Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Yarn Elephant in the Room...

So, y'all know I crochet, right? And knit, yeah, I knit, too. Anyhow, I didn't always crochet. I didn't learn to crochet until I was pregnant with the Impertinent Daughter, despite my mom's best efforts to teach me when I was a kid. She just couldn't understand why I wouldn't do it, especially since I would see a pattern for something, like a bag, or an afghan, or a poncho, and I would beg her to make it for me. "Why don't I teach you to crochet and you can make it yourself," she said to entice me into learning.

But I refused. I just wasn't interested. I never got beyond learning to make a double chain cord, and even that was under protest.

Why? Well, aside from some of the cool things Mom made, like the blankets, or the super cool poncho she made for me in fifth grade that was SO WARM, and the awesome potholders that really protected your hands from the heat, Mom also made a lot of the kind of stuff that would have me looking at it and going, "Why? Why would someone make this??? WHY???"


There was a lot of stuff like that, and Mom would get all excited, "Oh, this will be so decorative, so cute, I can put this on the buffet/table/tv cabinet/piano, it'll look just like decorative candles/boxes/vases/flowers/whatever." She was seriously delighted by those things, and she would crochet them and be so happy about them. And I would do the typical pre-teen thing and roll my eyes and sigh dramatically, so put upon by my mother's horrible lack of taste (in my advanced eleven-year-old opinion, that is).

I would look at her crochet magazines and books and think, "Why would anyone think Hey, those talcum powder containers look naked. I must dress them up with CROCHET, and I will make them into... TALL POODLES. Because, yeah, that's what I think of every time I see talcum powder containers. TALL POODLES."

Then I would think that I should probably hide that particular magazine before Mom found it and decided our bathroom couldn't be without tall talcum powder container hiding poodles.

You have to realize, it was the seventies. Talcum powder for grownups was perfumed and came in these tall skinny cardboard round containers. Think Pringles can, but smaller. Now, in our house, those cans stayed in the cabinets, because we just didn't have a lot of surfaces for them to sit on in the bathroom. But my mom decided they had to be candles. Or something.

Anyhow, I had no interest in learning to crochet just to do something like that. Or to create big fluffy skirts for dolls to hide paper towel rolls. I preferred to reap the benefits of the warm and beautiful afghans she created over the years, or the hats she made for me.

I was 32 and heavily pregnant with my first child when I finally decided I wanted to learn how to crochet. I was having Braxton-Hicks contractions, and my ob-gyn gave me strict orders to get off my feet, drink plenty of water, and do nothing.

I don't "do nothing" very well. If you want me to sit down and rest, you better give me something to do with my hands or to keep my brain busy. A book only works if I'm not required to be social or pay attention to something. My mom, wisely remembering that sitting down with me for the initial lessons hadn't worked, gave me some yarn, a couple of hooks, and a book with basic instructions, along with a small booklet with simple patterns in it. I decided to make a baby blanket, and after a while, I would call her and ask for help. Or I would bring my project along when I went to wash clothes at her house, and sit down to ask questions, watching her hands move through the stitches and then try to emulate her movements.

I finished that blanket shortly before my daughter was born, and it is the most crooked, wonkiest, saddest excuse of a baby blanket, but both of my kids love it and have rescued it every time I try to make it disappear.

One blanket became two, then three, then I made a vest for my daughter, then a poncho, and the next thing I knew, I was crocheting. And I was finding some pretty cool patterns. And it was a great way to connect with my mom, as we commiserated over the occasional pattern that suffered from badly written instructions and required a lot of studying the pattern photos with a magnifying glass counting stitches.

She cheated and had my dad do it. When I asked him about it, he snorted and said, "It's an interesting challenge."

I discovered something, though, as I worked through learning stitches and how to put things together.

Crocheting calmed me.

Mom used to make all our clothes, so my sisters and I all learned the basics of sewing, many times under protest as well. I don't know about my sisters, but while Mom taught me how to embroider, and how to put seams together, and how to pin a pattern together, it was my DAD who taught me how to sew on buttons, and how to hem pants, and how to stay-stitch. Because he learned how from his grandmother, and from the Marine Corps.

The takeaway from that is... sewing does NOT calm me. I am really really good at embroidery, but I hate it. It makes me feel like my nerves are all crawling, like I could fly apart. It's frustrating and I get very, very snarly while I'm doing it. The same with machine sewing, sometimes.

But crocheting? It's so... zen. It relaxes me and calms me down. So does knitting. It's very peaceful and I think it's because it has enough repetitive motion to soothe me while engaging my brain because I have to think ahead about the stitches, but it's no big deal, because I can take my time. It's almost like meditation, in a way.

Where am I going with this?

