Blogging, Family, Female Offenders, Mothers, Parenting, Parenting our Parents, Travel

Travels with Mom


Gingko tree in autumn-flickr
Gingko tree in autumn-flickr

I arrived back to Oxnard, California from Denver yesterday evening from a visit with my daughter. Rain fell the night before, puddling the deck with water. My mother and I stood outside in the cool morning breeze to smell rain and touch the droplets pooled on the banister. California is in a drought and it’s been several months since we’ve had any rain.

The trip provided a look into the fall season with the brilliant yellow Gingko tree leaves, golden hues of Aspen’s and the russet blazes on other trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they are since I was born and raised on the coast.

Traveling with my elderly mom (she would hate that I used that word for her) also provided a look into our coming season. The child is now the mom and the elderly mom is like a child. Before anyone feels miffed about this description, it was said by my mother.

Mom can no longer see, walk, hear or smell very well anymore. She uses a cane and needs a wheelchair at the airport. She hates that she burns tortillas on the stove and can’t see or hear the television unless she sits within a few inches of it and has it on 45 volume.

Her decline in abilities has been in the last three years and for the last two years she’s been saying “This is my last trip, I’m becoming a burden.” 

The inability to do everything for herself is foreign to her, being such an independent woman all her life, and something she struggles against. (I talk about this part of her life here.)

The two things she misses the most? Driving and reading. The freedom to travel anywhere she wants whenever she wants. She is keeping up with progress of the Google Self-Driving Car. I can’t bear to tell her that the commercial sale of these cars is still about five years out. 

Google Self Driving Car

But with the reading loss, Mom is still able to read large print, albeit slowly, with her thick glasses that hurt her nose if she reads more than 30 minutes.

Before we left to Denver, Mom implored me to give her my manuscript to read (Strong Women Grow Here which is about an immigrant teenaged girl in prison). Mom used that “I might not be around to see it published.” Sad, but true.

Given that Mom is legally blind, 12 font on paper is not an option. But, I did figure out how to place the manuscript on my Kindle Fire and enlarge the font so she could see the print.

She read every available minute. Hearing her laugh, or frown, or say, “Ay, that Jester,” (the antagonist) touched me to the heart. We had conversations about prison life for female offenders, effects of abuse, faith and people’s ability to change.

“You have to get this published. It’s important, people will really like the story,” she said.

I love that she is my cheerleader. 

The above led to Mom’s musings about technological changes and how these do not favor the elderly except for her Jitterbug, which she can operate half the time. “They should think about the old people, we want to know what’s going on.”

She’s still waiting to find a computer she can use, because “No one prints photos on paper anymore. They put everything on that ‘Facepage.'” (She calls FaceBook everything but it’s correct name).

“And I want to read your blogging thing. I hear you write poems, is that true?”

So, I’ll see what I can do to find her an easy to use computer with a large lettered keyboard, so she can visit ‘facepage’ and my ‘blogging thing,’ because now her travels will be through a computer screen and her memory.

Caregiving, Diabetes, Health, Latino culture, Parenting our Parents, Quesadilla Generation, Shingles

Another Chapter from the Quesadilla Generation

Most baby boomers, and some Gen X’er’s, are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for aging parents. There is also an estimated 8 million Latino baby boomers taking care of both elderly parents and children.  Life this past month has added another chapter to my stories about the Quesadilla Generation.

Illness, death, grief, and caring for an aging parent have filled the days this past month. This was not a good time (not that there is a suitable time) for my mom to come down with an illness that took a month to identify and treat.

After two trips to the ER and a couple of doctor visits,she was finally diagnosed with Shingles. This is an acute, painful inflammation of the nerve ganglia, with a rash usually on the back or abdomen and flu-like symptoms. ( I won’t post a photo of Shingles, they are a little nasty looking, hence the food pictures).

If you have had chicken pox in the past, or if you were vaccinated for it, the virus never completely leaves your system. Even long after the itchy rash and infection are gone, the virus lays in a dormant or resting state in the spinal nerve cells of our bodies. The symptoms of the virus disappear, and are kept in check by our healthy immune systems. 

The risk of developing shingles is much higher in older people. The chances of the virus becoming reactivated doubles every 10 years over the age of 50. That’s why doctors recommend the shingles vaccination at age 50. Personally, I’m hesitant to introduce a live virus into my body, but also concerned about getting this illness. I have to think on that one for another week. 

