August 2011
Dr. D

What can I say? We brought our A game. The A team. A gorgeous post Irene day. But mom hunkered down in her misery, no matter what we did. She wore two fleece vests and an enormous sweater and her hat. Even though she had asked to go to the doctor again - "I don't think I can bear the pain any more. Why go on?" She cycled and cycled through: "Why didn't you tell me we were doing this? Why do we have to take the bus. Why didn't you let me know?"


We tried to stay cheerful. We sang "Octopus's Garden." We explained and explained. And explained again.


mom, over and over on the bus: "I will never, ever trust you again. What kind of daughter would DO this to her mother?"  - we explained to the other people on the bus that we were indeed legit, there was no kidnapping going on, as mom can be LOUD.


me: "You are absolutely safe, mom. I promise. You asked to go to the doctor and this is how we go."

mom: "Well I hope you're enjoying yourself. You should know BOTH of my legs feel WORSE now than before. Thank you very much."

me: "under the sea... in an octopus's..."

mom: "I guess you think this is funny?"

me: "No mom, but look what a beautiful day it is?"

mom: "It's going too fast, the bus is going too fast."

me: "you are absolutely safe, I'm right here. There's nothing to be afraid of."

mom: "I'm not afraid. I'm TERRIFIED."


We make it to the doctor. Dr. D is clever with her. Distracts her by asking about her poems.

mom: "Well I'm working on a new book called "Mothers and Mums"

Dr. D: What's the difference between a mother and a mum?

mom: "Well a mother is kind of stolid and a mum is probably more whimsical." (she still has an impressive vocabulary)

Dr. D: "which are you?"

mom: "well, I guess I'm a little of both."


Dr. D asks her how she feels about how her daughter is taking care of her.

mom: "Well, sometimes she forgets to tell me things, but she is A number one. We laugh a lot." (Dr. Devi says to me: "I just wanted you to hear that in case you didn't know." I tell her I know on that molecular level, but it's so interesting to hear mom flicker between performances.


On the way out the tears start again, and she swipes most of Dr. D's expensive chocolates before we can stop her. She has promised the woman at the desk some poems, so we take her card with us. That's a good sign... We try to get her interested in the beautiful day again, we stroll up Madison Ave. for a few blocks to put off the inevitable drama of the bus. She whimpers and yells at every crossing, every ramp, every tiny bump. Flailing her arms out no matter how slow we go, no matter how carefully we maneuver the cracks in the sidewalk. 


"Where are you taking me? Why are you doing this to me?"



Poor thing. Those big tears kill me. I know, she really is terrified.


We get home and she won't eat anything until we give her ice cream. She tears up the card from the office. I guess Madelyn won't be getting any poems any time soon.



A half hour later she calls. She is feeling guilty I know, about how awful she was:

mom: "I think I didn't behave very well through that ordeal, and I just wanted you to know I was tired."

me: "That's ok mom. I understand.  All we can do is keep on keeping on, right?

mom: "Yeah, that's what my mother used to say. "

the mom museum

Mom gets cards and postcards often from my brothers. It's their way of keeping in touch. My sister in law has started a whole mailing campaign, sending tons of them now with simple and loving reminders. "Stoney, you have 3 beautiful children and they love you very much." My niece, Hilary sent one the other day with her favorite book "If you give a pig a pancake" -



hers said


Mom got a good chuckle out of that. I am going tomorrow to get some checkers. Maybe she'll remember how to play. Although she said, "well we don't really have time to do those kinds of silly things. " In fact, all we have is time.


She also got a kick out of the "Heart stones" book, but only because her name is Stone.


After a minute of paging through she said, "well it's just not my cup of tea." She just didn't understand why heart shaped stones were such a big deal.


She is very particular about the pictures. One that I loved of an elderly couple in fabulous tacky sequined suit and matching dress ended up in the trash. I rescued it and put it up anyway. Another with a polar bear? Directly into the museum. We never know why one card will thrill her, and another will provoke quite visceral disgust. Some kind of dementia rorschach test is in order I'm sure. She hates the picture of me -


but for some reason leaves it there. Maybe to remember?


