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As most of you know, Mimi is still in Chicago but I get daily updates from Mimi’s step-daughter.  The latest one took the cake.  Maryann arrived home from work one evening and says she walked in the door, took one look at Mimi and was unable to contain her laughter.  There Mimi sat in her chair with lipstick smeared on her eye lids.  Maryann asked, “Mom, what are you doing?  Did ya get a little heavy-handed with the lipstick today?”

Mimi replied, “Oh, did I put too much?”

Maryann told me, “I mean Tara, the woman looked like she was a clown in the circus.  That’s how much lipstick was on her eye lids.”

Apparently, Mimi has been doing this for some time.  She uses the lipstick as an eye shadow and usually blends it in so there’s just a tint of color on her eye lids.  I hadn’t noticed.  The only make-up I had seen her wear was her lipstick and her eyebrows, which she draws on.  Admittedly, those eyebrows can sometimes get a little heavy too.  There were times I’d walked in and her appearance called to mind what I believed Miss Havasham from Great Expectations to look like.  Maybe I was wrong for doing so but I just let her go out like that.  I figured it was how she wanted them to look and I’d probably just embarrass her if I pointed it out.

Maryann, obviously, has a tendency to worry about the southern lady things like Mimi’s make-up and whether she’s out of her face moisturizer or if she’s been to the beauty shop that week.  I, on the other hand, am more concerned if she has enough medicine or Depends.  She’s on her own when it comes to how she dresses herself or applies her make-up.

For instance, one evening I came to drop off Mimi’s groceries and found her sitting in black slacks, a black T-shirt with small white polka dots over which she wore an unbuttoned red blouse with large white polka dots.  Like Maryann, I couldn’t contain myself and said, “Well, you’re awfully bright today.  I think that outfit is hurting my eyes.”

To which Mimi replied, “Well, I just thought I’d wear all polkie dots today.  See, it matches.”

I found out later that she’d been to the beauty parlor, a Circle meeting, and out to lunch all in that horrendous outfit.

Since her fall I’ve been seeing all sorts of new “outfits” and make-up techniques and I’m sure we’ll be seeing far more especially now that the holiday season is upon us.  I can’t tell you how many bedazzled Christmas and winter sweaters the woman has.  ‘Tis the season!

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Radio stalking

First off let me apologize for not writing in so long.  Mimi is currently staying with her step-daughter in Chicago so I guess you could say I’m on a bit of a hiatus from care giving.  Since she’s been gone though, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and am remembering some of the stuff that happened early on, when I first moved to Charleston.

After graduating from West Virginia University’s school of journalism I landed a job as a radio news anchor/reporter in Mimi’s hometown of Charleston.  After about a year of working the late shift, I was moved to the morning news show.  It was during this time that Mimi realized she could keep track of me through the radio.  I worked from 4 a.m. until noon every weekday but usually didn’t actually broadcast the news until 9 a.m.  If for some reason I wasn’t able to broadcast the news and someone did it in my place, the newsroom phone would ring at 9:05, the time the broadcast ended.  “Well hello, and how are you?  Is Tara around?”  Mimi would ask.  If I were in the studio the person would toss the phone to me but if I were at home she’d hang up the phone and call me on my cell.  “Well what in the world’s wrong?  Are you sick?  Why aren’t you at work?”  Everyone in the newsroom knew who Mimi was.  In fact, a lot of the listeners did too.  On the rare occasion that I filled in as an anchor for the statewide morning show, my co-anchor and I’d talk about her latest activities and the fact that even though she was in her mid-80’s Mimi proved to more active than most adults we knew.

So you can imagine Mimi’s disappointment five years later when I informed her I had quit my radio job to work as a nanny.  “Oh honey!  But you have such a good voice for radio.  All my friends say they can understand you just perfectly,” Mimi lamented.  I suspect that was a valid part of her disappointment but I believe the bigger letdown was that she’d no longer be able to police my movements through the clock radio in her kitchen.

Headed South

This week Mimi has been cruising the East Coast with her step-daughter but rest-assured, I still call each day to check their progress.  The latest phone call sent me reeling in fits of laughter.

