Thursday, August 19, 2010

Holding On To The Memories

I am blessed to have an extremely tight knit family that extends to my aunts and uncles and to my grandparents. I grew up surrounded by all of them and will never forget the things that each of them has taught me. You don't really realize how much a person has shaped your life until you sit down and think about it.

My grandmother has demensia. So, I've been thinking about memories quite a bit lately.

She's my mom's mom and we call her Maba. It started when I was little. Very little. Maybe a year old? Up until a certain point I think she referred to herself as Grandma, but I could be wrong. She loves teddy bears. She had dozens of them. One day she told me she was the "Mother of the Bears" and asked me to say it. It came out "Maaa Baaa" and it stuck.

I don't remember how the demensia started, but I think it was caused by mini strokes that went unnoticed. (It's all, unfortunately, a blur to me because while my mom was dealing with my grandmother, I was going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.)

All I know for sure is that my mom brought Maba out here to Phoenix in the summer of 2008 and we moved her into an assisted living facility.

When she first moved out here, you could barely tell there was anything wrong with her. If you hadn't known her before, you probably wouldn't know at all.

A few weeks ago, she fell. My mom was concerned that she had suffered another stroke. The doctors just confirmed yesterday that my mom was right. Maba is currently in the hospital and has been there since Tuesday.

We brought her to dinner at mom's house last Sunday and that's when it hit me:

She's gone.

I obviously don't mean physically gone. I don't even mean that she's mentally gone because she's still able to hold a (somewhat) intelligible conversation. She just doesn't have a very long attention span and her short term memory is all but gone, but she'll talk to you about what she can see. She still knows all of us. Sometimes she can't remember names, but she knows how people are related. (She introduced my brother-in-law as "my son-in-law". She knows he "belongs" to Vanessa but she can't remember his name. It's the same with Roy and the kids.)

She's still here, but she's just a shadow of the woman that she once was and it makes my heart ache.

My kids will never know the truly wonderful woman that she once was. It's up to me to tell them and make them understand what great stock they come from.

She came from practically nothing. She was born in the middle of the Great Depression (1932) which turned her into a pack-rat. . . Her garage was a disaster. I'll never forget the day I was "helping" her and my mom clean out it out to get ready for a garage sale. She had cases of soda and cleansers and mouthwash. She stumbled upon an old box of photos and showed me one of her as a very little girl outside of a very run down house. It looked (to my 8 year old eye) like a shack. I said something along the lines of, "Wow, you're house was old!"

I'll never forget her response.

She stood up tall and her eyes flashed proudly. "It was old. And it was small. But it was always clean!" I was so young, but it made an incredible impression on me. To this day, I think about that when I start to become a little envious of my friends and neighbors.

She married young and in her parents' living room. They couldn't afford a large wedding (and I seem to remember something about him being Catholic and her being Protestant, but don't quote me on that). The picture and newspaper article is in her apartment somewhere right now. I stumbled upon it when we were unpacking all her boxes. She was so beautiful. And so in love!

She moved away from her family and Pittsburgh across the state to Philadelphia and worked her tail off to help put my grandfather through medical school. She helped him run his practice and gave him two kids. They worked incredibly hard to raise their children together.

Just when they were to the point where they were close to retirement and enjoying grandchildren, my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died right after my first birthday in 1987 making her a widow before the age of 55.

I don't know if I would have emotionally survived all of that.

I have so many fond memories of her. . .

She'd take my sister and I to all of the Disney movies when they came out. We made quite the production out of it. We'd spend the night before at her house. The three of us all slept together in her bed and listened t talk radio until we fell asleep. (I remember feeling so grown up listening to talk radio even though I had no idea what they were talking about.) We would get up in the morning and get ready to go and eat breakfast while we looked at movie showtimes in the newspaper. We'd go out through her garage (grabbing a can of soda from one of the stacks of afore-mentioned cases!) and head to the drugstore where we'd pick out candy and snacks and hide them in her purse. We'd always get to the movie theater a half hour early and sit all the way in the back ("Because," she'd say, "you get the best view when you're eye level with the screen!"). There we'd set up our sugary feast and chat until the movie started. I still sneak candy into the movie theater. And I still sit in the back.

She was the person who got me interested in French when I was about 9 or 10. We always talked about going to France once I learned the language so I could take care of speaking for the both of us. I took four years of French in high school but by the time I was done she was in no shape to travel internationally. I still want to go to France and I will get there someday. All because of her.

One night when I was a little girl I was spending the night at her house. I was lying on the couch with my head on her lap watching TV. She started scratching my back very lightly. So lightly that it tickled and I started giggling and squirming away. She told me it was like a game with myself. She told me to imagine a candle flame in my head and when I thought I was going to laugh just to focus on the candle flame until I didn't want to laugh anymore. It became one of my favorite games because it was mind over matter. I used to have my sister tickle my feet or my back. It got to the point where it relaxed me because I instantly shut my body off and just focused on one thing. That trick became something I'd use over and over again. I still beg Roy to "tickle my back" sometimes because I can't shut my brain off.

