Category Archives: Parenting

alzheimer's disease

5 Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Alzheimer’s Disease

Anyone who has any experience with Alzheimer’s Disease will tell you it doesn’t just affect the patient. It affects the entire family. So, how do you talk to children about Alzheimer’s? What is important for them to know? Are there things you shouldn’t tell them? How do you help them cope with the impact of the disease on their lives?

These are all questions we were faced with while caring for my mother over the course of five to six years. My children were 11, 8, 6, and 2 when she was first diagnosed with dementia. Out of that experience, I offer the following tips. Hopefully they will provide a place to start if you’re looking for answers.

Put the Kids on a Need to Know Basis

At first, there wasn’t a whole lot to say, and the kids didn’t notice much of a change. It was early and they saw her several times a week, so decline was less noticeable. My mom was still living fairly independently. I just started keeping a closer eye on her and how things were going. By not sharing too much, too soon, you’ll prevent months of unnecessary worry on the part of the kids.

Keep it Simple and Age Appropriate

As time went on, and my involvement grew, the need for sharing information with them increased. I presented simple explanations for the simple things. “Granny is forgetful. I have to go over every day to make sure she takes her medicine.” or “Because Granny is forgetful, she will tell you things over and over. Please be patient with her and polite.” And, more detailed information for more complex issues like taking the car and the cigarettes away. In these cases, I explained the reasons why it was necessary to take the steps I took which were all directly related to her safety.

Let Them Help

Sometimes, the kids don’t have a choice. They’re not the decision makers on the big stuff. They’re along for the ride.

As the time when she would no longer be able to live independently approached, we began preparing them for the day when she would move in here with all of us. They were 13, 10, 8, and 4 then. Their world was going to be turned upside down. We had been in the middle of redoing the boys’ bedroom. We stopped midway through and turned it into a haven for my mom and the boys ended up with a makeshift bedroom in our basement.

I remember that conversation well. The boys and I were sitting on their beds in the basement and we talked about how it was going to be crowded and inconvenient, and hard, but that this is what families do for each other. When I mentioned that one day, the boys and their sisters may have to take care of their dad and me in a similar way, my oldest boy turned to his younger brother and said, “Yeah, that’s on you.” (That oldest boy, by the way, was the most patient and compassionate caregiver you would ever find when push came to shove.)

But, in other ways, they can help, they can have a voice, and they want to help. Look for opportunities to involve them in an age appropriate way. Older children can fix simple meals or snacks, or even help to feed their loved one. Younger children can read a story, sing a song, or work a puzzle. Anyone can offer a hand as the patient is moving from point A to point B.

Honor the Pre-Dementia Relationship

My children each had a unique relationship with their granny. When my oldest was 10 months old, she retired to take care of him while I worked full time. Each week, he spent more waking hours with her Monday through Friday than he did with his father and me. When she was with him, he was her sole focus. She didn’t clean, or pay bills, run errands or meet with friends. She poured her whole self into him all day long. A very special bond and many memories were created. Because he was the oldest, he has many more memories of her before the dementia than everyone else.

My second son had an equally special bond with her. She cared for him full time from birth until he was 2 1/2, and then part time when I reduced my work hours. But, he never had her all to himself.

By the time my oldest daughter was born, the first born was off to kindergarten and I was working part time. Due to the school bus schedule, the childcare moved from my mom’s house to our house. While my oldest daughter remembers her granny in those early years, she doesn’t have many memories of fun times at Granny’s house.

And, by the time the baby of the family came along, dementia was lurking in the shadows. My mom couldn’t take care of a baby anymore. Our youngest has no memories of “fun granny” as she put it in her funeral speech.

Especially, after she moved in with us, this history, these unique relationships, became vitally important. During the difficult times, we could reminisce about the things they used to do together whether it was walking to the store to get a donut in the morning, practicing their word-ring as she taught them to read, or a favorite book they shared. And, for the youngest, realizing she didn’t have that warm and fuzzy history to draw on made her utter exasperation and occasional outbursts understandable.

Nurture the Post-Dementia Relationship

kids and dementiaAlzheimer’s Disease sufferers often find comfort and enjoyment being around young children and young children can still benefit from having a relationship with their elders. Encourage them to read books together or play simple games. Or to just cuddle. Although the memories of the Alzheimer’s sufferer are fading, new, fond memories can still be formed for the young people in their lives as evidenced by this excerpt of our 7 year old daughter’s speech at my mom’s funeral.

Even though I didn’t know the fun Granny, the cranky Granny was still fun. I loved her so much. There were good times and bad times. The good time was when she was reading books to me and then she helped me get a good grade. –, grand daughter of an Alzheimer’s Disease sufferer, age 7

Throughout the journey, keep the kids involved and the lines of communication open. Remember, it’s their journey, too.

My Mammogram Adventure

The last 10 days have been hell. If you’ve been around here at all, you already know my mother who is in the early late stage of Alzheimer’s disease lives with us and much of what that entails. You probably don’t know that I’m the “responsible party” for my elderly aunt as well.

