Yesterday I spent some time with my mother. The day before she had called to tell me that she needed a new watch. That hers was broken. I reminded her that I had just gotten the battery replaced in that watch the week before. After a few attempts at getting me to understand that I certainly had not fixed her watch she gave up and said, half-heartedly, "Well it doesn't matter if you got it fixed, it doesn't work now." I told her I would be out the next morning, late but before lunch, to take her to get the watch fixed again.
When I think of my mother this image pops into my head of a vibrant and stubborn woman. My mother is a young 73 years old, someone who spends a lot of her day walking and exercising. She is stubborn and set in her ways. Now when I walk into the assisted living where my mother lives, I am never sure what is waiting for me. Will I be greeted by the mother of my memories?
Yesterday I entered through the large glass doors and immediately looked to my right. The well appointed living room that sits just outside the spacious dining room was empty. The large clock hanging on the wall in front me of read 11:05. Lunch was at 11:30, and normally Mom would be sitting in this living room, waiting for the dining room doors to open. She suffered from the same misguided information that many assisted living residents adhere to and thought she had to be the first one in the dining room for meals. It is as though these instructions are written somewhere that only these residents can read. But today the living room was quiet; no one was sitting in the chairs facing the closed dining rooms doors, waiting for their cue to begin the meal time race.
I turned to my left and entered into the family room/hub. The assisted living apartments are located in hallways off of this center hub; kind of like how the old nursing facilities were built, only much more nicely appointed. This is where I found my mother, sitting at a round table with three other women. Each had some sort of activity on the table in front of them/ One was reading her mail and the other two were playing cards. My mother had a heavy hard covered book sitting in front of her. She wasn't reading though. She was fast asleep. I wondered, briefly, if this is what she did every day at this time. How much is she sleeping? Is she sleeping at night? How early is she getting up? Why is she asleep at 11:05 in the morning? Does she do this every day? I push the thoughts aside and gently wake her up. She seems genuinely surprised to see me.
"What are you doing here?" "I told you yesterday that I was coming over today to take you to get your watched fixed." "Oh, well, you didn't say it would definitely be today.", she counters. Ahhh, and the dance begins.
We get into the car and drive across the street to the jewelry store. The entire drive is consumed by my mother's questions of why we are going to this store and not Walgreen's. She tells me that the maintenance man at her community told her to go to Walgreen's to get the watch battery replaced. In my non- Alzheimer's, younger person world we go to Walgreen's to get cold medicine, not watch batteries. I patiently explain, repeatedly, that we are going to this particular store because I bought her a new battery there last week, so if it has stopped working they will replace it. She suggests that maybe, just maybe, I should have gone to Walgreen's in the first place. Sigh.
She sticks close to me in the store, clearly unsure of how to proceed. I tell her that we need to go to the watch section and I wait for her to turn. She waits for me to take the lead. I let her follow me to the right counter, where the bright lights shine on silver and gold watches, some with round old fashioned faces and a few with the more modern square shape. I wait for her to answer the question posed by the man behind the counter. She says she needs a new watch. I step in and explain that she does not need a new watch, and we get the battery replaced for the second time. We walk to the parking lot where she seems to be heading right for the driver's side of the Equinator. (The Equinator, for those of you who may not be in the know, is our newest car, a Chevy equinox. Totally awesome and I love love love it.) Soon we are practically jockeying for position as we both attempt to slide in between the sedan and our car. Suddenly she stops. What is she doing? Does she think she is going to drive? Is this a take over situation of some sort? She turns to the sedan on our left, looking at me expectantly. The reality of her thinking snaps into place in my mind and I gently explain that this is not our car. I lead her around to the other side of the Equinator and we head out to lunch.
She eats her big salad quietly. I rack my brain for conversation topics. I find that I do not like the quiet spaces, those lulls that are normal in every conversation. With my husband they feel comfortable and warm, like having a fleece blanket wrapped around me. With my mother they feel forced and the silence is deafening. I fill her conversational void with comments on my sister and niece, my son, our adoption process. I tell her about work and church and the friends coming over for dinner later that day. She makes a few comments here and there, all short but appropriate, such as her thoughts on my sister's ex-husband and advice on not working too many hours. We pack up her salad and she takes the last roll, laughing as she says "I know you said that these are Brad's favorite, but I am still taking this one home." I laugh. She manages to come across as a sweet old lady sometimes.
I ask her if she wants to go to Wal-Mart with me. I hate Wal-Mart. I just do not like to be there. Too big, too many people, too many screaming babies and kids running around unchecked. I can never find what I am looking for. Apparently, I do not like to be among the masses. This trip to Wal-Mart was completely necessary though, because one of our banks is located inside. In Cleveland, where we opened this account in the early days of our marriage, there are free standing branches all over town. Here in Columbus, however, they are only located inside stores we would normally not patronize, such as Wal-Mart and Kroger's. Since I was going, of course, I needed a few other items. My short list would take me all over the store, from groceries to light bulbs. My mother loves to shop and is often buying things she doesn't need, especially toiletries. I hold my breath, knowing that she will jump at the chance to go to her beloved Wal-Mart and fill her cart with face cream and vitamins. "No". she finally says after processing my question for at least a minute. "I am tired." I breath again.
I attempt to drop her off at the front door but soon find that she cannot manage her oversized and overstuffed purse, her cane, her jacket (which I told her she wouldn't need in the 85 degree heat), and the large take out box containing the remains of her huge salad. I turn the car off and get out, walking with her all the way to her apartment. On my way back to the Equinator I feel a little guilty over my pleasure at her turning my Wal-Mart offer down. She loves to shop. Should I have forced her to go with me? Should I have questioned why she didn't want to go? Instead I jumped at the chance to run the errand solo.
When I get home later that day I am exhausted. I was only with my mother for a few hours. But a few hours in her world can be so draining. The questions, the guilt, the second guessing myself, the reminders to be patient - all are energy sucking activities. I welcome the chaos of my little family, with my son greeting me at the front door by hopping up and down and telling me about the pizza lunch he shared with Daddy. I enjoy my afternoon with Brad and our evening with good friends. I relish in the normalcy of making dinner with my friend, watching all the adults play int he backyard with Matthew, and then sitting around the fire watching a single strand of lightening that appears to be trapped inside of a fluffy white cloud. I relax on the front porch with Brad after our friends head for home, talking as the rain comes down heavy, pouring out of our drain pipes and bouncing as it hits the empty street in front of our house. I recharge. Which is a good thing. The phone rang this morning as I was trying to finish getting ready for church before rushing downstairs to wrestle Matthew into his church clothes, a carefully calculated dance that, if done correctly, will allow time for a stop at Starbucks for some much needed caffeine. Brad hands me the phone. It is Mom, asking about her dentist appointment tomorrow. I take a deep breath as I set down my tooth brush. "You don't have a dentist appointment tomorrow", I say, forcing myself to smile into the phone. A new day, a new question. At least, for the time being, her watch seems to still be keeping time. A lot of it is my time, I think.