Recently I visited my dad in his memory care facility. Dad has been at his current home for a while. He is getting less and less communicative and even responsive. At this last visit, neither of us got much comfort out of face to face time, so I stood behind him, gently massaging his back and neck. I remembered when my brother and I were little, and giving dad karate chop massages was a regular art of our afer dinner shenanigans. This felt different, of course, but you cling to associations.
Nearby, a man was visiting a woman, his wife, I later learned. I hadn’t seen either of them before, and it quickly became clear that she was a very new resident. He was worried about her. You could tell he had been her caretaker and felt somewhat adrift.
He had brought her a toy, he told the attendant. He thought she might like it. It was a stuffed animal she’d always had on their bed. The attendant smiled kindly, admired it, and gently advised he put her name on it.
He hadn’t yet learned that objects grow legs in an Alzheimer’s ward, as everything looks both familiar and foreign to the residents.
He mentioned that she needed a bath. He said “I don’t know if she’ll mention it.”
The wife sat quietly, perhaps asleep. She clearly would never again remind someone of her hygiene needs. She was limp — except for the pillows the attendant had used to prop her up. Said she seemed to like that.
The attendant said his wife had eaten a good breakfast. That seemed to take one worry line out of his forehead.
Until he realized, and my heart wrenched with his as he quietly said, “The last thing we did together was eat supper.”
Becasue even though she was still alive, their relationship, as he knew it, died the morning he moved her to the memory care unit. I saw this as my mom must have, and remembered the pain in her voice, and even in her posture. The guilt, the certain surety that she had failed him as a wife. I knew he felt this way now.
“I don’t know what to bring for her,” he said.
“Just a little bit at a time,” the attendant softly responded.
“Maybe I’ll put some butterflies up on her wall,” he said, to himself mostly, all the while patting her hair, adjusting her blanket, caressing her hand.
From where I stood, one wheelchair over but trying to give them privac, I saw an older couple, a man bereft and a woman sliding into her own end, one forgotten memory at a time.
But from his vantage point he saw the young woman he had romanced, who had made his home nice, whom he now wanted to repay in kind.
I cried in the parking lot when I left, thinking of my parents. Of me and my husband. Of my daughter’s face as she asks me if she, too, will someday be like Grandpa. I, of course, can’t answer her.
I can only hope she always has someone who wants to put butterflies on her wall.
Every morning, before I let the dog out, I turn on the coffee maker. I do it without thinking (which is good, because I often need that cup to kickstart the synapses). My first decision each day? Which cup do I want to use?
This is important because it can set the tone. Now, up until about 5 months ago, I was a little sad each time I opened that cabinet, as none of the mugs were mine. I mean, I picked out the matchy-matchy Crate and Barrel set, so yeah, that’s mine. But those mugs aren’t ME. They are EVERYONE.
I was jealous, as people were always giving my husband mugs — including me. But I mentioned in passing to my mom once that I no one had ever given me a mug. So at our holiday bunco party, she won this, and gave it to me:
When I put it away, I realized I did have a few mugs that were mine, but not because of my personality. This first one was for my husband and I, as a holiday gift from the School of Rock, where our kids learned music for 10 years:
And this one was a “thank you” for volunteering in the school district:
This next one is super special. It’s a gift from my sister in law when our sons joined the armed forces the same year:
I heart that mug. But it wasn’t just for me. It was for HWSNBN as well. Some other mugs of his:
That one was a gift from Singer Girl. This next one was a gift from our foreign exchange student from Denmark:
I gave him this next one:
I have no idea what this one is about, but it is clearly NOT mine:
When Sailor Boy was deployed to the Persian Gulf, Singer Girl had one gift request: something from Caribou coffee in Dubai:
Well then my mom gave me this one, and I adore it:
Seriously the coolest. I LOVE that she thought of me when she found it.
On a funny note, this is my most recent gift, from my friend Kristy:
So true. I am.
And you may remember this one, that I purchased on my own:
That mug makes me peaceful and happy and reminds me every time of our whirlwind escape to Amsterdam in December. I pick that one when I am not feeling particularly rushed or overtired or stressed.
I know this post seems pedestrian. But life is made of moments, and frankly, it’s the everyday moments that provide most of life’s crazy quilt. It’s funny how every time I look at that wine-themed mug from bunco, I will think of my mom, and how she listened to me and remembered what I said and it was important to her. She didn’t pay a dime for it, but it’s a treasure to me.
So next time you are bleary-eyed in the morning, running on autopilot, take a sec and think about the mugs in your life. Pause. Breathe. Remember the connections. And if there are no memories in there, maybe you should start some of your own. If there are, I’d love to see your favorite mug in the comments, and what it means to you!
Got back last night from Syracuse, NY, where Singer Girl was auditioning.
