Friday, December 18, 2015


I swear it was was 105 degrees in the shade.  If she said it once, she said it 20 times.  "I'm hot."  "Well, Mom, you're the one that wanted me to take your Christmas card picture in JULY."  "I know."

For months ( she had been asking, "When are you going to take my Christmas card picture?"  I kept putting it off.  "Mom, it's 10 months until Christmas."  "I know.  But, I like to put them in the mail the day after Thanksgiving."  It became the dripping faucet in my mind.  drip.  drip.  drip.  drip.  So, on a blazing July afternoon, I called her and said, "Today is Christmas Card Picture Day.  Are you ready!?"  She was very ready.

Coming up with Christmasy clothes in July was a bit of a challenge.  I quickly decided that her blue blouse would suffice if I covered it up with a Christmasy pashmina.  Walking through the living area of the memory care unit loaded down with Christmasy pashminas, I offered explanations to the staff members we encountered - the residents saw nothing out of the ordinary.  "It's Christmas Picture Day.  She likes to send her cards out the day after Thanksgiving.  Therefore, she wants me to take the picture in July."  Polite smiles and understanding nods followed our parade.

The spacious memory care courtyard wraps around the building with a sidewalk that meanders along beckoning 80-somethings to exercise in the great outdoors.  There are flowerbeds along the way filled with random greenery and a few flowering plantings.  The one thing missing was shade.  I improvised by shoving Meems' walker up under an overgrown crepe myrtle and then helping her navigate with baby steps the 3 feet from the sidewalk across bumpy mulch to our makeshift photo booth.  "I'm hot."  She held on to me for dear life urging me to not to let her fall.  "I won't drop you, Mom!  I hate sleeping on hospital room chairs."  "I'm hot."

Once I had her securely placed on the seat of the walker, I began the task of trying to capture the exact moment when this precious, sweltering 89-year-old was smiling somewhat naturally with her chin tilted at an appropriate angle while keeping her eyes wide open in the glaring sun.  "I'm hot."  She tends to smile with squinted eyes and lift her chin up unnaturally high when a camera points in her general direction.  "I'm hot."  "Well, as soon as you stop showing me the insides of your nostrils, we can get this photo session over with."  Sweat was trickling down the backs of my knees.  "I'm hot."

I tried the red pashmina.  "I'm hot."  The green pashmina.  "I'm hot."   Then, I switched to the fuscia and turquiose pashmina.  It was perfect.  "I'm hot."  "I know, Mom, but don't you want to look Christmasy for your Christmas card?"  "Yes."  "Well, lower your chin and stop squinting so we can get this done!"  "OK."

We ended up on the porch where the shade was deep and cool compared to that of the crepe myrtle.  I got her settled into a chair that sat next to a very un-Christmasy brick wall.  "This is better, but I'm still hot."  Beads of sweat now trickled down my back.  I reached back and tugged my damp blouse away from my skin.  Then, all of a sudden, it happened.  She smiled brilliantly, ducked her chin, and flashed her beautiful blue eyes!  Click!  BOOM!  Done!

In that moment, it was all worth the heat.  The sweat.  The lower-your-chins and open-your-eyes.  The I'm-hots.  I had captured something that I rarely see these days.  My little mother looking vibrant and aware.  My throat tightened with longing for the mother that danced during happy hour at Raider Ranch just the year before.  Then, I "went there" wondering how many more Christmases.  Blinking away tears, I guided her back into the air-conditioned comfort of the building.

The tears were short-lived because once we were inside she asked, "Have you gotten my Christmas stamps yet?"  God, give me patience.  Amen.  "You can go ahead and make the things with my address on them (lost words:  return address labels), but don't do the ones with the people's addresses on them yet.  You never know who will still be alive by the time I mail them."  The day after Thanksgiving.

The Christmas cards, Christmas stamps, and return address labels lived on the lower shelf of her nightstand from August until the first part of November.  Meems felt secure knowing that her greetings would go out in a timely manner.  She became the Master of her Christmas Card Domain.  Peace on Earth.  Finally.

BLESSED.  I am the one who is BLESSED.  Oh, how I am blessed!  I'm looking forward to taking the next Christmas picture for the Meems.  It will be a privilege.  Nay, an honor.

Merry, Christmas dear ones!  You are loved!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


"Well," Meems said softly.  Just "well."

I called from Florida where Alan and I were attending a wedding to relay the news that one of her BFFs from Waco passed away.

The conversation began with idle chat.

Me:  "Hey!  What have you been up to today?"

Meems:  "Nothing.  We don't have exercise class on Saturday."

Me:  "Did you have a good breakfast?"

Meems:  "Yes."

Me:  "What did you have?"

Meems:  "I don't remember."

Me:  "I have some sad news.  Rachel passed away last night."

Meems:  "Well."

Me:  "She was such a great friend."

Meems:  "Well.  [pause]  She'd been sick."

I have no idea why W.E. is posing behind Meem's
TV which was pushed up against that wall.  "Here,
let's move the TV out and you stand BEHIND IT!"
Meems has a multitude of long time friends.  She's a lover of all people.  People tend to return the favor.  Three of her BFFs in Waco were Lee & W.E. Nelson, and Rachel. (Rachel's the lady in the middle of the middle picture.)  Together they celebrated birthdays, New Years Eves, St. Patrick's Days, Fourth of Julys, and any other days that Meems could find a reason to celebrate.  

