Tale Tues: Dementia and Dependable Depends

“Have you seen your mother’s vagina?”

My mother’s aide was calling me, and this question, a proclamation really, was loudly blazoned via bluetooth–the mother of all microphones–throughout my minivan, just as I was dropping the boys off at school.

If the call had come through three minutes earlier, both my boys would have heard it all. Big Bro might even have been distracted enough to abandon his frantic search for his latest baby tooth which had, literally, just fallen out in the van. Here’s how that scenario would have gone:

“Gramma’s what?” (depending on whether or not Big Bro, at the tenderish tough age of ten, really understands yet about the big girly V, as he still thinks girls are gross).

I can imagine better Little Bro, at the buck-toothed-silly but mature-beyond-his-years age of nine, asking point blank: “What’s wrong with Gramma’s vagina? Is it okay?”

Luckily, Big Bro did find his tooth before this bluetooth call, miraculously, amongst the bits of gravel from their snow boots and dried Christmas tree needles (Yes, it was June, car had not been cleaned all winter).

And Big Bro then skipped off happily into school, first to head to the nurse’s office to retrieve a cool plastic tooth necklace which later he would come home parading:


So I sat in my dirty momma minivan, watching until the boys safely had disappeared inside the school, trying to decide whether this question about their Gramma’s – my mother’s – vagina was indeed a rhetorical question rather than a query that really needed answering.

The fact was, the previous week when my mother had been hospitalized for a kidney infection, I had glimpsed her “V” more times than I care to count; when she hadn’t been sitting on bedpans, nurses were whipping out wet chuxs (like pee pads for puppies) from beneath her sore bottom. She had become no more self-conscious about her exposed privates than my boys had even been about their spritzing pee-pees on the changing table.

But no, I hadn’t seen up that close, to perceive that her V was “red and swollen,”  as her aide went on to describe, as I was pulling out of the school parking lot, turning onto main street, and forgetting where I was going. Her aide went on to make tskking sounds of not disgust, but clearly great disapproval: “They let them sit too long,” she said, meaning the truth about incontinent hospital patients.

Incontinence. “It’s to be expected,” her aide had said–as if the “expected” were something that could soothe me–when she’d first asked me to pick up a package of Depends.

Witnessing this incredibly slow demise of my mother, I have never found anything at all to be “expected” about what has begun to feel like an actual physical disintegration,  of a woman once vibrant and strong. Certainly the dementia was never expected, her nonsensical insistence about the cherry tree outside her window sprouting ginormous limbs overnight, or people mowing her lawn at 3 am.

And never this, my mother in…diapers. Actually, the “Incontinence” aisle is a bit different from the diaper aisle. Nothing bright and colorful about the packaging, no cute pictures of rotund baby bottoms. Though the assortment or brands and sizes can be as mind boggling as that for preemies, newborns, toddlers, pre-toddlers…. It’s one thing to figure out your baby’s size — but your mother’s?

On my first foray down the “Incontinence” aisle, I was not fooled by the genteel commercial packaging of uproariously happy aged ladies sipping coffee, and of sleek modern tan couches covered with super-absorbent chux. Because I knew this: There was no way in fiery hell, my mother, even in her demented stated, would agree to wearing what she would know very well was essentially, yes, a diaper.

I settled on what seemed a fair compromise: what looked like gorilla-sized sanitary pads.

“These are pads,” her aide railed when I presented them to her the following week on my weekly visit. “I said Depends.”

My mother’s aide can claim she now knows my mother better than I do.

Not this time.

“You will never get my mother into diapers,” I said.

She handed me back the package with the receipt. “Please buy Depends. The brand.”

I relented, as thankfully, I would not be the one who would actually have to talk my something mother into wearing the damn Depends.

Back to the incontinence aisle (after returning gorilla pads, grateful that the twenty-something-still-acne-prone cashier kid didn’t look me over as if the pads were for me).

Just so you know, if you’re female and ever in the position of having to depend on Depends, there are far too many dependable Depend choices. Number one choice, what size? Because there is no small or medium size. There is only a small-slash-medium. Then large. Extra-large….

What style? Well that depends. On whether you plan on wearing a Depends beneath a pencil skirt–then you might need to slink into the Depends “Silhouette Briefs.”

