Out to Lunch

Mom: What’s the special?

Me, reading: Tuna salad on toasted rye bread with melted pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. It comes with french fries, onion rings, or cole slaw.

Mom: No, thank you, that’s what I had for breakfast.


Mom: What did I have for dessert the last time we were here?

Dad: Tiramisu.

Mom: What is that?

Me: A layered dessert with coffee-soaked sponge cake, mascarpone cheese whipped with eggs and sugar, and powdered chocolate.

Mom: What is that?

Dad: Tiramisu.

Mom: Have I had that before?

Oh, her aching back (no, really)

My mother suffers substantially from back pain. Over the last decade she’s had two spinal fusion surgeries and a hip replacement. We didn’t know about her dementia before the surgeries, but looking back I know she was distinctly worse after each one. Her immediate recovery periods were always nightmarish, and each time seemed to diminish her permanently.

It was after one of those surgeries that my father confessed to me his worry that she hadn’t been paying the bills. (Blind, he couldn’t pay them or verify her payment of them on his own.) He handed me a briefcase with the entire contents of her desk in it and we sat up till the wee hours sorting through stuff. That’s when I took over the bill paying. Diagnosis followed not long after. It’s been almost 5 years now.

At any rate, the pain has been ramping up again over the past year. Nobody thinks she can undergo another surgery. She’s been seeing a physiologist at Spaulding, who today performed a radiofrequency ablation procedure which will, we hope, deaden the nerve that is hurting her. It would be so great if it worked. Mom’s concentration is flighty enough; the pain makes it so she can’t tolerate standing for long, and you just know she isn’t listening to anything that’s said half the time because she’s distracted by how much she hurts.

So, we desperately want this to succeed.

She arrived for her procedure this morning in the car of a kind volunteer who drove her from Chatham so that I wouldn’t have to do two round trips. I met her at the door, and we checked in. She was absolutely calm (thank you Ativan — and thank goodness she managed to save the last two little pills for today.) The doctor’s assistant wheeled her away, and I headed to the cafeteria to sit with a coffee and go through my “Mom & Dad” binder, culling out of date papers.

I had a nice visit with a friend who works there. We talked about the mixed pride and heartbreak of sending a kid to college. I told her all the Facebook pictures of friends’ new college students are breaking my heart, as I’m half wrecked because my eldest just started high school and she STILL LIVES IN MY HOUSE. I am risking my Spock-like reputation by confessing to these things, but I do.

I saw my daughters’ 2nd grade teacher, since retired, a really great person who lost her son to addiction last year and somehow still puts one foot in front of the other.

I saw the physical therapist who told me I had an attitude problem when I said it would be nice to be done with the the pain in my shoulder for which I went to see her for help some weeks ago. We ignored each other with no love lost. That remark of hers still makes me angry whenever I recall it. The day she said that, I should have cancelled all the rest of my appointments.

Her assistant passed by and was lovely, though.

So 45 minutes went quickly by, and then Mom was asking for me in the recovery room. Her procedure reportedly went well. She was reclining next to a pile of snack wrappers. She’d eaten all the Lorna Doones and half the Ritz peanut butter crackers and was struggling to unwrap the Fig Newtons. This was not a procedure she’d had to fast for, by the way. She asked me, “do you drive to an office somewhere for the program you’re on?” I had no idea what she meant. “For losing weight,” she said. “No Mom. I’m not on a program. I just quit eating bagels and muffins and cookies, and got serious about walking more often.” “Oh. Did you read about that in a magazine?” and so on, for the duration of the Fig Newtons. My 200 pound mother in a recliner shoving junk food in her face asking me how I lost 10 pounds.

I brought the car around, she was helped into it, and we headed home. I’d told Dad to expect us at about 11:00. When we got in, he was asleep, but he jumped up, shouting “IT’S ONLY 10:26!” “Hi, Dad. 10:56 I think.” Dad checks his talking watch. “Oh, 10:56. All right. Hello.” By this time Mom’s tired enough to assure him all went well and then go right to bed for a nap.

With Mom asleep, I have the opportunity to assess the status of the fridge and freezer. Peapod delivered groceries yesterday so they’re in good supply. Excellent supply, you could say. Mom had ordered four gallons of milk and 36 yogurts and 8 bags of croutons, among other things. Dad was concerned that he couldn’t distinguish the individual rice pudding cups from the individual yogurt cups. We determined that the rice pudding cups have a unique dimple on the bottom, solving that difficulty. One less thing. I don’t tell him about the rotten food that I’m hauling away. There’s nothing he can do about that.

Thus concluded today’s adventure. What I took away: 3 gallons of milk, 3 lbs chicken breast (Mom doesn’t cook but hasn’t stopped shopping as if she does), 3 bags frozen peas, 1 bag frozen corn, 1 loaf of raisin bread, 1 salad bowl. All this I can use. In other bags: 2 dozen frozen bananas that are too far gone even to use for banana bread, 4 bags of rotting baby carrots, one open can of pecan pieces, one open box of 5-year-old Fibre One cereal, one plastic container of an ancient unidentified granular substance, and 1 gray withered slice of pizza in a Ziploc bag that, thank God, stays closed. All this I throw away in public trash cans before I get home.

