Category Archives: aging parent

My Mom is 92!

As of Christmas Day, my 91 year old mom is 92!

My wife (Melissa), daughters (Tovi and Lissi), son-in-laws (Chris & Ty), grandkids (Thomas, Patrick, Fisher, Livi, Kenzie and Tyli), and I all celebrated her birthday in grand style.

Five of the grand kids each stuck 15 candles into a homemade chocolate cake (mom’s favorite) and one got to finish it off with 17.

When we lit the cake to present it to mom, not only did the room light up like a fireworks finale on the Fourth of July, the temperature in the entire house heated up at least ten degrees! I thought Smokey the Bear would appear any minute and say, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

And, let me tell you, mom blew those candles out like nobody’s business. After 91 years of blowing out an ever increasing number of candles, today would be a piece of cake. This lady was on a mission! Practice made perfect.

Those 92 candles made quite an impression on all of us, especially the kids. They now know what 92 looks and feels like. It looks like a humongous bright, shining light, and makes you feel warm all over. It is so very special.

And, the taste? Delicious as a homemade chocolate cake! A taste none of us will ever forget.

We asked mom how old she was and she said, “I don’t know, how old am I?”

When we shouted 92 in unison, she shot back, “I am not. I am no such thing.”

And … one thing we all knew, no matter what age we were … never challenge a lady about her age … especially this one!

With all the commotion going on, we didn’t have time to ask mom what her wish was when she blew out the candles. Besides, her wish was already coming true right before our eyes.

Both of her little hands were grabbing hold of that chocolate cake before we could even take what was left of the smoking candles from the forest fire out, cut and serve it. Chocolate was all over her mouth, but it didn’t stop her from asking for more! All she could say between bites was, ” This is the best cake I have ever tasted in the whole wide world … and that’s it.”

As for our blog being called My 91 Year Old Mom,  it will remain the same until I can figure out how to change the domain name (which was my original idea) and not confuse mom’s ever growing universe of followers.

Just know my mom is now officially 92, no matter what she or the blog title says.

And, I for one will never challenge what she says except in the safe place this blog has become … and that’s  it!

Stay connected, there is sure to be a whole lot more I’ll share with you on my mom’s and my ever unfolding journey of a lifetime.

It’s My Party …

A Special Visitor on Mom's Birthday

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

Cry if I want to, cry if I want to

You would cry too, if it happened to you

Me: Mom, you are 92 years old, today! What does it feel like to be born on Christmas Day?

Mom:  I cried. Every Christmas I cried.

Me: Why mom?
Mom: Because everybody got presents on my birthday, and I never got presents on theirs.
PostScript: Well, our family can’t wipe away 91 years worth of tears, but we sure do know how to throw a party-without-tears.
Join the fun at My Mom is 92!

Mom’s Short Takes

Mom’s Short Takes are an ever changing collection of mom’s take on life, precisely as she sees it on any given day or moment.  You’ll find them on the right side bar of the blog.

They are quick reads and you’ll discover they are often worth sharing!

Here’s Mom’s Short Take from this morning when I was walking her to the car. She was loving the day, the sun, the clouds and the cacophony of sounds the birds always bring her way.

I stopped and pointed to a huge old oak tree and said, “That’s a giant tree isn’t it, mom? And it’s been around just going and growing a whole lot longer than either of us have.”

She looked at it, covering her eyes from the glare of the sun and said in an almost spiritual way, “It surely has, son.” And as she looked all the way to the top she added, “I wonder what can go all the way up there? I mean all the way to the top of that big old tree!”

For whatever reason, I said, “Monkeys!”

She didn’t laugh or crack a smile (like I was doing). She just nodded and said, “You’re right on that one. Monkeys could do it.”

Later, as I was driving mom to her adult daycare (that I call Mom’s Magic Kingdom), mom said, out of the blue, “You know what I want for Christmas?”

“Nope,” I responded, only half listening.

“Monkeys. That’s all I want. Monkeys.”

Stay tuned! There are always more Mom’s Short Takes where this one came from. 

By Turning, Turning, It Comes ‘Round Right

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I wrote my first post for this blog, A Gift to be Simple, May 22 of this year in order to begin capturing in writing a strange, new, mysterious, yet wonder filled journey for both my mom, my family and me.

