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…

 

Advertisements




gone fishin’

26 06 2010

I never knew Billy as much of an outdoorsman in the hunting and fishing sort of way but by the looks of this picture – he was either channeling Tom Sawyer and Huck Fin or he enjoyed some time on a bank somewhere.  The Dr. took off earlier this week with some friends for a few days of some male bonding (chest pumping optional) in Wyoming that could have been the setting for A River Runs Through It or Legends of the Fall.  Early next week when the friends head home, he’ll stay behind and be joined by his brothers and dad.  They’ve never done this sort of thing and the opportunity was just too good to pass up.

Meanwhile, here I am.  I always have an imaginary list in my head of all the things I think I can accomplish with him gone.  It’s not that he’s all that much trouble when he is here – it’s just that he needs to eat a few times a day which means if I’m honest –  he’ll fix himself.  He’s become very self-reliant in these days of working from home and never quite sure when my schedule with the Mrs. will have me out-of-town for hours or overnight.  But there is still something that happens when I have the house to myself.

I dream of boundless energy and crews of invisible, off camera  helpers like those TV make-over shows that get done in 30 minutes some how???  Imagine me…no interruptions, moving around efficiently and swiftly, making as much noise as I want and staying up all night tackling project after project.

My list looks like this:

  1. I could paint the bathroom
  2. I could paint the living room
  3. I could strip the 70’s wall paper off the kitchen walls
  4. I could tear down the acoustical ceiling from hell that is also in the kitchen.
  5. I could get every picture album, CD, raw film footage tapes, and any other kind of media that floats around here…organized and in one place.
  6. I could do more of the great work I started in the basement back in February but stopped when there was enough room for the workman to install the  glass block windows
  7. I could clean out 4 bedroom closets
  8. I could re-organize and clean the kitchen cabinets
  9. I could work on the 100-year-old plus double hung windows that don’t work because someone cut the sash cords
  10. I could finish stripping the old linoleum tile off the kitchen floor (a job that has been in process for years and I can ignore until we have company then I die of embarrassment when I see the look on their faces.)

Let’s face it – I have options.  That list could easily double if I wanted to type more.  Time will tell if anything gets done or not.

One of the first things I knew I needed to do was to decide when to go down to the Mrs.’ place.  When I called her the evening that the Dr. left, I was just about to open my mouth and tell her that the Weather channel would surely be talking about the earthquake felt here in MI and the impending tornados headed her way.  Before I could get any of that out of my mouth, she apologetically whimpered, “I hate to trouble you…but I seem to have messed up the TV and I can’t get it to turn on.”   Right then and there I decided that no news was good news – she’d NOT hear about the trembler and she’d slept through the storm warnings a half a dozen other times this season – so what the heck…we’d play the Toto Lotto. So yesterday, my first day of Bliss Week, I went down to the Mrs.’ place – 1 week and 1 day after hooking up the new Comcast digital box.  I wondered just how long it would take before the remote got so screwed up that her TV wouldn’t work.  I may have found her Christmas gift already.  Check it out.

I really am happy that the Dr. has been unchained from his computer screen and gets to breathe real fresh air and enjoy being surrounded by nature these days.  It will refresh his soul.

And I know it would do my soul a world of good to get a bunch of things crossed off that nagging list.  With the fresh motivation that Best Boy and Mimi are headed to town next week – I might just get them all done…that, or I’ll be watching all five seasons of Six Feet Under.  After all, I am also the General Contractor / Supervisor on two projects that will be continuing next week – the painting of the house trim and the landscapers start their three day make-over.  Would you care to place any bets about my making it off the couch?  It would be my version of “Gone Fishin'”.  Oh wait, I can’t fly fish right now coz…





“H” is for homophone

25 04 2010

Homophone – words that sound like one another but have different meanings, like flour and flower or mamama and Mom and MoMo and Nana.

I am in an odd vortex these days, trying to multi-task and float between three very different worlds at any given moment.  I will gladly screech to a halt to watch Donny Diva’s daily challenge of learning new skills and discovering the things that he can do.

Then there are those times like a few weeks ago, when the Mrs. wanted to attend the joyous occasion of one of her widowed niece’s finding new love in an old college friend.  The weekend was long.  It started with an extended appointment at the hair dresser’s for a perm and manicure.  The following day, I fetched her so that she could sneak in a quick visit with Donny Diva before spending the night here.  Before 8 a.m. the following morning, we were on our way across the state.  Brunch before the ceremony, the ceremony followed by a cake reception, all topped off by a family dinner at a restaurant another half hour’s drive away, kept us moving through the day.  By 6 p.m., all the fun was over and we were headed back to her place – another three hours away.  Once I got her gladly settled back in her own space, I drove another 2 1/2 hours home to my own bed arriving in time to do nothing more than to fall headlong into its pillowy goodness.  The next day she gladly took my advice and didn’t go to church.  She was pretty much all tuckered out the rest of the week!

I could have easily told her it was all too far away and too far-fetched to attend the wedding.  I could also tell Donny Diva that he’s not up to sitting on his own yet and playing with blocks…he might fall over, he might hit himself in the eye while trying to co-ordinate both hands to clap two blocks together.   It might tire him out.

I had never spent any time thinking about how tricky this space is…trying to be a parent, grandparent, and parent to the grandparent all at once but here I am.  It is a season after all.  Just as quickly as Donny Diva moves on to the next exciting adventure (like crawling!) the Mrs. might not be up to any car rides for some reason.

So for now, “H” is for helping…helping them both find their way and face the challenges that their lives bring them each new day.

