After several months of Hitchcock movies with an occasional Sherlock Holmes mystery thrown in for good measure, my mom surprised me at her care center over the weekend with a special request.
“What are the chances of seeing ‘All the President’s Men‘” again?” she asked. “I haven’t watched it since it came out in the ’70s.”
The odds were 100 percent in her favor, I happily told her, since I’d recently bought a new copy to watch as a double feature with “The Post.” So yesterday afternoon, I put on my favorite t-shirt (“Journalist — I’m Not Fake, But My President Is”), picked up a couple of smoothies and settled in with her on a hot afternoon to watch Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) take down Nixon while my cell phone was lighting up with alerts from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Donald Trump tweeting that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself.
When I told my mom about the alerts, she rolled her eyes. “He should do something to himself all right,” she quipped, “and maybe he should watch the movie, too. He might learn something.”
My mother can seem a little frustrated or confused sometimes, but when it comes to politics, she always snaps to attention. More than anyone, it was she who taught me to always speak my mind, question authority and fight for the underdog. I’ve mentioned before that when I was 12 and living with my father, I spent the summer of 1973 watching the Watergate hearings on an old black-and-white television in our East Midvale rental home. I was riveted. But my dad, a former Nixon supporter, was concerned. He talked to my mom and said he wondered if it was a good idea for a soon-to-be seventh-grader to spend the summer alone indoors, caught up in a political scandal aired live daily on PBS.
“Ahhh, let her watch it — there’s really no good reason why she shouldn’t,” my mother told him. “It’s not hurting anything, and besides, there are worse things she could be doing.”
When I reminded my mom about that conversation yesterday, she laughed, and then let out an exasperated sigh. “Isn’t it something,” she said, “that all these years later, here we are again? “What the hell is wrong with people? They’d better wake up.”
As I hugged her goodbye and promised to round up a DVD of “Nixon” featuring Anthony Hopkins, we both agreed that “All the President’s Men” should be required viewing for every American, now more than ever. With bonus points for those who pop some extra popcorn and also watch “The Post.” 🙂
Nine months after we moved my son, his artwork, books and double bass into a dorm at the University of Utah, we made the trek again last week, this time in the opposite direction. Although my boy will be taking a full load of classes this summer, plus working part-time in a chemistry research lab, he’s decided that he’d like to spend a couple of months in his old digs before renting a house near the university this fall with three pals. Dorm life, he says, has become “stifling.”
Of course, I’m thrilled, and so is the cat. She’s already set up shop in one of his dirty laundry bags to absorb his aroma, and we actually made a trip to Old Navy to get my kid some new shorts so that he wouldn’t have to wash the ones that his old “roommate” has claimed. Yes, my son is a wee bit spoiled. But the cat! Damn.
It’s been fun to have the house vibrating again with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds cranked at full throttle, and I couldn’t stop grinning the other night when I heard my kiddo laughing out loud at “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” at 2 a.m. More than anything, I have missed that laugh. My kid is going into chemistry and takes his studies seriously, but he still knows how to see the humor in just about anything. Especially moi.
When I asked him to be my date at the Utah Symphony last Saturday, I fully expected him to grimace and say no, which was pretty much how he reacted to “nights out with Mom” in high school. But he’s grown a lot (literally and figuratively) in his first year away at college. Laughing, he said, “Sure! Why not? A date with my mother. Just don’t look at Facebook when we’re in public.'”
“Deal!” I told him, even though I always turn my phone off in Abravanel Hall. “I’ll do that if you promise to actually walk with me instead of rushing 20 paces ahead like I have the Ebola virus. If anyone thinks I’m a ‘cougar,’ that’s their problem. Be ready to roll Saturday night at 7.”
During the drive downtown, my son combed his hair in the passenger-side visor mirror and we cranked the Tom Petty CD he gave me last Christmas. Arriving with 10 minutes to spare, we bought some chocolate-covered blueberries and Mentos, then my kid actually agreed to pose for a selfie with me in the lobby for the first time ever. That moment alone was worth the price of admission. But the highlight of the night was stealing a glance at my son’s face during “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (the intro was famously used in the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and seeing a look of pure contentment and joy.
“Everything about it was perfect,” he told me later. “The horns and the timpani, the guy playing the chimes! Wow. Thanks for taking me. I loved it.”
As soon as we got home, he opened the fridge (I’d filled it with his favorite treats) and let out a dramatic sigh. “Mom! How is it that we STILL have nothing to eat?” He was kidding, of course. Well, maybe.
