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Mar 14

Me, Mom, and body image

Posted on Monday, March 14, 2011 in Me, Mom

I started this post before Mom died and found that I couldn’t write while her body, her heart, was failing her. So I’ll attempt it once more.

Mom was not athletic or particularly proud of her body. Not until she had dementia did I ever hear her refer to her body with pride. At age 88 she let it slip that she thought she looked better in her jeans than anyone else at “the home.” She was correct.

I feel lucky to have grown up in a home that really didn’t pay much attention to body image. Nor did anyone show any shame. I don’t recall Mom ever shutting a bathroom door. I find this hard to believe as an adult, imagining how the bathroom could be the one place you could be alone as a mother, but perhaps my sister and I were very independent kids.

Mom was never embarrassed when I asked her questions most kids probably have. I remember asking her, while we were bathing together, why people had hair on different parts of their body. She tried to explain pubic hair. I was curious about eyebrows. Around this time I really wanted a raccoon mask and a monkey tail and was probably hoping I could grow out my eyebrows until they covered my entire face. I think she told me that we had eyebrows to shade our eyes. How dull.

Later, in first or second grade there was a playground argument about where babies come out. Most kids thought that babies came out the mother’s butt like poop. I insisted that this was not the case, but I just wasn’t sure. So Mom showed me on my own body. That was the end of that issue ’cause it is absolutely impossible for a little girl to imagine pushing out a baby from that small little opening. It hardly gets any easier after you’re an adult.

I only remember being embarrassed once about my body or my attire. The girl next door liked to be outdoors without a shirt like her brother. And my cousins came over and the boys and younger girls were all topless so I decided to try it to. Not a problem. Until we all got into the pony cart and someone decided to take pictures. I’m not sure if I was embarrassed to have my photo taken because my nipples showed, or because I was doing something like a boy. My guess is that since I was about 5 it was probably the gender bending that bothered me.

It seems like most girls argue with their mothers about wanting to wear skimpy clothes. My mother made me mid-drift shirts, taught me how to make a halter top out of a scarf, and let me go to school in a smock top with hot pants shorter than the top. My high school home ec sewing project was a Daisy Mae tie front crop top. I never thought about any of this clothing as being sexy or revealing or anything. I don’t think my sister had any mini skirt arguments with Mom during the late 60s either.

I know that when I tell this story the listeners are a little horrified, but I wasn’t. When I was in sixth grade I had bites or a rash across my breasts that just wouldn’t go away. Mom wasn’t sure what caused this problem so while eating dinner with my grandparents she asked me to pull down my tube top so everyone could take a look. I did it and not until afterward did I think that was a little unusual.

I recall teasing Mom, telling her I didn’t want any fat mama, when I was young. But I don’t think she ever dieted or had any weight issues. My sister dieted in high school a bit, but in order to gain some weight. I was a size 5 in high school and ate whatever I wanted. I think weight wasn’t an issue because we had so much home grown foods,  no pop unless we were sick or Daddy wanted some, and I lived on peanut butter anyway. I didn’t have any weight issues until I started living with an obese person.

No one in the family was an athlete. Dad had muscles from working. I don’t think Mom had any. She claimed that she couldn’t reach down and touch her toes without bending her knees until after her first child was born. But after about age 70 she really started to limber up. You’d ask her how she was doing and she’d declare “I can still got my foot in the sink” meaning she could lift it up and into the sink. I’m not really sure why she did this, but it must have been a regular occurrence. Maybe that’s how she clipped her toenails.

Many girls have dramatic stories about their first menstruation. I knew exactly what was happening and told Mom. Her response was something like “I wonder if we have anything for that. I hope your sister left something.” She was already through menopause. That was pretty much our entire talk, beyond me asking if I could use tampons and her saying yes, but that she didn’t like them herself. I told Mom and Dad both if I needed any additional supplies. I was surprised to find out that my best friend had already started her period and hadn’t told me. Where I grew up everyone would know. I’d go back and visit with old friends and get the entire listing of girls who had crossed into that stage of growth. It really wasn’t much different than talking about which guys were shaving.

It’s too bad that there are so many messages out there about how sexual or flawed a woman’s body is because I did not learn any of that at home. I no longer feel so comfortable with my body. I look at wrinkles differently and no longer want them to become as deep as my grandfather’s were. I look at my stomach and feel fat. I wonder if I’m showing too much cleavage. I miss the innocence I was able to keep in early adulthood.

Mom never lost it, as far as I could tell. I once asked her about the very large varicose vein on her ankle and she told me that sometimes it scared her when she’d see it out of the side of her eye and think it was a snake. Otherwise it didn’t bother her. I pointed out that I bought her a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves so no one would notice her floppy arms. Her response was “I don’t care if anyone else sees that. I just don’t want to have to look at it.” She made Daddy show me the dimples that had developed near his hip bones after he turned 80 or so. She was curious about what happened to their bodies as they grew old. She came out of the shower once when I was in the bathroom with her and laughed at me when I turned away. She warned me that I was just seeing what was going to happen to me in the future. During her first visit to the nursing home she almost changed clothes in front of her grand-daughter’s husband. OK some of that lack of judgment could be attributed to delirium but she probably thought that since she was keeping on her underwear he could just politely look away as she changed.

