Monthly Archives: June 2011

The South Will Rise Again

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On our drive to adult day care (a.k.a. mom’s workplace, where she lends a helping heart and hand to those in need), mom and I sing songs.

And I mean when we sing songs, we sing with the volume turned up to TEN!

I think, even with the windows rolled up, folks in other cars can see ours rocking and rolling and hear us loud enough to clap and sing along.

This is nothing new. As a family, we sang together like this our entire lives. I sang baritone, dad was the tenor, my sister, Nel, was the soprano and mom the alto.

Together, we made a joyful noise.

It made for good times and shorter trips.

With mom and me the only two in the family choir left standing, we have to make up for the missing harmonies with volume, and with that said, we don’t miss a beat!

One of mom’s favorite songs is Dixie. She sings it like she is standing at full attention and saluting.

However, when she gets to the “live and die in Dixie” part she stops us both from singing, looks at me with a worried look on her face and says, “I just don’t like that part!”

That’s my prompt to say, “Mom, what don’t you like about it?”

She says, “I don’t like the … you know … the die part.”

“Well, how about we sing, “live and live in Dixie?” I suggest.

She smiles with one of her patented light-up-the-world smiles and shouts, “You’ve got it! You are so good, so smart. You are my bestest friend in the whole world. You know everything. I love you so much.”

She repeats, “To live and live in Dixie!”

Then we sing it again with that one BIG change. And, you know what? It gives a whole new meaning to an old, old song.

At the end of the song mom raises both arms skyward and says, “I love that song. I love the south. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love living in the south … it’s called Dixie! To live and live in Dixie.”

It’s comforting to know the South will rise again tomorrow, same time, same place … driving mom to work.

My Side Note:

Mom was born in 1919 and raised in Richmond, Virginia, lived in Front Royal and Norfolk, Virginia before moving to Orangeburg, South Carolina and then Gainesville, Florida before coming full circle back to Richmond in 1970.

So, mom, and all of our family for that matter, have only lived in our beloved South.

There is something about the South that gets in your blood and does wonders for your heart and soul.

Thanks for being with mom and me on our journey. Please share your comments, insights and thoughts.

Oh, and please share mom’s and my blog with a friend.

The more on board, the merrier. 

Who Threw In The Towel?

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In my last two posts, The Dirt on My Mom and Team Wash Mom vs. Mom, I gave you a ringside seat to watch the competition between mom and the staff at her day care. The competition pits professionals who know how to bathe and change clothes for folks who, for whatever reason(s), just don’t want to be bathed or to change clothes.

My mom is one of those folks.

Even though she is not a professional like the staff is, she sure knows what she does or doesn’t like to do. And when Helen Douglas Martin Laughon does not like something she has the fortitude, strength and determination to do what she damn well pleases. She stands only 4 foot tall, but cast one mighty intimidating shadow. Oh, and did I mention her voice, when agitated, sounds like a drill sergeant barking orders at new recruits.

Last week, the staff did wash and change mom, but they admitted it was so challenging that they really didn’t do a good job with either. And, mom was the last person standing and still flailing when it was halted before the tasks were properly completed.

So, the referee announced round one was a draw.

Today was supposed to be round two.

Guess what?

Team Wash Mom, after powwowing in the locker room,  just up and forfeited. Yep, the pros threw in the towel before the bell even rang to begin round two.

Their rationale was that they had traumatized mom and mom had traumatized them in the first go round and that they needed two or thee weeks to develop a more trusting relationship and environment before giving it another shot.

Now, I have two or three weeks to go where angels feared to tread.

Mr. Clean (that’s my new, improved, Super Hero persona) is going to take on the greatest challenge ever.

Maybe, with your help, ideas and encouragement, we can do what Team Wash Mom has yet to prove they can do.

“There were too many challenges to enumerate….Good way to grow up, though! Never thought I’d survive, lol, but I did, and the better for it. Obstacles in life are the challenge. Without the challenge, we are empty shells. After overcoming the challenges, we are empowered either by God’s grace, or the devils illusions, depending on how we overcame them. It is 10 years behind me now. Enough to have some insight. My mom was 93.”  – Bion Schouten

Bion, thanks for being with me every step of the way. I am so blessed to have you as my friend. – Tom

Team Wash Mom vs. Mom

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If you read my last post, “The Dirt on My Mom”, you know we gave the staff at mom’s day care the ultimate challenge: Clean Mom!

