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.


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...