Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who She Was: My Mother, The Enigma

Who She Was. Hm. I'm figuring out fast that this topic will not be covered in one post. I have to start somewhere, however, so I'll summarize and fill in details as we go; how's that?

My mother was a bit of an enigma. To say that she is quiet is an understatement. Soft-spoken, and shy to a fault: As she loved people, and loved observing and being around them, her quiet manner was often misconstrued as snobbery. I remember many social circles, in our coming of age, where one woman or another admitted that she made an off-putting first impression.

On the other hand, my mother was also creative, fun, and fearless. Any idea was a possibility. Make candles on the stove? We can do it! Grab her daughters and drive to Ohio for the weekend? Let's go! Hop a train! Save a stray dog! Hold a funeral for a turtle! Shove 7 teenagers into her Camaro to get them somewhere—1 more? Sure, we can make room! Walk 6 miles to a restaurant for breakfast? Why not, we have all day. Picnics, swimming, sledding, biking, road trips, garage saling...the woman never stopped.

She was a legendary licensed daycare provider, taking care of as many as the state would let her, often 10 or more in any given day. Yes, TEN, babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and after schoolers, in a small, 1100-sq. ft, 3 bedroom ranch home. She was shrewd at running her business, keeping meticulous track of every hour she had every child, every meal, every mile, and every toy she bought, ending up with a stack of receipts and a spiral notebook of records to hand over to the tax man every January.

And she didn't just take care of your kids: She loved them, all of them, hundreds of them. Fiercely. All inhibitions went out the window if one of "her" babies was sick or in danger. I remember one set of naive new parents ignoring Mom's bizarre warning that an odd smell wafted from their child's head. It does sound ridiculous, doesn't it? She finally told them, in no uncertain terms, "you need to get this baby to a doctor." Turns out the infant had been stuffing blanket lint into his nostrils while he slept, and his sinuses were packed with the molding, rotting stuff. Strange but true.

Children were eerily drawn to her. Children she didn't know would reach for her from their shopping-cart seats, twist around in their high chairs in restaurants seemingly just to watch her, and cross playgrounds to hold her hand. I once sat with her in a doctor's office waiting room when a feverish toddler walked over and laid his head in her lap. She would just laugh when my sister and I would kid her, "You're creepy."

Our family photo albums are filled with photos of who she was, beautiful and busy.

Sadly, when the Alzheimer's started kicking in, and mothers began picking up their babies wearing diapers backwards, and onesies snapped on the outside of their pants, they wisely opted to take their children elsewhere. It was heartbreaking for my mother, and despite her advanced confusion since her forced retirement, she still yearns to be around babies.

She gushes when she's around a  happy baby or child, and if she hears a child cry, she'll stop in her tracks. I often end up backtracking to take her hand and teasing her, "you want to pick that baby up, don't you?" She laughs, and admits, yes, the poor little thing, she wants to hug it. I tease her, but secretly worry that she'll just trot on over and pick someone's child up someday. I keep a close eye on her.

The children's feelings still seem to be mutual, also. Frugal Mom and I arranged a play date for Mom and her 3 year-old son, in September, and they were both in high-heaven. Mom was thrilled to get to play with and talk to a little kid, and G was equally happy to have an adult's undivided attention, showing her his sunflower house, and how to play in the sand. She spent the next 2 weeks repeating his name over and over, so as not to forget it, and hoarding gifts from around the house to give to him.

It's true that in many ways, my mother isn't who she was, but in many ways, nothing has changed. She still loves fiercely, and aches for others that ache, and she still adores children and would give her life for any one of them.

In matters of her heart and soul, she is definitely the same woman, and has remained iron-strong and steadfast. That's a lot to be thankful for, right now.

We'll take it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's just six years ago. She was 61 years old, and had been showing the signs of it for a couple of years. Her initial symptoms happened to coincide with our Father's death, and in the beginning, my sister and I chalked up her forgetfulness and anxiety to grief. In fact, her initial diagnoses two years before was "Anxiety-Induced Memory Loss." She was treated with a mild anti-depressant.

I intend to pay homage to my mother here, to tell you who she was then, and who she is now and I intend to do it respectfully. There are some of you that might take offense to the title of this blog. Alzheimer's is no laughing matter. Alzheimer's is Terrible, and Alzheimer's is Ugly, and Alzheimer's is without a doubt, heartbreaking and terrifying.

But it can take years to overtake one's life, and our lives are all better lived when acknowledging the good times, the humor, the caring, the beauty and the love that exists in those years, right in the midst of the heartache.

We have choices in life. We can grieve over our misfortunes, or we can choose to celebrate the highlights, and rejoice in what we have, and what we have left.

My Mother was an amazing woman.

My Mother is an amazing woman.

She's an amazing woman that searches for the word she knows she's lost, and substitutes another to get by.

She is an amazing woman with her shoes on the wrong feet, and 2 pairs of underwear on.

And I'm pretty sure you're going to love her.