Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's next? A honeymoon reality show?

On 96.3FM, I heard them say, "Have your honeymoon at TV Village in Las Vegas."

They really said, "Have your honeymoon at Tahiti Village--"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bird at the Beach

Last week, Phil and I each spent half the week at the beach with our daughter, son-in-law, and 5-year-old grandson. I went from Saturday until Tuesday, while Phil stayed home with Mom, and then we switched.

One evening, at the picnic tables outside the Dairy Queen in Lewes, DE., they met up with a biker wearing a blue-and-yellow macaw on his shoulder, just like a pirate. Our grandson was thrilled. Our son-in-law asked, "Does she wear a helmet too?"

The biker, who was feeding the parrot sips of his "Blizzard" with a straw, replied, "If you can get her to wear a helmet, I'll shake your hand." He said his parrot rides with him to motorcycle rallies, perched on the handlebar behind the windscreen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Endless War

I heard him say, "It doesn't take an Iraqi scientist to figure out that Bush got back to Maliki about his comment on Obama's plan to get out of Iraq."

What he actually said was, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist . . . ."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sister Love

I was touched by my sister's offer to fly in from Chicago to stay with Mom for an extended weekend. Barbara never really knew Mom. My sister and I grew up in different homes. Our parents divorced when I was 6 and she was 4. I lived with our dad's parents (Grammy and Grampy) until Papa married Mom when I was 10. Barbara moved to Florida with Mother and her new husband. They had three daughters, half-sisters to Barbara and me.

During Barbara's occasional visits when we were kids, Mom was cool and distant. She made no attempt to hide her dislike of Mother and Grandmother. She disapproved of Mother for "having all those kids." All Barbara knows is that Mom has become demanding, demented, and cantankerous. She knows that I am overwhelmed and she has offered to come. If this isn't love, I don't know what is.

I won't take her up on her offer at this time. I've already made arrangements for the other Barbara, Mom's former neighbor, to return in early September so that Phil and I can get away. But there may come a time when I will take my sister up on her offer.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Day Is It?

Yesterday around 11 AM, the screechy little-girl voice summoned me from the computer room.

Mom was wearing her "not-getting-my-due" face.
"Where have you been? Why didn't you get me up me this morning?"

"Why should I have gotten you up?"

"We have hair appointments today at one o' clock!"

"No, we don't, Mom. That's next Friday."


Around 4:45 PM, the screechy little-girl voice sounded again. This time she handed me her TV remote.

"It's almost time for Charles Stanley."

"I don't think so, Mom."

"Yes, it is. He comes on at five o' clock."

"But his program is on Saturday. Today is Friday."

"Oh, that's right."

I think I had something akin to a "nervous breakdown" this month. Mom was driving me nuts and I was yelling at her too much. I could tell that she was worried about me. Heck, I was worried about me. Yelling at her is elder abuse, pure and simple. There's no excuse for it, except that I was overtired, worried about leaving her alone, angry at her blindness to my needs and frustrated by her resistance to hiring outside help.

We have a dear friend who is 10 or 15 years younger than my husband and me. He worked with Phil until he was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. For years, as the only child of an ancient, reclusive mother, he dutifully flew to Alabama to spend holidays and vacations with her. Later, when the Interstate took their family home, she moved into the new house they bought together up here. When I'd ask him how she was doing, he would cheerfully say, "Almost time to call Dr. Kervorkian."

"David!" I would chide, but he would be grinning at the rise he had managed to get out of me.

I'd ask him what she did all day while he was at work. "Watches TV."

I knew he'd never watched TV when he lived alone, so I asked, "So you got cable?"

"Naaah. Why? There's nobody at home up there."


I'd ask him if he had hired a companion for her.

"Naaah. Why? She doesn't want one. She's either watching TV or taking a nap."

"But what if she falls and breaks her hip?"

"Old ladies fall. If she falls, she falls."

She never fell, but bronchitis finally took her away. Some months later, he became fatally ill himself. That's life for you.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Losing It Again and Again

Last night I went to sleep at 10 PM and woke at midnight. I knew it was hopeless, so I got up.

I realize I am losing it with Mom. I thought that hiring a visiting caregiver was the answer. Yesterday, the caregiver came for her initial visit. After watching Mom struggling to understand the aide's heavily accented English, I began to doubt that this caregiver was the right match for a hard-of-hearing old lady. I'll call today and cancel next week's trial visits.

The woman who used to stay overnight when we went away on long weekends still visits once a week just to chat with Mom. She brings ice cream and listens. I pay her $20 per visit. Maybe that's all we need for now. That, plus two or three phones calls a day from me to Mom when I'm down in College Park taking care of my grandson. I always hate to call, because Mom tends to drift into meandering discussions about what the cat had for breakfast. But if I have to do it to get peace of mind, I'll do it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The caregiver arrived today.

"How much?" demanded Mom, as soon as Binta was introduced. She couldn't believe $18.00 per hour for a minimum of four hours per day. "I'm certainly NOT going to pay THAT!"

I said I would pay, because the help was really for me. I get anxious on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I'm at my daughter's house all day, taking care of 4-month-old Nathaniel.

Mom said, "Well, then, that's your problem, not mine. If you're anxious, you should see a psychiatrist."

Mom held court during the caregiver's short visit. She told Binta how much I had been yelling lately. She mentioned that she was once a school teacher. She insisted she could take care of herself. When I suggested that Binta could help Mom change her sheets, because I've seen her struggle with the blanket and spread, she snapped, "I don't WANT help with that!"