She took a bus trip across the country one summer and sent Vanessa and I post cards from a ton of places. At that point, I had never left Pittsburgh (except to go to Florida at Christmas time when I was very little) so a post card from Salt Lake City seemed incredibly exotic.

Every Halloween, a local radio station would broadcast a show with a medium in a haunted house and she'd call me to remind me to listen to it that night when I went to bed.

She'd take us to the Carnegie Science Center all the time and she always watched the History Channel. She gave me a love for word puzzles and brain teasers. She came to all of my school plays and dance recitals.

When I was in second grade my sister had chicken pox over my birthday so I couldn't have a party. But Maba came up for dinner and contracted shingles in the process. I know she'd do it again in a heartbeat just so a little girl could have a birthday party.

She loves teddy bears and knick-knacks and antiques. She had an entire house full of antique tools and household items and could tell you what every single one of them had been used for.

She had no patience for people without common sense (she still doesn't), but she had all the patience in the world for her granddaughters. There was nothing but unconditional love for us from that woman.

From stories that I've heard and things I remember I know that she didn't lead a perfect life. She made mistakes. Big ones. And sometimes people that she loved suffered because of them. But, that's no different than anyone else. She wasn't a saint. But she was one of my favorite people in the world.

She was a perfectionist and a smartass. She was proud and tough on the outside even when she was screaming on the inside. She was methodical in the way she did things. She was incredibly intelligent. She had a knack for language and a love for grammar. I see a lot of her in me everytime I look in the mirror.

I could go on for hours. . .

She's been in the hospital since Tuesday. My mom says she's worse now and she probably will have to go to a memory unit or a nursing home when she leaves the hospital.

I have spent the last 3 days crying about how quickly things can change. Thinking about my own mortality and how I don't have a will. I've worried about what would happen to my kids if something happened to me. I've cried myself to sleep every night thinking about the family back home that I haven't seen in over six years and thinking about the $3000 it's going to take me years to save to get back there.

I'm grateful for work everyday because that's eight and a half hours that I can forget the world outside.

My kids and my husband feel helpless because I just cry at random times. I can't verbalize what I'm feeling, even though and I'm usually able to easily put my feelings into words. It's just a crippling feeling of overwhelming loss and sadness, even though she's still here.

I'm taking this harder than I've ever taken anything before. This has hit so incredibly close to home and completely rocked my world.

I've known for two years now that her mental state was going to deteriorate. I told myself I was prepared.

I wasn't.

And it's only going to get worse.

So, what will I do? Exactly what she did over and over again. Stand up tall and tell the universe that it won't break me. I'll enjoy every day.

And I'll remember. Always.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

101 in 1001: An Update

I just spent the morning taking my last two final exams for  awhile. I'm taking a break from school until the Monday after Thanksgiving and I'm very excited about it. That gives me 15 weekends free! Yay!

I'm thinking of working on my 101 in 1001 list. I pulled it up today and realized I'f accomplished quite a few things that I forgot to check off!

#2: Get a job that allows me more time with the kids.
My original goal was to get a part time job that allowed us to break even from where I was when you calculated in benefits, etc. I ended up getting a full time job that will bring in more money but ultimately will allow the kids to spend less time at daycare and more time with mom and dad. Woo!

#21: Join a gym.
Done. However, I should have been more specific. I have yet to actually go. But, I made the first step!

#23: No fast food for a week.
This has been a more recent accomplishment. Recent, as in, the last week. But, I did it!

#80: Get a joint checking account.
Finally! No more bouncing bills between two accounts!

#97: Try two new recipes in one month.
This was actually fun! And I've well exceeded my goal. We hit about 12 new recipes in the last 3 weeks. Most have them have been a hit!

Now, what to fill the next 15 weeks with?

I think I'm going to start with a lot of painting. Roy doesn't know it yet, but we're painting the family room next weekend. I'm sure he'll figure it out when I come home with rollers and paint trays...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear Reflux, I Hate You

The pediatrician is 99% sure that Lily has silent reflux. For anyone not familiar with it, that basically means that she has acid reflux, but never throws up. Most of the time babies just cry from the burning (think: heartburn multiplied by 100) but she coughs. And coughs and coughs and coughs.

Nathan had reflux. He threw up all the time. But, since he wasn't losing any weight, the doctor didn't treat it. That little tub of lard was well over 20 pounds when he hit 6 months. (Looking back, I probably should have fought him on that, but I was young and had no idea.)

