Lest you think I am picking on my mother later in the post, let me start by listing for you just a few of the things on my desk right now that I can see with moving anything.

  • a pack of gum
  • a golf ball
  • headphones
  • a highlighter pen
  • two pairs of scissors
  • “Amistad” DVD
  • a Webkinz code
  • a Staples easy-rebate receipt
  • my cup of coffee
  • a letter Mary wrote to her Compassion child
  • Christmas labels
  • an empty CD case
  • an SD card
  • a silk Gerber daisy
  • folders filled with papers
  • two 3-ring binders
  • my laptop
  • much, much more!

Why should I ever buy an “I Spy” book or an “I Spy” game when I have a desk that looks like this?  Can you find all the things I listed?

Yesterday, when I was at my parents’ house, I went in the laundry room to see if anything needed to be washed.  The bin above the washer caught my eye.  Usually, this was where cleaning rags were kept, but lately other things have been showing up there.  The kitchen towels, which used to be kept in a drawer, are almost always in this bin these days.  But yesterday, there was even more.

I started taking things out, just to see what all was there.  Here is what I found:

  • rags (expected)
  • bags – plastic bags from the grocery store and used zip-loc bags (sort of expected, but I have to ask, does anybody else’s mother wash zip-loc bags?  Mine has for years.)
  • several ShamWows (purchased at the state fair after my parents were wowed by that demonstration.  Have they ever used them?  I don’t know…)
  • dish towels (expected these days)
  • paper placemats (spilled upon in several places, but once quite pretty.  I threw them away.)
  • styrofoam cups (Where did these come from?  Why are they here?)
  • a pretty bowl (This does not belong to my parents.  Somebody brought them food in it.  Usually it is sitting on the counter with the rest of the dishes that don’t belong to them.)
  • Bounce fabric softener sheets (sort of expected.  At least it’s in the laundry room.)
  • loose kleenex (these are everywhere in the house.  Fortunately, they did not go into the washer or dryer.  From my experience, kleenex does not wash well.)
  • a stretched out glove (this would not fit anybody that I know.  I threw it away.)
  • pieces of a broken plate in a plastic bowl (less than half of a stoneware plate, so I threw it away.  Even if we had the whole plate, would we have glued it back together?  I don’t think so.)

As I was taking all these things out and shaking my head over them, I thought about my desk at home.  Any sane, normal person could start pulling things off my desk and saying, “Where did this come from?  Why is this here?”

I think the difference is — and this is an important distinction for those of us who wonder if the same thing is happening to us — that this is a fairly new behavior for my mother. When I was in 3rd grade my desk was such a disaster that my teacher, Miss Bliss, dumped it out in the middle of class to my horror and embarrassment.  It made an impression on me, but it didn’t fix the problem.  My desk in college was cluttered, and my desks in my homes have been cluttered.

And the really weird thing is, I usually know where things are.  I know right where to find a paper clip on my desk because I watched the box spill.  I just haven’t picked them all up yet.  I know there is a check I have to give Bud to sign.  It’s in the pile to my left, either underneath or on top of the two library books that don’t have to be returned for two weeks.

My mother has always washed and saved zip-loc bags.  That doesn’t worry me.  It’s the fact that she no longer puts them in the same place. It’s this new disorganization that concerns me and reminds me that she is no longer in full possession of her faculties.  If the person who owns that pretty little blue bowl ever shows up looking for it, I wouldn’t know where to start looking.  In the workshop?  In the bathroom?

My mother no longer understands where things go.  It makes life hard for my father.

Maybe if I get Alzheimer’s, I’ll get neater.  My desk will be organized. My husband and children will scratch their heads in wonder because it will look tidy.  But I won’t know where anything is.

Laughter, Strength, and Dignity

I really needed a Bible verse the other day when I was feeling very frazzled.  One of the verses that came to mind was this:

Proverbs 31:25

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

So when I read the “Talk Back” question on Women of Faith’s site, asking, “If they made a movie of your life, would it be a comedy, tragedy or drama?”  I immediately thought of this verse.  This chapter of my life is definitely a comedy.  It’s a tragic comedy, but, still, overwhelmingly, it’s a comedy.  Really!  If I couldn’t laugh at some of the ridiculous situations involved with someone with Alzheimer’s, I would end up crying.  Constantly.

