Mama said there’d be days like this…

20 04 2015

There are times that I really think that I’m getting agoraphobic…or truth be told I’m just a lazy caregiver.  I’m now living the reality that was my standard advice for new moms,     “If your teeth get brushed before noon – it’s a good day.”  Or I am suffering from Stockholm Syndrome – Ggma doesn’t complain any more if she’s in her pjs all day – why should I be any different?

A friend’s darling daughter included my name on the list of well-wishers for a surprise 60th birthday party for her mom.  We were high school friends that had reconnected after decades of radio silence. Panic set in immediately. I rarely go public.  At least, this kind of public.  My kind of public is my ghetto grocery store where they only know me with my unruly witch worthy mane yanked up on the top of my head.  I pulled off a miraculous appointment at a “shi shi la la” (Best Boy vocabulary) salon where I’m sure they thought I was a homeless woman who’d found a gracious patron to invest in a make-over.  The salon girls kept looking for the hidden cameras to pop out for the before/after money shots for a human interest story to be aired on local news at noon. Sorry girls. No cameras.  It was just me trying to get my act together in one small way. That at least made me feel like I’d be somewhat presentable for this crowd of sophisticated strangers.

My real insecurities go back to high school with this group.  In 7th grade, we’d moved from a very URBAN Gary IN to a very SUBURBAN Valparaiso.  Billy was blue collar – I mean really blue collar since his work shirt was blue.  Their dads were suits: school administrators and factory, restaurant and radio station owners.  Ggma worked for ten years as an administrative assistant to a foreman in one of those factories.  Another friend’s dad gave me my first of many restaurant kitchen jobs.

The appointed time to head out to the party had come and Ggma was all set up for me to be gone two hours.  She had my phone number plopped on her lap, though not actually sure she would have known the difference between the TV remote or the phone but she had the number and was very glad that I had friends who wanted to see me.

I entered the packed house, ducked my head and headed to the back of the room to await the moment of the surprise and find the one or two other familiar faces I knew would be there.  Someone yelled my name and I was embraced by birthday girl’s older sister who I’d not laid eyes on since 1971 or so. There were a few more of those reunions before the bday girl arrived. Surprising connections, things in common I never would have imagined, and memories long forgotten – were the things tucked in my pocket when it was time to head back to Ggma.

That sneak away refreshed me in whole bunches of ways.  It forced a much needed hair cut for one. Now two days later I’m at the end of what has been just another challenging Ggma day.

“Does she have a Mom?”  I had just disconnected from a FaceTime chat with Shop Girl, Donny Diva and Littles that Ggma had enjoyed.  “What?  Who?  Shop Girl?  Yes – ME!”  That pesky family tree thing again.  “I guess I never knew that, ” her voice trailed off in confusion.

IMG_4042Again, I’m in a room and wondering

if anyone will remember who

I am…

 

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Somethin’ to smile about…

31 10 2011

The house is silent save for the sounds of the dog as she re-positions her weary old bones on her bed.  There is nothing I have to do today – at least until sundown.  A bowl of candy perched by the front door, not as full as it once was, stands ready.  I know what day it is -it’s Halloween.  AKA : my Dad’s birthday and the birthday of a few other friends of mine.

My very evangelical, protestant upbringing doesn’t bode well for what I’m feeling today but I’m not about to entertain any kind of discussion about the matter so kindly keep dissenting comments to yourself – thank you very much.  The day in August (3 years ago) that Billy’s soul passed through the roof of that hospice facility doesn’t do much for me.  I have to stop and think about what date that actually happened.  In contrast, on the day he was ushered into the world some 89 years ago today– I am surrounded by his presence.

Maybe since the house is so quiet and I have no one to attend to – nothing pressing to do except clean up a half dozen shows stored on my dvr – maybe that is why I’ve been surprised by tears today.  Then I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing out my coffee cup and looked up, only to be met again by his gaze as it stared back at me via that silly cat.

