Unforgettable Gifts

So while my in-laws can be difficult to buy for, my parents, on the other hand, are as easy as a rocking chair. However, in all fairness, let me just say that my parents are vicious little trolls dressed up in bib overalls and sweatshirts with "Grandma’s Apples" with the names of grandchildren embroidered across it.

They really do think each unwrapped gift is perfect, even when it’s a box filled with new dish towels to replace the 40 years-old, swiss-cheese versions in the drawer; or a pair of leather and suede, adult mittens (rare as hen’s teeth, trust me), which will replace the pair that’s been wrapped a dozen times or more with duct tape. Even when they are ultra-particular with something they want, it makes gift-buying easy. For example, my dad is always, ALWAYS cold. Anything under 85 F is downright frigid. I suppose that’s quite true if you’re skin is as thin as tissue paper and you’re an adult male who weighs 120 lbs. There isn’t much there for insulation. So he likes long-sleeved shirts, all year ’round. BUT…they must button up, collared shirts. They must be snap-buttons (he has very limited use of one hand and cannot manipulate standard buttons). They must have breast pockets, which also must snap. They must be flannel – and not itchy flannel. They must be plaid. And lastly, they must be a men’s size small.

See? Difficult, yet oh so easy.

Shopping for my mom use to be much easier, but ever since the dementia set in and her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she’s less social. She takes less and less joy in those simple things we use to buy her years ago. A new set of storage containers 10 years ago would have been THE gift! She would beam and parade them around with pride. This year, she nudged the box dismissively with her toe when I asked to see what kind my sister picked out for her.

The reality we face about us as a family buying things for my mom, is that a lot of it is given as a result of her Alzheimer’s. This year that meant a large clock that included not only the date but what day of the week it is because she no can no longer remember (she sent Doodicus two birthday cards, both very late as she had forgotten, and both cards had money in them (we joke (because what else can you do) that now is the time for the kids to ask Grandma for money, because she’ll forget she did a day later)). A new space heater for her bedroom (my parents haven’t slept in the same room for nearly 20 years now) to replace the one that shorted out and caused some sparks, which luckily was caught by my nieces who happened to be visiting. The saddest gifts we had to give her was all new bedding when for some reason yet unknown to anyone, she went to bed with a wet towel on her feet and turned on the heated mattress pad. Yes, she set her bed on fire "only" scorching the mattress but burning large holes in the mattress pad, sheets, and blankets. She said she was not injured, but really we only know what she’s either willing or capable of telling us. And finally, we bought some smoke detectors, during the installation of she complained bitterly because she did not fully understand why. That and probably a mix of guilt and embarrassment that it has come to this.

That means we are left wondering just how soon will we have to commit mom to a nursing care facility. When she was originally diagnosed almost two years ago, the neurologist said that as long as she can still drive safely, take care of herself and the home, she can remain independent. Starting an accidental fire in her bed changes the dynamics of the household drastically. It changes them in a way that our family can no longer think of in "ifs" but in "whens".

Yesterday, Doodicus asked about Grandma’s diagnosis. "Will she forget things?" "Yes," we answered.

"Will she forget us?" We could only answer honestly, "Eventually, yes." He will remember her, and that’s the most beautiful gift.

The “Perfect” Gift

Every Christmas for the past half-dozen years, we are left scrambling at the last minute to find a gift for Sparring Partner’s mother. Well, it’s more of my husband calling me as I make final my final errands to let me know he still hasn’t found anything for his mom, could I look around, kind of thing. This year, Christmas Eve morn’ was no different, except I then put out a call of help on Facebook after I got the call from SP.

When a friend asked what she likes and what my price point was, I answered honestly: nothing and there wasn’t one.

Imagine if you had to buy a gift for someone who likes nothing but you were willing to spend $200, for example. Your brain will go into a frenzied loop.

Here’s what I know we cannot give her and why:

1) Alcohol. She’s involuntarily in recovery. That means friends and family are forbidden to enable her since she doesn’t think she has a problem, even though she’s fallen a half-dozen times with just as many black eyes and black-outs up to the point we cut her off about two years ago.

2) Gift Certificates to restaurants. Due to her physical limitations, including no longer being licensed to drive, she can’t go and enjoy outside meals; or if we do take her out, which actually is rather frequently and regularly (godblessus), she expects us to buy.