I happened to call one evening just as they were sitting down to dinner at an Italian restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida.  I can hear Mimi in the background attempting to order, “slaw.”  That’s her slang term for coleslaw.  Mimi LOVES coleslaw.  If she were able to eat it everyday, she would but for some unknown reason, she can’t understand why Italian restaurants do not serve the side dish.  Every time we go to the Olive Garden she attempts to order shrimp and slaw and gets angry when the waiter informs her they do not carry either product.  But I digress.  So she tries to order the coleslaw to which she’s given the usual answer.  Then I hear her order a salad with blue cheese dressing.  Never in her life has Mimi eaten blue cheese dressing nor has she eaten a salad in the past year.  She says the taste of lettuce makes her sick.  Maryann tells Mimi, “Mom, you won’t eat that.  You don’t like salad.”

Mimi’s response, “Yes I will, now, hush!”

At this point I gather she attempted to grab the phone from my aunt because I hear Maryann say, “Okay Mom, hold on, I’ll let you talk.”

Mimi gets on the phone and we have our usual, “how are things going” chat and she hangs up.  That’s right, she hangs up rather than giving the phone back to my aunt.  It was a classic Mimi attempt at distraction, one she’s used on me and Tony countless times.

I decided to let them eat and figure Maryann will call back later which she eventually does.  I had just said hello when I hear her laughing.  She tells me that they had ordered a pizza half with just pepperoni and cheese for Mimi and the other half with peppers and onions for Maryann.  “Tara, you will not believe it.  That woman grabbed a slice with peppers and I told her she didn’t like peppers on her pizza and she hushed me and then grabbed the crushed red peppers and started shaking a bunch on her piece.  And I said, ‘Now Mom, that’s going to be hot and you don’t like hot things.’  Well, she just kept eating it and her face started turning red and then she started coughing and sweating.  A few minutes later there went that napkin up over the slice of pizza and she said she was all finished.”

I was dying laughing because it was an all too familiar scene.  Mimi has done the exact same thing to me and rather than admit her mistake she attempts to suffer through whatever mishap she’s gotten herself into.  Each day I gather some new tidbit and somewhat revel in the realization that, for now, someone else is putting up with the frustration and I can relax and just laugh at the stories she relays.

Mimi loves her perfume.  Oh dear Lord, she loves it more than anything.  And her church friend has convinced her that it’s good to spritz it in her hair, “make your hair smell good.”  So now, not only is Mimi dousing herself in perfume but she’s also spraying it into her hair.  Join me, if you will, in a collective gag!!  And it’s not quality fragrances, it’s Designer-Imposters, Dollar Store, perfumes to the extreme.

I’m extremely sensitive to smells.   I tell my husband that’s why I’m a good cook but it wrecks my world when I’m with Mimi.  One evening Mimi had just a few items to wash so Tony threw it together with our other laundry.  Suffice it to say that will never happen again.  NOT EVER!   My clothes came out smelling like a combination of pee, Mimi’s perfume, and the laundry detergent.  Blech! It took all I had to function the next day.  Yes, I am being dramatic but given the circumstances I’m allowed.

And really, why is it that Mimi can’t find her toilet paper or even her coveted face cream but she can as sure as shit, find her perfume.  Perhaps I should just take it  and throw it away but I’m convinced she’ll find something else to spray on herself.   Maybe if I place a bottle of Febreeze there, she’ll mistake it for her perfume and I’ll be salvaged, at least for a couple of days.

Hanging up…

Mimi’s phone is her lifeline to the outside world.  She absolutely cannot live without it.  Last year I switched her plan to the one offered by the cable company so she would have unlimited long distance but the plan also included voicemail and call waiting.  Mimi’s not terribly familiar with current technology so I decided to attempt to teach her how to use call waiting.  A year later and it’s still not clear and now more phone techniques are being thrown out the window.

The woman insists she does not hear the “beep” that signals an incoming call.  “No honey, it never beeps.”  So now when I call if she doesn’t pick up it’s either because she’s on the phone or she’s not there.  Recently I’ve been getting a busy signal when I call, indicating that she likely hasn’t hung up the phone.  It happens at least once a week.  When I’m at work I try to call every hour to see if she’s hung up the phone.  One particular day that phone remained off the hook for the full ten hours I was at work.  Normally if she hasn’t discovered her mistake, I drive up to her house, hang up the phone and go back home.  Not a huge deal but recently she’s been hanging up on me and she does so fairly quickly.  If that old woman doesn’t want to hear what I have to say she simply presses the End button and that’s the end of the conversation, at least in her mind.  She’s cut me off mid-sentence more times than I can count.  So I wondered, why can she so easily hang up on me but can’t hang up the phone when she’s finished with any other call?