There was no such thing as “take your daughter to work” back in the 50’s and early ’60s but I know of at least a time or two that I was inside theNipsco building in downtown Gary.  I remember a central staircase that was very ornate that stretched up through the center, floor after floor , like the spine keeping the building erect.  Somewhere on the first floor, toward the back of the building was an open space where it seemed to me that our basement was replicated.  Work benches piled with tools – the space smelling of grease and hot metal.  Over his “bench” was hung this little photo of “Smile! Kitty.”  There was great irony in that since I remember him to be distinctly vocal about his dislike of cats.  Nonetheless, it seemed that his whole life long was driven by that juxtaposition – something he disliked reminding him of something that he should do – and eventually something that would become a hallmark of his life.

Joy.  Laughter.  Joker.  An avid whistler.  Friendly.  Outgoing to strangers.  Generally a very pleasant guy to be around regardless of the circumstances.  Cool under pressure.  Not prone to lose his temper except when watching a Cubs game.

It is fitting that Jack-o-lanterns sport silly grins as he did most of his life.  Happy Birthday, Billy!  We miss you more than words can express but we know what to do to really honor you – we’ll smile instead.

p.s.  Picked the King of Pop to honor our ‘hood.  Here’s to Gary / Westside!!





counting candles

16 01 2010

Oh this wasn’t just any birthday celebration…no, this one was special.  There was something quite different about this one as compared to the one a year ago. My  83 year old mother got her driver’s license renewed.

Months ago the State of Indiana was kind enough to send out two separate letters reminding us of the need to renew her license.  They sent TWO (count them – TWO) letters outlining the multiple documents we needed to present so that she could get the new SecureID  – “to ensure that you can use your driver’s license to board commercial airplanes and enter certain federal buildings.” Now there’s something new for 2010.

We had to have an original certified copy of her birth certificate.  Fortunately for me, she’d gotten a copy of that back in 1984 when she got the other “SecureID” called a passport when she and Billy crossed the pond to come visit us in Spain.  In this last couple of years of practicing my new hobby of document gathering, it had been filed in a folder with a tab that said “Birth Certificates.”  Imagine my surprise when I found the REAL deal right there for me to use!

We also needed to have a social security card (NO idea where her original is of that), a W-2, tax form, an SSA-1099 form, or a pay stub showing name and Social Security number.  And to prove “residency” we needed two statements issued within 60 days from a utility company, bank, credit card company, doctor or hospital, federal or state agency showing her name and residence.

So the afternoon before her birthday with a wad of documents in hand, we made the trek to the BMV.  It was late in the day so there wasn’t much of a line – save a handful of teens with parents in tow – so we didn’t wait long before our number was called.  The clerk began asking for the docs in a certain order…the birth certificate – check…

Next she wanted the marriage license…”Excuse me, what?”  “The marriage license to prove the name change from her birth certificate to the present…” “OH DEAR GOD.  ARE YOU SERIOUS?”  The ONE STUPID DOCUMENT I HAD FAILED TO INCLUDE!!!  I should have known better by now…after all, my book, The Boomer’s Guide to Dying is about to break into the New York Times Bestseller List.  I could have bloodied my toes kicking myself for being so stupid as to not put the entire fireproof filing system in the car before we left the house.  Never, never, never again…

I get it.  It was my fault.  I needed to connect the dots for the state.  After all, she’s only had a driver’s license in this state since Heck was a pup (click here to figure out where this saying came from) and now we need to start verifying she is who she’s been pretending to be since she moved here at the age of 16 or so?  We can’t connect the government dots that this person has held a valid passport in the past – our most vetted document?  Wait – what is this for?  This makes it secure for us to get on airplanes and to get into government buildings?  Hummmm….will that really make a difference?

Anyway – then and there, I opted for the straight up license renewal.  We will give the state another $11 at a later date and be able to sleep more soundly knowing that SHE has a SecureID in her possession.

