Monday, May 31, 2010

My Real Mom for a Moment

I adopted a new horse last week. He's just a baby and my horse friends have been awesome at celebrating this first for me, complete with an "it's a boy" baby shower! (I called it a "bridle" shower.) My Mom totally got the humor behind it all and is thrilled to have the It's a Boy helium balloon here at home now. She loves looking at the adorable light blue Teddy bears.

"Trend" as he's called, went to his first horse show this weekend and I took My Mom out to meet him. I can't tell you enough times how much she detested animals and barn smells while we were growing up, and now she's now practically Dr. Dolittle. She loves our two dogs and Bug Kitty and she's now the very proud grandma of a 3-year-old horse, acting like she's had horses her entire life.

More celebrations ensued this weekend, including a champagne toast to the new horse. I included two other friends who are also new moms to young horses and I was even more pleased to offer a far more special toast. Although it's always sad to see parents in decline, I'm so proud at the number of my horse friends that are rising to the occasion and caring for their parents. I raised my glass in a toast to them Saturday, but want to acknowledge them again here. Maren, Jacki and Jules all have parents in varying stages of dementia, but they are each being women and daughters anyone would be proud of by stepping in as caregivers to their parents and doing a great job.

We're forming a little mini community where we can share advice and vent frustrations with each other. As we end the weekend, my biggest advice is to not only enjoy the little moments you often hear about, but to not forget sometimes they need to be created.

Now that I'm two years into this experience, I'm relying more on caregivers, which means I don't often take My Mom to the places I once did. My reasons are loving and genuine -- I need a break and she's becoming increasingly anxious in unfamiliar surroundings. This weekend I wasn't riding, so it seemed reasonable to take her along with me to the show. I'm so glad I did.

On the first afternoon we placed chairs in the shade near the stables where we could watch the show from a distance. The atmosphere was incredibly peaceful. "Now this is what I like," she said. I felt the warm breeze, I looked at the rolling green countryside and then I looked at My Mom sitting next to me, both of us taking in the beauty all around us, and I thought "me too." I'm thrilled with the moments when she's genuinely happy in her new life. I was so pleased with her love for the outdoors, I took her back again the next day.

This time we faced a totally different set of circumstances and in the end, she's the one that had a chance to spread happiness. The champagne toast cocktail party with a bunch of loud, excited women telling stories on top of each other and howling laughing proved a bit overwhelming for My Mom. She was edgy and ready to head home. Instead of leaving immediately, I moved a few chairs out front to the peaceful little plot of earth we occupied the day before. I wanted to try and relive the incredible feeling of having My Mom back for a few moments just like I had experienced the previous evening. Soon others joined and we had a little circle out front -- the perfect place for my show-off Mom to entertain! At my encouragement, I admit, she launched into her Scottish songs, followed by standards from the Sound of Music and Annie. She had the whole gang singing along and two of our youngest girls squealing with laughter when she'd point to them and give them a "boop, boop, boop" when she didn't know the words.

At first it seemed selfish for wanting to stay, but if I would have jumped and packed her in the car at the first sign of anxiousness, one of the brightest parts of the evening would have never seen the light of day.

What Was I Thinking?!