Lee passed away several years ago.  W.E. soon followed.  Meems moved to Raider Ranch in Lubbock, and Rachel moved to a place in Austin to be near her daughter.

Faithfully, Meems (with the help of her Lubbock BFF, Leonard) called to check on Rachel once a week.  I would get the reports.  "Rachel is doing fine.  She said to tell you 'hi!'"  "Rachel has been sick lately."  "Rachel has congenital [sic] heart failure but said she's OK."  "We haven't been able to reach Rachel on the telephone this week."

I had to compose myself before I made the call to Meems.  I didn't really know Rachel that well because she and Meems became friends after I was married and had moved away.  But, I knew all that Rachel had done for my mother over the years.  

When Rachel cooked a birthday dinner, she made it a birthday feast.  "She had baked chicken, rice, carrots, peas, green beans, a green salad, cole slaw, cake and 2 kinds of ice cream!" Meems would brag.  If Meems had a runny nose, Rachel brought a meal and felt her forehead for fever.  Like Meems, Rachel loved extravagantly. 

I'm not sure how much Meems actually remembers about Rachel.  Her mind is in the process of simplification.  Breakfast.  Check.  Excercise.  Check.  Lunch.  Check.  Afternoon snack.  Check.  Dinner.  Check.  Church on Sunday.  Check.  A dwindling loop of memories plays during our time together.  "I'm SO glad I got that long term health care policy!"  "The preacher that married your daddy and me said I was the prettiest bride he'd ever seen!"  "I used to date a guy who played in a dance band with Tex Beneke."  She added the detail that he was a Filipino sometime this year.  I highly doubt that detail.  It's more likely that his name was Phil Ipino.

Meems is pretty matter of fact about life and death.  It is what it is.  Some people die too young.  Some people live a long, good life.  Either way.  The only time she fears death is when she learns that I'm heading to some beach destination.  "Don't get in the water!!!  Sharks EAT people!"  Either way.  

As a woman of faith, she knows beyond a shadow of a shadow of doubt that there is a New Jerusalem.  When she sees Lee, W.E., and Rachel there, her face will light up and she'll do that funny sideways clap she does - the one where her fingers point in a bit towards her elbows as she awkwardly smacks her palms together.

Rev. 21:1-2  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  The first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  There was no more sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem.  It was coming down out of heaven from God.  It was made ready like a bride is made ready for her husband.

Thank you, Rachel, Lee, and W.E. for loving my mother like a sister.  She says that she's going to live to be 100 so that she can see her picture on the Smuckers Jar during the Today Show, so it will be a minute til you hear her clapping.  But, boy, will she be clapping!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Valley of the Jolly

This morning I drove down a street shuffling along amongst the mild traffic.  I was headin' home from an errand.  No big rush.  Red light.  Green light.  Red light.  Green light.  The slow, rhythmic pace of the cars lulled me into a traffic trance which opened a tiny corner of the back of my mind where rarely anything exciting ever happens.  A tiny crevice within a wrinkle of a wrinkle.

Had you been a passenger sitting next to me checking your facebook news feed or texting friends that didn't happen to be sitting 18" away from you, you would have suddenly heard me sing out a random tune.

"From the Valley of the Jolly!"

And, knowing you as well as I do, without even glancing up from your newsfeed you would have responded with a hearty


Hearing no hearty response, my thoughts rounded the corner into Melancholia.  We are raising a generation of children that do not know to sing out

These marshmallow jewels constituted "good" candy because
they were a heck of a lot better than the lukewarm
boiled eggs  that we found in the back yard hiding in
potted plants and the elbows of trees.

Seriously, do they know about him?  Do they?  Do they believe in him like I did?  In my childhood world where a man in a red suit traveled in a sleigh propelled by flying reindeer and a giant Easter bunny hopped silently into our house to tuck individually wrapped "Easter Egg Hunt" eggs between couch cushions and behind chair legs, there was nothing weird about a solid green man wearing a caveman suit made of leaves.  Nothing weird at all.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we believed that there was a verdant Valley of the Jolly - Ho! Ho! Ho! - Green Giant.  It was a proven fact.

I have spent the last hour in search of the illusive Giant.  My search would rival any Sasquatch hunt that ever was or ever will be.  And.  What I've found so far is fascinating.  To me.

I won't spoil the joy of the hunt for you.  I'll just share a couple of juicy green nuggets of my discovery.

First, there was the Scary Green Giant commercial that would ensure parents that kids would run and hide under their beds leaving said parents alone on the couch to enjoy a cigarette and the Mickey Rooney Show.

I specifically remember the following commercial because it answered the question, "How do they slice the green beans diagonally?"

"Tender thick-meat beauties."

