I was reviewing all my blog ideas, looking for something fun to write, but all that’s really on my mind is my mom and her Alzheimer’s. Managing the loss of getting older is bad enough, without Alzheimer’s acting like a mafia boss and his minions showing up at a funeral to shake down the widow and fire their guns off to see if they can scare the mourners into wetting their pants.
By “older” I mean after age 85. Before then is no picnic, but with some good habits, a few good genes, and a bit of luck, you can probably do OK if you don’t mind someone cleaning your house and driving you around. And maybe having a subscription to one of those online companies that mail you frozen meals, allegedly cooked by a real chef, not Swanson Hungry Man makers. Oh, and you never mention if you fall or leave the oven on. Adult children hate that shit, and will start planning your move toot suite.
The title of this blog was a note I made last year, but that’s as far as I got. I jotted it down after one of our FaceTime sessions on Fridays. She has supper brought to her room when we chat, so I get to “eat” with her. She pretty much doesn’t like most food at her assisted living at this point — it’s too chewy, too bland, too hard to eat, too drippy. At the time, though, I hadn’t quite realized she had also forgotten anything she did like. So when she asked me if she liked mac & cheese, I said, “yes,” thinking it was soft and easy to eat. Of course, the minute she put in her mouth, she made a face that reminded me of the kid when he was a baby and got his first taste of “solid” food — baby cereal. It’s a dry food you add milk or water to, turning it into a brownish gray paste. I’m not even sure what “cereal” it’s made from. This was 20 years ago, and people making their own baby food wasn’t quite yet a thing. Or at least it wasn’t my thing. Having an infant was a tad overwhelming, so when the pediatrician said to start cereal, that’s what I did. Plus, people said it would hold him longer between breastfeeding sessions, and since he seemed to need to feed every hour, I was on board with that. Hey kid, try this gray goop! Yum!
He was eager enough to try it, but I’ll never forget the look on his face. Surprise quickly turned to disgust. Exactly the look on my mom’s face after her first bite of macaroni. And, just like the kid, she started pushing the offending mush out of her mouth. I made it more palatable for the kid by adding pear or applesauce — a spoonful of sugar and all that Julie Andrews jazz. My mom figured this out on her own. She dutifully tries a few bites of the main dish, saying it’s too chewy, too much, too cold, too fill-in-the-blank. But then she turns to her dessert — ice cream or Boston cream pie — and with one spoonful, her eyes close and she’s happy and content. She’s 89, so really why not? I was sad when she stopped drinking beer during our call. But I can totally get on board with the dessert first thing.
Originally, I thought I would write something about the fresh kind of hell it would be to forget what foods you don’t like, and then keep picking them only to experience the bad taste over and over. Or to have a kid who can’t remember what you don’t like and steer you wrong. But that is more of tweet than a blog post, even for me who posts cute animals when I’ve got nothing left to say. Then I thought I’d write about how those of us who are younger than 85 have all these grand ideas about how we’re going to age well, and accept the help we need when we need it, and not put anyone who is trying to care for us in a tough or awkward position. And we’re going to accept what we can’t change. Heck, my mother’s biggest, most persistent complaint about her assisted living is that the food is cold, especially eggs in the morning. Food temperature has never been a thing for me, but just for good measure I’ve been training myself to enjoy lukewarm to cool food. I’m not going to muddle up my ideal aging plan with an aversion to cold food. Unless you have enough money for a personal chef, I suggest you do the same.
However, I am reminded on a weekly basis that the sad reality of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or just being really, really old, is that the cold food is the least of our worries.
Even so, there are lighter moments, like the time my mom asked me, “So, what other trouble are you getting into?” Of course I’m now duty bound to get into trouble so I can entertain her. She still remembers and occasionally mentions the handsome nurse she had a while back. I think that’s worth remembering. She loved hearing about my little deck garden this summer and enjoyed eating the cherry tomatoes I brought her (no disgusted face!), so for the winter I planted 3 pots of herbs. I regale her with my plant drama during our chats (2 are leggy and hanging over the pot edge, and 1 already died and has been replaced. But that’s perhaps another post.)
And there continues to be lots and lots of ice cream. Hold the mac and cheese.
Photo credit: Amanda’s Cooking.