Let’s talk about you …
I called it the Witching Hour.
Toddlers melt down at around 5pm every single day. This fact is well known to stay at home moms and other peculiar people who spend a great deal of time with little children.
Just about the time you are up to your elbows in getting supper on the table, the babies start cranking out tantrums, whines, arguments and fights. It’s as if someone put crazy drugs in their afternoon snackies.
Nobody told me about the Witching Hour. Like so much about raising little children, I had to learn it the hard way. But once I got it figured out and took the This-is-gonna-happen-so-put-your-foot-down-and-slide attitude, it became manageable.
I thought I was through with all that when my kids grew out of it.
But I find that I am once again caring for a toddler, and the Witching Hour is back. This particular toddler is approaching 90 years of age and has a random memory of having once been an independent, free-wheeling adult. She remembers that she once paid her bills, balanced her check book and fought all my battles.
She is my mother, and I love her so much it makes my teeth ache.
The Witching Hour evidently applies to elderly toddlers as much as it does baby toddlers. Every day at about 5 my mother melts down. She doesn’t roll on the floor and wail the way babies can do. Her tantrums take the form of hand-wringing anxiety and fear. If she doesn’t find something to hang this anxiety and fear on, I can distract her out of it. But thanks to the the occasional slip-up, or, more often, the family drug addict who has no conscience about ripping off her elderly grandmother, there are days this becomes impossible.
One day this week, my mother found a bill from her latest hospital stay. How she got it, I don’t know. Everyone in the family works at keeping anything that will set her off away from her. We censor her mail by lifting the bills and any advertising that looks like something she might think was a threat (she’s amazingly creative at interpreting advertising as threats) and only letting her see the harmless stuff.
For years, I wanted to end her subscription to the newspaper. Every time they said something nasty about me (there are spells where that can be an almost daily occurrence) she would warp out. I kept telling her that I didn’t care and it was fine, but she is my mother and … well … you know.
Somehow, despite our almost paranoid vigilance, she got her hands on this $35 bill from the hospital. And she warped out. It took forever for me to pry the fact that this was about a bill out of her.
We’re in a horrible mess, she kept repeating. They’re going to take everything.
When I asked her who “they” was, she would say, I don’t know.
When I asked her what she was talking about, she would say, I don’t know.
She cried and begged me to take care of it. PLEASE take care of it.
I finally figured out it was a bill. My son took it and tore it into tiny pieces, which is pretty much the way we all felt about the thing.
I was so shot by the experience I wanted to go somewhere and just curl up in a little ball. When my mother cries like that, it rips me into as many pieces as my son did that bill.
Then, yesterday, she came to me in tears, almost vibrating with fear. We’re in a horrible mess.
The house (meaning her home where she no longer lives) is in a shambles. Those people (meaning my drug addict relative) have trashed it and now it’s on us to fix it or the government will tear it down.
She was crying as if her heart was broken, and scared out of what remains of her wits. We went through another round of 20 questions and I slowly pieced together that she’d gotten a call from a bill collector over yet another fraudulent bill that the family drug addict has run up in my mother’s name.
The house, so far as I could tell, was fine.
This bill-collector-calling-about-things-the family-drug-addict-has-done-in-my-elderly-mother’s-name-thing happens fairly often.
For instance, about a week ago, I got a call from the adult day care center where Mama goes while the rest of us are at work, telling me that she’d been on the phone, giving out information to somebody. When the staff person took the phone and said this lady has dementia, who are you the caller got snotty with them. I dropped everything and went to the day care center, took Mama’s phone and called the number back.
When I got the caller on the line, they wouldn’t tell me who they were, even though I have power of attorney where my mother is concerned. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that angry. I mean, these people called and hounded an elderly woman who obviously has dementia at her day care center, and then would not tell the responsible party who they were.
After a round of me losing my temper totally with them, it turned out that they were trying to collect a debt for thousands of dollars somebody has hung on my elderly mother. I don’t know for sure, but if this isn’t more handiwork by the family drug addict, I’ll be surprised.
The Witching Hour is so common that the people at the day care center have their own name for it. They call it “sun downing.”
I don’t know if it’s just about end-of-the-day tiredness, or if there’s some sort of hormonal change that occurs in our bodies at that time of day. All I know is that people at both ends of life get upset and bothered around 5pm.
