Friday, January 28, 2011

And What Did I Just Say?

So yesterday, I wrote about Anthony's mother. The pressure cooker.

Today, Anthony paid her a visit with the social worker. Now, this isn't the social worker that Anthony hired privately to do his bidding. This is the social worker who was assigned to Doris after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and this is the social worker who is trying to help her, as is her job.

Anthony: "Mom, Hi, I'm here with so-and-so, the nice lady who visits you from time-to-time. Remember her?"

Doris: "Who are you? Why are you here? You (glaring at Anthony) are trying to put me in a 'home!' AND you are trying to get all my money! You and that wife of yours! What's her name again?!"
Anthony: "Right. And her name is Delia."
Social worker: "Doris, we're not here to talk about Anthony, or his wife. I'm here to see you. How are you?"
Doris: "I'm just fine!!! Why, Barack Obama just dropped by to see me. He thinks I'm great, so why shouldn't you?"
SW: "Barack Obama. You mean the President of the United States?"
Doris: "Yes!!! That's how important I am! Errrrr....well. Ok, it wasn't him. I think it was Delia's ex-husband who dropped by, actually."

SW sneaks a look at Anthony. Anthony sighs heavily.

Anthony: "Really mom? Delia's ex-husband dropped by to see you again? Now why would he do that?"

Doris: "How should I know? I expect he wonders what his wife is up-to, I'd think. And no good is what I'd tell him, if he asked."

Anthony: "Really. And again, mom, how does he know you, and how does he know where you live? And why would he keep coming here?"

Doris: "How should I know? He dropped by the day after you married her! And he keeps coming back!"

I wasn't there today, but I can just imagine Anthony's tired look at that reply. Doris has maintained this fantasy ever since Anthony and I married. In her mind, my ex-husband dropped by to visit her, the day after Anthony and I got married.  He just wanted to see her house, she says. She showed him through. He was "good-looking" and important, she claims.

Of course, my ex-husband never did any such thing. He has never met Doris, has no idea of her existence. He doesn't know her name, or where she lives. Nor, I have no doubt, does he care to learn anything about her. He and I divorced about 6 years before I married Anthony. It's all a part of Doris' weird psychology around the fact that her son married a divorced woman. She's obviously speculated long and hard about the man to whom I used to be married. And she really, really wants to meet him. So much so, that she's made up this very persistent fantasy about him.

Anyway, I figure it's better that she thinks my X visited her, than Barack Obama. That could get you in some serious trouble, if you kept making that claim.

The conversation continued in the same vein. How are you? Oh just fine (I only eat sugar). And do you think you are OK taking care of yourself? Of course! Who wouldn't, just because I get lost walking around the block and lose my purse and all its contents every second day or so? And what if you fell and broke your leg? What about that? What if you fell and hurt yourself? Who would you call and what would happen? Well....I'd call for help. And? How do you do that? Well...I'd call. What number would you call? What number...well. I'm not sure.

Doris does not remember that you have to call 911 for help.

But she's just fine. Anthony and social worker left after their visit, no further ahead in convincing Doris she can't take care of herself anymore.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's Up?

I don't know about you, but I feel like my head's in a whirl.

This is what it's like being me. I usually feel just about out-of-control. Hamster on the wheel, type-of-thing. Whoa, slow down, we're going to crash type-of-feeling.

I don't know, maybe that's what it's like being in mid-life, and it's a pretty full life, I think. I have the two kids, and their lives are very full. These days, just that alone means my life is busy. Parents nowadays have to be chauffeurs, gourmet cooks, expert project managers, life coaches and just nice people. No crap like our parents handed us.

On top of that, I have my mother. I won't harp about that right now. You've already heard me on the topic, ad nauseum.

Then, there's marriage (good, but some work, if minor), house (Jeez, what a lot of work!), assorted responsibilities (mortgage, kids RESPs, planning for vacations, RRSPs, TFSAs, all my mother's finances, and all of Anthony's mother's finances, income taxes coming up for filing, auto and house insurance, blah,blah,blah, you know the drill).

Add to this pile, the fact that I am self-employed and always going from one new contract to another. It's inevitably interesting, but often challenging and involving a steep learning curve. I find it harder and harder with every passing year to handle the stress of the constant change in my work environment.

I am about to take on a new contract again, but this one is easy: it's a place where I've worked before. I know most of the people, and the work. But it's still stressful, contemplating this realignment in my world, once again.

And then there's Anthony's mother; I feel like she, and her situation, is a pressure-cooker just waiting to explode. She should not be living in her home. She should be in some sort of assisted living situation. But she won't go, and prying her out against her will is not going to be pretty.

