Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yesterday I stopped with the kids to see my mother at the nursing home. Mom had been in bed for a nap. When I entered the wing, I didn't see any staff, and then an aide came out of a resident's room. This aide is someone my sister said, "I just don't feel right about her." I agree. One day I was in the day room, and a resident spit a mouthful of water on the floor. The aide walked over, looked at the mess, shrugged, and walked away. Because this was a slipping hazard, I asked, "Do you want me to stay here with the residents while you go get a towel to clean that up?"

"No, that's okay," she said, and walked away. I went to the director of nursing with my concern.

Yesterday, then, I was far from relieved to see that it was the same aide, obviously by herself. Which is like having no aide, in my opinion. The kids and I went into Mom's room to find her at the end of her bed, obviously agitated, and halfway out of bed, her feet on the floor. When you consider that Mom is not mobile anymore, it is pretty obvious that she had taken a while to get in that position, which means that no one had checked on her in a while. What, exactly, had the staff been doing instead of checking on my mother, who is at the far end of the hall. How hard is it to check on her every twenty to thirty minutes, especially if it is at the end of her nap time?:

I went back out and told the aide that Mom was halfway out of bed and agitated. She turned halfway away from me and rolled her eyes in obvious exasperation. I went out to the car and called my sister.

"You are remarkably calm," she said. "I would have been screaming."

After giving myself some time, I went back inside to talk to the nurse on duty, who signed an order to get Mom an alarm when she is in bed. I sat down with Mom, who was frustrated and non-verbal, shaking. I asked for an Ativan for her and then asked her if she was hungry. "No," she said at first. Then she said, "YES!" So I asked the nurse for something for mom to eat. I gave her a strawberry milkshake.

Then I went to the director of nursing. She didn't seem overly concerned, just saying that mom needed an alarm and verifying that an order was written.

So this morning, I called hospice and asked what I should do. They recommended that I talk to the administrator of the facility, and then they offered to send more volunteers to visit Mom, and of course to keep an eye on things.

The administrator listened carefully to what I said and took notes. She asked a few questions and said, "This will be taken care of RIGHT NOW." I frantically thought, "At least let me get out of the parking lot first."

I called my sister, who asked, "Is there a mushroom cloud coming from the facility?" She said, "I don't think I could be so calm." This surprised me, as she is the less volatile one. Then she said something which made me realize why we reacted the way we did. "I'm just so tired of this," she said, "and it colors everything." She is cranky, and I am numb.

When EG and I were cleaning the garage, he agreed that our reactions are affected by the long, hard time we have had. I told him about when I gave my mother a milkshake yesterday, and she choked quite thoroughly. I was bothered that part of me was scared for her, but part of me thought, "Oh, well. Maybe now this will be over."

This is no way to live. Mom would be the first to give up and leave us if she had any awareness of what is going on with her.

So my new year's wish is that those who are going through the same thing as we are find peace in their situations, however it comes to them.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The tree

Years ago, when we were small, my sister and I helped my father plant two maple trees in the front yard. They grew to be quite huge and beautiful. We each claimed a tree.

When it came time to put the cistern in, the hole was dug by "my" tree, disturbing the roots, and causing the tree to gradually deteriorate. We have been watching the tree, verbalizing that it is time to call an arborist, as some of the tree branches are dead.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, sixty-two degrees, and we enjoyed the unseasonably mild weather. This morning, I was awakened at six thirty by the wind. I came out to the kitchen, turned on the heat, and watched the outdoor temperature drop by four or five tenths of a degree at a time. Between seven and seven thirty, the thermometer dropped over fifteen degrees.

When EG got up at eight, he went out to get the paper and came in to tell me to look out the front window. There, perfectly upright, was a branch from my tree. The fine branches had obviously been entwined in the branches of the other tree, and when the base of the branch broke off, it embedded itself in the ground, leaving the branch upright. Luckily, nothing hit the house, and if the branch does fall all the way, it will not hit anything.

So now I am faced with reconciling myself with losing the tree, another memory from my childhood, another connection to my father. We still have my sister's tree--and I guess that is appropriate, as I am in the house making my own memories with my own children, but I still grieve for that once-glorious maple tree.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

But how much, baby, do we really need

Kiki asked for, and got, a Jonas Brothers CD for Christmas.

We have been inundated with Jonas Brothers trivia, Jonas Brothers music, and Jonas Brothers photos for two days now.

EG informed me, "It's just a phase."