After the death of my dad, Fred, in 2002 and younger sister, Nel on March 28, 2011, mom and I were the last two of the core Laughon family still standing. In addition, my two daughters and their families live in Wilmington, North Carolina.

A little over a year ago, hand in hand with my wife, Melissa, I moved back to Richmond from Tallahassee, Florida, where I had become the poster boy for “Life is Good” for 15 years. The primary reason for the move back was to be able to provide the kind of ever increasing care and attention my mom and sister were requiring.

Our marriage, our business, and our teaching at Florida State University all happened while living in Tallahassee.

Melissa and I were growing a great little management consulting firm, Catch Your Limit, and had lots of flexibility and freedom to create and live a good life/work balance, were adventurous travelers (business and pleasure), avid outdoor enthusiasts, and had a lifestyle and friendships that were of the highest order.

Oh, did I also mention our big, audacious goal was to become the world’s greatest couple!? And, nothing that we couldn’t manage, was stopping us from achieving it. It was within our reach and that was exhilarating.

Then came the Great Change! Even though Melissa and I prided ourselves on the work we’d done guiding organizations through major transformational change challenges as well as helping develop leadership skill sets on leading change, we had no idea what was about to hit us.

The Great Change short, overwhelming list:

  • Putting our home on the market and discovering we would probably get only two-thirds of what it had been worth.
  • It’s still on the market.
  • Having to put an end to one of the most gratifying, rewarding experiences of our lives, teaching (and learning) at Florida State University for ten years. And for a Florida Gator to say he loved that school, is really saying something.
  • Having a disastrous move compliments of United Van Lines. If you want your belongings converted into puzzle pieces, go United!
  • Saying goodbye to a community where we had developed strong roots and a reputation for being entrepreneurial,  trusted advisers, innovative thinkers and most of all leaders and doers.
  • Telling our staff we were leaving them behind knowing we were the primary reason they were with our firm in the first place.
  • None of them came with us and have sense moved on to places as near as Tampa and far away as Seattle.
  • Having to build brand awareness and gain traction for our firm in Richmond in what continues to be a stuttering, fraught with uncertainty, economy.
  • Melissa moving from the only two states she has ever lived in, Georgia and Florida where all of her family and friends are, to a city that is four to five times larger than any she had ever lived in and a long, long way, even as the crow flies, from home.
  • The uncertainties of care giving and the realization that flexibility and freedom comes with a huge price tag not to mention the emotional cost.

Just reading this short list has me hyperventilating and looking for cover or my blankie!

Don’t panic (I am whispering this to you and me)!

This post is all about celebrating that we are:

  • Loving Richmond and the region (Melissa even loves the snow)
  • Way closer to my daughters and grand kids
  • Establishing awareness and gaining traction for our consulting firm and discovering that there is a lot more opportunities for business in our new backyard then we had
  • Learning how to be stronger, better prepared, caregivers
  • Facing tumultuous change with everything we have in us
  • Learning how to lead and deal with change better than ever
  • Finding that there are plenty of teaching opportunities when the time is right
  • Still committed to being the world’s greatest couple
  • In the midst of it all, sticking with the blog

I am really, really proud of us. This journey is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination!

You have to have heart, courage, faith and the ability/flexibility to change on a dime. You have to have a powerful sense of self as well as a powerful sense of humor. You have to quickly learn from your missteps, failings and mistakes and move fast forward.

To say we have had our share of rough patches is an understatement. We bought an off road jeep as a symbol for just how rough a journey we are own.

I had no idea the scope of this journey or where it would take us, but it is leading Melissa and me to explore places and things we have never experienced before and to see old places and things in a whole new light. It is giving me a glimpse of what I am made of and that is not always a pretty sight. And, it is also giving me a glimpse of who I am hell bent and determined to be and that is a better me.

That part has me more excited and determined to move forward than anything.

The key is to keep going and growing. Giving up is not an option.

Even with the ups and downs, twist and turns age and dementia bring our way, mom and I continue to learn, love and respect each other. And that goes for Melissa, my daughters, the grandkids as well.

No matter how complicated the challenges, the purpose is simple. Try to give back what was given to you, because what goes ’round comes ’round.