Well, like many crafters, I have a Pinterest. And I pin both crochet patterns and knitting patterns, some that I intend to make, and others that intrigue me and I might try.

And, you know, there are a lot of great patterns out there. There really are. They're awesome, and you should check them out.

But in the last couple of years, it seems those... really awful patterns that I thought had died an undignified death in the seventies, buried under the weight of National Geographic magazines and Reader's Digest novels in the attics of elderly women... have been making a reappearance in online journals and sites. I'm ... kinda horrified. I actually came across a blog where virtues of the horrible fake candle talcum can cover were being enthusiastically extolled. I just... WHY????

There is a reason I tell younger friends, "You know how you like to call the seventies retro? I like to call it thank God I don't live there anymore."

Because, trust me, no one needs to crochet individual covers for each roll of toilet paper in their house. For reals.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"To put it simply --- our brain span should match our life span." --- Meryl Comer

Mother's Day has come and gone, and as I prepare for bed after a lovely day out with my husband and children, my mind turns to a subject I've been subconsciously avoiding all day.

My mother.

And all at once, I'm overwhelmed.  I'm washing my face and suddenly, I'm in tears, completely unable to stop, because it's Mother's Day, and for the first time since I entered her life... I haven't called her to talk to her.

There is no phone in her room at the nursing home, because she no longer knows how to dial one.  One of my sisters, or my nieces, has to call me on their mobile and hand the phone to her, and I have to hope she knows who I am.

I miss... I miss my mom.

Yes, she's still alive, but... I miss my Mom.   I miss the woman I used to call for advice, her calm voice calming me, her laughter when I told her the latest funny thing the kids or the cats did, her excitement matching mine when I told her about a new rose in my garden blooming for the first time and promising her pictures.  I miss her humor, her intelligence when she'd challenge me about my opinions, making me back up my statements with facts.  I miss the stories she used to tell me.  I miss... asking her about recipes, and her rattling off the list of ingredients and how to make it, and then the pause before I said, "Okay, Mom, but... how did you make it?"  And then getting the real recipe.

I miss the woman she was before Alzheimer's stole her from me.  And I want her back.  I want her back, dammit.

But I know I won't get her.  I know she's gone, and what's left behind is this... shell that looks like her, and talks like her, and moves like her, and gives me occasional glimpses of the woman she used to be...

I'm terrified that I'll be just like her.  I'm terrified that I'll lose myself, that I'll forget my husband, and my children.  Just two days ago, my daughter stared at me with stricken eyes and said, "Mom.... don't forget me.  Don't ever forget me, please.  Please."

I smiled through my tears and said, "Like I could ever forget you!"  And prayed in my heart to whoever is listening that I can keep that promise.  "When they develop a vaccine for Alzheimer's, I'm first in line, I promise," I said.

Every time I forget something, every time I can't bring a word or a face to mind, every time I struggle for a word, every time I can't remember a name, or something that happened earlier in the day, a jolt goes through me and I want to scream.  It doesn't help that memory issues and fogginess are a hallmark of Hashimoto's.

A few months ago, when we went to the Ikea in Pflugerville, I had a moment.  A horrible, horrible moment.  Mike was driving, and we had just left 183 and turned onto I-35.  I was reading something on my phone, and I looked up when I was done and for a horrible, horrible moment that seemed to last an eternity, I thought, "Where are we?  I don't recognize this place!  Where... what is this?"

It was terrifying.  Nothing looked even remotely familiar, and this was a drive we'd made hundreds of times over the last ten years.

I didn't say anything, I just quietly stared around, trying to force my brain to recognize something, anything....

Then Mike, who was completely unaware of what was going through my mind, said, "Wow, things have changed so much since the last time I drove through here, I almost don't recognize anything!  Oh, look, the bowling alley is still right there."

I turned my head, and the bowling alley we took the Impertinent Daughter to for her fourth birthday, the birthday she found out she was going to have a sibling, was still there, looking just the same as it had nineteen years ago, and the world slipped back into place.

It wasn't me.  It was that it had been nearly two years since the last time we'd drove that way, and the rapid changes in Austin and the surrounding area meant many things had been torn down and new buildings gone up in their place.

But for that moment, that one terrifying moment...

I miss my mother more than I can say.  And at some point tomorrow, I will probably text one of my sisters and ask to arrange a time to talk to Mom over the phone.  And after I talk to Mom, I will go take a shower so I can cry my heart out without my family knowing.  I once said that watching my mom go through this was like standing on a shore while my mother stood in a boat that was slowly drifting away from the shore.  That we were holding hands as it drifted, and ever so slowly, she was slipping from my grasp, and that I knew one day, she would drift completely away.

Right now... the tips of our fingers are barely touching, barely connecting.

