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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Press Here to Turn On

I am flummoxed by how difficult it is to turn on headphones for some people. I can’t count the times I’ve gone to visit Mom to find her sitting there with her headphones on either without a charge or not even switched on! What’s the use of wearing headphones that aren’t playing music?! Worse, they start crushing the ears after a while.

We have spoken to the head nurse, the social worker, and various employees all to no avail. For some reason, getting staff to consistently charge, turn on, and place earphones on Mom’s head is a difficult task.

Listening to music is one of the things that consistently makes Mom happy. Show tunes, classic songs in Yiddish, jazz, and some classical: we have carefully selected and assembled Mom’s music list. Dad reports that he has more successful visits when Mom has access to functioning headphones.

And me? My visits to Mom have become hit or miss, sometimes literally.

This past week, I found Mom’s earphones sitting on her table with no charge. After taking them to her room to charge, I went back to sit next to Mom. I wish I’d had those earphones. Mom was in a terrible mood and lashed out at me, slapping me across the face. I was so surprised. I grabbed her hand and began to give her a kiss, telling her I was happy to see her, when she pushed her hand towards my face, and I was hit a second time.

I could barely keep it together. My real mom would never have hit me that way. I was so close to tears as I tried to talk her out of her anger, raising my voice to match her timbre as I tried to sing over her vituperative words with some silly songs I know she loves.

When she tried to hit me again, I broke down.

“Don’t do that,” I cried, “it hurts.”

Nothing I did had an impact. I finally left in frustration, perhaps the shortest visit I can remember having with her, feeling overwhelmingly sad as I drove home.

I made it home in one piece only to burst into loud hysterical sobs when I saw the glorious, smiling photo I have of Mom on my refrigerator. That woman in the institute was not my mom, and I was reminded again of all I have lost.

None of it was Mom’s fault. I know that—rationally, intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally. But Mom’s actions pushed me to a breaking point and I could not stop the pain from filtering in.

I am worried that maybe I engendered the episode. Or maybe I got what I deserve. I’ve been feeling as if visiting Mom has become a burden. What’s the point? I think to myself. What do I accomplish by visiting her? What do I gain?

If anything, this visit was eye-opening, and it has pushed me to realign my expectations. The point of these visits is for Mom’s benefit, not mine. I get to see how she’s doing. I give her a break from the monotony of her days and routines. If I’m lucky, I propel her to a few minutes of loving connectivity.

We’ve been here before, and I’ve written similar words about how I feel. The shell of my mother sits patiently in her chair waiting for someone to engage with her. I will continue to take that challenge and trust that I can fight my way through her angry moods.

That has to be enough.


I am always on the lookout for easy one-dish meals that will satisfy my family. This ginger meatball recipe was delicious. Perhaps a little more work than I expected, but well worth the effort. (Yes, and also a good metaphor for visiting Mom.)

I made this dish in stages to diminish the time-consuming preparations. It is the initial frying of the meatballs that took the most time.

Ginger Meatballs in Peanut Sauce

The photo of these delicious meatballs does not do them justice. They are extremely flavorful and fun to eat.


1 kilo / 2.2 lbs ground chicken or turkey

2 eggs

¾ bread crumbs

½ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp sesame oil

Peanut Sauce

2¼ cup coconut or soy milk

½ cup creamy peanut butter (or less for a thinner sauce)

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 carrots thinly sliced

1 red pepper thinly sliced

¾ cup frozen peas


  1. In a large bowl, mix ground turkey with eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper. Roll into golf-ball-sized meatballs.

  2. Brown meatballs in sesame oil in a large skillet. Depending on the size of the pan, you may have to do this in several batches. Remove and set aside.

  3. On a low flame, whisk together in a large pot soy milk, peanut butter, and soy sauce. Add in carrots and meatballs. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

  4. Gently stir in peas and red pepper. Cook five more minutes uncovered.

  5. Garnish with scallions and/or chopped peanuts. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

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