I've been back in New Jersey for (counting on fingers) 10 days now. In that time, I've had a reunion with long-lost work friends that was one of the most fun things I've done in ages; I got to spend a little quality time with my best friend (but no where near enough); I've shopped all of Warren and Morris Counties (very happy now that I packed an empty extra suitcase); and I've had to deal with bad weather messing up some of my plans and rodents messing up even MORE of my plans.
Yes, you heard me: RODENTS. We'll get to that momentarily. If you are rodent-phobic you have my permission to step away in one more paragraph.
The weather, of course, can't be helped, so you just work around it. We rolled with it, rescheduling certain things my mom had planned, but one negative effect was that I have not gotten in a single Curves workout since I've been here. The nearest Curves is 35 min away, and yesterday I finally had the time to drive out there, only to discover that they were CLOSED for "staff training". I called today to see if they were open and got yesterday's recording about the closure, so didn't bother driving out there again for fear I'd be wasting my time. My joints and back are letting me know they are missing the exercise. Maybe tomorrow it will work out and I will keep trying with the few days I have left. But in a week where NOTHING seems to be going as planned, I am not betting on it.
The fact that some rodents decided to set up camp in and around my mother's home, just a day or two before my arrival, I take that PERSONALLY. Especially since none of them offered to cook me a gourmet meal, like Rémy from Ratatouille. It's like they KNEW I was coming and the Universe decided to mess with me. I lost two mornings (when I could have been working out) to dealing with an exterminator (and thankfully what he did seems to be working). I lost half a day yesterday to ripping out a section of insulation in my mother's basement where I found two little corpses and I'll just stop right there because you really do NOT want to know all of what I saw embedded in that insulation. I lost time today having to haul the bags of old mousy insulation to the county dump where I paid $10 to leave it there (they charge by weight, and luckily insulation is light). We'll have to call in some professionals in the spring to rip out all the rest of the insulation under the floorboards because I do not want to do THAT job again. [Insert digusted shiver here.]
Let us just say that New Jersey, on this trip, is making me crazy. And it ain't just about the vermin and the snow.
I have debated for a long time about whether, what and how much to share about a certain family situation that is going on back here in NJ, but since I find that writing is "stress management therapy" for me, I have decided to share at least a little. If nothing else, maybe it will even help someone reading this who is going through something similar and that person will know they are not alone after all.
My mother is having some "senior issues". Specifically what is causing her short-term memory impairment, and some of the other personality changes we've been seeing with increasing regularity for the past four-plus years, depends on which specialist we consult. Could be "normal" senile dementia. Could be the beginnings of Alzheimer's. Could be a side effect from her having had knee replacement surgery (anesthesia?) four years ago followed by a very scary infection a year later that nearly took our mom from us. Could be some combination of all of these, or something else.
Without going into all the detail, I will just say: my mom is not acting like the mom I know. Sometimes things are fine. Sometimes they are the total OPPOSITE of fine. And sometimes they are off-the-charts bizarre, and the scariest part of THOSE moments is that we know it CAN and MAY get even worse over time. While my mom can still live on her own, drive, shop, do light cleaning, cook and socialize, there are more and more things she is having difficulty with -- such as money management, keeping track of the passing of time, and in some cases imagining that something has happened that has NOT happened. Case in point: about six weeks ago I received a series of phone messages from my mother, over a period of only two or three hours, where she appeared to be convinced that she and I had had an earlier phone conversation where we argued and I never called her back. She also seemed to think my husband was somehow involved in whatever she thought had happened. I can assure you that no such conversation or situation ever took place... but to try and convince my mother? Not easy. It's all part of whatever is going on with her.
My sister, who lives three miles from our mom, deals with this every day, month and and month out, and for the most part all I can do is offer moral support by phone. We know that it is only a matter of time until our mom will need more help while still living at home; will soon need to be convinced to give up her house and live where she can get full-time care; and that this transition will not be easy for anyone. My mom is just not one of those people who can accept the aging process gracefully. So we are dreading what is to come.
