I don’t think I want to ride this ride!

But of course I have to at some point – isn’t that what life is all about? The scariest thing about a roller coaster ride is that wait in line. You can see the riders who get on before you getting pulled up the track, hear their screams and the whoosh of the cars and then witness their shaky steps out of the coaster and down the ramp. Then you witness it again…and again… and by the time you get to the front of the line you are not certain you want to go through with this after all!

So the good stuff first – I had a great weekend of sublime and delicious sleep with Harry and traveled to my former city Upstate for dinner with friends. But oh – the sleep!! I don’t know if it’s the weather, allergies or just the time of year but I was zonked. Usually I am pretty insistent about sex – and lots of it – but this time, whenever I lay down with H and put my head on his shoulder I was out in 2 minutes or less. Crazy, but needed.

And I came home to an extra day off – as Monday was Memorial Day – and Jack, Max and I went to the beach! I know people don’t often think of New York City as a beach town, but we are surrounded  by water and right on the Atlantic Ocean to boot. We went to Jacob Riis Park which is utterly fabulous and makes you think you could be anywhere on the East Coast. We sunned and picnicked, Max jumped in the freezing cold waves and we all talked and just enjoyed each other.

On the way back through Brooklyn we got spumoni and took a little tour through our former neighborhood.  Max asked about the house we lived in when he was a baby and so we drove down our old street to show him. Out former landlords were on the porch and we stopped and introduced them to Max – who was not even a year old when we moved and who is now almost 10! – and got caught up with them and their kids.

It was a great, great day. Relaxed, fun and stress-free. E was out of town on business, so I didn’t have to cope with any of her moods – either directed at me or Jack – and I could enjoy my own house.

And now the blech – the down part of the coaster. I saw my parents on Sunday and my mother is doing so poorly. My dad and I went to talk to the director of a memory care center just 4 weeks ago and secured a spot for her. Now, she can’t go. Her decline has been so precipitous over the past month. She now can’t feed herself consistently, walk independently or toilet herself. This means a whole new approach – this means 24 hour care for her.

My dad is 78 – he cannot continue taking care of my 75 year old mother full time. We looked into nursing homes – holy mackerel!!! 425$ a day!! And nothing is paid for by insurance or Medicare. This process is very daunting and very discouraging. I am so happy that I can help my dad out – but my week has been spent doing research, calling facilities and trying to figure out how to get my mom the care she needs at a price my dad can afford. I will say, this living too long as a custodial patient is for the birds. She will never improve, never get better, we think she is in pain from the micro-fractures she keeps having, her quality of life is terrible. If she was a pet, you know what the recommendation would be.

I know that sounds harsh – but my mom with all of her good and bad qualities- is long gone. Whatever used to be her has been taken over by the lesions and plaques and tangles in her brain. She is just a basic husk of a human now. And eventually, her body will forget how to swallow food and water and at that point we will let her go. But when is that? Who knows – maybe months, maybe years.

I  have seen my friends go through this, but I am at the head of the roller coaster line now. I sure don’t want to get on – but I have no choice and I’ve got to ride it until it’s over.

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Mothering Myself

I have always envied women who have a great relationship with their mother. One where the mom sees them as a whole person, and doesn’t burden them with her own expectations and beliefs. A relationship based on mutual liking and respect and shared interests.

I did not have that with my mother. She did a good job: I am confident, well-educated, independent and had a very happy childhood. This is all despite the fact that she was burdened all her life with (untreated) anxiety and depression and spent more than half of her first 9 years in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. The suffering all around her and the hunger and the uncertainty of her family’s situation most certainly impacted her all the way to adulthood. And though my grandparents were successful and prosperous in Europe, they were just impoverished refugees here in the US. I don’t think my mom ever got over what could have been had they not been forced to flee and leave everything – including their elevated station in life – behind.

So through her life – and mine – my mom had some incredibly down times. When I was a kid she slept way more than other mothers. My dad was really the primary caretaker. He cooked, cleaned, did homework. My mom would come home from work as a teacher, go to sleep until dinner, and often go back to sleep when we were done. She hated the politics and bureaucracy of the public school she worked in would ruminate about it for hours. But despite her issues with the principal or other teachers she loved her students and loved teaching. For 35 years she poured her heart and soul into it. I think it was truly the most important thing to her. She loved watching kids learn and helping them discover what the world. Unfortunately, and for no reason other than anxiety, she was eternally fearful she would be fired and seriously overcompensated because of that. She would work while dreadfully ill, then have to spend a week or more in the hospital because of pleurisy or pneumonia. When she retired she had something like 3 years of sick time accumulated – but she never felt she was able to take any of it.

As I became an adult we grew apart. My mother wanted me to be successful and “prominent” in a field that had status. She REALLY wanted me to be an attorney. I became a Social Worker. She told me that my MSW was not a big accomplishment, she had met some pretty dumb social workers.

I married a man who, she informed me on my wedding day , I would always have to support financially.  (PS – turned out to be hilariously untrue) I waited too long to have a baby. She felt it was because I couldn’t get my nose out of  a book long enough to get to it. I moved into a house she hated…The list goes on. The only thing we did well together was shop. In that sphere we were friends and equals and she always did love my sense of style and individuality. To go to the mall or the outlets was a good day out, and did give me a sense that maybe, some how, we did belong together like a mother and daughter.

But, there’s been no shopping for a while. My mom has Alzheimer’s and is really sinking fast. She also has terrible brittle bones and fractures of her back and hips. My dad continues to take care of her like he has done for 50 years this July, but he anticipates that by then, or maybe a little later, she won’t know who he is. I see her every 2 weeks and she talks less and less each time. And she doesn’t really know who I am – though she called me by name yesterday and truly startled me. When I answered her, she gave me a blank look and that was that…but there’s a little bit of her in there somewhere.

I felt different at our visit yesterday. More forgiving, less frustrated and frankly, less angry. The reason was a dream I had Saturday morning that I woke up from sobbing. I was with Harry and he held me and soothed me until I stopped crying and fell back to sleep, but I couldn’t talk about it with him – I knew I would cry. Last night Jack and I took a walk. He has known my mom for 22 years this year – we met in October of 1993 – and he knows what she’s about. He has gotten so angry on my behalf at the way she has treated me, and has always supported me and backed me up. So I told him my dream – and this is it.

My mom is healthy and normal. She’s walking along side me – and our arms are linked and we’re talking. She asks me, “What do you think of how you’ve lived your life so far?” (This is something that the real-life mom would never think to ask). I tell her, “I’m proud of how I live my life, the choices I’ve made, the love I have and the love I give. I really like what I do…but I know I have disappointed you. You wanted me to set the world on fire, and frankly my life is pretty ordinary”. And the mom of my dreams said, “The world can set itself on fire. You just keep doing what you’re doing”.

And I think I woke up crying because I knew my mother would never say that to me. But Jack pointed out to me  – I really said it to myself. And whatever happens I can give myself what I need. Deep inside I know what’s true, what’s real and important. As sad as it is – and I cried on the street telling Jack and I am crying while I write this – that is absolutely true.

So even though those words would never come from my mother’s lips – now or ever – she helped to plant the seeds inside me that allow me to see the that truth. As a mother she took me as far and she could and I think did a pretty good job of the rest. She could not always be there for me in the ways I wanted but I am grateful for the opportunity to understand that I don’t need external confirmation of what I already know. I can mother myself. And that’s OK.