No one knows this better than I do. I remember being enamored of the Monkees (does that date me, or what)--their TV show, their albums (oops, dating myself again), and their posters. I was charmed by Davy Jones, so cute, and with that dashing English accent. And the music? Wow.

Most of my infatuation with the Monkees died out, but I still enjoyed the music. Daydream Believer, despite its cryptic lyrics, has remained one song which can cheer me up no matter what, immediately transporting me back to our garage on a sweaty summer day, our maroon plastic record player blasting the lyrics over and over again, probably driving my poor parents to total distraction.

Cheer up, sleepy jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.
Cheer up, sleepy jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.

Imagine my consternation this morning when I read in the paper's annual review of notable deaths, that John Stewart, the writer of Daydream Believer, had died this year. I really felt old as the Jonas Brothers played and sang in the background, their prepubescent-sounding voices cheerful and sweet, transporting Kiki to that same dreamy place of simplicity and innocence I was so long ago.

Oh, and our good times starts and end
Without dollar one to spend.
But how much, baby, do we really need.

Simplicity, innocence, and dreams--what more can we ask for.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

My father loved Christmas, but he was such a perfectionist, the holiday could be excruciating to endure. Many holidays, we went to the movies to get away from my father's worry about things going wrong and my parents fighting. Plus, Dad got so excited about the gifts he gave us, he hinted for weeks about what they were, eventually giving away all his secrets. Christmas Day was always frenzied and hard.

When I had a family, I decided that, while the Christmases we had as children were abundant, they were stressful, and I wasn't willing to go through that any more. EG's Christmases were simply sad, as both his parents were depressed and preoccupied. Many times, the only gift he got was from his grandparents. When he got older, only his Jewish brother-in-law would remember him.

So, I aim for simplicity. And then, every year, I wait for the Christmas spirit. For me, the Christmas spirit is not the excitement of childhood, the ecstasy of the gift opening frenzy. It is something which I cannot define, and the Christmas spirit is elusive, being different each year. Like those in the manger, I wait for that moment that says Christmas.

Some years, I find the Christmas spirit is the peace I feel when watching Linus recite the simple scriptures in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Some years, I find it at the Children's Mass, watching six year old shepherds squirm and squint and discreetly wave at a beaming row of family members.

This year, because my mother is in hospice and could leave us at any time, I tried to plan for any contingencies. Finals ran right up to the holiday, and grades were due on the 24th, which is EG's birthday. I had the menu planned and non-perishables bought by Thanksgiving, and my presents bought and wrapped by the tenth. Around that time, I had taken the kids out to buy gifts for one another. Because they are gigging now, and getting tips, they have plenty of spending money, but they were still frugal and therefore were able to be generous with each other and us. I didn't know a lot of what they had purchased, as they shooed me off at the register and this week had a wrapping party with their dad. Because we were ready early. yesterday morning was spent cleaning and visiting my mom and buying a few last minute foodstuffs and the afternoon was spent at the church. No mayhem and frantic last minute preparations this year.

I waited for the Christmas spirit that moment which spoke to me. I was depressed at the office Christmas party. I found no pleasure in the lighting displays. I was irritated at the trite Christmas music I found on the radio. At Mass last night, I enjoyed the manger scene, smiled at the donkeys, and even listened to Kiki's solo, but still felt nothing other than calm. I was okay with that, as maybe calm was what I needed this year. However, I could have used just a little joy.

This morning, I watched the kids proudly give each other presents, thoroughly and generously wrapped with some red contact paper they found in Nita's closet ("we didn't know--it said 'covering' on it"), secured with yards of Scotch tape, labeled directly on the wrapping with smeared magic marker. Both the giver's and the receiver's faces glowed at the thrift store copy of The Time Machine, the hand-held Jeopardy! game, and the quacking duck key chain. The kids discovered the joy of giving, the traditional Christmas spirit. They were more interested in distributing their own gifts than they were in opening what they got.

As I sat here in our cluttered living room, watching Dirty Harry paw a label off his forehead and the kitten play with a bow, listening to the Jonas Brothers CD for the umpteenth time, I realized that in all the discarded wrapping paper and battery packages, my best gift was from my children—they had given me the Christmas spirit through their joy. A last minute gift this year, but one which I will gladly accept.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last week, I was watching an interview with Rick Warren, the pastor who wrote The Purpose Driven Life. He said, "All things happen for a reason. We may not know what the reason is, but all things happen for a reason."

Which leads me to suspect that Pastor Warren has never had anything bad happen to him, a thing so complex, a thing which caused intense suffering to someone he loved, a thing which could not possibly have a reason other than it happened.