I remember the time on our way to her eye doctor when she informed me that she had lost her belly button and we looked for it together while waiting for a light to turn. That misplacement can be attributed solely to her dementia. She didn’t normally lose track of her body parts, she just wasn’t worried about how they looked or what people thought of them.

Jan 28

More about LaMata

Posted on Friday, January 28, 2011 in Mom

I have more stories about my mother.

She was a dancer. She began as a child when her parents went to dances. She’d play and then wander into the room with all the coats, try to find a fur one or two, and snuggle in to fall asleep. She danced as an adult to Big Band music and dated men based on how well they could dance. I just heard a story about her dancing in the kitchen and kicking the handle off the stove. She and I would dance in her apartment to Brooks and Dunn, and Gretchen Wilson, and just let the assisted living staff laugh at us if they caught us. My father couldn’t dance at all.

So did my mother date a lot of men? Apparently she was the party girl. She said that her neighbors once commented that she was always coming home as they were getting up in the morning. Once we were visiting her folks in the late ’70s and a man came over and we all visited. After she left she wondered out loud, “I wonder why I never dated him.” She told her daughters that she was frequently just curious about what made some guy tick. I don’t think she dated anyone for very long.

Dad had MeMe (Mom’s future step-mother) to help his cause. MeMe had moved in with Mom and PaPa after leaving an abusive marriage. She took care of the house and shared a room with Mom. She was very interested in PaPa and getting his daughter married off was in her interest. She she kept inviting Daddy over for cake. My father never really like cake much, but he kept coming anyway. Mom decided that he’d be good to her and let the two of them lead her to the alter.

Retired in Texas.

Mom and Dad and MeMe and Papa got married one right after the other directly after a church service. It was a quick ceremony because the minister had to get somewhere else for a dinner. The two couples acted as each other’s witnesses. Mom and Dad honeymooned in the Ozarks. They would periodically quoted some weird sign they saw during the trip. I can’t remember the saying because it never made any sense to me, but it was special to them.

Mom had almost no chores as a child, but I think she did iron. She probably didn’t think of it as a chore. If Mom was upset, she liked to iron out her problems. She’d turn my corduroy pants inside out and give them a crease down the leg. I was the only kid in school with creases in her jeans and cords. One of Mom’s favorite memories of Bev’s childhood was playing Mrs. Chipmunk (little Beverly) and Mrs. Squirrel (Mom) while she ironed and Bev pretended the ironing board was a tree and made up stories.

LaMata also loved to weed. Daddy planted very large vegetable and flower gardens. Mom weeded them. She spent so much time weeding the huge strawberry patch that she burnt her back black. She was weeding just last fall. We walked over to the nursing home and she started weeding their foundation plantings when she fell, hit her head, and ended up getting two stitches. Daddy didn’t like it when she weeded public places, but she did it a lot. I do it, too.

She was a mean card player. Mean in a mostly good way. She refused to play Go Fish or War, but she would play Kings in the Corner with children. She once drew the entire draw pile without ever being able to play a card. (This is a favorite memory of those of us there, but I realize it doesn’t shine as an anecdote.) She would apologize for winning, but she never held back. Bev swears they played cribbage for two years before Bev won a game. Mom wouldn’t help her count or give suggestions. She and Dad played gin every night for years. Dad won so rarely that he recorded the dates on the card box. It seemed like she always knew what cards you had in your hand. I could beat her at Canasta with some regularity and am very proud of that fact.

There were a couple of things Mom perhaps didn’t do as well as other mothers. One was sing. She sang a lullaby which my sister and I love. Her grand-daughter and I both sang it to her as she was dying. But these are the words: bye, oh bye oh bye, oh bye oh bye, oh bye oh bye. It’s sung to the tune of the “Missouri Waltz.” I just now learned that it’s also known as “Hush a Bye Ma Baby” so apparently those were more words than Mom could recall.

The other thing I thought Mom was good at, but she didn’t, was cooking. She didn’t learn to make anything but pies until after her mother died. She suddenly had to cook for herself and her father and never felt confident in the kitchen. She frequently went to her neighbor for help. Then she married into a family of amazing cook. Some of her sisters-in-law literally cooked for thrashers. They made meringues back before power mixers. Their recipes fill church cook books. But Mom could hold her own. I didn’t know it then, but several of my elementary school classmates remember my mother as the one who baked snicker-doodles. She also made a great rabbit carry-out (think chicken and stuffing casserole) and pecan caramel rolls.

LaMata and FluffyI’m going to be a little ornery and end with three stories about my mother’s own orneriness. As a child she tried to make her own cigarettes. She tried corn silk, coffee grounds, and string. None of these worked. She started smoking the real things around age 16.

As an adult she was at a dance and a guy came by and said something she didn’t like. Nothing really offensive that she could later recall exactly. But enough that she wondered what it would be like to put her cigarette out on his face. Which she did. It was a bit more satisfying than regretful.