Some cards and photos will remain intact. Some she will trim and cut, and winnow until only the faces remain. There was nothing much left the other day of a re-wedding photo of her and my father, so I put a different one up. So far she hasn't cut it. She just cut out the little birds from another card to put next to the wedding one.


She doesn't really remember my dad now. We have a cassette tape still, of him reading to her. It kind of creeps me out, because he died in 1997. But she is convinced it is my brother, and won't hear another word about it.


Friday, she told my husband Patrick that she didn't have any kids. But she calls me 10 or 15 times a day and knows exactly who I am. She told me that she will marry Patrick if I ever let him out of my sight. And, fickle as ever, just yesterday, she fell madly in love with Julie's husband Jim, and proposed to him.


So I guess it was a good weekend.

another step


on the long road home.

Dr. Cutie

Mom, true to form, was cranky, frightened, despairing even though she had asked to go to the doctor: "I think I'm going to need surgery again" she said very darkly, two days ago.



Yesterday, I waited until half hour before we'd need to leave to get the bus to Dr. Bronson's office. I pretended to make the call:

me: Hi, Dr. Bronson? Oh yes, hi. I was wondering if there's any chance we could get in to see you today. Mom is worried about the pain, and it's definitely time for our follow up after the hip replacement in June...Today? Really? Oh, that's wonderful Dr. Bronson, we'll see you there."


I can't tell her anything ahead of time or it cycles in to the fiercest, most relentless feedback loop. She starts dialing everyone, anyone, agonizing, asking if it's time yet, when are we leaving, now what was his name again?


So I told her: "Mom, it's incredible, Dr. Bronson has an opening this morning. We should get ready and go."


Then it starts, the backtracking, fear, complaining. Julie, Elaine and I sing the national anthem to ourselves under our breath. We muscle through the prep. We get her in the wheel chair, we cajole her down the four stairs in our lobby, comfort her through her loud protests about the bus. I ask her please to stop complaining for five minutes. Half the time I am laughing, half the time I am close to tears. She catches me and says:

"So I guess you think this is very funny, don't you. Well, have you ever been in PAIN????"


Just getting her on the x-ray table is an exercise in extreme manipulation, patience, and bossing. She just doesn't understand anything in a coherent way. She is terrified. We do our best. We get readable scans...the knee from last November looks perfect, popping out in white crisp relief against the murky background. The hip is the same, pristine, lovely. The other hip? Not so much. Beyond end stage arthritis.


Dr. Bronson says she is strong, everything looks good. "When do you want to do the other hip? I'd say November or even earlier in the fall."


My stomach is lurching. I've been secretly hoping he'll talk us out of it. I've been secretly hoping enough was enough. I've been secretly hoping somehow it just wasn't that bad. He reminds us that indeed she did have "three flat tires. And even though she only has one flat tire now, she still can't drive."


I look down at mom, she hasn't really been able to hear or follow the conversation, and it's too exhausting to try to translate as we go. She is calm and smiling all of a sudden. Maybe she is confusing Dr. Bronson with Dr. Kruger, - "the one who loves my poetry and already married two Nancys and that's why he can't marry me?"


Dr. Bronson starts to the door. Mom looks up at him, totally innocently: "Are you Dr. Cutie?" (Her attempt at Kruger)


We all crack up. She is enjoying the audience although she's not sure what is so funny.


Dr. Bronson: "Well, some of my patients think I'm cute, but, no, I am not Dr. Cutie."


We decide to push her the ten blocks home, rather than go through the stress and drama of the bus. Of course, then it's: "What are you doing, where is the bus? OWWWWW." Tears and more tears.


At least we've had a moment. Sad but sweet. Humor alive in the rubble. I have to keep remembering how excruciating it must be for her to feel her world closing in; words that she knew yesterday just beyond her reach today, nothing making sense.

Horton help us all. 

the fierce instinct of every mother

There is a fierce mother nature that surfaces even now with mom.

Most days She is looking for a fight. Yesterday I said "mom, did you notice how I said, let's take it slowly instead of let's take it slow? I thought you'd be proud because usually you have to correct my grammar."