I found my answer last week.  I was trying to make myself be heard over the T.V. when I finally just asked her, “Please for the love of God, turn that thing off.  I can’t hear myself think!”  Exassperated, she reached for what she thought was the remote and began pushing the button.  She pounded on that button, only it wasn’t the Off button for the T.V., it was the On button on the phone!  I gently took the phone from her hand, hit the End button and picked up the television remote, hitting the Off key.  So now I know, when I call and get a busy signal it means Mimi has been trying to change the channel with the telephone.

We’re all familiar with the commercial featuring the little old lady who has fallen and can’t get up.  Thankfully, she presses her Life Alert and is quickly whisked away in an ambulance.  Upon being released from her stay at rehab, Mimi had to agree to wear a similar necklace.  It’s tiny, light-weight and hardly noticable so why does she not wear it?  I’ll be sure to let you know when I figure that out.

Each time I visit, I ask if she’s wearing her Life Alert to which I receive this reply, “Nope, it’s in there on the nightstand or hanging in the bathroom.”  I retrieve the necklace and place it over her head, only to have to repeat the gesture the following evening.  This afternoon, however, was a welcome change.  She had it on!   And when Mimi’s  home health care aide arrived she informed me that she had it on everytime she was there.  So now I’m thinking this may be some sort of sordid game.  Perhaps she gets a small kick out of my frustration and efforts to make her wear the device.

Mimi’s aide, Tammy, commended her on wearing the alert and said if she falls, she only needs to remember to push the button.  Tammy informed us that she had a client who fell asleep on the couch and eventually rolled onto the floor.  “His box wasn’t a nice, small one like yours, honey.  It was a big, ole heavy thang.”  She said the man laid on the floor for five hours before his daughter discovered him.  He had forgotten to push the button.  “I told him, ‘I’m gonna stick a Post-It on the ceiling that says, PUSH THE BUTTON!'”

Thank goodness Mimi hasn’t fallen since she returned home and if she does, I just hope she remembers to PUSH THE BUTTON!

Anyone who has taken care of an elderly person certainly knows the battle that is bathing.  This is one we’ve been waging for months now but recently it’s gotten down right ridiculous.  Mimi’s aide came by on Tuesday to give her a shower.  I received a call from Tammy saying that my grandmother absolutely refused to get into the shower and insisted she had taken one just that morning.  Tammy also informed me that Mimi was peeing on the legs of her pants, taking them off, laying them out to dry and then putting them back on.  In addition to this, she was peeing in her Depends and pulling those back up.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was at a loss for words.  And then it happened, I became enraged.  I was so mad I was shaking.  I apologized to the aide and called Mimi.

“You have GOT to take a shower.  You haven’t had one since Thursday and today is Tuesday.”

“Tara Marie, I’ve been taking showers for 87 years!  I know how to take a shower and I took one just this morning.  In fact, that little nurse came in and said, ‘Boy, you just look so fresh and clean and pretty.'”  Apparently in Mimi’s mind everyone talks as if they’re in a Tide commercial.

“Really, well, I wonder why she called and told me you refused to get in  the shower.  And just how did I know she was there when I haven’t talked to you all day?”

“Well, I don’t know.  You’re just sitting there, lying through your teeth!”

I knew it was no use but I told her she HAD to take a shower Thursday.  There would be no discussion about it.

Thursday arrived and at 11:15 I received a call from the aide.  Mimi had refused to shower yet again.  And when the aide tried convincing her how happy I’d be Mimi said, “Tara’s not the boss, she just thinks she is.”  And that’s when Tammy left.  Fortunately, she agreed to come back after she finished with another patient and give it another shot.  I assured her my husband would definitely be there this time.  He had planned going to the earlier appointment but the aid arrived an hour early, something the health care agency assured me would often happen.

I called Mimi again and said, “You have a choice.  You can get in the shower for Tammy when she comes back or after work Tony and I are coming over and if I have to, I will physically carry you into the shower.  It’s up to you.  Tammy can bathe you or I can.”

“Well, that’s just fine, Miss Prissybritches!”  She hung up the phone.  For an old lady she hits that End button pretty fast.  It was the third time she’d hung up on me that day.

Tammy arrived and Tony was there, ready for battle.  Mimi started to argue insisting she didn’t need a shower to which Tony replied, “Mimi, we all have to do some things that we don’t want to do and this is something you don’t want to do but you have to.  Tammy has to do her job and that job is giving you a shower.”

“Well, fine!”

And that was that.  After three days of fighting, Mimi was finally clean!