The Right Stuff

Taking Mom to her neurology appointments are emotionally exhausting affairs. They make me feel very uncomfortable. It is obvious that in this particular office, I am my mother’s parent. I am asked questions about her health, her memory and the level of her confusion.  Don’t get me wrong, this is done in a very respectful way. The doctor asks my mother if it’s ok to ask me questions, and so far, my mother has always replied very happily, “Absolutely!” I think she likes that I’m in the hot seat before she is.

Then the doctor turns to my mother and asks her a few general questions about her health or her habits before getting into more serious memory testing. Meanwhile, I sit diagonal from my mom and stare at the floor. I look up occasionally to see the reactions of both the doctor and my mother, but mostly I just try to shrink into myself and disappear. This seems like such a private encounter to have to witness. It feels like I’m watching my mother be interrogated and she appears very vulnerable during these interviews. Sometimes tears run down her face while she answers the questions. I desperately want to leave the room while this is going on, but I have to stay. I give the doctor clues when Mom’s answers are not true or just a bit off. Like today. The doctor asked Mom if she ever goes to the library to get reading material. She book-mobilereplied that she didn’t, but the bookmobile comes around once a month.

Ummm…..what the? We haven’t had bookmobiles in this area for about 40 years. No joke. It was such a random thing to say. I was surprised she didn’t mention the library where I work. But something about that bookmobile memory was just floating around in her brain and it popped out. So bizarre.

Yet most of Mom’s other answers to the variety of questions? FANTASTIC!  At the end of the doctor’s interview, she told my mother how impressed she was with how she did. At this point in the year, Mom should have been on this Alzheimer’s medication for 6 months. But due to the snafu we had this summer, she’s only been on it for a month. The doctor knew about this and yet Mom’s memory and level of confusion had improved tremendously since January when she initially saw the doctor. Let me say that I love this neurologist. She’s always brutally honest, there’s no sugar coating for this lady, and yet she conveys empathy and compassion.  She told us that she realized that last January’s appointment could have been a particularly bad day for Mom and today could have been a particularly good day. But even with that, Mom was more than keeping her own. She was actually improving. The Aricept that Mom is taking typically just maintains people’s memory loss, or delays the advancement of the loss, but in 10% of the patients who take it the medication improves the patients’ cognition. The doctor said that Mom may actually be one of those 10%.  YES!!

*big smiles and clapping hands*

I know that everything can change very quickly. I know that most likely, there will be a day that my mother will not know who I am. But that day isn’t here. Not yet. And it might be just a little further off than it was before. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.

Three cheers for a good day!


Looking for Contentment

I am a tall woman who lives a small life. I live in a very small town with less than 3,000 people. I work in a small, rural library in a town of only 4,000 people. I rarely travel, except to and from work and to soccer practices and games and to my mom’s house and to most of my mom’s appointments. I run and I read and if I want to have a drink, typically I’ll have it at home where it is considerably less expensive.

Most of the time, I think this is ok.

It’s not the exact life I thought I’d have, but it’s not horrible. It can be hard some days and weeks, but it’s not bad. It can be horribly hectic, particularly weekday mornings (probably like yours, too!)–trying to squeeze in a run or a walk before or in between getting the kid ready and making dinner for that evening and doing laundry or dishes and fitting in a shower in there somewhere. And if I’m volunteering at the school library that morning? Forget it. I don’t even try to exercise on those days unless I’ve been up since 4:30 due to the cats hitting my face with their paws….claws out.

Again, not horrible. A little bloodshed, perhaps, but could be worse. And yet, I strive to find contentment. Do you?

I often wonder if social media is what has done this to me. I see my friends taking their children to far off places or flying to another state to run and drink (and vomit?) but having an adventure of some sort anyway.  Typically I’m very happy for my friends and family and the journeys they are fortunate enough to take, but this week it really got to me. I was thinking about all of those lovely images as I entered the local pharmacy where I needed to pick up extra vitamins for my mother because she couldn’t remember to get them. As I kneeled on the floor trying to determine which calcium was the right one for her and which one wouldn’t bankrupt me, I felt my shoulders slump and had to blink back tears. This? This is what my life is? Sitting on Rite Aid’s floor trying to find the cheapest yet most effective vitamin for my poor mother whose entire life seems to center around her cat? How has this happened?