Before I send you out on your own personal quest to the Valley of the Jolly, I wanted to share with you a coveted item that was owned by my childhood BFF, Kristi.  She sold it a couple of years ago in an estate sale.  Her dad "brought it home from the warehouse" one day.  He worked for a food wholesale company.  Just like that.  "Here's your 4-foot Jolly Green Giant Rag Doll that no one else in the neighborhood will EVER have because their mothers will absolutely not fill out the little coupon and send $3.50 (plus the price of a 4-cent stamp) of their hard-earned money for a big green doll."  If he actually said those words, he was right.  My mom would have looked up from her sponge mop and said, "You've got a birthday coming up in March.  Is that what you want for your birthday?"  I fantasized that Mr. Hook would come driving slowly down Neal Street handing out Jolly Green Giant Rag Dolls From the Warehouse to one and all.  That never happened.

I've saved the best for last.  A song.  About the Jolly Green Giant' life.  It explains "why thuh cat's so mean."  Asparagus!

Now that I've planted the seed of curiosity in a tiny crevice within a wrinkle of a wrinkle of your brain, I recommend that you begin your quest here:  

Enjoy the journey.  I'm heading south in search of the Frito Bandito:  The Man.  The Myth. The Legend.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jonakan!

Brrrrrrring, brrrrrrrrrrg!

"Hey, Mom!

"I got my haircut today.  Can you come take my picture?"  

(Her voice is tiny.  She couldn't scream out loud if she tried.  I know because from time to time we'll tease her and ask her to scream as loud as she can.  You'd have trouble hearing her in the next room.)

It was early July.  I knew exactly why she wanted me to come take her picture.  One of her latest obsessions has been her Christmas cards.  Yes, she wanted me to come take her CHRISTMAS picture.

It was boiling hot that day.  She was wearing a summer top.  Out we trundled to the courtyard of her memory care unit.  Sitting in the blistering sun, she let me drape different scarves around her neck - red, fuschia & turquoise - to simulate winter attire.  

"I'm hot."

"Mom, it's July."

"I know.  I'm hot."

I got the cutest picture of her!  I told her that it was so cute we could use it for her obituary.

"I'm going to live until I'm 100."

"Yeah, I'll probably be taking at least 11 more Christmas pictures of you.  We might come up with an even cuter one."

"That's right. Heh.  Heh." 

Boom.  Christmas cards!
Her other obsession has been sending a birthday card to her grandson, Jonathan.  In May, she started asking me about sending him a card.  "When are 'we' going to get a birthday card for Jonathan?"  Each of the one hundred times she asked me she said that she didn't want to "forget" his birthday.

Today, at lunch, I brought out a birthday card for her to sign for Jonathan.

"Mom, come sign Jonathan's birthday card, and I'll put it in the mail tomorrow!"

She slowly walked over to the counter to sign the card.  The card for Jonathan.  Her grandson.

"Can I sign Jonakan's card?!"  We don't know why Leonard pronounces Jonathan with a "k."  It actually sounds kind of cool.  Jonakan Skywalker.  We've known Leonard for about 5 years.  Jonakan KNOWS who Leonard is.  Leonard signed his full name.  Ohhhhh.  THAT Leonard.

Then, Nana signed.

Later this afternoon, I noticed how Mom signed the card.  It wasn't until I wrote the note on the left side of the card that I saw Nana's signature.  She is also Jonathan's grandmother.  I attribute the "+" to the fact that she is a retired math teacher.

I just this minute I noticed that I wrote "The Nana" instead of "Then Nana."  Lawdy Mercy, I needs me a keeper.

Over lunch, Mom asked me if I had done the return address labels for her Christmas cards yet.  I told her that I would have them ready on October 2nd (because I'm kind of sassy like that).  She doesn't like for me to print out the address labels until the week before Thanksgiving (she sends her cards the day after Thanksgiving...) because if "we" print them to soon, someone might die.  Instead of "Joe and Jane Doe," "we" would have to reprint it to read "Jane Doe."  Poor Jane.  When you're 89 the timing of printing address labels is very, very tricky. 

Happy 28th Birthday, Jonakan!
Aunt Mom

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Mess

This funny thing happened today over a span of about 10 seconds.  It was like a gentle cool breeze blowing through my bangs on a hot summer day.  The tiniest of mini-vacations.  A joy break.

I had just enjoyed a long lunch with friends who are interesting, funny, and easy-to-be-with.  I stepped out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk and headed towards my car.  About 20 feet  away was a group of ladies lingering in the shade still enjoying their lunchtime conversation.*  

At 20 feet away, I could only hear the soft mumbles of a conversation.  Lady talk.  

At 10 feet away, the conversation exploded with empathic outbursts.  "Oh, my!"  "Oh, my goodness!"  "Oh, no!!"

Just as I walked past the group, the "poor dear" put the cherry on top of the anecdote.

"And, we liked to NEVER got it all cleaned up!"

This declaration was followed by a chorus.  "Well, my goodness."  "Mm.  Mm.  Mm."  "I can't imagine!"

I almost stopped dead in my tracks.  So intriguing was this snippet of conversation that it was all I could do not to turn on my heel to join the friendship circle so that I could learn more about the terrible, horrible, very bad mess.  That would not have been an unusual thing for me to do.  I strike up conversations with strangers in national park bathrooms and in the produce section of the grocery store.

In the 11th second, I decided that not knowing was better.  Without hearing the cause that produced the unfortunate effect which produced the cloud of empathy, I could enjoy the conversation for the rest of the afternoon.  It was a tiny jewel in the palm of my hand.  My imaginaries took hold and began to weave scenarios from multicolored threads of possibilities.  And, I've been thinking about it ever since.  

