Sunday, July 2, 2017

Birthdays and other conundra

Mom, as I have mentioned before, is one of twelve kids in her family.  She knows all her siblings birthdays. She recites them often, commenting that there are more kids born in March than any other month. "I wonder what was happening nine months before that, that mom and dad had so much time on their hands," she laughs.

Her brother, Fred, just two years older than she, has his birthday in July. My brother, her son, has his birthday in July. Their birthdays are not on the same day, except for mom. She confuses my brother with her brother and talks about his birthday all the time. She talks about how her mom baked the best cakes, and in the summer, Fred's cake was usually served with berries on it. "Mom never even used a recipe," she says, "she just threw together a cake."

"Fred kept chickens, and those fresh eggs made the best cakes," she says. "Fred knew all his chickens by name and could tell you which egg came from which chicken. He always said that the dauber-neck eggs were the best for cakes. Fred could bake a beautiful cake. But on his birthday, mom baked the cake. She baked a cake for everyone on his or her birthday. We didn't get many presents, but we always got a cake."

Then, she gets upset that she can't bake Fred a cake. "I don't have a stove." She walks around the kitchen with her hands on her hips, looking all around. "I used to have a stove, but somebody took it," she says. We've had this stove discussion in a myriad of forms. She doesn't have a stove because we could make it so she didn't have a stove.

There was a huge upset when she still lived in Cincinnati. The gas company meter reader came to her house in Cincinnati and discovered the stove on when mom wasn't home. After that, they sent a letter requesting a meeting, which mom threw away (we found out later).  The gas company came to the house and disconnected the gas. The man who disconnected the stove told her there was something wrong with her stove. Clever man, how could she argue with that? When I finally got a report from mom that I could make some sense of, I called the gas company.

They told me about the meter reader finding the stove on, and how they had attempted to contact mom  about the stove issue and how she didn't recall talking to them. They were very polite, but implacable. Mom can't have a gas stove.

Mom grew up in a house with no electricity, no running water, and no gas appliances.At night, they banked the fire in the stove so they could have embers to start a new fire in the morning. In her mind, in the past where she lives, you don't turn off our stove at night. We looked at gas stoves with auto shut off. They looked wonderful, but they are too expensive for our budget. So, she can't have a gas stove.

The house we moved her to had an electric stove. We siblings talked about it--could she work an electric stove? Cooking is one of her joys, even though she is terrible at it now, because she can't keep her mind on her task.  It would be wonderful to be able to let her cook. When we moved her, we could try the electric stove. But before the move, I took mom away for a few days over Thanksgiving. While we were together, she melted a comb with a curling iron. I sent my siblings a text. "No stove."

At the new house, Kevin and my brother moved the electric stove out to the garage. We put the microwave on a trolley where the stove would be. We told her the pipes for her gas stove had yet to be run, and she would have to make do until my brother had time to come up and install them. That was a year and a half ago. She mostly doesn't ask about the stove any more, but its a mine field when she does.

I decide to drive around the field, and ignore the stove thing altogether.

I say, "We don't have any dauber-neck eggs. The only kind of eggs I have are store bought, and heaven knows what kind of eggs those are."

"I wonder where we  could get Dauber-neck eggs?" she says. "I will ask Fred when he gets here."

Crisis averted. For now

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Regularity is the Secret of Success

My son and I spent some time taking about writing this morning. He is working on his essay for his Eagle rank application in which he has to discuss his purpose and life goals. I am a professional writer. I write grants, or did before mom moved in next door. It's much harder to write when the phone rings every five minutes, or when mom keeps knocking on the back door---but this blog isn't about mom.

The life purpose essay is giving my son some trouble. He has a clear idea of what his purpose is, but he is a man a few words ----how that happened when I am his mother is baffling---and is having difficulty elucidating. So, in general terms today, we talked about writing. I shared some blog entries. He hadn't known I have been writing a blog. We talked about the structure of the blog compared to say, a college argument essay. He was thrilled to think that his purpose statement could be less formal than an argument essay.