We ended Memorial Day weekend with a good round of thunderstorms this afternoon and there could be another form of a rumble around here before long if I'm not a little more careful.
It all started when My Mom said she hated rainy days -- which floured me. I LOVE stormy weather and rainy days because of how she raised us.
When we were little she kept a stash of toys in the linen closet that we could only play with when we were sick or it was rainy. As I grew older I often wondered how the sick thing never backfired on her. Most kids want to stay home from school in the first place, if there are special toys involved, it should just up the incentive, right? I don't recall that being the case with my sister or myself. It must have been understood that we only played with those toys when it was an unavoidable sickness like the measles, chicken pox or the plague.
Rainy days, if you think about it, fall in that unavoidable category too. There's nothing you can do about being stuck in the house during a thunderstorm except maybe be scared, or in our case have fun. I think the have fun initiative grew out of someone in our house being a fraidy cat. Probably me, but I honestly don't remember. What I do remember is the feeling of anticipation building at the first sign of a dark cloud. Something special was about to happen. My Mom would gather us close and first we'd talk about how there was nothing to be afraid of as the thunder started to rumble, then we'd bake cookies, play with the sacred toys and often climb into my parent's big queen-sized bed for a group nap with My Mom telling us how awesome it was to listen to the rain as we fell asleep. I still love finding special things to do on a rainy day. Today proved no exception.
After My Mom announced that she hated rainy days, I started thinking of all the exciting activities she might enjoy while we were stuck in the house, like painting, baking, or even reading out loud. What I really wanted was a cozy afternoon nap, but she has been up half the night the last three nights, so as much as I could use a little rest, the last thing I would ever allow was My Mom to grab a little shut eye. I needed her as tired as possible so we can both sleep through the night tonight. My dire need for sleep led to a great inspiration.
I decided we'd do a little workout, and not the usual yoga stretches, I upped the ante and selected a full blown Jillian Michaels workout from the free on demand service from the cable company. (She's the tough chick from the show Biggest Loser.) I justified that I could use a little extra push as we head into bathing suit season and My Mom could use a little high energy exercise to hopefully grow so tired she just might sleep through the night. She found the new workout routine engaging alright. As always, I made her stay firmly planted on the recliner chair, but her feet were tapping, her legs were kicking and her arms were pumping in all directions as she followed the commands of this new tough TV instructor.
Evidently Jillian Michaels came from the world of kickboxing, one of my all-time favorite workouts. She incorporated a number of punching and kicking maneuvers in the sets. My Mom, much to my surprise and dismay (or more likely ultimately my demise), followed along like a pro. Those skinny frail arms were throwing all kinds of punches -- hooks, jabs, crossovers and even an elbow.
What was I thinking?!
The worst part of having My Mom act like a jack-in-the-box at night isn't necessarily sleep deprivation for me, it's trying to get her out of bed the next morning. In her defense, she's exhausted. In my mind, she needs to get up and back on schedule so we don't continue the cycle. As you know from past entries, the rise and shine routine can become rather ugly. Just in the past few days she tried to break my arm in defiance as I led her to the bathroom, she threatened to "call the cops" and yesterday she told our friend and temporary caregiver Tasha, "I'm gonna scream!" as she took a turn rattling the night owl out of bed. My Mom sincerely meant each and every one of those threats and now I've gone and taught her to punch. And not a sucker or weak punch, no, she just spent 45 minutes practicing hardcore hooks.
I can hear her in her bedroom right now humming. It's probably going to be another long night of asking her to go back to bed repeatedly, followed by a rather short morning when I try to wake her up and she knocks me out with a one-two punch. (Does anyone know if being unconscious counts as sleep???)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Please Sir... Donate to a Good Cause

Although it could never compete with singing, arts and crafts definitely ranks as one of the all time highlights of attending daycare for My Mom. I keep saying my condo would now be an art gallery for her creations if she had her way. Her group pretty much makes the same types of things you'd see at a kindergarten classroom: traditional pictures, snowflake cutouts, tissue paper hanging mobiles, story books and even objects made out of brown paper bags. Almost every creation involves gluing on glitter or little heart shaped or star type cutouts.

Most of the artwork would be the type of thing you'd hang somewhere in the home either with a little scotch tape or sometimes a convenient little string incorporated into the design. And most of the time, a day or two counts as a full showing before My Mom forgets about it and the piece can be retired out of sight.
Neither proved the case for this Coolwhip container. She's had the thing a full year and refuses to part with it. The worst thing is, I can't seem to find a purpose for it -- and believe me, I've tried!
It's not deep enough to create a center piece of some type. It doesn't drain, so it can't hold a plant and sadly, it's just too unattractive to fit in with any decor.
I tried using it to hold her pens and pencils, but the opening was too wide. On a great brainstorm, I bought ping pong balls and created a game where she had to toss the plastic balls into the little bucket. It sat on her lap, and she'd flip the balls into the opening. A great exercise for dexterity -- until the dog and cat decided to play and rebound her misses. We now have two sets of mangled ping pong balls, pierced with teeth marks. And the little bucket, as of last week, was back to serving no purpose except collecting dust.

I let it sit around. I thought maybe, if it sat on display long enough, she'd grow tired of it, just as she does with all her other creations and we could finally put it away.
Instead, daily she'd pick it up, inspect it, comment on its beauty and one afternoon, to my utter surprise -- she found it's purpose!

I had walked out of the room for who knows what, and walked back in to find her with a pathetic little look on her face. She held the bucket in both hands, stretching it gingerly toward me.
"Please sir... could you help me out?"
A beggar's bucket?!
"Could you make just a small donation? I'd be so appreciative."
My Mom relished the part and played it so well, I had to go get a dollar and drop it in the bucket. Her face changed instantaneously from starved peasant to elated lottery winner. She would have kicked her heels if she could.
"Wow! I'm outta here!" she exclaimed, pretending to bolt from her chair.
This is why I have My Mom. She makes me laugh til I cry at least once a day. Surely that's complete payment for taking care of her -- although come to think of it, she's now the one hustling for money.