Although it's been getting worse each time I come back, THIS time I got hit especially hard with the situation -- and since I stay with my mother on these trips, it's a 24-hour "immersion" course -- that some days I just sit in my room or in the car, and cry for a few minutes. For the first five days, we had conflict EVERY SINGLE DAY, and over things that should not be conflict inducing, normally. Then we had about three days of NO conflict. Today, the conflict is back, and I am on the edge again. I never know what each day will bring. I try and compartmentalize as best I can, so my emotions don't get the better of me because otherwise I end up arguing with an aging woman who is incredibly stubborn and controlling even when she is her "usual self" and where her condition is exacerbating many of her most challenging personality traits. Those of you who have or have had to watch your aging parents drift into something like this know exactly what I'm going through.
It is hell. And whatever hell it is for me? Is magnified by 1000 for my sister and her husband. So I've got that guilt thing going on where they're concerned. Because I can't be in two places at once, though I often want to be, and as my life is in France now, they are bearing a very heavy burden that will only get worse. The best I can do is to let them know how much I do appreciate what they are doing. And to suck it up and come back when I am able, even though it is more and more unpleasant. It's not easy to admit that about my own mother, but THIS is not the "real" mother I have known, and I need to keep reminding myself about that.
And then, sometimes, I feel a different sort of guilt: the guilt that comes from knowing that I CAN LEAVE. And that I can stay away for long periods of time and avoid most of it altogether. The relief I feel about this is enormous. And the guilt is almost as big. I remind myself that I am only human, and the mom I want to run away from today because I am SO stressed out, is not entirely herself. And she needs her family, no matter how difficult she is being now or may be in the future. Mom and I have always had a bit of a contentious relationship -- we even laughed about that earlier tonight before the latest blow-up -- but there is a whole new level of stuff taking place that goes far beyond the normal mother-daughter conflict. It's just tough to take, especially as I don't think the doctors have quite gotten it right yet with her treatment. Maybe one of the good things that can come out of all this will be that because I've been here observing full-time for two weeks, we can give the doctors more details and information, and perhaps they can make some adjustments. Perhaps things can and will get better. I can only hope so.
My trip hasn't been all bad, however.
On the plus side, my niece is on her way home from college as I type this, and I'll get to see her shortly. My nephew and his wife are coming tomorrow night, when we'll all go out to dinner to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. I am getting in some good talks with my sister, and even though a lot of these revolve around our mom, that's not ALL we talk about. And tomorrow, for the first time ever, I will visit my sister's First Grade class and will get to read to them, something I have long been eager to do. Six year olds are so adorable, especially when they are someone else's.
As crazy as things have been, I do love my family, but as always I get cranky being away from Georges for too long, and these damn rodents nearly put me over the edge (did I mention there were RATS tunneling outside the garage? In the 50+ years my family has lived here, we NEVER had a rat issue. Why now? Because *I* was coming, that's why. This time, it's personal.) Thankfully we have not seen any more live ones anywhere. Let's hope it stays that way. There's enough crazy going on here without the drama of vermin who can't even pull their own weight in the kitchen.
I have had only a little time here and there to snap some pics, so here are some to share, while I try to keep what is left of my sanity.
New York City and North Jersey from the air. No Christmas lights could be prettier.
Could not believe the range of Christmas lights and decorations at Home Depot. Since when do Big Bird and the Cookie Monster = Christmas?
While waiting for my former boss at the bar last week for the start of our team reunion, I noticed this duck-head beer tap. One thing I like about the States that is surprisingly absent in Europe is the HUGE range of micro-brewed beers available. In Paris it seems we're mainly stuck with Leffe Belgian beer and Heineken which is Dutch. Maybe we're not drinking in the right places to get better beer in Paris?
Big American mall with big American mall Christmas tree. Did you know that this year's Rockefeller Center tree came from New Jersey, just a few towns away from here? It's way bigger and much prettier than this mall monstrosity.
The neighbor's house across the street. 'Nuf said.
Looking down Watters Road toward the Hazen Farm. So pretty with all that snow!
A house in town that had many, many, many light-up characters all over their lawn.
Not a house lit up for Christmas, but the bar at Arthur's Tavern in Morris Plains. Best steaks anywhere around. I was there picking up a gift card.