Adding to the excitement of that outing, we tacked on two doctors appointments the next day and put a bow on yet another year by getting a store bought cake topped off with twenty little polka dot candles to mark her milestone.

As she was on her way to bed after the cake and ice cream dessert we had, she poked her head into the TV room and thanked me for making it easy.  She would have been overwhelmed with 83 candles she said.  Twenty was just enough to remember it was her birthday.

I go back and forth with this stuff – personally I wouldn’t be offended at all if my kids never lit the candles on a cake and stuck it in front of my face.  But for her, at least it is a way to mark a special day in the year – a date she doesn’t have to think much about…she doesn’t hesitate a lick when you ask her when she was born – month, date, and year.  And maybe a day made a little less lonely – after all, since the day after she turned 21, she had Billy by her side up until two years ago. She reflected a bit on that too…and was glad to have had those long years with him walking beside her.

What’s it like  when suddenly you don’t really have a wedding anniversary any more?

Anyway, back to where we started…we have three more years till this new driver’s license expires.  I wonder how many more documents it will take to renew the document.  I wonder if the State of Indiana will ask itself if it is wise or safe for her to be driving.  I wonder if we’ll still be able to use those SecureID’s for anything at all.  But if she’s around – there’s no doubt that we’ll be having more chocolate cake and ice cream.  Maybe I’ll do 40 candles for dramatic effect.





christmas cookies

19 12 2009

The Mrs. was a working girl.  When I was in elementary school she went back to working full time and continued to do so until after she and Billy had put three kids through college and I was married.  Elaborately decorated Christmas cookies were never her style but she’d find time to bake between doing laundry and housekeeping on those weeks leading up to the Holidays.  Mexican wedding cakes, pecan tarts and peanut butter blossoms to name a few would be around the house for snacking and sharing.

This year it was just before Thanksgiving that she started to make noises about getting the ingredients for the peanut butter blossoms – those ones with the chocolate Hershey’s kiss on top.  It used to be Billy’s job to unwrap the candy as she prepared the dough. It goes without saying that lots has changed since those days.

There was a profound bewilderment in her eyes as she said, “I just get all screwed up…I don’t know what’s wrong with my memory.”  She wonders out loud about why a simple recipe that she’s done so many times before with such success seems so overwhelming to her now.  I talk about the realities of aging (I chose to not use the D word – dementia) and motor planning.  I’ve been witness to hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy working as an interpreter at a rehab hospital and with wonder been a casual observer of the fragile nature of our gray matter.  Sometimes I’d get to see the lights come back on and other times – the lights were out for good.

She insisted that she’d made the peanut butter cookies and another batch. “You know those ones with the cereal and the melted marshmallows?” I got excited thinking that I’d be soon snacking on rice crispy treats while I balanced her check book, filed bills and spent time on the phone taking Billy’s name off all the utilities and switch over the auto-pay billing to a new checking account we had to open in her name alone.

But she couldn’t remember where she had put them.  I defaulted to what I had told the Fabulous Mrs. T not long ago. “There is always a thread…there is always some logic behind the twisted thinking.”  A few months ago our dear family friend had stopped by for a cup of coffee with the Mrs. and as soon as she got home to her computer – she quickly pounded out an email to me concerned about the confusion in the Mrs. mind about when Billy had passed away, etc.  I could easily explain all the faulty thinking probably because I am a lunatic myself at this point and it all makes perfect sense.  Some call it denial – I call it coping.

Back to the missing cookies – as if I am a a principal actor on CSI, I try to uncover the truth.  She had gone to the store to gather ingredients – the receipt I found proved that she’d found the baking aisle and brought home brown sugar, powdered sugar (enough to make cookies from now until next Christmas) and a box of puffed wheat cereal.  She explained that she’d not been able to find the one that was specifically listed and figured if she just got one of the same brand (Post) then it would all be the same.

