Some days just snowball. Into those big icy ones you can only smash against a tree.
Or brick wall.
Last week I had one of those snowball days.
It commenced as a little marble-sized ball – the usual school morning; the usual feat of cajoling my boys to get on their shoes, brush teeth, pack up backpacks, without my being reduced to yelling at the top of my lungs. A morning when only the dog seems to hear me, scurrying terror-stricken into his crate.
I needed my boys to get the hell off to school, so I could grab the one delectable that can slow down the snowballing effect: my Starbucks Tall Mild coffee. My weekly hour-and-a-half rode-trip treat, on the monotonous ride out east to my mother’s.
Where snowballs can really…snowball.
On this particularly snowbally day, I had more than the usual errands of stopping at my mother’s over-priced grocery store, but which carries the only brand of yogurt she will eat, Axelrod peach. Then the post office, for the stack of mail I must sort through, to toss out all charitable solicitations, as my mother is known for writing $25 checks to every charity with magnified photos of cleft-lipped children or toothless stunted dogs with singed whiskers and axed tails.
Not that I’m against the charitable. But I am against the ones that then send her calendars, bird stickers, pretty tote bags, and calculators, to which I’m assuming the bulk of her $25 was “donated.”
And my mother’s check-writing has become a bit frightening. While essentially she is oriented, she can write a check dated 1939, and I’m worried a $25 check might somehow wind up as $25,000. So she will wind up with 25,000 calculators. Tablet-sized as if for the blind. As if it’s only the aged who fall for these delightful thank-you gifts.
So no more giving.
And with good reason, frankly, as she now has a full-time aide; if my mother’s wish to live to be a century-old is fulfilled, she may wind up sending out her own charitable solicitations: photo of elderly woman lying on her bed with cat curled beside her, and with a very sore tail bone. (Don’t lecture me on Medicaid).
Any hoot, where was I. Oh! The snowball!
So next stop was her local bank; I realize now that I need to start exercising my Power of Attorney, as per my example of my mother’s own check writing; and fact that live-in aide who prefers to cook with fresh herbs rather than the cheap Stop & Shop plastic bottle brands, needs to be paid. Mammothly. With more than loose cash secretly stored in a coffee can in Mom’s freezer.
Nice bank lady remarked on my red sweater jacket and asked where I bought it. Chit chat, chat chit. Before finally, through silver-butterfly-studded reading glasses, she read over my Power of Attorney papers.
Then she proclaimed that I needed my mother to come in and sign some papers agreeing to the Power of Attorney.
I explained that my mother is now suffering from dementia, however mild, and a bit of paranoia that means she does not even trust my own grubby little hands on her coffee can cash.
This eldercare stuff is new to me. But as naive as I may be, Power of Attorney should go into effect when said powerless is powerless to make coherent financial decisions.
Miraculously, nice bank lady agreed.
And somehow after some phone calls, she printed out for me a stupid form which I now have to go get notarized, and then return to bank, once again to sit down with nice bank lady who will offer me on way out a Dum-dum lollipop.
Fine. What’s a little more mindless time-consuming paperwork, which only means the dog might not get walked, the laundry forgotten again in the washer, and more toothpaste to harden to uncleaned bathroom walls?
Because if I’m not filling out mindless papers, I’m reading them, like the notice announcing in the most politely curt way – yes a perfect oxymoron written by true morons but nonetheless true – that my mother’s property insurance is being cancelled due to her “high catastrophic risk” of residing technically within two miles of the Atlantic ocean.
I say technically because, yes on a good clear day from her deck, you might actually hear the ocean waves breaking. Otherwise, she resides quite far above sea level, and a good 15-minute walk to actually reach the beach. And in all past raging hurricanes, even with her glass sliding doors, the only wind damage has been the toppling of a little Christmas-like tree and broken wind chimes.
Alas. technical is technical. Chit chat is chat chit and morons are morons.
So on this same bank, mail, food shopping-for-expensive-fresh-herbs day, a bald man plagued with terrible canker sores on lower lip, visited from an inspector for new insurance company, to take pictures of my mother’s house.
