I had an interesting dream the other night. I was riding a bike with my Mom on the back of the bike. We were coming down and hill and when I went to apply the brakes, I realized they weren’t working. We were heading towards and intersection so I put my feet on the ground, dragging them trying to slow down. I told my Mom to hold on, we were going to have to tip the bike to avoid the intersection. The bike was tipped and my Mom was screaming at me asking me how I could do that to her. Then (still in my dream), my husband rode over and asked if all was ok. I told him what happened and when we looked at the bike, we realized the brake line had been disconnected. Then my mother chimed in stating that she had disconnected them.
No dream crazy dream interpretation needed. This is how my life is. Me dragging my feet trying to slow down what is happening. My mother constantly sabotaging her treatment and care. Her yelling, me bringing her along. Tipping which ever way we need to so we can understand and get things done. The helplessness we both feel. The control we both crave for. When I told my husband Graham of my dream he laughed. Not much of a dream if its what happens in everyday life!
I am an abused woman. It’s difficult to say, its difficult to know, but it is the truth. The fearing of what is the mood going to be like when I get home, afraid to say or do the wrong thing is what I go through daily. There are times when I have days, even a week where things are great. There are other times when its hour to hour. We’ve heard this story in real life and on tons of Lifetime movies. Many can relate to it. My abuser has a mental illness. My abuser is my 74 years old. My abuser is my mother with FT Dementia, Early Alzheimer’s.
The ironic thing is that my Mom would often to tell me as a young adult to never stay with an abusive man. Whether a man’s tongue lashed at me or he put a hand on me, I was to leave and quickly get out of that relationship. She would say, “No one has the right to treat you that way.” Fast forward many years later and that is what my Mom does to me. The difference is, there is no escaping. I can’t leave. My mother is ill.
There are many people who go through this, from a spouse, loved one or child. I know some parents who are on the receiving end from a unwell child. They can’t leave either. So we trudge through, make the best of the best times and duck and weave either physically or emotionally in the worst times. Its an arduous task that we take on, but when you love someone how do you not take it on? I now can understand how people get stuck in an abusive relationship, especially if they see their abuser as needing them.
For me, I believe that once my Mom’s medication is sorted out, things may get better. I also take the good times and hold on to them. I know that the woman who stands before me ranting and raving, swinging her fists is not truly my mother. My mother has gotten lost along the way.
“You are no longer a guest here”, I said. Yes, I uttered those words to my sister-in-law when she was visiting. Unbelievable, right? But wait, hear me out, there is more to the story. Don’t judge me just yet. I was almost nine months pregnant with my second child. My first child was 15 months old and full of energy. It was the hot summer time. I was tired, so very tired. There are plenty of reasons why I said it.
My sister in law had come to visit and stay with us. She was very excited to come spend time with her first nephew. She played with him, feed him, just enjoyed the time. The problem was that I had a routine and she wasn’t fitting into my schedule. So when my son woke up at 6am one morning, and she took him out of his crib, it messed up my routine. Normally he would wake up, I would give him milk and he would fall back to sleep for another two and a half hours. This morning she took him out of his crib and decided to give him breakfast. Well, twenty minutes later he was falling asleep at the table and I was wide awake, shy two hours of sleep. Then there were the dishes she left in the sink. Or her shoes that I tripped over. Finally I exploded! “That’s it! You are no longer a guest here! After three days you must take care of yourself!” It was day four, and I somehow made up this ridiculous three day rule. After my sister in law got over the shock of my new rule, she put her dishes away, replaced the toliet paper roll and on and on. She was the perfect guest for an overtired pregnant woman. When her husband came the next day to stay, she told him he was not a guest. I laughed and said, “give him three days, he just got here.”
This silly rule has made me a better guest a peoples homes. I am more mindful that I am not on vacation and tend to work harder then I would at my own home. Its even more work with my four kids, but I understand how hard it is to entertain guests in your home. A year later, when I and my family stayed at my sister in laws home while she was almost nine months pregnant I clearly remembered how I felt on her visit. A few days into my visit with her, she said “I get it now.” When it was time to leave, she also told me I was a good guest. (The best guest stays at a hotel in my opinion) Now twenty years later we laugh about the three day rule, but I still follow it.