I had a hunch…I went to the front closet and there sat a pan of “cookies”.  See, that closet is cold and not insulated and if the recipe says to “store in a cool place”…then why wouldn’t she put the cookies there?  And once I got a look at the pan, there was even more clarity.

There is a fine physics involved in baking.  Baking powder and baking soda can’t be substituted one for the other.  Rice crispy cereal can’t be substituted with a puffed wheat cereal – or at least not without a very distinct result.  I gently reminded her that a Ford Fiesta is not the same as a Ford F-150 truck…but when she doesn’t really understand or comprehend she gets this look on her face and nods with a half smile like you do agreeing with a two-year old about some preposterous statement they’ve just made. To her it was all the same.  And in a way, it’s all the same to me too.

She just wanted to make some cookies for the Holidays.  I learned a valuable lesson.  I need to hear her words…listen to the intent behind them.  I need to stop my busy life and with grace – as much as is humanly possible –  just help her do those things that give her some sense of fulfillment.  I could have avoided this whole mess if I would have taken the time to be with her while she made those cookies she felt she needed to have in the house.  But I live on a teeter-tooter full of tensions…struggling to keep my balance between the things I want to do, should do, have to do and those that are my responsibility to do. Always straddling the center – never really in one world or the other – always somewhere in the middle.

I feel her slipping away – tired of things that once made her excited.  Maybe it is happening to me too – I haven’t decorated for the last three Christmases and if I stop to review I find the thread that I told the Fab Mrs. T about…this time of the year has become sad to me.  One year it was a Dec. 17th pink slip for the Dr., another was a Christmas morning visit with Billy that I called 911 when he couldn’t get out of his chair – (the paramedics were sure it was nothing but I stood there watching him have a TIA), another was spent in the hospital with Best Boy having his gut re-opened.

There will be new memories soon enough when Donny Diva is up and running around and I’ll be that Momo that decorates and bakes. I’ll get it back.  Right now I’m stretched…doing it for the Mrs. makes me not want to do the same here and have two messes to clean in January.  Mine own is mess enough any time of the year.

So here’s a big head’s up to Sister Sib and Nascar Guy about the cookies awaiting them.  Enjoy them with big smiles on your faces next weekend as you sit with her around the tiny little pitiful tree sparkling away in her TV room.  Know they were made with lots of love.  And please let me know if you find the peanut butter blossoms she supposedly made.





cellar door

9 11 2009

clrdr

Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Cellar door.

How apropo that  J.R.R. Tolken was the first to draw our attention to the beauty of those two words and how they sound (phonaesthetics).  If he were still alive today, I’d beg him to invent a new word or two in those wonderful fantasy languages he created that combined good phonaesthetics and functionality.

Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Grandma.  Granny.  It’s the G-R combo that gets me.  My skin doesn’t even crawl as much hearing abuelita.

I am not reacting to the idea – just the sound.  It grates on me.  I fully embrace and am proud of my gray hair and the age it represents. What’s not to love about having enough experience to handle whatever an 8 lb. wonder can throw at me?  I can easily tuck him under my arm and still make lunch.  Changing diapers, regardless of how frightening they may seem…I’ve seen it ALL.  But the name thing?  In our family all the best ones are already taken…these roll easily off the tongue.  Yaya.  Nana.

Shop Girl and I have deliberated long and hard behind closed doors over this one.  It has to sound right.  It has to feel right.  If the Kid could call me Cellar Door – I’d let him.  Fact is, he can’t call me anything at this point.  But we are going with Momo.

It just so happens that one of Shop Girl’s favorite books by Michael Ende is Momo.  Widely read by school children in Europe (wanna get me started again on another rant??), it seems be scarce in these parts.  Maybe that is all part of it too.  There are hundreds of variations and nicknames for my new role…but how many Momo’s do you know?

p.s.  The photo is as close as I could come today for the theme.  Truth is, it’s the door to a lighthouse in Sagres, Portugal (if I remember correctly)…but we can all imagine that somewhere in the world – there might be a cellar door with such a great looking latch, right?





zombie walk

31 10 2009

1031zpk

“Did you take your antibiotic this morning?”

