VIOLA - I called my mother recently and asked how she was feeling.
“Not well, Janie. Not well."
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“I’m so hot and jittery. My mind is racing.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. Is there anything you can do that would make you feel better?”
“Yes, I could take off my sweater and stop drinking coffee.”
At a conference I attended for work last week on mental health, the keynote speaker led a lively presentation about laughter as medicine. Listening to him, I silently thanked Mom for showing me the benefits of laughter.
On my most recent visit to her assisted living home, I took her grocery shopping and got more reminders of her wit.
As she drove an electric cart around inside Pick 'n Save, she lectured me on the use of the words ‘lie’ and ‘lay.’ She was cutting the corners on the aisles too close. Heart racing, I walked more quickly to catch up.
Mom asked for milk and I asked her what kind she wanted.
“Janie,” she scolded. “I’m 93. Does it matter?!”
She had a point. I told her to stay where she was and I ran one aisle over to a long cooler filled with every type of milk imaginable. I grabbed one and hurried back, but Mom was gone.
As I picked up my pace, I was thinking, What the hell? Why would they make these carts move so quickly? Are they like go-carts? Do some go faster than others?
Frantic, I caught up to her in the bread aisle after fixing an end cap of fallen school supplies. I’m certain it had been a hit-and-run. Mom!
“What kind of bread do you like?” There are many types and I have only so much patience. I put the best whole-wheat multigrain bread I could find into the basket attached to Mom's death-trap cart. She took it back out.
“Mom, that’s the best kind here.”
“I want white.”
“Fine.” I threw the first white loaf I saw into her basket.
She took it out.
“I want Wonder Bread, with the circles.”
I moaned, because I know Wonder Bread hasn’t any significant nutritional value. But, she wants what she likes. Her stubbornness both stresses me out and makes me chuckle.
Where she lives the residents have three home-cooked meals a day, but Mom insists the food is horrible. In fairness, Mom loves to snack more than eat meals and she has lost 12 pounds since moving there. It’s been a hard transition for her.
As we continued our adventure, Mom told me, for the thousandth time, how my brother, Jack, is being mean to her. I explained for the thousandth time that he is not being mean. He is only tired from working construction in raging heat from sunup to sundown, while worrying about her.
Mom stopped in the middle of the aisle so quickly that I walked into the back of her electric dinosaur and yelped. Out of the blue, Mom said, "Janie, STOP being so nice to me." I was dumbfounded: Jack is being mean; I’m being too nice. Why is loving an aging parent so challenging?
Not even listening to me defend my brother, Mom told me about a young man at the assisted living complex who helps her with physical therapy. “I told him, ‘I’ve forgotten more than you know.’”
I asked Mom what else she’d like to purchase today. She asked for cereal.
I swear if there is a gas pedal on that blessed cart, she stomped on it. She cut another end cap too close and cans of various vegetables went rolling. Mom looked back at me scrambling to pick them up and said, “Hand grenades and horseshoes." I know she meant That was close. But she hit them!
Mom looked frail and furious sitting on her electric bronco in the cereal aisle, studying rows and rows of cereals. Dreading her answer, I asked, “What kind of cereal would you like, Mom?
Without hesitating she responded, “On TV, they tell us to eat Special K.”
We found the section with Special K and both grew speechless. There must be a thousand types. Mom had me read the names to her. After the thirteenth variety, she stopped me.
“Berries,” she said.
“Berries? Plain Berries or Red Raspberry Berries?”
“Janie, I’m old! Just grab one with some damn fruit in it before I die.”
I did and I was crabby. But I was also smiling as we made our way to the checkout, Mom out ahead of me as I tried to keep up. I wanted to get her back home, put her groceries away, andliedown on her couch for a spell.I have to remember that Mom’s power was taken away when she went into assisted living: no car, no money, no cooking, group meals served at a certain time. That electric cart gave her some independence and so did picking what shewanted. The Pick ’n Save outing energized her, but knocked me out. At least on the drive home, memories of Mom’s humor and cart racing skills made the drive seem shorter.