She threatened my husband, and apparently she did this only to my husband. Her words were something like “If you ever hurt my baby, I’ll come back and haunt you.” They got along fine and Mom seemed to like him. She came behind him at a dinner once and tweaked his ear, just because she felt the itch to do it. At least she didn’t say things just to try and make him blush like she did with my niece’s husband. She was still trying to find out what made a guy tick.

OK, one more. This isn’t ornery, but after she said this one word she wondered why she sometimes just let out whatever came to mind instead of watching what she said. My nieces and I were in the ER with Mom in Colorado and the doctor came in. He was a young handsome man and he asked “How are you feeling?” She replied, “Foxy.”

Jan 26

LaMate Faye Bullwinkle, 1921-2011

Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 in Mom

My family doesn’t seem to be one that does things the normal way. We had no funeral for Daddy, nor did we place an obituary in the local paper. (Mom was afraid of being robbed as other recent widows had been.) We’re not having a real funeral for Mom either. And I’m writing her obituary only for this space.

LaMata Faye Bullwinkle, née Anderson, dies at age 89

LaMata Bullwinkle passed away January 24 at Have Homes in Maple Plain, Minn., from coronary heart disease.

LaMata was born in Berwick, Ill., to Eva Faye and Emil Anderson. Her brother, Wyatt, preceded her in death. She graduated from Roseville High School, Roseville, Ill., and was employed at the lumber yard, telephone company, and Methodist Church at various times. She moved to Maple Plain, Minn., in 1973. After retirement she resided in St. Petersburg, Fla.; McAllen, Texas; Mission, Texas; and then returned to Maple Plain to be near family after the death of her husband, David Albert Bullwinkle.

She is survived by her children, Sharon Dixson of Griggsville, Ill.; Larry Bullwinkle of Ocala, Fla.; Beverly Nohr or Glencoe, Minn.; and Kristeen Bullwinkle, of Minneapolis, Minn. She is also survived by six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren.

The more interesting stuff

I know only a couple of stories from her childhood. Her first memory was of being rocked while she was sick with whopping cough, I think. When she was a toddler her parents used to ask her to say what she was and she’d screw up her face like she was working really hard and shout “I’m a svede!” And she couldn’t say the words “corner” or “moccasin” for a long time.

As a child she worried at night about the possibility of her mother dying. She was surprised to learn that I never worried about that. She did lose her mother the summer she graduated from high school in 1939. She didn’t want to visit her mother in the hospital because she was afraid of remembering her that way. She was finally convinced to go, but was too late. She missed her mother terribly and I’m sorry I never got to meet her. I think she taught Mom some good lessons.

She was close to her cousins and used to spend time during the summer with them at Aunt Ivy’s. Ila and Una, I think were the names of two of them. And their Grandpa Hall used to hide bananas for them to find. They kids played and gossiped and had a great time together.

She loved to make mud pies. She made the best mud pies in the world, I think, and used suds from the wash to imitate meringue. Sometimes she added rose petals to the top. She forever lamented the fact that once cars with their fat tires and gravel for the roads came along, you didn’t get the proper dirt for making a proper mud pie. I remember her making Daddy stop the car once on a road trip because she thought she saw the right kind of dirt, but, alas, it was sub-standard.

LaMata and Wyatt

She was very close to Wyatt, her brother, even though he would sometimes get her in a corner and punch at her. She never did anything in return because she didn’t want to hurt him. They double dated or went out with the same crowd to dances. When he entered the service during WWII, she took the train with him and his new wife and baby, to Florida where he was stationed. She thought every girl should have an older brother.

She had several marriage proposals. I think even with her dementia, she remembered this. About a year ago she asked me how many times she had been married and scoffed when I told it had been only once. She laughed at the first poor guy. I have the necklace and earrings another beau gave to her. She lost a friend in WWII, but I don’t know if he ever spoke of marriage. Daddy never actually proposed. He just gave her a ring, told her it could mean whatever she wanted it to mean, and her future step-mother went ahead and planned their double wedding.

She didn’t marry until she was 32. Prior to that she remained at home and lived a very independent life with her father. After she’d return from a date, he’d ask her if she had swapped spit with the man. She had the kitchen remodeled and spent money on clothes. (This was always hard for me to believe because I almost never saw her spend money on herself.) She met Daddy at a roller rink. A friend pointed out David Bullwinkle and asked her if she wanted to meet him. She replied, “If I had a name like that, I’d change it.” But they married and she had an instant family with him and my sister and brother whose mother had died a couple of years prior.

The first couple of years of marriage were hard for Mom. I’m not sure she ever talked about her ambivalence with anyone but me. She was terrified of being seen as the evil stepmother. She was afraid she wouldn’t get pregnant. Then once she had Bev, she was afraid that she’d break her. She got past all of that, however. She eventually learned to give Bev a bath and only pushed her out of bed twice while nursing her.

Wedding day, June 14, 1953. A bird pooped on that hat.

I came along later in her life. I don’t think her father thought it was proper for her to get pregnant at 40. She was a bit more confident with me, but when I threw up all over myself, my crib, her, and her bed, she cried until Daddy came home from bowling.