Once I got back to my car, I had to take some deep breaths and try to snap out of this funk. Feeling sorry for myself or for Mom isn’t going to get either of us anywhere, yet sometimes wallowing in self-pity in private doesn’t really hurt, does it? If it does hurt, then I’m a damn mess.

I didn’t shake the blues until two days later. I barked at everyone at home and at work, until my boss and I had this great conversation about “kitchen envy” and trying to put things in perspective. She loves to cook but has a small apartment with a small kitchen. Yet some of her friends will post photos on Facebook of their gorgeous homes and kitchens and my boss will drool a bit over them. But she reminds herself that she has a small place with that horrible orange countertop so she can have decent vacations and save for a good retirement on the small salary that she makes.

Perspective. Again. I keep having to remind myself that it’s about perspective.

I do live a small life in a small town in a small state. But I also live in a lovely town in a gorgeoudscn3538s state. My family and I took a walk in the Bangor City Forest this weekend, to attempt to “leave town” but also in payment for a promise that we’d do something together OUTSIDE. It was one of the best days I’ve had in weeks. I watched my kid kick butt on the soccer field, I got to walk in the crisp air with the trees falling from the trees with my family around me, then I stuffed myself with sushi and rice noodles and tea. It was a good day. A BIG day in my little life.

Does this mean I don’t want to travel with my family (or without them) or fly off and run a race in another state? No, of course not. I yearn to take my child to San Francisco, a place I’ve always loved, or to go to Seattle, a place I’ve never been but desperately want to go to. I’m not into racing much these days, but I’d love to do the Brain Freezer 5K again, for sure! (No alcohol, but ice cream and possible vomiting.) But for this day, for right now, I didn’t need to buy an expensive gadget or travel to another state to have a great day. I just needed to look around and realize and appreciate the wonderments I had right in front of me.




So Many Words

They say actions speak louder than words. I suppose that’s true in most situations, but what if words are all you have? What if what you say and how you say it is the only action you can take?

We’ve had lots of discussions in our household lately about words and phrases you’re allowed to use at home but not at school or at work or even around friends. My son got in trouble at school for using words like “freakin'” and “bullcrap” because they were too much like actual swear words. We had a chat about it and I reassured him that he was not in trouble at home but would need to use other words at school. The very next day he used “freakin'” again and although he apologized and is trying to change, he was sent to the principal’s office and I got a phone call.

You may be thinking, “Well, of course he got in trouble. Kids should not be using those types of words!” And you’re right, sort of. I don’t think kids should use those words in school, just like I can’t swear at work (except in the back room where my boss lets me spout off at whatever is ailing me). There is an appropriate time for certain types of language. I try not to use the phrase, “Oh my god!” around some of my friends. I think it offends them and I have no desire to do that. I feel like being sensitive to what others may feel when you use particular words is a part of growing and evolving. I’m still trying to teach my 9-year-old some of that sensitivity but I think he’ll  learn it. It can take time and many mistakes, but it’s doable.

At home, though, I think you should say what you feel. When I get angry or frustrated, I will use words that can make your ears burst into flames. Sometimes I’m muttering and other times I’m yelling. But as a person who ate all of her anger since the age of 7, I like to get all of my anger out before it becomes rage and consumes me. I can run out my frustration at times, but words are typically what purges my body of all the anger or hatred I may have. (And after being bulimic for a time, let me tell you that this type of purging is much more satisfying and so, so much better for me!)

After receiving the second phone call about my boy’s language and feeling scolded for allowing him to use certain words at home, I thought it was time to use my own words to express how I felt. I couldn’t do it over the phone because I knew I’d get upset and say things I shouldn’t. So I sent an email to both the teacher and principal, thanking them for alerting me of my son’s use of language. But I also explained that he is allowed to use those words at home because I don’t want him to eat his anger or punch the wall in frustration or hit someone because they ticked him off. I don’t want him to say nothing and push his feelings deep down until a little nuisance becomes fury. Using words is what we’re taught to do, right? In school, we’re taught to express how we feel by what we say, *not* what we do. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He knows he shouldn’t use those words at school and he’s trying not to, but it will take time. (I suggested to my son that he use the word “fishcakes” like my 85-year-old colleague from the Blue Hill Library used to use. She used “fuck” when no one else was around. My boy has decided to try the word “flipping” instead, because a girl in his class uses it and she doesn’t get in trouble. I think this might end up being an experiment in gender studies.)

