Hi Mom; It’s good to meet you.

My Mom was a difficult, fastidious person. Responding to her deep-seater training as a severely abused child, she brought all her coping mechanisms forward into adulthood, most of which were aimed at preserving safety that only comes from being in complete control. Child Protective Services did not exist in the 1930’s and ’40’s, and the cultural norms of the day precluded outsiders from meddling in how others chose to run their households or interact with their children. Private matters were in fact, private. I’ve heard from older relatives over the years how sad it was that Mom was not afforded a room in the family home. Because she was a bedwetter, she slept on an open back porch, something she dreaded because of the “tramps” who walked the nearby railroad tracks at night. She had no bed and slept on a pile of rags that she laundered every day. She tied the bits of fabric in knots to help them hold a shape when she lay down on them. In addition to persistent inhumane and abusive treatment, the sensational details need not be repeated here, I learned that from the age of 9, Mom supported alcoholic parents and a little brother stocking shelves at the local grocery, taking in ironing, and waitressing in a malt shop. She worked early in the morning, during school lunch hour, and after school, as well as every weekend. As a teen, she landed a great opportunity with the phone company and worked a split shift as the overseas operator. She worked as a carhop at a diner during and after the split times on the overseas board. In her junior year, her folks took her out of high school to take on more working hours. She had wanted to become a home economics teacher, and quitting school was an especially bitter pill. Fear was a constant companion. Home was especially unsafe. Work, although relentless, was a welcome respite from home, although, without a car, the 2 mile walk in the pre-dawn and late-night darkness were harrowing experiences. Thus, she ran to and from, a practice that served her well when on occasion a would-be assailant would decide to take advantage of a young, pretty girl walking alone on the highway. In true survivor fashion, Mom took respite in her mind, dreaming of a future that was calm, clean, and safe, where the things she worked so hard for were respected, and she was respected. 

My folks were high school sweethearts. Four years her elder, Dad was drafted in the Korean War and spent 18 months overseas. Working the overseas board, Mom actually routed a call from Germany one night that ended up being him. Until his death, he teased her about costing him $2.00 a minute to listen to her cry! They eloped when he returned stateside and began the life that Mom had so carefully planned in her mind. Every surface of their humble home was cherished and polished. Every meal, though simple, was perfectly executed with home made table linens, and flatware placed with a small hand ruler, just as she had learned in home economics class. When her babies were 5 years, 3 years, and 11 months old, Dad was severely injured at work. Without a high school diploma to help her locate higher paying work, she drove the school bus in the morning, and worked the swing shift each night in a muffler fabrication plant. Despite the hours, every surface of her little house gleamed, as did her children, and everything the family. Linens folded just so. Dishes washed, dried and put up in specific fashion, never a water spot or item out of place. Floors were mopped daily, and hardwoods were polished twice a week. Bed linens were changed every other day. Bathroom and kitchen were thoroughly scrubbed daily. When carpet was eventually afforded, rakes and brooms were strategically positioned to remove any hint of footprints left in the knap with each crossing of the room. Our clothes were meticulously handmade and always mistaken for commercially made. Ironing was completed daily, including bath towels, underwear, and bed linens. Mistakes in keeping the routines were met with swift correction. Repeated mistakes were inexcusable on the part of such capable and well-instructed children. She worked herself to exhaustion. Vigilance overtook peace and joy, and fastidious adherence to doing the right thing, and doing things right, every time, were the overwhelming priority. I learned early on not to like her much. I understood that there was genuine care and concern lurking in there, but the exacting nature of every interaction drove me to want to avoid her. Her need to create a perfect and controlled world for us resulted in constant correction that was swift, cutting, and without consideration for those of us who had not been so diligently trained in the art of survival. She was tireless and relentless, still running in the dark, striving to arrive at a safe place. 

I love and respect my mom immensely, but I never liked her much. She was hard to be around with such exacting and correcting ways. I knew that she loved me, but there was plenty of evidence that she didn’t like me, or anything that I did or said. She just couldn’t stop controlling or correcting everything. The onset of dementia exacerbated these behaviors, and what were once emotional and verbal assaults became physical. She was miserably immersed in fury and agitation. Every moment with her was a test of endurance. My brothers and I tag-teamed caring for her, tapping out when we simply couldn’t take any more. Thank God for supportive spouses who also took shifts and ran interference. My oldest brother used to say, “I can’t wait until she forgets to be mad.” The agonizing interactions continued as we struggled to provide for her safety and best interests despite her complete rebellion and belligerence that characterized every aspect of interaction. And then, it began to happen – she forgot to be mad! As her cognition evaporated, she became caught in the present activity that is not tied to anything else. She loves to color and become fully immersed in creating the most beautiful pictures crafted with colored pencils. They are her favorite because their fine tips make it easier to control exactly where she wants the color to go. This remnant of her compulsion finally brings her comfort and joy! As dementia has progressed, she has become quite childlike in her speech and demeanor. She is sweet and tender and is always happy to see me. She says please and thank you, and when I say “I love you Mom”, she responds with “I love you too”!  After all these years, I am blessed to have met the sweet little girl who’s always been there, before time and mistreatment hardened her. I love spending time with my mom. She is always busy, and ready to have an adventure, no matter how small. She is quick to laugh at my simple silliness when we fix her hair, make up stories, and generally just hang out together. If not for the tragedy of dementia, I would have never come to know the lovely person who was there all along. Despite the challenges that spanned over half a century, dementia has affirmed to me that I had, and have, a truly great and loving mother. I love you, Mom. It’s really good to meet you.

Share this post:

Comments on "Hi Mom; It’s good to meet you."

Comments 0-5 of 1

David Greene - Sunday, October 03, 2021

The personality changes dementia brings are so unpredictable and often heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing a personal story of dementia that actually had a silver lining.

Please login to comment