3) Clothes. One year I went to Christopher & Banks and bought her several outfits. As she opened up each box, she muttered how she doesn’t have room in her closet now and has no place to wear them. I’m sure I heard sad trombones after she said it.

4) Toiletries. One year early in our marriage, I bought her hand soap made with goat’s milk because it was suppose to be good for people with eczema, which she has. I found it years later under the bathroom sink, untouched.

5) Charity. Another DIL learned the hard way with this one. She bought a couple hundred stamps (back when postage stamps were commonly used) that commemorated and honored breast cancer survivors like my MIL. Every time I saw her open the stamps box for a letter, she bad-mouth that DIL about what a stupid gift idea it was and who the hell wants a pink ribbon delivered on their mail. Also, as my husband pointed out, they make huge donations every year for tax purposes. She would find our $200 donation in her name pitiful.

6) Jewelry. Sparring Partner’s dad buys her the most lovely and expensive pieces of jewelry for her birthday, Christmas and anniversary gifts. Precious stones the size of your index fingernail and bling enough to make my 1ct engagement ring blacken in shame. And guess what she says each time as she waggles her fingers in front of me to properly ooh and aah? "It’s so heavy and gaudy! I’ll only wear it this once."

7) Collectibles. She use to collect Hummel figurines, but then her 4-foot display cabinet had not another inch of room. So then she started collecting Swarovski figurines. That cabinet is also now full. As she opened the lid of the box yesterday, she said, "Where am I going to find room for this one??"

8) Framed photographs. They are stacked in a pile on the bureau and covered with the past week’s mail, thankyouverymuch. She won’t let us take down the framed photos on the wall from 1971 to make room for the newer ones.

9) "Grandma" gifts. When Doodicus was just a couple years old, we bought her a All About Grandma Book for Christmas. It was like a baby book but it was to be filled out with the Grandma’s perspective and history. I thought with her being quite old already, that it could be a wonderful keepsake for him to have after she was gone. The following year when we all gathered in her parlor for Christmas, which is the only time the room is used, right there on the side table was the Grandma Book, still in it’s original box, untouched. I was furious. I actually snuck it back into my purse and promptly gave it to MY mom. Oh yes I did. FWIW, she hasn’t filled it out, either, or if she has, with her dementia, there’s no telling where it may be. *sigh* Hey, I thought it was a great idea.

10) Food. It all gives her gas and sticks to her teeth, however it has not stopped at least one person in the family from from getting her a Fruit-, Flower-, Pie-, Cookie-, Lobster-, Crabcakes-of-the-Month-for-a-Year mail order.

It should be noted that we did also try the "Nothing" approach with gift giving. She made SP feel like a pile of poop for months after that faux pas, even though she said there’s nothing she wanted…"It’s just one more thing I have to find a place for!"

We ended up giving her a cardigan twin-set and a winter scarf this year. She responded as expected (see No. 3 above), but at least she can’t complain to everyone within earshot that we got her nothing. I’d like to thank my friends with their many thoughtful and meaningful suggestions. I certainly appreciated the effort!

“We must not demean life by standing in awe of death.”

Part of me feels as if I’m adding to the exploitation of these innocent children, but another part of me needs to see that they weren’t just "those kids", they were OUR kids, the ones we did not protect from the most evil of violence.

Look and remember these faces. All too soon, they will blur and fade from our collective memories.

Remember their LIFE. They will then live forever.

(Quote from David Sarnoff)

The Sixth Annual Card Exchange

In late 2007, I had already passed the One Year Milestone of blogging (oh, how things were different! Before Facebook!), and I was what you might call a bit of a comment whore. Memes that tagged other bloggers were the norm. We participated in activities like "Show Me Your Wedding Ring" and "Liar Liar" posts. At that time, I started the Holiday Card Exchange. The concept was simple: those who read my blog would email their address and I in turn, would mail them a holiday card. If the recipient wished to send one back, then the circle was complete!

Over the next few years, I’ve continued the tradition, and while I didn’t post about it on my blog in 2011, I set up the event via Facebook because as far as I aware, I was connected there with anyone who was still reading here. However, I felt guilty for not mentioning it because it felt like I had broke that tradition.

This year will be the Sixth Annual Holiday Card Exchange, and I’ve already been pestering my poor friends on Facebook about it since right after Thanksgiving. It’s was matter of equal opportunity that I pester you here, but expand on why.

