Hysterical Historical Holiday Solution

Guest blog by my wife, Melissa

Kenzie & Helen

Kenzie & Helen

Every year, we celebrate Christmas with Tom’s daughters (Tovi & Lissi), their husbands (Ty & Chris) and the six grandchildren (Thomas, Patrick, Fisher, Livi, Kenzie & Tyli) between Christmas and New Year’s.  Tom and I really get into the planning and have created some fun traditions for “Christmas RVA” that we know are on the kiddos “must do” list each year.

Every morning starts off with a hidden clue as to the magic the day will hold.  And, once all the kids are awake, they look for the clue, decipher it and announce the day’s plans (ex: outdoor ice-skating downtown, hot chocolate at the Jefferson Hotel, The Tacky Light Tours, etc.)  And, each year, in honor of Helen, the kids help plan a birthday party for her and decorate the cake.  She’ll be 95 this year! As of last year, we had to stop using individual candles as we were awfully close to a fire hazard at the 93rd celebration!

And, each year, we try to continue Helen’s legacy and love of history by sharing some of the experiences we know she would create for her great grandchildren if she could.  Last year, we visited Mount Vernon and the year prior, Monticello.  This year, we were considering Williamsburg (Note: For those of you who know Helen, you can rest assured we haven’t waited this long to share her love of all things colonial …  we all know and love Williamsburg dearly, but not everyone has seen it casting its candlelight spell during the holidays.)

Last year, the stars aligned and we were able to celebrate together for 6 days.  This year, we’ll have to condense our plans into 3 days which we anticipate to be quite the challenge.  So, this past weekend, we drove down to Wilmington to celebrate Lissi’s birthday and help with Tovi’s move, so we decided to do a little research with the kids.  Which activities would make the cut?  Ice skating and opening presents tied for first.  The “historical” trip ranked low (although they all said yes to Williamsburg if we had more time).

On our last night, as we were gathered around a fire at the Heffron’s and were revealing the results of the kids’ poll with Tovi & Lissi, we shared our dilemma.  Tom and I would have to find a way to fit in the historical experience because we knew we had to make Helen proud.

As everyone considered possible solutions, Kenzie (age 9) piped up with a straight face, “Helen’s historical.”

All eleven of us looked over at her and busted out laughing in unison … problem solved!

Get the Picture?

“Family members of someone with dementia grieve not only the loss of the person they know, but ultimately the death of someone they don’t know.”

- Amy Tucci is president and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America

(No Picture Needed Here)

While skimming the newspaper this morning, I came across an article by Amy Tucci.

Anything and everything about DEMENTIA and ALZHEIMER’S  screams out at me and stops me in my tracks.  So, even knowing I was about to leap headfirst into disturbing territory, I don’t mind telling you, Amy’s opening line caught me totally off guard.

After reading and rereading it, my immediate reflexive reaction was to grab a tissue and use it to soak up the tears that seemed to come out of nowhere. It ended up being a three tissue, crying-up-a-storm, event. I halfway expected a TV weatherman to appear and issue a warning to everyone in the world to take cover.

After what seemed like forever, the dark clouds moved on, and I was able to take the proverbial three deep breaths. The next thing I did was to try and get my arms around why that opening line packed the punch that it did, after all, I am a seasoned caregiver of four plus years. I have had plenty of time to come to grips with thoughts like the one above, not only with my mom, but with my dad and sister, too.

So, as I sat alone, trying to figure out what just happened, a welcome ray of sunlight entered the room, and the tiniest rainbow I have ever seen appeared just beyond the tip of my nose. No joke! It was a real honest to goodness miniature rainbow … just like in the Wizard of Oz, only small, small, small.

Get the picture? Do you hear Judy Garland singing in the background like I did?

Somewhere, over that little rainbow, I saw mom, not as who she was, or who she will inevitably be, but as she is now. OK, so she is not the mom I knew, but you know what, she makes up for that because of who she is!

On any given day, or moment, she will tell you she is six, or ten, or twenty-one, but never, never, ever ninety-four.

