My Mother’s Keeper

You’ll notice I haven’t posted here since September of 2017. I hadn’t even realized that until I came to make this post, which works out because the reason I stopped posting is also the reason I’m coming to post today: My mom.

On Facebook, I’ve been sharing a lot of the journey I’ve been on with her declining mental health over the past two years, but especially the past three months, and I’ve had so many people reach out I decided to share with a wider audience.

So, let’s start in September of 2017 and I’ll get you up to speed.

Actually, let’s start in October of 2008, when my mother was recovering from colorectal cancer in my home and I realized I was not a nurse, I was not a natural-born caregiver, and my mom was a double-fisted handful of impossible to please when she’s ill. I mean, I already knew that last part. I had remembered that from my childhood. What was new was realizing that my patience level had changed.

In October of 2008, my son was three, my husband was working full time and going to school full time. I was also working a stressful, full-time job, caring for my little family, and then driving 1.5 hours every night ONE WAY to visit my mother in the hospital, until I brought her home after a series of events in the hospital nearly killed her.

I learned that I had the patience to be my son’s mother or the patience to be my mother’s caregiver, but I did not enough for both–and that’s probably the healthiest realization I’ve ever come to and set me up for success in the following years. I don’t feel bad about that. I have limits and I know what they are.

From 2008 through 2014, at intervals, I would ferry my mother to and from appointments in order to be the detail-keeper. I took her to the MRI appointment when she took 3x the dosage of valium they had suggested and then behaved so cruelly and so badly that I chose not to connect with her for a couple of weeks after I was sure she was back to normal. (She needed the MRI because in a bout of what was increasingly erratic behavior, she had “playfully” charged my son like a bull, tripped, and busted open my front door with her head, pile-driving my then-7-year-old first-grader into a flight of stairs. She hit the door so hard, it knocked out a chunk of drywall when it hit the wall. A couple of years later, while “playfully” grabbing at my son, she would trip, fall, and break her arm.)

In 2014, when she had open-heart surgery, I reprised my role of caregiver both before and after her hospital stay, and was there when she went absolutely apeshit in the ICU for three days. I stayed at her house with her to help her settle in and it was pure, unadulterated misery for both of us. I couldn’t do anything right for her, and she couldn’t find any relief. My mom suffered every emotional side-effect associated with open-heart surgery, without the willingness to do anything the doctor or I asked her to do.

When we made our 6-week return to the surgeon, my mom (whose recovery had been arduous and unending) admitted that she had stopped taking any of the medication that had been prescribed after surgery because she didn’t think she needed it, and I lost my shit. I sat through the surgeon berating me for not taking better care of her, and not making sure she was taking her medication (I would ask, she would say yes, that was that.) I sat through her truculent response to his insistence that she take her medicine. And, I sat through at least five red lights on our way home before I absolutely lost my shit.

I was furious that I had spent so much time and expended so much emotional energy into her health, only to have her scoff and say she could cure herself with herbs. I was enraged that I had missed important things with my son so I could sit by her side while she recovered since she was just going to kill herself with a refusal to cooperate with the doctor after the fact. I was livid about all the pieces I had been forced to pick up before and after her surgery, and what all I’d had to give up and do just to make her home habitable for when she returned from the hospital. I had poured money, time, sweat, and a lot of tears into her health. All she had to do was take some pills.

Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. It always is.

A transient ischemic attack (or, TIA), is what kicked off the ER visit that led to the heart surgery. Now, I know that a TIA can also kick off or kick up levels of Vascular Dementia. With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I can see that in the weeks and months after the TIA, my mom’s mental health was never the same. I can see that she honestly could not understand the importance of her medication routine. I can see that the part of her mind that helped her plan for the future, and helped her reason was crippled. I can see that my mother’s current diagnosis of vascular dementia probably got its start in 2014–maybe earlier.

All I knew then was that my mother knew she had Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, and she wasn’t willing to do the work to manage either issue, and I had a child to raise and a marriage to foster. I had to work, and I had my own physical and mental health issues to deal with. So, unless she needed me for transportation due to anesthesia (colonoscopies 2x a year) or wanted company at the doctor, I released her to her own healthcare. I worried, but I let go of responsibility.

Over the course of the next three years, I saw (but did not recognize) all the symptoms of dementia in my mother:

  • Confusion
  • Trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Reduced ability to organize thoughts or actions
  • Decline in ability to analyze a situation, develop an effective plan and communicate that plan to others
  • Difficulty deciding what to do next
  • Problems with memory
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Unsteady gait
  • Sudden or frequent urge to urinate or inability to control passing urine
  • Depression or apathy

I started scouting senior living facilities because I was worried about her house falling down around her, and her not being able to manage or maintain it (and also because I plan in advance like I’m playing chess with Death), and I started trying to convince my mom that she needed to move.