It’s a delight to have him back. ☺️❤️🐦
After my mom’s home sale closes next week, I’ll be using some of the equity to buy her a $60,000 car, which she plans to immediately “gift” to me so that I can sell it back it to the dealer and abscond to France with the cash.
Well, OK, not exactly. But close.
Because my mother is currently doing pretty well, even with a Stage 4 bedsore on her backside, I am told now that she could very well be a hospice patient the second time around for another year, maybe longer, after doctors initially gave her a few months, tops. (Are they ever right? From what I’ve observed these past eight months, I would have to say, nooooooo.) While I’m thrilled to have more time with my mom, living longer means that she’ll need more money for her care center copays. Simply put, to afford to live in a long-term care center, she needs Medicaid.
Hence, the car.
I was shocked to learn that my mother will be allowed only $45 a month for “extras” while on Medicaid, and she can’t have more than $2,000 in her bank account at the end of each month. The government will also be taking back the annuity she was awarded when the Veterans Administration was found culpable in my stepfather’s death after giving him a faulty pacemaker. Grrrrrrrrr. The entire process has been maddening. But I’ve found a crazy loophole that I’ve doubled-checked with several attorneys, and thought I’d share here.
Even though my mom can’t drive a car and will never drive one again, she is allowed to own a car, free and clear of Medicaid requirements. (Go figure.) She is also allowed to “gift” the car to anyone she chooses — in this case, moi.
So once her home sale closes next week and her equity is deposited, I will have until the end of May to spend down my mother’s account on “legitimate” purchases. First, I’ll pay off all outstanding medical bills and copays. Then, I’ll prepay for her cremation and funeral — another Medicaid-free expense. Trust me, rather than let the government take it all, we’re going to have one helluva party, with a string quartet, hors d’oeuvres and case after case of my mom’s favorite Veuve Clicquot Champagne. (Of course, if Trump is impeached before my mom dies, I’ll have to make another run to the wine store.)
Once all of this is paid for, that will leave me about $60,000 to buy a one-year-old car, park it for a month or so, then resell it back to the dealer and deposit the cash into an account for my mom. Wacky, I know. But the beauty of it is that this is all perfectly legal, and Medicaid won’t get a single dime of my mother’s equity if I do everything properly.
As you can imagine, I initially fantasized about buying a shiny red Corvette or Porsche Boxter and driving it for several weeks. Then I learned that Medicaid (now very aware of this loophole) won’t allow me to buy a sports car or a convertible. So now I’m thinking about a luxury Audi, BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz, or possibly a spanking new Volkswagen camper van for a road trip. Hmmmmm.
After my new account is opened at the credit union, don’t be surprised if I’m tempted to take a little overseas trip to a certain land of art, wine and cheese as well.
I have a hunch that that my mom will understand. : )
Now that spring break is over and my daughter is back in high school and my son has returned to college, I’m adjusting again to a silent house this morning. It’s just me, the cat and the light clickety-clack of my keyboard as I type faster than the computer can process my words (something my mother once told me is the sign of a restless mind).
Unlike years past, we didn’t go anywhere during the break this year and instead spent our time reading, going to matinee movies, baking (OK — I did all of the baking), visiting my mom at her care center to watch Hitchcock movies and making summer plans. My son said he’s had enough of the dorm life and wants to move back home in June while he takes a couple of summer classes at the University of Utah. “Would you mind much?” he asked politely.
Would I mind?
“Only if I get to borrow your Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds” CDs,’ I told him. “And only if you promise to watch ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘John Oliver’ with me and laugh a lot.”
My boy has the most wonderful, genuine laugh, and I’ve missed it.
At the end of the summer, he and three friends plan to find a house near the university to rent together, so I hope to enjoy the upcoming months with him, knowing that once he’s moved in with his pals, and eventually moves into an apartment of his own, he won’t be spending much time — if any — cranking the tunes and piling up dirty dishes in his old Sugarhouse bedroom.
It’s a bittersweet realization to know that this August I’ll be claiming his old digs as a music room or a larger office to handle all of my files and book-writing notes, while he hauls away the last of his mystery novels and CDs. I’m going to leave my son’s artwork on the walls, though, and the futon sofa at the ready, on the chance that I can talk him into staying for an overnighter once in a while. “The cat will insist on it,” I’ve already told him, “and so will I. It’s been decided. So there.”
With just one more year of high school to go, my daughter won’t be far behind with her own apartment search. She’s already looking through Pottery Barn catalogs for decorating ideas and she’s trying to decide which college to attend. Because she loves everything from music, dance and the theater to foreign languages, poetry and women’s studies, she isn’t sure yet what her major will be.
“Perhaps a tap-dancing, poetic United Nations interpreter?” I’ve suggested.
