Not quite the plan

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

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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.



Hair and nails.

Mom was always a polished woman.  Her hair was dyed and coiffed, makeup smooth, nails long, red and shiny.  She likes to match colors and usually had shoes, purse, belt and earrings all neatly coordinated.  Even in the early stages of memory loss, she maintained this level of appearance.

Now it is a lot harder.  She no longer drives, and amidst everything else that I do, I have not taken Mom to a salon for a while.  For the first time in her life, the grey is seriously showing.  I no longer take her to a nail place so she paints her own nails at home and does not do the best job of it.  It’s a dilemma to me whether I should prioritize this more given her self image of a lifetime.  Or whether it’s okay to let this go on the not quite as important list.  Hair and nails are lower on my personal priority list but Mom was always different from me in this way.  I wonder what others do about this particular issue.  Sometimes I tell her we should go get this done and she says that she will do it tomorrow, or next week, or that she needs to let it grow more before getting it done.  This last response from her confuses me so I just let it be.

With the delays in visiting a salon her hair is growing out a bit and Mom is getting more creative with her hair styles.  I bought her a pack of different colored headbands and she likes to match them to her outfit.  She also found some hair clips and uses them quite generously.  I find it really cute but I don’t know that “cute” is her ideal look at almost 70.

We have agreed that I am taking her to a holiday party in a couple of weeks and this discussion led to an immediate assessment from her that she needed to get her hair done.   I think she is right.  The party will be the biggest social event she has attended in a long time.  Good hair is a solid start.  Maybe we will get bright red manicures together too.


Ice cream and cookies.

Once upon a time my mother was someone who ate very healthy food.  My father was a health nut and my mother tended to follow suit.  Most of her life while I have known her, she ate a lot of salad and vegetables, lean meats, healthful cereal.  

Then, she got dementia and things changed.  

The other day I came home late and asked what I should make for dinner.  (I do all the cooking for her now.)  Mom told me she had already eaten dinner and I asked what she had.  “Ice cream.”  Apparently, the ice cream had filled her up and she was not interested in regular food.  

Sometime this past year, ice cream has become Mom’s staple food of choice.  If she goes to the grocery store alone, she will come home with at least two cartons of ice cream and usually a lot of fruit.  When I worry aloud to her about her food choices, she tells me that ice cream is good for her, usually while laughing and smiling.  I know it makes her happy which is of course a good thing.  But it also worries me that daily consumption of a carton of ice cream is certainly not ideal for someone whose brain has been impacted by cholesterol.  And with the short term memory problems, sometimes I realize that she has eaten ice cream multiple times per day.  I learned rather quickly NOT to buy ice cream at Costco.  The huge boxes would disappear in a few days!    

My newest effort to cut down on the ice cream is with cookies.  I am baking them myself and bringing them to her hot out of the oven.  Cookies seem to be about as satisfying as the ice cream but it’s easier to keep the portion size in check by baking just a few at a time.  But it does seem that in her ideal world, we would eat both on a regular basis.  

For now, we seem to have reached a happy medium of some ice cream, some cookies, some worrying daughter and a lot of chocolate induced smiles from Mom.   

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Mom takes on okcupid.

As a typical 30 something, online dating has been a constant in my life for the past few years.  When not in a relationship, I have profiles up and active, in the hope that one day I will find someone and join the ranks of my friends raising small children.  How this will happen while balancing a job and the caregiving, I am not certain but I am not willing to give up on it.

Since one of my mother’s major preoccupations in life is marrying me off, I finally realized that we might as well make online dating a joint endeavor.  We scroll through profiles together almost every day.  Usually, we begin with a discussion of why the people I look at list “straight,” on their profile which entertains me every time she asks.  But, Mom is quite adept at quickly assessing their photos.  Today, she rejects one man for his eyes closing too much when he smiles while a man holding a cat in his picture gets high marks.  She tells me the guy with the cat might be the guy for me.  I ask, “based on his face?”  And she says, “No, for his deep emotions.”  And cracks up.

I message the guy with the cat.  She is right; he does look like a nice guy.

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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.