Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Plumbers On Speed-Dial

One of the things that we had to learn early when my parents first came to live with us was that it was best  that we never left them unattended.  We didn't realize it, though, until AFTER thousands of dollars were spent fixing  all the "accidents" that occurred when they were alone. Two specific incidents come to mind.

When we moved to this house 4 years ago, Taylor and I discovered the joy of walking and would go out on a regular basis several times a week.  We continued to do so until one fateful day about two years after my parents arrived.  Upon returning to the house after our morning walk, Taylor headed to the shower in the loft and I went downstairs to the den to cool off before I, too, took a shower.  As I sat on the couch, I began to hear a sound that was not unfamiliar, exactly, I just couldn't pin point what it was.  I stood up and began to walk toward the sound and felt something hit my head as I stood near the bathroom door.  I looked up to see drops of water cascading through the ceiling tiles and at the same time heard the powder room toilet flushing.  Realizing that an overflowing toilet was the source of the flooding, I hightailed it upstairs and found a lake on the powder room floor.  It was at that moment my father came stumbling out of the Master bedroom with a small towel.  I said, "We'll need more than that!" and ran to the linen closet upstairs in the loft.  After getting the water soaked up, I asked my dad how many times he had flushed and he indicated that he flushed several times.  I asked why he would continue to flush if it didn't go down the first time and he said,"I don't know.  Stupid, I guess!"  Now, if you heard that once as an explanation for something someone did by accident, you wouldn't think much about it, but this is the retort we all receive from my father in regard to anything he does.  At that point, though, all I could do was clean up the floor and then take care of the downstairs bathroom.  I got the toilet fixed and told my dad that I had placed several towels in the powder room cabinet just in case it happened again,  The whole episode spooked me enough that Taylor and I decided we couldn't walk while they were awake for fear of another toilet overflow.

So some time passed before we got cabin fever and decided to venture out leaving Bill & Mary alone again.  That decision ended up haunting me for days.  When we returned from wherever we went to, I entered my parents' bedroom and my father looked at me sheepishly and said, "Forgive me, dear daughter, I know not of what I did."  Now I don't know about you, but when I hear words like that, especially now, blood drains from my being and I start hyperventilating.  I took a very deep breath and asked him what happened.  He said that the toilet in the Master bathroom was clogged and that he tried to plunge it. I looked toward the bathroom and it looked as though every towel in the room was on the floor soaking up water, never a good sign.   I took two steps and promptly felt and heard the familiar SQUISH of wet carpet.  My heart sank through the floor and beyond, for several reasons.  One, I knew they definitely cannot EVER be left alone again.  Two, the cost of repair was going to be astronomical.  And three, I was about to have a meltdown.

I turned to my father and asked him what happened.  He claimed that he kept flushing it after it flushed slowly the first time. "Why would you keep flushing?"  "I don't know, stupid, I guess!"  I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think straight, I needed air and someone to tell me my next step.  I called Steve and lost it.  After he calmed me down, he said he'd call and get someone out to the house as soon as possible.  I stood in the
dining room feeling powerless and hyperventilating. Then I heard my mother ask the million-dollar question.  "Did you try using the toilet cleaning pad?" "Yes"  "Were you cleaning the toilet with that wand?"  "It's not supposed to be flushed."  "Oops, too late!"  It was at that moment that the floor gave way swallowing me up into the depths of hell.  I am not proud of what happened next.  I know that my meltdown was the result of the stress I had been under for the previous 2 1/2 years.  Running a household with 2 grown children, 2 elderly parents and a husband, as well as, trying to start an online business, took it's toll and in a big way  I started screaming about my pretty house being ruined and how I couldn't understand why he'd keep flushing after seeing it was clogged.  My mother made a comment about how they would pay for the repairs and I said, "You sure as hell will!"  The total cost for drying out and cleaning carpet and under flooring, new toilet purchased and installed (because the old one had 5 disks stuck in it!) and labor over a 5 day period?  $2000+

As I was leaving the bedroom after my tirade, I heard my father turn to my mom and as deadpan as possible and without a trace of emotion say to her, "Well, I guess we've overstayed our welcome."