As you’ll recall from my last post, ’tis been a bit stressful around these parts. I have been trying to find my inner grown up, and held my tongue and smiled pleasantly a lot over the last few days. We flew in a day early to tour the campus. I had already decided to spring for the club level at the Sheraton — a brilliant call, if I may say so (and I may. It’s my blog, after all). The extra cash got us free breakfast, and snacks and our own bar in the evenings, plus the club room was open 24 hours.
That was the best part. Singer Girl was wound a little tight. She has always been angry if anyone was home when she needed to rehearse, often refusing to even do a warm up unless I left the house (so she didn’t warm up. Until she pays the mortgage, she is not kicking me out of my own home, thankyouverymuch). But because of the club room, she got the hotel room to herself for awhile, and I just took my laptop and hung out with Mr. Wine. Win-win, wine-wine!
When she texted me the all clear, she was starving. Room service was an obvious choice, as we were travel worn and not willing to put shoes, or bras, back on and go out in public. But I pulled a teaching moment: if she wanted a steak brought to her under a silver platter, SHE needed to place the order. She was horrified. She refused. “I can’t! I don’t know how!” I shrugged, and said I didn’t need to eat. She, however, was ravenous. She stared at the phone, terrified, absolutely flummoxed on how to start (kids these days.) I showed her the little button on the phone that said room service, and she dipped her toe into the shallow waters of independence. A hurdle had been crossed. A woman dependent on over-priced mashed potatoes and tiny salt and pepper shakers was born.
Next day was the tour, which was cool. Very pretty campus, Syracuse. People were friendly, weather wasn’t anything we weren’t used to, school seems to have what she needs. The rest of the day we were hotel bound; she did homework and texted Drummer Boy, I worked on planning parties for puppies and high school seniors. That evening she needed more practice time, and so I was sent to “my room,” where I met my new best friend. The lovely gal working the bar greeted me with a warning: “I pour big.”
Come to mama!
My already-oversized glass brimming with Merlot, I sat down and worked some more. A little later the Wine Fairy brought over a second glass — on the house — also perilously close to overflowing. Damn, gurl. I’m not sure what work I got done, or which emails I sent, but if you got some sloppy declaration of love, I apologize. And I hope I didn’t volunteer for something new… My Bartender Angel announced she had to close up — would I like anotherhouse? Um, I had barely finished half the second one — but she insisted on topping it off.
Needless to say: if Singer Girl ends up at Syracuse, I know where I will stay for parents weekend.
The next morning was the audition. I tiptoed around the room, giving her her space. I watched surreptitiously as she pulled out her wardrobe choices. We had yet to discuss clothing options, as I was fiercely rebuffed on the subject last week. It’s a delicate dance, when asked “do you think I should wear this or this?” when neither are what you would’ve picked, but her only choices are what’s in the suitcase and it’s not about you anyway. Several changes later, she was ready, looking very cute, even if not wearing what I had read she should wear.
But she was right, and I was wrong.
Yes, she was the only girl not in a skirt or dress. Yes, her bra straps showed. Yes, she wore bright yellow doc martens instead of the more modest dark colored boots and heels of the other musicians. But she was herself, and the others in the room sort of regarded her as a threat for being so unique. The judges in the audition told her they just loved her boots. She bonded with one over their shared love of Led Zeppelin. She came out of that audition beaming, lighter than I’d seen her in months. I don’t know if she got in, but she was glad it was done.
Next week we fly to Miami for her second and last audition. I learned this week that most of the musicians were doing auditions numbering in the double digits — made me nervous we were putting her eggs in too few baskets. That thought re-occurred when I learned that at Syracuse they were only accepting 40 students in the music school for 2018 — and only 10 in her program. Gulp. But she will be good. I have faith in her — those boots were made for singing.
I don’t know what she will wear for the audition in Miami — but I know it can’t be the same outfit. We did have one crisis moment: she had left the waiting room to go warm up, then came back a few minutes late, loudly whispering, “Hey mom! I need your help!”
I rushed out, eager to see what she needed. Was it a word of encouragement? A hug?
Nope. Her zipper broke — did I have any safety pins? I did not. But this was my moment. My MOMent. Why I was there. I rushed about, asking total strangers for safety pins. It was looking dire. I finally found a woman in an office who dredged some out of her junk drawer, plus requisitioned some cute “Go Syracuse!” buttons that were to go on jacket lapels. It wasn’t pretty, but her pants stayed up. And I helped. We’ll never forget that moment — even as she had one foot out the door, on her way to the future, she had to turn back to mom one last time.
No matter what happens in Miami, we will always have Syracuse.
(Oh yeah: I finally got my new car! She’s a 2018 Mazda Cx9, and I luff her. Actually bought her last weekend, but we decided to add a few things — roof rack, remote engine starter and some rust protection coating stuff, as car warranties against rust are null and void in Minnesota, the land of road salt. They’d have had her ready mid week, but we were going to be gone, so we waited until today. Went to get my new wheels — and we couldn’t register the remote starter as the computer insists that it already belongs to someone else. The baffled staff had never seen that before — so they need to bring her back in to get that fixed. Of course. Two steps forward, one step back!)