Duped

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.

wrong

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.

Stop_sign(standard)

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!!!

Goodbye-Summer

*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!

Cheers!

Fly Your Freak Flag

DSCN3444

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.

 

 

Run it out

Five years ago today, I ran my very first race. It was a 5K fundraiser for an animal shelter about 45 minutes from my house. I wanted my first race to be far enough from my home that no one who knew me would be running in it or watching it. I just wanted to try this racing thing and not be completely embarrassed. Like many other slow runners, “just don’t finish last” was my mantra. (Although a few years later, I did finish last in a 5K I ran/walked with my family, and it was freakin’ awesome.) So I ran my race, felt pretty wonderful about it, called my family, texted a friend, then went home. It felt a bit anti-climactic after being so nervous for months, but it was alright.

I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning.

On this anniversary of my first race, I wore my first racing t-shirt on my run this morning. This is me after the run, very sweaty and smiley.

I’ve run a handful of races since then, but racing makes me feel anxious. There’s the cost of the race, then there’s getting there on time and finding a parking space and where do I go and all that shit that I don’t want or need.  After several running injuries, a bad back and now hip pain, the reason I still run after 5 1/2 years is because it makes me feel good.

That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?

Not all of my physical ailments are due to running. I’ve always had a bad back and the MRI image of the herniated disc is my proof. All of the other issues (pulled muscles, feet aches, hip pain) may be from running, but most of that has been manageable. It’s the emotional and mental release that running allows me is why I keep tying those laces time after time.

Running helps rid me of anxiety and worry and sometimes sadness or anger. Although I often do math in my head while running or think about sex or sing the lyrics to whatever tune I’m listening to, all of those things just flow through my mind and I don’t really *feel* any emotions. I just work my body until it’s tired and often sore and when I think I might need to walk the next hill, I try to push through until the next song on my playlist and if I can keep on running through the next one and the next one, then I do.

I think running washes the limbic system in my brain. It clears out the gunk built up in there by my emotional reactions to nearly everything in my life. I’m hoping it will help my memory in the future, too, but only time will tell.

When I run, I love that I can leave everything behind, even for just 30 minutes. I don’t think about mom’s dementia or if I’m scarring my child for life with my parenting skills or what debt needs to be paid. I don’t worry about what I look like. Since I live in a rural area, typically I don’t even have to worry about saying “hello” to other people on the road. I don’t have to be nice to anyone or smile or watch my words. I get to just move my body to the best of my ability, while music I have chosen blasts through my ears and into my limbs and brain and I only think of putting one foot in front of the other. I feel nothing. I’m not angry or sad or happy even. I am just my body and the music. Nothing else.

Not every run is like this, unfortunately. Some runs hurt too much to not feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes my brain is just too filled with emotional baggage to shut down. But most of the time, even for just part of a run, my brain goes on vacation while my body does the work. It’s glorious. It really is. Maybe if someone had told me this before, I would have tried to shed those 85 pounds earlier and got my ass out on the road 20 years ago.

If you’re not a runner and you’re still reading this, I’m not telling you to get out there and run a 5K. I don’t believe running is for everyone. But I think there’s something out there for you that can help you “escape reality” for just a bit, something that can allow you to let off some steam and release whatever pressures you’re feeling. Maybe it’s creating art of some kind, writing, playing tennis, or baking bread. Whatever brings you joy of some sort and makes you breathe easier once you’ve done it. Whatever that thing is, go do it.

I know you’re busy. We all are. But if we don’t find something to release stress and anger and sadness and frustration, then you may find yourself eating that stress away, or drinking it away, or yelling at your loved ones over nothing. You’ll find yourself with high blood pressure or diabetes or some other physical ailment that you might have been able to prevent.

So go.

Find that thing you do.

Climb a mountain. Paint a picture. Make a tasty tomato sauce. Or just go for a run.

You’ll feel better afterwards. I promise.

 

 

Answers

For months now, I’ve been waiting for a doctor to say the word, “dementia.” My siblings and I have known that is what is causing our mom to forget so many things and causing her to repeat herself time and time again. We knew dementia was the only explanation for why there were so many incidents with Mom over the past few years. But no one could or would confirm our beliefs.