A frozen turkey had carelessly been dropped from 10 feet above a turkey fryer filled with boiling oil.

Someone started to blend a strawberry smoothie without putting the lid on the blender.  (This came to mind because my youngest son actually did Mother's Day.)

A pack of rambunctious armadillos broke into the house and ransacked the place.

Multiple cats with furball-clogged gullets and diarrhea were left alone in the basement for a weekend.

Twenty-five bored teenaged boys were left alone in a house for 10 minutes.

Red Koolaid spills.  Fingerpaint fiascos.  Playdoh wars.  Millions of legos.  Millions.

Oh, oh!!  It was a party!  A party in which buckets of confetti were showered down upon people that danced in muddy shoes while holding red solo cups filled with red Koolaid.

I didn't even get a good look at the ladies.  They might have been red-headed sisters or nurses in matching scrubs or supermodels in bikinis.  No, wait.  If they had been supermodels in bikinis, I wouldn't have heard a word that was said.  I would have been listening to the loud, insecure dialog raging in my own head.  They were definitely not supermodels in bikinis.  But, this I do know.  The conversation piqued my curiosity and then played with my thoughts for the rest of the afternoon.

Thank you, red-headed sisters.  Or, nurses.  Or, circus trapeze artists.  The pleasure was all mine.

*The best conversations are had in parking lots immediately following 2-hour lunches.  That is a proven fact.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Oops. He Did It Again.

Alan asked me if I could do him a little favor today while he's out and about.  It was a small favor.  When he told me what it was, I guffawed.  GUFF.  AWED.

I followed him to the sun room where he pointed to one of the pear trees in the back yard.

Before I go further, you need to visit or revisit, whichever the case may be, this story about Alan and the B.i.R.d.S.

It took me a minute to find it.  It could have been mistaken for a lovely blue bird.  It wasn't.  GUFF.  AWE.  GUFF.  AWE.

Can you get my shoe out of that tree?  "My shoe" is one of his beloved REI water shoes.  It's hiked The Narrows of Zion National Park and strolled along many a white sandy beach.  It's more than a shoe.  It's a friend.  A friend with holes in it.  A friend that should have been gently deposited in the dumpster a couple of summers ago.  Or set afloat in on a flaming pyre in the Colorado river. 

"Can you see if you can get my shoe down?"  GUFF.  AWE.  (Because that's the kind of supportive wife I am.)

"Nope.  No can do.  That shoe is going to stay right there to serve as a lesson to you."  A lesson in the humane treatment of winged creatures.  "What is so funny?!" he asked.  "It's just soooooo YOU!" I replied.  So very Alan.

That's all I have to say about that.  That's a flat out lie.  I have so much more to say, but out of love and respect for the Bird Man...  GUF.  FAW.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Meems "Makes" an Easter Wreath

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped into Meems' new assisted living facility to see how she was doing.  I was happy to find her in the dining area of her little unit seated at a table with other women.  They were busy as bees with paint brushes swooshing away.  I hugged Meems and she beamed up at me, "We're making something!"  The aide chimed in, "They're making wreaths for Easter."

Meems had painted 3 or 4 coffee filters a Robin's egg blue.  The other ladies were painstakingly painting every square inch of their coffee filters with Springtime colors.  My little mother's filters had a few broad strokes in the very middle leaving a lot of white space exposed.  I sat down, picked up a brush and got busy helping her fill them all in.  My mom, the art teacher.  The art teacher that encouraged her students to fill up every square inch of large pieces of manilla paper with their pictures.  I chided her for "doggin'" it.  She just shot me a big smile.  "I know," she murmured.

After we thoroughly covered a few coffee filters, Mom pushed back from the table and said, "I'm done."  So, we were done.

Last week when I stopped by for a visit, Meems made a special point to take me down to her room to show me something.  "I made this!" she grinned.  "You did!?" I asked feigning utter amazement.  "Yes, I did!" she confirmed.  "I helped you paint a few of those coffee filters, remember?" said I.  "You did?!" said she.  Her grin grew bigger.

"So, did you guys put the coffee filters onto the wreath the day after you painted them?" I queried.  Without missing a beat, she said, "I don't remember that.  I just remember that I made the wreath!"  Then, she proceeded to show me all of the details that had been added.  Pointing to the candies and little plastic eggs she said, "Isn't all that cute!  I don't know what it all is, but it sure is cute!"

I was reminded of my childhood and the many mudpies I pressed up in the back flower beds that Mom pretended to taste.  "Oh, it's just delicious!  Will you please share the recipe with me?!"  My heart panged with the reminder that our roles had reversed.

"Mom, that is such a precious wreath!  It's way cuter than the one I have on MY door at home!  I can't believe you made that!!"  I wanted to hug the necks of the aides who had the patience to sit with the ladies painting all those coffee filters.  Anyone who is kind and loving to my mother during my absense is my friend for life.  Period.  The end.

 As I was leaving, I spied this box of hats and sunglasses in the living room.  If you look closely, you'll see a Happy Birthday banner in the box along with a pair of binoculars.  When the aides take the ladies outside for fresh air, they give each lady a cute sun hat and a pair of sunglasses.  Does my heart good.  Apparently, a birthday was celebrated out on the porch that day.


