Warm and fuzzy mothering was not the stuff of my youth. After all, there were 6 of us and it was the era of hands-off parenting. Throw in chronic depression and a family-owned business and there wasn't much time for intimate talks about bruises to the heart. Motherly advice in my family consisted of a few nuggets of wisdom repeated often enough that, like the location of its birth-beach to a sea turtle, they are forever imprinted upon my psyche:
"God helps those who help themselves."
"Charity begins at home."
"Don't say anything you don't want the world to know."
"If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."
Interestingly, the last two commandments apparently did not apply to Mom. She's never hesitated to verbalize her observations and opinions about those nearby and she seems to assume that those about whom she opines are as deaf as my Dad is.
"What? Why are you giving me that look? She can't hear me. I was just saying.... (disgusted sigh)".
Mom's discreetness filter has always had rather loose "mesh", but as her dementia worsens it has grown looser and looser. At Dad's recent Chemo #2*, while my sister took Dad back to have blood drawn before the infusion began, Mom and I sat in the waiting area. It is a large room, in a nice new cancer treatment facility and, thankfully, was sparsely populated at that moment because it has acoustics like Carnegie Hall.
"Look at that woman over there. Do you think she is wearing a wig?"
(Hand in front of mouth, palm facing outward; eyes directed toward the suspect.)
"So many of these nurses have tattoos. They look like tramps. Why do they do that to themselves?"
(Rhetorical question; no answer expected.)
"Everyone around here looks so sick."
(Scanning the room.)
I engage in an internal debate. By shushing her, will I draw more attention to her remarks? Did anyone else actually hear her? Will they know that her comments are not intended to be hurtful? How can I divert her- FAST?
"How about a magazine, Mom?"
I hand her the only publication within reach: Field and Stream. I kid you not.
She takes it and gives it a once-over. "I don't think I've ever seen this magazine before."
(Probably not, safe to say, and if she had, she wouldn't remember it anyway.)
She flips the pages. "Look at this! Deer urine? They sell deer urine?"
(It was worth a try.)
I see my sister waving us over. They are ready to start Dad's infusion. I help Mom up and reach to take the Field and Stream from her hand.
Gripping it tighter and glaring at me, she says, "I'm still reading that."
Mom's unsteady on her feet, so she holds onto my hand as we walk the corridors to the treatment room. I slow my pace and look down at her. Her hand is softer than I can ever remember it being. She is dressed nicely, in a blue print silk blouse. Although she never wore much makeup and no nail polish, Mom has always taken great care with her appearance. She walks slowly, slightly stooped over. When did she get so fragile; so old?
The treatment room reminds me a bit of the set of The Office. It is a large, high-ceilinged, open room. There are "work stations" throughout, each with recliners, IV poles and side chairs with low walls separating the "stations". Here and there are stands with a variety of wigs and hats. There is a low buzz of discreet, superficial small-talk ongoing.
When the nurse spots us, she steers us to the one private treatment area. It is enclosed in glass, but has full walls and a door as well as two recliners. I wanted to kiss her. I couldn't imagine three hours or more in the bullpen.
Dad was already settled into one recliner. He banters with the nurse inserting his IV while we get Mom settled into the other recliner. Mom points toward the outer room.
"See those wigs? They are free if you are having chemo. I told your father he should get one."
She smiles at him. He looks over at her and chuckles.
"I think I might like that better," he says, pointing at a cherry-red snood festooned with sequins.
Later, back at Mom and Dad's place, we get them fed and settled in. Dad is understandably tired and achy.
"I have no complaints; just a little tired, that's all."
Mom's ankles are swollen; her blood pressure is up and her oxygen level is low. We get her situated, put on her oxygen and put her feet up. I pull a bottle of nail polish from my purse.
"How about if I do your toenails, Mom? They look like they could use it."
"Oh; that would be nice." She leans her head back and relaxes.
**Cue Mambo #5 - "A little bit of taxotere in my veins, a little bit of something for the pain...". Credit goes to my sister for this one, which we performed, together, live at the North Coast Cancer Center just yesterday. Really. We did.