After reading the title of the blog you may be silently humming the hip little ditty to the sixties sitcom starring Fred MacMurray. But this blog is not about a man who is raising three sons with Uncle Charlie. It’s more akin to The Terminator movies. It’s about a woman who keeps taking hits but keeps getting up. The Mom-inator.
Mom #1 was born in 1933. She became Mom #2 in May of 1986. She evolved into Mom #3 in 2008 (or thereabouts). It gets fuzzy. Mom #2 was a transitional mom. Mom #3 has Alzheimer’s.
I love all three.
Mom #1 was the mom that raised me. I’m approaching fifty and she’s the one that, in my opinion, made me who I am today. She was born on a farm in Minnesota; she’s one of eleven children. How can I describe Mom #1? Think June Cleaver with a beer and a cigarette (a Virginia Slim) wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt. She’s had a very eventful life.
She was married in 1950. In 1959, Mom #1 had to watch her second son (her fourth child) suffer from leukemia. She had to see him in his casket. She watched as they lowered him into the ground. Mom #1 was extremely independent. Resilient. Loving but incredibly intense. Tough. Protective. Distant at times. She cooked with lard, Crisco, Parkay, and bacon grease without batting an eye. She taught me how to drive the car into the garage at 30 MPH and stop before coming out of the other end. (Ok. It wasn’t THAT fast, but it was faster than it should have been!) The worst thing you could ever give her was flowers – they were a waste of money in her opinion. She hated chocolate. If she weighed ninety pounds soaking wet I would have been amazed. My dad used to say that she didn’t need a bra – just two Band-aids. She was hard working and hard drinking. She was a ball of stress and energy and could never relax if her life depended on it. She worried about anything and everything. She had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Growing up, she was the smallest person on her high school basketball team and her brother gave her the nickname “Squirt.” Many people still don’t know her real name – Helen. She was, and still is, Squirt to almost everyone.
Since I was her baby, the relationship I had (and have) between all of my Moms is very different from what my brothers and sisters (there are five of us) had. This is something my sisters, to this day, will NOT let me forget. It wasn’t until all of the other kids left home and I had her all to myself that Mom #1 showed her true colors and I really got to know her for the incredible woman she was (and is).
According to the doctor who saved her 53 years later, the defect that created Mom #2 was present the day Mom #1 was born.
The defect that Mom #1 was born with reared its despicable head in May of 1986 – a very large cranial aneurism. A blood vessel in her brain had turned into a balloon and was pressing against her brain. If it burst, she’d die. If it started to leak, she’d likely die.
The doctor who saved her life called her his miracle. She only had a 10% chance of living through the nightmare. If she did live, they told us she had an 85% chance of being permanently disabled – she’d be in a constant vegetative state. To this day I find it ironic that a few years after saving her life, her doctor died of the exact same thing while playing racquetball.
She wasn’t in a vegetative state.
Mom #2 lived.
She was, after all, The Mom-inator.
In late 1986, after six months in the hospital, in ICU, and rehab, Mom #2 came home. A year later she was back to work. Two years later, her husband of forty years (my father) was diagnosed with lung cancer. She nursed him while he was sick. Cared for him at home between visits from the home hospice nurse and was by his side, holding his hand, in their living room when he died on Thanksgiving Day 1990.
Mom #2 was different than Mom #1. Mom #2 was calm(er). She loved chocolate. She hated cigarette smoke. She still liked beer. Mom #1 could make bread and rolls from an unwritten recipe she learned from her mother. Mom #2 couldn’t remember the recipe. She was still a fantastic cook. She still used lard, Crisco, Parkay, and bacon grease. Just couldn’t remember THAT particular recipe.
Mom #2 put on some weight.
Mom #2 had to buy new bras.
In the mid-90’s she met a new man. He was great. He had lost his wife around the same time my father died. Where my father wouldn’t hold her hand, he did. He doted on her. He once said to me, “Whoa. She’s a handful!” Several years later, she held his hand when he took his last breath.
We started noticing changes a bit later. Mom #2 started forgetting small things. She started repeating things she’d just said. She had trouble remembering names. Everyone and everything was becoming “whatchamacallit.”