She has a brother and a sister here in Kookyville. They won't do it. It's all up to Anthony to worry about her and try to figure out how to keep her safe. Which makes her spit nails at him, of course. She is so paranoid, it's scary. Anthony is the only one who gives a hoot enough to try and help her. And that fact makes her venemous toward him.

Meanwhile, her other son just helps himself to her assets. But she likes him. Hmppphhh.....

So what I started out to say is, what's up? I mean, which end is up? That's how I feel these days.

I've got this feeling...something's gotta give...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kids These Days

Many parts of Canada are under a deep freeze right now, including Kookytown. It's about -30 out there, a fact my son is determined to ignore.

Me: "It's -30 out there. Wear a hat and some gloves. Better yet...mitts."
Alexander: "Are you crazy Mom?"
Me: "I'm not the one walking out the door wearing summer clothing."
Alex: "Mom! Stop it! You are such a bully!"

And so it goes. He came home from school early today, dragging a frozen friend with him. They'd finished their exam early, and arrived here looking to play Call of Duty, an XBox game I don't want to discuss.

I noticed Alex's friend also had no hat, gloves or boots. They wear their puffy skateboarding Vans all year round. Including through three-foot-high snow drifts. Paired with ankle socks.

Meanwhile, Kathleen, at least, still takes my advice. This morning she wore tights under her pants, and took a thick scarf to protect her face in case of a wind. She always wears boots, mitts and a hat.

I can't wait until she, too, abandons sanity for adolescence.

Well, she's got the jump in one respect. She already plays COD like a pro, having learned from Alexander. They get on their headsets and she plays as part of his team, with the boys, who seem mildly impressed. Yep, that's my girl, a real killer :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You Meant That as a Compliment, Right?

Yesterday, Anthony told me that I'm just like my mother.

He clarified that statement by adding: "Vain just like her." The context was a bit odd, and difficult to explain. But that's what he said, and I can tell you, it got my attention, because I've spent years and a good deal of effort in trying to be unlike most of my relatives, including my mother.

Now, I'd like to somehow twist his words around to mean something less nasty than what I think they mean. But how do you get a compliment out of an accusation of vanity? It's at least one, and possibly even two, of the seven deadly sins, for God's sake.

I thought about it for much of the night. I can't figure it out. If there is one thing I am not, it's vain.

I've never taken particular care with my appearance. My hair has been a wreck for most of my life. I don't wear make-up, except for a little dab on special occasions, about 3x/year.

I've never had a professional manicure and my nails are usually cut short, often nervously nibbled at, with resulting serrated edges. And I detest clothes shopping, and so put it off for years at a time. When I do shop, I'll spend $2000 at a time, just to get everything I need for the next 5 years.

On the issue of clothes, I am today wearing a sweater that someone gave me long before Alexander was born, which was 15 years ago yesterday. My pants are about 13 years old, ripped at the bottoms and waaaaaayyyyy out of style (one of the benefits of working from home is the ability to dress like a slob).

I do clean up nicely, and dress appropriately for the occasion, be it outside work, a wedding, or whatever.

I own barely any jewelery and most of it is worthless junk. I could care less about other people's careers, their luxury cars, and their mobile devices (no, I don't even own a cell phone).

I do like to have some nice things around me, like furniture to sit upon. But the collection of same has taken me years, and honestly, I have no objects in my house of any great value at this point.

Really, the only things I take pride in are my children, the food I prepare for all of us to eat, and when I do work or play music, I like to do it approximately right. That's about it.

This one is going to require more thought. I'm hoping to eventually understand what he meant. In the meantime, I'm going to wrap Alexander's gifts because we are celebrating his birthday today.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Brief Summary

I have not much time to write, so here's just a snapshot of our lives as they stand today:

-the entire main floor of the house is coated in a fine layer of dust, courtesy of the workman who proceeded to cut and sand  in our dining room, instead of the garage. 
-it's going down to -25 tonight. Reminds me of Winnipeg.
-Alexander is turning 15 in a few days. I remember the day he was born like the proverbial "yesterday."
-Ergo, I feel old. Well, old-ish.
-My mother saw Lorandro for her hair cut, and after Anthony praised her clip, she positively glowed and simpered and I swear there was a low trill in her voice as she thanked him for his compliment.
-Anthony's mother has called us a few times in the past week. Each call has been to ask for help: she's lost her purse (again), she can't figure out the letter that came in the morning mail, she's lost her bank card (again), etc. etc.
-Anthony went to see her to discuss these issues, and how she keeps calling him at work when he's busy, and to remind her that it's all inappropriate. She immediately attacked him for being selfish, and accused him (and me, apparently I'm quite the gold-digger) of trying to steal her money. Anthony tiredly told me this when he came home that night.
-the next day, Doris called me and asked to speak to Anthony. I informed her he was at work as would be the norm on a  weekday afternoon (she has no clue about dates).  She proceeded to ask me for his number (she's forgotten his work number of 20 years), and then told me what a lovely person I was, and how young my voice sounded. I'm so pleased.
-Kathleen is class president and says the school council meetings are keeping her busy. They've been discussing what kind of spirit days they might hold, including "gum and hat" day.
-I went both ice skating and downhill skiing in the past week. I'm pretty outdoorsy. At least, compared to Anthony.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Want Your Help, But Only How I Want It, and When I Want It.

My mother constantly asks me for help.

She asks me to take all her phone calls (she can't hear well on the phone), and place all the calls she needs to place. This includes making hair appointments (an activity that keeps her mighty busy, let me tell you. You'd think a few thin gray hairs would be a simple matter to comb into place. Unh unh.), doctor appointments, podiatrist appointments (for her monthly poodle clipping, as I call it), and on all banking matters.

Somehow, I never please her with the way I help her. This is because of two things:
(1) I want to make the calls when it's convenient for me, often not at the instant she asks me, which 99% of the time is when I'm in the middle of doing something intricate);
(2) I want to make appointments and do things like banking, differently from her. She would have me call on a phone to make all appointments, and set up in-person meetings to do things. I like using email to set things up, and phone or email for things like banking. In person appointments for banking are something I haven't done in a decade, at least.

I've humoured her many times, taking her on tours of several local banks, allowing her to meet and flirt with the male bankers, and making millions of medical-related appointments for her, after which I've taken her to, and retrieved her from, said appointments. Often, I come in with her, because she likes having me there, she says.

But I can't do this all the time. And more-over, I simply don't want to do everything she asks all the time, nor even in the manner in which she wants me to accomplish her ends.

This is simply unacceptable to her.

Apparently I will do it the way she wants and when she wants, or I risk her dismayed, angry, stubborn and frankly hurtful behavior, not to mention that she ends up harassing me relentlessly for months on end.

Let me point out here that everything essential to my mother's health and happiness I give to her without any ado.

It's the optional stuff I linger over. You know, the hair appointment every four weeks, rather than five. She will ask for that appointment just during the week that I'm incredibly busy with, oh, little matters such as my own children's medical appointments, or overwhelmed with serious work matters, or, heaven forbid, with my own medical concerns. And she'll ask right when I'm literally in the middle of something that needs my serious concentration: talking on the phone over a contentious issue, carrying a heavy object down a flight of stairs, perched on a ladder carefully painting a thin line.

All these things my mother expects to pale in light of the fact that she wants a hair cut.

She: "Dear, please make an appointment with Lorandro for my hair. I SO need a cut."

This said with a light laugh, to which I am supposed to respond, nodding like a moron, because of course, ANYONE should know that 4 weeks after a cut, one's hair becomes SIMPLY GROTESQUE and UNMANAGEABLE to the point of being publicly unacceptable. Never mind I'm in the middle of open-heart surgery. I should look over, blood spurting from every open vein of my unfortunate patient, while I laugh lightly back at my mother's delightfully patient acceptance of the fact that her hair has GROWN OUT OF ALL PROPER SHAPE, FOR GOD'S SAKE.

Ok, Ok. The activities she interrupts me at are not quite as important as surgery. But I think you get my drift.

Meanwhile, neither Anthony nor I can tell that her hair has even grown at all since the last cut. It probably hasn't. And she so rarely goes out in public in any event, I doubt that the fashion mavens will be calling her out for her faux pas.

In any event, her approach to life is becoming more than intolerable. She will not bend.

But at 91, when you can't do for yourself, and you have a daughter who's willing to do everything for you, why would you be so hell bent on maintaining control over such tiny details?

Why does she care who cuts her hair, as long as it's properly cut every few weeks or so? Why, why why? Why, when your daughter is almost begging you to just toddle up the street to the nice ladies at the end of the block, would you make such an obscene, childish, vain fuss about seeing Lorandro? My God, it just about makes me weep to write about it.

Why would she care to make my life such a hell, because she wants to go to the bank and mull over some paper for an hour, while the employees get bored and start to glare at her, and then finally she'll point to "3 years" so the GIC will once again be invested? Why, why why? Why, particularly, when I'd already told her the options, told her that I'd checked all the other banks' rates, and told her I could set up a telephone banking agreement so we could just call the bank to let them know what we wanted? Why, my God why?