In order for them to accomplish the mission, I suggested they recruit a sumo wrestler and call up the National Guard.

After much deliberation, the staff decided to go it alone … after all, they are professionals.

So here’s what happened.

Round one was hard fought from the get go by two worthy opponents, both road tested and ring worthy … bathtub ring that is.  And, both were hell bent and determined to win.

It was obvious from the look in the eyes of the competitors, no one was going to be throwing in the towel or waving surrender.

After both sides tested the waters, it got pretty down and dirty. And, although Team Wash Mom did technically wash and change mom, mom continued to prove she was in it to win it!

She countered their every move both physically and verbally with a “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” mindset.  Thanks to her instincts, wit and determination, the whole washing experience left a lot to be desired and TWM knew it.

It was not their finest moment.

When the bell rang to signal the end of round one, the referee called it (dramatic pause) a draw!

Team Wash Mom, both weary and wary, was just thankful that there would be a round two, and that it would be scheduled one whole week afer round one. That would give them plenty of time to refresh and rethink their strategy and tactics before giving it another go.

No matter how much I warned them about my mom, her cunning and willpower, they obviously underestimated her … to them she was ninety-one and they had met this challenge with many a nonagenarian prior to her. Next time around they would be more prepared.

In the meantime, I shared in “The Dirt on My Mom” post that I had taken on the role of the new, improved Super Hero, Mr. Clean!

My mantra is , “Fight Dirty! Keep It Clean!”

In order to clean up this old world of ours (as well as my mom) my super strategy was to incorporate the help of other Super Heroes, and the staff at mom’s adult day care are indeed Super Heroes. They are amazing!

You have to be a special breed of humans to be caregivers. Their biggest challenge they have is taking time to care for themselves, because of how much time they devote to caring for others. I love and respect you Super Heroes, one and all.

I have adopted the classic Mr. Clean jingle from commercials produced way back in the fifties as my OFFICIAL Super Hero theme song.

Mom would have been in her thirties and I would have been in elementary school when this was bouncing out of TV screens everywhere.

Come to think of it, that’s about the time we got our first television set.

Time flies when you’re singing Super Hero songs and having good clean fun!

That’s all for now.

I’ll be ringside for round two to give you a blow-by-blow commentary and share with the world the referee’s decision.

My prediction is this competition is far from over.

The Dirt on My Mom

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All family stories have to have a little dirt to make them true to life.

My mom has never smoked, drank or cursed (until recently, but that’s another blog). She doesn’t have a hidden tattoo, or man for that matter, in her life. But, there is one little family secret that I will share.

I just as soon come clean now rather than put it off ‘til later.

My 91 year old mom doesn’t like to change clothes or take a bath. In fact, “doesn’t like” is too weak a descriptive.

Helen Douglas Martin Laughon “hates” to change clothes or take a bath. There … the dirty little secret is out!

If you are brave enough or crazy enough to challenge her, sweet talk her, or try to outsmart her, you better be packing. She is one volatile little stick of dynamite when it comes to these subjects. In fact, dynamite and my mom have two things in common. For one, they are both downright explosive. And, two, neither takes to water.

Mom’s doctor said that in order to avoid a heart attack, just let her be. After all, she’s ninety-one, he reminded me. Alarmed, I asked the doctor if mom was in danger of having a heart attack and he said, “Not her, Tom, you!”

Others including professional caregivers have tried to change and bathe mom and failed. Most of us in the family have tried and failed, too.

I have finally gotten up enough courage to change her clothes, including underwear, on a daily basis, although she still sleeps in her skirt and blouse-of-the-day at night.

In order to pull it off, I don’t think of myself as Helen’s son. I think of myself as the new, improved Super Hero, Mr. Clean! I am here to save the day. I am the quick change artist of the universe … I am Mr. Clean!

It’s not easy to be the quick change artist of the universe. First mom says no to anything I show her to change into, and then she mutters unmentionables (this is where the cursing started appearing) while I change her into my pick-of-the-day. Then ends she says, in no uncertain terms, “I’ll do this today, but this is the last time. And, I am running away to Florida and never coming back.”