If there is no call from a bill collector or threatening advertising or some paper bill that slipped into her hands by mistake, my mother just tends to spin webs at this time of day. She’s cranky and she wants what she wants, which is my attention. But she doesn’t fall apart on me.
However, if anything slips through the net we put around her, she goes out on us.
The family drug addict’s parasitical behavior is by far the most difficult for me to tolerate. Everyone else in the family works together to care for and protect my mother. Then we’ve got the family drug addict out there, trying to prey on her and actively hurting and upsetting her.
I don’t know exactly why I’m writing all this. Maybe because I am worn slick with it today (I’ve had two really emotional Witching Hours back to back.) and I need to talk about it.
I do know this, and it’s a surprise to me to learn it. Taking care of an elderly parent is, if it’s a family enterprise and you have wonderful services such as Adult Day Care, surprisingly do-able. But when one member of the family decides to become an extra burden, they can wreak havoc.
I am privileged to be able to take care of my mother. I am also blessed to have sons who, even as young men in their twenties, are completely willing to care for her, too. I see them do this, and I feel vindicated as a parent. I raised two wonderful, loving men.
As for the family drug addict, I am at my wit’s end.
Abortion deforms the powerful life-giving force that women possess. Here is Rezonda “Chilli” Thomas’ description of her abortion and what it did to her.
I haven’t written about this particular story because it seemed like just one of those things.
You know. People fail.
Christianity, as I live it, is largely a matter of falling down and getting back up to try again. That’s why we have confession. It’s why we need to be kind to one another about our various weaknesses. Because we are all sinners who are bound to fail. None of us gets out of that.
So, when I read the story about the nun in Italy who had a baby, I basically just thought that she needed mercy and probably some help with her baby. I did not see it as the worst — or even close to the worst — thing that I had heard that day, much less ever in my life.
Then, today I was reading through some headlines and I saw that a local Italian bishop has called for the nun to “leave her convent in the North of Italy after breaking her vow of chastity.” (Emphasis mine.)
My reaction to that was an immediate and heartfelt Wait a minute buddy.
I agree that now that the sister is also a mother, her first responsibility is to her child. I think she should rejoin secular life (not be cast out, but helped to do this) so that she can devote herself to full-time motherhood. I also think it would be nice if dear old dad stepped up and took responsibility for his child, too.
Just for the record, and even though nobody has asked me, I want to say that priests and men religious who father children should also rejoin the secular world and take up their responsibility to their child. That includes marrying the mothers of their children and forming a Christian family in a stable, Christian home.
So I was ok with the idea that Sister/Mama needs to leave religious life and take care of her new baby.
But … kick her out because she has broken her vow of chastity????
The day Bishops start sending priests and men religious back to private life for breaking their vows of chastity, we can talk about that.
I’m not going to go off on a rant about priests and men religious here. That’s really not the point.
What I am saying is drop the self-righteous, hypocritical double standard.
Chastity isn’t just for women. Men are called to chastity and are just as culpable when they violate it as the other half of humanity. So long as priests are forgiven for violating their chastity and allowed to return to ministry, that same standard should apply to the sisters.
That’s just the way it is.
Pope Francis has called us to evangelize the world.
Jesus Christ also called us to evangelize the world.
That is our Great Commission as believing Christians.
It requires us to go out into the world wearing our faith on our sleeves. It means that we will have to consign ourselves to the barbs and slings that certain folk aim at Christians who stand for Christ. It is a call to give up the cheap grace of hiding our light under a bushel and to stand upright and live our love for Jesus out loud and in public.
I am not talking about becoming the mirror image of the atheist boor who goes around verbally assaulting and insulting Christians for entertainment and sport. We are not called to force our beliefs on those who will not hear them.
Our call is something much more difficult. We are called to live as if we believe what we say we believe and to do what Jesus told us to do in every aspect of our lives. That means we don’t lie, steal, cheat to get ahead. It means we practice personal chastity and sexual cleanliness. It means we do not defame, slander or try to destroy those who disagree with us, even when they do their best to defame, slander and destroy us.
It means that we study the faith so that we stand ready to, as Paul instructed, give a good report of what we have believed. It means we must know our faith and are always willing to talk about it in a positive and faith-filled way.
But there is one thing it does not mean. It does not mean that we throw our children to the secular and anti-Christian wolves when they are unformed babies. By that I mean specifically the schools where they spend most of their waking hours.
I hate saying this, hate worse that I think it’s true, but the schools have become a means of indoctrinating our children into a worldview that is not only anti-Christian, but is in many ways, anti-child. Consider this, this, this, this and this.