We fought a lot. A LOT. Our usual daily communication dwindled because her behavior was so erratic and unsettling. She was not emotionally reliable, and I started pulling way back on the time she spent with my son because I felt like she was using him to fortify herself. It wasn’t healthy for him. She started asking him to lie for her, and that was the end of that. She thought I was mean and condescending. I thought she was stubborn and killing herself.

And that’s where we were in September of 2017, when after three days of her not answering her phone, I went to her house and found her wandering around pantsless and weeping.

And that’s the day I became my mother’s keeper.

Fat Girls Drive Slow Cars

Tis the season for car commercials.

There is a Lexus ad that seems to come on every commercial break, and since we’ve been iced in and watching a lot of TV, I’ve seen it a few thousand times.  A gorgeous brunette works at a sewing machine, making giant bows for cars.  A decent looking man drives one of said cars.

I don’t know what men think about when they see these ads, but I caught myself having a thought that gave me pause.  After wondering if people really buy each other cars for Christmas, I found myself thinking that if I were thinner and more chic, I could have a fancy car, but as long as I was overweight, I would never so much as see the inside of the dealership.

It only takes a couple of seconds to rifle through a few hundreds thoughts, so I went from “Do people really buy each other cars for Christmas,” to, “If I lost weight, I could work in The Industry again, and make better money, and buy a car like that,” to, “If I were thinner and dressed better–maybe had a few enhancements done back in the day, I might have married into a car like that*,” to, “As long as I am overweight, I will never have a Lexus.”

Funnily, I realized I have that conversation in my head about a lot of things.  From jewelry and underwear, to cars–apparently–I’ve got it in my head that until I am 5’10”, and wear a size 4, I will never have that bracelet, that bra, or that Lexus.  The bad news is that while I quit growing vertically in 1992, and never topped 5’3″, my width fluctuates almost seasonally.  I’m fattest in the summer, in case you wondered.  I don’t like to move around in the heat.

Anyway, my point is that I really thought I was immune to all of that!  I really thought I had myself together when it came to body image (because I am totally cute), and it wasn’t until I heard this back-of-my-head voice, matter-of-factly (and it was!  it was so blase.  “You are overweight, and you will never have X, Y, Z until you look better.”  Not shaming, not lecturing, just, “These are the facts, ma’am.”) telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I realized how insidious the issue is.

I did not think, “If I go back to school and study X, I can get a higher paying job doing Y, and I can buy that car.”  My immediate thought was that if I quit eating for a few months, had some air bags installed in my fender, and put on more lipstick, I could end up in that car.  Yes, because I could get paid more as an actor, but all based on my looks.  Not based on talent.  Not based on ability.  Based on zero body fat and fake boobs.  I’d be hungry, but I’d be in a car that supermodels drive.  (Do supermodels drive?)

I also ran through the cost of the plastic surgery it would require to get me up to code, and that little voice in my head said, “You have to spend money to make money.”

I was thinking all that and the trick is that I HAVE EXCELLENT SELF ESTEEM.  What about the women and girls who don’t?

Later in the day, I came across this video of a lecture by Jean Kilbourne, in which she discusses how the media reduces women to Things in advertising, and how that affects so much more than just self image.

It’s really worth the five minute watch.

Meanwhile, I am busy deconstructing two things:  Why I feel like I have to look a certain way to have certain things, and why I feel like certain things equal a better life.  (Because I am totally cute AND I love my Saturn.  That Saturn is an awesome vehicle, and I wasn’t interested in trading it in for a Mercedes when I had the employee option to do it very inexpensively.)

Meanwhile, meanwhile, I would not trade all the luxury items in the world for how it feels to sit on my sofa with Thor in my lap, and B snoring beside me, watching the Eagles destroy the Lions in the middle of a blizzard.  Maybe nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but nothing feels as good as my life–and my life comes with some cushion.



The Way You Look Tonight

While shifting some things around at my mom’s house, I found the cd B & I played at our wedding.  I popped it in the car today, and though Thor howled at Etta James’ At Last vocals, like Hoo howls at police sirens, I had a great time listening.  The boy was dropped off at school before Etta had finished, so I got to listen to the rest by myself.

We’re coming up on our 10th anniversary.  The really nice thing is that if you’d asked me in December of 2003, what I thought December of 2013 would look like, I’d have described something like this exactly.  B and I have both progressed in our chosen fields.  We have a great kid.  We live in a place where we are all happy.  We have a goofy dog, wonderful family and friends, and we still like watching football from the sofa.  (I still don’t know what 4th and Down means, or whatever.  But I still like watching.)

I feel very fortunate to have this life, and very proud of all we have accomplished as individuals, and as a family unit.  Life can be hard, but we’ve all worked together to try to make life a little easier for each other.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always appreciated.

One of the songs on the cd is The Way You Look Tonight.  Sinatra’s version.  I love the opening lines.  “Some day, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I will get a glow just thinking of you, and the way you look tonight.”  I’m that way about B.

