Category Archives: baby doll

Her Superhero Power



IMG_1220“Jeannie’s got strong hands,” Randy said. He glanced at my mother’s unshakeable clamp on my wrist while she and I strolled the halls of Arden Courts. Randy was the son of another resident who lived in the same memory care home.

“One day, I helped her outside because she kept pushin’ on the door. She had an amazing grip on my hands.” Randy grinned while he gazed at his fingers and turned over his palms.

I too gawked at Randy’s hands. They were sturdy. They had been built for football.

My Italian mother’s hands had been built for something else.

“I know what you mean.” I cringed and disengaged my twisted fingers from Mom’s hands. “Her hands are her superhero power.”

My mother’s hands had always held my imagination sway. She was a magician with her biscotti and nutroll as her fingers flew across the mixing bowl or dough to cut and roll or press and dust. Mom demonstrated a sleight of hand on par with Houdini in turning flour, sugar, and egg into memories I could not live without.

Her fingers were longer than mine. I verified that fact on numerous occasions. And often, I used that excuse when my pastas and pastries didn’t measure up to hers. In truth, Mom spent a lifetime perfecting her feats, thus qualifying them as superhuman.

My mother’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 six 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 mistakes on our homework. When she hemmed or altered suit pants or communion dresses. When she sprinkled water and ironed over my father’s work shirts. When she dusted or mopped or rubbed Pledge on her coffee tables to shine the furniture. When she neatly penned the names of every person on her Christmas card list— and it was a long list.

And, given her ancestry, when she spoke or sang.

Long ago, Mom instituted “the death grip” as we orbited the corridors of her care home. She owned a walker, and following a fall or seizure, her therapist often put that walker into practice. Mom no sooner wheeled it front of her, wandered off, and clapped a hand on to the nearest set of arms or the handles of someone else’s wheelchair as a counterbalance to her toddling self.

IMG_0580“Good luck with her hands,” Randy joked as we all parted ways.

I lowered Mom onto a green wrought iron bench and plopped down at her side.

She reached for my hand, rubbed the soft hairs on my arm, and refused to release me to the outside world.

All of Mom’s actions were tied up in her hands. When she avoided the mumbling resident by pushing her away. When she squeezed my hand while I combed her hair because squeezing was her means of communicating frustration. When she pinched at clothes dotted with sequins or cookies spritzed with colored sugar.

Even my mother’s baby doll was not free of her grasp. I often sought out Baby Doll to replace my hands when my fingers cramped from Mom’s crush.

For countless years, Mom used her hands to change the world through baking Italian Christmas cookies and caressing the faces of grandchildren. She held on to those she loved as life tossed her around few curves and now, she clutched the hands of those who cared for her or could maneuver her in and out of the sun’s rays.

When Mom finally lets go, she will liberate what she has prized for many decades—her 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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Filed under alzheimer's, baby doll,, karen brenner, something meaningful, tom brenner