I keep hearing my mom and sister singing in the back of my head. ” To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

It is a gift, that if given unconditionally, forms a circle … the circle of life.

The lyrics to the song, A Gift to Be Simple, featured in my first post, are worth a mouse click to read and reread.

The more I revisit it, the more I believe this old Shaker hymn represents my family’s credo.

But, before you go there, click on this old video Melissa took on Thanksgiving day, 2008.

It features Mom, my sister, Nel and me  singing A Gift to Be Simple. Guess which two know the lyrics by heart and which one needs a little help! That’s been the story of my life!

Singing is what we did as a family from as far back as I can remember. I find comfort in being able to close my eyes and hear my dad’s tenor, mom’s alto, Nel’s soprano and my baritone voices singing in perfect four part harmony. It is how we lived our lives together.

In Nel’s intro to the song, she mentions (many times) Tovi and Lissi. They are my daughters that I mentioned earlier. They grew up in Richmond and even though our home was a couple of miles from my parents and sister’s, the walls between them were nonexistent and the girls basically grew up in two homes that had no boundaries … particularly when it came to love.

Those were harmonious, joyful times.

My parents gave us all a gift to be simple rooted in core values that were all about the joy of giving, loving, learning, creativity and accountability.

And, what we as a family are learning as we look mortality in the face … as we see it, smell it, taste it, hear it and feel it is that it is life. It is part of the wondrous circle.

Keep singing.

Keep turning.

Keep the circle going ’round and ’round.

Keep us in your prayers.


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Mom is, has been and always will be, hell bent and determined to do it her way, to follow the strength of her convictions and I pity the fool who stands in her way.

Her role model and father, Dr. Berkley Hancock Martin, was like that, too.

My grandfather would summons me by issuing his usual three word command, “Come here, boy.”  And, believe you me, I would come running.

He would grab me in arms that could hold the universe, lift me high in the air, then bring me back to earth, plop me on his knee and say, “Boy, always look someone right in the eyes. If that person doesn’t look back into yours, forget them … don’t trust them … they aren’t worth it.”

He sounded like what I think God must sound like. Powerful, all knowing and sure.

“Yes sir, PaPa,” I would say … while making sure my eyes were fixed on his. I didn’t even dare blink.

He frightened my younger sister, Nel.

He gave me comfort.

My mother has always had that same strong, assuring voice as her father’s … and it has always brought me comfort, too. The tone was firm, swift and sure, but there is love and admiration in it if you listen well enough … and don’t blink.

High assertive doesn’t come close to describing this trait. Hell bent and determined or damn the torpedoes … full steam ahead, comes closer!

So, like her father, whatever mom thinks is right is right. And you know what, most of the time it really is. She has always been a bold, fearless leader and has lead with passion, courage, inspiration and conviction. She credits her father as to why she is who she is. She refers to him as daddy or Dr. B. H. Martin. She always adds, “He was something. Powerful. The most powerful man on this earth.”

Mom’s mother, Neville, passed away when mom was only six. She left four children, mom being the youngest, to be raised by a very focused, dedicated,  horse and buggy doctor, my grandfather, Dr. B. H. Martin.  He loved his children and was a steady, steadfast provider for them and left them a legacy that still benefits the generations that followed. Dr. Martin also loved his calling and left a legacy of compassion for the rich and poor alike, healing and faith and dedication to his Lord.

We grand kids called him PaPa. Since I was the first, I may have started that. I will surely lay claim to it until someone (and I don’t know who that would be) begs to differ.

Pa Pa didn’t have what you would call soft bedside manners with his patients, children or grand kids for that matter, and he could care less. He was direct, no, blunt. If he thought you were going to die, he would mince no words, he would just say, you are going to die.

Penicillin was his sword and the enemy was disease. He would fight mightily and that demanded his full attention, with no time for emotion or idle git chat. He fought to beat disease, not to win your approval or accolades. And, if you did what he said, more times than not, you would live to see another day.

Mom still says as if it were gospel, “My daddy was the greatest man in the world because he made everyone well.”

