Is This Not Mothering?

I may not be an actual mother, but sometimes I get weary of mothering anyway. I take my husband, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, to the doctor and find myself explaining where we’re going and why and assuring him that the doctor will not hurt him. He will not give him any shots. As we walk, I hold his hand, not out of affection the way it used to be, but to keep him from getting lost or falling down. In the doctor’s office, I speak for him because he’s not good with words anymore. The doctor speaks mostly to me because my husband does not understand what he’s saying. When it’s over, I wait while he goes to the bathroom, then treat him to a hamburger. Is this not mothering?

Likewise, when I come home from a trip, I need to pick up my dog at the kennel. First, I wash her blankets and straighten out her bed. I make sure I have enough food and make an appointment with the vet for her shots. Then I go get her. She runs out of her cage, gives me a big wet kiss and jumps into the car. All the way home, she’s trying to get my attention. Pet me, love me, entertain me. Is this not mothering?

I recently read about a new website for Jewish women who are childless. It’s called Take a look. Even if you’re not Jewish, you may find something helpful.



One-year-olds, canine vs. human

Chico and Annie are a year old today. They’re dogs. This is one case where things are definitely different between pets and children. I have a photo of my niece Susan covered in white frosting, her arms and legs chubby and tanned in her striped sunsuit. The whole family gathered at her maternal grandmother’s house to celebrate the occasion. Another picture shows my brother cuddling her in his lap. You can see the resemblance, the same dark eyes and black hair, the lips so like my mother’s. She’s learning to walk and talk, and everyone adores her.

Folks adore my puppies, too. My church choir friends even gave me a puppy shower when I adopted them last April. But asking them to attend a birthday party would probably be pushing things, especially after all the support they have given me in other aspects of my life lately. So it’s just the pups and me. I can’t bake them a cake. Any gift I gave them would be shredded all over the back yard before the sun sank into the sea. All I can do is hug them and say, “Wow, you’re a year old. We made it.” They’re housetrained, and all the odd things they have eaten and excreted have not killed them yet. They’re a long way from becoming calm, mature dogs, But even when they grow up, they will never be like my niece, who is a young adult now, beautiful, smart and old enough to build a life away from her parents. Chico and Annie will be my cherished friends but never my children.

Nor are they Fred’s children. My dear husband, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, is living in a care home now after a series of falls that led to two days in the hospital and 14 days in a nursing home where he wasn’t allowed to leave his wheelchair even though he could walk. He is in a good place now, a beautiful place in the hills above Newport where he is well cared for and loved for his sweet, easygoing nature. However, the dogs are not allowed inside, so I haven’t taken them there. To be honest, he is already forgetting them. He doesn’t even remember that he fell the first time trying to corral them after they escaped from the back yard. Why he fell two more times two days later, we don’t know. Back spasms? A small stroke? Now he has Lucy, who roams the yard at Graceland and nuzzles against his pants and shoes when he ventures out for short walks on his unsteady legs.

Fred’s son Michael has been here off and on during our transition. Everyone gets to know him quickly because he is six foot four, with a unique hairstyle, and he’s usually the only person under 50 not wearing a nursing smock. Michael is good with his father, helpful and caring, thinking of just the right thing to do or say. His presence is a blessing to both of us. This crisis has brought us closer than we have ever been, with very honest talks, not so much as mother and son but as two adults hurting over someone we both love.

Everyone says you can’t count on your children to help you in your old age, that that’s not a good reason to have kids. True. In fact, on “family day” at Newport Rehab, I was often the only visitor. Grace, an immigrant from China who runs Graceland, shakes her head at this. “In my country, we honor our elders. I don’t understand.”

I don’t either.

Anyway, happy birthday, Chico and Annie. Michael isn’t too happy with them because they just woke him up. But when he’s gone back to Portland, I’ll have them to snuggle with, and that’s something.

My thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes and prayers during this difficult time. Our troubles are not over, of course. Fred still has Alzheimer’s, and now we’re living in separate homes. I’m visiting every day and overseeing prescriptions, insurance, and countless other details, but God has taken Fred out of my hands and put him into the care of many capable hands, and that’s a blessing.

Those little things I missed

Yesterday my husband fell and hurt his back. Couple that with the fact that he is in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s Disease and I have to ask and answer all the questions in the emergency room. In a sense, I have to play the mother role. The nurse insisted he needed a tentanus shot and quickly mumbled something about pain and possible fever, you know, just like with your children and grandchildren. And I thought, wait, I don’t know, but then we were moving on to other things, like how to tend the big scrape on Fred’s knee and how to handle the pain medication. I desperately hoped someone was writing it all down somewhere. People just assume that if you’re my age and married, you’re a mother and grandmother. Therefore you know all about wound care and shots and such.

The other challenge, since Fred couldn’t bend, was undressing and dressing him. My main experience in that area was with dolls and they didn’t yelp if you moved them the wrong way. It is truly difficult to put on socks and tie shoes from the opposite direction. Ditto for buttoning shirts. I guess moms get so much practice they can do it without thinking, and I suppose in the coming months and years as Fred’s illness progresses, I’ll get plenty of practice, too. But kneeling on the floor in my brand new pants, trying three times to get the shoe strings tight enough showed me I have a lot to learn.

How did he fall? While I was out running errands, he was running after the dogs, who escaped while he was cleaning up the back yard. He tripped on a jagged spot on the sidewalk and went flying. I pulled into the driveway to find Annie zooming by in whoosh of blonde fur and Fred hobbling to the car in tears, saying, “I’m hurt.” So add fixing that sidewalk, getting the dogs better trained to come when they’re called, and putting leashes near the door to my to-do list. A fisherman down the road had tried to lasso the pups with boat rope. Fred got Chico home, but Annie slipped out of the rope. Luckily she came straight to me when I got out of the car and I hauled her into the house. And yes, I need to think about whether it’s safe to leave Fred home alone for even an hour.

The good news: Fred is already feeling better, and he’s a lot of fun on vicodin.

Who will help in your old age?

Buying plants at the nursery the other day, I noticed the supply was dwindling and asked the young owner if she was preparing to close for winter. It turns out she’s preparing to close forever. Her father-in-law has Alzheimer’s and she and her husband are moving to Corvallis (about 60 miles away) to help him and his wife. “They need us closer,” she said. She seemed to have no doubt about the right thing to do.
When I ask childless women whether they worry about who will take care of them in their old age, most reply that people can’t count on their kids to be there anyway. Do you think that’s true?
Let me turn this around a bit. Would you uproot your life if your parents needed you? Have you done so or known others who have? Why or why not?
I know what I’d do, but I’d love to hear your answers first.