My Drug Addict Family Member and the Witching Hour

Witchinghour32

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.

Pope Francis to Youth: Grandparents are Vital. Cherish the Elderly.

My kids adore their grandmother.

The word “dote” wouldn’t be too strong to describe their attitude toward her. It’s a mutual doting. She tells me constantly how “brilliant, sweet, generous and good” they are. They, in turn, seem to not mind one bit doing the yeoman labors of making sure she takes her medicine, gets her meals and is constantly looked after.

Caring for an elderly parent is not all that difficult when the grandkids stop their rounds of work, dates and classwork to take on far more than their fair share of the tending. It amuses me no end that the first person they introduce their girls to is my mother. She always knows all about their date lives, while I am usually far behind on the information curve.

They feel so strongly about their grandmother, that when I tried to take on more of her care — in the mistaken idea that I was lifting  a burden off them — they protested loud and long.

MP900309163

I felt much the same about my own grandmother. Grandparents are a healthy relief from the intensity of the parent-child relationship. They give a safe place for kids to spread their wings in the relatively low-key and tolerant atmosphere of adoring grandparents. I remember once my mother told me “we don’t do homework at my house,” when I asked her to make sure the boys did some sort of schoolwork that needed doing at the time. I don’t remember if my lower jaw hit the floor or not, but I do remember the amusement I felt when she said that.

I had the urge to tap her on the forehead and ask, “Mama, are you in there?”

This clearly was not the same woman who had raised me.

And, of course, that was true. She wasn’t the same woman who had raised me. At that point, I was the one on the hot seat. I was the parent with the task of shaping these babies of mine into responsible, productive adults who could earn their living and found families of their own one day.

My mother had done her time in the parental labor yard, and now she was deep into that other role of Grandparent. It was not her job to make sure they did their homework, and she wasn’t going to do it. Her job was to adore them and give them the unalloyed love and adoration that only a grandparent can.

Judging by their attitude today, when she’s a little bit dotty and a whole lot in need of unalloyed love and adoration herself, she did well.

00 pope francisco 21 07 13

Pope Francis spoke of this beautiful and unique contribution that grandparents make to the welfare of their grandchildren yesterday, on the feast of Joachim and Anna, who were Jesus’ grandparents. We often think of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as a totally isolated unit. But in truth, they existed within a community of relations and kinsmen, as do people in the Middle East, even today.

Scriptures mention this in the story of Jesus getting separated from Mary and Joseph when He stayed back to teach at the Temple when He was 12. There are oblique mentions of it later in His life when the Scriptures reference His mother’s relations, as well as His “brothers,” which is to say His kinsmen. Again, even today in the Middle East, people call their kinsmen, including cousins and more distant relations, “brothers.”

Sts anne et joachim

We don’t have specific information about how Joachim and Anna lived out their grandparent role in Jesus’ life, but since God had chosen to be born to this particular girl who was part of this particular family, I think it’s a good guess that they did it well. After all, these were the people who raised Our Lady. That’s a powerful testament to their child-rearing abilities.

Pope Francis emphasized on the flight from Rome to Rio earlier this week that the elderly are as important to the future of the Church as the young. There is a symmetry to life and this Latin American pope seems well aware of it. Traditional families, based on a mother and a father, and backed up with the loving help and support of the generation before them, are the best, most stable and healthy way to nurture and guide children from birth to adulthood.

People who grow up in this environment have learned the value of all people at various stages of life by seeing that value acted out in their own families. They’ve learned love by being loved. They acquired stability by growing up in stable homes. They’ve been supported, first by their parents and then by their grandparents who could pitch in and broaden their experiences and also fill the gaps in their experience that parents could not reach.

I had many of the most profoundly shaping conversations of my childhood with my grandmother. She had time to just sit and listen to my childish rambles that my mother and father did not. She was removed from the pressures of getting it all done and could give me her undivided attention for hours at a time. I basked and flowered in the soft sunlight of this attention.

My mother did the same thing for my kids. And now, just as I adored my grandmother, they adore her.

My youngest son drives a pick-up that sits high off the ground. When he wants to take his 88-year-old Amah out for a spin, he picks her up like she weighs no more than a potato chip and lifts her onto the seat. Then, off they go on a ramble.

She invariably comes back all aglow, telling me “that boy is the sweetest thing.”

I was setting up some work on my house yesterday. The lady who took my order was here for a while, measuring and writing down the particulars. I got calls from my kids who were at work and my mother who was at adult day care all through my discussion with this lady. I didn’t think anything about it. They call me all the time.

Images

But as we were winding up our discussion the lady taking the order said, “Do you know how blessed you are?”

I said yes. And I do know. But it was lovely to have her remind me.

The generations, young to old, are good. The Holy Father is right: We should cherish the elderly, for they are vital to us and our well-being.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X