Take, for example, my mother and father's progress through Alzheimer's dementia. Losing my dad to this disease was hard, but then going through it with my mother as well is cruel. Yes, we could say that we all have found a purpose in this experience--I volunteer with hospice and take the rabbit to visit those with dementia, and my sister and I have a much deeper understanding on how to talk to and reason with those with the disease, and especially on how to "go with the flow" with them. One grandchild will most likely spend her life working with those with mental illness, and another is interested in doing music therapy with those with brain disorders.

We have found purpose in what could have beaten us, and may still do so.

However, what possible reason could there be for my mother's suffering? What reason can we find in her constant state of confusion, as she mostly cannot remember where she is and why she is there? What purpose is there in her agitation and fear, so bad that she needs medication to keep the emotions under control? What good can we find in her not knowing those who were most close to her?

So, while we struggle to handle her situation with grace and with understanding, I do not want to hear that she suffers for a reason. I want to find reason in her suffering.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A moment of brightness

Yesterday, I felt kind of droopy. Most likely, this was because I had eaten quite a bit of junk the day before and my body was paying me back. So, when EG and the kids went to play at the restaurant, I opted instead to peek in on my mother at the nursing home and then run to buy groceries for the next few days. Lately, my mother doesn't know us, is hardly verbal, and very slow in her thought processes, so I figured I'd be back home in an hour.

When I walked into the nursing home, my mother, to my surprise, called me by name and said, "I've been watching for you." I looked at the aide and raised my eyebrows. She said, "She has had an EXCELLENT day."

I called my sister and told her she might want to come and take advantage of this rare period of lucidity. Unfortunately, the down side to the situation was that my mother was confused, as she did not remember going to the nursing home. I told her, "You fell and hit your head, and the doctor wants you here where you can be watched." I didn't enlighten her that it was nearly three years ago. She didn't know for sure where she was, so I told her, "This is the place where you went for rehab when you broke a bone, and you said that if something happened to you again, you would choose this place." She worried about wearing out her welcome. I told her the insurance paid for it.

The hardest part was that she didn't remember my father had died. She asked about him, and I told her, "It is Saturday, and we had chili." (A family custom because Dad liked chili, but not the aftereffects he experienced during the work week.) She smiled. Then she said, "So he was pleased." I told her, "He is the same as he's been for quite a while. You know Dad."

One of the residents of the nursing home was going down the hall, and she said, "Is that your dad?"

"I hope not," I told her. She laughed. I asked her if she wanted Dad to come tonight, or would she prefer later, as she was getting tired. She said, "Maybe tomorrow."

She was getting worn out, so we requested that the aide put her to bed. I introduced her to the same aide she's had for her entire time in the nursing home, and the aide, who had been given a heads up about Mom worrying about her welcome, told her, "The girls have taken good care of you, but your doctor wants us to do it for now." Mom was okay with that.

We stayed until she was asleep, then we went out for a sandwich. I was gone much longer than I intended, but I didn't want to lose out on that precious time. It isn't often people get to spend time with a loved one who has left them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mama never said there'd be days like this

Today the contractor finished the basement--he did a beautiful job, and my basement, or at least half of it, is gorgeous. After coming home for a month to find him down there every day, I feel a sense of loss. Another twenty seven or twenty eight months, and my whole house would be gorgeous...

Anyway, today I left work and drove home to have a private viewing of the basement. Pete had left notes and odds and ends for the kids and EG, and gone quietly before I got there. My gift was that he cleaned up when he was done. I took a moment to bask and then drove to the corner to pick up Rocky just as the bus dropped him off. He greeted me with, "I wanted to walk home."

I replied, "Nice to see you, too. We need to go get the girls at choir practice."

"Oh, them," he said. Little did I realize how appropriate his attitude would be.

I walked in to choir practice, and Nita poked around getting her things. Finally, we went out to the car while Kiki's practice finished up, and I suggested to Nita that we practice her spelling words. She responded as if I had suggested that she shave her head and never eat candy again. Once I retrieved the spelling book from under the gas pedal where it landed when she sailed it at me, we reviewed the words. She did well after I told her that I would give Rocky a shot at anything she missed.

Kiki came out of practice twenty minutes late and handed me a permission slip for her to sing in church on Christmas Eve and Christmas--she evidently was going to be available for all sixteen Masses, on both days and in both locations. When I unwisely pointed this out to her, I was informed I was being mean.