When asked, she’ll tell you her hair is green, or orange, or pink. The only thing for certain is that it is not pure white, which it is.

She is determined and passionate about her desire to marry me. She ask me if I will or would all the time. I deftly change the subject by pointing out something shiny.

She refers to me as her boy or her girl. She uses these words interchangeably, but I can live with that.

Whether I am her boy or her girl is of no concern, what matters is she knows I am hers and that her never ending love for me is the undeniable foundation of our relationship.

The best is when arrive with a, “Hey Momma, Momma, and she lights up and ask, “Is that you, Tom Laughon?” That’s a day maker!

She is joyful.

She is funny.

She doesn’t cry.

She sings made up songs like no one I have ever known. And, when I sing, or we sing together, she claps her hands and rocks to the beat.

She holds me so tightly that I have pry myself loose from her hugs. And, if truth be told, there are times I want her to keep me in her grip forever. You can feel the strength and determination that has allowed her to take a leading role her entire life.

See the little rainbow? Hear the music? Feel the beat? Life. Love. Reflection. Refraction. Real. Illusion. Always a continuous spectrum colors.

There is so much to be grateful for that lies between the “Family members of someone with dementia grieve not only the loss of the person they know” part and the, “but ultimately the death of someone they don’t know” part.

The infinite memories and full spectrum of emotions mom triggers, the rainbows she continues to create … fleeting though they may be … are real and are to be treasured.

Somewhere over the rainbow … when sunlight encounters tears …

Get the picture?

A Birthday Name Game

2014-06-13 20.48.51A guest blog post by my wife, Melissa.

One afternoon this week after work, I walk over to visit Helen.

Just before I slide open the glass door on the back porch, I take a long, deep breath.

It’s not that I am apprehensive or feel uncomfortable … I’ve been observing caregiving situations for as long as I can remember.  My parents and grandparents have instilled in me from a very young age a sense of respect and responsibility for elders.

It’s that I need all the energy that I can muster when I’m with Helen.  At 94 (weeks away from 95), I’ve learned that, although at times she thinks that she is 6 and wants to marry my husband (her son), she has the fiercest instincts of anyone I’ve ever met.

She will shut you out or allow you in or lash out at you (accompanied by an occasional bite) in a matter of seconds.  I’m mindful of the energy I bring into most situations, but I am acutely aware of how critical the energy factor is when I’m with Helen. So, as I’m inhaling at the door, I assume the “me” that I have found to be most effective with Helen … it’s the positive (but not perky), the strong (but not threatening), the kind (but not weak), the cautious (but not afraid) and always respectful me that my mother-in-law needs to feel safe.  So, I take a deep breath and I assume that role … for her.

Helen is sitting in her kitchen at a beautiful pine table made by her husband, Fred (that if you don’t put a tablecloth over, she scratches obsessively and there are the indentations to prove it).  The kitchen looks all at once familiar, yet very different, as all around us are the new caregiver’s belongings and ways of organizing … essential and most appreciated, but seemingly out of place at Cheswick, Helen’s historic (circa 1796) home.

I never know when I start a conversation with Helen, whether I’ll encounter the quick witted and all-knowing Helen or the Helen that asks when someone is going to take her home.  But, thanks to a lot of practice, I’ve learned to be quick on my feet and meet her wherever she is.

Me:  Hi, Helen!

Helen:  Hi, girl!

Me (while hugging Helen):  Hi, Helen … it’s Melissa … I’ve dropped by to see you.

Helen:  I love you.  Your hands are cold.  Give me those.  (She proceeds to blow and kiss them until she deems them warm enough to let go of.)

Me:  Well, I have exciting news.

Helen:  What is it? (Helen loves excitement and has more energy at 5:30 p.m. after a full day at the adult day center than I did at 10 a.m. after my second cup of coffee)

Me:

It is officially the Laughon birthday season.  Are you ready for all the birthday celebrations?

Helen:   I am always ready!

