Not quite the plan

on finding my groove as a 30 something single girl and caregiver for mom with dementia


Today, I helped my Mom get dressed.

Lately, I have needed to lay out outfits for Mom a bit more, perhaps pull out clean underwear or pajamas. 

Today though, after I pulled out fresh clothes and left her to change, she called me back.  She needed help with getting her turtleneck on.  It felt confusing– where did her head and arms go?  So I helped Mom put on her shirt and pants.  She fixed her own hair though I had to help a bit with the hairband sunce she wanted it in a ponytail.  Then, I made sure she had a snack to bring along, found her purse and off we went for her doctor’s appointment. 

The experience felt normal I suppose based on having helped enough young kids change their clothes.  But it’s an odd kind of normal.


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No green beans for Mom.

One of our household staples has become mac n cheese which we pretend is a healthy enough dinner choice by adding mixed frozen vegetables.  Not the classiest dinner, but sometimes dinner in five minutes is what you need!

Last night, after the mac and cheese was ready, Mom informed me that she did not need any dinner.  She often believes this up until the moment that she realizes that she sure could do with an entire pint of ice cream.  I told her I understood and then served her a plate five minutes later, taking happy advantage of the short term memory loss.

Then, I watched Mom sit with her mac and cheese, carefully sorting it on her plate.  The green beans had to go, obviously!  They were immediately moved to the side of the plate.  Several — though not all — of the carrots quickly followed.   Mom’s list of acceptable and unacceptable vegetables is a serious list.  Green beans seem to have recently moved from acceptable to unacceptable– though broccoli and brussel sprouts are still solid choices.

I watched Mom pick through her food and decided that she was providing me with solid practice for raising a child one day.  I wonder if they will pick the peas and corn out of their mac and cheese as well.

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Calling in sick.

So, I have a full time job.  And I need it to pay the rent, the student loans and the rest of the nonsense. 

Mom no longer is interested in such things.  She likes her ice cream and watching movies with me.  Every day she asks what I am doing tomorrow and about 4 of 5 times that I say I have to go to work, she suggests that I call in sick.  She even typically suggests that she could do the call for me since I think she imagines me unable to fake sickness as effectively.  She does some terrible fake coughs to demonstrate her superior faking sick abilities. 

Sometimes it is tempting of course.  A free parentally endorsed sick pass– what I would have given for that 25 years ago!  Sometimes I wish so much that I could stay home and treasure this last mostly good period with her.  Though there’s a lot if stress for me, we spend a lot of time joking and in happy shared moments.  I know Mom treasures her time with me.  She looks forward to when I come home from work to hang out with her.  She loves holidays and snow days when I am home all day.  And mostly I do too; calling in sick for the year sometimes sounds pretty right on. 

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Christmas cards.

So, I was out with Mom the weekend after Thanksgiving and came across some beautiful Christmas cards on sale.  I suggested that we buy them and she agreed.  After a moment of hesitation in the store we picked up several packs in line with our family’s tradition of sending lots of cards.

I knew that card writing would need to be a joint project.  So, we pulled out her address book and got started.  It was harder than I had expected.  Mom remembers the closest people in her life — the friends of many years and the family.  Friends who were most recent acquaintances or closer to my father seem forgotten at this point.  I spent a lot of time reminding her of people but gradually concluded that we should just send cards to the people that she remembers.  Even that was difficult as she was uncertain of what to write on the cards.  I debated whether to skip the whole project but I had felt that it was likely the last year that such a thing would be possible.  So we pushed ahead.

These kinds of moments bring out such opposing feelings for me.  Is it better to push Mom a little?  Or is it better to let the harder things quietly move into her past?  Both approaches make sense but obviously I can only choose one in each situation.

We only made it through about 20 cards and that was a tough afternoon.  We will not get cards out to all the folks that we would like to send them to this year.  As I write that though I realize that the “we” is a little fuzzy.  I guess the “we” that I carry around is my sense of what Mom would have wanted when she was normal.  I have spent some time in my life sorting through her high expectations and standards which are are not always possible to live up to.  Only my incredibly functional mother could meet those kinds of expectations.  It strikes me that I probably should be gentle inflicting Mom’s own standards on her self of now.

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Visiting the office.

Tonight Mom and I were out running errands and I needed to stop by my office to pick up a file I had forgotten.  I suggested that she come in with me rather than sitting in the cold car.

The visit quickly brought back memories of my own visits to my father’s office as a little kid.  Mom hopped on one of the office swivel chairs and started spinning around.  She was enjoying herself.  We looked at a couple of the things up on my walls and discussed them and how they related to my job.  It was a nice bonding moment and yet raised the changed roles between us in a rather pronounced way.

The better moment of the evening came though because I introduced Mom to one of my colleagues who was working late.  After we left, I told Mom a little more about the woman she had just met and explained that I am her boss.  Mom looked at me and remarked, “you are the boss of a lot of people,” clearly including herself in that list.  She liked this comment so much she started clapping.

I would not have used “boss” as a description of my relationship to Mom but I suppose it is a fair point.  If so, Mom is definitely the most challenging of the people I supervise.  Thankfully, she is also the funniest.

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You need to use a coaster.

They say you turn into your parents, whether you like it or not.  And I always disagreed.  My parents were conservative, I was liberal.  My parents were religious, I was spiritual.  My parents were all about building their finances and I was a hard core non-profit girl.

And then one day, I found myself in the middle of an argument with my mother in our living room.  In my mid-30s, I live with Mom — more on that later.  For the moment, my Mom had brought a water bottle into the living room and plopped it right on the middle on a very nice wood coffee table.

“You need to use a coaster,”  I pointed out to her.  And she argued back that indeed she did not and that I was being unreasonable.  The furniture was fine.  Our discussion quickly became heated and suddenly it hit me– I have had this conversation before, with my mother.

Except the last time we had this discussion, I was her and she was me.  I was the kid arguing that I did not need the coaster.  She was the one trying to protect the furniture.  And I realize in the moment that what they say is exactly right.  We become our parents in all the important ways.  We take responsibility.  We say no to too much candy.  We become the parent.

I never expected to be living with my Mom at this stage of life — or really, ever again.  I had happily left home when it was time for college and thought that would be it.  She used to joke about living across the street from me and my kids one day and I would roll my eyes.  But then my dad died and my mom was diagnosed with dementia.  And so after a long, hard look at my values, I found myself here, arguing about coasters with Mom.