In my email, I also explained that in our home, we really do love words. We compliment each other if we use a good word or phrase. For instance, instead of saying, “That’s not what I was talking about,” my boy says, “No, Mom, that’s not what I was referring to.” AWESOME! Or we talk about words that we enjoy saying because of how it feels in our mouths, like “Mozambique” or “planetarium” or “hullabaloo.” Maybe instead of using boring words like “freakin'”, I can teach my boy to use Shakespearean phrases like, “Thou art like a toad!” or maybe “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage!” Well, he might not be able to remember that one.  We’ve been trying out other words like “wretched” or “crikey” or “dang nab it.” Something funny or clever that won’t get him into trouble.


As we continue to discuss the power of words, do you ever find yourself having difficulty in saying certain words that should be simple to say like “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or even just “No”?  I know I do. Currently I have a tough time saying “My mother has Alzheimer’s Disease.”  I can say she has dementia just fine, but something about the word “Alzheimer’s” makes me stutter. The word gets caught in my throat. I think it brings so many depressing images to mind that it’s hard to spit it out. Or it feels like admitting defeat.

However, saying “I love you” to those that I do love or “Thank you” to those that have helped me or been a good friend to me, brings me joy and makes me feel all warm and squishy inside….

…as does saying “fluffernutter.” Seriously. It’s a great word, isn’t it? It uses your tongue and teeth and lips and it’s delicious! Oh and “delicious!” I love that word, too.

What about you? What words bring you joy or make your blood boil?

Let’s have an orgy of words!





What do you do when you feel betrayed by someone you love? Do you get angry and lash out at that person? Do you stop talking to them? Or do you try and discuss the situation and attempt to forgive?

How about if that person has dementia? Then how would you react?

Today I took my mom to an appointment with her doctor. This was no big deal, just a quick check up to see how everything is going. The doc decided to check Mom’s blood sugar since it had been a while, as well as her A1c number. (If you’re not diabetic or don’t know one, the A1c number is basically a test to show how your blood sugar levels have been for the past few months. The test should be done every 6 months, but possibly every 3 if things are not great.) First the nurse did a quick test of Mom’s blood sugar–it was over 300.  For an average person, 100 or below is good. Then she tested Mom’s A1c. A 6 or 7 is good, and Mom’s was above 13.  In other words, it’s a shit storm.

After a little investigating and questioning both Mom and myself, the doctor discovered that Mom’s meds should have needed a refill at least 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS. The doctor turned from her nurse to look at both Mom and me. She tilted her head and had this smug yet pitying look on her face. I wanted to smack that look right off her face. Was I defensive? You bet I was. I fucked up, but I wasn’t going down alone. “So…how often are you supposed to check Mom’s A1c?” It had been nearly a year since they checked it, so we all fucked up.

Now the question was, why was her blood sugar so bad? Was she eating well? Probably not, but that’s a given. Was she taking her medication? Mom certainly thought she was, as did I. That’s the one thing Mom had always been so good about was taking her meds. Or was she? Did I just believe her because she’s my mom and she’s so damn convincing? Or because I didn’t want to take on any more responsibility?

JACKPOT! Finger on the nose!  You got it, Holly!

I wasn’t ready.

So. After this visit, I took Mom home and we went through her medications. She actually did have some of her diabetic medication left from over a year ago, which means she only took it sporadically. But her other meds? Oh my god, her other meds. Like the pills she takes for dementia?

Not one pill had been taken. Not one. In 5 months. Not one.

I am an idiot. I am not a good caregiver. It’s obvious to me now, in fact, that I suck at it.


I’ve wanted my mom back for so long and kept hoping things would just stay at this even keel for years and I could keep pretending that things were good and I was just her daughter and not her housekeeper or nurse or parent.

I have to stop thinking that way now. It’s all a bunch of damned excuses!! I have to suck it up and help her.

