The Day I Would Eventually Regret

The time I took my mom out walking

Krista Marson
Taking Off
Published in
10 min readApr 11, 2023

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Old World Wisconsin, photo by author

There were a few occasions when there was something on tour at The Art Institute of Chicago that was too good to miss which made driving to Chicago from Milwaukee worth it.

I recall one exhibit in particular that saved both my mom and me a trip to Scotland when many of the works created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh were on view in Chicago.

Mackintosh was my mom’s favorite artist, but it was never as though she ever planned to go to Scotland to see any of his creations in person.

America is not home to a whole lot of Mackintosh objects in general, and I don’t believe she ever saw anything of his with her own eyes unless she counted seeing his stuff printed in coffee table books as actually seeing his works in person.

There was always something about how Mackintosh drew roses in particular that appealed to my mom’s sensibilities.

She liked that his roses were not quite art nouveau, not quite art deco, and not quite Frank Lloyd Wright. Mackintosh roses were simply his, and they were her favorite.

I was pleased as punch that we were able to share a day with Mackintosh together, and it was indeed one of the finest exhibitions we had ever been to.

Mackintosh roses, public domain

Alas, I wish all our experiences together were as good as going to that Mackintosh exhibition, but unfortunately, they were not.

I don’t remember what year it was that I got the wild hair to take my mom to the outdoor history museum known as Old World Wisconsin, but it proved to be something I wished I never did.

It was a massive miscalculation on my part to take a woman who lived a sedentary lifestyle to a ginormous outdoor park and expect her to enjoy walking all over the place while looking at barns built in the 19th century.

It was wrong of me to think my mom would actually benefit from the fresh air and exercise because she complained to anyone within earshot for years thereafter that she didn’t benefit from any of that at all.

In fact, the day I took her to Old World Wisconsin went down in history as the day that I ruined my mom’s health forever.

I concede the fact that Old World Wisconsin is not a small park. Clocking in at something over 450 acres, it is known as being the largest outdoor museum dedicated to old-timey life in the United States.

The massive park sits on the landscape as if it has always been there, and it almost doesn’t seem possible that all the structures were moved there from various locations throughout the state.

The variety of ethnic farms stand as a testament to the fact that Wisconsin was once an attractive destination for European immigrants as a place to carve out lives for themselves in a new world that they embraced as their own.

With each immigrant came a specific ethnic method of farming, and every barn and outbuilding reflected every culture’s unique approach to breaking the land. The Finnish farm looked as different from the German farm as it did from either the Danish or Norwegian farm, but however, the approach was, the end result was always the same.

Wisconsin was a land of immigrant farmers, and Old World Wisconsin is the only place where one can get a compact view of what the entire state used to look like.

One of many historic barns, photo by author

However, none of that history mattered to my mom because she was irritated at the prospect of having to physically walk from farmstead to farmstead.

The park advertised a shuttle, but we waited so long for the first one that never showed up. It eventually became apparent that we could either languish forever at the shuttle stop, or we could do something about it.

When I proposed to my mom that we walk to the first farmstead, she was none too happy about it, and she made us wait for another ten minutes before she realized that walking was our only option.

Once we got going, I was sure that she was going to enjoy moving her feet. It was a beautiful morning, and there was no reason not to enjoy being outside.

“See?” I said to her once we got on the path to the Finnish farm. “Walking’s not so bad.” We literally got to the Finnish farm in less than ten minutes, which gave me the impression that the entire park would be entirely walkable.

I had no doubt in my mind that walking around the park was something my mother was going to be able to handle. We weren’t going to need to depend on a stupid shuttle that wasn’t going to show up, by god, we were going to get this on our own!

I even thought that maybe our day outside would be so awesome that it would inspire my mom to get outside and exercise more often. I was hopeful that in small increments, she was going to fall in love with walking.

I was convinced this day was going to change her forever, and it did, but not in the way that I was rooting for.

When we completed touring the Finnish farm, we again waited under the shuttle stop sign for a shuttle that failed to show up.

“How often are the shuttles supposed to run?” she asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Apparently not that often.”

We made small talk about the merits of the Finnish farm, but it was obvious she was more concerned about the shuttle’s operating schedule.

She knew full well that if the shuttle didn’t show up soon I was going to make her walk to the Danish farm next, which, of course, we ended up walking to.

Time and time again throughout the entire afternoon, this ended up being our pattern.

One of many buildings my mom wasn’t impressed with, photo by author

“Why are they spaced so far apart?” she would bitch out loud I don’t know how many times. “It feels as though they’re making me walk the entire state of Wisconsin.”

“Mom, you’re hardly walking across the entire state of Wisconsin,” I would snap back at her. “Walking is good for you. You should be happy to be doing this.”

“I’m not happy about doing this!” she would bark. “It’s making me sweat.”

“That means you’re getting exercise,” I would have to explain to her. “Sweating is perfectly normal.”

“But, I’m overheating!” she complained. She was acting like she was dying, and her drama irritated me. She wasn’t that old, I kept thinking to myself. She was what, 65 years old, but she was acting like she was a million.

