16 September 2014

Dancing Hands

Dementia and decline. Decline and dementia. Disease and depression and doctors.

It can feel all consuming, as if all those "D-words" are the only things that exist, as if the person suffering is hardly there, crowded out by D's big and small.  My father's time these days is spent managing all those D's, trying to make sense of them, trying to respond to them, and trying to make BIG D DECISIONS about care for his wife of 49 years, 8 months, and 18 days.

My too brief visits with my mother these days are overwhelming for so many reasons: guilt that I cannot visit more often; anguish over what she is experiencing and our inability to help; compassion for her, and for my father; gratitude that I can be there at least in some small ways.  And great sadness over how much she has changed.

It is a painful time, but it is not without its bright moments.  As is usually the case, one such bright moment came to me, and to my mother, courtesy of one of my kids.

I brought Little T to visit Grandma Rose a few weeks ago.  Our stay was a mixed up, jumbled bag of good and bad.  When we walked in, Grandma immediately said: "Boy am I glad to see you!" and we proceeded, over the course of about 45 minutes, to talk about things Little T was doing in school, what her siblings were up to, the book Grandma Rose wrote, and myriad other things.  These brief interactions were punctuated by my mom's anxiety bursting forth in expressions of fear and struggle.  One minute she was talking about her book, the next she was wailing about how the staff was punishing her, the next worrying about spitting too much, or her hands trembling, or the pictures on the wall moving.

(A side note: One of the most challenging things for me, about my mom's dementia, is that I'm certain that many of these things are truly happening for her; she is not imagining double vision, for example, or the walls moving, and those things alone would make a person "crazy." It's easy -- but not accurate -- to lump all of a person's odd behaviors into the category of dementia. They do not all belong there. If my hands trembled all the time, it would drive me nuts and would be such a distraction that I'm sure I'd talk of little else. That's not dementia: that's just life. In many ways, it does not even matter where normal ends and dementia starts. She still deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. As do we all.)

Little T did an amazing job of responding to Grandma's now and then questions and of trying to respond to what she thought Grandma might need. She offered tissues, looked for a book to read her, and gave me little suggestions of things that might help.

After about the 6th or 7th time Grandma raised her hands from the bed to show us, with some force and agitation, how much they were shaking, my giant of a tiny seven year old whispered something to me that made me smile. I told her to tell Grandma. Here's what she said:

When your hands are shaking like that, 
you should pretend you have jazz hands!

Something amazing happened. Grandma laughed.

I had not seen that happen in months.  I wanted to grab that girl, swing her around, hug her tight, and tell her how brilliant and wonderful she is.  Instead, I laughed too, choked back a few tears, and joined in as Little T and I did our best jazz hands, in solidarity with my mama, whose hands now danced above her bed cover.

I thought this a rather remarkable interchange.  What I learned later is that not only did it make my mother laugh, but it stayed with her.  She told my dad the next day about Tallulah's suggestion to pretend to have "dancing hands" and since then, she will refer to her dancing hands frequently, with less agitation now.  She also mentioned those dancing hands to me, almost a month later, recalling that Tallulah had suggested them to her.

She's not happy that her hands shake.  But I think -- I hope -- that she now has an occasion to recall a small bright moment with her granddaughter when the shaking thing takes over.  It makes a difference.  It's a chance to smile, when she has too few of those chances these days.

I think, in the midst of my daily striving, while I'm trying to raise children right and do my (paying) job well, as I'm steering teenagers to good choices, and working with Rick to get the bills paid and the carpools accomplished and the house maintained, that the Jazz Hands moment is the single most significant event of the last several months for me.  That moment is proof positive that simply being present is, truly, the most important thing we can do in this life and for each other.

It was absolutely not an earth-shattering moment.  It was a quiet, simple laugh, almost no more than a smile.  But nothing has meant more to me than to see my mother laugh that day, or to hear that the dancing hands have stuck around.  Everything else swirling around me pales by comparison.

Jazz hands, dancing hands: take a small moment and transform it by saying something, anything, to make someone else feel better.

When it works, it will stay with you forever.

17 August 2014


Take heart!  Be strong! Stand firm!  Little T, that mighty girl, that force of nature, that pint sized hurricane…even she can listen to her mama.

Parents, everywhere, if this kid can listen, absorb, and change behavior accordingly, then guess what: this parenting thing isn't impossible after all.  We can make a difference and -- dare to hope -- raise contributing members of society!

Little T came to me the other day and said:

"Mama, I'm having a lot of maturement lately!  

I just put my shoes away the first time you asked!  And I was going to yell at you from the couch to bring me more food, but I got up and made it myself instead!  I even warmed it up in the microwave and put the parmesan cheese on and everything!  And I was really mad at Sam, but I didn't even yell!  I just took a breath and it all went away!

I'm so maturement!"

(While not a fan of the exclamation point, I find it necessary here.  While she may be getting "more maturement" she is also only getting louder with age.)

This is so exciting, people.  This is proof that my words do not fall on deaf ears and that I can, in fact, bend these children to my will.  Every mother deserves some sign of encouragement like this at least once a decade (which is about how often we get them).  With these words in my ears, I just might make it to her 16th birthday!  

* * *

All that maturity aside, she still hijacks my phone with some regularity.  More baby steps.

