Why I Visit
Early warnings of Mom’s Alzheimer’s were present long before she was diagnosed. There were always strange incidents where Mom seemed befuddled by common events. Once, at the end of a cops-and-robbers movie, Mom innocently asked who the bad guys were. How had she not understood? We made fun of her idiosyncrasies, her Pollyannaish view of the world. Today, because of her Alzheimer’s, she’s less conscious of societal conventions and more prone to give in to her simple nature. She is experiencing her second childhood.
Case in point: Today at lunch, she ate her dessert first. “But this is so much tastier,” she told my dad when he suggested she eat the main part of her meal. No argument here.
We are constantly gauging when to indulge her strange behavior, including her nonsensical conversations, or when to veer them onto a more acceptable path. As we stood in the bathroom together, I noticed Mom raising her toothbrush to her hair. I had turned away for a split second. I wasn’t even sure I had seen her do it. But there it was, a stripe of green toothpaste among her silver curls. Inwardly I groaned. Outwardly I laughingly convinced Mom to wash her hair in the sink.
I’ve been in a slump this past week. I keep asking myself why it is so important for me to visit Mom. Do I have ulterior motives?
I realized today that one of the reasons my visits are so important is because it’s something I do well. I can be with Mom in the moment. I can give her laughter and pleasure. I can give her love and hugs and a sense of well being. I can’t seem to accomplish other tasks I set for myself, like dieting or publishing my cookbook, but visiting Mom has an easy, natural feel to it. It validates my sense of self. I get as much as I give. That’s not a bad thing, but it sometimes feels disingenuous given the purpose of my visits.
The fact that I plumb our visits for writing material seems like a mark against me, too. And yet to write about it, to examine some of the strange occurrences when we’re together, gives me an outlet to emotions I don’t voice when I’m with her. Because, really, how absurd it is that I must mother my mother.
I love my mom. I always will, regardless of her situation. I’ve accepted this role reversal, because to fight reality is pointless. When I embrace it, we both benefit.
Summer is a time of cold salads. When Shabbat rolls around, we usually have a cabbage salad among the appetizers on the table. Here’s a piquant dressing for the next cabbage you slice.
Cabbage Salad with Mustard Dressing
This salad is not sweet. That’s why my daughter likes it. But when child no. 3 took a second serving, I knew we were on to something. I use red and white cabbage interchangeably for this recipe. Up the strong taste by adding extra mustard to the dressing.
3 cloves garlic crushed
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
½ tsp prepared Dijon mustard
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/3 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
Slice the cabbage thinly using either a food processor or a sharp chef’s knife. Mix lemon juice, rice vinegar, oil, mustard and spices in a closed container. (For extra umph, add more mustard.) In a large bowl, combine cabbage and dressing. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Marinate for up to two hours before serving.