Now, what is it I call you? — Mom
To boost Mom’s spirits and to keep her socially active, Michael signed her up for Senior Connections. Though it sounded more like a dating site, the only dating happening there was of the expiration kind. Most members played cards or competitive bingo, all—day—long. Some sat in front of the television as Wheel of Fortune droned on at ear-piercing volume. Others just drooled while dozing off in a corner. The slogan “Misery loves company” would all but guarantee a steady stream of customers, forever. Mom put up with it five days a week by gravitating toward the rare “with it” members. For her, it served as a welcome diversion from the Tweedles.
During a surprise East Coast visit, I stopped by the center. It was a good day as they celebrated a fellow octogenarian’s birthday. The party girl bragged non-stop, in her several-packs-a-day raspy voice, about her sons and only about her sons. “My boys, my boys, I just love my boys. They’re the best.” She all but ignored her crestfallen daughter standing at her side. I later learned that not only did that forgotten girl care for her mother 24/7, but she also created Senior Connections for her.
Was this my fate, to step up and take care of my mother’s every need only to be ignored or, worse, forgotten? That could never happen, not to me, not by my mom. I’m the one who cooked, fed, and dressed her. I changed diapers, bathed, and baby powdered. I combed her hair, trimmed fingernails, brushed teeth—in Mom’s case, dentures. I carried, chauffeured, and shopped. I cleaned, washed, and folded laundry. I ordered and administered vitamins and medications. I comforted and cajoled and hugged and kissed. I cheered her up doing the Riverdance Irish jig, which made her laugh, but my shins cry. I got her up, out of bed, and walking again. I navigated road trips and invented Day of Beauty. I celebrated her every success on the commode. And I’m the one who performed, with tender loving care, my least favorite task and perhaps Mom’s as well, wiping her butt.
Now, back in King Henry VIII’s day, the “Groom of the Stool” was a coveted position. The physical intimacy gained him much confidence with the King, which led to the sharing of many royal secrets, which afforded the Groom a certain amount of sway with his master. And though there were undoubtably downsides to the job, the Groom never feared the King would ever forget his name. So, surely, my mother wouldn’t forget mine. But then one fateful morning, after serving her breakfast in bed, she greeted me with:
Gen: Now, what is it I call you?
At first, I thought she was joking—she had a wicked sense of humor—but the look on her face confirmed she was not.
Mark: Really? You don’t remember me?
She shakes her head.
Mark: Name your children.
Gen: (Rattling them off) Laurel, Michael, Caryl, David, Deecy.
Stumped, she shrugs.
Mark: (Crestfallen) Mark.
Gen: Oh, Mark.
Mark: Yes, Mark, your favorite son.
Gen: I don’t have favorites.
Mark: (Under his breath) You have a favorite to forget.
How dare she. My own mother. And she showed absolutely no remorse. To help relieve her of her clear lack of guilt, I printed my name, “MARK,” in large Helvetica Black letters, and I taped it to the ceiling. I left off the “Your favorite son” part, a decision I soon regretted.
It proved to be a useful memory tool. When I entered her room, she’d say “Hi…” and after a glance at my visual aid, she proudly finished with, “Mark.” All good. Other days, when she forgot to look up, I’d get only a blank stare. It evolved into a game. If she snuck a peek, I’d call her on it. “You cheated.” Protesting, she’d say, “I did not.” “Then what’s my name?” Mom wrestled with her memory until she could no longer resist. Her eyes looked skyward, and with a sly yet relieved smile, she answered, “Mark.” When I threatened to take it down to avoid further temptation, she mulled it over before saying, “Don’t.”
Problem solved, but not the underlying one. Of Mom’s six kids, I’m the only one she forgets. I’m also the only one who regularly wipes her butt. So, by deductive reasoning, and I hope science one day proves me right, wiping butt causes amnesia. Now let me be clear. I’m not talking about wiping your own butt. Imagine the chaos if wiping your own butt caused memory loss. People might never find their way out of the bathroom. No. I’m talking about a caregiver-patient relationship involving wiping the butt of another.
So, if you believe my theory to be credible and you currently wipe a loved one’s butt or plan to in the future, and want to avoid my misery, post your name in large block letters in a conspicuous place or just wear a name tag.