My mother was a very funny lady. She had a sarcastic, dry sense of humor. Growing up my mother was a bit of a yeller, but she was also quick to make a joke out of potentially sticky situation. If we were misbehaving, she would threaten to get out the paddle. Now that paddle was a big joke. It was tucked in the back of her closet with cobwebs on it. When she did take it out, it had silly pictures on it with an upbeat ridiculous poem. She would look at it, we would look at it and we would all laugh. She never used the paddle for punishment, it never touched our bodies. My Mom used the paddle as a tool to change our behavior, which it did. It changed us into giggling, behaving children. The paddle worked.
Many times I have used different “paddles” or tools to change my children’s behavior. When they were really young if they were yelling or having a tantrum, I would whisper as quietly as I could in their ear. They would have to stop what they were doing just to hear me. Another tool I used was for the runaway child, the one that would escape you in the supermarket or mall. I would shout out a different name. So when my son Colin was running towards the candy aisle at full speed, I simply would say “Robert, get back here!” He would stop dead in his tracks, and say, “My name is not Robert!” I would then call him a few different names as he worked his way back to me. The only downside of that was when people would be very curious if I was ‘actually’ his mother. lol
Now with Mom, my son has found a tool that can usually change a bad mood of hers. That tool is chocolate. Who doesn’t love chocolate? He found that one day, while she was in a particularly bad mood, he offered her a piece of fudge. That was a total game changer! Now from time to time, if we see she is starting to get upset or agitated over something, we offer her food (usually something chocolate). It’s a small amount, but boy does it make her happy.
I was just 12 years old when my cheerleading team visited the nursing home. I remember that day as clear as can be. There were about twenty of us, dressed in our cheerleading jumpers with black panthers on the front. I had on slouchy socks and my new saddle shoes (I miss those shoes!). We cheered, we jumped, we did cartwheels and more. Our team was a big hit at the nursing home.
When we finished our routines, we each went up to the residents and thanked them for having us. I walked up to a women in a wheelchair to offer my thanks. She gently grabbed my hand, and said she loved the show. Then her grip got a bit stronger and she spoke about having me over to her house. She kept saying, “When I get home…” She was going to knit me a blanket when she got home. She was going to make me dinner when she got home. We would do a puzzle when she got home. The more she spoke, the tighter her grip got. The more she spoke, the more my heart broke.
I knew even at 12 years old, she was not going home. I knew that this nursing home was now her home. She either did not know, or did not want to know. What is clear to me now, that was the day that I knew I would try my hardest to keep my parents in their home. What has become clearer to me now, after going through Dementia and Alzheimer’s with first my grandmother and now my Mom is that home is not always a physical place. When my grandmother would say she wanted to home, she was talking about the home she had as a child. When my mother says she is going home, she is talking about the person she used to be. That saying, “Home is where the heart is” is so true. Each person has a different definition of home, though I think what they have in common is being a safe comfortable place. Now, when my Mom says she is going home, I say ok. I know she just wants to feel safe.
My two oldest are off at college and my younger ones are getting more and more independent as the days go on. The funny thing is, my mother is getting more and more dependent on me. Just when I thought my life would get easier, it’s not. While my kids are able to cook and do laundry for themselves, I have taken on that responsibility for my Mom.
Mom can make a sandwich, pour a drink the easy things. She has not touched the stove top, oven or microwave in probably close to two years. At first it was just the oven, then the stove top. I could explain that away since I was the one making the meals, there is no need for it. Mom still used the microwave up until about a year ago. The one thing Mom would do was to put something in the toaster. I noticed that she has not toasted bread, or had a toaster pastry in about six months. I believe she is unsure what to do and that is why she has stopped. She would never vocalize that to me, she wants to be seen as a woman who could take care of herself.
When my kids go out with friends, off to ride a bike and do something not closely supervised by me I worry. Now, that worry has shifted to my Mom. She wants to be independent, so she will go out for a short walk. If that walk has lasted more than ten minutes I worry. Did she fall? Is she lost? Is she confused? I don’t get that answer until my Mom walks through the door or I just “happen” to drive by and see her. I understand that she wants to feel like she is on her own and capable. The truth is, day-to-day she is my responsibility. I don’t believe my brothers truly understand the care my Mom needs. I don’t blame them for not knowing. They are not here day-to-day and couldn’t possible fully understand.
