Today I saw my mother’s birth certificate for the first time. She was born in Arkansas in the 1920s. Birth certificates from that time and place contain a lot of information: parents ages and occupations, how many previous children the mother has birthed, whether this was a single birth or twins or triplets. Oh, and a box that asks “Legitimate?” It was a great relief to discover my mother is a real, legitimate person, and not a fabrication of some sort.

Wowza! I’m trying to imagine the feelings I would have going through life with a birth certificate marked “Legitimate? – No.” Imagine producing this over and over throughout your life. Or being the mother who has to show up for school enrollment with her child registered officially for life as “not legitimate.” Ouch.

I suppose this is one of those things that was not so good about the good old days.

The Big Adventure

My birthday is today, but I celebrated yesterday. I dragged my husband and kids, plus my daughter’s bff, out to see “The Hunger Games.” This was followed by an ambitious plan to spring my mother from the nursing home for a couple of hours to go eat at IHOP.

I was excited to get to spend my birthday with her. I can’t remember the last time that happened. She seemed excited to be able to go out with us. Yet, I had a lot of fear, too. Unhelpful thoughts presented themselves again and again:  “What if she falls? What if, while I’m responsible for her, I accidentally let her fall? What if she can’t get into our van? What if she can get in, but not out?” It’s like learning how to handle a baby. “What if I drop it?”

We took a step-stool, since it is a big step up into the van. This was useless. We eventually figured out the best way for Mom to get up into the seat was to turn around with her back to it, and kind of scooch up with my help. At one point, she did think she was going to fall, and called out. But I had her. It was a relief to realize I really had her and I was capable of making sure she didn’t fall in the process of getting seated. I kept a continual body check going during the entire process. For the second time, I found myself glad that I’ve put on a few pounds. (The first time was when I read that women who gain weight in their forties have lower rates of osteoporosis.) Even if my Mom had started to tilt out, she’d only fall against me, and she wouldn’t budge me. At this point, she weighs a slight 110 pounds or so. And I weigh…more than that.

So, it all worked. We got Mom into the van, out of the van, into the restaurant, and we had a birthday dinner – three generations of us. My kids came through, carrying my tote bag for me while I helped their grandma, stepping ahead to hold doors open, and other little helpful things.

By the time Mom was back to her room, I could tell she was pretty worn out. But she seemed very please, too, as was I. We did it! And she didn’t fall.

Chin hair, a snake and an oral surgeon

Random thoughts on the past few days with my mom and my kids:

1.  Chin hair:

I trimmed my mother’s chin hair for her a couple of days ago. Put this in the category of little things I hope someone will be willing to do for me some day. With the changes that come in your forties – or at least in my forties if not yours – I, too, have chin hair to deal with now. Oy! One more thing to take up my time. So far, it’s still a very small number of bristles. We’re talking single digits. I hope it stays that manageable, but I don’t know if I hope optimistically. One of my very best friends asked me to make a deal with her  – if either of us becomes incapable of dealing with our own facial hair, the other will help. But should she not be able to assist me in my old age, I hope *someone* will. I attack my goatee-lite daily with tweezers and a fervent desire to make the whiskers all gone. My mom prefers trimming as close to the skin as possible. She’s always tried to warn me away from plucking hair. She says when she was a child she knew of a young woman who pulled out a wild hair and it caused a sore which became infected and gave the girl blood poisoning. To Mom, tweezers are an instrument of death. I’ll continue to take my chances.

2. A snake and a teen who earned her keep:

I live in an old house. A really old house. Most of the walls are lath and plaster, and some of the plaster has cracks. I love our home, but it was a fixer-upper and a half when we bought it nearly nine years ago. We’ve done some up-fixing, but there’s always more. We’ve replaced walls in both the kitchen and the dining room, for instance. But our entry room still begs for attention. We have actual little holes where pieces of plaster have crumbled and fallen out around the light switch plate.

Monday night, my 16-year-old daughter and I were still up after the guys had gone to sleep for the night. I was about to head upstairs to bed, when I had a startling encounter that kept me awake for some time. I went to turn off the entry room light, but as I reached my hand toward the switch, I noticed something long and thin and…oh my gosh, it was a snake tail…protruding from the small hole near the bottom of the plate. “There’s a snake in the wall!” I added to the lifetime list of things I wished I had never had to hear myself say.

My daughter came running and pointed out the snake’s head visible in the hole at the top of the switch plate. Lovely. We’ve had one or two garter snakes per year show up in our basement. I don’t really freak too much about them. But a snake slithering out of the wall is just so wrong. Or, from my daughter’s point of view, cool. She lost no time donning some garden gloves and trying to grab it by the tail. It got away, the first time. Undeterred, she found a flashlight and shone it into the cracks in the wall, looking for signs of reptile. The snake poked its head back out. She went for it again. It got away again. She’s never been one to shriek over creepy crawlies. When she was three, we had a cicada infestation of Biblical proportions. The day I foolishly left a window down on the car, she jumped right in, grabbing cicadas by the handful and throwing them out the door. Her grade school gym teacher used to write me notes about how my girl wouldn’t participate in outdoor P.E. activities because she was too busy catching interesting looking bugs.

