Posted in Inside Lane

Geezer Love


When my parents split up, my mother fell to pieces. I spent literal years mopping up tears and offering sympathy, empathy, and listening to things no daughter should ever have to hear. She swore she would never love again. My father was the one and only, and if she couldn’t have him, she would have no one. No one! Augh! Dramatic flounce!

She would never love again, never trust again, never even look at another man–she swore it. And, for the better part of 27 years, she kept her word. Then, one day in 2018, I went to pick her up from Independent Living to take her to lunch and she announced that she was engaged.

I knew my mom had been sitting with a man at lunch and dinner meals, and had forgone the company of her regular little crew of blue-hairs for his. I figured she had some feelings for him, but it was really beyond my capacity of belief to even imagine she was falling in love. Especially since all of this happened over the course of 3 weeks.
So, my mom told me she wanted to marry this dude, and I said great. Because… Well, at that point she seemed lucid enough to make that kind of decision. She couldn’t manage her finances, but the heart wants what it wants, and it’s not like I could keep them apart anyway. They lived down the hall from each other, and more often than not, my mom was at his place, soaking up the sunshine of his smile.
I’m going to long story short you here and tell you that things fell apart spectacularly in another month, leaving my mother devastated, broken-hearted, and as sure she would never love again as she had been in 1991.
I was not prepared to deal with my mother’s love life. I tried to be encouraging and happy for her, but also keep my feet on the ground for her because there’s that old saying, “fast flames flame out fast.”
It was weirdly like parenting a young teen. Neither of these people could drive. Neither had jobs, or control of their finances. It was like two kids at boarding school, who met in the dining room and hooked up in their dorm rooms after classes. And, neither had full executive function. The problem solving, long-term planning parts of their brains were both kaput.
But, they were in looooooooooooove, and as handsy and grossly horny as high schoolers. I was so not prepared to see a man gnawing on my elderly mother’s face and groping her boob. It was like two sock puppets trying to ingest one another.
As ill-prepared as I was for the romance, the breakup was a blitzkrieg assault on all my skills. It had been almost 30 years since my mom had kissed a man, and she’d fallen hard and fast for this one, who couldn’t keep his hands off of her. Then suddenly, he hated her laugh, hated her voice, hated that she wasn’t from Texas, hated that she didn’t like to be outside, thought she might be planning to steal his money, and…five minutes later, he just wanted to be friends and talk to her about the other women he fancied, and called her ten times a day just to talk and tell her he loved her.
I was not prepared to be my mother’s girlfriend and sounding board, or to pick up her broken pieces…again. She fell into depression and didn’t want to go downstairs to eat because he was there. She didn’t want to face her friends because she was afraid they had gossiped about her. And, she floundered around in the fear that she was unloveable and inherently flawed. You know, the same things we all fear when we have a breakup, only the “hopeful” part of her brain was also calcified.
Ultimately, even after he moved to a different community this dude kept calling her and stringing her along. Maybe they could work it out. Maybe things would get better. Maybe they could still get married. Until, after we toured the community where he lived and we ran into him, and he called me to say that my mother had the wrong idea and he didn’t want her to live anywhere near him.
He called me again when she didn’t answer her phone for 48 hours (because she was in the hospital recovering from a stroke and I had ignored 20 dials from him) to ask me to BREAK UP WITH HER FOR HIM.
I did this by blocking his phone number.
When I moved her into the new community I eyeballed the ratio of men to women and kind of hoped we’d be safe from romance. I am stupidly naive. She’s been there for 2.5 weeks and she has a boyfriend.
She had pointed him out to me on Saturday and said, I kid you not, “that’s a cowboy I’d like to ride.” I changed the subject because do not want. Do. Not. Want.
I discovered that the feeling might be mutual when the man’s daughter and WIFE introduced themselves to me last night, and told me that he and my mother had become “partners”. He doesn’t remember he’s married, you see. His wife seemed very pleased for him. His daughter did not.
I think I smiled at them? Then, I got my mother out of the common room and hid in her room with her until I saw them leave.
I’m still not ready for this, but I know more than I did last time. Also, when my son starts dating, I’ve got this under my belt and might be a better help to him.
That said, here’s what I learned when your Old wants to get married:
  • Finances can be a deal-breaker. This is what ultimately shut it down for Mom and her swain. He was receiving his deceased wife’s pension, and if he remarried, that part of his income would go away.
  • Benefits can improve. If my mom had married this guy, her SSI benefit would have increased. But, benefits can also decrease because with things like Medicaid, as the household income rises, the amount of the benefit falls.
  • It’s less expensive to share housing, obviously. While it would have cost one of the then-happy couple $2700 a month to live in my mom’s apartment, adding another body to the household would only have increased the rent by $800, so they would both have benefitted from a reduction in cost of living.
  • But if you think blending families is hard when you have small kids, imagine trying to do it when your kids are the ones pushing your wheelchair. Then, you’ve got all the moving pieces of estate planning, wills, and medical directives, and who will run the joint finances. You might end up with a smart, organized kid who hires an attorney to protect her parent’s finances and hers and her siblings’ inheritance, or you might end up with a kid like me who says, “Can’t we just sign a deal that says you guys keep all your stuff, and my mom keeps all her stuff, and when one of them dies, they just revert to where they were today?” (Hope you have the one who lawyers up. She’s probably a lot smarter and less naive.)
  • You’re going to have to manage your own emotions, and you might have to manage it like your parent is your child. Give them the freedom to love and be loved, but be there to protect their interests. Your Old is still a person, and people want to be loved. If they can find someone who makes them happy, be happy for them. Wise like a serpent, harmless as a dove.
  • And, be prepared to talk to your Old about STDs. I did have this conversation with my mother and it was awful for both of us, but I’d rather be embarrassed for 15 minutes than have to have her swabbed for chlamydia.
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Posted in Inside Lane