That’s as far as I can go right now. I’m hoping Bev or others will correct me where I’ve made mistakes and let me know of facts or stories I should add.

One last thing about her name…

She was ahead of her time in making up her name. She was named after a friend of her parents, named Lumata. She was named after two aunts, Lu, and Mata or Mattie. Mom said that she changed the spelling to LaMata in grade school because she liked the way it looked. Mom would call herself MaLata Faye when she was upset with herself. Others called her LaM’ata with a short a sound or LaM’äta (LaMahta). Her mother called her Angel Face.

Jan 25

Death Be Not Tardy

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 in Daddy, Mom

I’ve now watched both my parents die and I have a few observations.

It’s a powerful experience being with someone as they die. Even as you sit in silence, it is very intimate and humbling.

No one really knows how to make it an easy experience for the person dying or the witness. Nevertheless, little comforts matter.

It’s an emotional road trip for  the witness. When I got the phone call from the nursing home suggesting that I come in, I felt all of the following: elation, fear, grief, relief, love, gratitude, anxiety, anger, love.

I placed elation first in that list because it was the first emotion I felt. No more tossing and panting and restlessness Mom was experiencing during her struggle to depart. No more frustration over the loss of a word or concept. No more waiting and worrying for me or for others who love her.

My more consuming feeling about death is that he can be a laggard. That’s where the anger in that list of emotions comes from. I’m not angry that death came, but that he seems to take his own time about it. Both Daddy and Mom were ready to go. Neither was scared of death. Both had a strong belief in heaven. Yet both had to wait days for him to arrive. Daddy did it quietly for weeks; Mom was in bed waving her arms trying to get his attention for days. I have a large chip on my shoulder about this. If I ever write a fantasy story in which Death appears, I’ll show him as easily distracted from his task, a little soft in the head, dragging his scythe along the ground; or he’ll be sitting in a bar somewhere watching a football game when he should be out releasing souls or oiling and sharpening his scythe.

But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it was my parents’ choice to go slowly. It gave their loved ones time to understand what was happening and complete a bit of grieving before they actually left us. They would be that generous. Or perhaps it was just part of their characters. They both taught me to use something up before replacing it. It’s because of their examples that I unroll the toothpaste tube and give it another long squeeze before I throw it away. And just like Mom, I wash sandwich bags and reuse them until they are no longer transparent. Maybe they both felt like they didn’t want to leave until they’d squeezed the last bit of life out the bodies they had been given.

Today, a day after Mom’s death, I’m willing to be a bit more forgiving. Mom would have forgiven a Death who stopped to watch squirrels at the feeder or stayed with another client longer than he should have because that client was scared. She was a patient woman.

Jan 5

Mommy, Mother, Mama

Posted on Wednesday, January 5, 2011 in Mom

Women are supposed to go through three stages: maiden, mother, crone. But I’ve known the woman who gave me life only as Mommy, Mother, and Mama.

As Mommy, she was the soft, warm grown up who covered me up when I feel asleep on the floor, brought me juice and cookies when the kids on Romper Room had a snack, and cleaned up after me when I vomited. She was the one who told stories about how wonderful the dirt was in her day and how much fun she had making mud pies. Then when I tried making pies from mud, she made me strip at the pump and washed me down right there outside the back door.

She made snicker-doodles when I had to bring cookies for kindergarten. She would clean my bleeding knee every time I fell while walking home from school. She put up with me trying to make her say “wash” instead of “warsh.” She made me eat salmon patties, but let me put peanut butter on them first. She called me a “Do-bee” when I was good. And she still cleaned up after me when I vomited.

Then slowly she became my mother. She sewed my clothes, kept track of how long I practiced my bassoon, and took me to orthodontist appointments. She shoveled the drive so I wouldn’t have to wear boots to catch the bus. She investigated strange smells to determine if I might be smoking pot.

Then as my mother, we developed a relationship of two adults. She dealt with my coming out. She ate food I cooked. She called me long-distance with a list in front of her of topics to cover, covered them, and then said good-bye. She no longer sewed any of my clothes. She never pestered me to get married or have a child. She treated me like an equal, but remained my mother.

While Daddy was dying she was almost Mommy again. We washed his body together after he died and cleaned the carpet the following day, never anticipating all the visitors who would arrive with casseroles. As a widow back to Minnesota, she was just Mom who I visited once a fortnight or so to play Canasta. When I told her I’d be sure to introduce Hab Moo to her before I married him, she responded “Why? I won’t have to live with him.” And she was simply happy for me.

Eventually, as her independence faded with her memory, she has become Mama. My sweet little Mama. I took her to doctor appointments and to Colorado to visit her grand-daughter. I helped her resolve an at-the-door sales scam. I listened to her confession that she no longer balanced her checkbook to the penny each month.

Now she’s in a nursing home and greets me with a smile when I visit. We don’t talk much. Mostly I just touch her and smile back. She’s even tinier now that she’s in the wheelchair. She credits me with pretty much anything anyone does for her. Yesterday she showed me her nails, telling me that I had trimmed them for her even though one of the aides had done them just a few hours prior.