And “H” is also for heading out of Dodge.  I need a Best Boy and Mimi fix.  The other day Shop Girl said, “Mom, now I get it.  I get the bond between mother and son.” There was no way of her ever really understanding the things I couldn’t put into words until she started to experience them herself.  I am looking forward to the best “H” I know that will be all the Mother’s Day gift I could want…a Best Boy bear-hug.





The Social Butterfly

12 03 2010

Shop Girl and I took the “twins” on an outing the other day.  Well, they aren’t exactly twins – they are 992 months apart – but there are some remarkable similarities.  I kept getting wide-eyed looks from Shop Girl that made me laugh…looks that spoke volumes without even having to see her mouth form silent screams and “OMG!”s.

The brick path outlining the five-story tropical garden isn’t long but taking time to see all the gorgeous butterflies that were flitting around our heads was worth enduring the suffocating humidity and 80º microclimate.  Managing that space with a stroller and a senior was the real trip.  Reminders to “Watch where you’re going!” and what NOT to touch rang out as if Donny Diva was a two-year-old even though those comments weren’t directed to him.

One of my biggest struggles is dealing with the Mrs. outside of her normal environment.  If it is me, visiting her on her turf and just the two of us – that I can do.  Take her out of that, reacting to other people, in “normal” conversation, managing unfamiliar territory either geographically or emotionally, and I’m stretched.

I remember feeling this way with Best Boy and Shop Girl even though there are 18 months that separate them. In our own space, the normal routines of them playing together, sometimes fighting but generally being pleasant – I really liked them.  There were situations and certain friends where the chemistry between all the components sent the delicate balance into chaos.  They could be asked questions and I couldn’t control how they’d answer.  I didn’t know how they’d react – what they’d say that would embarrass me.  Over-stimulation of easily taxed brains had consequences long after the actual events were over.  I’d breathe a deep sigh of relief to be back in the surroundings that I could control.

That’s how I felt on my return trip after dropping the Mrs. off at her home last Monday afternoon.  A bridal shower and fortnightly Sunday clan gathering was WAY too much stimulation – too many conversations, too many food choices, too much fun…it was time for a nap.

Social gatherings in her company feel like mine fields to me.  I had to find another punch cup for a niece at the Saturday night soirée because the Mrs. was drinking from the cup on her snack tray AND the one my niece had placed beside her own chair on the floor.  We’d laugh if Donny Diva was doing that but it takes a bizarre twist with the older twin.  When asked to give a word of advice to the soon-to-be-bride, she started a tale that went back to when her mother died when she was only 14…then WWII was thrown in there somewhere and her brothers off to war- till I let it twist and turn just a bit more – and chimed in to get her back on track.  Some 36 hours later when we got out of the car at the butterfly exhibit, I noticed she was still wearing the Mardi Gras beads we’d used for a shower game…they were white and looked like pearls to her.

So what I am really dealing with here is both ends of childhood.  The first part is amusing, cute and entertaining.  The other end makes me feel embarrassed and I don’t like that.  I don’t want to be talking down to her – nagging her – always challenging her.  So as a parent of my very late in life child, I’m having to reach back to my own experience and remember that there is still a fragile ego inside of her.  I need to be as tender and patient with her as I am with Donny Diva.  I have to remember that this caregiving gig isn’t about my comfort – it’s about continuing to give her a quality life experience.

With the exception of regular church gatherings and doctor’s appointments, weddings and funerals are about the only other things that become red-letter days on her calendar any more.  So I will do my best till it is no longer practical or safe to be her driver/chaperone.  I feel a little like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy but the prejudice I battle is neither racial nor religious.  It is the prejudice I carry inside – the one that used to apply to kidlettes that we wanted seen NOT heard and the “inconvenience” of aging and all the unknowns in that future.

Just like that yearly exhibit that is here one day and seemingly gone the next…I need to keep the perspective that Spring only comes once a year.  I don’t know how many more weddings, funerals, births or birthdays are left on her calendar and the least I can do for her is to make it feel like there are lots of candy dishes to sample right up until the very end.





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.





slamming doors and behinds

26 11 2009

If only old houses could share with us the mistakes people have made over the years and save us some grief.  On my trip down to fetch the Mrs. I was listening to an NPR interview with Amy Dickinson of Ask Amy.  The subject matter was the gracious comeback using as an example the most recent blast from Martha Stewart toward Rachel Ray and Ray’s gracious response.  I’m not a fan of either one particularly but I was interested in the whole situation in light of gatherings that will happen around a stuffed bird today.

I know that I’m on high alert.  I’m tired.  I’m annoyed.  I’m stressed.  There will be off handed remarks – not intended to hurt but considering the fragile state of affairs – they could wound.  I will consider before I speak.

There will be families gathered all over the nation today.  Some that barely see each other save for special days.  Others who see each other too much for comfort.  There will be words, silent digs, people intentionally pushing “red buttons” and feelings getting hurt – old wounds opening again and again and again…and people wondering at the end of it all why it is that they put themselves in these positions year after year.

My hope for this Thanksgiving is that we allow each and every person around the tables where we will gather – to be themselves.  That we not try to change them, to judge them, to mold them into something we think is right.

We have maybe a 12 hour ordeal in front of us.  Twelve short hours out of our lives to be gracious, kind and loving.  I will do my best to weigh each word and response to the never ending questions that will come my way.  I will try to be a grown-up and put myself in someone else’s shoes and wonder how all this will look to me 30 years from now.





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.