Then there’s Depends “adjustable underwear,” for the woman on the go; you can take them on and off without having to remove your shoes!

If you need extra extra Depend protection, there’s “Protection with tabs” Depends (with a wetness indicator! Extra leakage protection! Six-tabs for “discrete open changing!” As if “discrete” and “open” aren’t oxymorons….)

The Depends choice which most closely mimics real underwear seems to be the “Fit-Flex.” I grabbed a package of those.

Since those initial incontinence-aisle forays, shopping incontinence has become as second nature as writing checks from my mother’s own checkbook with the kitty sticker on it. Both hateful stuff, but stuff, for the sake of my mental health, I’ve eventually learned not to think twice about.

Her aide told me how she finally got my mother actually to wear the Depends. After an accident one night, when my mother had to change her nightgown, sponge bathe, then have all her sheets changed, her aide opened the package and held up a pair of the paper lacy underwear: “They are so pretty,” she told my mother. “Wouldn’t you rather wear these pretty things and then not have to worry?”

While my mother has never been a pretty-lacy but more of a practical-cotton-underwear wearer, she had agreed. Which frankly still stuns me. But perhaps no more stunning than the first time she’d falsely accused me of taking the locks off of all the house doors  so that she could just run away, as well as have strangers steal her silver.

Maybe her aide does actually now know my mother better than I do. Or she knows the mother she has metamorphosed into, a someone I have never known.

And so I’ve come to trust my mother’s aide’s advice implicitly. Because this strong, ultimately compassionate, woman is a veteran of taking care of elderly and dementia patients; she has earned the right to pride herself on how she is able to rehydrate wrinkled dry skin with daily baby oil body rubs; pamper aching arthritic feet with epson salts; ease bed sores with her most trusted barrier cream Calmoseptine, the cream, the one she has sworn by with all her past (ie. now dead) demented incontinent clients.

So I continue to do as I’m told, as when she announced over my minivan mother-of-all-mics bluetooth, to pick up a tube of Vagisil. As well as more Calmoseptine. And Depends.

Since that original Depends conversation and now the big V one, we have had many discussions about my mother’s bodily functions. I am not entirely uncomfortable with these discussions, as I am familiar with them from when my children had their own share of diaper rashes, as well as the constipated episode (and its oxymoron). It was all part of motherhood. Now it has just become part of daughterhood.

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Tale Tues: A Broken Wrist and Brilliant Fish

“Oh, look at that one!” My mother pointed a crooked arthritic finger at a brilliant blue-and-yellow fish circling the tank. I had wheeled my mother around so that she could face the voluminous salt-water tank, the centerpiece of the orthopedist’s waiting room:


Every fish that swam into her view was as remarkable as if it were swimming into her line of vision for the first time: “Oh look at that one, with the pink fins!” The pink-finned fish was circling the tank for maybe the tenth time since we’d signed in for our appointment.

We were at the orthopedist because my mother had broken her wrist the previous week from another fall. I am naive in I assuming falls are avoidable now that she has a full-time aide. “I’m not an invalid!” my mother had screeched when her aide found her walking with her pants down around her ankles.

My own guess is that my mother had been heading toward her bed where she had planned to sit down to take off her pants, but for some reason had started the taking-off-pants process in her walk-in closet. “That’s dangerous,” her aide had said, no doubt sounding to my mother as if she were being  reprimanded.

When my mother yelled as she can do, her aide left the room. Moments later, my mother went down. It’s hard to know who and if anyone is to blame; my mother can be very difficult, as quite understandably, she does not appreciate a stranger living in her house. And the aide does not want to upset my mother by escalating incidents into arguments. My mother’s screeching can be grating…pulverizing, even to the most capable and patient of aides.

Needless to say, her aide now will forgo respecting my mother’s wishes for the sake of her physical safety. In the emergency room, my mother had her arm stabilized with only a splint, to allow a week for the swelling to go down.

We had been told to follow up with an orthopedist. I was incredulous. “You mean like an office appointment?” Funny how even medical folk fail to realize what an office trek actually entails for a frail 95 year old. As did even my mother: “Oh I can walk for goodness sakes, just drop me at their door.”