After listening to her argue with her brother (thankfully, their disagreements have now evolved into serious and thoughtful debates), I actually think that she’d make a terrific lawyer. But don’t tell her that.
“Whenever you and Dad tell me that I should do something,” she told me last week with a sweet smile, “you can guarantee it won’t happen.”
I was tempted to say, “Okay — would that also apply to demanding that you move out?”
But of course, I kept my mouth shut. 😉
My mother’s family roots are in France, but she has never had the pleasure of going there. I had hoped to surprise her in a year or two with a trip to Paris and Bordeaux (the city of her ancestors), but then she severely injured her knee and has spent the past six months in and out of care centers, hospice, hospitals and now hospice again — this time due to neglect that caused a Stage Four bedsore.
We don’t know much time she has left (it could be a few months, perhaps even a year), so I’ve returned to a habit that I started the first time she was “dying” in hospice last November: Every time I visit, I make sure that I read something to my mother about France.
Already, I’ve read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and “Toujours Provence” to her, along with “A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter and one of Cara Black’s French mysteries, “Murder in the Marais.” I’ve also shown her coffee table photo books about the Eiffel Tower, the hidden passageways of Paris, French gardens and the charm of French cats.
And that’s just the beginning.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that my collection of books featuring France (particularly Paris) now numbers well over 100, not including the cooking and baking books. (I truly am ashamed to add up those.) But I’m also delighted that I now have a wonderful reason to read them all again, from “Coming Down the Seine” by Robert Gibbings, an Irish writer who journeyed down France’s most famous river in the early 1950s and wrote about the whimsical people and beautiful landscapes he encountered along the way, to 2015’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, about a French blind girl and an orphaned German boy whose paths collide during World War II.
I’m looking forward to reading my mother some of my favorite Claude Izner mysteries (“The Montmartre Investigation” and “The Disappearance at Pere-Lachaise”), a Parisian love story with recipes (“Lunch in Paris” by Elizabeth Bard), an intimate tale of my favorite perfume (“The Secret of Chanel No. 5” by Tilar Mazzeo) and a historical account of the most famous tourist attraction in the world (“Eiffel’s Tower” by Jill Jonnes).
Like me, my mother has a collection of mini Eiffel towers, and she loves my idea of taking a few tablespoons of her ashes to the top of the landmark one day, accidentally “tripping” and sprinkling her remains like confetti over the City of Light.
Of course, I’m in no hurry to make that trip. Just as with the Hitchcock movies we’re now watching every week, I hope that my mom is given the gift of time to experience them all. My voice is always hoarse after 30 minutes of reading aloud, but it’s worth it to see her smile with her eyes closed and say, “That can’t be all. Can you keep going?”
Oui, ma mère bien-aimée. With pleasure, m’dear. : )
I’ll be catching up on work today after spending much of yesterday afternoon playing hooky at my mom’s care center, lounging on the spare bed in her room, sipping fizzy lemonade and popping M&Ms as we watched “Dial M for Murder” with Grace Kelly.
Our first official “Hitchcock Movie Club” get-together was so much fun that we now plan to hit replay at least once a week. I own a collection of 20 Alfred Hitchcock films, so if we’re lucky, we’ll have five months to see them all, and our routine will give my mother something to look forward to. I came up with the idea after noticing how my mom’s face lit up one afternoon when I was trying to figure out how to work the DVD player in her room. “To Catch a Thief” suddenly appeared on the Turner Classics movie channel, enchanting my mother, who until that moment, hadn’t wanted to watch television in months.
“Cary Grant and Grace Kelly — two beautiful people,” she said. “What’s not to love?”
I had to agree.
Thus far, my mother is doing far better than anyone expected in hospice care. Sometimes, I get the feeling that the hospital simply didn’t know what to do with her, so they decided to check “hospice” on the medical coding sheet and make her somebody else’s “problem.” Yes, the bedsore on her backside is as bad as it can be, and she is weak and prone to moments of confusion. But on other days, I get the feeling that she could climb into her wheelchair and roll up the street to IHOP for strawberry and banana pancakes if she really set her mind to it.
“Instead of just waiting around to die,” I told her a few weeks ago, “why not enjoy a little bit of living?”
Thus, my brother and I bundled her up and wheeled her outside in the sunshine one afternoon, and on my birthday last week, I showed up with a book about Paris, two slices of lemon cheesecake and a bottle of her favorite Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Spending a few hours each week with Hitchcock and Co., though, is definitely on track to becoming her favorite pastime.