Thank goodness mom’s short term memory doesn’t allow her to remember what she said today tomorrow. So, I have to remember she’s thinking it for the first time every time. I’m the one who has to hear it over and over again. And it puts the fear of God in me each and every time. No joke.

I’m starting to think Florida might not be such a bad idea. They just don’t wear that many clothes down there, and … it rains a lot. Could be a blessing.

Now that mom goes to adult day care four days a week, we have more than just me on the case. For two weeks, several of the staff and I held top secret meetings and have strategized on how they are going to give her a bath, with the goal being at least once a week from now on. They have learned just how high assertive my little mom is and are very concerned about their own health and well being. So pre-planning is mission critical.

My suggestion was to bring in a sumo wrestler.

Theirs was to tell her she won a trip to a spa.

Mom has never been to a spa in her life.  I am sticking with the sumo wrestler.

Anyway, today is the DAY.

We have collected all the items on the following list to give to Team Wash Mom for the task at hand:

  • Hairbrush, comb
  • Underpants, bra, slip
  • Dress or slacks & top
  • Sweater
  • Stockings, socks & shoes
  • Deodorant
  • Depends, Attends

Payment ($12.00 check – NO CASH)

Heck, I’ll quadruple that if Team Wash Mom really does wash mom!

After reading the list, it sounds like I need to bring mom to adult day care naked this morning.

I don’t feel too concerned about that, after all, they are all adults!

A few years ago, my two daughters, Tovi and Lissi, decided to have an intervention with my mom and sister in terms of them not bathing or changing clothes on a regular basis. Tovi and Lissi had traveled all the way from Wilmington, North Carolina for the showdown at the Not-So-OK-Corral in Richmond, Virginia and were ready to rock and roll.

Tovi, my oldest, minced no words when she kicked off the intervention with, “Gra-ma, you and Nel are dirty.”

My sister, Nel asked, “Do we stink?”

Tovi answered, “yes” and Lissi and I supported that with affirmative nods.

Nel’s eyes locked on Tovi’s and she shot back, “Girls … we … are … hippies.”

And that was the end of the intervention.

So, with that history lesson in mind, today is going to be mighty interesting. The only thing I would add to my suggestion of having a sumo wrestler on Team Wash Mom is the National Guard and mom’s doctor.

Somebody is going to have a heart attack, and I’d bet the farm that it won’t be mom.

Never forget, my 91 year old mom … is … a … hippie.

Digging Deeper

On a closing note, when I shared the draft of this blog with my girls, Tovi emailed her response about the day she and Lissi came to Richmond for the “intervention”.

She wrote, “I had never cried so hard in my life. All Lissi and I came to Richmond to do was to try to vacuum a little, straighten up and see if they (Mom and Nel) would just change their clothes a little more often. And, we wanted to make sure they were eating OK. It is not a good memory. It was one of the worst days of my life.”  

I read a really good article by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief of ElderCarelink on this subject. It really helped me get my mind and heart around it. It not only gave me some new perspectives, it comforted me in learning we as a family are not the only ones facing these challenges. The title is Hygiene Is a Sore Point for Many Caregivers – When Is Poor Hygiene a Health Issue for the Elder? 
I will be interested in your comments and thoughts. And, yes, I will share the outcome of today with all of you. I know you are as interested in knowing what happened as I am.


Mom’s New Baby

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Sometime in November of last year, my wife, Melissa, bought a baby doll  from Target  to give to my mom as a gift. She thought it would occupy mom’s time and give her something to do besides torment my sister, Nel, who was (after five plus years of a losing battle with Early Onset Alzheimer’s) in the final, horrific stages.

Nel got extremely agitated at mom for hanging on to her and wanting all of her attention. Mom wanted her buddy, sidekick and constant companion, but  the Nel mom knew was long gone.

Nel wanted peace. She didn’t know what was happening to her, but knew it was serious. She would ask in broken, disjointed words and phrases, “What’s wrong with me? I have been a good girl. What’s wrong?” The tears in her eyes asked the questions. She was terrified, desperate for the answers that were lost to us all.

Nel kept asking me to take her away from mom and from the home mom and she had lived together in since 1972. She would whisper, that she couldn’t take any of it anymore. When I would drive her down to the river, she would just say thank you, over and over and over. The fact is, she didn’t know where she was, but she did know she was away from mom … for a brief time, it would mean needed peace.