My mother not only can forget the last two minutes, but she can forget that she can barely walk now with a walker. Even with the new newfangled platform attachment to support her broken wrist. Even before the break, her walker had become cumbersome. Trips to the bathroom are now laborious excursions. She opts to spend most days lying on her bed, as even the trip to her favorite sunroom chair has become too much of a trek.

Day of dreaded orthopedist appointment: It took a full half hour for her aide and me to navigate her down the three steps from her house. My mother could not walk the last five feet to my car. Luckily (very much so), on the keen advice of her aide, I had rented a transport chair (more convenient than a wheel chair! Fits through bathroom doorways!) and happily we were able to wheel her the rest of the way to the car. As happily as I used to wheel my toddler in a stroller.

Back to the fish: Waiting in the waiting room in front of the big tank, my mother could not remember falling, and would ask over and over why she was wearing this unwieldy splint contraption. But whatever is happening to my mother’s mind, she still enjoys the visual. She marveled at the fish as she had magnificent sunsets through her bedroom windows all winter, the way the light had splintered between the bare trees.

I was reveling in her marveling, as I used to with my kids when I’d take them to the aquarium. Or just the local pet store, where the tiny rainbow fish were even marvels. As my mother weakens, as her mind fades, our role reversal is becoming more pronounced. I see a psychologist now who is helping me through this role reversal process. And every once in a while he’ll check in with: “Do you still find moments when you two can enjoy each other as you used to?”

Well, perhaps the answer now is no. But we are able to enjoy each other in a new way. In a way that our roles actually have now reversed. “Look at that one,” I said as the blue-and-yellow fellow swam back into view. As if for the first time. As I only ever remember marveling, back then when it was actually for the very first time, with my own young children.

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Tale Tues: You Think I’m Crazy

My mother called. While I was digging the gizzard out of a chicken, or whatever that nasty nauseatingly brownish-gray innards thing is.

“We need to talk about this. Why you would  do such a thing.”

Do what, Mom?

“Take the locks off all the doors. Why would you do such a thing?”

I didn’t, Mom. I only took the one off your bedroom door because you lock yourself in  so your aide can’t get to you and you can fall….

“It’s not just my door. You’ve taken the locks off all the doors in the house, so anyone can come in and murder me.”


She often thinks to call now at dinner time, when I’m simultaneously gutting, then skinning the fat off a chicken; yelling at the boys to stop shooting Nerf bullets at the living-room mirror; shoving the dog away from the overflowing garbage can; and cradling the phone on my shoulder so I can get the chicken into the oven before the next full moon.

Mom, why would I do that? Take all your locks off?

“Because you think I’m crazy and might wander off.”

If I thought you would wander off, wouldn’t I be sure that the doors were actually lockedI tried to laugh. Anyhow, I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to actually bolt them from the outside?

I was relieved then that she actually laughed too, although I wasn’t sure whether she was laughing because she actually finally did see this as nonsensical, or because she didn’t actually understand what the hell I was talking about.

But then she said, “Well, I guess your mother is going crazy.”

I reassured her–tepidly–that she wasn’t going crazy, and we went on to talk about more sensical things; she asked me about the boys, and I told her about how Big Bro refuses to help me clean his frog’s tank; Little Bro leaves his dirty underwear lying all over the house; that I was about to roast a chicken, and she reminded me to chop up an onion to put in the cavity, and then she said, “But you do need to put the locks back on the doors. When are you going to do that?”

The featherless, naked, headless chicken struck me as exceedingly sad and pathetic prone in its cold baking pan. I’d forgotten to preheat the oven.

On another evening, she called just as I’d  remembered the morning’s laundry I’d forgotten to put into the dryer, around 7 pm – wondering why “they” hadn’t brought her breakfast yet.

I’ve given up on the argument about the “they,” that there is just one aide whom my mother thinks is several different aides, some of whom she likes and some she despises because they’re “always telling me what to do.”

I’d burned the rice while remembering the laundry, and was salvaging whatever hard crusty grains I could scrape from the pan, when she said, “I’ve been waiting here all morning for my breakfast and I’m hungry.”

It’s dinner time, Mom.

“But it’s so light out.”

It’s light out earlier now because we’re going into summer soon….