Prepared for Nothing


When I found out I was pregnant with Thor, I got right to work. I had daycare sorted out before my second sonogram. I had my ready-bag packed before I was showing. I knew where the best school districts were, and what it was going to take for us to be able to move into one by the time the Braxton Hicks started.
After he was born, I gave myself 2 weeks, then I started practicing time management for how we were going to get up, get dressed and get me to work on time while he was eating, pooping, barfing and crying all over me. I mean, I started getting us up drilling for how long it took to get him ready, then get me ready, then get him ready again, get out the door, drive the distance to where his daycare would be, estimate how long it would take to walk him in, drop him off, and get back into the car, then drive myself to work. By the time I went back to work when he was 5 weeks old, I was ready for everything but the actual emotion of leaving him in someone else’s arms.
You can’t drill for emotion.
I’ve been preparing myself for my mom to need memory care for almost two years. Shortly after moving her into Independent Living, we started working with home health care to try and help get her diabetes under control. After her third visit, the RN asked me to come talk to her privately.
“Your mom is going to need memory care,” she said. “And you need to prepare yourself for it. She’s doing okay right now, but she’s going to start going downhill. I’ve seen this a lot. And…sweetie…you’re going to need to do this sooner rather than later.”
It was a sad confirmation for me, but it validated my fears and gave me permission to start calling around.
I know it’s declasse to talk about money. I’m going to show you my roots by doing just that because money has been one of the biggest stressors for me in this journey.
For my mom to live in Independent Living with 3 meals a day provided and nothing else, her rent was $2700 a month–this was after I negotiated like my life depended on it.
This left my mom with $300 a month to cover any other expenses of things she needed/wanted. She needed phone service and insurance, personal grooming and prescriptions. She wanted a fully stocked refrigerator and bottled water, shopping trips and to buy things for her grandson.
So, it was either say no and just resign myself to the fact that she lived in a very fancy prison, or help fund her. That’s my mom. I’m not going to tell her she can’t have bottled water and a pair of new shoes. However, I will tell her she can’t have cases of Smart water, and she can only get one pair of new shoes.
When I started calling around to get pricing for memory care, I like to have passed out. Pricing was starting in the low $5000s. We couldn’t afford that. We just couldn’t.
That really propelled me forward into getting her house sold. That, and needing to get out from under the utility bills and insurance we were paying there.  I needed that nest egg for her.
Obviously, we are incredibly fortunate that my mom has an income at all, and that I have a job that lets me make up the differences, but once we moved her to Assisted Living (at $3600 a month) and then to memory care (at $4700 a month), I started having to take a piece of savings away every month to cover her rent.
I started doing Death Math.
Death Math goes like this: If it costs this much to keep you alive, and you have this much in savings, then you can afford to live this many years before I have to start looking for less appetizing solutions for you, or start a GoFundMyOld account to keep you in the good diapers.
My mom’s Death Math isn’t looking good. If she lives to be her father’s age, or her mother’s when they died, she’s looking at living 5 years longer than her savings account.
It’s gross and it’s a terrible way to think. But you know what? The memory care where Mom is is worth EVERY PENNY. She is safe, she is cared for, she is still able to kind of appreciate it. In five years, if her decline continues apace, she won’t know a mansion from a public restroom stall by the time I have to look for a place that will accept her on Medicaid.
As my husband said, “Drink the good wine first.”
But you see there? I’ve got all the numbers planned. I know exactly where she’ll go when she has to move. I’m ready.
I’ve been ready. I’ve been prepared (and thank god–I’ll tell you about that in another blog) for every eventuality. But I was not prepared for the moment I was sitting across from her as she babbled nonsense and I realized, “I miss my mom.”
Just like I was not prepared for the agony of dropping off my five-week-old baby, I was not prepared for the moment when I realized my mom was gone. Yeah, she was sitting right there in front of me, but that was just her body. My mom was gone.
My mom moving into memory care has meant less for me to do. In fact, it means that other than visiting, making sure she has pull-ups, and the occasional appointment, she’s out of my hands. That has meant me having more mental time and that has meant having time to miss her. I hadn’t even realized that was a luxury.
My mom’s been gone for two years. I’ve taken care of someone who looks like her, and who shares some personality traits, but I haven’t been able to have a conversation with that woman for two years. In the last two months, I haven’t even been able to get her to remember she saw me the day prior.
I wasn’t and am still not prepared for that.
Posted in Explaining the Strange Behavior, Family, Inside Lane, relationships

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.

