Jen Friday, May 7, 2010

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Jen Monday, May 3, 2010

This is my mother. Her name is Marti. She's 66 years old, and she has dementia. I usually just tell people she has Alzheimer's because I think that's what she has, and they can't diagnose her until she dies. At this point, her functioning is at stage 6 out of 7 on the Alzheimer's scale (moderately severe/mid-stage).

She and my dad live in a suburb of my city, so we see each other at least once a week. For the past month, however, they were out of town, and they just got back last night. (I have to admit that it was really nice to have them gone for a while.) So I dutifully went over to their house last night to say hi. The three of us sat down in the living room with glasses of juice, and my dad and I chatted about their trip (to their vacation home in Alabama) and what's been going on in the Twin Cities while they were away. My mother, sitting on the couch next to my dad, found a plastic bag in the seat cushions and put it on her foot like a boot, and tied it snug around her ankle. Then she got up and went into the kitchen and came back with a small screwdriver and a packet of envelopes, and she tried to write on the envelopes with the screwdriver. Every once in a while, she'd interrupt my dad and me to say something completely non-sensical. 

"Are there three of them?"

"Uhhhh, yes. There are three pillows on the couch. Here they are. One, two, three."

Sometimes I just look at that long, white forehead of hers and wonder what the hell is going on in there. Is her brain actually shrinking? I imagine it drying up and hardening, like a sponge left on the side of a sink. I use parenting techniques on her now; I squat down to put her shoes on her, I hold her hand or arm in public, I follow her if she starts to wander away. Parenting a toddler is great practice for having a parent with Alzheimer's. If you thought these skills were non-transferrable, you were wrong! 

Jen Saturday, May 1, 2010

First, the (blurry) cute kid picture, and you might have squint to make it out, since these are pictures of my computer screen taken with my iPhone. Two things: Victor's grandparents put up a tent in his room at their house so he could "camp out" when he's there. Second, you'll notice that my son has a tail. His favorite show is this Finnish cartoon about an old man and his cat, and he's the cat. (I'm impressed with how his grandmother got the thing to stick up off his butt. She knows how to make tails.)

So yesterday, I missed Victor. A lot. We've been doing this now for 2.5 years, and in some ways, I'm used to it. When Victor's in Finland, I stay busy, and I stay grateful. Victor's happy and fine, he's got a great family over there, what a fabulous opportunity for a unique childhood experience, etc. But then sometimes I just get sad, obviously. Mostly I miss squeezing that little boy body.
      Last night, it was Friday night. Joe has the kids this weekend, so there were kids running around the house, kids in the neighborhood. Today is Joe's son's Trey's birthday, so at about 7:45 last night, I drove over to Target to pick up a present and a cake (we're going rollerskating today). I was sitting in the parking lot watching parents with their kids trooping in and out of the store, and I just felt really desolate. It's hard to be around parents and kids (weirdly, I can be around just kids without getting too sad, but add in the parents, and the sadness starts.)
     The thought crossed my mind that I could go to a bar and get drunk. See, that's how I used to deal with sadness, or any other remotely challenging emotion. Whoa. Not truly an option. I have 3.5 years of hard-won sobriety, and truly, everything in my life is built on that foundation. I looked at my iPhone. It was 7:55. There were at least seven 12-step meetings within a three-mile radius of that Target (St. Paul is such an amazing place to be sober), and I pulled out of the Target parking lot and made for the nearest one. 
     I walked into that 12-step meeting just a couple minutes after it had started, so when I opened the door, the sound of, "I'm John, I'm an alcoholic," "Hi, John," "I'm Karen, I'm an alcoholic," "Hi, Karen," just washed over me and I immediately felt better. I took my spot on a metal folding chair in that room full of humanity (old, young, rich, poor, gay, straight, etc.) and I was ready to just *be* with the sadness, to accept it and turn to it instead of away from it. 
     This blog, I've realized, is making me look at how I see myself as a mother. Since I got sober when Victor was one, I had a lot of guilt and shame over my drinking when he was an infant. I'm still getting over that. I still look at pictures of myself, like those profile pictures I took yesterday, and I'm not completely "in like" with that woman in those pictures. I love myself now, but I'm still figuring out if I really *like* myself. Yesterday, I sent my friend a really cynical tweet, Jen-as-hardass kind of thing, and I didn't like that. i don't want to be a hardass. I want to be warm and loving to everyone in same way I'm warm and loving to Victor. 
     Today I'm going to Joe's son's rollerskating birthday party. Besides Victor's absence, Joe's ex-wife will be there. It'll be the first time she and I spend any time together. It's time for this to happen. But I'm scared that it'll be a really tough afternoon. I hope there's someone there for me to connect with. I can be sad, though. That's okay. I can even cry if I need to.