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

It’s not what I miss; it’s who

March 29.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the last time I wore mascara. I’m putting that extra five minutes a day to good use, though. For instance, I posted that fascinating tidbit across my social media platforms.

Seriously, for all the frustration and inconvenience of the stay-home order, there are bright spots. Not only am I saving money on cosmetics, but my gas use has plummeted. Doing all my interviews by phone from home means the only time Ruby Sue and I leave the driveway is for groceries.

And new routines are replacing the old. Knowing my family’s screen time has increased exponentially, I dug out a deck of cards, and introduced our youngest son to Gin Rummy and Kings Corner.

Sam wasn’t so sure about this old-fashioned nondigital form of entertainment, and I was horrified to discover he didn’t know how to shuffle.

I’m proud to say that after several weeks of nightly card games, our son can shuffle the deck almost expertly, and has actually won a few hands. If the stay-home order isn’t lifted soon, we’ll have to teach him poker, and I fear for our stimulus money.

Some friends are using their mandatory confinement to explore new hobbies or tackle remodeling projects. I’m a wee bit jealous, because I’ve always worked from home, and I’m busier than ever. But I’m extremely thankful to be able to continue the work I enjoy. And honestly, I’d probably spend my bonus time napping.

Speaking of naps, Sunday is now a lot more relaxing. While I miss corporate worship, I have to be honest – livestreaming the service in my bathrobe, ensconced in my recliner, is heavenly. I did make more of an effort in honor of Easter. I wore yoga pants and sparkly slippers.

Still, I miss lots of things – happy hour with girlfriends, picking up books at the library, getting a haircut, and Saturdays with my mom.

Feb. 29

That’s the last time I visited Mom in person. She lives in an assisted-living facility that was extremely proactive in quarantining its residents. I’m so thankful for their foresight and diligence. They quickly went from screening visitors to no visitors to residents staying in their rooms at all times. And so far, no residents or staff has been infected by the virus.

But this is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my mom. We’ve always lived in the same town, always within 3 miles of each other. Even before she moved into assisted-living, I’d stop in and see her every Saturday.

She’s been in great spirits for the most part. Even though she has Alzheimer’s disease, she usually remembers why I haven’t been to see her.

“Don’t worry honey, they won’t let your brother in here anymore, either,” she said.

Having all her meals in her room isn’t much fun, but she seems to understand the reason for the quarantine.

She teases the staff.

“I tell them I’m going to be extra good, so they’ll let me out of my room again.”

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Mom turned 89 on March 21. We dropped off gifts at the designated area, and the staff delivered them to her room. Then I called her from the parking lot, and she came to the window so we could see each other.

“You look so cute with your hair in a ponytail!” she said.

I explained I couldn’t get a haircut, and she laughed.

“Me either, I think I’m just going to leave a curler in my bangs so I can see.”

But recently she seemed a bit down.

“I miss you,” she said. “This is getting hard.”

Then she told me a story about how she and Dad never went to church alone. They were always stopping to pick someone up and give them a ride. One woman’s name was Aleece.

“She told us her daddy named her that because they had a lot of boys and he said, ‘At least this one’s a girl!’ ”

Sure, I miss the freedom to dine in a restaurant, shop in a bookstore, or get a haircut, but I miss Saturdays with mom a whole lot more.

Mom and Me

Columns

My Corona Diary

Unlike many writers, I don’t journal. I write for a living, so by the end of the day I’m all out of words.

However, we’re living in extraordinary times, and frankly since the governor issued the stay-home order, I seem to have a bit more time, and a bit more difficulty keeping track of it. Jotting journal notes seems like a good way to commemorate this unprecedented era, or at least help me track the days of the week.

Here are a few excerpts from my quarantine diary.

Stay Home Day One: Tightening the belt on my bathrobe, I slip my feet into my bunny slippers, grab a cup of coffee, and make the morning commute to my downstairs office. In other words, it’s just like every deadline morning I’ve had for the past 15 years.

Day Three: As the designated shopper, I venture out to forage for food. I’m an introvert, so I adore the 6-foot distance guidelines and the taped X’s that mark where to wait with your cart. One store has the cashiers back away from the register while you swipe your debit card. Push cart up. Back away. Unload cart. Back away. Swipe card, cashier backs away. It’s like the shopping Hokey Pokey. I wanted to “shake it all about,” but I settled for “turning myself around.”

Day Five: Having an ample flour/sugar supply on hand I begin baking in earnest. Chocolate chip cookies, Texas sheet cake, banana bread. Though my men folk consume the bulk of it, I start to worry about my own bulk. I’m thankful for the lovely weather and my well-established walking routine.

Day Seven: I’ve worn nothing but yoga pants for a week, so I take a pair of jeans out of my closet just to make sure I can still button them. Success!

Day Nine-ish: I apologize to Derek for being annoyed with him earlier this year when he bought two Heritage pigs and half a cow from a local farmer. We’ve got plenty of pork chops, sausage and steak in the freezer, but it’s time to trek to Costco to buy the essentials: jelly beans, peanut butter whiskey and salted caramel chocolates.

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Day Eleventy-five: What fresh hell is this? My hair salon isn’t considered an essential business? I peer into the mirror at my overgrown bangs. Then I phone a friend. “Talk me down! I’ve got scissors and Cousin Itt bangs!”

She reminds me of the Great Hair Hack of 2013, and asks if she needs to call Derek or one of the kids to hide the scissors from me.

Day 666: Mother Nature has turned her back on us – snow, hail, rain and an earthquake.

“Did you feel that? My desk was shaking!” I said to my son, Sam.

“I didn’t feel anything. You’re probably having a stroke,” he replied.

Day Something: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Horrible walking weather and a shutdown gym means I have to exercise at home. I dig out my Jill Ireland and Richard Simmons workout videos. The next day I’m incredibly sore.

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“I can’t even sweat to the oldies,” I tell Derek. “No way can I do ‘Buns of Steel.’”

“That’s OK, honey,” he says. “I prefer buns of cushiness anyway.”

We are still married.

The day after whatever day that was: In the darkened bedroom I decide to try on my jeans again. I reach into the closet and grab a pair. They slide on effortlessly. In fact, I’m swimming in them. I’ve done the impossible! I’ve actually lost weight in the midst of quarantine!

I flip the light switch.

I’m wearing Derek’s jeans.

Days later: Panic sets in. Who cares about toilet paper – I’m down to three library books! Then I remember my nightstand is chock-full of books I either haven’t read or want to read again. Also, we have three overflowing bookcases. Crisis averted. Panic wasted.

Another day: Everyone on social media is posting about wearing their jammie pants all day. I’ve never owned pajamas. Choosing between gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants is getting old. I open a tab on my browser, but quickly close it when Derek walks in. He may like cushy buns, but I don’t want him to catch me googling flannel.

Apocalypse Day: Pulling my hair back into a now necessary ponytail, I decide to use a hair clip to get my bangs out of my eyes. That’s when I notice my untended eyebrows edging toward catastrophic caterpillarlike configuration. Salon shutdowns mean no access to my aesthetician with her handy hot wax.

From the far reaches of the bathroom cabinet, I pull out an old hot wax kit. My hair keeps slipping into my eyes and I realize hot wax and overgrown bangs are a bad combination. My fate is sealed. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the scissors.

Some may bemoan the extension of the stay-home order. Not me. I’m hoping by May 4, my hacked-off bangs will be long enough to hide what I did to my eyebrows.