And when I cry, because I have a fair complexion, my skin gets very red and splotchy, and I look horrible.  Most of the time, I don’t care a whole lot about how I look.  I rarely wear make-up.  My hair is what it is.  My clothes are t-shirts or sweatshirts and blue jeans.  But I really don’t want people to see me when I’ve been crying.  So I try very hard to laugh at the days to come.

What funny thing will happen today?  Already, my mother has put her cereal in her coffee and commented on the ridiculous prices in the sales flyer from Boscov’s.

“$6.99 for neckties!  That’s ridiculous!” she said.

“How much would you pay for a necktie, Mom?” I asked.  I’m never quite sure what decade or even century she is in at the moment, and I look for clues so that I can figure it out.

“I wouldn’t pay more than $3 or $4 for a necktie,” she answered.

What decade is that? I wondered.

She continued.  “I wouldn’t go into one of those high class joints.  Other ones look just fine.”

My mother always has liked a bargain.  Some things never change.

The other half of the “Talk Back” question was “Who would you want to play you?”  Most definitely Lucille Ball.  I want someone who can stomp grapes and stuff candy in their mouth and wail.  I feel like wailing and bawling Lucille Ball style quite often;  I just show a little more restraint.

But wait — the other half of the verse says I must be clothed with strength and dignity.  Life with my mother can be anything but dignified.  She has forgotten basic proprieties in so many areas of her life — eating, bathing, dressing herself.  I need to remind myself that I am the one who must be clothed with strength and dignity.  It’s only when I am properly attired in these that I can help her.  On frazzled days, when I miss my quiet time, I really see the truth in this.  Strength and dignity are not things I have mastered, but, for the sake of the movie, let’s pretend I have.

Hmmm… an actress who represents strength and dignity.  Audrey Hepburn immediately comes to my mind.  I love her in Roman Holiday.  She is beautiful, strong and dignified — except, of course, when she is smashing a guitar over somebody’s head.  If you haven’t seen the movie, find it, watch it, and you’ll understand.

I’m sure with all our computer technology these days, someone can take Lucille Ball and morph her with Audrey Hepburn.  You’d have it!  The Proverbs 31:25 woman and the person I would like to play me in the movie of my life.

The Twilight Zone

(This was originally published on Facebook on July 9, 2010)

I think Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, must have had some experience with a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Some days, here in Cooperstown, that’s all I can think about – The Twilight Zone.

My mother is trapped in a very strange episode of The Twilight Zone. She is time-travelling from decade to decade, and it’s difficult to figure out where she is. She thinks she is 25 years old, but her face in the mirror tells another story. It must be frightening. She thinks she has a date to go to a dance, but her date never shows up. An old man claiming to be her husband does.

When she wakes the next day, she’s in a new place. Her husband is at work (he’s been retired for 11 years, but is at a meeting). The red barn across the street looks just like the barn that was across the street from their house (it is the red barn that is across the street from their house). “Whose car is that in that in the driveway? I need to borrow it,” she says, but it’s my car and I won’t let her.

Two days ago she was very worried about me. I was 6 years old and lost. I’m here with her; I’m not lost; I’m 50. Something doesn’t make sense, but she can’t figure out what it is. We move on.

The only constant in this Twilight Zone episode is orange marmalade. Orange marmalade is served at every meal – on hot dogs, on sandwiches, you name it. Orange marmalade – I really can’t figure it out. But I think I understand now what they’re talking about on the Food Channel when they refer to comfort foods. They’re talking about orange marmalade.

I think it has always been one of my fears that I will be trapped in The Twilight Zone. It was always such a scary show to me, because there would be that twist at the end – like M. Night Shyamalan had in The Sixth Sense. Reality isn’t what we’ve been led to believe that it is. For my mother, the twist doesn’t come at the end; it comes so often that it is dizzying. Another twist and another twist.

I want to cry.

I’ll have some orange marmalade instead.