As the luck of the draw would have it, we were mom’s dad’s first grandchildren. And, as a result, he would give my sister, Nel, and me his undivided attention. He loved us with all his heart and soul and would parade us around as if we were trophies representing his finest of a long list of accomplishments. After all, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be on this earth. To him, that was as much a fact as it was his reward.

He didn’t have to tell us he loved us. You could feel it. You would yearn for it. You knew your visits to Richmond would always be extra special because it was PaPa’s kingdom. And Nel and I would be the princess and prince. The power of his hugs. The pride his steady eyes communicated was all we needed to know how totally he cared about us. He was constantly lifting us off the ground, high above his head, into the heavens where we knew he must live and be in charge of.

PaPa was a mighty man, and we knew he loved all of us … and yet, I always knew I was special. I was the first and I was the only one who could look him straight in the eyes and not blink. I knew I was special and it instilled a confidence early on that is at the core of who I am.

Being a doctor, he delivered my sister and me. He assisted in the operating room in both of my hernia operations as a kid. He sewed two finger back on my left hand with a plain old sewing needle and thread after I stuck it in a washing machine wringer just to see if the wringer really worked. It worked all right. And Pa Pa gave me a piece of his mind for being so dumb while putting me back together again.

He loved me passionately. And I know how my mom felt about him, because I felt that way, too. And in so many ways, PaPa was why we, mom and me, turned out to be who we are.

Whenever I face a major challenge, I hear my grandfather say, “Come here, boy”, as he lifts me high into the heavens. “You have got what it takes, boy. Just look ’em in he eye and do what’s right.”

However … there are sometimes this idea of what’s right is just not always right! And … you knew this was coming … bathing and changing clothes at 91 is not mom’s idea of what is right by a long shot.

When the professionals at mom’s day care threw in the towel when it came to bathing mom, I knew that Mr. Clean (my adopted Super Hero personification) had probably met his/my match. But, PaPa kept whispering, well more like roaring like a freight train, “You get your mom fixed up, boy. That’ is your duty. We Martins always dress to reflect who we are. And, tell her to hold her head high and …”

“I know, PaPa, look her straight in the eyes”” I heard myself saying out loud as I looked toward the heavens, not blinking.

But looking my mom straight in the eyes is easier said than done when she has her mind fixed on something. I call it the Martin Way. And when I say it, it comes out sounding like a disease that PaPa could only cure with penicillin.

I wish I could say Mr. Clean swooped down and saved the day, but I did, without even knowing it, what turned out to be the next best thing … I flew alright, but it was out of town!

Melissa and I had a consulting assignment in Orlando so the big face-off between Super Heroes (My mom is the real deal in so many ways and I am just a pretender compared to her) would have to be put on hold.

Now I don’t like excuses, but I made this one sound noble indeed. When a client calls, you come running or in this case flying. In other words, I got out of town while the getting was good!

Somehow the Beatles’ song, HELP!, couldn’t stop playing in my head.

HELP! I need somebody. HELP! Not just anybody. HELP! You know I need someone. HELP!

And, HELP, in all caps, was on the way and it came from both expected and unexpected sources. The expected one came from Tovi, my oldest daughter. She gave me four of the coolest grand kids the world has ever known. That team, plus my youngest daughter Lissi’s oldest daughter, Kenzie (are you following all of this?) decided to take on the dirty work together! (UNEXPECTED)

So, this team lead by Tovi and my grand kids, ages 6 to 13, headed to Richmond under the auspices of staying with mom while Melissa and I were gone, but they had bigger things in mind. The were going to bathe mom, change her clothes and cut her toenails to boot!

Another song is playing in my head as I write this, The Impossible Dream, from Man from La Mancha!

But, you know what, as it turned out, it wasn’t the epic battle as I imagined it would be. It wasn’t even a challenge match or a fight of wills at all!

That was Tovi and the grandkids’ genius. They made it play!

Tovi would ask who wanted their nails clipped and all the kids would laugh and say, “me, me first … do me!” And, one by one, as they sat on mom’s bed with her, they had their fingernails and toenails clipped and you know who wasn’t going to miss out on the fun … mom!

There was so much laughter going on that she missed Thomas’s (great name for my oldest grandson) comment to Tovi. “Mom, Helen has toenails that could go in the Guinness Book of Records!”