When I finally do get home, it’s 12:30, and I sit down to work. The summer lull is over and I have actual writing to do for actual money. I’d be in better shape to do that if it didn’t feel like I’ve done a full day’s work already.

Hot flashes (no, not mine) and other things for the birds.

On the way to visit my parents this week, I picked up a rotisserie chicken at BJs for their dinner. If they like it, I will do that more often. It’s quick and easy for me, and considering they mostly eat prepared or frozen meals, it’s relatively inexpensive for them ($5 for a whole cooked chicken? You can’t beat that with a stick). I threw in some of the ginger snaps they love from Trader Joe’s. (I don’t know if my parents ever eat any vegetables but that’s one of the things I file under “not my problem.” If my 85 year-old Dad never wants to eat another vegetable again, I’m not gonna make him.)

When I entered their house, Dad was sitting with his head down on the kitchen table, complaining of a “hot flash.” He said he’d woken during the night and the heat had been turned on. He knew Mom did it, and he kept trying to get her to say that she’d done it. Mom, never a big fan of admissions of truth, denied it and kept trying to get him not to obsess over how it had happened. It was certainly warm in the house. She said she’d turned it “back down” to 72F. Great. I got Dad an ice pack, and set the thermostat to 70F. The a/c came on: sweet relief.

I put the chicken in the fridge, and spied a bag of Romaine lettuce that had been left out since whenever they’d had groceries delivered. “Shall I put the lettuce away, Mom?” “Sure, in the bottom crisper.” The bottom crisper was already occupied by a sad, tough loaf of white bread dated December 7, possibly of 2013. That is where things go to die. So I’ll give the lettuce a couple of weeks, then retrieve it and compost what I can’t use.

I paid the bills, then at Mom’s request, tried to help renew her driver’s license online. Turns out the RMV won’t let her do it. In fact, they’re planning to revoke her license if she doesn’t attend a driver retraining class. Evidently she’s racked up an unacceptable number of moving violations. Mom is a terrible driver — not due to age or illness, but for as long as I can remember. I’ve been nervous about her driving since I was 6, and have never allowed my children in her car. So, she’ll go to driving school this Saturday. Maybe the instructor will remember her from last time.

The December 7 bread came home with me, along with a tote bag full of books about Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography and other such nonsense. Mom has always liked buying books about doing stuff more than actually doing stuff. Week by week, I’m chipping away at this lifetime’s accumulation of worthless print via my local library’s donation shelf. I hope they’re making some money off it at the weekly book sale.

Josie took the bread when she got home from school, and happily threw it (“like Frisbees!”) to the crows in the woods. “Did that come from Grandma’s?” she asked. “Of course it did. Where else would you still find bread from December,” replied Robin.

Where, indeed.

Hey, I was going to eat that (in 2001).

Today, I decided to use a few extra moments at my parents’ house to check out their refrigerator. I do that from time to time to keep them from eating food that might kill them. I never know what I’m going to find, or whether it’s going to ooze out onto the kitchen floor under its own power. It worries me that Dad, who can’t see, won’t know the difference between a new tub of macaroni salad and one from, say, last August, until it is too late.

We could chalk it up to my mother’s dementia, but Rick and I can both remember looking in the fridge as kids and seeing cases of Tab and Fresca (remember Tab and Fresca?), but no milk. Tubes of slice-and-bake cookie dough, but crispers full of rotting vegetables. Deli drawers from which the safest bet was individually wrapped slices of “American cheese product,” because in my mother’s kitchen, preservatives are your allies and pasteurization is your friend.

After scanning for invasive species growing on the items on the main shelves, I turned my attention to the bottom shelf of the fridge door. (It’s a side-by-side model, and it’s been years since any effort was made to access things below hip level.)

Nothing I found was younger than 2007. The median expiration date was probably 2003. For those playing along at home, here’s what I threw out: a big bottle of Bloody Mary mix, two open jars of shrimp cocktail sauce, two open bottles of hot sauce, one jar of withered capers and another of rancid pine nuts, two open bottles of lemon juice and two of lime juice, and a near-empty bottle of balsamic vinegar. Dumping all that stuff down their garbage disposal was really, really satisfying. So satisfying that I don’t mind filling up my own recycling bins with the huge bag of jars and bottles I brought home.

It’s no mystery why, in my own home, I am pretty vigilant about what’s in the fridge and when it needs replacing. There are never two of the same thing open at the same time, and all the condiments are from the current decade. When we use something up, its replacement gets brought up from the pantry and it goes on the shopping list so the pantry item will be replaced. As long as people put things on the list, the system runs like clockwork. Sometimes they put olives on the list right after I’ve bought olives, just to plague me, because I hate olives. But other than that, clockwork.

Now please excuse me while I go check my pine nuts.