She’d laugh and just attribute it to the can of beer she’d had the night before.
It wasn’t the beer. Things were getting worse. Quickly. We just really didn’t know what to do. We were getting worried.
In 2008, Mom #2 turned 75. I wasn’t sure what the future was for her so I decided to throw her a surprise birthday party. The entire town of Arvilla, ND and the surrounding farm areas showed up to wish her well on her 75th.
She saw old friends that she hadn’t seen a years.
She had a blast.
From what she told me afterwards, she’d never had a surprise party until that night. The first real birthday party in 75 years.
I felt bad that I hadn’t done this years before.
Every Tuesday morning without fail, she and her best friend would meet at the Hitching Post Saloon for a morning cup of coffee. They’d done this for years. One Tuesday morning in the fall of 2008, she didn’t show up for her morning coffee.
Something was up.
Mom #2 was being bad. Mom #2 wasn’t watching her blood sugar. After breaking down the door to her house, they found her lying on the living room floor, unconscious. She landed in the ICU again. They weren’t really sure what damage had been done. I was stressing out 1,800 miles away in Reno, NV.
But she pulled through.
She’s the Mom-inator. Remember?
Mom #3 was born.
Before she was released from the hospital, I received a call from my sister, “You need to fly here now.”
My heart sank. I immediately thought the worst. “What’s wrong? Is Mom dying?”
“No. She’s tough. The doctors want her in an assisted living center. She can’t live alone anymore. She’ll be mad. You know she won’t listen to anyone but you.”
It’s that “baby” thing.
I booked a flight from Reno, NV to Minneapolis, MN.
My sister and I walked in the door of her new apartment. The first person Mom #3 saw was my sister. My sister was wrong. Mom wasn’t mad. She was furious. Fire engine red furious. Daggers flew from her eyes.
She yelled at my sister.
Then she saw me.
And she started to cry.
“They put me here,” she sobbed.
I sat down next to her, wrapped my arms around her, and let her cry on my shoulder. I didn’t say a word. When she calmed down and stopped crying, she and I went for a walk to visit her new surroundings. I calmed her down some more. We talked about nothing and everything. We went back to her new apartment and my waiting sister.
My sister looked at me with trepidation as we walked in the door.
“Mom would like to have some new curtains on her windows,” I said and winked.
When my sister and I left my mom’s apartment to get her the curtains, my sister hit me over the head with a rolled up magazine. “John’s the baby. He can do anything,” she mocked.
Then she hugged me.
It’s now 2012.
Things have calmed down. She has new friends. She plays bingo. She plays pinochle. Nurses make sure she’s watching her sugar. She has an assisted, independent life. She still likes chocolate. Now she loves getting flowers. When I visit and take her out shopping, she tells me I’m driving too fast – and I haven’t even pulled out of the parking lot.
Her Alzheimer’s is getting worse but with her meds, it has slowed. I have noticed that more people are now “whatchamacallit.” She thinks people are stealing her clothes – but no one is. Sometimes she understands her condition and sometimes she uses it to her advantage. She’s the Mom-inator, after all. She likes sweaters with big, colorful appliqués on them. Sweaters adorned with kitties, dogs, pumpkins, turkeys, Christmas trees, or Easter bunnies. She likes to shop at Goodwill because the sweaters only cost a few bucks. We like taking her there because it makes her happy – she’s out shopping. Doing things with her kids. The last time we went, she and I were walking down an aisle – on the lookout for sweaters. I heard a repetitive noise.
Step. Phhhht. Step. Phhhht. Step. Phhhht. Step. Phhhht.
I turned to her. Wide-eyed.
“Mom!” I said.
“What?” she looked at me innocently.
“You’re farting like an old man in a grocery store.”
“I am not!” she said with a wry, indignant smile.
That’s the Mom-inator.
I dedicated my novel, “The Protocol” to her. It says:
This is for you, Mom.
You’ll always be on the highest pedestal in my heart.
I hope you understand why.
(Coming Up Next: Birth of a Red Giant)