Next came hair and clean clothes and … before you knew it … there was one beautiful group of humans, all spic and span and feeling great about themselves. It was a fashion show, a Disney movie, an extravaganza. It was Sound of Music, The King and I and Mary Poppins  all rolled into one. It was fun and they all had a ball!

It’s a great reminder that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down … even for Super Heroes hell bent and determined to do it their way!

The HELP! Team took the fight out of the match up. It was like Tom Sawyer painting the fence! Who wouldn’t want to join in!

So, when I yelled HELP! I didn’t need just anybody. I didn’t need the Clean Helen Team pros at mom’s day care. I didn’t need my Mr. Clean outfit, all I needed was the Joyful Team. And they did it!

It was just what the Doctor ordered … PaPa that is!

They brought joy and good clean fun to the world and mom couldn’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

And when they looked mom in the eyes, they didn’t even worry about blinking … they just did a lot of winking. And, my mom winked back!

Lessons from Camp Ooga Booga

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Kenzie and Livi, two of my granddaughters,  have been with  Melissa and me in Richmond for almost a week.

We call this visit Camp Ooga Booga and our “campers” and their “counselors” have all had a ball! From a couple of great days canoeing and swimming on the James River to fireworks on Brown’s Island, we have had non-stop fun together.

Have I said how much we love these girls?

Kenzie and Livi have also learned a lot about about being great caregivers for their great grandmother, my mom, Helen.

Here are the five things they have learned and practiced:

  1. Talk s…l…o…w and one at a time.
  2. Look directly at Helen, get close to her and say your name every time.
  3. Play with Helen a lot.
  4. Give Helen lots of love.
  5. Stick with Helen.

The girls have memorized their lessons and have practiced with mom every chance they can get. It has really been fun to watch them in action and see how mom responds. It has been a positive experience for the “campers” as well as for their great grandmother.

That is with one exception.

Kenzie and Livi called a special secret Ooga Booga meeting with Melissa and me to complain that mom doesn’t follow the rules. “Helen doesn’t like to share her puzzles, baby doll and other things she plays with.”

When the girls try to play with them, mom grabs them back, holds them close to her and says, “That’s mine, you can’t have it!”

“Yeah, and she takes our toys, too,” Kenzie adds.

There was heavy duty tension in the air at Camp Oooga Booga!

I asked them what they thought they should do.

They both answered, “Nothing! Nothing we try works,” they said.

Kenzie added, “Helen is bigger than us!”

Then Livi had an idea.

Karate Kids“I know … we should do … Kung Fu!”

Kung Fu?! I didn’t have the heart to tell the Karate Kids that mom is pretty fast on her feet for a 91 year old, but hey, why not give it a shot.

Mom does need to relearn how to share.

Grand Old Flag … Grand Old Mom

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Ever since I can remember, mom has been a major flag waver for her country.

She loves her stars and stripes, as well as any occasion to her fly her reds, whites and blues.

Little bitty flags on tooth pick poles, flags on napkins, place mats, dinnerware, flags could be found in pretty much every room.

Star studded wooden banners, made by my mom, dad and sister, were hung under every window of their home (built in 1796) on the Fourth of July. Their home is a landmark in Richmond, Virginia and the banners are as much a part of the Fourth for passersby as watermelon and  fireworks.

This is mom’s way of letting the world know in no uncertain terms that she loves her United States of America. When she quotes Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech, she owns it. When she belts out the National Anthem, or America the Beautiful she’ll have you standing at attention and singing along.

The Fourth of July is one of her all time favorite celebrations! She prepares for it just as joyfully and meticulously as she prepares for Christmas (which is also her birthday). It’s a sacred time to reflect on the past, share dreams of the future and commemorate all those who have created, contributed to and defended our nation.

Mom was born a year after World War One ended and was only ten when the Wall Street crash of 1929 signaled the beginning of the Great Depression. She was part of the generation that rebuilt America into a superpower. And, she has lived through the trials, tribulations, triumphs and failures that continue to define America.

For what’s it’s worth, mom believes in us!

She believes in our freedoms, our values and our ability to come together and do whatever it takes to protect and grow them.

Today, she is out there waving the true colors on which America stands and has unwavering faith that they will lead us in the right direction as we march, arm in arm, into the future.

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