I can think about him and feel warm down to my toes.  You throw Thor into the mix?  Well, I couldn’t have imagined a world I love more.

Some day, when I am an old, old lady, I’m going to remember these days and feel so very, very blessed.

YOU Light Up My Life

Thank you for making my dream come true.  Without you, I wouldn't have needed to sign any books!
Thank you for making my dream come true. Without you, I wouldn’t have needed to sign any books!

Today was a dream come true, and I owe that entirely to the kindness and love of friends and family.  I walked in to Barnes & Noble and set up my table with 25 books, and I left with no books.  22 had sold, and 3 were going on an end-cap to sell later.  My wonderful, wonderful People had come in and made me look like I was a New York Times Best Selling Author.  By the time I was packing up to leave, my table was gloriously bare.

YOU, friends and family, made this event a success, and I don’t know how to thank you all other than to just keep telling everyone how amazing you are.

The tiaras were a big hit, and I was pretty excited when the book sellers wanted to wear them, too.  I think everyone could use a little sparkle.  B even wore one for a split second, but refused to be photographed.

I think the biggest hit for me was the official B&N poster with my big face on it.  As soon as the event was over, I walked right next door to the Michael’s there and headed back to the framing section.  In two weeks, I’ll have an official B&N poster with my big face on it to hang somewhere in my house.  Where, I have no idea.  I can’t very well hang it over the fireplace.  I have to at least pretend to have some modesty and humility about me.

Next week is the Boston Book Festival, then the book signing at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, and then I’ll be going on blog tours.  I’ve been prepping interviews and guest posts for those, and I hope you’re going to enjoy reading what I’ve had to say.  I’m trying to make sure there is something new for you to read at every stop, and making sure you haven’t read it here first.  That’s not easy!  I always want to share it with you first.

Once all that is done, it’s nose to the grindstone to finish MISS MAYHEM, and then I need to get to work on Destinee’s final book in the series.  I’ve already decided she’s going to have some competition from Texas in book 3.  I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile…

Official B&N sign with my big face on it. Thank you, Linda, for taking these photos.
Official B&N sign with my big face on it.
Thank you, Linda, for taking these photos.



Photogenic. Photogenetic.

hockaday   It was 6th Grade, and I insisted upon doing my own hair for picture day–the oxford and blazer were part of the uniform, but the hair?  All mine.  I was arguing with my mother about it out the door, and I know what Lane-has-been-crying face looks like–that’s it.  I remember standing in line for my picture and realizing that all the other girls, from the neck up, looked like they’d been styled for a wedding.  From the neck down, we looked like a Green and White episode of Facts of Life the Middle School Years. One of the teachers asked me if my mother had forgotten it was picture day.  The photographer pulled out a comb and made a tent flap in my bangs so that my eyes would show.  I felt a sting of regret.  My mother had been right.  I should have let her fix my hair.  But, I wasn’t going down like that.  Oh no.  I held my wooby, little head high and said I meant to look that way, and that I liked it.  Pride.  Proud.  Defiant. When the pictures came home, my mother was grim.   It was the only time in my life that she ever asked for retakes.  She called the school and asked for retakes. For what it’s worth, I look back on the day with pride.  Still proud.  Still defiant.  I was twelve, and I had hot rollers.  Don’t give a kid hot rollers, if you don’t want her to use them. It’s also funny how dark the picture is.  My hair looks auburn, and my blazer looks black.  My hair was strawberry blonde, and my blazer was a medium green. Today is picture day at Thor’s school.  Last night, after telling me he’d like me to go buy him a black suit, white shirt, and fancy tie to wear (far too late in the day to even think of making that happen), and after going through several mental wardrobe changes until we got down to shorts and a polo shirt, he woke up asking for a tie.  He had to wear a tie. It didn’t matter that it didn’t match.  It didn’t matter that it was too long.  It didn’t matter that he was wearing it with a polo shirt.  He. had. to. wear. a. tie. I put one of B’s ties on him, and it was like turning on the Christmas lights.  That kid was proud.  Delighted. He stood in front of the mirror for a long time, declared himself very cool, wetted down and tamed his own cowlick, then went to find his shoes. Of all the shoes he could choose, he came out of his room with his plaid Vans.  Proud.  Delighted. I did point out the problem with mixing a white, blue, and pink striped shirt, with a navy, gold, and olive dotted tie, and red, white, and blue plaid shoes.  He said, “I think I look cool.”  I thought, “He’s watched too much Doctor Who.”  I said, “You are cool.”  He said, “You need to call me Mr. B because of the tie.”  I said, “All right, Mr. B, grab your backpack and let’s go.  Your close-up awaits you.” When he looks back at today’s picture in 30 years, I want him to be able to say, “That was such a great morning.” It’s his school picture.  He should be happy.  We’ll be going to buy him a tie that fits. thorsday1 He does look cool.