Mom and Me


I learned a lot of bad habits from Mom. I learned many good habits from Mom. I learned a lot of odd methods from Mom. I learned a lot of non-methods from Mom. I learned good versions of all of these too. But mostly I learned stuff.

Moms are great for that – teaching stuff to you, the kids. Even if you did not want to know about it, you were getting the lecture anyway. I smile as I write this because it makes me smile.

Mom is a horizontal filer.

Paper in various forms, newspaper, magazines, bills, flyers, catalogs, birthday cards, etc. comes into every dwelling constantly. In Mom’s case no filter or system of triage is applied when the paper arrives. All is placed indiscriminately and horizontally onto a near at hand flat surface. Usually this is a table. This table may be in the kitchen, dining room or living room. There is no specification other than the surface is to be horizontal and 20 – 30 inches off the floor.

This format was the predominant filing format of any and all paper that entered the house. Of course some paper comes into view at special times and due to this timing achieves special status for a short period. Newspapers are of this ilk arriving as they do at specific times of the day and requiring only a temporary attention.

As paper accumulates of course it becomes necessary to deal with the encroachment into other spaces used for eating, crafts, writing and other activities. This requires a neatenment activity. Paper is stacked. Sometimes it is also sorted by size. Occasionally it is filtered by importance into loose categories; bills and flyers and ads, bills and charitable appeals, stuff that is neither of these, magazines, catalogs too small to stack properly, other.

None of this paper is of long term interest other than invoices. Eventually these are sorted and selected for payment.

This may seem a disorganized arrangement. Consider the alternative stress inducing method of filtering and sorting every piece of mail as it enters the house. I have modified the method slightly by applying certain detection techniques to the mail stream and collecting billing notices into their own stack. No other sort is applied to the pile of paper beyond that.

I think Mom taught me this same method by observation. Children spend a lot of time watching their parents every move. My personal area in this living space looks much like Andy Rooney’s office. Perhaps Andy’s mom was a horizontal filer.

Mom is a down-sizer.

As we age we forget that we are not twenty years old anymore. I have noticed this creeping into my own life as I get older.

Recently my wife and I summoned up the courage to make a change in our lives that we believe will enhance our future (golden) years. We spent 35 years of our life in a five bedroom house with a 200 square foot eat-in kitchen and an even larger dining area for big family gatherings. We have had as many as 50 people in the first floor at one time although not seated around the same table. The house is wonderful. Built in the very early part of the twentieth century. In a perfect neighborhood to raise children. I don’t think either of us thought much about leaving until we seriously started to actually do it.

Mom and Dad did the same thing in about the same time in their lives. It is remarkable to me how similar these two moves are. Single floor plan, three bedrooms, two baths. Garage. Smaller space. No basement.

So, after thinking and discussing this for approximately a year we moved. Most everything is stored, sorted, poured over and away somewhere. Done. The deed is done. On to the next new adventure!

Another observational lesson.

In her later years Mom’s mind flits from thought to nuance to detail to expected failure to indecision to stasis.

Focus is harder as I get older. This observation I wrote about Mom but in the retrospective of several months (now years) time I notice this in myself. Dang! Maybe I’ve been doing this all along. Alas.

It could be that the way to combat this activity is to do what it is that is thought of as a good idea at the time without regard expected failure. Be adventurous. See how it turns out. Why not? What the hell! Live a little.

Another aspect of this is the nagging feeling in the background that Cheryl is getting more frail as we age together and her Parkinson’s takes up more of her effort. I need to do two things: not dwell on this greatly, and, in fact, push her to keep going; be perceptive enough to recognize when this isn’t working and back off. Tricky.

The lesson here may not be as apparent as it ought to be. We are only here for a short time. All the major religions teach this. We should be satisfied with that time that we are here. But while we are here why not make the most of it? Pursue your passion. Live a little.

Mom believes in perceived authority.

The news is a perceived authority, at least, if it comes from a major news outlet. The church is not. Advertising, against the background of a major news outlet, is a perceived authority. Religion is not.

New drugs are hyped by the makers of them (a perceived authority). Too fat? Take this. Too tired? Take this. Life is getting shorter? Take this. Can’t get it up anymore? Take this.

If you read it in “The Sun”…

Doctors know everything. (maybe) But this book says do this. And on and on.

We all do this in some fashion. I think because my mother did it so often, I became immediately skeptical. I am searching for the proof in the pudding.

I think when she got to the end of her life Mom was still searching. And I perceive very little from authority. I want to know the background, the data collection techniques, the sources, etc. She taught me to be a skeptic.

Mom believes in marketing but not advertising.