The fact is, both Nel and mom needed each other and in earlier times would have each been able to stand tall for the other. But, those times had passed. Nel didn’t understand mom and mom didn’t understand Nel. For the first time in their lives, there was tension between them like none of us as family had ever seen, or even knew how to begin to comprehend. It was as inexplicable as it was devastating. Our world, as we knew it, was gone.

From the instant Melissa handed mom the baby, Mom held it in her arms, cuddled it and talked baby talk to it for hours. It gave her something to hang on to besides Nel and that baby doll gave mom something Nel couldn’t .. its undivided attention.

We thought it was a godsend, but one of our caregivers at the time thought the doll was demeaning to a woman of mom’s stature.

So, in deference to the caregiver, the baby went into hiatus until Nel passed away in April and the caregivers were told we couldn’t afford them any longer. When they walked, we resurrected the baby doll.

Tovi, my daughter and the mother of four of the coolest kids/grandkids ever, gave us support and feedback that backed our plan to give the baby a try, again.

As a caregiver, not only for her kids, but for an elderly lady in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tovi had observed the positive impact  baby dolls had on  a variety of women with dementia. I Googled the subject and there was plenty of evidence to back Tovi’s findings.

In spite of our intuition, Tovi’s take and Google’s last word, this particular doll  gives me the willies. Its “skin” is just way too pinkish, too soft and too pliable. It looks like Baby Cadaver to me. My word for it is squishy. And, even though its blue eyes don’t/can’t blink, they seem to stare at you – no, through you – no matter how you look at them, whether from the front or the sides … willies, willies, willies!

Well, since the day that squishy little Cadaver Doll was introduced to mom, she has adopted it unconditionally. She sits with it, sleeps with it and most of all talks to it in pure baby talk babble. The two of them have become mother and child and genuine pals. And, though the baby is creepy to me, it makes mom smile, gives her something to nurture and most of all, it engages her and occupies her time for hours.

If you suspect jealousy in my life, just call it envy. I can’t keep mom’s attention, interest and connection as well as that, well, Cadaver Baby.

When I walk up to mom’s big soft chair, while she’s holding the baby, she’ll look up at me and say, “Look at this little girl! Ain’t she boo-ti-ful?!”

And, my reply is always the same, “Yep, mom … she is the most boo-ti-ful baby I have ever seen (gag me with a spoon).”

Mom’s two word reply is always the same, too. “That’s right.” Then she just rocks that little ungodly creature in her arms and kisses its forever-bald-head over and over and over. She’ll whisper to the doll, “You have been my little baby for a long time.” And the doll fixes its eyes on mom’s as if to say, “right on mom,” and then shifts to mine as to say in no uncertain terms, “me … not you, big man.”

We have asked mom to name the baby, and she always turns it around and asks what we think the name should be. I named it something like “Good Looking”  once, but none of us could remember it.

Mom told me a couple of times she wanted to name the baby after me.  But since I am not the father, since it wears a pink dress, and since it gives me the willies, I put my foot down on that one.

Last night, while mom was eating supper, with the doll propped up on the table next to her plate, I asked her what her doll’s name was for the umpteenth time. She looked at me and said, what do you think it is?

For whatever reason, I looked down at her plate. She had only two things left on it after devouring everything else in record time  … some butter beans and chicken. By the way, mom really does love her food.

Well, the first thought that came to mind was, no matter how I feel about that baby, we can’t name it Chicken.

So, the only other choice left on the plate was Butter Bean. I suggested it to mom, and without hesitation, she picked up the doll, rocked it in her arms and whispered, “Butter Bean, that’s you, precious. You are my little Butter Bean! What cha think about that, little boo-ti-ful?”

It was such a surreal moment,, I was literally anticipating an answer from the little twirp. After a short pause I said, “Mom, let’s name her Queen Butter Bean!”

Without missing a beat, Mom held Butter Bean close to her lips and said, “You are a queen, little girl! You are the queen!”

For the first time since it had come into our lives, I joined mom and we were smiling ear to ear at that baby.

Quickly living up to her new name, Queen Butter Bean bestowed happiness and joy on both of us. She had a name, and it was a boo-ti-ful thing.

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