Do you really want your children going to schools whose sex ed courses hand out chemical birth control and give lectures on how any sexual behavior is “normal?” Do you want your daughters taking the morning after pill like candy? Do you want your kids confused with “gender identity” lectures?
And I’m not even talking about the other kids, coming from their messed up homes and the bullying and cruelty that, based on my experience when my kids went to the public schools, is ignored and allowed. There are kids who can manage to get through this intact. But most of them can’t. That means that the public schools, especially big city schools, are no longer a safe place to send your kids if you are a Christian who wants your children to grow up with Christian values.
Add to that the fact that the public schools do not provide a good education for everyone. Public education is at least two-tiered. We have the schools in the “right” neighborhoods where the best teachers teach, the facilities are top notch and everyone has access to all the learning equipment they could ever need. Then, we have the inner city schools where there aren’t enough textbooks for every child to have one, and, while some of the teachers have a missionary zeal, most are burnt out and just building time toward retirement.
Ironically, the parents in these inner-city schools are the ones who are least able to provide alternatives for their kids. Rich kids can always go to private schools. But inner-city kids are stuck.
Those of us who are adults need to assume an adult faith and stand up for Jesus in the larger culture. Not one of us is too precious to take a few slings and arrows for Our Lord. On the other hand, we also need to take a parallel stand for Christ by protecting our children from this toxic culture until they are old enough to engage with it without being overwhelmed by it.
We live in a bizarre world where adults run and hide, duck and cover, while they put their kids out there on the front lines. If we are going to stand for Christ, our first mission is to reverse that.
You need to stand for Christ while you simultaneously protect your child from evil influences until that child is an adult who can stand on his or her own.
The best way to illustrate this is by taking a look at the Holy Family. Joseph and Mary protected Jesus and kept Him safe throughout His childhood. They did not go around announcing “We’ve got the Son of God here! Come have a look!” They gave Him a childhood of normal time, safe and protected within His family.
Men, I want you to consider the role of Joseph. When Herod decided to kill the baby Jesus, God didn’t wake up Mary. He went to Joseph and told him to get his family out of danger.
Men, if you are not helping your wives to be the mothers to your children that those children need, then you are failing. It is your job to protect your families and keep them safe. That is why God made you strong. That is why God woke up Joseph, and not Mary, when it was time to flee into Egypt.
Women, I want you to consider the role of Mary. She is the Mother of God. The Archangel Gabriel greeted her, “Hail Mary!” which is the greeting extended to Caesars. She outranks every other human being. But her first and most important job was to deliver her baby son to adult manhood as a loved and fully-formed human being.
One of the things that amazes and touches me, as both a mother and the daughter of a mother, is that when mothers do their jobs right, their children never stop coming to them for comfort and support. Never. The safest place on earth for well-raised people is always Mama. Or, as a priest friend of mine once said, “Home is where your mother is.”
What about the single parent who doesn’t have a husband or wife to lean on? The mess we’ve made of marriage and the inability of our young people for form families of their own, has led to a whole generation of fatherless children. Mothers are stretched beyond what any one person was ever designed for. There are also some men raising their children alone.
How does a Christian single parent, who has to work full-time and who doesn’t have the money to provide choices in education or in life for their kids, manage to do it? We have one example among the Catholic Patheosi in Katrina Fernandez, The Crescat.
I think we need to support single parents in their efforts to raise Christian children. We need to help them as much as we can. Maybe God will call someone to develop a lay ministry to support children who are missing a parent and for parents who are trying to be two people. Things are in such a mess right now, that I think we need to begin by ministering to our own struggling Christian people before we move out to the rest of the world. In these trying times, Christians need ministry from other Christians.
We are called absolutely by both the Holy Father and Christ the Lord to take a stand in this life and this world for Jesus. No one should ever be in doubt that you are a Christian. None of the people who know you should have to guess that you follow a risen Lord.
But the single most important way we can do that begins, not in public, but in the safety of our own homes. Protect your children first. Whatever it costs you, protect your children.
I have a family member who has done time in prison over drug addiction. Her drug of choice was cocaine.
That makes this young man’s story especially poignant to me.
Mama, out on the town at her favorite hamburger joint. She made the bead necklace she’s wearing at Adult Day Care — her “Job.”
My mother smoked like a diesel for almost 70 years.
I guess she was lucky.