People with a lowered immune system are also at high risk for developing Shingles. My poor mom had a triple whammy. She is over 80 years, diabetic, and has had acute stress from the loss of her sister.

People who have had Shingles can tell you that there is excruciating pain for several days and weeks. Mom said it was like someone jabbing her in the abdomen with a knife, as bad as labor pains, and she has a high pain tolerance. Days went by with her sleeping almost around the clock, wincing whenever anything touched her rash, and barely tolerating broth. She did pluck my sister’s bush of Yerba Buena dry. It’s a great tea for stomach pain.

The best thing we could have hoped for was the around the clock care given by my sister. As mom’s pain subsided a bit she gained strength and worked her way up to finishing a full bowl of chicken ginger soup, pumpkin pear, and whatever my gourmet sister whipped up that was full of healthy ingredients. 

But I was the ‘bad’ sister. When I went over to visit I brought my mom pork tamales and champurrado. Mom took a quick gulp of the champurrado and said she had to hide it from “Nurse Ratchet,” which she now calls my sister. (They are famous for their food fights). With that remark I knew that mom had to be feeling better. 

Champurrado-photo by Sharon123

Today my sister and I took mom to our church’s Women’s Brunch, a beautiful annual affair, and mom had a great time. She felt well enough to take a spoonful or two of various foods without a stomach upset. So well, that after the last Christmas song was sung I saw her (out of the corner of my eye) sliding a few candies from the centerpiece under her plate. Sister and I had to make a grab for the candies before mom swiped them off the table and into her purse. But thank goodness she feels better, even though it means we have to watch her near a candy bowl. 

Take your vitamins, supplements, de-stress, exercise, laugh, and be well. 

Parenting, Parenting our Parents, Planning to Travel, Quesadilla Generation, The Sandwich Generation, Travel

What’s the Quesadilla Generation?

Sandwich Generation

If you’re over 50, I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “The Sandwich Generation.” The term, TSG, refers to a generation that is simultaneously caring for parents and children. 

And what about the “Club Sandwich Generation?” Carol Abaya, who writes and lectures on the subject of the sandwich generation refers to people, usually in their 50s or 60s, who assist in the care of aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. I’ll pass on the Club Sandwich, thank you.

There is an estimated 8 million Latino baby boomers taking care of both elderly parents and children. Switching between two cultures and two sets of expectations is why I call TSG the quesadilla generation. Like melted cheese, one feels stretched and stuck to both sides of the tortilla. 

But recently I almost burned the quesadilla. I wasn’t watching the comal close enough.
toasty quesadillas

My focus was on my upcoming month long trip. Among the important issues like passport, tickets, transportation, and lodging, I also had to arrange for my live in kids to take care of the house while I’m gone.

Three young adults, ages19-26, (hey, no judgement-bad economy and all that) have to remember to buy groceries, feed three pets, clean up after them and themselves, water the lawn/ plants, go the mailbox, keep the house standing, not maim each other, and get to work and school without any reminders from me. They do know how to cook and do their laundry though.

Back to the quesadilla analogy: I forgot about preparing for my mother’s needs while I’m gone. There, I confessed it. How did I not remember to prepare her for my departure? Maybe because she used to be so independent, buen chingona mi madre, or because I have never left her for a month.

Mom’s diabetes has taken its toll these last five years. She is legally blind and hard of hearing-good reasons for her not to drive anymore. Mom hates not being able to drive. “Getting old is a bitch,” she says. (Yes, she really used that word). “Losing my independence has been the worst thing.”

vintage postcard of Bette Davis
Yes, getting older is no place for wimps. 

I usually fill her pillboxes with over 10 daily medications, take her to the doctor’s, groceries, pay her bills online, and make several telephone calls for her because the telephone voice robot can’t understand her, she can’t hear it or she can’t punch the large keypad on the phone menu fast enough. 

The upside is that after 5 p.m., she’s pretty well taken care of since everyone is out of work or school by then, but prior to that time, it’s a challenge. Mom refuses to have “…some stranger come into my house to take care of me, what if they steal from me. Did I tell you about…”

Although my sister helps with transportation quite a bit, she lives in another city and isn’t always available for my mom’s numerous appointments. With my departure, and school beginning, there will not be anyone to get her to where she needs and wants to go. Staying home for 4 days in a row is 2 days too much for Mom. She’s a pretty lively woman who likes to visit, shop, see movies, and dine out. She asked me to send her postcards, because “…you guys take thousands of pictures and then put them on that thing (digital frame) and I never see them good.”