She’s always thought the best of me and trusted me. That’s what has made her such a good Mommy, Mother, and Mama.

Oct 25

Mother’s tongue

Posted on Monday, October 25, 2010 in Mom

Today Mom tried to tell me some story she obviously thought was hilarious about some man who sat across from her at bedtime. But she just couldn’t get the correct words out of her mind. When this happens she says, “Well anyway” and laughs.

That got me to thinking about sayings Mom used to have. Here are just a few.


LaMata a couple of years before I came along. So she must be about 38.

Has the shick o’shock train came yet?
This means “Is it time yet?” A little boy used to ask that question regularly of Mom since he had to go home for supper once it came.

DeeDee TYE Toddy
No idea what this means. Sometimes she’d say it when we played cards. It came from her high school days, I think.

Well, I guess I’m sucking the hind tit.
This came out when she was losing at cards. I don’t recall her ever losing at cards, but she must have been behind a few times.

Scared the pee waddin’ out of me.
I say this too, but don’t like to think about it.

Damn it to hell.
Or Shit Fart. Or Shit, fart and apple butter. Or Hellty Poop.
These were the only swear words I ever heard her say until she was at least 70.

Crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
I thought everyone said this. I’ve discovered that this is not true.

Ornery as owl shit.
I don’t understand this one at all. I asked her for sayings for some English paper or project I had once, and she shared this one.

Don’t cha know nothin’? Ain’t cha never been to Bushnell?
Bushnell had a dance hall when she was a party girl. But it was still one of those towns of a size that “if you sneeze you’ll miss it.”

added Oct. 26th or later


These are the entire lyrics for Mom’s only lullaby. It has a tune that’s about five measures that get repeated and repeated. It might not be much, but I loved it as a child and can stand it as an adult. I’ve also sang it myself.

Get out of my dirt!

Mom got possessive of the dirt she accumulated when sweeping the floor. It made her angry when a pet or a child walked through it.

Hell, shit, STAP!

This was something Mom heard in a car while her friend was driving. It was screamed by the friend’s mother. Mom says it with much less hysteria. I just used the phrase myself today while running a large multiple search-and-replace on a website.

Remembered by my sister:

Don’t wear that I just washed it!

It was supposed to sit in your drawer for awhile and rest, I guess.

By request of my niece’s husband:

I’d eat just about anything with nuts in it.

Mom loves nuts more than chocolate. So do I.

Archaic terms Mom uses

In the 21st century my mother mentioned that she did her trading at the local grocery store, but she used to trade at Red Owl in Wayzata. So I think she only trades for groceries.

Since I say fireplug instead of fire hydrant, I assume I get that from her.



As in “I was just setting there when…” I never saw Mom with an egg under her, so I assume she meant sitting. She uses this pronounciation almost exclusively now. It used to come and go.


Mom warshed the clothes and hung them on the line. This was a common pronounciation where I grew up. But my first grade teacher didn’t like it and I took on her fervor to eradicate it for about a week. I changed my pronounciation, but couldn’t get Mom to change hers. But at least she never said “this here” or “that there.” Or, at least, not very often.

Her own vocabulary


My sister created this word as a very young child. It means monotonous and tedious.

No reason

My other sister says this instead of “no wonder” for some unknown reason and Mom picked it up.


This is Mom’s euphemism for female genitalia.  It might actually be spelled cudigi like the spicy Italian sausage sandwich. I saw that once on a menu in some little town in the UP and thought I might have to leave the cafe.

Aug 15

Deciphering Mom

Posted on Sunday, August 15, 2010 in Mom

“Have you sat in that rocker?” I ask.

“No. I don’t want to move them,” she replies, referring to the stuffed teddy bears sitting in her chair. “Their mother died a week—more like two weeks—ago.” She says this with obvious distress.

I’m not sure how to react to such comments. Most of what Mom says still makes sense, even if only to people who know her very well and can provide the missing context. She frequently forgets vocabulary or what she wants to say and handles it well. Usually she just laughs at herself. Her positive attitude and trust that people have her best interests at heart continually amazes me.

Mom is well liked, but surprised by that fact. I told her that women at the pharmacy had asked how she was doing and said they missed her. Mom’s response was to worry that perhaps she acted too proud. “What do you have to feel so proud about, Mom?” “My clothes are nicer and I fit in them better.” It’s the truth. She has a fine 89-year-old figure.

The things that do bother my mother always amuse me. A few years ago she was very put out because the bagger at the grocery store insisted on carrying her bags to her apartment down the street. Mom does not consider herself to be frail. She still does her “fast walk” every morning (or thinks she does) and thinks she’s in good shape. She’s one of the few residents who doesn’t use a walker. And considering how her body pretty much ignores the pneumonia virus, I have to agree.

You should never call my mother elderly. Medical records all label her as a “frail  and elderly woman.” This is not OK with her and she has told her primary care physician this. She will never be elderly. In her mind the elderly are centenarians drooling in their wheelchairs. She’s too vibrant to be elderly.

She’s also very tired of hearing “good job” when she’s at doctor’s appointments or swallowing her pills. It makes her feel like she’s a dog hearing “good dog.”