He was very complimentary about the blog. Then he said I should post more often. "If you want to get followers, you've got to have regular upload."

Then he told me that he has friend that has a You Tube channel. ( He said his friend's videos are really good and that he has 70 followers and could have more if he was more regular. His friend, he says has computer problems. He makes videos and accidentally deletes them. Once his cat walked across the keyboard and deleted five videos that were uploading.
According to my son, "Regularity is the secret of success." He says, if people see or read something they like, they want more of it. You need to post a least once a week. Every day would be best. You need to work on it.  I said "back at ya, dude." And he sloped away to work on his essay.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I have Alzheimer's and other surprises

People ask how I am all the time. Its hard to answer that question. How I am swings like a pendulum do---and the pendulum is mom. This week has been a tough one for mom. Her dementia is more pronounced every day, practically every hour. She has delusions, not just confusion. She sees people that aren't there. She talks and her words make no sense--they aren't words at all, but she is frustrated if you don't understand her. Social situations are very difficult. Even social situations with her own family.

 On Sunday, my brother and his family came for the afternoon. Mom doesn't always know who my brother is--sometimes she thinks he is her brother, and painfully, sometimes she thinks he is my dad--from who she has been divorced for over thirty years. Once in a while, she thinks my sister in law is "the other woman." Fortunately, this visit, he was her brother. He wasn't consistently the same brother through-out the visit. Sometimes he is Fred and sometimes he is Charlie. I make the mistake of trying to figure out the sources of mom's confusion. As if I could fix her by just preparing better. One can hope.

Part of what throws mom is the changing ages of our kids. Her youngest grandchild is 13. In her mind, my brother is 13. She is often looking for him to come from school. Many afternoons she calls me in a panic because the kids aren't home from school.  My kids are near the age she remembers my brother to be, so that adds to her befuddlement. But these are excuses I make to myself, trying to make sense of a disease that makes no sense at all.

This week mom told me that she and dad came here on vacation once and left all her furniture here. "Isn't it amazing," she said, "that the furniture has stayed here all these years?"
"When was that, when you were here? I don't remember it." I said.
"You didn't come," she said, "it was just me, your dad and the boys."
I only have one brother.
"Which boys?" I ask
"All of them," she says.
"How many are there?" I ask
She looks at me and says challengingly, "don't you know?" 
"Help me out," I say, "I only remember one."
"well there's Jr." she says. She looks sideways at me.
Charlie Jr is her brother. I try to keep my face neutral. She is watching me. This watching thing is a test, and it can go really wrong.
"Oh, Jr," I say, "was he here."
Test passed. Phew

One of mom's caregiver's painted with her. They painted pictures in honor of Alzheimer's awareness, which mom said she was doing for her sister, "who has that." The picture is a purple vase with purple flowers in it, with the Alzheimer's ribbon featured in the foreground. It is very pretty and mo proudly displays it in her living room. She tells people she painted that freehand--just "out of my own head." This week she picked the picture up and showed it to a new caregiver.
"This ribbon is for awareness of something," she said, "I forget what."
"Alzheimer's, mom" I said, "It's for Alzheimer's."
"I have that," she said, very matter of fact, and put the picture back down on the table. My breath was knocked out of me. It was the first time mom had said she has Alzheimer's. She has said to me a couple of times that she has trouble with her memory "because she is so old," but mention of Alzheimer's has always been met with bristling and fury.
"You have that." I repeated.
"Oldtimer's" she said. Now I see her looking at me, and I know she is testing me to see what I will do next. I can't school my face. It's too late. I don't know what she reads there but she throws her arms around me and I hug her back, tightly. She laughs and says "oldtimers." Maybe my face showed the right thing after all.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spring Forward, Look Back

This weekend was a tough one for mom (and me). I actually ran away three times this weekend, remembering something "I forgot" at home just to get away from her relentlessness.

The kids were on Spring Break this week and we had some college visits to make. In spite of all the arrangements we made to have someone looking after mom, she had a rough week. The schedule was off and she felt it. She has imprinted on me, even though she doesn't always recognize me, and my not being there seems to throw her.