“Well then what time is it?”

Seven, Mom. At night.

“Oh, I am going crazy.”

No, you’re not. But each time I can say this, I sound all the more tepid.

“I am! But I don’t know why they haven’t brought me breakfast!”

When my mother isn’t worrying over the door locks or whether it’s breakfast or dinner time, she might be hearing things. She can hear people mowing her lawn in the middle of the night: “Oh, they make such a racket!”

I try to reason with her then too, as I do about the door locks and the time day–that no one is going to mow lawns at 2 am, never mind the fact that it is too early in the season for lawn mowing. That her lawn is mostly mud and scattered gravel anyway, where the snow plows mistook the lawn for the driveway.

“They were mowing. Don’t tell me they weren’t mowing.”

I don’t know why I keep trying to reason with her on these things. I’ve read enough articles at this point, about all the things you should and shouldn’t say to someone with dementia. And I fail in every way. I can’t help it. I continue to try and reason with my mother because I want my mother back.

“It’s the disease,” her aide likes to remind me. As if I need reminding.

Though maybe I do need reminding. Because when I’m with my mother she can still be my mother: “Your sweater is not buttoned correctly,” she can say when I first arrive on my weekly visits, and no doubt she is usually right.

And she can still worry about me as only a mother can:  “You don’t need to worry about me, honey. I can take care of things myself.”

Which of course,  only make me worry more, as she can go on to say that, if she fires the “staff” she has now, she can hire someone herself, from the local job-wanted ads, and I think how I have to start taking away her newspapers…and then I want to cry. Because I wish so badly that this were the truth. That she still could be in control of her life. Like a hot potato, I’d gladly toss that control back at her in a second.

And then there are those moments–new moments now–that I’m not prepared for; when she is still my mother. But my mother from the past:

Yesterday, when I was visiting, she asked, “So what classes are you taking now?”


“You’re going to college soon.”

We were sitting out on her deck. The first day warm enough for her to actually be outside.

We were sitting in the sun. She was lying on a lounge chair piled up with two layers of cushions as otherwise she would be unable to rise up off of it.

I was facing her in an upright chair. Sipping bottled water to keep hydrated, as often by the time I’m back on the road at the end if these visits, I am depleted and dehydrated.

My mother can accuse me of taking off locks and insist on lawn-mower racket at 2 am. She can confuse the time of day.

But this was the first time she was confusing me with myself in another time and place.

I said, “Am I in high school?”

“Well, yes….”

I waited. To see whether she could reorient herself.

She didn’t. Or couldn’t.

So I laughed and told her that if I were still in high school, she wouldn’t yet have her two gorgeous grandsons.

She laughed then too. At least she can still be reoriented — if only with reminders.

But then she said: “I’m beginning to wish now that I’d died before this. Before my mind started to go.”

I had to look away from her. Down at the splintered deck. No, Mom. Please. The only words I could muster. As if tugging up tangled bed blankets against an ice-cold breeze.

“I’m scared,” she said. “It’s frightening.”

I couldn’t speak.

But then she did. Looking out at her yard. At the white blooming dogwood tree. The yellow daffodils brilliant against the deep green of the woods.

“But I still do like this…spring…”


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Tale Tues: The Demented Mom and Strange Men

“There’s a strange man peering in the windows.”

I don’t know why, but these calls from my mother’s aide do seem to coincide with dinner preparation. The last call, about my mother having an accident all over the bathroom floor, caused me to scorch our hamburgers.

This time, I was baking salmon. Wild salmon — not cheap, so should be cooked to perfection, not too red, just a touch of pink, not too well done.

“He was peering in your mother’s bedroom window, then he went all around the house looking in windows and then tried the back door.”

I was also making white rice. Which I can easily burn.

Frankly, these days my mother’s house looks unoccupied. After she had her license revoked, she sold the old blue badly-dented minivan, so there is no car in her large gaping circular driveway. Her aide likes to work on her computer in the dark, so few lights are ever on. In the fall, I had made a point of buying pumpkins and bright yellow mums for the front stoop. At Christmas, I hung a humongous wreathe. The wreathe turned to brittle, and all that is left are the dead pots with mum stalks. Never mind unoccupied. The house looks abandoned.