Nita showed her the purchases she had made at the Santa's Shop at school. Kiki shrieked because Nita had bought a bunch of things which she would not immediately gift to Kiki. Incidentally, Nita had cleaned out her life's savings, and the moms who volunteered there had gladly helped her to do so. I was not happy and confiscated about seven dollars worth of merchandise to return for a refund.

It was loudly announced that I am a mean mom.

When we got home, Nita stated that she had no homework. I insisted on reviewing the assignment book anyway (to the accompanying tune of "Mean Mom"), only to discover that assignments had been put there but then erased by one of the eight scented erasers she had purchased earlier that day. I made her do the work anyway. You got it--it's because I am mean.

The girls then redirected their irritation to one another about the mood ring one of them was wearing. From what I understand, purple is the color of romance and orange means the wearer is unsettled. When Nita pointed out that Kiki's ring was both purple and orange and made an unkind suggestion as to why, Kiki smacked her and ran to her room sobbing. I guess she hates this house, hates all of us, and she wishes she could live somewhere else where there were no evil sisters and mean moms--oh, and dopey boys. Unfortunately, I was unable to observe what color the mood ring became when the wearer was in screaming teenage hysteria. However, I will pursue that. It might be helpful to predict oncoming storms.

I once again retreated to the basement for a quiet moment to find that Kiki's cat was down there, crying to go back up. However, Harry was delighted to see her every time she started up the stairs, a feeling she did not share, and therefore would go back down and go back under the work bench. She was convinced that she would never leave that basement again. I called Kiki down to get the cat, and Kiki sat in front of Amber's hiding place and did a monologue on the Jonas Brothers. After five minutes, the cat still hadn't come out. Not only that, I was ready to join her under there. When I remarked as such to Kiki, she flounced off in a huff and slammed her bedroom door because her MEAN mom made such a MEAN remark. The cat came out, rather wild-eyed, and I put her in her carrier and took her upstairs, where she went under Nita's bed.

She hasn't come out yet.

Nita, not to be outdone, misplaced her mood ring, a loss which caused a great deal of frenzy. Amidst the brouhaha, Nash decided that it was time for supper and proceeded to bark-bark-bark-bark. Penny asked to come out for some water, which she drank with great gusto. Rocky suggested that perhaps Penny had ingested the ring, a fact which Penny quickly dispelled when she obligingly threw up right in the middle of running down the hall. Bark-bark-bark-bark-bark, Nash yapped. Nita screamed that her life was over because she no longer had her mood ring (wonder what color it would have been at that point).

Kiki told her, "Oh, knock it off. It's just a mood ring." I suggested that Kiki give Nita her ring. Silly me. HERS wasn't JUST a mood ring, I guess. Kiki melted down; Nita, not to be outdone, ran to her room and slammed her door.

While the girls were partaking of a little "door closing practice," I rounded up the dogs and fed and crated them, mopped the floor, and then told everyone to wash their hands for supper. Nita, sobbing that I was so cruel I would not let her look for her ring but instead made her eat a healthy meal, discovered the ring on her chair.

"Oh," she said. I could have banged my head on the table.

As we began to eat, Kiki asked, "So, Mom, how was your day?"

Not so bad for a mean mom.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Victoria's No Longer a Secret

Last week, among all the other holiday catalogs, we received a book from Victoria's Secret, shiny and glossy and full of lots of voluputous females. I put the catalogs in a pile for recycling, which I take to the boy scout bin about every week or so.

On Thanksgiving, we put the kids to bed early. We have had the contractor here for a couple of weeks now, and he has been fiddling with the electricity. Since the job is not completely done, I have been paranoid about hot wires and the like. As I went down the hall, I noticed that I smelled something hot, like burning rubber.

I opened Rocky's door, and the smell was stronger in there. After sniffiing around for a few minutes like some over-zealous bloodhound, I determined that the burning smell was coming from Rocky's desk lamp, which he initially insisted had not been turned on. However, I resorted to my super powers and felt the lamp, which was hot, so Rocky finally admitted that he had, indeed, been using the light. I removed the lamp and further temptation and discovered a pink eraser stuffed up inside, near the bulb, and showing signs of being overheated.

The next day, I asked Rocky, "Just what were you doing in there last night when you should have been sleeping?"

He said, "I can't tell you at the table."


The girls cried in unison, "Eeeuuwww."

I turned to EG. "This one's yours," I said. He winced.

It turns out that the Victoria's Secret catalog never made it to the boy scouts recycling bin, but stayed here with this boy, who was scouting out the curvy females. EG appropriated the book.

Which, now that I think about it, still hasn't made it to the recycling stack...