She is sometimes worried about what others think about her. She’s a little concerned that the staff at her home are tired of waking her up all the time. All the other residents sleep in their chairs but she feels like she should be up and doing something. For Christmas she asked for a sweatshirt with a kitten on it so she’d look more like the other women at the home. But she’s no longer concerned about having everything she wears clean and pressed. And she’s given up on lipstick. But she still puts perfume in her hair.

There have been several times when she has insisted that the jeans she has on aren’t hers. She doesn’t remember buying them so thinks they are either mine or my sister’s. She’s a size 4 petite and my sister and I are both quite a bit larger. Twice now she’s given a pair back to staff who have just washed them. They give them to me and I put them back in her closet.

I’ve heard that it’s fairly common for someone with dementia to think someone has broken in and put new clothes in their drawers. She just thinks people have left their toothbrushes in her bathroom. I think I’d feel violated if someone left their toothbrush in my bathroom and I’d immediately throw it away. Not Mom. It doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She just wonders where her own toothbrush is. My niece just labeled her brushes so we’ll see if that helps.

My sister told me that during her last visit with Mom, she told Mom the same story three times and Mom laughed each time. I love that. Mom’s a much better audience than she used to be.

Update 8/16/2010: I visited Mom today and got the clue I needed to understand Mom’s comment about the teddy bears’ mother dying. It was a resident who had hundreds of Beanie Babies and bears in her room who died. I understand why Mom thought of her when she saw her own stuffed bears.

Jul 20

A day with Mom

Posted on Tuesday, July 20, 2010 in family, Mom

I didn’t really spend the day with Mom; it was more like 4 hours, but it felt like a day. I left the house late so didn’t pick her any flowers. I feel some guilt for that. Mom can’t read easily because of her macular degeneration. And she can’t watch TV or listen to the radio because she can’t figure out the controls. So she wanders about and she looks at things.

She loves flowers so they capture her attention. Both my sister and I try to bring her a bouquet when we visit. Mom doesn’t touch them so they are always without water and dropping petals when I visit. I feel bad for the cleaning crew who have to vacuum and dust up all the dropped pollen and petals and leaves. I gave her a hanging basket she can see from her window, but which she never waters. The maintenance staff isn’t supposed to water it either, but they do. (Thanks guys!) And when I visit I take her outside to deadhead flowers in the central court area.

Today I had to get there in time to pick up her nurse’s report and get her to the eye doctor. I hate the visit because it’s freezing in the waiting room, and the visits are always long because they involve eye scans and waiting for her eyes to dilate. But mostly it’s because they give her a shot in the eye. This is one thing Mom remembers, but she thinks she’s only had three or four shots instead of closer to a dozen. She forgets that the drops sting. She forgets that she always gets cold even with her sweater on. She does not forget that they always tell her “good job” which she thinks is something you should only tell a dog. She’s very polite about it, however, and the assistants seem to enjoy her.

On my way to Mom’s, I took a call from her doctor’s office. On Thursday (today is Tues.) she’d had a doctor’s visit because she had gained five pounds in two days. Being only around 90 pounds, this was a significant weight gain and could have meant a heart or lung problem. Apparently the lung x-ray showed some fluid so an antibiotic was prescribed. The nurse wouldn’t talk to me initially and wanted me to call her back once I got to Mom and she could ask for Mom’s permission to talk to me.

I returned the nurse’s call and finally recalled that the office has a copy of my power of attorney and one of their own documents giving them permission to speak to me. It’s always hit or miss if the bank or a doctor will speak to me about Mom or not. I still can’t convince Social Security to do it. Some places need both a power of attorney and a medical power of attorney and they want them as separate documents.

I wish I had inherited Mom’s lung strength. She has had pneumonia several times and never shows any symptoms like coughing or sleeping or even feeling worn out. I mentioned this to her and she told me that when she had it on the train she had felt terrible. She hasn’t ridden a train since WWII and she didn’t have pneumonia then so I don’t know what she was remembering. When I ask her about it she tells me, “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”

Her memory issues make it hard for doctors. She can’t recall if she felt dizzy yesterday or not. Or if her eye sight has improved or gotten worse. Luckily she will complain to me of some things so I have an idea and the staff at her assisted living let me know about any complaints she has.. But she complains to me of things that aren’t true. For example, she has told me about several instances of bowel incontinence but the staff have never found any evidence of this and I can’t imagine she’s sneaking her dirty underwear out of the facility.

After her shot in the eye and lunch at McDonald’s, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up her prescription. It was $160. I didn’t pay it. I have a call in to the doctor to see if she can prescribe something less expensive. I am worrying about this. Maybe I should have just paid for it so Mom could begin treatment. But the doctor wasn’t in a rush to prescribe it and Mom has no discomfort. So maybe it can wait. But since I didn’t pick it up, I wonder if my sister be able to afford to buy it for Mom tomorrow and let me pay her back with a check from Mom’s account? Will that $160 put Mom in that odd “doughnut hole” otherwise know as the Medicare Part D coverage gap? The health care reform should have taken care of that issue, so maybe I don’t have to worry about that any longer. I don’t want to spend her money too fast because once she runs out, she’ll have to move into the nursing home. Hopefully I’ll get a call from the clinic before they close (half an hour from now.)

