Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday Afternoon with G'ma

A jigsaw puzzle and Fiddler on the Roof made for a lovely afternoon.  The fact that I was sitting next to my mother while all this was going on lit up my heart.  It's been a long time since we played a game on a Sunday.... a very long time.

I've been avoiding her of late.  As the numbness in my thigh wears off, my brain becomes aware of the sensations that are coming in from my adductors and my abductors and my knee and my psoas and my glutes.  The muscles have atrophied after 10 months of disuse.  There is clicking and crunching and tension as my femur moves around in the socket.  I'm nervous and I'm walking stiffly.

G'ma notices and asks kindly and intensely "Why are you limping?"  There's such love in her voice and concern in her eyes and I know I'm going to make her sad once again when I say "I was shot," and that's hard to do.  I love her.  It's hard to watch her face fall and then light up as she replies "In the ass!" We both giggle before she remembers that there was a child there with me.  If we are lucky, someone will interrupt us before we get to "and she died."  It's easier if we just mouth the words to one another as we turn to our new companion.

It's been harder lately to have the conversation.  My heart is aching as we come closer to the anniversary of last January and Congress on Your Corner; being reminded of it every time she sees me walk leads me to avoid my mother. If only I could avoid the guilt.

But today, I slept late and skipped breakfast because Kinsey Milhone was racing around the edges of  a few very interesting and interrelated plot lines in Sue Grafton's latest and I couldn't put the book down to feed myself.  Big Cuter, home for the holiday, brought home burritos for lunch and, fueled by salsa and guacamole, I went to Costco on the Sunday before Thanksgiving..... and got out in less than an hour.

Having a young strong man to empty my car left me smiling and finished with my chores.  The boys were on Douglas watching men throw each other to the ground, I'd finished my novel, and I had chocolate to deliver to G'ma.  One very deep breath later I was headed to the pod castle.

I found my usual parking spot in the back and went in through the (usually empty) family room.  This afternoon I was hard pressed to make my way through the crowd.  Four residents and Olga, the recreation specialist, were huddled around the big round table, engrossed in a very odd game of checkers.  G'ma was trouncing Norman; she had a double king and was jumping all over the board, thoroughly enjoying herself.

Resting my cardboard box of goodies on the back of a walker, I watched and I smiled.  Good days are to be treasured.  I began to collect the pieces of this one for my memory book.

Once they noticed my presence and shared in the chocolate bounty the game was forgotten and replaced by a jigsaw puzzle.  As I left to put the goodies in G'ma's room we went through the limping/shot/ass/child conversation arc once again.  It didn't hurt quite as much.

Straightening out her closet, refilling the paper cup holder, and noticing that I'd better buy her a new tube of toothpaste took ten minutes or so.  My return to the jigsaw puzzle was heralded by my mother,who, in a loud, clear voice, said "Look who it is! Suzi! HI!" and my face nearly burst from the smile.  She hasn't called me by name in months.

The television was muted, but Fiddler on the Roof was showing so I turned up the sound as Tevye hosted an engagement party and men danced with bottles on their heads.  Olga was pretty excited as she found edges and roses and green shutters and Norman worked on his brick corner and G'ma just sat there, watching.  Fran was pushing the pieces around and thumbing through a magazine and G'ma was watching her, too.  I was unable to resist the pull of Olga's enthusiasm and soon I had my own little corner of the puzzle going on in front of G'ma, who, it turns out, was not watching at all.

No, she was looking for the mate to the piece in her hand, not wanting to disturb anyone else by touching a piece until she was sure, very very sure, that it would be the right one.  Olga kept encouraging her, all the while working on her own section, eyes never leaving the residents or the pieces.  Fran left, and Norman found the corner piece and G'ma noticed that my part fit into his part and we were laughing as another of Tevye's daughters decided to fall in love.

G'ma wasn't tucked under her blankets taking a nap.  She wasn't stupefied in front of The Discovery Channel or CourtTV.  She was participating and it was all Olga's fault.  According to G'ma, she is impossible to refuse.

For two years I've tried every ruse in my rucksack to get her to go to Bingo.  As I was putting the chocolate into the bowl in her room I noticed a picture on her coffee table - she and Fran smiling over Bingo cards.  Who took the picture?  Olga.

Sitting and reaching are activities in which I can engage for about an hour before my body announces its presence with authority.  We'd been working on the puzzle for well longer than that, talking about Olga's plans to become a doctor, her interim step involving radiology, and the upcoming admissions interview.  Her fluent and lilting English came after her native Russian; I imagine the American admissions process is new to her, too.

She's a bright young woman with a loving heart and a spine of steel.  Anyone who can get my mother to attend an exercise class, who can shanghai her as she passes in the hallway, who can put her to work and have her do much more than she imagined possible, this is a woman who would be an asset to any program.

Her husband, he of the biblical nomenclature, is thrilled that she has found work which feeds her passion.  Listening to her cosset and coerce and convince while respecting dignity and enjoying a laugh it was easy to see that he was right.  She accomplished what I could not.  And my mother is loving it.

And not only is she loving it, she's living it.  The caregivers tell me that she's tired when she goes back to her room after dinner and she's not staying up til all hours of the night.  Instead, she's tucking herself in by 11 and is up and having breakfast by 9.  She's interested and stimulated and having a life.

She called me by name today.


To Whom It May Concern:

This is to recommend Ms. Olga, activities specialist extraordinaire.  I cannot imagine a job or a course of study in which her demeanor, intelligence, character and capabilities would not be an asset.

I look forward to following her rising star.  I encourage you to join me in that endeavor.

I might also include a link to this post.


  1. It's rare to find people like Olga. She is a true treasure and I'm glad she was able to get your mom out to do some other things. Do you think the stimulation of the activities is helping her memory too? You said she hasn't call you by your name for months.... Just me thinking out loud here.

    You are brave to go to Costco the weekend before Thanksgiving. I'm not that brave. I hate food shopping in the first place; so hubby usually does it. I made the mistake of taking my little man to the mall on Saturday. Talk about an ordeal. I had some bags on the back of the stroller and finally got out of the restraints and the whole thing toppled over. Felt like a complete idiot. I envy anyone that can get in and out of a store in an hour--especially a place like Costco.

    Off to get some work done.

    Huge hugs,

    Megan xxx

  2. Good for Olga and good for G'ma, and glad you got a pre-holidaze morale boost. xoxox

  3. Thanksgiving! So glad for G'ma, for Olga, for you. Good professionals who will care lovingly for our vulnerable loved ones...there is nothing I can think of better than that.


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