They are still here and I have learned that having meltdowns are bad for everyone's health.  Hence, the purpose for this blog!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Remember your childhood when all you wanted to eat was cookies, cakes, donuts, candy and pop?  Well, as it turns out when you are elderly, you CAN!!!  Mary Beth & Bill have a sweet tooth that rivals that of a 5 year old.  
Almost every morning, my mother will request a donut or piece of chocolate to go with her 2nd cup of coffee right after eating Froot Loops for breakfast!  My dad will ask for ice cream sometimes after eating his Froot Loops for lunch.  In between, they will steal chocolates from the candy jar that sits in the kitchen.  I have seen them eat something sweet after a meal of waffles or pancakes!  I feel dizzy and diabetic watching them down all that sugar with Coke.  Dessert is expected after every dinner.  Usually ice cream, sometimes with chocolate syrup and always accompanied by a cookie or two-naturally!  My dad hoards Peppermint Lifesavers, cookies and chocolates in his pockets!  He even goes to bed with them!
My mom will request cake for every real and imaginary occasion during the year.  She thinks we need more than one type for any occasion  like Christmas, Easter, July 4th, birthdays and wedding anniversaries.  Her rationale is "so no one in the house has to do without because they don't like what we got."  She claimed not to like the carrot cake I got for Alex's birthday, so I bought a coconut cake, too.  Later in the day we found what was left of the carrot cake, a pile of rubble where Mary Beth had notched into it using a large spoon like a backhoe.  Without a trace of irony, she said, "I like carrot cake!"    
We have also purchased cake for non-holiday occasions like first day or last day of school, getting stitches out, getting a new toilet, Steve returning from a business trip, Heidi coming back from vacation, Alex and Taylor's grades, anniversary of their move here or someone arriving for a visit.  It reminds me of an old Andy Griffith episode where the Morrison sisters were selling Moonshine for "celebratory purposes only, not just for nipping".  The locals knew this and therefore would purchase the alcohol under the guise of being for legitimate reasons, like Sir Walter Raleigh Day.  I really wouldn't be TOO surprised if WE got a cake for National Potato Week!  I mean at this point, isn't the allure of the cakes close to that of Moonshine?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Parental Toddlers

When you become a parent, the term to describe the journey is "raising children".  I have searched and have not found a comparable term to describe taking care of parents. Sometimes it  feels like I am raising them, as well, except that this time around they talk back, have opinions about things I do, and eat anything they want.  My father uses a walker, but in the first two and a half years they were here, he refused to use a cane or a walker.  When a child is learning to walk, he is cute when he's wobbly.  If he falls down, he usually lands on a diaper that cushions his fall.  When a 5'10" man is wobbly it is definitely not cute because if he falls something is going to break.  Not to mention all the items he is grabbing as he stumbles through the house trying to keep his balance!  When toddlers are being potty-trained, anything goes in terms of how to motivate and reward behavior.  How do you tell an adult that they need to wash their hands after using the toilet without coming across as pushy or dictatorial?  Offer them a cookie?  I also gave up trying to get them to eat properly.  Telling them they have to eat veggies doesn't work when they can go get ice cream, cookies or candy without my help!  Everyday for breakfast my parents eat the exact same thing.  Daddy eats one egg, scrambled with coffee. The coffee has cream and sugar in it.   EXACTLY one spoonful of each.  He measures the cream into his spoon, then he picks up the creamer and empties a single drop into my mother's cereal.  It doesn't matter that I only put a spoonful of cream in the creamer in the first place! What he does with the cream goes along with his shaking the sugar shaker before measuring it, as if it has developed lumps since he shook it yesterday!   My mother eats fruit loops, every day.

Me: Mom what kind of cereal do you want to eat? Mom: What was that multi-colored cereal I had yesterday that looked like Cheerios?   Me:  Froot Loops?   Mom: I like Froot Loops!! I want those from now on! That was 3 years ago and she hasn't missed a day.....until this morning. Oh, the humanity!! LIFE JUST DOESN'T HOLD THE SAME WITHOUT FROOT LOOPS!!!  I guess we all know where Heidi will be this morning! Mom is fine. She had some "Frosty Flakes" instead.  I'll be in trouble if she starts wanting the toys enclosed!  Lunch is the same everyday, as well.  This time Daddy has Froot Loops and Mom has half of a sandwich usually with coffee.  So no neurons are needed when I fix breakfast or lunch.  Dinner is a whole new issue.  When it comes to serving dinner I have to be a magician.  I can cook an entire meal and they will not want it.  Usually, I end up making three different meals because they are rarely in the mood the same thing.

