Returning to a Life of Pigtails
I sit across from my mother at lunch, Dad at her side. We are eating at Bucks, a rather rowdy establishment on weekends and during sporting events, but today, early afternoon, the only patrons are a few barflies and a table of elderly women, playing rummy.
My parents have been visiting for a few days, and our next destination is the Lodge Care Center, a long-term care facility located near my home. Dad knows this, but Mom’s dementia blocks her understanding that a commitment would mean a move.
They are eating BLTs, which my dad still swears, “The best BLT in Cincinnati was down at that place at Findlay Market.” I nod, and say, “Paula’s,” then tell him she moved her café, but the restaurant perpetually wins Best BLT in the City award.
During lunch, we joke about their visits to Cincinnati over the years, when my sister Laura and I would tell them, “Oh, its right down the street,” and we would be driving to the west side from the east side just for dinner, which few Cincinnatians EVER consider. But we grew up in a family of drivers. My parents drove for miles to the Melon Festival. They thought nothing of caravanning us to the other side of Cleveland, if it meant the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, and homemade cannoli.
In the midst of our laughter, my mother stops. Her facial expression grows serious, “Oh Annette, you’re the best,” she says. But then she raises her finger and begins pointing at me, “But something you should have changed a long time ago was your hair, I don’t like those strings coming out of it.” She begins pointing, “You have one, two, three, four, why can’t you do something about them?”
Tears begin to leak out, not because my mother has just knocked my haircut for which people have stopped me on the street to rave about, but tears of happiness flow because that is the essence of my mother. She cut her words as sharp as her Christmas cookies.
During this same stay, she had told Mark, “Hey you’ve got a pot there,” and pointed to his stomach. She told Laura, “Hey you need a little sun on your legs.”
I am grateful for these snippets of my mother that reveal her true nature, and I revel in the fact that, despite the disease altering her mind, it has not altered her character.
In this state, Mom has a tendency to continue along the same lines of an idea for hours at a time, unless we introduce a new subject matter. For a while, driving to our new destination relieves her from the need to pummel me on the topic of hair.
We tour the care center, Mom walking endlessly, complaining often, and walking more as we tell her, “Just one more room to view.”
We return to my home, and are seated in the family room, with Enzo licking at Dad’s hands. Dad and I are attempting to have a grown up discussion about the pros and cons of the care community accommodations, when Mom interrupts the conversation.
“Hey Annette,” she says. I am grateful that today, she knows who I am, even if I look like the other sisters of mine floating around the house. She starts pointing her finger again, and I dread where this is going.
“You know, when I first met you…” she begins. I cringe, because we met in the womb, when I had no hair. Mom continues on, “I thought to myself, she is cute and all, but she needs to change her hair.” “Can’t you pull it back or something and get rid of those things sticking out of your head?” She jumps up with the energy of a five-year old and ambles over to where I am sitting.
“This is gonna hurt,” she warns me, “but you know, get rid of these things.” And with that, she yanks at the wisps that frame my face.
My father cannot believe what is happening. I too am wide-eyed, and laughing hysterically, when I should be in tears. Mom is pulling my hair as hard as when she made my pigtails in first grade.
In this moment of present joy, my laughter is derived from the sense that, Mom pulling on my hair is better than Mom not caring at all.