-“What antibiotic?”

“Those ones that the pharmacy delivered yesterday?  You took two right when they came, then you have to take one a day for the next few days?  It’s called a Z-Pack?”

-“Well that doesn’t make any sense…there is only one left in the box. I can’t find them anywhere around here.  Is it the Tussin DM stuff?”

That phone conversation was yesterday morning.

Cue flashback…

We talked on Tuesday and all sounded well.  I forgot to call on Wednesday and by the time I remembered, she would have been in bed.  When she called me on Thursday to say she was back from the nail salon (something I won’t be doing when I’m almost 83 but then again you knew that…) she sounded absolutely awful.

At least twice a year for the last – oh say, twenty years or so – she gets a nasty bout of bronchitis spring and fall – about the time we have to change our clocks.  I called her doctor to see how we could handle this with me still here in the North on Donny Diva watch and the Mrs. 150 miles away hacking up a storm.

They decided to start her on a round of Zithromax and Tussin DM for the cough.  Standard procedure.  I’ve done the same cocktail myself many times.  I thought I was being soooo clever and had them call the Rx into a pharmacy down the road that delivers.  I get on the phone, talk to the tech, give her my credit card…no hassle…it will be delivered in an hour or so to the Mrs.’ house.  I am feeling oh-so-smug and smarty-pants to boot taking care of business from afar.

Another phone call after a couple of hours to confirm the delivery and all is well.  The nurse from her Dr.’s office had called and explained the dosage to the Mrs. who wrote it all down.  “Take two tablets on the first day and then one a day for tablets 2 through 5…then 1 teaspoon of Tussin every 6 hours.”  What’s not to love about that system?

Cue B-roll footage of elderly woman doing the zombie walk …

So where could those pills have disappeared to?  There was only one way to do this.  It was only fitting that I had a two hour drive in pouring rain and gale force winds again.  At least it wasn’t 2 feet of snow.  There was alot to be thankful for really.

Sure enough when I got there I found the box empty – save the one last blister packed pill marked “DAY 5”.  I checked her regular pill stash to see if she had changed her mind about putting that daily dose in with her regular pills so she didn’t have to worry about it.  “No – that’s not necessary,” she had responded when we were doing this over the phone, “I have it all written out.”  I’m kicking myself for not having insisted she do it MY way.

I checked the garbage and sure enough there were FIVE empty blister packs to prove that she had taken what was intended to be FOUR DAYS WORTH OF DOSAGE IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS!  “Oh that cough medicine really makes me loosey goosey if you know what I mean,” she giggled and disappeared into the bathroom as I grabbed my phone to speed dial the doctor’s office.  That explained it.  She had been taking the pills thinking they were the Tussin which barely had a teaspoon gone out of the bottle.

“Oh MY!…Can I put you on hold while I check with the Dr.?,” the nurse whispered.   When she came back on line, she explained that I was to start some Kaopectate and if it didn’t work, try Imodium.  No more antibiotics till Sunday. (There is only one pill left anyway!)  Since they were only 250mg and time released at that – we were barely at a megadose like the kind you can get in the hospital.  But the trots could certainly be a side effect.  I went for broke at this point and did the dose of Imodium.  How much could that hurt after all the “candy” she’d had?

I grabbed the fattest marker I could and started making signs…BIG PRINTING EXPLAINING THAT SHE HAD TO TAKE ONE TEASPOON OF COUGH MEDICINE AT 8 a.m. / 2 p.m. / 8 p.m., etc. etc.

Adding insult to injury – I remember that Saturday night we set the clocks back.  I didn’t want her up on step ladders changing her kitchen clock so I decided to do it early.  I’m so screwed at this point – what difference can it make that she’ll think it is an hour earlier than it really is all day Saturday?