Posted in writing

Mothers and Daughters


I’ve started watching Veronica Mars, only a decade after it premiered.  Well, close to a decade.  I’m enjoying it thoroughly, and I am looking forward to the movie now.  I want to see what a grown-up Veronica looks like.  Even if she does follow the Disney trope of heroine-without-a-mom, she’s bang up awesome.

I finished the first draft of my novel, and am proud to tell you that it more than passes the Bechdel Test.  I am also proud to tell you that my heroine a) has a supportive, close-knit family, b) has a supportive, close knit group of girlfriends, c) has a healthy self-image, and d) has a clear understanding of what drives her romantically.  She also has a good relationship with her mother, something we don’t see a lot of in female driven art.

After Destinee survives a car bombing, she and her concussion go home with her parents to rest in safety.

I snuggled up under Mother’s duvet and tried to sleep, but my wounded brain wouldn’t stop thinking.  I kept trying to make all the pieces fit.  Insurance, and romance, and murder.  Terrible.  And my business.  My business!  I sat straight up, my head seeming to take a long time to follow the rest of me, and for a second I thought I had gone blind.  For more than a second.  I groped around in darkness and cried out for my mother, whose hand came out of nowhere to pet me.

“I’m right here, Sugar,” she said, her voice full of wakeful alarm.

“Where?!  I can’t see!  I’m blind!”

When she laughed, I got mad.  “I am blind, Mother!  It’s not funny!  I can’t see!”

She was still laughing when she flicked on the bedside lamp, really deep, belly laughs.  After a minute, I saw what was so funny.  It had been early afternoon when I’d gotten into Mother’s bed, and now it was just past midnight.  All that time I thought I had been thinking and not sleeping, I had actually been sleeping and dreaming.  Whereas I thought only about fifteen minutes had passed, it was the whole day.  I wasn’t blind, I was just in the dark.

Mother kept laughing until she woke up Daddy, who was sleeping on chaise lounge in their bedroom and he asked what was going on.  She tried to explain, but apparently all her worry for me had manifested in hysterical laughter, so I said, my voice sounding a little huffier than I intended, “Mother is laughing at me because I woke up in the dark, and I thought I had gone blind.”

Daddy snickered.  “What?”

I repeated myself, and by the time I got to the last part of the sentence, I was giggling, too.  Pretty soon, the three of us were all laughing, trying to keep our voices down, but I’ll tell you what—I know all three of us were just so glad to have me alive that nothing else really mattered right that second. 

When we finally all settled back down, Mother spooned me up close and sang to me softly, just like she had when I was a baby.  Y’all, I love my mother.  I love my daddy, and my brother, and my granny, but I truly love my mother.  We fight like cats and dogs sometimes, and no one can make me as crazy as she can, but I love her more than anything.  She is special, and she is mine, and even though I’d nearly died the day before, I felt like the luckiest girl alive.

That’s how I feel about my own mother.  I don’t think anyone can make a woman as crazy as her mother can, but when you have a good mother, there is no one who will ever love you as much.  I am extremely fortunate to have a good mother, and every crazy-making moment is balanced out by how fiercely she loves me.  She is loyal, and faithful, and I can count on her.  There is not another person alive as dependable as my mother. 

A little later, Destinee has this to say: “That was all I needed to hear because if my mother says I am going to be all right, then I would defy God himself to tell her otherwise.”

I’m letting the story settle, then I have rewrites.  My goal is to have it ready to submit for queries by the end of summer.  Let’s hope I can keep a lid on it that long, and I don’t end up sharing 3/4s of it on this blog alone.  Problem is, I really like Destinee and think she’s a lot of fun.  I want to tell you all her story.

 

Posted in Family

Mom! Mom! Mom!


At 6:45 this morning, I called my mother for advice.  Luxury.  What a luxury.

I was waffling over whether or not to send Thor to daycamp, to go on a field trip to a water park on a heat advisory day.  Since this is my first rodeo, I called on my mother.  While I may have thought she was extremely overprotective in my youth, I am alive today, with no major scars, no diseases, and all my limbs, so she must know a thing or two about child rearing.

“It’s supposed to be 112 today, and Thor has his field trip to the water park.  If it were me, would you have let me gone?”

“No,” she said, without hesitation.

“Okay, because I was worried about him being out in the heat.”

“I wouldn’t have sent you.  Too hot.”

“Good enough.”

“Want me to come get him?”

“Please?”

45 minutes later, she was there.  Luxury.

I’m a daughter, and all daughters and mothers have their moments, but I want you to know that I am well aware of my fortune in having a mother who is there.  Who shows up.  Whose support I can count on.  Whom I can trust.  Whose main concern in life is that her child is safe, happy, and sound. 

It is a luxury, and I am grateful.