Until yesterday.

But have you ever expected an answer to a question, and when you received that expected answer it gave you no relief? It just confirmed your nightmare?

Yeah. That’s how this feels, too.

When the doctor used the words “vascular dementia,” it was a bit of a relief, only because we finally had a diagnosis and it confirmed that my siblings and I were not insane (well…not for this reason, anyway). It’s also a slight comfort to be able to say to someone, “Look, my mom has dementia so she might not remember you after today.” It gives us a word to use to explain our mom’s behavior, a word we can use with certainty.

But today, after using the word a few times and having it flit around in my brain, it just makes me so fucking sad. This diagnosis means that my mother will never, ever get better. She will never, ever remember more than she does at this moment.  If you were to meet her today and again tomorrow and again next month, she would be meeting you for the first time.

Every.single.time.

Our only hope is that between medication and exercising the hell out of her brain, she will slow down the progression of this disease. But it’s all up to her now. This medication is not a magic pill by any means. If Mom doesn’t work her brain by doing jigsaw puzzles and reading and word jumbles, then even that pill can’t slow things down much. But there are physical issues, too. If she stopped smoking, she could slow the disease down. If she can control her diabetes better through nutrition, she can slow this down. If she can keep her blood pressure and cholesterol at good levels, she can maintain her memory as it is now. It’s completely doable….but must feel daunting.

And then the neurologist used the word “Alzheimer’s.” The only way to truly know if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, is to place a slice of their brain under a microscope. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but with Mom’s family history of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the doctor felt fairly confident that her memory loss was also a part of Alzheimer’s disease.

skull

You know, that word felt like a slap in the face. I don’t think I fully expected to hear the word, and although it didn’t change the diagnosis at all, it still stung. My mother’s initial reaction was, “Well…at least I have life insurance.” I reassured her that this wasn’t a death sentence (yet), but now after thinking about it for a day, I completely understand her reaction. It *does* feel like a death sentence. We watched one of my grandmothers die from Alzheimer’s and it was absolutely horrific. She could no longer talk by the end and was literally a shell of the woman she once was. And maybe that was what Mom was thinking about.

But the doctor said to my mother, “Don’t just give up on life because what I told you.” The doctor often sees patients just shrug and say, “Well, that’s that. I’m doomed,” which is basically what Mom’s initial reaction said, too. The doctor said that if she works hard and kicks and screams, she can at least maintain her cognitive health as it is now.

Mom’s posture changed when the doctor said this last bit to her. Mom said that she could do this. She’ll work hard. And if there is one thing just about anyone who knows my mother will tell you, is that she is a damn hard worker. But…usually that hard work has been for other people. I can only hope that through our efforts to encourage her by playing card games and doing puzzles with her, Mom will step up and fight for the memories she has left.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have much hope. I know my mother and I know she won’t quit smoking. I think she’ll take her medication and I think she will try to do some mental exercising, but I think part of her has given up.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Mom’s mind stays on an even keel for a while and I get to have her for a while longer. I hope she works her brain so much she kicks my butt at UNO. She’s been known to surprise all of us a time or two, particularly when it comes to her health. And now I’m hoping for at least one more surprise from her.

Here’s to hoping.

And hard work.

And a cure.

ASSUME or ASS U ME?

Yesterday, my family and I went to the Bangor Comic Con. It’s the second year of its existence and like last year, we have a good time gawking at some of the famous people (Nichelle Nichols!), but even more fun “ooo-ing and ahh-ing” over the folks in cosplay.  Deadpool, Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Pikachu and other creatures that I couldn’t identify were there and I loved them all.

DSCN3389

I’m the one on the right. The woman. Not the dude with big ears.

I’m one of those attendees the comic con probably hates, because I don’t typically buy anything. Except for comic books. Some of the vendors have sales on comic books so I like to buy a dozen or so of random titles for myself, my husband and my boy. As I was looking at the boxes of comics with  my head down and my hair hanging down so it covered part of my face, a thirty-something man stood beside me and leaned over in front of me to sort through one of the boxes. “Excuse me, man,” he said.