Mom’s also pretty smart. Yesterday she called me, “I need to prepare for when you leave. Call that you know, that senior place where senior people, who need rides to wherever in those little buses, come pick up seniors.” I ‘googled’ that phrase, lol, no I did not, but I did find such an agency in my county. 

After downloading a 4 page application, I filled it out for her, forged her name (she told me too) and mailed it in. In 2 weeks a person from the Council of Aging will come and interview her, give her a photo ID and get her set up with a bus card that provides door to door service. She wonders if it’ll take her to the casino.

My niece, the Pharm Tech who just graduated, will fill her pill boxes. My sister will take her places when she can. My kids will visit her on their days off and call in between those times. I’m making calls to my cousins to ask them to drop by. With everyone’s help I’m sure Mom won’t miss my assistance, but I know I’ll sure miss her a lot. 

Parenting, Parenting our Parents, The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich Generation, Hold the Mayo

Chocolate Fudge
Chocolate Fudge

Last night my sister and I lounged on the balcony watching the sunset. We’re on vacation, with our mother and other sister, near San Diego and it’s a lovely warm evening. The mountains turned from green to purple as the sun began its descent and we were enjoying the mellowness of the approaching twilight. 
Then shouts and laughter sounded through the screen door out onto the balcony. I turned and saw my other sister trying to take a fork away from my mother, who had it in an upraised arm, defiant look on her face, and she wasn’t letting go.
In moms other outstretched hand was a dish of triple layer chocolate fudge cake.
“Mom, you’ve had half of that huge piece, save the rest for tomorrow,” my sister said her hand reaching for mom’s wrist.
“No, I haven’t gone to the halfway point yet,” mom said and pulled her arm away.
“Yes, you’ve had more than enough, it’s bad for your diabetes, it’s too much sugar,” sister said and grabbed for the cake.
“You better stop it before you get me mad and I sock you,” mom said, with a threatening look, while she balanced that dish of cake in her other hand.
My sister pleaded for mom to remember that her blood sugar is too high and she’s had too many sweets and carbs already.
“You’re going to end up in the hospital again,” she warned.
“I’m old; let me eat what I want,” mom replies and defiantly lifts a forkful of the three layer fudge filled cake.
For a woman over 79, legally blind, and hard of hearing, (that’s a whole other story), my mom still has a fierce grip. My sister, who is in great shape couldn’t take that cake away unless she wrestled my mom, so there they were, locked in the battle for that stupid piece of cake for a full minute. 
The other sister and I looked at them from the balcony and busted up laughing while we took pictures on our phones, because no one but the grandkids would believe the battle for the triple layer chocolate cake. 
Most people our age are part of the “sandwich generation,” those who have children to care for and who also manage aspects of our elder parent (s) life. Make ours a mile high Dagwood type sandwich.
Sandwich Generation-Stuffed with Responsibilities. Flickr.
Sandwich Generation-Stuffed with Responsibilities. Flickr.
Luckily, between the two siblings who live close by and another sister, who although lives far away, is regularly in touch with my mother, the ‘sandwich’ is considerably smaller than if I was an only child.
In some ways, we are “parenting” our parent while trying to respect her independence as much as possible and respecting her status as our mother. She, like many elderly parents, needs help managing her money, medications,  doctor appointments, house cleaning, and a host of other things.
My siblings and I had learned to walk a fine line when we’ve tried to have “the talk” with our mother over the past few years. You see, our mother has always been “buen macha,” (and I say that in the best sense of the word), strong and independent, a woman who prides self-sufficiency. So it is no easy thing to talk to her about the many things she has encountered with aging over the last few years, like constantly losing items, hitting the shrubs one too many times with the car, forgetting to take meds, or eating things she knows will cause her harm.
Sometimes we come on too strong and forget the tone in our voices when we talk about these topics. Other times no matter how we say, “I think you could use some help around here or the foods you eat aren’t good for your diabetes,” a stony face and her words meet us “I’m not a baby, no te preocupes, or her famous line: I’ve lived this long, let me eat what I want.”
And therein lays the dilemma. We’re right, my mom’s right and we’re wrong and she’s wrong too. I just wish she’d understand that we say what we say because we love her and want her to be with us as long as humanly possible. 

But for now, the triple layer chocolate cake trumps anything we say and in fact, she is sitting at this table finishing off the rest of that cake from yesterday.