Our Other Mom

These marigolds don’t have anything to do with the post, but aren’t they pretty? Also, a butterfly.

I write a lot about my own mother, because our lives are so enmeshed. I may or my not have mentioned that my husband also has a mom, and we all love her just as much. We don’t see her often, because she lives a few hundred miles away.

It can seem overwhelming sometimes being the close child, the one who is involved every day, the one who has to track every detail, take every phone call, drop everything and run to assist when your parent needs help. But now we’re experiencing the challenges of being the far-away kids.

Continue reading “Our Other Mom”

The Many Meanings of Senior

The word “senior” has a prominent place in my life at the moment, but with a variety of meanings. At age ninety, my mom is a senior. At age seventeen, my son is also a senior.

In my life at this moment, senior means both Medicare statements and college applications.

Senior means a skilled living facility and classes in two different school buildings.

Senior means rock star parking with my mom’s official hangtag and a photo of my son in a tux.

Senior means being old and disabled enough to be excuse from jury duty and being a smidgen too young to vote, yet.

Senior means more difficulty eating and the ability to consume pizza without end.

Senior means fewer choices every day and more decisions to make.

Senior means spending hours every day reminiscing on the past and hours every day looking to the future.

Senior means discounts with an ID.

Senior meaning so many things at once means I’m still in the sandwich generation.

Pneumonia Falls

Pneumonia Falls — it’s the dystopian anti-vacation destination my mom has been visiting for the past several days. First she spiked a fever, then she got weak and dizzy, then she fell. Nothing broken, so I guess that means her osteoporosis medicine is working.

After a series of tests, it was determined she had a mild case of pneumonia. Antibiotics have taken down the fever and cleared up congestion. But neither her strength nor balance has returned. She’s fallen two more times and is now under injunction not to walk anywhere without the accompaniment of an aide.

Yesterday she told me she has to stop and rest on her way to the dining room and asked me to bring her wheelchair the next time I come. This feels like a big step down to me, as she’s been adamantly anti-wheelchair up until now. But she’s looked a lot closer to the edge of death than this in the past and then bounced back.

I guess we’ll go on the way life has to go on anyway. One day and then another day and then another until eventually there isn’t one more.

What Dreams May Come

I dream a lot. Always have. Vivid, detailed, complex, Technicolor dreams. Sometimes (okay, often) they’re bizarre – I won a trip to the Mars Colony, which totally existed. The biodome looked like an abandoned warehouse, and I was upset because I’d forgotten to bring my pedometer. I’d been planning to live-blog how many steps I was taking on the red planet. Sometimes they’re boring – I dreamed I had insomnia. Sometimes they’re a jumble of all of my anxieties – I’m late to work, while somehow 30 miles away and I can’t find my car. Also I discover the denture tablets I thought I’d bought for my mom are really kittens that need to be fed.

View from the biodome.
View from the biodome.

Sometimes I have a dream that’s a wake-up call, so to speak. In the early days of my marriage I dreamed I had died and was a ghost. I couldn’t go beyond my house. Only my husband could see me. He said it was okay, he’d stay married to me. But I knew I had to go “on” for his sake. What kind of burdensome,unfairly limited life would that be for him? As I mulled this over the next day, I realized it was a message from the part of my mind that had noticed I was depending too much on my spouse to be everything to me. I was living through him and it wasn’t healthy for either of us. I was at risk of losing my own life and of tying him to someone who wasn’t a fully realized person. I made some changes after that one, I can tell you.

I experienced another dream of this variety a few nights ago. I had time-traveled back ten years on accident. I’m not sure how. But I was stuck there. It wasn’t one of those time travel adventures where you risk running into your earlier self. It was more of the Peggy Sue Got Married variety, where you have to go back and relive an earlier time in your life. I was a mess. Ten years ago, I had the same employer, but a different job. Our building has undergone some changes in that time, so the layout is different. So, I was trying to do my work and act like nothing was wrong, as if I didn’t have tons of foreknowledge about changes that were to come – Facebook, co-workers who would have babies, or get divorced, or die, all in the next few years. I had to hold myself back from taking care of things that weren’t on my list of duties then, but are now. I couldn’t remember where things were back then or the procedures for any job tasks. And I was full of worry over not remembering what time my kids would be getting out of elementary school, or what exactly was going on in their daily lives. What could I say to them when I picked them up without tipping my hand? Then I fretted about all of the things I knew were to come for them – major surgery for the younger one, the older one being bullied at school.

