Turning into a Pumpkin
It is fitting that when our kids were small, my mom used to call herself “Savtarella,” the Hebrew equivalent of Grandma-ella, after that most famous of down-trodden young women, Cinderella. When she visited, Mom would rush into our house, get down on the floor and play with her grandkids, give them baths, read them stories, then, with her left-over energy, clean the house when they’d gone to sleep.
It was our little joke about all she would do for us.
These days, I’ve noticed that Mom suffers from another aspect of Cinderella’s storybook existence. There seems to be some sort of unwritten, internal striking of the clock that turns Mom into a pumpkin.
Last week, we attended the opening of my dad’s latest art show. Mom was brilliant at greeting friends and enjoying their company. “How are you?” she’d chirp, “I haven’t seen you in ages!”
When one friend, with a mischievous smile, answered, “Naomi, it’s so good to see you too, even though you saw me just five minutes ago,” Mom thought that was funny. We all laughed with her.
An hour into the event, Mom announced that she was tired and wanted to go home. Her mood changed immediately, and she became sullen. Our plans were to go out to eat after the crowd left; it was hard to convince Mom to participate. Even while eating dinner at the restaurant, she sulked and barely talked to us.
When she finally got home, Mom went straight to bed.
It took a while, but I finally realized that Mom was telling us what she needed. I was impressed as it’s a skill I’d assumed was lost to her. This was not the first time that she was able to understand her limitations. Sometimes, when we're out having coffee, Mom will suddenly announce she’s tired and decide it’s time to go.
I’ve often thought that perhaps Mom needed more stimulation. Meaning, if she had something to do that stimulated her, she wouldn’t be so eager to climb into bed. Now I’m rethinking the issue. If Mom can identify her breaking point, then perhaps we have to try harder to get her home on time. The alternative is dealing with a negative, angry woman with whom it is impossible to reason.
Jack Cohen, portrait of an artist with his portraits.
Is Mom unique among Alzheimer’s patients with the ability to verbally acknowledge their boundaries? I don’t think so. What I do think is that Alzheimer’s is a tough disease to understand. One day your loved one is completely with it; the next day, she follows you around like a lost puppy; and on the third day, she recalls how you celebrated your 21st birthday (more than 30 years ago!) but can’t find the bathroom.
It comes down to this: Caregivers must intuit how much their patient understands on any given day and on any given issue, and judge as best they can as to how to proceed. With the incremental downward slide that is part of Alzheimer’s disease, to quote Mom quoting Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Tonight is the holiday of Lag B’Omer, which marks the 33rd day of the 49 days we count between Passover and Shavuot. It is traditional to light bonfires on Lag B’Omer, and at our synagogue, we hold a big barbecue dinner. What could be better than home-made kebabs?
The fresh spices in these kebabs are what make them so appealing. Plus, they are smaller than a regular-sized hamburger, so you won’t feel guilty eating a few of them. If you can’t grill them, a frying pan works well.
makes 20 kebabs
1 kilo (2 pounds) ground beef
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Spread a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan. Using your hands, mix spices into the ground beef. When all is mixed, take a small fistful of the beef and shape into oval patties that taper at the ends. Place in frying pan and fry on high until meat begins to brown. Turn flame down to low. Cover. Turn and cook on remaining side. Cooking time, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with tahini, ketchup or even amba (mango chutney).