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Her Superhero Power

IMG_1220“Jeannie’s got strong hands,” Randy said to me, as he watched Mom and observed her uncanny hold on my wrist as she and I strolled through the halls of Arden Courts. Randy was the son of another resident at Arden.

“One day, I helped her outside, she was pushing on the door, and she had an amazing grip on my hands.”

I looked at Randy’s hands. They were sturdy. Had probably been built for football. Ironically, he too had experienced Mom’s brute force.

“I know what you mean,” I cringed, helpless, as I attempted to disengage my twisted fingers from Mom’s hands. “Her hands are her superhero strength.”

Mom’s hands have always held my imagination sway. She was a magician with her cookies, as she cut and rolled and sprinkled and stirred. Mom demonstrated a sleight of hand on par with the Houdini in turning flour and sugar and egg into memories I cannot live without.

Her fingers are longer than mine. I know this fact because I’ve measured. And often, I’ve used that as an excuse for my cookies, ravioli and meatballs never measuring up to hers. In truth, she spent more time on her feats than I ever will, thus making them superhuman.

Mom’s superhero power did not mean she could close off a teenage mouth with a force field. She was not a shapeshifter, unless you counted her many pregnancies. Nor did she move at great speeds unless she was caught in the rain after her hair appointment. No, Mom’s superhero power had always been in her hands.

When she spanked us, or worse, wielded the wooden spoon. When she circled our mistakes on homework she checked. When she hemmed or altered pants or dresses. When she neatly penned the names of every person on her Christmas card list, and it was a long list. When she dusted or mopped or rubbed Pledge on her coffee tables to make them shine.

And, of course, when she talked or sang.

These days, Mom implements what I call “the death grip” as she holds on and we walk around the building, around the hallways. She should be utilizing a walker, which she owns. On several occasions, following a fall or seizure, the PT and I have tried to put walker practice in place, but Mom would no sooner wheel it front of her and then wonder off. Instead, she grabs the nearest set of hands, which can also be the handles of someone else’s wheelchair to that person’s detriment, to steady herself in the same way she would use a walker.

IMG_0580When Mom sits, she reaches for my hand, rubs the soft hairs on my arms and refuses to release me to the outside world. All of her actions are tied up in her hands – when she wants to avoid someone, when she wants to go a certain direction, when she is angry and squeezes my hands because that is her means of communication, when she sees something with sparkles or sugar.

Even her baby doll is not immune to this grasp. And quite honestly, I often go in search of Baby Doll to replace my own hands when my fingers ache from her crush.

For countless years, she used her hands to change the world through her baking and cooking, her coddling of grandchildren, through holding on to life’s curves and now, holding on to those who care for her, or for that matter, those who can help her in and out of the sun.

When Mom lets go of this life, I will know she’s ready, because she will liberate what she had held these many decades. That has been her super hero power, to hold on to whatever life has thrown at her, including a sometimes intransigent daughter, and still cling to love.

 

 

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Baby Doll

“Hello, baby,” Mom said, with a broad smile and wide eyes that had surprisingly become part of her character as of late.
The words, the phrasing, the inflection all reminded me of Mom’s sweet tone she used while cooing to the grandchildren when they were little.  How she would scoop them up into her arms, toned from years of ravioli rolling, and nestle them into the crook between her collarbone and cheek.
When our son Davis was born, Mom, or “Nanna,” rocked him to sleep many afternoons, as he was somewhat of a fussy baby.  He eventually grew to sleep even in cars, when not behind the wheel. Observing Mom as I entered into her living space, I recalled how she used to call Davis, her little snuggler (Sorry, Davis).
Standing over her now, I realized, she wasn’t talking to me. She was speaking to the baby doll resting in her arms. A plastic baby doll. No, her behavior was not bizarre. In fact, it was quite normal.
“Put something meaningful in the person’s hands,” wrote the authors of You Say Goodbye, We Say Hello. TheMontesorri Method for Positive Dementia Care, Tom and Karen Brenner.
About a year ago, a companion caregiver who visited Mom regularly, and treated Mom like her own, hit upon the idea to gift Mom the doll.  The doll was wearing more clothes then than she had on now. But the doll’s frilly pink dress and blue eyes enticed Mom, who, every once in while even slept with the doll.
Occasionally, I brought in People magazines for us to read, because of their large print. But also, the cover sometimes featured a celebrity who had given birth, along with the new baby. “Oh, there, that one. Isn’t he something,” Mom said about Prince George.  
Recently, there had been a cover picturing Christine Aguilera, with her daughter Summer Rain. While Mom was not pleased with the name, she adored the baby wearing a tight pink hat and sporting startling blue eyes.
Sometimes, with my iPad and Mom seated at my side, I search Google Images, using the term baby. Mom is so taken by the plethora of images, she is overwhelmed and speechless.  She giggles and can’t seem to settle on which one was her favorite.
But, when I heard Mom say, “Hello, baby,” for a split second, I thought she was directing her helloat me.  Instead, she was swinging the baby doll back and forth, as she rocked in the “maternity rocker,” and peering into the doll’s eyes, saying, “Hello, baby.”
Often, when the baby doll is in her arms, other residents stop and ask, “Boy or girl?”  “Can I hold her?”  “What’s his or her name?”  They tower over Mom with jealousy and wistfulness.
Mom doesn’t typically respond, but I do. “It’s a girl.”  Or, “About three months.” Or “Would you like to hold her?”
“How lucky,” Mary Lou responds.  “Isn’t that something,” Big Jim says.
The doll didn’t come with tag stating her name. I’m not certain a name would have stuck. Her name is Baby Doll, and that works for Mom. Occasionally, Baby Doll has gone missing.  Meaning, one of the other residents has taken off with the doll.  Sometimes, the staff has to put out an APB for Mom’s doll.
Put something meaningful in a person’s hands, I harken back to. Sometimes its coffee, or a snack, which is how I learned to not complain about Mom’s eating, unless it’s the whole hunk of brie she once tried to consume at Christmas. Eating is a meaningful act.
In their stories, the authors included other meaningful items, such as baseballs, violins, trains, pipes and wrenches (for a former plumber). When Mom visits my house, I put a wooden spoon in her hand. She still loves to stir a good pot of sauce. And despite the lack of babies in our family (no rush, kids), she still loves good hugs. If no one else is around, the baby doll is a fair substitute as her little snuggler.
A mother never forgets how to love. And she never forgets how to love a baby, even when the baby is a forty-nine year old daughter resting on her shoulder, asking the big questions about life.
She will wrap her free hand around my cheek. “Well, there. Its there,” she’ll respond, and hold up her baby doll.
You Say Goodbye, We Say Hello. The Montesorri Method for Positive Dementia Care, Tom and Karen Brenner.  Read more here….

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