While the concept of the exchange has not changed, it has become just a little more than just being an Attention Whore (despite what you may believe). As we increase our social networking interactions, the personal interactions have dwindled. Personally, I am not a phone-talker nor a letter-writer. I’m not anti-social: I’m Interpersonal-Skills Challenged (ISC) as I feel utterly awkward in face-to-face situations. Thanksgiving Supper was at the in-laws’ house, and I chose to sit and play with my four-year-old in the den by ourselves than sit at the kitchen counter with the adults while they hashed out the election results, or gossiped about the neighbor’s affair, or traded cooking and baking secrets. On-line interaction may make me feel less awkward, but it also is less substantial in a particular way.

That brings me back to the exchange. To me, it does have substance, even if it is wholly physical and not intellectual. I get excited that the envelopes that come with our names on them don’t have a vellum window that crinkles with the slightest touch. I like seeing the variations of stamps, even if it’s the default Forever stamp with the flag. But what tickles me the most is of course what’s inside because even that has changed so much since the first year I hosted the exchange. Boxed cards have been replaced on the whole with photo-postcards, and it’s that moment – which is usually the only moment in a year – that I will have that visceral contact with someone I have never met in person; someone who I may never meet in person. They touched that card, and now I am touching it. That is real. That is the exchange.

Sending out cards can be a hassle. It’s not that it takes more time, but as we continue to evolve more and more to a digital age, which actually means doing other things much more efficiently, the time we save fills up with other things that we think take priority, especially if it means doing it electronically as well. Basically, we save time to only squander it on more to-do lists and extra responsibilities instead of on ourselves. For me, I love the process, the feel, of that card in my hand that may take a few seconds to either complete and put into the envelope or to arrange on the wall for my family to enjoy until I take them down with the passing of the Old Year.

I totally understand and appreciate those who cannot participate in the card exchange, either now or in the future. I do hope that you have something that encourages you to slow down, to touch, to feel when everything else seems to be whizzing by pixel by pixel, byte by byte. That’s what the Card Exchange is for me.

P.S. If you wish to participate in this year’s exchange, you can email your address to me at thismamasaid (at) gmail (dot) com.

“OCD” Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

When my husband got home after taking Doodicus to his most recent appointment with the psychologist, Dr. Harlow, I was – and still am – taken aback to find out that he may be diagnosed as OCD as well. A workbook was sent home with them and we are to complete a couple of the exercises inside. I thumbed through the pages waiting for the AHA! moment, but all I could do was look at my husband and repeat, "Really? REALLY??". I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.

For the past couple appointments, I’ve encouraged Sparring Partner to go instead of me. There’s so much friction between Dad and Son, that I had hoped it would be advantageous for Dr. Harlow to see how they interact with each other. However, that creates frustration on my end because SP comes home and is so overwhelmed with suggestions and information, that we are not as efficient helping Dood in his day-to-day functioning.

The time before last, SP used his ipod to record the session in 10 minute blocks. This was both a great and terrible idea because after listening to it, I was so frustrated by how much time I heard SP going off on some tangent totally unrelated to why they were there in the first place. During one recorded block, I pressed FWD for ten seconds so I could skip over some random anecdote Sparring Partner was sharing, but each time I let it play, there was SP’s voice, continuing on! I was able to keep myself from criticizing him about it…until the night before this last appointment, that is. I really did try not to say anything, but I was probably PMSing or hungry or tired and I snapped. So yeah, that was the downside to the recording. And since he couldn’t get the ipod to record on this last meeting, I am more grateful for what he has recorded so far, but no less confused about the OCD thing.

And while we’re on the topic of ADHD, our request for an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) was denied by the school’s administration as they did not feel Dood’s ADHD did not qualify as a "disability". Instead, we have a 504 Plan with a list of accommodations, and the school counselor will continue to observe his interactions with his classmate peers.

Doodicus turned 11 years old today. After a day of active labor with no progress, he was born via emergency c-section at a mere 5 pounds and 14 ounces. Back then, I didn’t have the internet to tell me that he was tiny for a full-term newborn, so I was your typical first-time mom: nervous, exhausted, overjoyed and hopeful. I still feel nervous, exhausted, overjoyed and hopeful. He’s my first born; my wonderfully sweet, little boy, and I adore every bit of him.