A new guy moved in a few weeks ago.  I know this because Meems has told me 342 times.  "A man named Ivan moved in!  He's really nice, BUT, he's married."  BUT, he's married.  Oh, boy.

Meems says that she's "almost used to" the new assisted living facility.  She quickly adds, "They take really good care of me here!"  We are so blessed that this new place is picking up Meem's BFF Leonard, on Mondays and Fridays so that he can come have lunch with her.  Crafts, birthdays on the porch, sun hats bedecked in flowers and Leonard.  Doesn't get much better than that.

Does my heart good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Purfict Dotter

Many of you have been offered up great words of encouragement regarding my mom's move to assisted living.  It's comforting to know that I share a common bond with other people who are now in charge of an elderly parent.  I have to confess that comments that extol my perceived purfict dotter virtues make me tug at my collar and gulp feeling like an imposter.  I can't even say the words p-e-r-f-e-c-t d-a-u-g-h-t-e-r out loud.  I have been a mediocre daughter for years.  Years.

My sister, Kathy, lived and breathed Perfect Daughterhood. While I was out navigating the world of motherhood, Vacation Bible School, Junior League, and PTA, it was Kathy who was always there for Mom.  She was the one who would mow Mom's gargantuan yard and trim miles of hedges during a weekend visit.  I got huffy if Mom asked me to take out the trash.  In my defense, I desperately wanted to come home to a "soft place to fall" with my three rambunctious boys.  A place where meals appeared on a table set with pretty plates and cloth napkins.  A place where chocolate pies and homemade bread greeted us at the front door.  Kathy, didn't have a child until 2 years before she went to heaven.  Her relationship with Mom was more of a friendship.  She took time to listen and mow and rake leaves.

When I moved Mom to Lubbock, I found treasures of Kathy's humor tucked here and there in boxes of keepsakes.  She once wrote an official looking letter from The Society to Prevent Cruelty to Roaches informing Mom that it had not gone without notice that she had a particularly vindictive attitude towards their kinsmen.  I still have the little rubber roach that Kathy moved from place to place in Mom's house just to hear her scream.  

I leaned heavily on Kathy's grace towards our mother.  She had all the bases covered.  I had my hands full and couldn't be bothered.  "Kathy's coming this weekend to help me plant my panzies!"  There would be cringing and gritting of teeth on my end of the phone line. I would have rather had a pap smear during a root canal while "public speaking" at a funeral than help Mom in her beloved garden.  

During my Me-Me-Me years, Mom would drop everything if I needed her.  She stayed with me for 2 weeks after the arrival of each of my sons.  Once when I was pregnant with my second born, my 15-month-old had a horrible diarrhea diaper that oozed all over his high chair seat and down to the floor.  {sorry, but I wanted to make sure that you fully understand the direness of the situation}  All I could do was gulp in a cheekfuls of air, hold my nose, run with my breath held to grab him out of the high chair and plunge him into a warm bath gagging all the while.  Mom quickly packed a bag and hopped in the car to drive from Waco to Dallas.  Within about 2 1/2 hours, she rang my doorbell and swooped in like Mary Poppins to clean up the mess that was festering in my kitchen while I lay swooning on my bed.

I could tell you story after story of all that my mother has done for me over my lifetime.  It would be a long tale of sacrifice, love and grace.  I could also tell you stories of all the times my mother drove me ab-so-loot-ly-cuh-ray-zee.  I'll spare us all from those useless details.  Suffice it to say that as I look back over my life, it's Mom.  She has always been my touchstone and soft place.  Kathy and I used to tease each other about using Mom up.  "Quit having babies!  You're using her up!" Kathy would say.  When Kathy's daughter was born, I accused her of the same.  "You had to go and have a little girl so that you could use Mom up!"  During Kathy's battle with cancer, she once apologized to me for using Mom up.  I assured her that our resilient mother could NEVER be used up.

When Mom surrendered her total independence by moving to Raider Ranch in Lubbock, our roles quickly changed.  I became the mother.  For a while, she was like a fretful child.  "Did you sell my car?"  "Yes, Mom."  "But, I might need it!!"  "Mom, you're legally blind soooo..."  "Yes.  But I like having a car just in case."  As her mind has become less focused, she has become my sweet, loving child.  And, I treat her as such.  I just want to sit and cuddle with her.  I want to know about her day.  "What did you have for a snack this afternoon?"  "They gave us apple slices and cubes of cheese."  "Ohh!  That sounds yummy!"  "It was!"

I feel so blessed to have her with me.  My nest is empty.  For such a time as this, God has left her here on earth with me.  After all those times when I couldn't be bothered, I now just love basking in her presence.  AND, there's absolutely no grass to mow or hedges to trim.  Lucky me.

I went by to see Mom today.  She always lights up when she sees me and tells me that she's surprised to see me.  I hope that she's referring to the fact that I often show up unexpectedly and not to the fact that she can't believe that I would take time out of my busy day.  A bit later she said that I was her favorite child.  Before I could even revel in that limelight, she added "because you're my only living child."  We both chuckled.  Strangely, I don't want to be the favorite child.  Deep down I know that if Kathy was still alive, Mom would be with her.  Because that's who Kathy was - compassionate, loyal and protective.  