Me:  Well, let’s play a game.

Helen:  Ok, I’m ready (she sits up straighter in her chair).

Me: I’m going to give you hints and you’re going to guess who is having a birthday on Sunday.

Helen:  This Sunday? Ok, I’m ready.

Me:  The first is on November 16thand it’s a boy’s birthday.  He’s funny, he’s handsome and he belongs to you.

Helen:  He belongs to me!?!

Me:  Yes, ma’am.  And, he’s a great singer.

Helen:  (says nothing, but closes her eyes in concentration and nods her head slowly)

Me: And his name starts with a “T”.

Helen:  A “T” …  hmmm … (more concentration and I think I see a little smile)

Me:  Do you know who it is or do you want me to tell you? (giving her this option balances out the fun of this game that she consistently finds engaging but gives her an easy out that she will often take if she’s not sure of the answer)

Helen:  I know who it is … can you guess?

Me:  I think it’s Tom.

Helen:  How’d you know! Tom Laughon, my boy!

Me:  Yes, Helen, Tom’s birthday is Sunday.  We should practice singing Happy Birthday!

I start singing “Happy birthday to you” at the exact time that Helen sings “Jesus loves me this I know” and I smile, give her a squeeze and join in “for the Bible tells me so.”  When we finish, I tell her after Tom’s birthday is Lissi’s (her granddaughter).

Helen:  Claps her hands together and says, “I know that girl!”

Me:  And, Ty and Patrick have birthdays in November.  And, after that … the next birthday is on December 25 … who might that be?

Helen:  Hmmm (closes her eyes again in concentration)

Me:  December 25 … Christmas Day

Helen:  Me … Helen Douglas Martin Laughon … my birthday is Christmas Day.

 

Leader of the Brand

 

2014-11-01_16.18.15

Although the exact origins of the phrase “to a T” are unknown, and the fact that “T-shirt” is clearly at least 300 years too late, has no connection with the phrase and can’t be taken as a serious contender, our company’s Catch Your Limit T-shirt fits mom to a T.

TIP: If you read the opening sentence out loud, catch your breath before going any further. We don’t want to lose any readers or followers over this one long winded sentence.

My mom is right there at the top of my list of leaders who guided and helped me grow as a leader.

My dad and sister also share top billing in this regard!

What this means is that I won the Leadership Lottery when the stork decided to drop me off where it did.

I landed in the perfect place, with role models who had the courage to keep me, and the determination teach me the ways to of a true leader.

So, if other brands can have icons, celebrity endorsers, spokespersons, etc., I choose mom for Catch Your Limit. I say, when the shirt fits … wear it!

Unlike Betty Crocker, mom is for real.

Unlike a clown we all know, mom has been around and lasted longer than Ronald McDonald.

Unlike Tony the Tiger, mom’s actions speak louder than words. She didn’t just roar a sugarcoated, ‘They’re g-r-r-r-e-a-t!’  … she did whatever it took to lead people, teams and organizations to become g-r-r-r-e-a-t!.

When it comes to leadership, she still serves as the inspiration, the conscience and the guiding light for me and others who have been fortunate enough to have crossed paths with her.

When it comes to catching your limit, mom is the leader of the brand.

 

 

 

Ooga Booga Boogie

 Three things:

1. To my followers … you have noticed I have not blogged in a while.

Well, I am back in the saddle again, but there have been lots of changes since my last blog that have kept me going everywhere but to my blog.

Mom is doing well!

She has a new “Band of Angels”, full time caregivers, staying at home with her in shifts, and one of them is living there, so I don’t have to leave my home or wife to be with mom at night. The idea of consistently sleeping in our bed at home is like a dream come true.

The “Band of Angels” make sure Mom gets to and from Circle Center Adult Day Care Monday through Saturday … they feed her, dress her, undress her, and spoil her (and me) like you wouldn’t believe. This “Band of Angels” is up for any challenge and are truly a divine blessing for all concerned.  And, shout hallelujah, they get her where she needs to go in their very own chariots of fire, too.

