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.


About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

3 responses »

  1. Bion Schouten

    It won’t last forever….though it sometimes seems like it. The last days are hard on everyone. But, for some reason, we grow into dealing with them, even though it seems beyond our ability to deal with it. I would often wish they were shortened, but that would take away our satisfaction in knowing that we were tested, we were tried, and we overcame because we had the one thing that kept us able: the love of someone who loves us….


  2. Pingback: Team Wash Mom vs. Mom « My 91 Year Old Mom

  3. why'd i come in here? (kbean123)

    This was the funniest and most heartwarming post I’ve read in a long time! Thanks for sharing your family secret. Genuine. Sweet.



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