She and I both sat snake vigil for a bit, but I finally headed to bed, figuring one of two things would happen. Either the snake would find its way out of the house and we’d never see it again, or I’d wake up in the morning to discover snakes emerging from every light socket, as they’d obviously nested in our walls. I remembered a news story I’d read about a family this had happened to. It was not a restful night of sleep for me. But when I got up the next morning, I discovered my daughter had stayed with the project and caught the sneaky thing! She put it in a critter keeper and called it Sam. Later in the day, she took it to the farthest part of the back yard and let it go. We’ve seen no more snakes since then.

There are times I lose my patience with trying to get my kids to do simple chores around the house. But other times, they come through in the most amazing ways. The other night, my daughter reminded me why she’s worth keeping around.

3. Consultation with an oral surgeon

My mom has a primary care physician, but she also needs to become established with a couple of area specialists – an ophthalmologist and a rheumatologist. I’ve gotten names and numbers from the social worker at the nursing home, but have put off calling for appointments because my son had a consult looming with an oral surgeon, and I wanted to wait on making my mom’s appointments until after I found out what we needed to do about scheduling my son’s oral surgery.

He has an ankylosed front tooth – fused to the bone. It was injured in a playground accident several years ago, and has been high-riding ever since. When the orthodontist hooked the boy up in braces, everyone thought that tooth would move down and into place. Instead, all of the other teeth moved up. That was when I learned the term “ankylosed.” The orthodontist unbracketed this single tooth so the others could move back down. We hoped an oral surgeon could slice through the fused part and move the tooth into place. But as it turns out, the tooth is a total loss. The oral surgeon (who could totally play John Edwards in a movie) delivered the news. What didn’t show up on simple x-rays was visible on the amazing 3D CT scan he showed us. (Every time the dr. turned his back, my son pointed to the screen, smiled, and gave a double thumbs-up over the awesomeness of the technology. I’d nod, mouthing “I know!”) The root is dissolving and the tooth is not salvageable. It’s not a matter of if the kid will lose it, it’s a matter of when. So, no surgery to move it into place. What’s the point?

The various dental professionals who work on my son’s teeth will huddle and get back to us on a recommendation about whether/when to have the tooth extracted . My son seems okay with this information. Meanwhile, I’ll pick up the phone and start scheduling some appointments for my mom.

Monday, Monday

Any day I’m not able to visit my Mom, I feel guilty. Mondays are one of the hardest days for me to make it out to the nursing home. Today, I just didn’t get there. Here’s a rough breakdown of how my day went:

6:30 a.m. – out of bed, make coffee, fix breakfast for myself and my 13-year-old son. Breakfast is cereal for me, toaster waffles and vegetarian bacon for him. Pack son’s lunch. Nag kid out the door by 7:35.

Sit by myself with coffee for a few.

7:45 – shower, dress, realize there’s nothing I can do with my hair. Put it in a pony tail.

8:30 – leave for work. It’s only a short walk, and I don’t have to be there until 9:00, but leaving early is how I fit in my exercise. I add a few blocks to the walk, arriving at work sometime between 8:50 and 8:55.

9:00-Noon – work. Walk home. Prepare lunch for myself and my 16-year-old daughter, who homeschools. Usually, she’s on her own for getting herself fed at lunchtime, but on Monday afternoons, she works for two hours at a physically demanding volunteer job and I like to make sure she’s eaten something appropriate before she goes.

12:45 – Go vacuum shopping. Our *very* old vacuum is not doing the job any more. Meanwhile, we’re having an energy audit done on our home this coming Thursday, with people looking in all the nooks and crannies. Try to be socially responsible by going to vacuum dealer that sells made-in-Missouri vacuums; have a heart attack over prices. Compromise with my conscience by moving on to Home Depot and picking up a Hoover.

1:45 – Arrive back home with vacuum. No time to unpack it from the box. See daughter out the door to her volunteer gig.

2:00 – Leave for bank. My son, who has excellent self-discipline for a kid his age, has hardly spent any allowance or gift money over the past year. Yesterday, he and I counted the cash in his room & I declared it to be too much to have sitting around the house. Go to bank and deposit cash in son’s saving account. From there, head to the junior high, securing an excellent parking spot. 15 minutes reading time before school lets out! I always have a book with me.

3:00 – Arrive back home with son. Make various necessary phone calls.

3:45 – Daughter texts, asking if, instead of her walking home, would I come pick her up and take her to a downtown cafe for a carry out she wants to buy. I agree on condition that she drive. She’s soooo close to having enough practice hours to test for her license.

4:00 Meet daughter and drive downtown. Pick up her item, and come back home, arriving around 4:30.