I hate that there is nothing I can do to change that.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  I miss you, and I will remember you... for as long as I can...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Almost, But Not Quite...

The day is coming, probably sooner than I would like, when my mother won’t know who I am.  

I’m braced for it.  I have promised myself that I won’t fall apart... at least, not in front of her.  I’ll wait until I’m out in the parking lot, and then I’ll probably cry until I’m calm again.

We stopped by the nursing home she’s in this evening on our way home to Central Texas, and when I greeted her, she sat up with a smile, happy to have visitors.  Even though at first, she had no idea who we were, just that we were family.

We all said hello, and I sat down next to her and took her hand after helping her get her glasses on, and I could see her staring at my face, trying to get some sense of recognition.  So I said, “Do you know who I am?”

She smiled and said, “Yes, I do.  You’re Carol... no, wait... you’re Jo.”

A lot of people who haven’t see us for a few years usually mistake me for my middle sister.  A few might mistake me for my oldest sister.  Carol and I share a lot of personality traits, and facial expressions, but she’s fair, blonde, and green-eyed, and I’m olive, auburn, and brown-eyed.  So it’s not that far out of the way that Mom would guess I’m Carol first.

Except she’s my mom, and in her normal state of mind, she’d never make that sort of mistake.

In her normal state of mind.

I hugged her and said, “Yes, I’m Jo!” and proceeded to chat with her, and have the kids sit with her and visit, but I could see that she had no real idea who I was.  Just... that I was family.  That I was one of her daughters.  But... she didn’t know me.

It wasn’t until we were leaving, and I had hugged her and said, “I love you, Mom.”

She said, “I love you, too.”  Then something seemed to spark in her mind and she stared at me intently.  “I love you,” she said as I stepped back to the curtain divider.  “I love you... like... a bush.. and ... and a.. pickle.  A peck.”

I felt tears sting my eyes, and I sang, “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.”

She joined in.  “A hug around the neck, and a barrel in the heap.  A barrel in the heap and I’m talking in my sleep about you, about you...”

“Jo,” she said with a huge smile and recognition in her eyes.  “There you are.  There’s my baby.  That’s my girl, my little Jo.  My tomboy.”

I fought back tears and kept singing.  “I love you, a bushel and a peck, you bet your pretty neck I do.  Toodle oodle oodle, toodle oodle oodle, toodle oodle doodley doo!”

I hugged her again, and she whispered, “You’re my baby, and I’ll never forget my baby.”

“I know, Mom,” I whispered back.  “I love you.”

I left, and I had tears running down my face, but I held it together all the way home, until now.  

That day is coming, when even singing what my daughter used to call affectionately “The Grandma Song,” won’t fire off the right neurons in Mom’s mind.  I’m going to hate that day.  But... I think I’ll get through it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Not Exactly One of the Maddening Crowd...

I have had to make rules for myself.

I don't go on forums or join Facebook/Twitter groups for Hashimoto's.  Why, you may ask?  Well... as much as I could use the support of fellow sufferers, I'm not exactly wild about the way they descend upon new members like... like... a pride of lions falling upon a tasty young morsel of a gazelle that just happens to wander into their territory.

No, seriously, it isn't pretty.  I've done my lurking in the background, and I'm Not Going There.

The diets they throw at you, the supplements you should try, the exercises, the regimens, treatments...  every single snake-oil miracle cure-all you can think of will be thrown at you, and gods help the person who says, "No, thanks, really, I'm not even remotely interested."

I also don't do more than look at new research from the CDC or NIH, or even the Mayo Clinic.  Why?  Because mostly, I'm just looking at new treatment options, or if they've figured out what causes it, etc.  But I'm not going to torture myself with looking at causes (except in regards to keeping my kids from getting this) or whatever new diet/supplement/vitamin/you name it they may suggest only to later say, "Sorry, our studies weren't as clear-cut as we'd thought, this doesn't really work."

I had to recently make another rule for myself.  I am not allowed to look at the list of secondary autoimmune diseases people who have Hashimoto's have a tendency to develop.

I ended up shaking for two hours and had to sternly remind myself that I was being quite ridiculous and not to torture myself like that.

I need to deal with what is in front of me now and not borrow trouble from the future, as my mother used to say.

Life goes on.  I roll with the punches, and I keep moving as best as I can.  I feel the wind on my face, I watch the roses bloom on the back porch, and the jasmine on the front porch, I listen to my son tease my daughter and make her laugh, and listen to my daughter fuss at my son and make him laugh, I watch the ducks waddle contentedly through the grass in the backyard, and try to keep Muta the Magnificent from crushing my legs as he purrs in my lap.  Life goes on, and I will have good days, and I will have bad days, and as long as I keep moving and keep remembering the good things in my life, I think I'll be okay.