So Saturday, we're back and on schedule, but mom doesn't just fall back into routine--she is mad. She doesn't know why she is mad, she just is mad. She casts about for things that are upsetting her.

And because she is upset, this weekend was fight picking weekend. Everything I did and said was wrong.  She wanted to walk, and when I said "OK, its cold, wrap up," she didn't want to walk, "why was I making her?"

She was hungry, so I made her food she said she wanted, and she would put the plate in the refrigerator untouched saying "I just ate."

There were so many things, her house, the lost kids, the dog---I cannot list them all. 

 But the worst, the worst, the absolute worst was her car. After weeks of not having the car be an issue, weeks where she told me "she sold her car because it was just too much bother," she called me Saturday to ask me to help her phone the police, "someone had stolen her car." When I told her she had sold her car she got really angry and wanted to know what I had done with the money.

Then she wanted to see my car, and when I showed it to her she said, "that's not my car." Obviously, she thought I had taken her car.

All day Saturday she rounded on me about the car. Distraction, explanation, diversion, games, puzzles, drawing---none of it lasted----always, always, always she circles back to that blasted car.

Saturday night we watched a Project Runway rerun---mom loves these--and we were drawing dresses in our sketchbooks and talking about fashion. We were having a nice time. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, Mom said she was getting tired. So, I switched off the TV and did a brisk tidy and tuck in. I hugged her goodnight, said "see you in the morning!" She said "see you in the morning" in a cheerful chirp and laid down.

I picked up my stuff, turned to go and mom was behind me.

She said " I'll just lock up."

 I said "I can lock up, you can stay tucked in warm."

 She put her hand on my back and said guided me toward the back door saying sweetly "No honey, I'll lock up."

"OK, " I said, "I'll be quick because its cold."

When we got to the back door, the cheerful voice was gone. In a completely different voice, she hissed "I did not sell my car!" and then she shoved me out the back door and slammed it and locked it.

I stood there a few seconds waiting to see if she would open the door and start again, but she turned off the kitchen light and went back to the family room. 

And you know, she's right. She didn't sell her car.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Recently, the husband of an acquaintance died. I had not met the husband, and I don't know the woman particularly well, but death touches us. When I read the obituary, and all the attached messages, I was struck buy how much we save our praise to be shared after someone has left us. Part of this is because, like Joni Mitchell says in the song, "We don't know what we've got until its gone,"  part of it is that we have been taught not to speak ill of the dead, and part of it is that there are some things you don't say.
For instance, on a resume, you may write that you volunteer at a soup kitchen, but only in your eulogy will people tell how you gave your coat to a homeless man. And yet, these two acts of service are born from the same character trait. Wanting to be helpful. Or are they? There is a public requirement that we participate in the community. Politicians regularly are filmed working at soup kitchens, but most of us view this with skepticism. 

Are you volunteering at the soup kitchen so that you can put it on your resume? For some scouts, I have to say that is true. There are scouts that come to meetings only to get advancements. You know who they are, they know who they are--they are the scouts who camp enough to meet the camping requirement, and who serve in leadership positions that meet the leadership requirement, they volunteer to help younger scouts and  satisfy the EDGE method requirement. They are often pleasant young men from nice families, but they are in scouting to become Eagle Scouts. These scouts meet the requirements, and they can put Eagle on their resume. We watch them leave the troop with sadness in our hearts, because they are missing scouting.

Being a Boy Scout is more than meeting the requirements. The requirements of the program and the 12 points of the scout law are there to foster the mindset that promotes actions like giving a coat to a homeless man. The hope that Baden-Powell had, and your adult leaders have,  is that by being a scout, by earning the requirements and being asked to examine your behavior for examples of scout spirit, you will become your best self. The self that will adhere to the scout law even when it isn't seen by others. I hope with every scoutmaster conference that you will practice undocumented virtue, the kind that gets you no points, but earns you the silent admiration and approbation of those that know you. The kind that gets mentioned at your funeral.