Yesterday, we marveled at Grace Kelly’s red lace cocktail dress and simultaneously exclaimed, “Don’t do it!” when she climbed out of bed with immaculate hair to answer her husband’s phone call while a hired killer waited behind the curtains to strangle her.
“What a treat — I hadn’t seen that movie in years,” my mother told me when I kissed her goodbye. “Maybe we can watch two this week?
I probably don’t have to tell you that I’ll be playing hooky again on Wednesday for “North by Northwest.” : )
Over the weekend, I went on my first triple date since I was in high school, ending up at the same place where I’d worn my mint-green Gunne Sax prom dress in 1978: The Old Spaghetti Factory in Trolley Square. Only this time, the other four people at the table were much younger and more hip than me or my husband, and two of them eyed me somewhat suspiciously for the first 15 minutes until they finally realized that I wasn’t going to talk about politics or pull out a secret stash of embarrassing childhood photos.
Such is the ambiance when you’re out on a triple date with your teenage daughter and son.
It all came together rather innocently and spontaneously. I hadn’t used two of my Christmas gift cards (one to Williams-Sonoma and one to my favorite eclectic stationary shop, Tabula Rasa), and for the first time in several months, I was looking at a free Friday night.
“I’m heading to Trolley Square,” I told my husband. “Want to tag along?” He looked up with glazed eyes from the Olympic Opening Ceremonies on television. “Yeah, sure, why not?” Then my daughter, on her way out the door to meet her boyfriend, chimed in. “Trolley Square? As in Tabula Rasa? As in the Spaghetti Factory? I LOVE the Spaghetti Factory.”
“I haven’t been there to eat since you were 9 or 10,” I said. “Let’s do it. Want to meet us there?”
Amazingly, she agreed.
“Are you my daughter or an alien imposter?” I asked. Laughing, she waltzed out the door. “See you at 8!”
A bit later, I received a text from my son, wondering what we were having for dinner when he came home from the dorm to do his laundry on Sunday.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” I told him, “but I do know what we’re having tonight. Pasta la vista, baby. Spaghetti Factory. Trolley Square. Your sister and her boyfriend are going. Do you and your girlfriend want to join us?”
I imagined that he’d rather attend a four-hour seminar on how to rewrite legislative code than go on a Friday night triple date with his little sister and parents. So I was floored when he responded, “Um, OK. We actually don’t have any plans. See you there.”
And that’s how we all ended up in a giant red velvet booth eating spaghetti with Mizithra cheese and brown butter, chicken piccata and fettuccine with mushroom sauce, talking about college chemistry classes and high school spirit assemblies, joking about Donald Trump’s latest misspelled tweet (yes, I have to confess that I brought it up) and debating about which movie deserves to win the Academy Award for best picture next month.
As we dug into our desserts — dishes of spumoni ice cream — I suddenly flashed on my two kids at ages 2 and 4, sitting at a coveted table inside the Spaghetti Factory’s antique trolley car, squirming and giggling, their faces coated with cheese sauce and chocolate-strawberry-pistachio ice cream as they launched leftover pieces of macaroni with their forks.
Although I was tempted to bring up the memory, a quick glance at my teenagers and their sweethearts, happy in the moment, made me realize that it was best left unshared. My children are grown and self-assured now, and it’s not a good idea to divulge embarrassing tales of toddlerhood when your daughter has a plateful of noodles and a wicked aim.
Besides, I’m hoping for a redo on my birthday. 😉
Since today is Groundhog Day, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to share the latest chapter in the emotional saga of my mother, Joy, aka Snowy Owl Woman. For the past four-and-a-half months, I’ve felt like Phil Connors in the movie “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same events over and over again, from carrying my mother’s Himalayan salt lamp, Pellegrino water, lavender lotion and living will from one new care center to another to gathering in boardrooms with hospital CEOs, doctors, nurses, social workers and physical therapists to offer my two cents about lackadaisical care and ridiculous Medicare restrictions.
It’s been exhausting and infuriating, and it’s opened my eyes to the horrifying way our country treats elderly people in their time of greatest need.
First, though, I should start with the good news: Two days ago, I saved my mother’s life for the third time since she ended up in this endless cycle of emergency rooms and rehab centers last September. This time, I’m hoping the third time will finally be the charm, and that brings me to the bad news: My mother has been left terribly frail from this endless ordeal and if her care providers aren’t extra vigilant going forward, she could very likely die or become bedridden for the rest of her life.
The latest “Groundhog” episode started about a week ago, when doctors at the acute care “mini hospital” that I’d fought to get my mother into after she developed a life-threatening bedsore at an “uncaring” center, decided that her wound was showing enough signs of healing to kick her out and move her down once again to the next level of care: another skilled nursing center. (The real reason — the one that they never want to mention — is that her allotted Medicare days had run out. Once these places have taken all the money they can, they always find a reason to give patients the boot.)