They aren’t Charlie’s Angels … they are Tom’s Angels! They are Melissa’s Angels. They are Mom’s Angels.

Fact is, no matter what you call them, they come when you call … they are simply angels.

Oh, and a dog comes with ‘em … they call him Jovi. Mom calls him Woof Woof.

More about Woof Woof (who loves to nip at me and only me} later … if he last that long. Look for the headline, Man Bites Dog, and you’ll know I have had my revenge.

I’ll keep you posted on all the changes going on, but what I know for certain is mom’s still her incredible, joyful self (as you will see in the video that prompted my/our reappearance). That’s what it’s all about, and we are all so grateful.

2. I made mom’s image in this blog look bigger than life on purpose. She is the star of this video and deserves as big a screen as I can give her.

3. To set the stage, I took this video in one take in mom’s backyard a week or so ago.

I know, I know … why didn’t I take it horizontally?

Because I am stupid. I never remember until it’s too late, and in this case, I was not going to mess with this classic video one little bit … so vertical it is.

You can’t get more spontaneous than this … because, with camera rolling … I impulsively asked mom if she knew what Ooga Booga was and the rest is history in the making! You see, there is no Ooga Booga Boogie … no Ooga Booga song of any kind … that is, until now.

There is a Camp Ooga Booga. I should know, because Melissa and I created it. We made it up a long time ago for one selfish reason … it was a reason for Melissa’s and my six grand-kiddos to come and spend an entire week with us each and every summer, without their parents.

Don’t get me wrong, we love their parents (two of them happen to be my daughters), but to have the kiddos to ourselves was the whole idea!

The fact is Camp Ooga Booga has two one week sessions every summer. One session for the three boys. One session for the three girls. And, for the Official Ooga Booga Counselors, Melissa and Tom, two jam packed weeks of summer fun, laughs, adventures, surprises and love … each and every summer.

Camp Ooga Booga is a memory making machine and the memories stacked on top of each other are taller than the sky!

Camp Ooga Booga has morphed into a wonderful, look-forward-to, wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world, summer extravaganza for all involved. We have Ooga Booga t-shirts, Ooga Booga cheers and chants, Ooga Booga picture books … all sorts of Ooga Booga icons and stuff, but no Official Ooga Booga song … that is until now.

To kick start the video, I ask mom if she knows what my favorite camp is? I tell her it’s Ooga Booga. She has absolutely no clue what that is, but like a champ, she takes it from there. She is making everything up while I am trying not to make my camera shake from all the laughter that’s taking place inside my entire being. It’s taking all I’ve got, and then some, to keep from laughing out loud and spoiling this impromptu performance of a lifetime.

So, without further ado, how about a big round of applause for this 94 year old little stick of dynamite’s latest, sure-to-be-a-hit, song … ladies and gentlemen … the Ooga Booga Boogie!

PS – Getting up, standing on your chair and wildly flailing your arms to the beat is perfectly acceptable! Do you thing! Do the Ooga Booga Boogie!

Added Bonus http://my91yearoldmom.com/2011/07/08/lessons-from-camp-ooga-booga/

Blimey! My Mom’s a Pirate, Matey

Posted on

wpid-2014-06-23-18.56.50.jpg.jpeg

“Arrr, Polly! Aye be sendin’ ye down to Davey Jones’ Locker, aye be!” - Cap’n Salty Smirk

If truth be told, my Mom, is, was and always has been an old salt … the notorious pirate, Cap’n Salty Smirk.

And, from the looks of her salty smirk, she’s right up there with Anne Bonny and Mary Read!

She could carve out a skull and crossbones on the behinds of Johnny Depp and Keith Richards with her cutlass, and ruffle the feathers of her pet parrot, Polly, to boot.

I mean, my 94 year old mom is one mean pirate machine. Wherever she goes, it’s sure to be an adventure waiting to happen.

And, it’s no telling what Cap’n Salty Smirk & Polly’s next adventure will be!