*sigh”

Man. “Excuse me, MAN.”

Look. I get it. I’m over 6 feet tall and I was wearing clothes that were not really gender specific–jeans, t-shirt, dark jacket. But….couldn’t you just say “excuse me” without adding any kind of noun after it? Were you really THAT sure I was a guy? Was it just my height or was it also my non-existent ass in those jeans? Was it because my hair wasn’t particularly tidy and I looked too unkempt to be a woman?

But I know. It was the height. Men, women, boys and girls have assumed I was a man countless times over the years (although men are more likely to do this than anyone else), and each time it happens it wounds me just a bit. It’s not horribly painful, but it always makes me pause and worry. Is something wrong with me? It makes me wonder why people can’t see who I really am. I often want to press my breasts in the person’s face and say, “SEE?!? I am no man, honey, nor do I ever want to be one. So get your eyes checked, jackass!”

I won’t go so far as to say that I know what any transgender person feels or thinks, but this weekend really got me wondering. Is this what it feels like when someone looks at you and they see a man, say, wearing a dress and heels, but you know in fact that you’re a woman wearing that same dress? Does it make you feel invisible or misunderstood? Or both? Does it anger you or just make you feel sad?

Whenever I have one of these encounters, I stop and really look at myself. Try and see what others see. I am not particularly feminine, or rather society’s definition of feminine. I rarely wear dresses or heels (ok, I NEVER wear heels) and I love jeans, t-shirts and running shoes. I have longish hair, but so does my brother-in-law. Although I doubt he’s ever been called a woman. (His mustache may have something to do with it.) But I do have breasts. They’re pretty awesome, too. I used to think that if you looked at me face on, you could never mistake me for anything but a woman. This theory went out the window last year when a kid in the grocery store line asked her father what that man was buying. The father glanced at me and said, “It doesn’t matter what he’s buying.” Really?!? These people were looking directly at me! I actually laughed out loud because the situation seemed so surreal. I didn’t think anyone could misinterpret these C cups, but I was wrong.

Back at the Comic Con, the thirty-something man did redeem himself. Sort of. After he said, “Excuse me, man” I looked up at him without saying a word. He looked at my face…and chest…and smiled, “OH! Really excuse me! I’m sorry.” I tried to smile (probably looked like a grimace) and nodded. He leaned close to me and said, “You know, I should know better. My wife is six feet tall.”  I looked at him with wide eyes and loudly exclaimed, ” You SHOULD know better!” He laughed and smiled while I bought my comic books and got out of there.

At the Comic Con we were surrounded by people in costumes and drag and very often you had no idea if the person was a woman or a man. And did it matter? NO! It was awesome! Yet a man who was used to being around a tall woman, still assumed that a person with long hair who was just slightly taller than his wife, was a man. Un-fucking-believable.

So…how about leaving out any kind of gender specific nouns and pronouns in that setting…or even everywhere? Look, I’m not going to get all politically correct on you because I know how batshit crazy that can make people. And I don’t hate this man who thought I was a guy. He apologized and that was fantastic. But the fact that he made such an assumption with his experiences made me step back and think, “What is wrong with this picture?”

Maybe we all just need to put some of our assumptions, beliefs and expectations on the back burner for a second. It’s ok to not understand something or someone. It’s ok to be wrong in some of our assumptions. But we need to be willing to accept we’re wrong and apologize if need be. Maybe if we all replaced our assumptions with just acceptance, I wouldn’t have the urge to press my breasts in people’s faces when they call me a dude.

Seriously. This is going to get me in trouble one of these days.

 

BLOG UPDATE:

Remember last time when I told you how much my son was dreading getting glasses? Well, two days later, that all changed. “I’m excited now, Mom. I can’t wait!” Huh.

He still doesn’t wear glasses all day, but when I made him wear them while watching a subtitled anime episode, he exclaimed, “WOW! The words seem bigger with glasses. And I can see their faces better!” Imagine that.🙂

Isn’t he just handsome?!?