Nathan threw up on everything until he was about a year old. He was what they now call a "Happy Spitter." There was no pain or discomfort for him at all. When he suddenly grew out of it, I prayed that I would never have to deal with that again.

Be careful what you wish for, Amanda.

Lily never throws up. In fact, she so rarely spits up that when she does we are usually caught without a burp cloth or a bib to clean her up. It just never happens.

But she coughs so hard sometimes that her face turns white and her cheeks get splotchy. She cries when she coughs because her little throat is so raw. She has not choked in her sleep yet, but I'm afraid it's only a matter of time.

The doctor says to let her sleep upright, but all that does is piss her off.

We've only recently determined it's reflux. She's been coughing for over 3 months now. After countless trips to the doctors and trying everything from Albuterol to Amoxicillan, we finally put our foot (feet?) down. Roy took her to the doctor (I was stuck at work) with a list of things we were worried about. RSV, Valley Fever and Whooping Cough topped the list.

The good news? The pediatrician sent her for an x-ray last week which came back clear as a bell. I was very happy to hear that seeing as how she would have already infected her entire daycare and the children of all of our friends not to mention my elderly grandmother.

The bad news? We're running out of ideas. The pediatrician never even mentioned reflux until we brought it up. Apparently, in their world, fat babies don't have reflux. Luckily, I have enough mommy friends to know that's not true.

She needs to have a test at the hospital to confirm reflux. The hospitals are scheduling the test 3-4 weeks out. In the meantime, she's still coughing. It might be my imagination, but I think she's getting worse by the day. Or maybe it's just my mind finally finding a pattern to the coughing now that I have an idea of what it is.

Right now we're managing one day at a time. Cereal in her bottle doesn't help at all and I can't get her to sleep upright for the life of me. But, I'm still packing the cereal in her bottle and giving her non-acidic baby food to try and help for now.

I called the doctor today to ask for a prescription of Zantac or Prilosec or anything to help her until we can have the test done. I called at 9:30 this morning and never received a call back. I was also promised a call back today with my appointment date and time for her test. I didn't hear about that, either.

They have until tomorrow at lunch. Then? No more Mr. Nice Mommy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Letting Go

Nathan's first day of preschool is tomorrow. He's been going to daycare for over two years now but this is very different. Daycare is playtime with some snacks and naps sprinkled in. Preschool, on the other hand, is for the big kids. Part of me (the mom part) refuses to believe that my son is a "big kid."

He'll be riding the school bus from his daycare to the elementary school down the road 4 days a week for 3 hours a day. I reminded him today that he'll be riding the school bus tomorrow and the response that I got was something of an excited squeal that was cut short by an uncontrollable, almost hysterical, fit of giggles.

Yes, he's that excited.

And he should be. Nathan loves to learn new things. He's going to thrive there. I will not be surprised if he starts reading soon. I was writing his name on his backpack tonight and he stood next to me naming each letter as I wrote it and then proceeded to tell me that "N-A-T-H-A-N spells Nathan" in a very matter-of-fact way.

(Here's where the mom thing kicks in.)

The obvious response is, "That's great! You know your letters!" Which is exactly what I told him. But, inside, I was secretly wishing that I could shrink him back down to baby size, change his diaper and rock him while I fed him a bottle.

I was reading a friend's blog tonight and it hit me: this is what the rest of my life is going to be like.

A series of emotional highs and lows all rolled into one. It all starts at birth and the first few milestones happen quickly. Smiling, laughing, rolling, crawling, walking. The milestones slow down after that, but it seems that the further apart they are, the bigger they are. The first day of school, first birthday party, first sleepover, first girlfriend, driver's license, first job, graduation, college, marriage, babies. . .

And the emotions only increase exponentially with each child you have. When Lily rolled over I didn't just watch her roll over. In my mind, I watched Nathan roll over for the first time, too. When Nathan put his backpack on, I had an image flash through my head of Lily in curly pigtails striking the same pose three years from now.

Only a parent can understand how bittersweet it is to watch your child grow up. The overwhelming joy and sorrow that you feel when you realize that a page has turned and things will never be the same again.

I look at Nathan and I know that he's ready for more. I know that I can't hold him back. It's not fair to him. So I will smile tomorrow and be excited with him and find comfort in the fact that he is ready.

That's all we can do as parents, isn't it? Make sure that they're ready. Ready for whatever comes their way. We find a way to guide them gently without taking the reins. We even learn how to let them fall sometimes and, harder still, learn how to sit back and let them pick themselves up.

He's not a baby anymore. I know that he is ready for this. If I hold him back to satisfy my own maternal need it will do him more harm than good.

It's not "just preschool." This is his first adventure without me there beside him. But, I will be there at the end of the day to hear all about it.

He's ready. And, like it or not, so am I.