Sadly, his first question was when was the house built, which I couldn’t answer – which meant we would have to then ask my mother whom I was hoping we could avoid as she lay on her bed flipping through catalogues. Because asking her a simple question meant meandering into a convoluted story of how she’d inherited the house from her godmother who used to put out a cocktail flag every summer, until she might get around to the answer, 1909.
Bald canker-sore-ridden inspector guy was poised with camera, wishing to move on, past her bedroom to take pics of her messy bathroom and laundry appliances.
Which we did eventually move on to.
Before finally…the basement.
Which in frank truth is a truly dank cellar.
He giggled nervously, tiptoeing down the creaking wooded stairs. “Well, not exactly a finished basement is it?” he said, not without a tinge of genuine fear, as he hunkered his way into the darker corners, toward the fuse box and oil burner, to take pics. Trying to dodge the intricate latticework and truly thick gauze of spiderwebs.
He giggled again – as high-pitched as a whistling kettle. “You know I have a real phobia of spiders, isn’t that funny? I really am just…well, quite afraid of them. If my wife only knew….” The kettle whistled more shrilly. “Well, she just couldn’t picture this, I mean, me here, in this!”
He was truly as bald as a bowling ball. He brushed at his bald head as ferociously as if he were being attacked by bats. Ravens.
And then I saw it – a puddle in the middle of the uneven ancient cement floor.
And then I looked up – at rotted moldy plywood around what I thought were the pipes to the upstairs bathtub. A claw-footed one as old as the 1909 house.
Of the tub the new aide uses:
“You know, I notice the tub seems to move around a lot,” she mentioned to me later. She’s a large woman, and then I pictured this – the large aide scrunched into an ancient 1909 claw-footed tub, falling through the floor to land in spidery basement. Just think “I Love Lucy.”
The tea-kettle-giggly-man breathed deeply as we emerged back upstairs. He clearly was much relieved to escape the ancient claw-footed-bathtub-1909-creaky-spidery house to the outdoors, with his measuring contraption, some yellow rolling thing.
And I got to ask my mother if she remembered writing down her last plumber’s number somewhere.
“I don’t have a plumber. Get the phone book.”
I got the phone book.
The thing I’m learning on this new learning curve of daughter-having-to-take-care-of-mother, is that the issue of control is a delicate one; as much as I craved to flip to the plumbing page and find a plumber myself, I had to hand her the book.
She started pursuing the plumbing section as she will catalogues. The way you pursue magazines in doctors’ offices. When you have nothing better to do but wait.
I didn’t have time to wait. I had to drive the drive back to pick up kids from school. I clench my teeth in my sleep. Now I clench when I’m awake, and really should wear my night guard all day long.
She started reading out loud that very fine print disclaimer no one else ever reads, about the phonebook folk “can’t guarantee” that the plumbing folk “adhere to licensing requirements” etc. Like the fine print on those book-length medical printouts that come with every tiny bottle of medication, about all the side effects, which if you were to actually read, you would never take the medication in the first place.
Just like I realized we were never going to find a plumber.
I snatched the book away.
“You didn’t give me a chance!” My mother snapped.
The icy snowball was big as a boulder.
We quibbled, until the balding-canker-sore-ridden-spider-phobic insurance man wheeled his lemon-yellow wheely thing right past her window, the perfect distraction as we ruminated about what the hell he was doing.
And Aide came in, thankfully, to offer lunch, and I slipped out with beloved phone book.
And I found a plumber.
Who would stop by later, and assure us that the tub would not fall through floor. It’s actually the toilet at issue. which means new plywood and tiling around the to-come new toilet.
Which means we need a tile man. I’ve decided to save him for another snowball day.
And on my way home, a little light twinkled on the dashboard of my new Honda Odyssey. I didn’t know what it meant, so chose to ignore it, until I got home and looked it up in thick Honda bible book: “Low tire pressure.”
No biggy. I’d get tire pressure checked next day.
Except next day, just in time to take boys to school, tire had no “pressure.” Was flat as a doormat.
I’m still waiting for snowball to melt.