She didn’t get lung cancer. She never had asthma. But at the ripe old age of 85 or so, she developed COPD.
I’d heard of this disease, which, nearly as I can tell, is basically emphysema with complications and a larger understanding. But I didn’t know a lot about it. I have to admit that now that I’ve been the caregiver for someone who has it, I still don’t know a lot about it.
Extreme old age is tricky.
People this age have an overall feistiness that, when it combines with the lack of memory that goes with dementia, means they can fool you. One of my worst memories of care-giving was the time about a year ago when my mother almost died because I thought that making an appointment with the doc and taking her in the next day would be enough.
As I said, extreme old age is tricky.
They can be doing their “I’m ok,” feisty act one minute and gasping for breath the next.
We’ve had several close calls in which we had to literally pick her up and carry her to the car, then drive the few blocks to the nearest ER (if it had been further, I would have lost her.) But that day was the closest of close calls, and it was, as these things always are if you don’t act quickly enough, complicated by other problems.
Extreme old age is tricky.
Everything in the body is worn out and running on habit. When one thing (breathing) goes wrong, then the old heart starts to beat funny, and when the heart starts to beat funny, the lungs get cloudy, and when the lungs get cloudy, the heart stops being able to do its job, which somehow or other craters into kidney failure.
All in a matter of minutes.
If you don’t get it stopped at the breathing is getting difficult point, it’s like taking that first step out the hatch of the airplane without your parachute. It can take days to get her back ticking again.
That particular night, it was hours of ER close calls and docs who told me they didn’t “like the looks of it” followed by a week in the hospital.
Then Mama came home, feistiness fully intact, and thanks to no-short-term memory, blissfully unaware of most of what had happened. But I remembered. For a while after that, I was taking her to the ER if she coughed twice.
Extreme old age is tricky.
And the primary care-giver is also the first diagnostician. I make a lot of medical calls for my mother, including the all-important when to go to the doc or the ER. That’s dicey for the simple reason that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never dealt with this oddball combination of small child skating along on the ice in an 88-year-old body before.
And she is a small child.
A pampered, spoiled, demanding small child.
The further she gets into the dementia, the more childish she becomes. For instance, she loves for me to take her out for drives.
She loves for me to take her out for drives frequently. In fact, I think she would be happy to have me chauffeur her around all day, every day.
If I’m working on something, she says, “I want you to take me out for a drive now.”
I say, “I’m busy. We’ll do it in a few minutes.”
She looks at me almost exactly like the actor pretending to be a toddler demanding a cookie in Convos with My Two-Year-Old, and repeats “I want you to take me for a drive now.”
She doesn’t quit until I give up and do it.
She goes to Adult Day Care every day. I am going to write in more detail about Adult Day Care. It is a wonderful program. She loves her “job” as she calls it.
She loves it so much that she gets up about 5 every morning and starts announcing that it’s time to “go to work” and she’s going to be late. You can’t turn her off. It’s. Every. Morning.
Even though she loves Adult Day Care, she has a very short attention span. If there’s a lull in the good times, she’ll call me and tell me to come get her. Sometimes, she’ll announce that everybody is just sitting around doing nothing and she wants me to come get her. I remember once when I called the Director of the Day Care Center and told her Mama had called and I was coming to pick her up and she said, “You don’t want to watch the dancers, Mary?”
There were dancers, getting ready to perform, and my elderly toddler got tired of waiting for them to get with it and called for me to come get her. If I’d gone over there, she would have gotten miffed because I stopped her from “having fun” watching the dancers.
If the “I’m bored,” explanation doesn’t move me to come get her, she’ll tell me she’s sick. I always go when she says she’s sick. I don’t have a choice, since there’s no way to know if it’s real or bluff.
In fact, I got one of those calls just a few days ago. Obedient daughter that I am, I drove over, parked the car, went in and got her. As I was guiding her and her cane/jacket/stuffed animal-she’d-won/painting-she’d-made to the car, she told me “I was having fun.” It seems that between the sick call and when I got there, the staff had gotten the fingerpaints out and Mama had gone from too sick to stay to having too much fun to leave.
On the last day of May, the whole town was under threat of the widest tornado in history. As our family gathered around the tv to watch what was happening and decide what to do, Mama kept talking.
She does that.
Talk, I mean.
Non-stop. Just like a toddler. You can’t really have a conversation with her anymore, but she rattles non-stop as long as she’s awake.