What really has her concerned is how to pass out candy on Billy’s birthday without contaminating all the kids – then I remember…this day was a highlight of their year.  He always made it so fun.  He could have been selfish about his birthday but it was always about everyone else. It was as if he had invited the whole world to his party.   He never pouted that his day was “eclipsed” with so much hubbub.

“I don’t suppose Billy has much sense of what day it is in heaven, do you?”

“No I don’t suppose.”

That quiet little exchange before I took off like a bat out of hell headed back North, haunted me the rest of the way home.  It’s all a little sad to be alone and sick on such a special day. If I had to pick a costume for today, it would a floppy, straw-stuffed scarecrow…the kind that I could leave little bits of myself in each space I’m trying to fill.





banana fana fo fana

28 10 2009

bngbsh

Have you noticed that when you want to buy a certain kind of car suddenly all you see on the road is that particular model?  It is like our eyes are suddenly opened to something that was there all along but we weren’t noticing.  Thus, the burning bush.

Either this is a spectacularly good year for burning bushes or I am just seeing them for the first time in my life.  Because our front yard is still a mud pit begging for landscaping and I want at least one of those puppies planted in a certain spot, it seems every neighbor has them.  Last week we finally got the concrete work done on the front walk (city) along with the stairs that lead to our porch.  That had to happen before any of the landscaping could go in but I think we’re in trouble with timing now before the white stuff starts to fly. Then there is the little issue of money to pay for said beautification. I’m thinking that snow tires for my Fast would be a better investment given my weekly road trips to the Mrs.’ place.

Noticing all the burning bushes this fall got me thinking about the real burning bush where Moshe asked, “What kind of a God are you?” and got the answer, “I will be what I will be”.  Right…like THAT makes sense?!?  God introduces himself to Moshe with a verb…”to be”.  He is to be defined by what He does, how He acts, how He reacts, what actions He causes…not solely by what He’s called or what people imagine him to be.  His character lines up with his name.

It isn’t too often in English that we are aware of what people’s names actually mean.  Over the years I have made a point to remind my two spawn that their names have meanings that can and should bear some significance in their lives.  There should be some connect.

In our dining room there is a little plaque that reads It is what it is. I consider that the name for my house.  No pretense.  A place that I have noticed over the years people describe NOT in terms of its decor, color scheme or great furniture (seriously lacking on all counts)…but a place where that they instantly know it’s ok to curl their feet up on the couch and cover themselves with one of the many ratty old missionary closet quilts we have around.  I’d rather it be a place of refuge than refinement.

So exactly WHERE am I going with all of this?  I know Donny Diva’s real name.  He is NOT going to conform in any way, shape or form to our plans for what or when we think his birthday should be.

Therefore, on the 8th day past the second (and now obviously the correct) due date, the plans are as follows.  At 10:30 a.m. Shop Girl will be sitting at a salon getting her bangs cut.  At 2 p.m. I will take her YET AGAIN to the midwife’s office for another non-stress test and other fun I won’t mention here but now you know what I mean.  As soon as we can get out of there, we are going to meet up with some friends from LA that are on tour and will be in town playing a show.

At 8 p.m. one very preggers Shop Girl, Book Boy and myself will be blasting our eardrums out at a concert where back stage she will certainly set a different vibe than usual in the green room with her rocker friends. Some of these tour dogs backed her up when she played shows in LA.  They were her LA family.  Freshly made Spanish tortillas will be their post-show snack as they head to the next stop in PA…a tasty, homemade treat.

Donny Diva’s little ears first started hearing while Shop Girl was in the studio working on her album in June.  The kid digs sound boards, musicians, loud drums and studio monitors that could blast him into outer space.  Tomorrow night – we will comply and do our dead level best to give him an ambiance that he feels comfortable in.  “Can I get more dBs on the bass through the subwoofer please?”

If that doesn’t work – the weather man predicts thunderstorms late.  What more can we do?