The day before the move, my mother had a panic attack, then became more tired than usual with no appetite. She also started to make some bizarre comments. “Cathy,” she’d say, “Please get that stinky stuff off the airplane for me and put it in the fridge.” Or, “Be careful — there’s a baseball stadium full of people waiting for me outside and some of them are with ISIS.”
It was alarming. Did my mother suddenly have dementia? Not to worry, said the experts, “we see this all the time. She’s just nervous about the move and everything will be back to normal in a couple of days.”
Although my three siblings and I finally found her a good rehab center, our mom continued to decline after she was admitted last week. She slept away the day and refused to eat anything except the milkshakes and smoothies I’d bring with me each afternoon. One of the center’s on-call doctors thought she was probably depressed and said he’d look into adjusting some of her medications. But just like before, when my mom was said to have a deadly sepsis infection and was languishing in a hospice room with “three days to live,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
A couple of days ago, after a teary afternoon at her bedside, pleading for her to wake up and look at the world, I asked the director of nursing to call one of their doctors. When he showed up, he told me that my mother was an older woman with a lot of problems that he’d seen before. “I give her a one-in-10 chance of a full recovery,” he said. “I don’t know if there is much we can do.”
His eyes widened when I replied, “My mother has been here for only a few days and you’ve seen her twice. I’ve seen her my entire life. Something else is going on here and I would appreciate having a full blood panel done. Now.”
Realizing that “no” wasn’t an option, he quickly agreed, and the next day, I found myself waiting once again for blood lab results to come through a fax machine. And once again, when I saw the results (by this time, I can practically interpret a full blood panel by myself), I immediately called an ambulance. Just like before, my mother’s potassium was dangerously low. In fact, it was even lower than it was on the day I pulled her out of hospice care when I learned that she wasn’t actually dying of sepsis, but needed bananas.
Her hospital doctors (I’m on a first-name basis with a couple of them after three hospital stays) believe that her confusion is related to low potassium, and that the ultimate result would have been heart failure if I hadn’t whisked her in. So just like Phil Connors, here we go again. I’m hopeful of a good outcome, but our Snowy Owl Woman is much weaker now and nothing is guaranteed. Well, except for one thing.
Will I be paying a visit to that prestigious “mini hospital” to get my mother’s medical records and find out exactly who took her off those crucial potassium supplements and why?
For the first time in years, I took an out-of-town trip last weekend that wasn’t work or family related. My solo mini vacation in San Francisco was all about me, and now that I’ve returned, I’m already looking at the calendar and wondering, “OK, when’s the next one?”
As a journalist, I’ve never been shy about traveling alone. It comes with the territory. I’ve hiked alone in deep woods to find people living off the grid; I’ve stayed by myself in isolated motels that make The Bates Motel look like The Mandarin Oriental; and I actually relish “table for one” dining. (I have a couple of rules: Take a good book, always order a cocktail or two, eavesdrop on other diners’ conversations and never leave without having dessert.)
Traveling solo for pleasure, though, is as rare as a comfortable ride in coach. So after a rough year, when my husband and two teenagers presented me with a Christmas gift of four days in my favorite American city in my favorite boutique hotel, my first thought was, “How will this affect the kids’ school schedules?”
“Can you afford to miss two days?” I asked my daughter.
“Hey, I’m not going,” she replied. “None of us are. This trip is for YOU.”
“Really? Well, yippee ki-yay!” I told everyone. “But you’re taking a risk. What if I don’t want to come back?”
I was kidding, of course. Sort of. Everyone knows that if I could afford it, I’d move to San Francisco in a heartbeat. The fresh air, the fabulous dining and shopping, the sparkling skyline, the diverse neighborhoods and the liberal vibe…what’s not to love?
For three nights, anyway, I turned my charming room at Cornell Hotel de France into my own pied-à-terre, neatly arranging my clothes and jewelry in an antique bureau, buying a bouquet of flowers for the nightstand and hanging one of my silk scarves over the lampshade. Since there was nobody else’s schedule to consider, I didn’t use an alarm clock, I ate when I felt like it (skipping breakfast and moving straight into lunch, then having dinner at 8 or 9), and I sprawled on the bed in my PJs and socks, popping M&Ms into my mouth and laughing at late-night comics until long after midnight.
I have to admit that I even jumped on the bed a few times, but let’s keep that a secret, shall we? What happened in Room 401 stays in Room 401. Along with the broken box springs. 😉