4:40 – Sit down with son and go over what homework he has. He has auditory processing issues, which make organization a challenge for him, so I usually help him make a list of his homework each day, along with a plan for prioritizing and getting it done. Nag him into getting his homework actually started. By now it’s 5:00.

5:00 – Email husband to ask if he will please, please, please cook dinner tonight. Since he’s a sweetheart, he agrees to. Meanwhile, I make a sandwich for myself.

5:30 – Brush teeth, double-check clothing for anything I may have spilled in the course of the day, realize once again there’s not much I can do with my hair and settle for putting it back into a pony tail.

5:45 – Leave for work, for you see, I work a split shift on Monday.

6:00-9:00 – at work, arriving home around 9:10ish.

9:15 – Realize husband and daughter are gone. Turns out daughter and her dad were out getting in more driving time. Double check that son did his homework. Urge him to quite computer game and get ready for bed. He hears “Eat some apple slices, some cheese *and* some ice cream.” Urge him to eat quickly and Get. To. Bed. “Wait, is that the dryer beeping? Do you have laundry in? Okay, get your clothes from the dryer and then Get.To.Bed.”

9:35- Husband and daughter arrive home. Son is on his way up the stairs with clothes basket. I delay bedtime by launching into story from work involving an office supply tragedy (a delivery of literally thousands of unsharpened pencils that were supposed to have been pre-sharpened pencils.)

9:50 – Son finally on his way to bed. I turn on the computer to compose blog entry.

10:00 –  Go check on son, who is lying down in his room with the light off. Whisper “You asleep already?” He answers, “No.” “Do you have rubber bands on your braces?” “Yes.” “For real?” “No.” “Put in your rubber bands.” I stay to make sure they really go in. Hey, we’re paying nearly $5K for those braces. I want them to work.

10:05 – Come back downstairs, and compose blog entry.

Finally – Quality Time

My mother arrived at her new nursing home residence here in town on Feb. 19. Two of my siblings and one in-law accompanied her on the trip, returning home after a couple of days. Initially, she had a room in the short-term/rehab part of the facility – the part Medicare pays for. But Medicare only pays the first 100 days, or until the patient stops making progress in therapy, whichever comes first. On March 9, Mom moved to her long-term room.

It has been a non-stop flurry of activity for me, with two settling in periods in short order. Along the way I’ve been unpacking the boxes of her possessions that were deposited in my house, and taking along what I thought she’d need. I’ve opened a new bank account for her, helped her get changes made in Social Security and insurance, had many discussions with nurses and aides about eye-drops, labeled clothing, and on and on. I’m managing to visit my mother about five days out of seven. And every time, there’s something else to take care of  – bringing forms for her to sign, setting up her digital picture frame, tracking down her laundry (I don’t have time to do it myself, I really don’t).

For almost my entire adult life, my mom and I have lived in different towns. We’ve never been closer, geographically, than a two-hour drive. I was looking forward to having her in town, so we could see each other often and make up for lost time. But, until today, none of  my visits had afforded an opportunity for the two of us simply to chill together. I had high hopes for earlier in the week. I went Tuesday afternoon, only to show up in time for a tornado drill. Ten minutes after my arrival on Wednesday, the fire alarm went off. It turns out a resident saw something on the wall that said “Pull.” So she followed instructions.

Today, I finally got my time to go and simply hang out. Recalling one of Mom’s well-liked shows from my childhood years, I took a DVD of The Waltons. We managed to watch an entire episode, while chuckling about the Baldwin sisters’ secret recipe and how Grandmother Walton always called her husband “Old Man.” Ahhh…quality time.

Goodnight, John-Boy.


POA Means Nothing to SSA

Here’s one of the first things I’ve learned about elder affairs in the United States. Power of Attorney means nothing to the Social Security Administration. If you want to deal with Social Security on behalf of someone else, that someone else needs to file a form naming you as his/her appointed representative specifically for matters involving the SSA.

My mother and I have not yet done this, but it’s near the top of my to-do list. After having helped her get her automatic deposits transferred to her new bank account, I can see she needs someone else (me) to be able to just answer all of the questions. I want to make this official soon. Mom has a bad heart; she doesn’t need the stress of dealing with government bureaucracy.

On Becoming a Sandwich Filling

My mother is 87 years old, a fact that perpetually surprises her. “I never imagined I was so old. Maybe 82,” she told me today, after once again inquiring about her current age. For the past couple of years, she had been living with my oldest sister, a ten-hour drive from my home. Then Mom fell. And fell. Now she’s in a nursing home in my town, and I am taking over her affairs.

I’m in my mid-40s, the youngest of her living children. My two kids are teens. Helloooooo Sandwich Generation!

On this blog, I hope to share experiences, information and emotions that come with being double-blessed and double-tasked – caring for a parent while my kids are still at home and need me. I know many people around the world are in the same situation. Thanks to the Internet we can know how unalone we are. Helloooooo Fellow Sandwich Generation Members!