Luckily Mom doesn’t feel any of this stress. Today she asked again if I had seen my father. I reminded her that he died over 10 years ago. She shook her head up and down as she remembered. “I shouldn’t be so put out with him then,” she replied. She displays no grief, just the same amount of sorrow that I have when I tell her that I miss him, too.

I love it that she still take delight in natural things. We talked about size of the clouds as we drove back to her assisted living location, which she calls “the home.” We also talked about how the flag she saw outside one of the office buildings was not the same flag that flies outside her window. She’s very precious and I hope I do well by her.

May 10

Growing older: Didn’t I look forward to this age?

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 in Me, Mom

I’m over 40. That seems to be the sole reason why two of my four rotator cuff muscles have given out in my left shoulder. At least that’s what my doctor highlighted on a handout he printed out for me. I didn’t injure my shoulder, a couple muscles just got old and lazy. Like my left breast. It fails the pencil test and I chalk that up to age-related sloth.

I thought I’d age better. Not that my body would necessarily perform better, but that I’d be more comfortable with it. I watched my mother for clues about growing old and thought it looked pretty simple. She never complained about it.

When I was in grade school I wasn’t like the other kids who couldn’t wait to be in high school. I couldn’t wait to be in my 30s. High school didn’t look exciting at all when viewed through my sister’s experience. Life seemed to really get started in one’s 30s. After all Mom got married at age 32 and that seemed about the right time to me.

Not that I was looking forward to marriage. I thought I’d graduate, work a few years to save up for college, go to a big city for school, work some more, and then—after all that hard work—I’d get married and have some kids. It was all very hard to imagine. Twisting apple stems to determine the first initial of my future husband and counting bounces off the center pole of the ocean wave (playground equipment) to see how many kids I’d have really didn’t prime my imagination.

I think I was most attracted to the idea of responsibility of full adulthood. I didn’t have any chores to speak of as a kid and didn’t want any, but I did like the idea of being good,  hard working, responsible and selfless. For some reason when I was young, Mom never shared with me her stories of dancing and drinking in her 20s, so I really only had her roles of wife and mother to emulate.

While living in a dorm during my first year in college, I upset the young women on my floor by drawing wrinkles all over my face. I was astonished by how upset this made every one of them. They were horrified by the idea of turning 25 and here I was curious about how my face might sag. I loved the deep ruts in my grandfather’s neck. I planned to wrinkle deeply and with great character lines.

I’m sure that I fantasized about retirement more than beginning my career. My parents retired just before my senior year of high school, bought a 5th-wheel trailer, and were touring the states. That seemed like the good life to me. Much more rewarding than earning a paycheck.

I celebrated every gray hair I found on my in my 20s. I actually had them taped to colored paper which I hung on my bedroom wall. Now those are the hairs that turn orange when I regularly henna my hair.

I watched my parents hike all over Yellowstone trails—continuing on after first my brother-in-law, then my sister, then I all waited in the truck. Age didn’t seem to be the deciding factor of how much energy or stamina any of us had.

My 30s ended up being a huge disappointment. I was not happily employed. I finally had my B.A. but it didn’t seem to do anything for me. Bouts of unemployment and a few weeks on food stamps had never been part of my plan. My master’s program was a disappointing experience. And my body was rapidly gaining weight. But I thought my 40s would be better. After all that was the age when my mother’s life really began—with my birth at her age of 40.

So far my 40s have been interesting. I even got married. But marrying someone so young has really messed with my desire to get old. No matter what, I’m going to look two decades older than he does. He’ll probably turn gray in his 50s. I haven’t seen any yet. While my own gray has shown up everywhere except my eyelashes.

For a few years I shared my mother’s panic about aging causing forgetfulness. Mom was sure she was getting Alzheimer’s and did brain exercises every day. She discounted the doctors who would give her the exact same memory test as they had the year before. “Who can’t count backwards by seven? You just subtract 10 and add three.” Now that she actually has dementia both of us have relaxed. It doesn’t seem that terrible. People are willing to help out. It requires a lot of trust and resilience, but there’s still laughter and awe.

Now that I’m hitting middle age and can’t multi-task like I used to, I’ve decided that this loss is really a reminder to live in the moment rather than in the fantasy of future moments. I can live for my 40s and enjoy the youth I still have. Plus my husband is really good at reminding me to take my keys, check my wallet, etc. and I have long-term care insurance. I’m all set for retirement, but will get there later. There’s no hurry.

Jan 17

My mother’s passing

Posted on Sunday, January 17, 2010 in fears, Mom

My mother hasn’t died yet, but she is passing away already. She’s sleeping more and translating the activities of the present and past less fluently.

Monday she obsessed about a brown blanket and the fight people had in her room over it. I asked questions to try to determine if she meant a black scarf that had come in the mail last week that I opened in her room or if this memory was about something else. As I was going through her mail I came to a full-page glossy ad and Mom got excited, saying “You found it. That’s the blanket.” So a brown blanket had never actually been delivered to her. But nevertheless the “memory” was strong for her and upseting. She wanted to just shake them (whoever they were) for fighting over something that was hers. She brought it up several times during both my visits this week.

