I Sang Along, Y’all



I know some people will hate me for this, but I love holiday music. Almost all of it – traditional carols, sacred hymns, pop/rock selections, novelty numbers. Just about anything except that one about the kid picking out Christmas shoes for his mom to die in. I spend the month of December belting out the lyrics of myriad winter celebration songs. Any time I find myself alone in my home or car.

I fondly recall the days of my childhood when I’d participate with enthusiasm in school choir programs, sing along with the radio in front of anyone, and generally enjoy the sound of my own voice. Back before I realized I was kind of terrible at singing.

By the time I reached my teen years, I kept my not-quite tune-making to myself. Other teens are not ones to let you keep your delusions of adequacy. In church, where everyone was expected to make a joyful noise, I lip-synched behind my hymnal.

During my young adult years I didn’t sing and didn’t sing. And I missed it. I missed being able have fun with a song for the simple pleasure of it, with no worries about how good I was, with no self-consciousness. For me, singing had become all self-consciousness and no pleasure. Then I had babies.

I sang to my babies while rocking them, and they didn’t criticize me. They even seemed to find some comfort in my voice. And as they got a little older, we sang Christmas carols and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Old McDonald” and it was a blast. When I volunteered at preschool, I sang along even though there were other adults present, because I wanted to set a good example around embracing music without embarrassment. I *felt* embarrassed, but I tried not to show it. Singing was once again part of my life. It was a great unexpected gift that came with motherhood.

Then the kids got even older and we stopped doing any of that. I’ve spent the last few years keeping my vocal efforts a solitary activity. Secret even. Back to treating it as a shameful activity.

But today – today I went to the Christmas party at my mom’s nursing home. We had carols. I sang along, y’all. I was surrounded by 85 and 90-year-olds, many of whom suffer ailments that have pretty well trashed their voices. But most of them were giving it their best shot, so why shouldn’t I? Besides, my mom is one person who never said a negative word about my singing, no matter how it made her suffer. Some of the aides might have looked at me askance, but I had a good time. I think I even hit the correct notes a few times.

This was huge for me. I sang along. I didn’t hum, or stick to smiling and tapping my foot just off the beat. I sang. I’m ready for my participation award.

Ensure is the New Martini

Nursing home drama can be intense. “Orange is the New Black” has nothing on “Ensure is the New Martini.” Which is why I’ve moved my mom twice within the past week and she’s now in the same room where she started out.

She’s been in a two-person room, with a shared bathroom  between it and the one-person room next door. Recently the facility placed a man in the room next door, which is very upsetting to my mom’s old-fashioned sensibilities. She did not care to share a bathroom with a different gender, even though they’re obviously not both in there at the same time. Meanwhile, Mom’s roommate moved out. And one of the ladies two doors down from my mom moved out. The obvious solution was to emigrate my mother down two rooms. She’d be in an end room with its own bathroom. And her new roomie had always been nice to her.

The problem is the new roomie had been close friends with her previous roomie before either of them ever moved in. So she was mourning a loss, and people aren’t always rational when they’re mourning. I think that’s what led to her yelling at my mother to get out of her room and saying she didn’t like her, before then trying to remove my mom’s things, as much as she could while shuffling along with her walker. I was already on my way for a visit when the nurse called me to tell me about the kerfluffle.

I found my mom dabbing at wet eyes, and the head nurse speaking with the roommate, telling her she could have ended up with someone much worse than my mom in the new companion department. The lady apologized and said she’d do better, but my poor mom was good and scared. She asked to go back to her old room before they gave it to someone else and the option was gone. I felt like I did when someone was mean to one of my kids in grade school.

Usually, my mother manages to stay out of the drama, but there is always something going on. And really, Ensure is the new martini. It’s the after-dinner drink of choice in the skilled nursing setting. I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a TV show about a nursing home, in a knock-off version of “Orange is the New Black.” There won’t be all of the sex, of course, but there will be the occasional resident stripping. Good thing they’re usually too arthritic to get very far before a staff member intervenes.

Think about it. It’s a facility filled with people who didn’t necessarily choose to be there. People from all walks of life, who otherwise might not have had much to do with each other. Some have connections with the outside and some are on their own. I’ve heard of one instance where a visitor smuggled in some hooch and possibly more. There are cliques and shifting alliances, and you have to watch your stuff to keep it from walking off to someone else’s room. That last doesn’t really happen too much, and when it does, it’s usually a matter of confusion more than anything. But it does happen some. I’ve even witnessed parallel scenes of residents being made to shower when they were pretty resistant to the idea, though it was done much more gently and with more respect in the real life nursing home than in the fictional prison. And no, it wasn’t my mom involved – she’s still meticulous about her hygiene.

I hope whoever moves in with my mom next is a real sweetheart. And a little part of me hopes whoever moves in with the other lady is not quite as much of one. But the bigger part of me knows I should try to be understanding. Mostly, I hope next week is boring.