I don’t blame my mother for this. Not at all. For just a moment I felt duped. Like she had stopped taking her medications on purpose. But that feeling only lasted a moment. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew the true deceiver in this situation was me. I felt a betrayal, but it was on my mother’s behalf. I didn’t keep her safe like I was supposed to.

You know, I realize how selfish I’ve been and still am. Even today after all this. I know I need to go over to Mom’s place once a week and make sure her meds are all set and ready to go for the week. It’s not a huge deal. It means either I need to take my son over on the weekend after his soccer game or skip a morning exercise routine during the week. When I say it out loud, it’s so little I’m giving up to help her…but why does it feel so big?

I feel like I’ve taken one more step closer to….I’m not sure to what or to where. Maybe just feeling like I’m more of a parent now? Like before I was parenting a teenager and now we’ve gone backwards and it’s closer to parenting a Kindergartner?  Or maybe it’s because it is another step.

It’s one more step towards the day my mother won’t know who I am.




Just. Stop.

For two months this summer, I read books about gender, race and justice. Or rather injustice. I read about Latasha Harlins, the 15- year-old African-American girl who was shot in the back of the head by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American store owner back in 1991. Du received a fine, community service and probation. This crime was one of the causes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

I read about Ed Johnson, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Although no evidence pointed to Johnson, he was still convicted by an all white jury. His lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court to get a stay of execution and it was granted. Yet the folks of Chattanooga, Tennessee didn’t like that, so they broke him from jail, hanged him and shot his body over and over. In 1909, one of his lawyers, Noah Parden said this: “We are at a time when many of our people have abandoned the respect for the rule of law due to the racial hatred deep in their hearts and souls, and nothing less than our civilized society is at stake.”

While I was reading about 20th century cases of American black citizens being killed by (usually) white American citizens, I would turn on the news or look at the newspaper and see the headline, “Black man killed by white police officer in [fill in the blank]”. Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana.


And then, of course, there’s social media. That’s when you see people you thought you knew, say hateful things about people they don’t know. “They were trash and didn’t deserve to live anyway. The police did us a favor.”  I’m paraphrasing here, but that is the gist of what someone I know said on her Facebook account after two black men were killed by police officers earlier in the summer. These were men she didn’t know. She had never met them, talked with them or knew anything about them except they “deserved to die.”

But I never said one word to this “friend.” She doesn’t live near me now anyways, so does it matter?

Of course it does.

Which is why, today, when I heard someone say a nasty hateful thing, I finally said something.

If you live in Maine (or probably anywhere else in the country), you’ve heard about what Governor LePage said to a state representative. Or many of the other hateful things our governor has said in his years in office. Neither civility nor civil discourse appears to be in the governor’s vocabulary. So when I saw a man walking down the street this morning, with “LePage sucks” painted on his bare back and carrying a large board with several signs on it, I thought, “Huh. This could be interesting.” I was taking a quick walk before work and stopped across the street from the man, so I could read his signs. I still have no idea what they said, although some of it was quoting from LePage’s original remarks to the state representative. But this man seemed to be expressing his freedom to speak, so I gave him a thumbs up and kept walking. And then he yelled, “Vote for Trump!”

I stopped. I sighed. I glanced back at him and honestly, my shoulders slumped a bit. For one moment, I thought this person, mentally ill or not, may have had something intelligent or at least worthy to say. But I had to remind myself that he still, in fact, has the freedom of speech, so let him be.  There was a lot of inner dialogue going on there for a few seconds, but I didn’t want to be like what my friend Diane said, “Everybody supports freedom of speech until they disagree with the message.” So I finally shook it off and kept walking.

But then the man said, “If Hillary is elected, it will be just as bad as having that nigger we’ve had for the past 8 years!”

Oh. No. You. Didn’t.

All that flashed in my mind was those awful things my “friend” had said in her Facebook post and how I didn’t say anything. There was no way in hell I was going to let someone call OUR President (or any other person!) such a foul, dirty, hate-filled word like that.

Unfortunately though? I replied like a damn school marm.

“Nigger?!? That was completely uncalled for,” I shouted. Then I  yelled with all I had, “STOP THE HATRED!”

The man continued to rant but I left and angrily stuck my buds into my ears and kept walking.