So she’s passing away. She’s passing to places I can’t navigate. I just don’t have enough clues to use or the proper instruments. They don’t make a dementia GPS. Until now I’ve been pretty good at being able to wander through the world she’s described to me and understand it in terms of what I know about her past and how she thinks. She doesn’t seem to think the same way any longer. And her past is now murky and its pathways lost in the fog. So of it is kind of cute. She wonders how many times she was married because she’s sure it couldn’t just be that one time she remembers. Some of it is a little unsettling like when she asked me if I had a daddy.

When my father died it was all so much easier. He had been going to doctors and having tests to determine why he no longer had an appetite and it was hard to swallow. I called Mom and Dad one Mother’s Day, and Mom told me that Dad had told her not to be alarmed if he died during the night. He declared that he was through with doctors and that he was dying. He still looked healthy to me, but I took him at his word and flew to Texas to help get him hospice care.

Dad took control of the process as much as possible. He insisted on having a do not resuscitate form completed and prominently posted above his bed before he would allow a nurse into the house. He told me what to gather together in his workshop and who should get what. He eventually had the hospital bed put in the middle of the living room. He had me call a family friend and make sure that Mom could move in with her after he died. He tried to discharge all his responsibilities.

He had one big meal of catfish after I arrived and then stopped eating. He talked about WWII. He and I spent a lot of time just sitting together, with me massaging his legs and feet. We began saying good-bye, knowing exactly what we were doing. And, for the most part, doing it in silence. I have a powerful memory of laying next to him in bed and his fingers curling around in my hair. In that way he told me all I needed know and I completely accepted and acknowledged his love.

After the hospice nurse came and I explained his care schedule to him, Mom and I talked about whether or not either of us would be able to give him an overdose if he requested one. Mom didn’t think she could. I was pretty sure that I’d have a hard time, but that I could. He tried morphine once and declared that he hated the dreams it gave him and would not take it again. So neither Mom nor I ever were confronted with the reality of an administered overdose. Dad would die on his own.

Which he did, but it took several weeks. We watched him starve. This is not an easy thing to do, but it did give us time to say good-bye and understand what death means. It made me incredibly angry with death. I felt like the Grim Reaper was loafing somewhere and not doing his job. I became certain that if Dad asked for an overdose I would have given it to him. Being made to wait for death when you had already put out the welcome mat for him seemed cruel.

I’ve never thought of death as a terrible thing. Maybe because when I was in high school I was able to have a long talk with a woman who had been in and out of hospice care three times. This was a woman who was angry with death for taking so long. She was very comfortable talking about being ready to go, even while she had her nails painted every week and her lipstick applied every day. She was an amazing teacher.

I’m not sure what happens after death but I’m incredibly curious about it. It seems like it must be a great adventure. You’ll finally know the great mystery. Everyone learns it eventually, and I’m in no hurry to rush to the discovery, but I am excited about the future after life is past. I don’t know for certain that there is a new form of life after death, but I believe that there is. If there if conservation of mass, why not conservation of soul? Life is amazing and wondrous, so why not death?

So I’m not worried about Mom’s death. I think I look forward to it on her behalf. Like you’d look forward to someone’s graduation or wedding or other major life event. I’d like for death to allow her through those gates, pearly or otherwise, before she loses touch with her life here and now.

What does frighten me is that Mom’s life will become confusing, confounding and comfortless. I want her to be able to leave it while still having a sense of wonder about all that life has offered her. I want her to be able to tell me what she wants before she dies, just like Daddy did. I want to be able to give her a few last gifts before she leaves for a new world.

I feel blessed in that I don’t have anything that I wish I could say or wish I could do before Mom dies. I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to be forgiven for or to forgive.

I do hope that I get to be near her when she dies. I was holding Dad’s hand when he passed away. And Mom and I were able to wash his body before we called the hospice. That times alone with his body was very moving and healing. Mom thought she wouldn’t be able to touch the body after Daddy died. But we both found it comforting. We had already said good-bye to the man we knew and washing his body let us say good-bye to it, too. I’d like that experience again, but I think Mom might be the type of person who wants privacy when she goes. And I can respect that. It’s probably what I would choose, too.

My friends should know that after Mom does die, I won’t be grieving in the manner that seems to be expected. I’ll be excited for Mom. I’ll feel relief that I don’t have to care for her. I’ll feel relief that she’s no longer upset by things which haven’t actually happened. I’ll have her ashes in my living room, mixed in with her husband’s. I won’t have a funeral unless her friends want one. And I’ll only want people there who knew her, and who can tell funny or endearing stories about her.

After Dad died, Mom and I went to the grocery store, bought orange juice with pulp (which Dad didn’t like so Mom never bought), and came home with a carpet cleaner. Mom was ready to move on her own life because she had already said good-bye. I think I’ll be like that. So don’t be surprised if I want to celebrate a little after my mother dies. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t love her, but that I’m thrilled to see her off to the solve the great mystery.