(Julie's so used to it now, she just thanks mom in advance.... )


 sour sour face

 mom: "I NEVER correct you. What are you talking about?"

me: "Mom, that's a good thing. It makes me think before I speak. I LOVE it that you keep me on my toes."

mom: "I do NOT."

me: "It's a good thing mom. I'm happy that you help me with my adverbs."


(the glasses holder always ends up in interesting places, and she won't give up the hat turtleneck and three vests even in a heatwave)


Somehow we redirected. My brother's letter, her poem that should be published soon.  But usually that doesn't last too long. Her default conversation is about pain. And that is so hard. Because as much as I know in my bones that she is way more comfortable than before surgery, she is still in pain. And there's no way to explain that to her. It's also impossible to get her to take even advil consistently. One minute she'll ask for ten more, "these aren't big enough!" the next she'll yell that "those pills don't do a damn thing."


I really didn't expect it at all. But this morning, she was looking for a fight again, and got something very different:


At first, round and round we went. The usual. Pain Pain Pain, those stupid pills...And then she said, "do you KNOW what surgery IS?" this is usually to make the point of her ordeal more dramatic.

me: "Yes, mom, I do. I have had surgery too."

About face. Silence, as she slowly contorted in to anguished tears.

mom: "When? Why didn't you TELL me?"

me: "I DID tell you mom. It was a long time ago, and you DID know and you were great comfort."

mom: "Why didn't you tell me? Where?"

me: "I did tell you, it was in New York."

mom: "Why didn't I know? Where on your body."

me: "Mom, you did know, it was a long long time ago. They fixed something and gave me lots of ice cream and I went home."

mom, more tears: "I would have helped you, why didn"t you tell me?"

me: "It doesn't matter now. Everything is fine. Let's not worry about the past."

mom: But why? I feel terrible. I wish you would have told me!"

me: "Oh mom, it's ok. I'm fine. All is well right here and now and that's all that matters."


Luckily the loud door buzzer rang, and I had to go deal with the Verizon guy. And by the time she started her daily round of phone calls, she had forgotten, and was asking when she could see me, as it had been so long

five year plan

My brother piped the strains of different family lines down to the water's edge. It was Uncle Jay and Aunt Marty's 60th anniversary this weekend. Now THAT is an achievement. And to witness the love and accomplishment of all of these relatives after not seeing some of them for so many too many years?





It also reminded me of our duty once again, to each other, to do our best. We all survive. But the moment that we make each day our own, and not some expected result of our past? We're free to soar.


My Uncle is my mother's brother. He checks in often, and always asks if he can help in any way. I am grateful. He is very generous. We can't talk politics, but we can talk practical, "do the right thing" kind of stuff.


We all brought a story with us to the celebration. I had forgotten this one until I was trying to figure out what to say:


When Jennifer and I were first starting out, Uncle Jay and Aunt Marty came to see us at Passim, a tiny little folk club in Harvard Square. Now I don't think Uncle Jay much cared about music. He was a business man. Often at Thanksgiving, when we'd all gather, the Nelsons (all artsy fartsy writer types) and the Stones didn't have that much to talk about. Poetry? A passion for words? A mystery to them. Life Insurance? A five year plan? A mystery to us.


Anyway, Uncle Jay and Aunt Marty soldiered through this gig of mine, and we had an indelible conversation afterward.


Uncle Jay: "I can see that you're very serious about this music stuff. So, what's your five year plan?"

me: "Well, I just want to write more, and tour more and make records. And I'm saving up for this guitar that I really think is the one I need."

Uncle Jay: "Well, how much have you saved?"

me: "1000 bucks."

Uncle Jay: "Well, I'd like to help you get that guitar."


This was true, out of the blue, practical generosity. He followed through, and I got that guitar. And I still have that guitar. Saturday night I joked about the ups and downs of the career side of things, the vicissitudes of the music business. But the fact is, that guitar was a great investment. So at least that part of my five year plan was sound!



THANK YOU and congratulations Uncle Jay and Aunt Marty!!