Thank you, Lord, for giving me this second chance to be the one.  You have filled me with patience that surprises me daily.  You have given me days with open pockets of time.  I am so grateful.  Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Five Good Things

Friday I went to see Meems at Wilshire Place anxious to see if she was settling in nicely.  Her face lit up when she realized that it was her daughter that had entered her room.  #maculardegeneration  "I'm SO GLAD you came to see me," she beamed.  Standing next to her was her best friend, Leonard, who had been picked up at Raider Ranch as promised by the WP director in a "limousine" for his Friday lunch date with Meems.  I couldn't remember the last time I saw Mom so alert and genuinely smiling.  Was it last Christmas?  Her birthday last year?  2013?

In unison she and Leonard asked, "Do you want to eat with us?!"  Tempting as it was, I assured them that my visit would have to be brief.  Piles of laundry and dishes had accumulated at my house during the time I'd spent moving Mom to her new digs.  "Well. They don't have good soup here anyway," Meems said softly.  In three short days of residing at her new assisted living facility, she had determined that all soup possibilities were unacceptable?  I made a mental note to ask the aides if Mom had, indeed, ordered soup for any of the 9 meals she'd eaten since Wednesday lunch.

"You're the second good thing that has happened to me today!" she beamed.  It was then that I noticed that she wearing lipstick.  Lipstick!  In the middle of the day!  Between meals!  "Two good things before noon!?  I'm guessing that the first good thing is about to join you for lunch," I replied grinning at Leonard.  "Yes!  Today is a good day!  Last night I was feeling sad because I missed my friends at Raider Ranch, now two good things have already happened today!"  I wanted to look upward with a Jimmy Stewart wink and say, "Atta boy, Clarence!"

"I can't believe that I'm in such a nice place!  My furniture looks better here than it did at Raider Ranch!  I can't believe I have so much space!"  All of a sudden I found myself fully enjoying this chorus of her never ending song.  This was good news that I could hear over and over again.  "Leonard, can you believe I have this much space?!"

Together the three of us made the short walk to the dining area.  "I'm having half of a sloppy joe for lunch," Mom offered.  "Leonard, what are you having?" I asked.  "Smothered pork chops (pork chops are his favorite) and whatever goes with it.  They're having chocolate cake for dessert.  You sure you don't want to join us?!"  

On the way to the table, Meems leaned over and patted one of her nameless new friends and said with a grin, "You look too young to be here!"  Her friend giggled with delight.  They both seemed oblivious to the fact that "youth" combined with "memory care" was not particularly desireable.  

I sat with Meems and Leonard for a while as they ate.  Mom had smothered pork chops.  Turns out the sloppy joe was her supper selection.  "I was feeling kind of sad last night, now two good things have happened.  Leonard, can you believe I have so much space here?!"

Later that afternoon, I was folding clothes in my kitchen when the phone rang.  "Four good things have happened to me today," the tiny voice said forgoing the obligatory salutation.  "Four?!" I said with exaggerated amazement.  "Yes.  Leonard was one.  You were one.  Then, I met your pretty friend who is tall and her mom.  Her mom LIVES here!"  "You mean, Claudia?" I asked.  "Is that her name?" she replied indicating that her mind was  totally cleared of the many discussions we had had about my friend, Claudia, and her mother who would be Mom's across the hall neighbor at Wilshire Place.  

"Did you count Claudia and her mom as numbers three and four, or did something else good happen?"  "Something else good happened!  Her dad came and sang to us.  He had 3 life-sized dummies that sang with him!  That was the fourth thing!"  I added "man with three life-sized dummies?" and "Claudia's dad?" to my fact-checking list.

"The man was a really good singer AND a ventriloquist.  Most of the ladies slept through his singing, but I didn't because he was a really good singer!"  "And the dummies?" I teased.  She softly chuckled, "Yes, they were good singers, too.  AND, we had ice cream for our snack!  They only had strawberry, but it was good!"  "You are SO lucky!  I had a half of a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and now I'm folding clothes," I lamented.  "Well," she replied.  That's all. Just "well." 

She didn't know it at the time, but the fifth good thing was coming at 5:30.  Alan was going to stop by after work.  Happy, Happy.  Joy.  Joy.

Five.  Five GOOD things.  And, a bromeliad.  It's a long story.  I need to write a letter to my 89 year old self reminding me to look for 5 simple good things each day.  Simple delights that other people might pass by without noticing.  It's the noticers who are truly happy.

For the record:  Claudia's dad is no longer living.  He was not and never had been a ventriloquist.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Meems' New Home

At 9:00 this morning, I found Meems rummaging around in my kitchen in search of Raisin Bran.  "I accidentally woke up early," she explained.  Indeed, she did.  Eleven AM is usually when Sleeping Beauty graces us with her presence.  "Did you wake up because you're excited about seeing your new place?" I asked hopefully.  "No.  I just accidentally woke up."  Oh, boy.  Here we go.