She: "What is this?" (you have to picture the prune lips she's making while holding the standard phone/fax agreement sheet which the Bank of Montreal has cordially forwarded to us at my request).

Me: "It's the bank document I told you about  (50 times already [muttered under my breath]). So they can call you on the phone and you can tell them how many years to reinvest the GIC."

She: Long silence. Pursing of prune lips. Angrily lowered brow. "I don't know."

This is the part where I'm supposed to cower, then beg her indulgence.

Out of patience at this point in my life, I say: "Well, you better figure it out. I'm not taking you down there."

She: "Doesn't this say that ANYONE can call them and invest my money? Hmmmm???" (more prune lips)

Now picture twin columns of steam coming out of my ears.

Me: "Yes. Mother. That's what it says (it doesn't). ANYONE. CAN just CALL. AND DO STUFF with YOUR money."

I have to leave the room, I'm so apoplectic.

My mother, not an idiot, knows exactly what the document says. It says she and I can call, jointly, to discuss the accounts and investments. This reflects how the accounts and investments are set up, and reflects her direction to the Bank of Montreal. It also assists, may I add, in helping her (as she asks) because she SAYS SHE CAN'T HEAR, SO I NEED TO BE ON EVERY PHONE CALL TO THE BANK WITH HER.

But I am not to be trusted.

Even though she has already trusted me with everything. And, in point of fact, I'm the only one left in this world whom she has to leave trusted things to. No one else cares. No one else will have her.

I do wonder at myself.

Why can she rile me up? She is rude, condescending, hurtful, no, actually, HATEFUL in many things she does to me. But should I care so much?

Well. I think to myself, if my children did these things to me, I'd be hurt and riled up. If Anthony treated me this way, I'd be amazed, angry and hurt. So it shouldn't be surprising that I react this way.

Yet, so many people have told me they are surprised. Anthony, in particular, is constantly amazed (so he professes) that I react to her.

He: "Why do you let her get to you?"

Me: "Because she is unbelievably hurtful? Because her behavior wounds me? Because she's such a bitch?"

He: "Oh, can't you let it go?"

Me: "Well, obviously not. Should I?"

He: "Yes. My mother says equally hurtful things, and I could care less."

Me: (sound of my brain's gears churning, and a bit more steam coming out of my ears). "Oh."

I have thought about this a lot.

Anthony says I should not be upset. Some other people have said the same. Yet whenever my mother treats me like a hired serf, I feel hurt. And when I gently explain to her that I don't want to be a serf, but I'd like to utilize options that reduce my serfdom (like banking telephone agreements), she acts like I'm an outrageously spoiled brat who won't indulge her own mother (a helpless, dying old lady), and, again, I feel hurt.

I continue to think about it all.

Really, at this point, after a lot of thinking, I'm still at point A. I think that anyone I care about, (mother, child, spouse, whatever) will hurt me if they try, because I care, so they can.

I also think that all these people who are telling me that I need to stop feeling, may be wrong.

Actually, I think they may be the ones who need to adjust.

After all, if the few people in life we care for ( parents, children, spouses) treat us hurtfully, and we don't feel hurt, what does that say? What does it mean about turning one's feelings on and off whenever it becomes convenient to do that? What?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creepy Walk ( Or is it a Run?)


My husband and children and I have discussed this about two dozen times, since my mother moved in with us.

To our faces, my mother walks like she's 91 (which is her physical age).

This charade includes: (1) shuffling which is so loud it shuts out pretty much all the conversation in the room,
(2) shuddering due to the cold (temperature in the house set at 80 F.),
(3) shaking which is inevitably set off by some "upset" caused by someone asking her to lift a pinky, or contrarily, someone asking her to think about something other than her next hair appointment,
(4)"heart palpitations" (or "chest pains," depending on her mood) set off by someone suggesting she might not need to go to the hairdresser, and;
(5) A mighty heave every time she needs to get up from a chair. We're talking about tipping the house over here, by the way she grabs whatever's near, and makes it tip and groan and lean scarily on its side, all in the aid of helping her up.

