Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Proving You Are Alive

G'ma didn't earn much in her administrative jobs in the school district.  Though she was offered many opportunities to teach kindergarten, she preferred working behind the scenes, scheduling classes and bus routes and answering the phones as harried parents wondered where or why or how to do whatever it was their little one needed.  She went home at night leaving her cares at the office.

She was a 12 month employee, so summers were booked, but that was also the class scheduling time frame and my sister worked as her assistant.  This was well before computers made life easy; they used index cards and colored markers and stacked the grades in teetering piles as they insured that everyone who wanted third year Spanish actually found it on their schedules.  It required a painstaking attention to detail and the ability to remember what all those colored stickers meant.  She was very good at her work.

The benefits made it all worthwhile. Her pension covers most of her monthly bills.  Her health insurance is unsurpassed.  Between Medicare and NYSUT her out of pocket expenses were less than $1000 last year, and that included a trip to the ER.... via ambulance.... and a mobile x-ray or two in the pod castle itself.  We don't worry about keeping her healthy.... at least we don't worry about paying to keep her healthy.

But those benefits must be secured with a notarized statement, renewable every year.  The school district sends me two copies of the same piece of paper, each and every December.  I'm not sure why there are two of the exact same documents in the packet, but there they are and there they have been and, I am sure, there they will be again next year.  My job is to connect G'ma with a notary, apply the stamp and address, and drop it in a mailbox.

Not the most onerous of tasks, but one that has many moving pieces.  The fact that the packet arrives in mid-December, amid the Brownie List and the holiday wrapping and the visiting and the thanking doesn't help, not one little bit.  I have found the packet in the Xmas 2011 storage envelope, in the back seat of my car, in a flap of my purse.  I have never managed to complete it earlier than the week it is due, and this year is no exception. It has to be in New York on Friday; we attacked the issue this morning.

Our winter temps are balmy for most of you, but for those of us who've become weather wimps over the years, the 50's require scarves, gloves and coats buttoned to the neck.  G'ma was in a pink permanent press long sleeved shirt, elastic waist fleece pants, and her sandals. She does own closed shoes, but she likes to see her toes and chooses sandals when presented with the option.  Today was probably a day that her sneakers would have served her well.

Covered in her long suede car coat, she complained about cold hands and the wind in her hair and the breeze around her neck.  It's 50' from the door to the car; I was amazed at how many complaints could be lodged in such a short distance.  She's not cranky.  She's just stating facts.  "I'm cold. The wind is blowing.  My hair is in my eyes. It's c-c-c-cold out here."  

I didn't go back inside for a scarf.  I've given away her collection of gloves.  I listened, I guided her into the car, and the kvetching was forgotten.  I'd run the heat on my way over to the pod-castle, the Schnozz was toasty roasty, and she'd forgotten her aggravation by the time her walker was stowed and I was behind the wheel.

"Where are we going?  The dentist?"  No, that was last week's adventure.  Thus began the first of many tellings - we are on our way to the bank\;, we have to prove to the school district that you are alive;  they will send a check to reimburse you for your Medicare subscription; we need a notary.  Over and over and over I answered, smiling to myself.  I didn't have to make conversation; her confusion provided the prompts and the answers were on auto-pilot.

We had to wait for an available banker-cum-notary.  Our chairs were uncomfortable, and that fact was noted, again and again.  A big belly preceded another patron as he exited a cubicle and G'ma's "That's a big man," drew a laugh from the patron to my right.  He agreed with her assessment and engaged G'ma in a conversation about his own struggles with weight.

A twenty-something, dread-locked African-American and an almost-ninety, white haired Jewish lady laid waste to the other patrons in the lobby as I giggled to myself.  One needed new clothes, another better teeth, and what was that one thinking when she left the house in the morning? In between the snarkiness, I was asked to remind her why we were there.  After a while, her young friend was able to clue her in, too.

We were sad to say goodbye, but the notary was ready for us and we had to move.  Changing chairs, walking four feet to take our place at Mayra's desk, took its toll. Amidst her apologies for moving slowly, for forgetting why she was there, for being old, we were left with nothing to do but shrug.

As we looked for identification that was not expired, as I explained, again, the purpose of the documents and the notarization, my mother went on a riff of ways she could prove that she was alive. Not wanting her daughter to be accused of defrauding the government, she offered to send photos of herself, to be fingerprinted, to call and speak to them.  All she needed was a signature or two, but that didn't seem large enough for the effort it had taken to get there.

"Is that all?" she wondered as we walked back to the car.  "Will you take me back now so I can nap?" Who knew that a trip to the bank could be so exhausting?

I sat in the car after I deposited her with her friends in the rec room of the pod castle and took a few deep breaths. Getting her into and out of the car is more and more difficult these days.  Her handwriting is slipping and her signature is a series of tiny curves instead of the firm upside-down-n's-that-looked-like-u's it used to be.  She's lost another tooth from her denture.

I'm watching my mother disappear before my very eyes.

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