Caught in the vortex
Caught in the vortex

So many times I’ve wasted my energy on regret. Wishing I’d done something differently with my kids. Other times, I find myself missing their younger selves, feeling nostalgia for the days when I was a much bigger part of their lives and we’d do fun things together. Playing on the tire swing at the park, sledding in the snow. You might think, given the opportunity for a redo, I’d look forward to doing the things differently, heading off my mistakes, that I’d revel in the opportunity to relive the fun and closeness I remember and long for. That I’d relish being ten years younger and therefore having an extra decade to live. But I felt none of this in the dream. Like Peggy Sue, I only wanted to get back to my now life. I missed the kids I have now. I missed the job I have now. I was downright incompetent in my old roles.

Once again, I woke up realizing a part of my being had been noticing some things about my life and felt the need to hit me over the head with them while I slept. This is the only way I can get my own attention sometimes, I guess. Do I genuinely wish I could have the chance to do things over and enjoy them again and make better decisions? I mean for really real? No. I’d make a mess of it. I can’t be who I was then. Okay Brain, I get it. Stop worrying about things that are done and over with and unchangeable. Take pleasure in the good memories, but appreciate what I have now while I have it. Enjoy who my kids are at this moment, who I am at this moment. Seize the day, because even if it came again, I’d wish it hadn’t.

Elders Living Alone – Making Sure They Eat



UPDATE: I’ve made a couple of corrections below, where I mangled Debi’s intent on her suggestions. Sorry about that. Also, an addition at the bottom.


Since my mother is in a skilled nursing facility, I don’t have to worry about meals. But for many adult children of older parents, a big concern is making sure Mom  or Dad is eating enough of the right foods. If you live nearby – close enough to visit at least a couple of times a month – there are steps you can take to help.

The following suggestions come from Debi Boggs (Thanks, Debi!):

While visiting, cook in large batches – enough for a meal and at least two servings of leftovers. Freeze the leftovers in single-serving portions. Use resealable bags if washing dishes is a hardship, or something your older relative just doesn’t want to deal with. You can be extra green in your own home to make up for this.

Pizza “kits” make an easy meal. Buy one or two balls of pizza dough at the store, quarter them, stretch them into pizza rounds, and place each round on a sheet of parchment paper. Each quarter will fit into a gallon-sized resealable bag. Take two small bags for each large, pouring the correct amount of sauce in one and the correct amount of shredded cheese in the other. Place these in the larger bags. With a marker, write assembly and baking instructions on the outside of the gallon bags. These kits will stack easily in the freezer.

Roasted vegetables also freeze well and are easy to microwave.

Make a grocery trip and stock the kitchen with a significant inventory of low-prep or no-prep food items: oatmeal, fruit cups (look for the ones packed in real fruit juice), low-sodium soups, coffee, tea, yogurt with the latest possible expiration date, pre-chopped salad, frozen brown rice, canned vegetables. Of course, fresh is healthier, but canned veggies keep for a long time and are a much better option than going hungry.

Whether Mom or Dad is doing the grocery shopping, or having someone else do it for them, a standard grocery list is a good idea. Print and laminate a list of items they consume on a weekly basis. This way, the list can be carried in a purse and re-used.

For those on a budget, check out Aldi’s if there’s one in your area. They usually have the best prices on plain yogurt, canned goods and oatmeal.

The idea is to make it as easy as possible to get good nutrition.

Anyone else have handy tips? Feel free to share in the comments.

Getting Older and a Few Things I’ve Learned

Today I am 50 years old.  I took the day off work and had lunch with my mom. One of her dining companions told me “Some day you’ll realize how young 50 is.” I think I realize it now. I don’t feel old. At all.

However, an interesting thing happened a while back that gave me a hint that I might have lived a while. I picked up a copy of Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” hoping to glean some gems of wisdom. As I thumbed through the pages, I found myself thinking, “But I already know this.” Oh! Epiphany time! Maybe I’m now an elder who can dispense wisdom as well as receiving it. Like Anna Quindlen.

This possibly being the case, here are a few things I’ve learned through the years:

1. You can never really know what anyone else is thinking. You can only know what they’re saying and doing. Two different people can do the exact same thing for two completely different reasons. Sometimes you might make a good guess and the evidence might support that guess, but you’ll never know for sure. I’ve found my life usually goes better when I give the benefit of the doubt, if at all possible.

2. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with a variety of people from different backgrounds, of different races, religious beliefs, political opinions, abilities and economic levels. I’ve been in groups of atheists and groups of fundamentalist Christians. I’ve known Buddhists and Muslims. I’ve conversed with folks who are wealthy and folks who are homeless; I’ve discussed politics with liberals, libertarians and conservatives. And one thing holds true. No matter the beliefs or circumstances of a group of people, if you get a big enough crowd together, you’ll end up with the same basic mix of personalities. Some will be loud, some quiet, some arrogant, some humble, some considerate, some inconsiderate, some driven, some more relaxed, some selfish, some giving. People are people are people.

3. Others will come and go in my life, but I’m guaranteed to have to live with myself every minute of every day until I die. So I need to be a person I can live with. In the long-term, I rest easier when I listen to my conscience more than I listen to popular opinion.

4. Hand-in-hand with #3 – the biggest regrets in my life, the most painful memories, are not the ones in which someone hurt me, but the ones in which I acted badly and hurt someone else. Those are the memories that haunt me.

5. Forgiveness is a necessary building block of society. We all need it at one time or another. If there is no forgiveness, there is no reason to try to do better next time.

6. No matter what you do, somebody won’t like it. Make your peace with this.

7. Nobody escapes pain. Bad things will happen to you. But what happens to you and who you are – those are two different things.

8. Worrying has never helped me through any situation so far. If things went south, obviously the worrying didn’t correct the problem. If things turned out okay, I was worried for nothing.

9. Stopping a moment to breathe has helped me through numerous situations.

10. This is a very personal lesson. I am old enough now that a realization is finally sinking in – I’m never going to fix everything about myself. There’s one specific area I’ve worked on a lot. I have social anxiety and am resultantly socially awkward. I’ve made great strides over the years, but I know now I’m never going to cure myself. It will always be a condition to be managed; never one from which I’ve recovered. The good news is I’ve also decided it’s okay to have this imperfection. I no longer berate myself about it. After all, Ted Bundy reportedly possessed excellent social skills and look what he did with them.

11. Taking care of your teeth is more important than I can possibly say.

12. 50 isn’t too old to feel crushing disappointment when a package arrives at your house on your birthday and it’s not for you.

13.  You really can learn something new every day, no matter how long you live.

14. The universe is an amazing place.

If I think of more, I’ll write an addendum.


Another Birthday

My mom made it another year. Last weekend we celebrated her 89th birthday. Going out is too hard for Mom any more. But we had a good celebration anyway. One of my nephews made it into town (the one she likes to mention to people as “my grandson, the eye doctor”) and my 18-year-old baked a truly delish chocolate cake. photo And I found the perfect birthday gift. My mom worked as a welder during World War II. So for the shelf in her room, what could be more appropriate than this? photo Yep, I bought my mom a superhero action figure for her 89th birthday. She loved it.

You Were Right, Mom

While my mom is still around, I want to take this opportunity to say, publicly, that she was right about so many things. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. But I’ve come around on a lot of issues since I was a kid.

I can rarely convince my son to wear a coat, even on the coldest winter days. I comfort myself by noticing how few kids exiting his high school in the afternoon are bundled up. If I’m a bad mom, at least I have lots of company. I remember how I never wanted to wear a winter hat in my younger days, no matter how many maternal admonishments I received about frost-bitten ears. I wouldn’t believe my mom was right about how important it was to cover your head in order to stay warm, because nobody else my age was doing it. In a concrete sense, I really was too cool.

Somewhere in the years of my adult life I stopped caring whether other people were wearing hats or not. I wanted to be warm. Since I have a lot of hair, I often go for a scarf wrapped around my head in lieu of hat, but I do cover my head with something when the temperature dips below freezing. Mom, you were right. It makes a huge difference.

And, Mom, the thing where  you always cleaned the top of a can before opening it? Totally the right thing to do. I used to think this was a silly obsession springing from your clean freak nature. Besides, it added needless seconds onto the food prep time. Then I became a mother, myself. After enough experience cleaning up someone else’s puke, I couldn’t help thinking a little harder about food safety and cleanliness. Once I took the time to make a close observation of the workings of the can opener, I realized how easily the device could push anything from the top of the can into the food. I’ll never reach anywhere near my mom’s level of tidiness, but on this one issue, yeah, she’s probably right. Definitely right. It only takes a couple of seconds after all, to wipe the top of a can. And then I can serve my family tomato sauce with confidence.

Also, my things do last longer when I take care of them. Who would have thought it? Oh yeah – you, Mom.


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.

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!