Happy Birthday to Me!

Surprise! That what was yelled at me when I walked through my girlfriends door last week. She asked me to come over and help move a carpet for her. The last thing I was expecting was a surprise birthday party! (See pictures and you will know that statement is true!)

My daughters had planned this event and asked my friend if she would allow her house to be used. It was the first time in my life that I was surprised. The first time that a party was just for me. All of the parties and showers were for me and my baby, me and my husband, I even shared a sweet 16 with a friend!

The people who were invited, were all people I love in my life. They bring positivity, kindness, love and they are family to me. Such a beautiful job was done by my girlfriend and my family. I was reminded once again how truly blessed I am!


The Baby

Its official. No denying it. As if the deep voice, height and shaving didn’t tell the story, the birthday did. My baby is thirteen. Officially a teenager. How did that happen?!?! I swear I blinked my eyes and it was here.

There is something different when your youngest “baby” hits an age milestone. You knew all along it was coming. But now with Aidan, him being an actual baby is a distant memory. There are no traces of baby fat, no sign of needing help putting his shoes on. He has moved on. He is now cool. Interestingly with Aidan he is my one child that looks very different from how he did as a toddler/preschooler. Then he was a chubby toe head blonde. Now he is thin angular faced brown haired young man. If it wasn’t for the easy smile, I may not know they are the same person.

Now I get to watch Aidan transition into manhood. Find himself and his place in the world. As I will now transition myself into a mother with no more babies. Happy 13th birthday Aidan!

The Control Freak

If you have children you may have been a “control freak” at one point. For me it was with my first. I didn’t want anyone driving him around besides me or my husband. I had a routine for him. I also believed that I was the best person to make sure that routine was followed. Although I was tired and wanted help, no one not even my husband could not do it right, which just meant “my” way. This was just my way of making sure my baby was protected. As a mother, most feel a strong desire to keep them safe. (I assume for a father too) As they grow and more children come along most parents learn to loosen up the reigns a bit. These feelings I had with my first child are pretty similar to how I feel about my mother now. My Mom is not always capable of making appropriate decisions. She needs someone to guide and advocate for her. Since I live with her I see this everyday and understand all to well. My Mom will eat cookies for breakfast, walk out of the house without a jacket in 30 degree weather and put a outdoor halogen bulb in a desk lamp. If I say to family members and friends “make sure Mom eats…..” or some other directions, I am thought of as a control freak. When left with the task of taking care of a senior with FTD/ Alzheimer’s its difficult. On one hand you have someone who is obviously an adult. Someone who knows if you treat them like a child and will not be happy if you do. I think when people see my mom, they like to think of her as the “old Elaine”. It hurts them to much to think of her any other way. They continue applying old logic to a new problem. As an FTD/Alzheimer’s caregiver, whether fulltime or just for a few hours a month you need to guide them to the proper decisions. So while I desperately need assistance with my Mom, what I need is someone who will treat her like an adult, yet care for her like their child. I need to know she will be safe, fed and cared for just like a child needs. Its a difficult situation to be in and not be labeled the “control freak”. My Mom’s companion does understand and she is great with her. She is trained and compassionate. I also think what helps is her expectations are different, she never knew the “old Elaine”. I believe in some ways its easier for Mom’s companion then for those of us who have had a lifelong connection with Mom. I am grateful to that Mom has a companion who does not need to have the “control freak” me, looking over her shoulder.

Ho Ho Ho

As the holiday season approaches, I feel more and more sentimental and nostalgic. I miss when my kids were little, the excitement leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed reading “The Night Before Christmas”, and watching them hang on to every word. Although older my children have hung on to the magic of Christmas.

I miss my Dad. He always loved Christmas. In fact while he was sick he told the doctor he HAD to be home from Christmas. He made it home weeks before with the doctor telling me the likelihood of him being admitted back in before Christmas was more than 80%. My Dad did not go back in until late January. He got more than he asked for! It was a gift for all of us. My Dad’s last Christmas with us was in 2007. At times is seems like yesterday, but a lot has changed since then.

The most notable change has been my Mom. I wonder how Dad would handle the current events. Known for his patience, I would expect that my Mom would feel a bunch of support and love from him. It was difficult for my Mom to see my Dad journey through his cancer. I would expect it would be difficult for my Dad to watch my Mom journey through FTD and Alzheimer’s. As my mom retreats into her puzzle book this Christmas time since the hustle and bustle around her is to much, I hope she feels the love and support of her family.
Happy Holidays to all!

The Bell’s (Palsy) has Rung

Last week, a strange feeling started coming over my face. Slowly the left side of my face starting from my chin up started to get numb. By the time the early evening hit, I was numb from my eyebrow down and I was scared.  Fearing a stroke (yet all day finding every excuse possible) I called  my doctor and headed to the hospital.

When I arrived, I was treated like royalty.  I have never gotten into an emergency room so quickly! I guess the fear of a woman having a stroke and malpractice can make things happen fast. So after seeing several doctors, performing many simple tests (close your eyes, smile and CAT scan etc…) it was determined that I have Bell’s Palsy. I am fortunate that it is not a stroke. I am disappointed that I have Bell’s Palsy.

Since my symptoms started while I was awake, they were mild. Sunday it was worse, however most people could not tell unless I smiled. Monday was worse, Tuesday worse, Wednesday worse.  My left side of my face is in its normal place, as the right side of my face is drooping. There is a good inch difference in my eyebrows. Eating is difficult, my jaw hurts, my ear hurts, I drool. The medicine I am on is giving me crappy side effects. Quite frankly, it sucks.