In an old conversation with Mom after my sister and I helped her move to a retirement community;

“They must be struggling to keep this place rented. I think they have a lot of vacancies here.” – Mom

“What makes you say that?” – me

“They have been advertising in the paper.” – Mom

We were talking about The Seasons Retirement Community. They had changed hands a few months prior to Mom moving in. This is a place were the average age is about 85. The population is not so old that someone was being hauled out in the back of a hearse each day but it is close. (In fact there is a freight elevator and a dock in the back off to the side hidden from immediate view.) Turnover was high. The line was not out the door waiting to get in.

My general impression was “cruise atmosphere while awaiting death”. That sounds harsh but most retirement communities give off that vibe. Later after Mom was gone and buried, a friend, Bill was on a waiting list to get in. They were full up. The new management had corrected the leakage.

Advertising works.

Mom believes in herself and her own self reliance. (It terrifies her that this is slipping away.)

Some notes from conversations at the very end of her life. Joyce and I had moved her from Seasons to Bridgeway Pointe which is a part of UC Health. Not quite a nursing home but greater services than a retirement community.

When I was much younger, Mom used to say, “pull up your socks!” By that she meant be self-reliant. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it for you. You have to make it happen yourself.

“I don’t really need that much help.” She tells me constantly. But today (approximately four years ago now) I found out she is suffering from a episode of the stomach flu wandering around the building. A little gastrointestinal distress others have had in the assisted living facility. She needed help and thankfully she was in the right spot to get it.

June, 2015: I just paid Mom’s Bill’s – she only has one or two besides Bridgeway Pointe. (It just dawned on me how hard that is for me) I have learned – rightly or wrongly that I have weak organizational skills. I look around my office and realize that I too am a horizontal filer.

September, 2015: Mom has insisted she wants me to help her use her walker. I guess I will help coach her. But I never did. At this point in her life she started sitting in a wheelchair or a lift chair. She never got up without assistance ever again. I would push her places.

There is grace in allowing someone to help you.

My italicized remarks about Mom are in the present tense because that’s how I think of her when I think of her. I can actually hear her voice. I guess I didn’t fall far from the tree.

Birthday Cards and Remembrance

Happy Birthday – and other days

I found this Birthday card that Cheryl gave me for my birthday. On the front is a picture of a couple dancing. They are, perhaps, in their mid-twenties. I believe it was last year but I am not certain, it may have been the year before. In either event it was recent because I am not typically a keeper of cards. Lately however I think I have become one.

This, of course, is not a picture of us but it is how I see her. In my eyes I still see a young woman full of of vim and vigor for life. I think (I know) this is why I kept this particular card. The struggle we have with Parkinson’s disease is multifaceted but it is important, perhaps even demanded, that we do not let that define our relationship and taint our love for each other.

This woman has been my life for 53 years. We met in high school. Eventually got married. Survived college. Had three children with all the struggles that that entails. Partied with friends, celebrated kids birthdays, friends birthdays, family birthdays, played lousy bridge and poker, played good bridge and won at poker, got fat, got skinnier, got the kids through their younger lives and into and through college without major incident, watched as they matured and married and started their families and lives without us, celebrated the birth of grandchildren, celebrated the birthdays of grandchildren, admired how our children parented their kids and loved every minute of it.

Deep breath now – we have this new nuance to our relationship. Occasionally, and I say this with regret, I allow myself to forget that she has PD. I say regret simply because I forget that this nuance, this adjective, this aspect, this aside, this extra descriptor has stolen part of her vigor, not her vim, not her excitement, not her love of the children and grandchildren, not the family and certainly not the friends and friendships. Life is greater than disease. Life is greater than in ability or disability. Life is change and PD is simply another change.

As a man (I will slip into stereotypes here) I have had to adapt and adopt chores that (think stereotype) men do not normally do. This last is not universally true but I was born before the middle of the last century so think Mayberry, think Leave it to Beaver and the Cleavers, maybe even Little House on the Prairie if you are unsure of the vision of manly duties that I was brought up to understand.

A hobby of mine is bread and baking. I have successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully extended that into actual cooking and the making of dinner. Betty Crocker is a friend but can also be a fiend. If you do not believe me, poke around at the website for a bit sign up for the occasional newsletter which becomes the “every fifteen seconds” newsletter. So many recipes, so little time, so many left-overs. Some of what used to be weekend treats have become during the week meals or breakfasts or lunches. It is interesting that Cheryl has kept the “Dinner for Two” cook book all these years. The bindings have fallen apart over time so we (she really) spent some time sliding it into page protectors and into its own three ring binder. The recipes are classics and available on their web space (but do not forget the newsletters filling your inbox.)

Life is full of changes and ever changing. The only constant is change. Buddhists believe this. As I age I am constantly reminded of this and occasionally chagrined. Anger does not come with change but it is easy to be disappointed that certain things that we had hoped would remain “as is” do not. The list is long.

Parkinson’s disease is merely another change. And it sucks!