Columns

Seeing Mom

If I’d known I wouldn’t see her again for six months, I’d have given her an extra hug.

When I left my mom’s assisted living apartment on Feb. 29, I assumed I’d see her when I returned from visiting my grandsons. COVID-19 proved that assumption wrong.

Phone calls took the place of weekly visits, and instead of loving celebrations on her birthday and Mother’s Day, we stood in the parking lot below her second-floor window and held up signs that her failing eyes could barely see.

Mom has Alzheimer’s, so phone calls are often challenging. She still knows all of us, but her memories of the distant past are much sharper than say, remembering what she had for lunch. Or remembering why no one has come to visit her.

“My mom used to send me to my room when I was bad. Have I been bad?” she asked.

So, I remind her of the pandemic and how her facility is trying to keep everyone healthy, and she says, “Oh, yes. I saw that on the news.”

The next time I called she said, “I tried to go to the dining room for lunch today, but I got caught at the elevator and sent back to my room. I finally made some friends here, and I’m worried they’ve all forgotten me.”

She doesn’t have much of an appetite, and eating all her meals alone in her room, hasn’t improved it. Recently, I was on the phone with her when her dinner was delivered, so I asked her to tell me what room service had provided. She obligingly took the lid off her plate.

“0h, for the love of Pete, not again! It’s macaroni and cheese with what looks like birthday sprinkles on it!”

I tried to convince her it was some kind of vegetable garnish, but she wouldn’t buy it.

“It’s birthday sprinkles,” she insisted.

Some days she’s in better spirits than others. One morning she told me she was up and dressed, had breakfast, made her bed and even curled her hair.

“Of course, I have two curlers in the front which I’ll probably forget to take out like I usually do,” she said. “Also, I’m all out of hard candy. I can’t figure out who keeps eating it all!”

I didn’t feel the need to remind her she hasn’t had any visitors since the first of March.

Finally, on Aug. 26, I got to have an outdoor socially distant visit with her. She scooted her walker out the facility’s front door, and even though her face mask was in place, I could tell she was smiling.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

So we got the crying out of the way first thing.

Mom, August 2020.

She reached out for a hug, and I had to back away.

“We can’t hug yet,” I told her.

What a thing to tell a mother, especially my mother.

Mom is a hugger and a kisser. She grew up longing for physical affection that she didn’t receive from her mother, so when she had children and grandchildren, she lavished them with all the affection she’d craved.

Still, I’m so thankful to be able to sit across from her and visit. Being out of her room and in the fresh summer air is so good for her, but hugs are healing, too.

Countless studies have shown the importance of physical touch. It reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and calms the heart rate and blood pressure.

For now, I’m focused on making our outdoor visits as enjoyable as possible. Last week, I wore a mask that matched my navy and white polka dot blouse. I knew Mom would get a kick out of it. She was quite the fashion plate in her day.

When I snapped a photo of her, she insisted I take a selfie of my matching ensemble.

“I taught her that,” she told everyone who passed by.

Matchy, matchy made Mom happy!

In-person visits do both our hearts good. The results of social isolation and touch deprivation can be devastating, especially for elderly parents. And honestly? It’s not great for their kids, either.

This pandemic has taught me not to take anything for granted – the professional handshake at the outset of business meetings, the quick hugs from friends, a mother’s warm embrace. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to comply with mandated health protocols.

I really want to hug my mom again.

Columns

Silver linings in cloudy COVID-19 world

My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.

The banister absolutely gleams.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.

With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.

I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.

“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”

And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.

When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.

I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.

Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.

So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.

How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.

When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.

I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.

On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.

Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”

One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.

When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.

Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.

Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.

I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.

While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.

In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.

Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.

The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.

The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.

It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.

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Columns

Grateful for Trip Before Pandemic Havoc

Earlier this month when we left for Ohio to visit our twin grandsons, there were just two cases of COVID-19 in Spokane – the remaining cruise ship passengers that had been sent to Sacred Heart Medical Center to recuperate. There were no reported cases in Ohio.

By the time we returned home, Ohio’s governor had closed schools, libraries and restaurants, as had Washington’s governor, and coronavirus cases in both states had skyrocketed.

A lot can change in a week.

But the change that happened to me over the course of the week had nothing to do with viruses and everything to do with love.

How to describe the feeling of holding your son’s son in your arms for the first time? The joy of discovering your child’s blue eyes peering at you from a new face or, in our case, faces.

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Adam and Nicholas are identical twins and, in my completely unbiased opinion, worthy of #TheWorldsMostBeautifulBoys hashtag I created for them.

Born 7 1/2 weeks early on Nov. 23, they had a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home in January. Thankfully, they are healthy, and did I mention beautiful?

Derek and I rented a small Airbnb house near our son’s home, so we could watch the twins and their big sister, Farrah, 6, as often as Alex and Brooke were willing to part with them.

To our delight, we got to have them every day. We timed our arrival with Brooke’s birthday, and Alex surprised her by taking time off from work so he could ferry the boys back and forth for her.

We wanted her to be able to rest and enjoy some much needed self-care time. I remember well the exhausting days and endless nights of caring for infants who seemed to rarely sleep – and I only had one baby at a time.

After our first stint of babysitting, Derek and I sprawled on the sofa, exhausted.

“How does she do it?” he asked. “How does she do this every day? I mean, she’s by herself when Alex is at work. Look how worn out we are and there’s TWO of us!”

Two of us, whose only agenda was cuddling, feeding, burping and changing our adorable grandsons. Our only other objective was to be able to tell them apart by the time we left. More on that later.

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When the boys napped I cooked meals for the family – another reason I’m so glad we chose an Airbnb over a hotel. But I didn’t have to clean, or tackle laundry, or do any of the myriad things Brooke has to do on a daily basis. We are simply in awe of her.

On our first full day in Ohio, we bundled up the boys and took them on their first walkabout in their double stroller.

It was a new adventure for them, and Adam was not a fan. Nick, however, took in the sights, sounds and smells with equanimity and wonder.

We slowly began to get a sense of their personalities. Alex and Brooke weren’t kidding when they told us their boys are very opinionated and not shy about making their preferences known. We thought it was mighty kind of Adam and Nick to let Nana and Papa know how they like to be held and fed, but the first time they both cried at the same time, we looked at each other, stricken.

Nick hollers, but Adam’s cry is more dramatic and heartbreaking. It quickly became clear my job was to calm any tears, and Derek’s job was to fall asleep with a baby in his arms.

Not much has changed in the 20 years since we had our last baby.

Initially, Brooke dressed them differently, so we knew who was who, but when Alex dropped them off wearing identical outfits, I panicked.

“Which one is which?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” he said.

Then he showed me his dad trick. He swiped his thumb across their foreheads.

“This is Nick,” he said. “He has drier skin.”

That was helpful, but Nana’s no dummy. I quickly popped their labeled pacifiers in their car seats.

The boys have their dad’s beautiful lips and when they smile, it’s like cuddling Alex all over again. They love to “talk,” and enjoy lying next to each other and kicking their legs like crazy.

Of course, I took oodles of photos and videos. Leaving them to come home was incredibly difficult because I know how much they’ll change before we see them again.

And we will see them again.

Coronavirus restrictions and protocols won’t last forever. We’ve already scheduled our next visit for the end of June. Grandparents are optimistic to a fault.

I understand our world has been forever altered by this pandemic, but not all change is bad. For instance, I’ve discovered my heart really can be in two places at once.

Me and my boys