I know. Can you believe I said that? First, having to say the N-word makes me want to hurl. It’s very much like saying the F-word….and that’s faggot. Not fuck. Fuck is a good word and has several good connotations. Not so with fag or faggot. Most people only use it to spew more hatred and ignorance.

Second, why didn’t I say something else? Why didn’t I call him a nasty name or even to go fuck himself? Would that have felt better?

But…maybe I was just sick of all the name calling and the exhaustion of hating, hating, hating. I want people to listen to one another. I want people to learn empathy and just TRY to walk in someone else’s shoes. You do not know what other people go through. You don’t know their struggles or their triumphs. You don’t know what keeps them up at night or what makes them laugh out loud. You don’t know because you either don’t care or you don’t listen. Why?

I am just so tired of the bickering, the yelling, the hating, the shootings, the dying.

When will we start listening and loving and laughing and living again?

I want to start right now.

Don’t you?


End of Summer

Typically, this time of year fills me with happiness. The nights are just starting to cool down, a few leaves have already turned a lovely shade of red, and school is about to begin. The smell of new sneakers lingers in our home, pencils are sharpened, the backpack is filled with notebooks and folder and my kid is excited to see his friends again.

Yet this year? This year I am completely filled with dread.

Fall means school and school means homework and schedules and getting up early to make supper for that night and begging other parents to take my kid to soccer practice and squeezing in running so I don’t have a complete mental breakdown. Arguments will begin over me feeling stressed and not everyone pulling their weight at home and more arguments about homework and bedtime and Oh my god I already want to tear my hair out and school hasn’t even started!!!


*deep breath*

*breathe in and out*

Ok. Let’s start over.

Hi. I had a pretty damn good summer. Did you?

Are you sad summer is nearly over?

Me, too!

Now let’s go get a drink and dream about NEXT summer!


Fly Your Freak Flag


When my son was 6 years old, I liked to call him my noncomformist. He danced to a different tune and wasn’t afraid to show it. I was proud of him for that. We all know how difficult it can be to just be yourself and not worry about what others think you should be.

Now that my boy is 9, I see that in most ways, he’s still that independent free thinker. And I’m still proud of him…yet now I’ve been trying to make him conform.

I know. Shitty, right?


Let me lay it out for you. See these boots?  My boy loves these things. He’s finally found footwear that doesn’t hurt him and is completely comfortable. So he wore them all winter and spring. Now that’s it’s near summer, he still wants to wear them. One day last week, he wore shorts and put his boots on. I told him, “No way!” He looked like a clam digger, an old man with his muck boots on. I could just picture him getting teased by kids on the playground and the damn school bus.  I was protecting him….or so I thought.

This week, my son once again wore shorts and as we were leaving, he put his boots on. When I started to tell him “No” he burst into tears. And I mean burst. This kid goes from zero to sobbing in 2 seconds. His face scrunched up and his mouth was making horrible sobbing noises and tears were leaking from his eyes.

I stopped what I was doing and sat down with my boy in front of me. I explained my reasoning, that I didn’t want people to make fun of him. He said he didn’t care if people teased him about his boots, but told me that no one had made fun of him. “Not for that, Mom!” We recently discovered that some older boys were picking on him on the bus (surrounding him, actually) because he’s taller than they are and they don’t like that. So he’s getting pushed around for something he has no control over. And I think that’s why I wanted him to dress differently, to have some kind of control over what the kids do tease him about. Don’t give them more fuel for their fire, you know?

But my little guy sees things differently. Right now, he doesn’t care that he’s not good at sports. He doesn’t care that he’s bigger than everyone else his age. He doesn’t care if he looks weird or odd or silly. And since he doesn’t care, why should I?

I just read a review of the book, The Awakened Family: A revolution in parenting by Shefali Tsabary, with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this topic. “Only when we can separate our fantasies concerning who our children should be from who they actually are can we do justice to their original essence and craft our parenting to allow for this to flourish.”

In other words, let your son be who he wants to be, Holly. He will never be in any kind of fashion magazine. He will never be an award-winning athlete. Just let him be the boot-wearing, cat-loving, video game player and reader extraordinaire that he is. Let him be the amazing, sensitive, funny, sweet boy that you’re proud of.

Shut up about the boots and just love your boy and makes sure he knows it.

So that’s what I’m going to do.