Mom and I at Mt. Rainier years ago.

The musings of a caretaker/daughter…

“My dear girl, the day you see I’m getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I’m going through. If when we talk. I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don’t interrupt to say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”…Just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep. When I don’t want to take a bath, don’t be mad and don’t embarrass me. Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were a girl?”

Guillermo Pena, translation to English by Sergio Cadena

I try to recite the above quote mentally while I watch Mom brush her teeth. She sits down on the toilet and shakes her toothbrush at me. “It fell off.” I guess that she is talking about the toothpaste so I put on a little more. I remember how much fun it used to be when my twin boys were learning how to brush their teeth. Toothpaste and water flew everywhere while they balanced precariously on their little step stools. Everything was a competition to see who could do it faster and better with those two. It’s difficult to muster that same enthusiasm watching Mom make the same kind of mess. Learning something new is a cause for celebration but unlearning something you’ve known for 8 decades is heartbreaking.

I don’t have to chase my Mom down the hall to get her to take a shower but I do have to be firm. What is it with both youngsters and octogenarians that make them shower resistant? Once I get the water temperature just right, I coach her through her washing routine, hoping she stays upright. Her first statement every time is “I don’t know what I’m doing.” This inevitably reminds me that neither do I. In fact, I’m just making it up as a go. “Stand under the water and get yourself all wet.” I wonder to myself how this most basic habit of taking a shower has slipped from her memory. “Now put the shampoo on your head.” When I’m really in a mood, I mouth to my invisible audience what I know will be her next question. “Where is the shampoo? “ I have eliminated all but one bottle of shampoo and one bar of soap from the shower stall but this has not helped make things any easier for her. While I’m coaching her on her every move, I clean her bathroom, allowing me to check off two chores at once. I’ve even gotten used to saying, “wash your bottom” without flinching although I usually combine it with, “and your legs.” There is something unsavory about having to tell your mom to wash her bottom but I am grateful because I don’t have to wipe it for her yet.

I am a yoga teacher who practices mindfulness so I can tell you that what I notice when I am going through this cleansing ritual is that I usually feel irritated and simultaneously fearful of how much worse it will become. When she is finally all dried, dressed and ready to have her hair blown dry, I feel my whole body relax. I have discovered that I feel the most tenderness towards my Mom these days when I am blow drying her hair. I use my hands instead of a brush so that I can run my hands through her soft, silver hair. It transports me back to my childhood when she would sit on my bed and run her hands through my hair to help get me to sleep at night.  Now with the roles reversed, Mom seems so peaceful and appreciative in her own way. Afterwards I settle her into her arm chair in her room and she dozes, completely exhausted by her shower.