There was a 90-year-old lady that lived in my mom’s neighborhood who walked around the block every day, even in the dead of winter, and here was my mom complaining that I was making her walk along a couple of shady trails through beautiful miniature forests that linked historic farms together.

She was ruining the experience for me, and I told her as much.

“You need to enjoy doing this,” I said to her. “Walking the trails is part of the experience.”

“No, it’s not,” she’d argue with me. “Why don’t you ever let us wait for the shuttle?”

“We have waited for the shuttle!” I yelled at her. “It never shows up! What are we supposed to do, just sit at a bus stop all day? We’re here for the farms. Let’s enjoy the farms.”

I don’t think she remotely appreciated any of the farms we saw that day, and I probably didn’t either. We had such a horrible experience there that ten years later when I went back to Old World Wisconsin with my husband, it was as though I had never been there before.

I remembered not a single thing saw that day when I went there with my mother. The only thing I could honestly recall was the constant bickering that happened between the two of us.

“I can’t do this,” I remembered my mom saying, not even a half-hour into the start of the day.

“You can’t do what?” I asked her. “Move your legs?” Right out of the gate, we both started pushing each other’s buttons. Looking back on it now, there was no point in forcing it, and we should have just left before we even started. But, no, I had to morph into being some sort of a drill sergeant, and I made my mom get the exercise I thought she needed.

Towards the end of the afternoon, she was complaining she was literally dying. We spent the last 45 minutes of the day arguing that she was not dying.

“I’m dying!” she would yell.

“Mom, you’re not dying!” I would yell back.

“I’m dying!”

Jiminy Christmas, that was how we talked. I in no way took her “I’m dying” remarks seriously, but she evidently did. She honestly believed I basically killed her that day when I took her out walking.

According to my mother, she never stopped sweating a single day after that adventure at Old World Wisconsin, and I was one hundred percent to blame for her permanent malady.

She, of course, lived in Wisconsin, where temperatures got below freezing in winter, yet she would call me up in Phoenix to complain to me that she was sweating.

I’d have to ask her, “Mom, what temperature do you have the heater on?” but it didn’t matter because I never heard the end of it. For the rest of her life, she would start a sentence with, “Ever since Old World Wisconsin, my body has never been the same,” which would then segue into her complaining about everything else that was going wrong with her health. Aagh.

I would just have to listen to her because there was nothing I could say to make her feel differently. In fact, everybody would have to listen to her because she would tell everybody about this Old World Wisconsin day, and I don’t think that anybody knew what the hell she was talking about.

Only I did, and I would argue about it with her in front of everyone. It must have seemed like the most cryptic conversation of all time to anyone who was actually paying any attention.

Eventually, I just stopped arguing about it with her and the Old World Wisconsin Day became my personal equivalent of giving her a stroke. I finally knew what it felt like to be her talking with my dad.

So, what’s my insight into all of this?

I thought that I used to know. I used to think that parents have a responsibility to take care of themselves so they can be there for their children. Parents should not smoke, eat high-cholesterol foods, or live a sedentary lifestyle. They should age gracefully and not be a burden on their kids.

When I was 15, I was so mad at my dad. How could he have let that stroke happen to him?

When I was 16, I got so angry with my mom because she struggled with life without my dad around, and she took her anger out on us kids. When I was 18, I wanted to get as far away from Wisconsin as I possibly could and let those two live the lives that they made for themselves. I thought I had seen it all by the time I was 18, and the goal for the rest of my life was not to look at anything.

Yet, in my twenties, I started to feel somewhat sorry for both of them and guilty I wasn’t near them to at least check in more frequently. In my thirties, I was a little tired of the “routine,” which still consisted of my visiting once a year and doing the nursing home thing, and listening to my mom incessantly complain about everything, starting with the Old World Wisconsin bit.

Now in my forties, I understand that everything is just life, plain and simple.

Life is life, and there is no right or wrong way about it.

People live their lives however they do. It is not like anyone really plans for anything, really.

I have a super healthy friend that got breast cancer at 35.

Life doesn’t play by any set of rules. One should not hold anyone to any expectations.

So, should my dad have smoked? He wanted to, and he seemed to enjoy it. I guess the topic ends right there. It was his life. Nobody is perfect.

Yes, we all have a duty to our bodies, but it doesn’t mean we all do right by our bodies because there is that whole “life” scenario that needs to be taken into account.

Life has a way of leading one astray by all the shiny things that get thrown at it.

For some, it’s cigarettes. For others, it’s drinking. For others, it’s just that the couch is so comfortable.

When I was 16, I didn’t take “life” into account. I hadn’t lived one yet, so how was I supposed to know?

The older one gets, one comes to realize that making the right choices all the time isn’t such an easy thing.

It is important not to be so quick to judge others on the life choices one makes.

Each of us has our own lives to potentially mess up, so I have learned to reserve my judgment for myself.

My newest quasi-travel memoir Time Traveled is available as e-book or paperback! Buy it either at Amazon or at most major retailers.

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