Just like everything else, I thought she'd quickly forget about her latest antic, but the next day when the caregiver arrived she was at it again. This time with a bigger story.
"My family has no food. Please, could you please help put food on the table?" she uttered in a weak voice followed with a feeble grin. (We're still awaiting the dentures, so the missing teeth truly help her cause.)
I went and grabbed a couple pennies to drop in the bucket to appease her.
"Cheapskate!" she called out. We were howling. Trying to set the caregiver up for a good evening while I went out to dinner, I gave her a five dollar bill to toss in. The move catapulted her to instant hero status.

Interestingly enough, this is not My Mom's first foray into begging. She and her sister Sarah actually got in trouble for singing and dancing on the boat to America when they traveled to this country with my Grandma from Scotland. People evidently threw money at their feet while they performed. The oldest sister tattled and my Grandma made them return the money.
I asked My Mom if she remembered that story. She was only six or seven at the time. She said she did, but she made no correlation to the current begging gig. Evidently receiving payment for showmanship falls into a different category than straight up panhandling. Or keeping in mind this whole begging thing is an act as well, maybe she just doesn't want to break character long enough to talk about it, after all she's netting quite a haul.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Will I Remember?

My Mom's had some pretty rough days lately, which reminds me that this disease of dementia will progress. Some day it will be time to transition to a home and one day she won't be here any more.
I'm positive she'll go to heaven, so when I contemplate her final days it's not in a morbid or sad way. In fact, the thing that plagues me is actually pretty funny. I wonder exactly how and when her brain will kick back into gear. When someone with a debilitating illness passes, the comment is always "well, she won't be in pain anymore," right? So I'm wondering, when exactly will my Mom be free of the faulty brain wiring?
I'm assuming when she gets to the pearly gates she'll be greeted by and actually recognize my Dad, her sisters and brother, her parents and all the great friends she has had in her life. I'm counting on the fact that she'll know she's in the presence of God and be rewarded by the peace and glory of the afterlife. But then I'm wondering, if after she absorbs the awe of it all, will she wonder where the hell she's been for the last 10 years?
Will God give her recharged brain a quick replay to show her the great care my Dad provided in Florida, then the big move to Michigan when she came to live with me? I'd love to see the look on her face when she discovers she became an animal lover and the life of a party with her singing and dancing. I wonder if she'll be as perplexed as we are over where she came up with the song "High Jokes the Kiltee" and how it has become her signature song?

My other big question is, how will I remember her? What will be my lasting image of My Mom?
A friend echoed the sentiment of so many people the other night when he said that I will never regret caring for my Mom. It's true. I already cherish every minute spent with my Mom in these new conditions -- on so many different levels. But if I'm completely honest, mostly our time together fills the void of never having my own children. She's my toddler and I thoroughly embrace and even nurture her childlike qualities. I don't see her often as my Mother any more.
So, I can't help but wonder how will I recall her after she passes...
Will I remember the woman that walked out the door each morning dressed in a power suit carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a purse in the other, one of the few working Mom's of her day? Will I remember what a great athlete she was, so proud bringing home golfing trophies even late into life? Or even how excited she was when her girls were old enough to buy gifts for her on their own so she'd get a great new golf outfit for Mother's Day rather than fuzzy animal head covers from my Dad?
Right this minute I don't remember that woman very well. Even when I look at old pictures I have trouble remembering my Mom for who she once was.
For once, I'm living in the moment and my moment right now is looking at the water color picture she brought home from daycare today. It's sloppy, with way too much paint in one area and hardly any in another. We critiqued the artwork driving home tonight. She knew it wasn't good. I assured her that was the charm of watercolors. I even took her new found art ambitions seriously and told her if she wanted to paint more deliberately, she should switch to oils. She agreed and ultimately embraced her latest creation.

So, will these new moments be the memories I cherish the rest of my life? Will my refrigerator be filled with pictures that look like they were created by a 3-year-old? Or will I eventually box these new achievements away and return to remembering my Mom's amazing accomplishments from days gone past? Maybe time will be the great equalizer and allow me to recall all the facets of our amazing, evolving relationship with the same intensity.
I hope so, but I really don't know.
I do know one thing. Even though images of my former Mom aren't as strong as I'd like them to be, there's no question I've taken on the job of caregiver because of the woman she was and the woman she molded me to be -- I'll never forget that.