I usually just un-huh her the way I did the kids when they were babies.
But we needed to hear the tv.
“Hush,” I told her.
She paused for a beat, then started in, talking about one of the lamps or something.
“Mama,” I said, waiting until she stopped chattering and looked at me, “Hush.”
She stared at me a moment, then turned away. “Well alright. I guess if I can’t say anything, I’ll just be quiet. I don’t know why I can’t talk. But if you want me to just sit here and not say anything, then, I’ll shut up. If that’s what you want, then I guess I’ll have to do it, but I don’t see why I can’t talk
“That lamp shade is crooked. Or maybe it’s made to look like that. No. I think it’s crooked. Mary Belle had a lampshade like that. Only hers was pink. Or maybe it was purple. I want you to take me for a drive …..”
We give her the medicine she’s supposed to have. Then, we watch her swallow it. Otherwise, (for reasons I do not know) she will hide it behind her bed.
We hide her medicine so she can’t find it. Otherwise, (again, for reasons I do not know) she will decide she’s not getting enough and upend the bottle into her mouth.
I give her money to take with her to her “job.” But I can’t give it to her too soon because she will hide it, and then she’ll forget that she hid it and tell me somebody stole it.
She gets lost in the house.
She tells everyone that I “stole” her car from her.
And to this day, if I needed a heart transplant, she would say, “Here. Take mine.”
My Mama. My sweet, baby Mama.
I love her so much it makes my teeth ache.
It is no burden, taking care of my Mama.
It is a blessing and a privilege. I cherish every day with her.
I got my best Christmas present early this year.
My mother is home from the hospital today, after a close encounter with a stroke that would have left the right side of her body useless to her.
She is ok, with no visible after effects, due to quick action and great medical care. One of my sons asked me how I knew that this was a stroke and what to do about it. I had to think for a moment. How did I know?
Then, I remembered. We had a group of speakers from one of our hospitals at a Rotary meeting. They gave information about the warning signs of a stroke, and also told us which hospital in the area was equipped to treat strokes.
It’s important to know these things. Strokes don’t just happen to elderly people like my mother. They can happen to anyone, at any time in their lives. The disability that strokes cause can be devastating. The great thing is that there is often a way for medical people to stop the stroke and prevent this tragedy. But you have to get the person who is having the stroke to medical care early enough.
I’ve put together a few videos about strokes. I hope you’ll take the time to watch them and then find out where the best facility for treating a stroke is in your area. The most important thing to remember is an acronym: FAST.
Here is a copy of a warning card describing FAST from the National Stroke Association. To get a copy to print out and put in your wallet, go here.
Here is additional information that I found on the National Stroke Association website. I think it’s important to note these more subtle symptoms. I decided my mother needed to go to the er because she had a tingly feeling on the right side of her face and her right arm. She also had sudden dizziness and a headache.
Learn as many stroke symptoms as possible so you can recognize stroke as FAST as possible. Click here to download the FAST Wallet Card to keep a reminder of stroke warning signs with you wherever you go!
Stroke symptoms include:
- SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
- SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
- SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause.
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have any of these symptoms
Note the time you experienced your first symptom.
This information is important to your healthcare provider and can affect treatment decisions.
It’s time for a break. Nothing amuses me more than my favorite YouTube videos, Convos with My Two-Year-Old.
Watch for Dad’s reaction at the end. It’s priceless.
So I was steam-cleaning the shower; giving the house it’s Thanksgiving go-over.
I have an industrial-strength steamer that, when it’s fully rigged up, looks a lot like one of the bugs in Starship Troopers. It produces hot, hot steam in violent jets that dissolve dirt and slay bacteria with a single hiss.
I was running it with the squeegee attachment, going up and down the shower walls, steam coming out in an angry zzzzzzzz, my laboriously straightened hair collapsing into tight little curls, when my youngest son popped his head around the bathroom door.
“Whachadoin’?” he asked.
“Cleaning the shower.”
“I want you to come do that to my shower,” meaning, the shower in the house he shares with his brother, a shower so dirty that there’s no way to be sure what color the enamel might be; a shower so dirty that self-respecting bacteria moved out months ago; a shower so dirty that I wouldn’t use it to bathe a dog.
“Nope. But you can borrow the steamer.”
“But I want you to come do it.”
“All right then,” he said, wandering off.
I guess I’m responsible. After all, I raised him.
When he marries, I plan to begin my relationship with my new daughter-in-law by apologizing.