“He was driving an old model wagon and I wrote down the license plate,” said-aide said.

Which meant I had to find my sticky pad to write the plate # down, to stick next to all the other stickies stuck to my kitchen counter— sticky reminders to call my mother’s landscaper to come seed lawn. Call to get her sprinklers turned on. Call her doctor to renew a prescription…. my to-do stickies for our own abode and ortho appointments that haven’t made it yet to the calendar were stuck somewhere else – and I can’t remember where I’d stuck them.

Great. I’m reduced to forgetting where I put reminders.

The “strange man” had already driven off, but said-aide suggested I notify the police.

The police. Sigh.

Not that I wasn’t a bit alarmed myself – said-aide has a good instinct for trouble; when my mother was scammed by a chimney company, she’d called me then too, suspicious of the “strange man” who seemed high on drugs and was there only twenty minutes evidently to replace an entire chimney liner.

So I called the town police, forgetting to check on the precious expensive better-for-you-than-farmed-salmon salmon.

“Did you get a physical description?” Mr. Police Officer said.

“Mom, I want this game.” Suddenly my little hipster eight year old, Little Bro, was in front of me with my iPad. I say gangster because he’s taken to wearing a black hoodie every single waking moment.

As “cool” as he may try to be, his face was filthy; I couldn’t remember when I’d last commanded he take a shower. There was even something stuck in his hair. Dried catsup from those scorched hamburgers how many nights ago? I couldn’t remember that either….

“Not now.”

“But it’s freeeeeeeeeeeeeee,”  he whined. The little hipster who still sleeps with blankie.

“We’ll send a car over right away,” Mr. Policeman said.

Just to get hipster hoodied Little Bro to go away, I tapped in my apple ID password. Then on my phone tapped out a text to said-aide that police would be arriving “right away”.

Little Bro crinkled his filthy nose. “What’s that smell?”

The rice. It was burning.

And I was about to check on the fish when my mother called.

“There’s been some man peering in the windows.”

“So I heard.”

“It’s probably Rickey.”

In my mother’s descent into dementia, her memory can play such tricks on her that I’m always surprised by who and what she remembers and doesn’t remember.

Rickey is a man my mother had employed for years to do odd jobs like pull up weeds and haul out her deck furniture. She has a knack for taking on sad saps who need the money but essentially are useless. And sad-sap Rickey was known for peering in windows rather than bothering to knock on doors.

I asked her if she’d told the aide that.

“I did but she wants to call the police. Said people shouldn’t be peering in your windows. And I didn’t see him myself so it is a little unsettling…” she’s also prone to a bit of paranoia, believing said-aide herself spies on her and that  I’m stealing all her money to go have “fun” when I’m really “stealing” it to pay her bills and said-aide.

Then I heard in the background said-aide giving to police a physical description.

“Police here now,” my mother said. “I’ll call Rickey and see if it was him.”

She hung up.

I checked the fish. It was too late — dry as sunbaked driftwood.

I turned off the oven and was about to take the fish out when my mother called back. To tell me it had been Rickey. And that the police had a good chat with him about how he shouldn’t go around peering in windows. And that he deserved to go in timeout.

Dinner that night: Hubs politely picked at the driftwood salmon. The boys, in their usually painfully honest ways, defiantly put down their forks.  “It’s dry. Yuck.”

Then Big Bro: “Mom, I want that game too,” the one I’d downloaded on my iPad –somehow Little Bro had sneaked my iPad to the dinner table disregarding usually firm rules of no electronics at family meals.

I forgot to remind him of this rule and only said, “Well, ask Daddy.”  He’d usurped Daddy’s own iPad for games.

Daddy looked at the game. “What is this game?”

I had no idea. But evidently it wasn’t entirely age appropriate. In the midst of that initial mid-police officer convo, I’d seen it was some cartoon thing, even though it had some guns, which for hipster Little Bro who is also part assassin, these days is getting harder to avoid.

I just hadn’t notice the little shooter was a girl with melon-sized boobs.

And then I couldn’t remember for the life of me whether I’d fed the dog. So I fed him –  again?


He ate hungrily, or maybe it was all an act, because Momma not being able to remember things wasn’t his problem…

Momma has dementiaaaaa!

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