As hard as it is for my Mom knowing that she can not fully care for herself, its hard for me and my family. I am the one scheduling to make sure Mom is never alone for to long. My husband and my children are the ones changing their plans daily around my Mom. Every morning I have to make sure I am there to set my Mom up for the day and give her medication. Each evening, I have to be home by 7pm to give her medication again. That main responsibility falls on me. I am grateful for a loving supportive husband and children that will help, it’s often the only break I get. Initially, I have had a hard time wrapping my head around my new responsibility. Its getting easier, but I do miss the freedom I had before and long for the freedom that I was supposed to have at this point at my life. Its part of a responsibility shift that I have encountered, but to have time with my Mom I’ll take it.
To all you new parents out there the birth of a child brings excitement for the future and all of the milestones they will hit. Milestones are not always what you have been told. Yes, there is the first time your infant rolls over, their first tooth, their first steps, they are the ones you read about in all the books. Those are the ones you are supposed to write down in the baby book (which you say you will get to next week and before you know it they are eighteen).
Here are some true milestones that are really important:
The first time your baby sleeps more than a six hour stretch in a night. This can take months to happen, and even then it can be sporadic. The thing is, once it does it is like heaven. These past few months (or more) you have been in a constant “not enough sleep hangover.” Gone are the days of your youth that you would have to drink alcohol to feel like this, you feel hungover every day. After one night of close to six hours of sleep you will wake up panicked and disoriented. You will quickly check on your child to make sure all is okay and once you see it is, a feeling of exhilaration will come over you. Check-milestone #1
When your toddler can start to “help”. Now its not a “change the world” help, but nevertheless something. Your toddler is usually so happy to please (unlike the future teenager that they will one day be). They will pick up some of their toys and put them away. Perhaps not in the correct spot, but its a start. You can now give them simple chores that will keep them busy sometime up to a whole minute! “Put the paper in the trash, ‘close the closet door” and the favorite, “bring Daddy his drink”. Check-milestone #2
Now your child is fast approaching preschool age and they are moving on to the next milestone. Chances are you have had your run in with dreaded stomach virus. Ugh! And the hours of laundry and floor cleaning that ensued after each bout with it. The next very important milestone is when you lovely bundle of joy can use the puke bucket. Yes, I said it, the puke bucket. You can now rest easy that you will be tossing out a plastic garbage bag and deodorizing the bucket instead of the hours of cleaning that used to happen. Can I get an AMEN?!?! Check-milestone #3
This next milestone will give you hours at the park to sit leisurely on the bench with the other moms and save on back aches. It is the swing leg pump. You will not be the mom getting your arm workout by trying to push your child to the moon. They have now mastered the back and forth leg motion which will give you a few minute break before you have to hear “I’m hungry”. Check-milestone #4
There are more milestones to come down the road, but lets face it, these are the early ones that matter!
November 14, 2013
The fall brings such a rush of feelings. Many people measure their children’s growth by how they changed from last year’s first day of school. Its the “backslide” before the end of the year. First day of school, next a new Halloween costume, Thanksgiving then Christmas and Hanukkah time. Smushed in between all that busy time, I get many phone calls of people wanting to get their holiday cards done. I love this time of year. Many of my customers are repeat, so I get the privileged of seeing how their children have grown. Who now has braces, what little brother is now taller than their sister, a whole year brings so much.
I can’t wait each year to take my children’s Christmas card photo. They are all old enough now to know just to give in to their crazy Mom. They wear what I ask, and smile easily, mainly because they know the faster they do, the sooner they are done. I love to hear the jokes between them, the comments of “what will next year be?” (with trepidation in their voices) I can see each year the change in them. Not just the physical change, but the maturation. Its quite a honor to be along for the ride with not just my family, but my clients family too. That one little snapshot in time reveal so much.
As the song goes Times are a changin’. Yet another year of many milestones. Last August I sent my oldest off to college. This August, I send another child. While my “baby” heads into middle school and my baby girl becomes a Sophomore in High School. I have spent the past few weeks looking through baby books and thousands upon thousands of photos. Getting them out for various milestones that are happening in my family’s lives. I am so happy that I have kept a visual documentation of the past. It triggers memories, good, bad and some real funny ones. I am reminded of moments sitting reading a book to a little one, seeing the first hit in baseball and snuggles with a departed grandparent. All these visual memories would do me no good if never printed.
I am reminded while looking through these photos, that times do change. Good or bad, it all adds to experience. Preparation for my children to conquer a new step in life. And seeing these photos reminds me that there is a lot of good. And we can face new challenges. And we grow. And we survive. Life is good. So bring it on!