When Daddy was growing up in Memphis in the 1930's one of his favorite things to do was getting tamales at Leonard's restaurant.  He has talked  fondly over the years about how his Gram would give him a nickel to go down on Sunday night to get a tamale.  Since then he has tried to find a tamale as good as Leonard's, to no avail.  After they moved here I began the quest for the better tamale and eventually came across canned tamales in the Hispanic section at the grocery store.  I think he was surprised to like them as well as he does.  So when he doesn't like my prepared dinner he asks for tamales.  This happens about 3-4 times a week!  Well, at least he's eating!  My mother's go to meal when she doesn't want what I made is Ramen noodles or Cream of Wheat.  I used to get frustrated trying to come up with numerous meals for them to choose from and then realized they are children with limited palates.  After all, it's more important that the child eats something!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let's hear it for the underdog!

Growing up in Bexley, Ohio,(yes, THAT Bexley, the one Bob Greene writes about), was quite difficult at times because of the cliques and snobbery that comes with upper middle class living.  As a result, children learn early to be very discriminating about who they are friends with, which party invitations to accept, whose Bar Mitzvah or First Communion to attend or who to talk to in school.  Snobbery is actually an art form.  An art form that I never mastered and therefore fell to the bottom of the social totem pole early.  One reason for such descent is my mother's insistence that I am friendly to all children, no matter their level of popularity.  I remember when I was in the 2nd grade being invited to a less popular girl's birthday party.  I voiced concern about whether to accept the invitation and my mother said that I would because "you should never turn down friendship since they are hard to come by".  So I went to every party and every religious ceremony I was ever invited to.  Even to the Bar Mitzvah of a boogery 7th grader.  I would talk to anyone and everyone in school.  I had a lot of friends, but by the time we entered high school, the labels had been made.  The geeks, the brains, the jocks, the stoners and the loners.  If you didn't fit in with the first four groups, you were relegated to be a loner because your list of friends included people who didn't socialize with each other.  So as a result, I rarely knew about parties and certainly never received invites to them.  Looking back I am glad I couldn't be pigeon-holed into a category.  The pain of being excluded was worth having a diverse number of friends and learning to appreciate the differences  Which brings me to Mary Beth.
For the last 25 years, I have witnessed a habit of my mother's that seems to intensify with each passing year.  I don't remember when it started, but it was subtle at first.  A comment here, a comment there.  Insults that were masked as mere observations.  I found it difficult to witness because this was my mother, the woman who shaped me into the all-accepting person I am!  One of the first times I can remember this behavior was in the 1980's.  I was telling her about a new friend I had met in the neighborhood.  When I mentioned that the woman's husband was a doctor, my mother's immediate response was, "What doe HE look like?"  I remember feeling as if I had been punched in the stomach.  I could feel my face turning beet red from embarrassment that she could say such a thing..  I could feel my heart racing and my breathing became difficult.  I was struck dumb-founded  and extremely tongue-tied.  I remember stuttering out a response saying, "What difference does it make?  He's a doctor.  He does good things!"  As the years progressed I began to notice the pattern of behavior.  She always wanted to know what someone looked like and along the way, she started commenting on people we would come across in public.  I remember feeling like I wanted to sink into the ground after her comment about how some poor waitress or attendant somewhere was funny-looking or had some weird anomaly about them.  Sometimes, she wasn't very discrete and would say it within earshot of the poor soul.  When my dad was recovering in a rehab in 2004 , we were walking down the hall to leave and as we walked past the nurses' station, she said the nurse looked like a demented rabbit.  All I could think was, "Oh, God, kill me now!"  In an earlier blog, I wrote about Dr. Baby Teeth.  That's a perfect example of this habit.  Attaching a person's worth to their physical appeal.  I guess it makes her feel good about herself.
So imagine my surprise when at 53 years, 10 months and 8 days old, I finally pushed back.  Yep, that's right.  Heidi found her backbone today and stood up for the little guy!  I had to take Mary Beth to get her stitches out of her face from her melanoma removal last week.  We got into the car and before I had exited the parking deck, it happened.  She was remarking that the dermatologist's nurse removed her stitches.  She didn't comment on the fact that she did her job or that she was really careful, no, she said, "She sure was funny-looking!"  And then 25+ years of repression came spilling out.  I lost it.  Before I knew what was happening I turned to her and said, "Why do you do that?"  "Because I'm observant"  "That's not being observant, Mom, that's being judgmental and you do it all the time and I can't stand it because all I can think about is what you say about me!  How would you feel if someone said that about you?"  "They probably do!"  "Well, you would feel awful if you knew about it!" "Well, then I won't do it anymore............around you."   Ah, Mary Beth.  Gotta love her!