Your hands – a mother and daughter grow up

I hope you’ll enjoy this from the archives of my school days, written November 1, 2001

Your Hands

You came out crying, screaming really. You embraced the air and the world and announced your indignation with all the force your tiny body could muster. I heard you before I saw you, before I held you. It was a sign of things to come.

When you were first born I immediately looked for evidence of myself in you. On the delivery table I held your little hand and saw that it was truly a miniature of mine. I was so thrilled to see this part of me in you—to recognize myself in one of what I considered your most important features, —your hands. I think some of our turbulence may have come from this need of mine to see myself in you. It started from day one.

Over the years I have kept a journal of memories for you, filling it mostly with trivia of the times—but also with glimpses into our turbulent relationship at the start. When you were only 2 years old, I was already writing about struggles to come when I noted, “You try to exercise much control and influence over the people and events around you.”

August 16th, 1989
Last night you woke up in the middle of the night. When I put you back in bed, I left the light on and gave you about 6 books in your crib. I could hear them hitting the floor one-by-one as I left your room. You threw them out in your rage.

December 16, 1989
Anna, Anna, Anna, you are truly a challenge. We must come to terms with ‘dressing’—who is going to do it, what you will wear, and when……. I do think that your strong will will serve you well later in life—if we can just get through it together. I love you.

January 24, 1992
You are really a good girl but I think I misunderstand you sometimes. I yell at you for pushing the baby, or picking him up, but I know you’re usually just trying to help. And many times you really are a big help. You get irate with me when you feel I’ve reprimanded you unjustly. I guess I can’t find fault with that. I love you and hope we will be good friends.

September 22, 1992
You take the bus to kindergarten. The first day you were very brave. You were afraid and came back to me before you got on the bus. But you got on anyway—and that’s being brave.

January 25, 1993
You are very good at knowing where things are, and how things are done. I think you’re going to be a big help to me someday. You’re a smart girl and you are a good singer. You really take care of your little brother. I love you now and always—even if we fight.

January 10, 1996
We have had some times when we could laugh together but you still prefer your Dad to me and don’t hesitate to let me know it. I still believe with time we will have a strong relationship. I love you dearly. I’m just not a very patient person most times.

February 19, 1999
Yesterday you helped me set up the new computer and I saw again how I have come to rely on you. You help me, ungrudgingly, whenever I ask. I do enjoy your company at those times and I appreciate your help.

I know I’ve been hard on you, and I don’t regret some of it, but a lot of it I do regret. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me. I have firm ideals about being strong, being brave, not being needy, so I know I discourage weakness in you. I think the problem with this is that I may be stifling your ability to feel O.K. about your feelings. I want to tell you now that it’s O.K. to be angry, scared, sad, and proud—forgive me for my mistakes in this. I am not a perfect person either. I’m hoping you will love me anyway. And I’m hoping you will be able to overcome the mistakes I’ve made. I love you dearly and always will.

November 1, 2001
Being a mother is a tremendous emotional burden. I feel your pain; sometimes I think I feel more than your pain. I want to take it all away from you. But I know that I can’t. I can’t buffer the world and keep you in a pastel, cottony soft cocoon. Sometimes I wish I could. Sometimes I wish I could paint your world for you. But it is better that you experience life with all its sorrows, fears and disappointments as well as its triumphant and joyous moments. You are strong and brave and loving. I have confidence that even if I won’t always be able to hold you and comfort you; you have it within you to take care of yourself. This gives me great comfort as you spread your wings and go out into the world.

Now that you’ve gotten older I can see what a charming, talented young woman you are becoming. And I am so proud of you. I worried when you were younger that you would reject all the ideals I held most dearly. I was most concerned about my ideals about the place or role of women in society. When you were young and infatuated with Barbies and make-up and dress-up, I worried you would end up being something of a ‘fluff’ for lack of a better word. Now I realize you have become a brave, serious and enlightened young woman, in addition to being sensitive and caring. I couldn’t have formed you better if I had held the power to do so. You are everything I could have hoped you would be, and amazingly you did it in spite of me.

I like to watch you use your hands: playing the piano or the flute, drawing, painting, and creating hairstyles for yourself or your friends. You are really quite creative and very good with your hands. You use your hands to not only create, but to help and comfort.

I believe you will do great things with your hands.

Charcoal sketch from photograph. “Mom and Me” by Anna M. Grote 2005

Now I know — a story of mothers, daughters, caregiving, and Alzheimer’s

When I was told Mark couldn’t be left alone for two weeks following his bi-lateral knee surgery, I started planning ahead, making sure I had a good grocery list, trying to foresee anything we might need—at least enough to last until the next time my daughter came or I could get my son to come home, or Mark had an hour of therapy.

I thought about my mom and how, since she’s been a full-time caregiver for my father with Alzheimer’s, she’s had to plan ahead in detail. She can’t leave Dad alone to dart out and get what she runs out of on the spur of the minute. Mom relies on my sister who brings her supplies from Sam’s Club, and periodically calls her whenever she is out shopping.  She relies on me to get those unusual and expected things like salt for her driveway or a new doorbell when the old one broke. And she knows she can always ask either of her two home health aides in a pinch, but that only works on weekdays as Mom goes it alone on the weekend. So Mom plans ahead.

I guess you might say this brief period of caring for Mark has given me a better understanding of what my mom is experiencing.

In the early days of Mark’s care when he was still in the hospital, and his first days at home, my back and arthritic knees and hips screamed out in pain every time I had to lift the CPM machine, or lift Mark’s leg into it. Every time I had to lean over the bed to pull on his therapeutic hose and it was difficult and painful, I thought of my mom and all the physical pain she endures when she has to do all the things she has to do for Dad.

You might say in this brief period of caring for Mark that I felt solidarity with my mom and the challenges she faces.

At first when Mark was recovering from the trauma of the surgery and the influence of the medicines and he had no room to be concerned about anything but his own recovery, and he wasn’t able to stay awake for more than an hour at a time, and all the decisions and responsibilities for him, and us, rested on my shoulders, I thought of Mom.

Mom used to complain, “Your dad doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t care about how hard this is on me.”

And she might have been right. Dad might have been past the point of caring about more than himself as he struggled to survive in an Alzheimer’s world full of disability, confusion, and disorientation.

I knew how insignificance felt for one or two or a small handful of days. Only.

On Sunday when Mark had only been home from the hospital three days and I was still doing a lot of the care for him, I went into our great room for a moment. Anna, who had come home for the weekend to help, was curled up on the loveseat, covered with a soft throw, using her iPad with Arthur snuggled at her side.  The early morning light was streaking in from the windows high up on the wall near the peak of the cathedral ceiling. I could see the sycamores I love in the tree line beyond.

I wanted a moment of normalcy. I wanted to talk about, to think about, anything besides CPM machines, ice coolers, walkers, medicine or shots.

I sat down on the sofa and asked, “How is your job going, Anna?”

As she started to explain what was happening and how she was feeling about things, I thought of my mom. I thought of all the days I’ve gone to Dayton and sat at her kitchen table with her, eating lunch and talking while my Dad napped in the bedroom. I thought about all the simple conversations we’ve had about anything but walkers and lift chairs and hospital beds.

I know my situation is short term, and has already much improved. I know my mom’s situation has an uncertainty about it that I haven’t experienced. What will happen next? Will I be able to manage? Will I be able to keep him here? How long? I don’t have those questions.

I know there are many differences in our situations. They are not the same.

I also know that when I am free to go, I will visit my mom again, bring her lunch, and sit at her kitchen table talking about anything but . . .

Now I know how important that is.