“You’ve Just Crossed Over Into the Twilight Zone”

Cue Rod Serling. Cue the intro music everyone knows. Today I entered another dimension, with a completely surreal experience at my mom’s nursing home.

The first unusual aspect of the day: I made cookies. I only do this a couple of times a year, because I’m not all that domestic. However, last night was one of those times. My family at home ate most of them. But I took a couple in a sandwich bag for my mom, and then another small tin of them for the staff who would be working on Labor Day.

I decided to bypass the main door because I only had enough cookies for people down on my mom’s wing of the building. (It’s a big facility.) I entered instead through a door closer to her room. It opens into a small entry foyer, which then leads to a living room area with the nurses’ station, a large-screen TV, a piano, several recliners and a couple of end tables. That’s the usual set-up. Today, I came around the corner, ready to hand the cookie tin to whomever I saw at the nurses’ desk, and…there was no desk. No desk, no recliners, no tables, no piano, no nurses, no old people. Only an empty room.

What was this? My first thought went to movies, of all things. I recalled the movies and television shows I’d seen with plot-lines centered around an elaborate con, where the grifters set up a fake business. Inevitably, the conned person shows up at the office somewhere near the end of the movie, only to find it vacant. Surely nobody ever set up a fake nursing home. Right?

I looked around for clues. Oh hey, the flooring looked different. Where there used to be carpet I saw laminate. Aha! I proceeded down the hall to Mom’s room. She was there – whew! – and verified the residents had been told to stay out of the living room area while the new floor was laid. Then a nurse came in to put drops in my mom’s eyes. Good. Still in business, then. No taking the money and doing a runner.

Mom and I visited for over an hour. She was having a bit of a muddy day, cognitively. She’d start to reminisce about a family story, and then have to stop and get it straight in her mind how the person involved was related to her. This marked the first time I’ve seen this particular confusion. I mean, she calls me by my siblings’ names, but she always has. There are a lot of us and I’m the youngest. And really, I think she knew how the people were related, she just couldn’t conjure up the right word. She also asked me what those rolling things were called that people sit in and use to get around. “Wheelchairs, Mom.” Hmmm…Still, we managed to have a good chat.

When I got up to leave, I thought I’d have to track down a staff member somewhere to hand off the baked goods. I looked down the hall, expecting to see the empty room at the end. But instead, there was a nurses’ desk, with a nurse. And a room full of recliners, with old people sitting in them. The entire world changed while I was in with my mom.

“It can happen that way in the Twilight Zone.”

A Latte Experience

I love the activities director at my mom’s nursing home for the variety of ways she finds to expand the lives of the residents, from bringing in musicians to having a banana split social, to loading up those who are able to go for a country drive. One of the things I find depressing about the idea of nursing home residency is what I see as the shrinkage of a life. I compare my life – my ability to get in a car and run around town, shop for food I want at the grocery store (within my budget), go for a walk, have pets – to my mom’s situation of spending most of her time within the same building, her choices curtailed.

I see it as part of my job description to help her keep connections to the outside world and to help grow her life experiences into something bigger than the walls of one building. This doesn’t  have to be  a major undertaking on my part. Little things can go a long way.

Mom has her own phone, with large numbers, but she can’t seem to manage making a phone call on her own any more. She gets flustered by the need to dial “9” for an outside line, and then loses her place while dialing, forgetting which numbers she’s pressed already. It’s easy enough, when I’m visiting, for me to ask her whom she’d like to call today, and then put the call through for her.

Since she was unable to go to my son’s piano recital, I got permission to let him come play his pieces on the piano at the nursing home, so she could see him perform. As a bonus, several residents heard the music and managed to get into the piano area, so he ended up with an audience.

Most recently, I decided my mom should have the opportunity to try a latte at least once in her life. She’s never had much in the way of spare cash lying around, and spending on a frou-frou coffee drink was far outside the realm of anything she’d consider. But I thought she’d like it, so I drove through Starbucks on my way to see her and picked up one for each of us.  See what I did there? That way it was us doing something together, rather than her feeling I was getting her something extra or expensive. She verified what I expected – she’d never had one before. But she liked it. She kept saying, “That’s so good.”

Finally, she admitted that maybe she wouldn’t feel too bad about the money spent if I wanted to bring her another one some time, though she insisted I should take it out of her bank account. I’m not going to take it from her money, and I won’t tell her how expensive it is. But I will be happy knowing you can still have new experiences at the age of 87.

Unexpected Collection

Here’s an unexpected side effect of being the primary contact for someone in a nursing home – I now have a collection of vases.

People keep sending my mom flowers. Which is lovely. It makes her room more pleasant and she knows people care.

But once the flowers are wilted, I’m left to take away the vase. I’m not sure what to do with them. I only need so many vases at home. I’m thinking I might cut some peonies from my yard once they’re bloomed and take a vase of them to the nurse’s station for the folks who take care of Mom. And the others…can go in a garage sale. Or something.

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!