The Red Bag
I try hard not to treat my mother as if she were my child. When my dad asked her how old she was, Mom first said 12, then 17. It is safe to say Mom has no concept of age.
When we are together my mothering instincts kick in automatically. Take the incident of the red bag, for example.
Last week, my parents came to visit for Purim. The highlight of our celebration is the performance of my husband Jeff’s “Purim Shpiel,” a raucous rendition of the Purim story set to well-known music.* This year’s was based on West Side Story.
When it came time for the performance (the local version: “(Middle) East Side Story”), Mom and I moved round to the other side of the table from where we were sitting so that we could see the stage. Mom sat in a chair that had been vacated, but our friend’s bag and coat were still draped on it.
The shpiel was hilarious, and Mom hummed along to all the songs. The entire audience had a great belly-laugh at the clever words and antics of the performers. When it was over, my parents got up to leave while I stayed behind to help clean up. Just as I was turning away, I heard Daddy raise his voice.
“No, it’s not your bag,” he said.
“Of course it is,” Mom replied vociferously. “It was on my chair.”
Daddy called me over. “Miriam, will you please tell Mom that this is not her bag.”
Oh no, I thought, how do we get out of this one? My friends know about Mom’s Alzheimer’s. When she introduces me to them as her sister, we all let it slide. But seeing her irrational anger up close and personal is another matter, and I did not relish being part of the scene that was unfolding.
“Actually, Mom,” I said in my most patient voice, “it’s not your bag. It’s black like yours, but yours is at home.”
“Don’t tell me ridiculous stories,” Mom yelled.
And then the solution came to me. I ran round to where we had been sitting and pulled the tired red shopping bag I’d brought with me that morning—loaded with props and food—from where it lay under the table. It was empty, and I wasn’t sure it would work, but I held it out to Mom as a substitute. In the back of my mind were countless memories of taking toys from my young kids only when I had a replacement toy to give them. It was a tried-and-true strategy back then that cut down on the crying.
Surprisingly, it worked with Mom, too. Mom’s anger was assuaged though she grumbled on the way home about people stealing from her.
How can I not mother my mother?
Mom is vulnerable. This disease not only affects her physically it also mercilessly strips her of her intellectual abilities. She obviously cannot navigate the world as she used to; she needs a guide. As the “older” of the two of us, I guess I have volunteered.
One of the items that I had placed in the red bag was a huge bowl of coleslaw. By the time the meal was over, the bowl was empty. I carried it home in an anonymous plastic bag, none the wiser for the bag substitution.
This recipe was given to me by my wonderful mother-in-law Marilyn. Some people shred the vegetables for this dish, but I prefer to cut the cabbage by hand. For one, I don’t have to wash out the cuisine art; for another, it lends the dish a crisp, crunchy texture.
½ head cabbage, sliced
2 carrots, grated
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
With a sharp knife, slice cabbage thinly then cut slices in half. Grate carrots and place in bowl with cabbage and sliced onion. Mix dressing ingredients in a close topped bowl. Pour over vegetables and toss till evenly coated. Note: Add thinly sliced green pepper for extra color. Also feel free to cut down on sugar if you like it less sweet.
*Visit Jeff’s website, Purim Shpiels R US, to view and download Purim shpiel scripts.