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.