I've been using real life flashcards with My Mom again. In other words, instead of holding up cards with pictures of objects, I point to the real thing.
It can be an object, like a candle, or a living, breathing being like one of the dogs.
Tonight we covered "plate, cup, bowl, fork, knife and spoon." I wrapped the exercise with my usual final question. "And who am I?" It's always a gamble on whether she'll answer correctly. Sometimes I'm a "really good friend," sometimes "her sister," or sometimes she'll deflect with a crafty "well I hope you know who you are."
Tonight she was spot on. "I know. You're my daughter," she said quite proudly. Upon closer observation she added, "but I might not recognize you for much longer."
Wow, I thought, is she acknowledging her crippling mental disease?
"You're getting fat," she said bluntly, puffing out her cheeks and patting her belly. I can't be offended, she wasn't wrong. I had definitely put on a few pounds lately.
The problem is, she speaks the truth a lot lately and it's mortifying when she does it to other people.
Last year a good friend of the family came to visit. I've called him Uncle Bill my whole life. My aunt raised his wife. Sadly, his wife died fairly recently and he reached out to us as family at the holidays. He came for what I'm sure he hoped would be an uplifting Christmas experience.
Poor Uncle Bill. He walked into the living room with a big smile on his face and embraced My Mom. I could tell she recognized his voice, but had trouble placing him, so I introduced him to her.
"Oh my goodness, I would have never recognized you!" She sized him up, taking in every feature. "Look at all that gray hair."
"Yea, well, I guess we're all aging," he said, handling the comment good naturedly. I jumped in prompting other conversation. A few minutes later My Mom asked who he was again. Same routine:
"I don't even recognize you," she said.
"I know, the hair," Bill said, still trying to laugh it off.
"And you've gained a lot of weight," she added. I could have died.
It's not just weight and hair, she'll critique anything that catches her eye -- which is quite a bit, especially when you consider she only has partial vision.
When I first started hiring caregivers I really worried about what she might say to them, but so far she seems to win them over well enough in the good moments that they, like me, aren't too terribly offended when she throws a verbal zinger.
In fact, one caregiver, Emily, recently relied on My Mom's candor. I'm known for my being a good cook, however, I admitted I wasn't sure about a batch of matza ball soup right before serving. A guy I was dating at the time had put in the special request. I had him try it in front of My Mom and Emily. Truly a recipe for disaster. In this odd family affair, I dished up a bowl for the date, one for My Mom, then started to serve Emily. She hestitated. The date took a sip and said it was good, but that wasn't good enough for Emily.
"I'll wait until Wyn tastes it. She'll tell the truth."
Thank goodness, My Mom loved it, and of course, said so.
Luckily the truth can go both ways, critical and complimentary. She'll often tell me I look nice, or that my teeth look good. Virtually every night, regardless of what transpired that day, My Mom will tell me she "had the best day ever" as I tuck her in to bed. No matter how rough of a day it really was, I know in that moment that's what she believes. And as I close the bedroom door whispering one last good night to my now very content Mother, I leave whatever earlier stress we experienced behind and reflect on how grateful she sounded. In that moment it becomes the best day ever for me too.