Me: Mom, I think you need to put your dishes in the dishwasher and run it...
Mom: No, it takes too long to cycle through. I think it’s broken.
Me: Have you had it looked at?
Mom: No, but I don’t need to use it... I just wash my dishes as I go. It’s only me....
Me: Interesting...Let me make you a sandwich while I’m here.
Mom: No need. I can make it.
Me: I know you can make it Mom, but I’m standing right here, and I know you’re doing “paperwork...” I’m happy to make it.
Mom: Oh, ok... The seafood salad is in the fridge. Just one piece of bread please.
Me: Why are the dishes in the drainer dirty?
Mom: They aren’t dirty... I washed them.
Me: But they still have food on them...
Mom: I must’ve missed that one. Just rinse it off...
Me: (making an oh-ick face) Mom, this salad is expired...
Mom: NO IT ISN’T! DON’T THROW IT OUT!
Me: The container says it expired last week? I’m throwing it out...
Mom: (total look of frustration on her face) Leave it! You don’t understand what the expiration dates mean... They say that food is actually just fine for several weeks after an expiration date... The expiration date is really just a recommended date. I’ve never worried about expiration dates and I’ve made it to 91!
Me: (being presented with an invitation to an argument I can barely resist) Ok, ok... Good point Mom.
Mom: Would you like a sandwich?
Me: (really?) Ah, no thanks.
Mom: Can you get me some salt?
Me: Sure. (Opening the cabinet) MOM! YOU HAVE A TON OF COBWEBS AND SPIDERS IN HERE! AND MOTHS TOO! YOU HAVE TO CLEAN THIS OUT!
Mom: NO! Don’t touch anything! It’s fine! Those are my little friends... they eat the flies.
Me: (OMG – Did she actually just refer to the spiders and moths in the cabinet as her “little friends”? A head-scratching moment where I need further information.... a few more questions to determine if Mom is losing a step, or just defending herself with humor)...
Me: Mom, please tell me you’re kidding about these insects being your “little friends”?
Mom: Of course! But I’ll clean it out later when I have time.
A few days later, I open the cabinet and take a peek. Yep, her little friends are still there. I don’t want to insult Mom by insinuating her home is dirty, but I think the Health Dept. would shut her down if they saw this. No more questions. I clean the cabinet out and relocate her little friends to the trash. I ask myself (over and over) why I’m bothered so much by all this?
Much later I realize, it’s not about Mom’s level of cleanliness (or lack thereof)...I am full of fear that my mother is getting old. Very old. And being very old means she’s getting closer to not being here at all. That’s the connection, and when I see something that Mom can’t or won’t do anymore, my fear turns sideways, and comes out as anger or frustration.
It’s times like this that, as hard as it may be, I have to replace my daughter-hat with my caregiver-hat. I need to summon up some compassion (not always my strong suit), and take Mom for exactly where and what she is. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. After all, one day this fear of mine will be realized, and I’ll be cleaning the cabinets out – for the last time.