G'ma has a friend. Glenna sits beside her at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They chat, they observe, they judge, they comment, they laugh. Meals last for hours; there's too much fun being had.
Did you notice that I mentioned breakfast? My mother, the queen, used to prefer her morning meal on a tray in her room. She didn't have to bathe, or change from her jammies. Her flakes and coffee were waiting for her when she roused herself from bed and made her way to her recliner.
Over the past months, she's been waking up earlier and earlier, with less and less prodding. No one knows why her internal clock decided to reset itself, but reset itself it did. My night owl parent is now an early riser. Will wonders never cease?
Glenna doesn't seem to care that Mom can't remember, from day to day, where she is or who has been sitting beside her for months. Glenna remembers my name, and that clue from a table mate has led to more "Hi, Suzi" greetings than the more generic, "Look who's here," that had become the norm from my mother of late. It makes me happy.
We sit in the dining room, playing Old Maid, watching the aides clear the dishes and wipe drippy faces. Rules are explained and re-explained and, as usual, G'ma wins most every hand. Some things never change, no matter how much time has passed. I wonder about the time, Glenna rolls her eyes and says "Ten after two" as we laugh about the giant wall clock behind their heads, the one which has read 2:10 for the past couple of years.
The cards are re-dealt, the pairs are made, and through it all there's a clickety clackety noise in the background. It's my mother and her teeth.
She smoked cigarettes in my youth because she liked the feel of them in her mouth. She quit, cold turkey, when I refused to allow tobacco around Big Cuter's pink baby lungs. In the three decades since, she's put nothing in her mouth but food stuffs. She had no annoying personal habits before she decided that rolling her false teeth around in her mouth made for quality entertainment.
The problem is, I can no longer take her out in public. The noise is loud and peculiar enough to attract a glance, if not a stare. It's vaguely nauseating, if you're averse to mouth noises and personal habits being put on display. It's definitely not the kind of behavior the woman my mother used to be would have countenanced. Too bad she's not around any more to whip this new version into shape.
Mom 2.0 is surprised every time I ask her to keep her teeth in her head; it's not conscious behavior, it seems. Habits are hard to break; a whiff of Haldol might work, but medicating her so that I am happy seems peculiarly selfish to me.
On the other hand, she enjoyed going to lunch, having dinner at my house, watching the Happy Ladies Club bowl. She was a smiling, interested, unobtrusive presence until she became the Oral Musicale of my life. I like my friends too much to foist this on them. I know they'll all tell me it doesn't bother them, but that's what I'd tell them, too.
Which is in the best interests of my mother? And which mother am I imagining as I try to type the answer? Certainly, my own personal Mommy would never have left the house knowing that others would shudder at her approach. In Daddooooo's words, she was a blue-nose, a prissy missy who cared all too much about what others might think. Living with him, a man who never noticed what others were thinking, might have moved her further into the Do Right camp, but I think it's just who she was raised to be, who her character wanted her to be.
But who is she, now? She still won't put on a wrinkled blouse; she knows it's important to present a tidy face to the world. It shows you respect yourself; I can't do that! She is not now nor ever has been in favor of the death penalty, even when imposed on the man who put a bullet in my ass. It's not who she is.
Is her adherence to social conventions a matter of this scale? Who should decide that issue?
If I look closer, if I really think about how she lived her life, I see that there's an easier way to get to a behavioral response. I can avoid the emotions and go straight to what might work. I knew if I worried this around in my head long enough that an answer would come through, and I'm glad to report that G'ma was a big part of finding the solution. Then, again, so were her teeth.
Dentures are made to be stationary grinders and placeholders, not ships traveling on the tongue, never docking for very long, always in search of .... that did get away from me, now, didn't it. I'll try again:
Those movable teeth brought us to the dentist's office this morning; I for my 6 month cleaning and she for an emergency-we'll-squeeze-her-in visit to Dr. Haymore. I had her demented dentures in her purse. There were lost implants and broken wires, and silver pieces and roots all over the place, but she and Dr. Jess were chatting away, marveling at this and that, laughing at one another's jokes. I watched them from my perch across the hall. I saw their reflection in the screen above my head, superimposed on my x-rays.
The hygienist commented on how well G'ma seemed to be doing, and as I thought about how well she does in familiar environments, the answer to the dancing teeth question was revealed. I should let her be herself, the self that remained, that was hard-wired.
I don't need to worry about making her happy; she's always been in charge of her own amusement. I don't need to provide external entertainments; she was always happiest at home, with a book or the television and a blanket and a nap. Even if we went out every day, it wouldn't matter. She won't remember.
She has no memories of this summer's wedding, though she's glad to be told that she had a good time. Even if I took her on an outing, its value would be only in the moment. If that moment were fraught, it just wasn't worth it. In my heart, I know she agrees.
In her pod-castle, she has three communal meals and a friend by her side every day. She has card games and exercise if she wants them, and she has her own television and a remote control she understands if she doesn't. My post-it notes (Leave this on Channel 3....Use this for volume) are new to her at each reading, but they've solved a persistent problem and they don't seem to annoy her. Perhaps that's what I was looking for: a solution that won't annoy anyone.
We'll still go out; the ladies behind the counter at Subway greet her and treat her like royalty, and I am loathe to deprive either side of the equation of the other's company. Amster and her kids don't seem to mind, and there are enough of them with divergent interests that G'ma and I can always be amused.
As her body continues to shrink, so does her world. I'm trying to think of it as consolidation, not as loss.