffee and dinner at my parents’ house. She had been doing this every Monday since about 1991 — give or take about 1,300 Mondays.

The casework thought it would work out anyway and suggested they give it a try. When everyone convened for the meeting, Margaret looked at all of them, said no, put on her coat and went out to Mom’s car, where she sat waiting to be driven to coffee and dinner at my parents’ house.

We’ll chalk that up as a victory for her ability to make choices.

Margaret doesn’t like change. She doesn’t like people in her space for very long. Most of all, she doesn’t like being talked about in the third person.

But this day she deals with us sitting in her dining room for almost two hours.

When it’s time for us to leave, she’s clearly relieved. She lets me hug her now and even smiles. Encouraged, I ask her if she wants to go for a bike ride the next day with me. She shakes her head, her eyes wide, looking stressed, as if I’ve suggested something just terrible. How could I ask her something like that, her body language says.

“No thank you, Eileen!” she tells me and retreats a couple of feet.

I realize my mistake. There are too many people in the room and she’s still processing everyone being here. She can’t possibly think about tomorrow right now because she’s dealing with us. I squeeze her arm.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “I’ll call you in the morning. If you want to go, great. If not, that’s okay too.”

She doesn’t say anything. I leave with my parents and the next day, before I’m finished with my coffee, Margaret has had a staff member call to confirm I’m coming to pick her up at 10 a.m.

She hadn’t ridden her bike since last summer. She was out of shape. Nobody there to take her and then all that snow. Would she do OK on the hills, Mom wanted to know. Could she manage the narrow ramp at the trailhead or would it be too much for her to handle?

I say I think it will be fine.

I pick her up, drive to the trailhead and unload the bikes. Without waiting for me, she buckles her helmet, grabs her green Townie Cruiser and takes off up the ramp and down the trail.  I laugh and hurry to catch up.

My sister rides in front of me, her tires bumping over cracks in the trail. Spring is late and my hands are cold. Margaret doesn’t seem to notice. She turned 50 last week, but her posture, balance and confidence on her bicycle are the same as ever. We could be little girls again, riding our matching purple Schwinns with flowered banana seats and handlebar tassels around the neighborhood.

There goes Margaret, I think to myself as she rides ahead of me. She passes under Ponderosa pines, moving in and out of their shadows and back into the sunlight. She dings her bell, and I know it’s just because she likes the way it sounds. She dings it again, and again and again.

There goes Margaret. She’s got this.

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