The caregiver's accent may pose a problem. Binta's from Sierra Leone. At first, I thought she was saying she was from "C.U.O."

Mom agreed to a trial run: the caregiver will come on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons next week. She beamed farewell at the woman, then turned to me. "And I don't want to hear ANY moaning and groaning next Thursday night about how anxious you are."



I remember this expression from the summer I spent in Chicago, working at Beacon House, a settlement house on Ashland Avenue on Chicago's South Side. We were a group of middle-class, white kids, from the College of Wooster, who spent the summer of 1961 helping to run a recreation program for kids from the "Projects."

"Wuffindo?" was the way the kids said, "What are you fitting to do?"

I don't remember too much about the kids, except that they were cute. And hungry. When a suburban church invited a group of Beacon House kids to a picnic, I think all of us white folks were shocked at the ferocity with which the kids elbowed each other aside to attack the laid-out food. How were we to know that they were half-starved? "Diane," a teen-ager from "the projects" who had been hired as an aide, invited me home for dinner one night. She and her brother lived with their thin, worn-out grandmother. Dinner was Wonder Bread, Kool-Aid, and a large can of creamed corn.

Society had failed these kids. When a teen-age boy wrote "Duck" in signing out a basketball, I asked, "Which one of you is 'Duck?'" "That's me, 'Duke'!" boasted a tall, handsome lad.

Weekends we spent out in the safe, air-conditioned suburbs, away from the trouble and danger of the "long, hot summer." We were farmed out to Presbyterian families. I remember one lady who lived in a pastel house with a large collection of music boxes. My favorite was a flower pot in which bees buzzed furiously around the fake flowers to the tune of the Colonel Bogie March. Her son and husband didn't bother to change out of their greasy clothes for Sunday dinner. (They ran an auto shop.) When the lady brought foil-wrapped baked potatoes to her formally-set table, Son and Husband lobbed them gleefully at the guests.

At another home on another weekend, the hostess had every meal catered, including breakfast and lunch.

Why am I telling you this? Because I'm thankful I had a stepmother like Mom, difficult as things have been between us lately. She was the one who told my overprotective dad and grandparents that I needed go away for the summer. My dad was especially difficult to win over, because he wanted me to stay home to help care for Grampy, who was recovering from a stroke. But Mom went to bat for me and I went to Chicago.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Curtains for Mom

A few weeks ago, Mom asked, "Who were those people who came in and stole my drapes?"

"What drapes? You don't have drapes."

"Yes, I do. Those things on top of the windows."

"Oh, those are called 'toppers.'"

"Well, whatever they're called, somebody stole them."

"No one stole your toppers. Those are the same ones you always had. "

"No, these are different.'

"How are they different?"

'They're of much better quality than the ones they stole."

Friday, July 4, 2008


Today is Independence Day, a day for picnics and fireworks.

Next week we'll have more fireworks, without the picnic. Day by day, Mom's prized "independence" is slipping away. On July 10th, a professional caregiver will come to meet her. I'm hiring this person for four hours per day, two afternoons a week. I can't leave Mom alone for extended periods, yet I've got things I want and need to do, such as grocery shopping or helping out with our grandsons. During the past month, I've found myself waking up at 3 AM, unable to go back to sleep, and getting more irritable. Both are sure signs of burnout.

Whenever I've suggested hiring outside help, Mom's thrown a fit, angrily denying that she needs any help at all. She'll say, "Well, this helper can just sit out in YOUR living room. She's NOT coming in here! I don't need any help." Last week, after a particularly trying day, I said, meanly, "Mom, if we keep on like this, you'll have to move into a home." (She's threatened to move out more than once. "I should never have left Meadville," she'll lament.)

Icily: "WHY would I move into a home?"

"Because I can't take care of you anymore."

"But you DON'T take care of me. What do you ever do for me? I take care of myself."

Yesterday, I took her to see Debbie, her nurse practitioner. She had been campaigning to see Debbie for weeks because "I want to ask her why I have to take all these pills."

Debbie said, "What pills are you talking about? You certainly can't stop taking your heart pills."

"Yes, I know I need those."

"And you've been taking Valium since 1975. It wouldn't be good to stop now."

"Oh, I DEFINITELY need those for my nerves."

"For a woman of 99, you're not taking very many pills."

Then Mom zeroed in on the real issue.

"I don't want Cynthia doling out my pills to me. I can manage them myself."

Debbie looked at me. I shook my head. I had started dispensing her pills last November, when her mind got foggy from a bad cold. She'd take a pill, then reach for another five minutes later. I'd find pills on the carpet, in the kitty litter, scattered around on her bedside table.

Debbie said, "Let's just leave things as they are. This way, you'll never run out, because your daughter can call me before you need a refill."

Mom didn't like this reply, but she couldn't think of anything to say.

Mom looks good on paper. If she tried to claim benefits under her long-term-care insurance policy, she'd probably be denied. To qualify, she'd require help with the "tasks of daily living," such as dressing, bathing, and feeding yourself. She does all these things pretty well. Today is one of her "good days." She exudes competence, doing a load of laundry and defrosting her mini-refrigerator But it's a pseudo-competence. She had to ask me once again how to turn on the washer. It'll be the same with the dryer. She propped open the door to defrost her refrigerator, but left the motor running.

I'm afraid of this 93-pound woman, this former school teacher. I'm scared to tell her who's coming next Thursday.