So each day I look in the mirror and try to convince myself that things are better, or at the very least not worse. Then I go out, try and talk (out the side of my mouth) only to see sadness reflected back to me by the whom I am trying to converse with. I want to explain to them, its OK!!!! My family is awesome through this. On Thanksgiving, I got them all to take a family photo emulating my face. Its hysterical. My friends, have been quick with the jokes such as “why the long face?” These little bright lights, the ability to laugh its what makes it easier. So this bump in the road is again teaching me lessons of compassion, and laughter.


Brute Strength

There may be a time in your life where you witness someone using brute strength.  It’s that savage brawn that we have seen on the news when a group of people lift a car up off a person. Adrenaline pumping to save a life. It can be pretty useful. It can be pretty dangerous too.

I have witnessed on many occasions brute strength. It has come in the form of my frail and tiny mother. This is the woman that getting up from a chair and she nearly falls over. The woman who shuffles and is unsteady on her feet. Yes, she comes with brute strength. If you catch her having one of her “episodes’, watch out. Mom can get out of the chair faster than someone an eighth of her age. She can run faster then most of us too.  She will be across the room in seconds.  A feat that may take three times as long on a regular day. My family has been on the receiving end of her brute strength. We have had to duck and weave at her waving fists We’ve had to back up and place ourselves behind something to slow her running. There have been many times where we had to jump in between her and the person she has set her sights on. It is so incredible how her delusional behavior due to FTD and Alzheimer’s, fuels her.

With my mother’s small size, I don’t worry that she can do serious damage. Except for today. Today I walked in on my Mom watching women’s weigh lifting. Weigh lifting!!! My mother was never one to watch sports now she does and chooses weigh lifting?!? I have to wonder, is she trying to get new techniques? Has she been secretly been lifting? Is this a sign of things to come? We may move on from brute strength to real strength. So I will have to up my gym routine, so I can run faster, and duck and weave quicker. Brute Strength

You Are No Longer a Guest

“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 Love

For better or worse, for richer for poorer- words my husband Graham and I spoke to one another at our wedding almost 22 years ago. We have put those words to test many times over the years. We have honored them, not always with a smile on our faces but we have gotten through many tough times. We continue now and since life isn’t easy, will continue to.

As Graham and I planned our future together over 23 years ago, we spoke about how it was not just he and I marrying. We felt we were combining our families. In theory it sounds easy, but it isn’t always. Holidays are not always smooth, in laws may have other expectations and most of our family has their own in laws to deal with. We have tried to make it work to the best of our abilities.

What wasn’t expected or planned was our parents aging, getting sick and needing us. Over seven years ago when my father was diagnosed with Leukemia, my Graham was such a wonderful support. He rearranged his schedule so that he could be around to take the kids to practices, school, events and more. He took care of all things to do with my parents home. A couple of months before my fathers diagnosis, he had started to be build a coy pond in the backyard. He beautifully finished it so my Dad could spend time sitting by it. My father would fall asleep many days listening to the waterfall. The following summer, Graham worked on refinishing the backyard porch. My father would be able to see and hear the pond from there since he was unable to walk to far. It was such a lovely gesture.

Fast forward to 2013 and Graham continues to be a wonderful support. Since my father passed away in 2007, he assumes all of the responsibilities of my parents home. Now he has been unbelievable with my mother. Perhaps partly due to his training as a guidance counselor and mostly do to  his kindness he has helped her tremendously. It is not without out frustration, seeing my Mom treat me and my children meanly at times. My mom tends to look to Graham very often. I think he brings her comfort. She has just started to not be nice to him all the time, but he handles it gracefully.

As if him dealing directly with my mother is not enough, he has me. He listens to me endlessly as I try and work through what it going on. There are days he probably wants to say shut up, but he doesn’t. He helps me strategize on ways to handle things, gives me a shoulder to cry on, researches the disease and passes on information. Not only am I lucky to have him in my life, but so is my mother and so are my brothers. Things would not run nearly as well without Graham.

So in one of the worse times in life, I have experienced joy. All because of my love Graham. I am truly blessed to have him. Meeting and marrying him was one of the best decisions  I have made in life. For better or worse. Thank you babe!

Nothing Like Fudge

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.

Little Miss Ava

At the start of the school year, I have had the privilege to spend my days with a little gem named Ava. I was looking for a job, this opportunity came up, months later it has been perfect. She is extremely bright, super sweet, beautiful, and just an absolute joy. I am very lucky.

The interesting thing is the parallels between her and my mother. They are born 73 years apart on the same day. As little Miss Ava learns the sounds of a dog, cat and duck my mother is forgetting the specific names of each of them and calls them all animals. Ava is getting more steady on her feet and will soon walk. My mother is getting more unsteady each day. They both depend on me to feed them (by preparing and placing food in front of them). Ava is napping less and less. My mother has started to nap. Leaving my house, my mother is frowning and angry with me, I arrive at Ava’s only to be greeted with a smile. (most days)

Ava couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. She reminds me of whats ahead and the growth potential we all have.  I have other “Ava’s”, my children, my husband, nieces and nephews. Seeing Ava most days and her being so young its even more pronounced how quickly we can learn and how with my Mom how quickly we can regress. Its a strange balance, watching one blossom and another one wilt.