12 August 2014

She's On To You, New Teacher

I took my 5th grader to a Meet and Greet with her new teacher this evening.  She seems very nice.  I liked her bearing.  Lady E was charming and sweet.  Then, when I mentioned to the teacher that the 5th graders are a great group of kids, Lady E said: "Well…we're a little goofy. Or a lot goofy."

Ms. New Teacher said: "Goofy is good!  I like goofy."

Later, at home, I asked Lady E if she liked Ms. New Teacher.  She said sure.  I remarked that I liked what her teacher said about being goofy.

Lady E cut to the chase: "They all say that at the beginning of the year.  At first, it's all 'Oh! Goofy is great!' and then by half way through it's all: 'STOP BEING GOOFY!' She's just trying to sweet talk us and pull the wool over our eyes."

Teachers beware: Mixed metaphors aside, this is one nine year old you will not be able to fool or trick or otherwise befuddle.  She's a sharp little thing who won't let you get away with much.

In other words, Ms. New Teacher, she's exactly the kind of student you want in your classroom: lucky you!

* * *

09 July 2014

Don't Say Hurry

Note: first published December 2007.  Reprising today because I need the reminder.  

I went to the grocery store tonight, because dinner was, well...waffles...and we were out of powdered sugar. (What? You've never had pizza for breakfast?) We've been out of powdered sugar for a long time, and more than a few folks in our house prefer this confection to syrup on their griddle cakes. Powdered sugar is the one thing I keep forgetting to put on my grocery list, and we've been suffering without it. So when Rick said he would make waffles for dinner, he had a condition: Get Thee To The Store and Come Back With Powdered Sugar. And fruit shake makings. OK, I decided that was a fair deal. I took Elizabeth with me. The waffle iron was already hot, and the batter was ready, so this had to be a fast trip.

Not TOO fast, of course; after all, one moving violation a day is enough, and I've already had a chance to chat with Johnny Law today after "not coming to a complete stop" or some such nonsense. With all five kiddos in the car. Being stopped by the police was fascinating to them, a real adventure. The boys had a bit of fun tormenting Elizabeth by telling her the policeman was going to take her away if she took her arms out of her car seat straps. The policeman really got them going when he leaned slightly into the window, peered in the backseat, and asked if everyone was buckled up. That was cool. He still gave me a ticket for rolling through the stop sign but he mercifully did NOT give me the big fat $500 ticket for not having my proof of insurance with me. (I know, I know...)

But I digress. The grocery store run had to be fast: hungry waffle eaters were waiting. So I zipped over to the store, and in one motion jumped out of the car, opened the sliding door on the driver's side of the car, and hopped in to unbuckle Elizabeth. She, in her inimitable way, put both of her hands up, cocked her head to one side, and said: "Don't say hurry, mama, don't say hurry!"

This reminded me of my friend Nicole's musings on rushing our children through the day. Elizabeth provided me with today's reminder to stop and be in Advent. This should be a time of waiting, not rushing. A time of being present to each other, being presents for each other. So I slowly lifted her out of the car and hugged her tight. I stopped in the cold, dark parking lot, listened to the traffic whizzing by on the busy street, looked into the green eyes of my daughter and just waited. Not sure what I was waiting for, just for something to tell me that it was time to go into the store. That moment came, and off we went, Elizabeth bouncing on my hip, laughing and being silly. Don't say hurry, mama . . . Listen to me laugh, hold me tight, give me a minute of your day; don't say hurry.

24 June 2014

You know you have a big family when...

…your teenager sees baby doll feet poking out from underneath a pillow and momentarily panics that there has been a serious mishap with a baby.  Some baby.  Not sure whose baby, but somebody's baby.  Because there have in the past always been lots of babies around here.

* * *

Poor kid.  He came upstairs half laughing, half crying in relief that he did not, in fact, stumble upon the scene of a homicide.

Makes me wonder what his reaction was when his last sister was born.  I imagine something like: "Oh look, another baby.  Pass the pizza, please."

* * *

19 June 2014

A Chore Deferred


What happens to a chore deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it make a mama's head explode?

* * *


  1. It does not dry up.  It will not go away.  Ever.  You will always, always have your chore to do, and there is no avoiding it or hoping that it will just go away.  That will not ever happen.  
  2. It will fester.  And then it will ooze all manner of grossness -- rotten, rank, family grossness -- all over your iPad, your plans with friends, your Instagram profile, and your brand new, shockingly ugly, overpriced soccer cleats.  The ones I will buy you when hell freezes over. 
  3. It could turn crusty.  But then, you'll inadvertently pick it like a scab and the whole nasty festering process will start over.  It could turn sweet.  If by sweet, you mean every possible county fair deep fried chocolate butter HFCS mess, consumed in large enough quantities to make a person vomit.  That's the kind of sweet it would be. 
  4. It does indeed sag.  Like a dirty diaper, and just as stinky.  And as heavy as a full Diaper Genie bag in the Duggar household.  And it will drag you down and down and down until you do something radical, as in, until you do what you are supposed to do anyway.
  5. And yes.  Your mama's head will explode.  Making an ever bigger mess for you to clean up.  You and your siblings will have to decide who's on brain detail.

* * *

Child of mine, I beg of you: do not defer your dreams.  But do your chores first.

* * *

My (for lack of a better word) inspiration

15 June 2014