Behind our backs, the charade disappears:
(1) Not only doesn't she shuffle, but she walks and RUNS like a lithe teenager, over our heads on the hardwood in the house..."run, run, run." (Us: "Who is upstairs? Can't be Granny! Someone is RUNNING!)
(2) Shuddering? Uh uh. She's often up all night, while we set the temp down to 17C. No prob staying up obsessing all night adding and re-adding her "assets." My mother adds and re-adds her columns of figures every second day. It's an endless fascination, apparently, to add the money up. It keeps the cold away. Some people have named this "Avarice," one of the 7 deadly sins.
(3) The last time she had one her "shaking" episodes (the implication is that one of us has SO upset her, she is shaking with the absolute horror of it), Anthony asked her what it was all about.
This was unprecedented. No one had ever dared raise the subject before. She stared at him for a moment, slack jaw swaying in the wind, then pronounced: "I don't remember." I kid you not.
(4) Every time someone challenges her in the least (we're talking really minor here), she claims she's about to have a heart attack. If challenged on this point, the pains disappear.
(5) She can move like a cat, whenever and wherever she wants. We've heard it, over and over. She puts this "heavy heaving" act on, when she thinks we're here. If she thinks she's without an audience, suddenly, she's 16 again.

So, the point is, my mother is here on some sort of pretense. Of course, we knew that. She told us she had pancreatic cancer. That was an outright lie.

But the outrageous boundaries of the lie are truly magnificent. She's 91. I get it. She's tired and a bit confused and wants help.

But the lying. She has lied up one end and down the other end of Canada to get in here with us. It defines her life, the lying.

All I've ever asked of her is to speak honestly. She really never has.

So what do we have?

A 91 year-old woman who literally RUNS up and down the stairs when she thinks we aren't around (freaks Kathleen out, let me tell you), who obviously thinks out and plans how frail she will APPEAR in front of us, and she is someone who is my mother, but whom I don't know at all.

It's pathetic. That's what we have. Pathetic.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Whoa Now!

Long time, no post.

Sorry, gentle readers. It's the old excuse: been too busy.

Anyway, we're all through the rush of holidays now, so I'm back to writing, at least for the moment.

It's been crazy. The entire Christmas season has become an insane parody of what it was. The day was supposed to be a religious celebration of the birth of Christ, and all that represents. What exactly is it now?

When I was a child, we did put up lights on our house, decorate a tree and gifts magically appeared under said tree, via Santa Klaus, Dasher, Dancer, etc.

But on the Eve, we also went to Midnight Mass, after making the night before as hallowed as the big day itself, by consuming a meatless dinner (usually perogies, sometimes with fish) with family gathered near, inviting a stranger to share the meal (part of the Polish tradition of Christmas Eve), always topped off by slogging to Mass through the bitter Winnipeg winter night, where we held candles aloft, sang religious carols and nodded and stifled yawns side-by-side with our neighbors.

I remember clearly the delicious feeling of finally falling into my warm bed, and drifting quickly to sleep with the anticipation of more to come. I'd wake with the sense that something momentous had happened. And by that, I don't mean the arrival of the gifts.

Christmas day meant more eating, glorious piles of homemade delicacies, and spending time with family. We never went shopping on Boxing Day, but often gathered at the homes of families and friends for Open House, a tradition I've noticed that's also gone the way of the Dodo bird. Open Houses now occur Pre-Christmas, sometimes weeks in advance, because the holidays have somehow become a month-long orgy of eating, celebrating, consuming and drinking.

Nowadays, Boxing Day is relegated to the status of just another day to buy crap, to the chore of lining up in the pre-dawn freezing cold in front of Best Buy, hoping to nab some fricking electronic device on sale, the likes of which will inevitably break down within a year or so. You take your kids to this activity, of course. They have to learn all about tradition, after all.

How empty and shallow it seems, so pale in comparison to the rich, meaningful memories I carry.

I have tried to keep the traditions going with my children. In the month preceding Christmas, I bake and bake and bake, a necessary activity. The baking must age, you know. I hide it in nooks and crannies, away from thieving fingers, so that by Christmas, the shortbread is perfect in its lightness and flaky, buttery taste, the flavour of the Nanaimo Squares is blended to the maximum potential, and the lemon raisin slice is...gone. I can never hide that one well enough :)

We keep meatless Christmas Eve, with some family or friends present at the table. I haven't attended Midnight Mass in years, but did raise my kids in the church, attending the Children's Mass at 5pm on Christmas Eve for many years, until my son started asserting his Atheism (so he calls it).

Christmas morning is a gift-unwrapping debacle, growing in volume with every year it seems, as I continue to prosper and increase my (er...I mean Santa's) gift-giving capacity.

I've never stood in a Boxing Day lineup.

Well, the best I can hope, I suppose, is that my children will think of their childhood Christmases with the same fondness as I do of mine. Will their memories seem as rich as mine do?

Maybe I'll hold an Open House on Boxing Day next year. Just to screw up my friends' shopping plans.