After a week of searching for the perfect assisted living/memory care facility for her, packing up the tonnage of "must-haves" that she brought from Waco to her apartment at Raider Ranch, putting a half ton of don't-needs in storage, and then, setting up her room at Wilshire Place, move-in day arrived.  "Will I have free long distance?"  "Will you come to see me?"  "Do they have good food?"  The questions from the days leading up to the move changed to "Is this where I'll live until I die?" and  "Will they take good care of me?"  My stomach churned.  "You can have all my furniture.  I won't be needing it any more."  Just matter of fact.  No tears.

Leonard and The Meems
After she consumed a heaping bowl of Raisin Bran, I helped my tiny 89-year-old mother put on her favorite pink (she calls the color "shrimp") pants and one of the new tops I picked up the day before in the Allison Daley (translated:  easy to put on clothing) section of Dillard's.  "Now Mom, you can't wear your nightgown all day at Wilshire Place like you have been here at my house.  Just think of these new tops and your 'easy pants' (again, elastic-waisted Allison Daley's) as your daytime pajamas!"  "That's right," she murmured.  "Yup.  You can get up for breakfast at 8:00 with your new friends and then roll right back into bed in your daytime pajamas!"  A soft grin.  "That's right."

On the way to her new home, we stopped by Raider Ranch to meet up with Meem's BFF, Leonard, and my husband, Alan.  She would enter her new digs with a full on entourage.  Her fans.  Her encouragers.

One of the biggest selling points of Wilshire Place is that they offered to go get Leonard at Raider Ranch any time he wants to come visit Mom.  He and Meems are going to have standing dates for lunch every Monday and Friday.  (Leonard volunteers handing out food vouchers at a local church on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)    After all I told them about the special relationship that Leonard has with our family, they were anxious to meet him.  And, he did not disappoint.

"Take care of my best friend, Helen.  She is precious to us, and we want the very best for her!" with a few sprinklings of "Happy New Year!" "God Bless You!" and "Have a blessed day!" That's what Leonard sang out to everyone he met as we rolled Meems in her wheelchair to her new room.  Believe it or not, several people actually knew Leonard.  It never surprises me.  Leonard makes himself known in the best possible way wherever he goes.

We gave Mom time to wander around her room.  I showed her where I put her purses and where her "smart toothbrush" (that's what she calls her Sonicare) could be found.  "My room is bigger than I thought it would be!"  "I didn't know that I would have my own furniture here!"  "Leonard, do you think it's a nice place?!"  "Yes, it's a very nice place, Miss Helen!"  "My room is bigger than I thought it would be!"  "Is that my dresser?!"  "Is that my bed?!"  "Yes, Mom, it's your very own furniture!"  "I didn't know I'd get to have my own furniture!"

Sweet Leonard had us surround Mom and grasp hands.  He prayed over her, her room, and the entire staff of Wilshire Place.  I wish that I had recorded that special moment in time.  He is an "old school" man of god that back in the day carried a sermon in his suit pocket on Sundays in case the pastor called in sick.  The man can pray.  The prayer gave us peace.  Hearty were the amens.

Mom mentioned the size of her room and the fact that she had her own furniture numerous times.  I mean NOOM-ER-RUSS.  It finally dawned on me.  She was remembering the nursing home her own mother had been in years ago.  A depressing place with overworked, underpaid aides and the faint smell of urine.  The word "dank" comes to mind.  A place where you live, no, stay until you die.  About the 5th time she told me that I was a really good daughter, I realized that she was grateful for her new, spacious room in a place that smelled clean and flowery.  It made me sad to think that she so willingly got in the car resigned to the fact that she was heading to a dreary place where one waits for life to end.  Nope.  Not now.  Not ever.  Never.  #longtermcareinsurance

The morning just kept getting better.  We learned that Mom could wear her gown and robe to breakfast!  And, they have eggs-over-easy on the breakfast menu!  Now she was lookin' at lunches with Leonard...PJs at the breakfast table...AND, her favorite - EGGS OVER EASY!  (They serve only scrambled eggs at Raider Ranch.)  This was a huge leap in the right direction.  I could have kissed the lady that showered us with these glad tidings.

If you've heard me tell this story before, stop reading now.  Well, when you figure out which of my repetitive stories I'm telling...

About a week before we moved to Lubbock, I discovered that I was pregnant.  However, I was also sure that I was miscarrying.  No, I was SURE beyond sure that I had miscarried.  Because I had had so many miscarriages in the past, the doctor sent me for a high-powered sonogram at the hospital there in Dallas.  I took a packed bag because I just knew that I was going to have a DNC following the sonogram.  The technician was all perky and bright.  "Look!  There's your baby's heartbeat!"  "Yeah, yeah, yeah," I thought.  I had heard that before.  Heartbeats followed by heartbreak.  

As I was leaving the room, the technician said, "Don't you want to know your due date?!"  "Sure.  Tell me."  I knew that the day would never come.  "What is it?"  "March 3rd!"  My heart lifted.  I knew that God was telling me that this baby would be just fine.  We named him Reed.

When the lady from Wilshire Place was showing my friend, Linda, and me around, she asked if we would like to see the room that Mom would have.  There was only one room open in the memory care area.  "Sure!  I'd love to see it!"  She gestured to a room just steps away from where we were standing.  Room 33.  I said a quick prayer of thanks.  It was a sweet confirmation that this was the place for Mom.