Now It’s Your Turn at the Wheel, Me Hearties!

This is where I’m handing my blog over to you, matey, because I believe this picture of Mom is worth a thousand words … your words, not mine. In fact, I call her picture a treasure chest waiting to be pried open … not just any treasure chest, but the motherload!

So, my challenge is for you to make up a pirate’s tale using Mom’s picture as your inspiration. Give it a beginning, middle and end and then post it as a comment.

I’ll share your yarns and figure out some way to pick a winner (Peoples Choice, Mom’s Pick, Polly’s Pick, Davey Jones’ Pick, etc.).

Enter the Cap’n Salty Smirk & Polly Contest, and/or pass it along to someone you know is a great tall tale teller.

What are the rules?

There are no rules. After all … we’re pirates!

Godspeed!

Yo Ho, my friends I have a tale
Of treasure, plunder, swashbucklin’ and sail
My story’s bigger than a whale
It gets so deep, ye’ll have to bail.

Chorus
I’m Cap’n Salty Smirk! That I be!
I sail me ship upon the sea!
I stay up late – till half past three!
And that’s a peg below me knee!

 

 

 

 

“Step Mom”

Posted on

Mom's Short Sermon

Grounded.

Yep, I have permanently grounded Mom, but it’s not for bad behavior, goodness no!

It’s because our family unanimously agreed she should no longer have to climb thirteen steps to get to the second floor of her old (1796) colonial farmhouse where her living room, eating area and bedroom are located.

The same goes for going down thirteen steps to get to street level.

So, Melissa and I transformed the family room on the first floor into Mom’s new bedroom; the dinning room into her living room; and a small space in the kitchen for her to dine. All the rooms, including a bathroom, are within just a few steps of each other.

No more climbing steps. Mom will be my “Step Mom” no more.

“Step Mom” is what I nicknamed her after writing Sky High Climber in March of 2013, because she could take those steps like she was ascending or descending the tallest mountains on earth … no fear … no complaints. She was like a windup toy. Wind her up and she would grab the handrails and just keep step, step, stepping until she reached her destination.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King

As she approached the stairwell, she would ask me if I thought she could do it. I would say, “Absolutely, you can do it, Mom”.  And, with that, she just did it! There was never any hesitation or a time she refused. Never.

I was with her every step of way. She would never, nor would I ever let her use those stairs alone. I was always there to steady her or catch her if needed, but I never had to do either.

My family has wanted me to move Mom down to the first floor for a long time. I was the lone holdout. For that, I have been challenged, questioned or gently nudged many times over.

I understand and respect everyone’s concerns. I know all the safety reasons why Mom shouldn’t be walking up and down those steps. And, I am sure you are making mental notes of your reasons, too.

I just couldn’t give in. I literally couldn’t. I just didn’t want to see another chapter in Mom’s life come to an end.

All of her strength, determination,will power, grace and style … all of what defines what Mom is made of, who she is, was exemplified in those precious moments it took to walk those 13 steps together.

And, as always, she did it with a smile. She counted every step out loud. We celebrated each one she made, as well as every time she reached her destination. “You did it, Mom … you did it!”

Now, all of that … along with too much more, becomes a memory.

Mom has slept in her new bed downstairs for five nights now. Fortunately for her, she hasn’t realized she is in a new place. She had slept in her upstairs bedroom for forty-some years. She had been climbing those steps, including the ones to the third floor, all those years, too.

She doesn’t realize she is in a tiny twin bed versus her beautiful mahogany four poster canopy bed dad made for the two of them when I was just a kid.

She doesn’t know the difference in her grand, formal living room and her newly converted living area.

The only thing she hasn’t forgotten is her smile … her sense of joy.

Mom is happy where she is.

And, for this, I am happy.

For all I can’t forget, and will have no more, I am crying.

We’ve climbed a lot of steps together, “Step Mom” and me. And, together, with our heads in the clouds and our feet on the ground … we will continue our climb.

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” - Greg Child

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 767 other followers

%d bloggers like this: