Saturday, March 27, 2010

If Everyone had a Nikki

For a long time I've said "If everyone had a Nikki, anyone could be a working mom."
Nikki is the very first person that came to help care for My Mom. She's remarkable. Two summers ago, I came home from a long day of work to find all the laundry clean and folded, the house vacuumed, My Mom was showered, her hair styled and, are you ready? -- dinner on the stove! A working woman's dream! And it saved me from a horrible nightmare. A big summer storm hit an hour later, knocking power out for 5 days. No one had electricity, not even businesses. So while the unprepared couldn't even order a pizza, we ate a lovely candle lit dinner. As the power outage stretched for days, I kept thanking God for Nikki -- we had a clean house and a pile of clean clothes to carry us through.
This week while at our house, Nikki remembered my sister's birthday and had My Mom call and leave a message. My sister called me crying. "Nikki had Mom call. She sang in tune and sounded so happy!" she gushed. "I'm keeping the message." What a gift. They all spoke later that night which only heightened the joy.

Honestly, I've had great luck with virtually every person that's walked through the front door. While so many people insist on carrying out the burden of caregiving alone, I don't have any trouble hiring help. Maybe that's due to to My Mom.
I remember distinctly when my sister and I were little My Mom explaining her theory on babysitters to friends and family: "You need a break," she'd say. "It's healthy for us to have a little couple time (referring to her and my dad) and it's good for the girls to have a little independence and spend time with other people." She'd always say she'd come back from a night out or weekend off refreshed and a better, more patient parent. Part sales pitch for taking off for a fun golf weekend, part true belief I'm guessing.

Now that I'm in her position, I'm heralding the same message. Dementia patients become very dependent on their caregiver, to the point of being dangerously obsessive. By bringing in a variety of people, I keep her less focused on needing just me and I'm preparing her for the ultimate transition to a facility when the time comes. Odds are she'll have to go to full time care some day. Imagine how jarring that move would be if she'd relied soley on me for the past two years?
Now who sounds like she's making a bit of a sales pitch? I use the help when I want to ride my horses regularly or travel. I just returned from almost three weeks straight on the road. The duties were divided between Nikki and my friend Tasha. I'm happy to say I was completely confident the entire time I was gone. Part of the trip, as you know was to New York. It was one of the best weekends of my life -- I have to credit these two fabulous women for instilling me with the peace of mind to fully enjoy myself without worrying whether everything was okay back at home.
A lot of people ask how I find good people. I wish I had a more scientific answer. The truth is I pray for the right solutions and the ability to recognize the right person for the job. I started out using agencies, but was sorely disappointed. I started with a big name firm. The local branch and the woman who ran it came highly recommended. It was summer, I had the front window open and I literally heard her greet a candidate on the sidewalk and tell her to act like she had worked for the agency for a while. I was appalled. Another agency left me hanging on a morning I had a huge presentation to give. When I called at 7am, (after waiting since 6) the manager said "just leave your mom, we'll have someone there by 10 or 10:30." Was she kidding? How can you trust care to someone willing to abandon you for more than 3 hours?!
With that record from supposedly proven sources, I decided I could do just as well on my own. I ran an ad in the paper, prayed and ran background checks (not too high tech, but better than meeting on a sidewalk...) Just the mention of a check weeded most bad applicants out. Upon hearing I'd run a profile, one woman was forced to admit she was calling me from a drug treatment center and she then confessed, her boyfriend, who drove a cab, might not be all that reliable at getting her to my place on time. She bowed out on her own.
Most of my luck these days is through word of mouth. We've had a friend's mom, a friend from the barn, and a couple of nursing students. Nikki took a full time job, but she's still in the mix too. She's been part of our family for the full two years. Even though she looks nothing like me (we'll have to post a photo), My Mom doesn't seem to notice when she and I change places. It's become seamless. And the two of them have a great time together. We have Nikki's mom, Doris, in the mix now too. Extended family!

I'm not going to lie, I'm a prima donna and I love having the help, but more importantly, I love each of the people who have entered our life through this journey. While it's awesome to come home and find the bed made, a little laundry neatly folded and, of course, My Mom looking bright and chipper -- the added joy these women bring to our home overpowers everything else.
My Mom has a ton of fun experiences along the way too. She becomes part of the other women's lives -- going shopping, to dance class, family parties and even for rides in a convertible. She loves the action.
The truth is, My Mom was right all those years ago -- the break does us both good. It does My Mom good to mingle with fresh faces and I come home refreshed. I don't have the burden of catching up on chores and I can give full attention to the one who deserves it most -- My Mom.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who make our life complete!! And completely wonderful!!

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