March 3rd.  33.  That's my birthday.  It's a day that I've always loved because Mom made our birthdays so special.  God knows that 33 = my happy place.  Boom.  Confirmation.  Blessed.  She's home.

We left her all snuggled up in her daytime pajamas
on her very own couch ready to take a cat nap.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Am Going Home

The house is gaping with silence.  Alan is out of town.  Meems is asleep in Reed's room.  I am awake just thinking.  I wish that you could come sip sweet tea with me so that we could talk this thing out.  I have a fresh box of Thin Mints that I'll split with you.  I need sisterly advice.  A shoulder.  A laugh.  It's been a long week.

I got the dreaded call from Raider Ranch on Tuesday about mid-morning.  The director softly said, "Your mom is ok, but I need to tell you about what happened last night."  My heart clenched up in my chest.  In the wee hours of the night, Meems had left her apartment in search of the security guard.  Luckily, he was sitting at the front desk and not out making rounds on the property.  Apparently, Meems was very frightened because "a family moved into my apartment and they are kicking me out."  The kind, patient security guard took her hand and lead her back to her apartment.  She watched as he checked every nook, cranny and closet for the family of bullies.  Seeing no bullies, he sat with her a while and reassured her that she was safe.

About an hour later, she tiptoed back down to the front desk.  This time, the family not only kicked her out - they actually locked her out.  Once again, the security guard escorted her back to her apartment, searched, checked, and reassured.  Once she locked the door, he sat in the hall outside of her apartment for a while just in case she got kicked out again.  The rest of the night was uneventful.  Then, came the morning.

That morning, Meems went to the front desk in her gown and robe.  At Raider Ranch that is a no-no.  It's like going to the front desk of a 5-star hotel in your jammies.  It's just not done.  At the desk, she told the receptionist that she wasn't sure when the party started and that she didn't have a gift yet.  Reassured.  Escorted.  Tucked in.  About an hour later, she was back fretting about the party and the gift.

The director and I both assumed that Mom had a urinary tract infection which can make an elderly person hallucinate wildly.  A trip to the ER revealed that there was nothing wrong with Mom.  The CT, blood work, chest x-ray and urinalysis came back clear.  So, Alan and I bundled her up and brought her home with us to keep her under close observation.  Just as mysteriously as this manic dementia drifted in, the next day it slithered away.  She was back to her normal, forgetful self.

Today, a nurse representing Meem's long-term health care insurance company came to evaluate her.  When she called to set up the visit, I told her that Mom didn't really know that a possible "change of address" was in the hopper of possibilities.  The nurse was so sweet and understanding, and, I loved her for it.

Together, Meems and I answered all of the nurse's questions about past surgeries and current medications.  Strangely, the moment the nurse stepped into my kitchen, Mom became extraordinarily lucid and informative.  My usually dazed and confused Mother who sleeps about 23 of every 24 hours marched across the house with the nurse to show her the master bathroom where she showers (with great help from me).   I began to get nervous. 

Then came the memory portion of the exam.  It starts with the usual questions about the day and date and city and state.  Then, it gets tricky.  "OK, Helen.  I need for you to subtract 7 from 100, and then, subtract 7 from that answer and keep going until I tell you to stop."  Meems wrinkled her little brow and bit her lip.  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.   "Ninety three!" she finally exclaimed.  "Good.  Now, keep going."  Tick.  Tick.  Tick.  Boom.  Done.  "I'm not very good in math," Mom said quietly.  [Hey, don't look at me.  I was counting on my fingers under the table.]

One of the last things the nurse asked Meems to do was write a sentence.  Mom took the pen and slowly, painstakingly wiggled out the following:

"I am going home."

A dagger of guilt plunged into my heart.  I wanted to throw my arms around my tiny mother and swear that I would never leave nor forsake her.  She gave me the world.  I want to do the same for her.  I want to give her a safe, comfy world where jammies are always appropriate attire.

I was able to find several "funnies" during the past few days.
  1. Mom and I had to wait about 2 1/2 hours to be seen at the ER.  (Thanks to my friend, Eddie, who works at the front ER desk.  He brought around heated blankets to all the people waiting.  It was FREEZING in there.)  After about 2 hours passed, Meems looked at me and said, "I'll bet you're glad I came with you.  You would have been really bored without me."  
  2. Alan met us at the ER because he's that kind of a great guy.  As he was sitting by Meem's little ER bedside, she turned to him and said, "Carolyn had dinner with another man last night.  And, it wasn't you."  I. Have. No. Idea.
  3. When the nurse called to schedule the evaluation, she began the call by saying that she really liked my name because she was also named Carolyn.  Just before we finished the phone call, I asked, "What was your name again?"  Oh, yeah.  That.  Please, oh, please do not tell Nurse Carolyn that I was counting on my fingers trying to figure out what 93 minus 7 equals.  The sentence I would write?  "The peach does not fall far from the tree."
Thank you for listening, dear friend.  The sweet tea with a twist of fresh lime was delightful.  Can I have the rest of your sleeve of Thin Mints?  I've already finished mine.  

The time I spend spilling my heart out to you is always time well spent.

A special thanks to my Bible Study Ya-Yas who surrounded me with love and support on Wednesday night.  God blesses me through you all the time.


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...