At 10:30 pm 10 days ago, I got a call from my aunt’s neighbor that she was being taken to the hospital “because her legs gave out.” Well, this is a big long story in itself which I’m not going to go into. Let’s just suffice it to say that there were a number of things wrong, she’s now in rehab for physical therapy for at least a month, maybe longer and this probably serves as the “event” that will take away her independence (i.e., force her into assisted living).

So the last 10 days have been filled with daily trips to the hospital and many trips to her house to take care of her business, phone calls to friends, businesses, and conversations with doctors, nurses and social workers.

Sprinkled in between were my mammogram one day and a stress test and ultrasound for me the next. All standard appointments set up long before my aunt ended up in the hospital. Oh, and of course still taking care of my mom and my kids and trying my best to stay on top of things at work.

The stress was building to be sure. I’m strong, but, really, we all have our limits.

I reached mine yesterday when I got the call that I needed to go back for more images because they saw something on my mammogram that was suspicious and they wanted to take another look. Now, this happened last year. I freaked out a little then, my husband went with me just in case it was bad news, but it turned out to be nothing. So, under normal circumstances, this call would have been no big deal. But, I wasn’t operating under normal circumstances. I was teetering on the edge of keeping it together and this pushed me right over.

I cried and cried and cried. In front of my children (wrong, stupid, wrong, bad mother moment). I reassured them with my words the best I could, but of course the emotion they had witnessed made a bigger impression. My focus went out the window and I cried even more. I was a wreck.

I asked for prayers on Facebook–both my personal profile and my “secret group” that is only for my virtual team of colleagues–it’s our water cooler. More than 30 of my friends commented offering prayers, laughs and encouragement. Two immediately offered to go with me (oh yeah, hubby couldn’t go because he had to take his mom to an important doctor appointment at the same time) and another offered to stay at my house with my mom and kids if I needed it. I was so touched by each and every person! The support was overwhelming.

dinnerMy boss called and asked what I wanted for dinner because it was on her. Later, last night, a colleague sent me an Amazon gift card via email with strict instructions to spend it on something to pamper myself with. I told her I might get spa products or I might end up needing socks to stuff my bras with or scarves to wrap my bald head with, but I was hoping it would go for spa products.

So, this morning, my gal pals showed up and we headed off to the hospital. They had me laughing the whole way!

I asked the mammogram lady (no idea what her job title is…it’s probably not “boob squisher” though) to look and see if I was being called back for the same reason I was last year. Yep. Same side and reason, but different spot. I felt better already!

She did her squishing and I waited while the doctor looked at the pictures.

Hallelujah! Not cancer. A “ridge of dense tissue that looks totally benign.” Did I say “hallelujah?”

So, I told my girlfriends that all was good and we headed off to breakfast with a spring in our steps. Michelle told me her husband had said he was sure it was just a shadow. Thank you, Dr. Todd!

So first to tell the masses. no cancer

Sent a text to my hubby, too. Then called home to reassure my kids. My 16 year old son answered the phone. He was very relieved to hear I was not dying but did say it would be much appreciated if I could go to the grocery store today as we are out of bread, milk and the peanut butter is almost gone. They had applesauce and pudding for breakfast.

Then he said my second son wanted to talk to me. He’s 13 and was also very relieved to hear the good report. I told him to be sure to tell his sisters when they got up that I was OK! He said, “Oh, they’re up. We’re all up. We’re cleaning the house.”

Wait! Did I say I don’t have cancer? The test results aren’t back yet. I’m going to take my friends for breakfast. You keep cleaning!!!

Funniest phone call ever!

So to recap, I was having the week from hell anyway. Then the dreaded mammogram call back and before you know it the whole town was praying for me, two of my friends dropped everything to go to the appointment with me, men around town were talking about my boobs, my boss bought me dinner, my colleague sent me a gift card to pamper myself and MY KIDS CLEANED THE HOUSE!

Well, I’m healthy, and we’re out of food. So, off to the grocery store I go! It was nice while it lasted.

 

 

 

Stranger Danger: In one ear and out the other

stranger dangerThere are few things parents universally agree on. Few things that we all teach our children. One possible exception is Stranger Danger. We disagree on what should be included in history curriculum, methods for teaching math and whether or not sex education should be taught in schools. But, has anyone ever opted out of having their child hear the Stranger Danger talk?

Yes, as a society, we seem to agree on this one. From the time our children can walk, we begin teaching them about strangers. Barney sings about Stranger Danger, The Berenstain Bears teach Stranger Danger in one of their books.  In our community, we have a preschool program called Safety Town that includes a lesson on the topic.

Once they start school, there are assemblies, guest speakers, role playing and more!

“NEVER GO TO SOMEONE’S CAR! They might want to show you puppies or offer you candy. It doesn’t matter! NEVER GO TO SOMEONE’S CAR!”

“If someone ever approaches you when you’re at the bus stop or in the yard playing, DON’T GO TO THEM! Get in the house! Call for your parents! DON’T GO TO THEM!”

How many times have your children heard that message and from how many different sources? Dozens and dozens and dozens, right? Yep. Mine, too. You think you have it covered? You think they know what to do? Yep. Me, too.

Until this afternoon.

We live on a quiet little street. Second house from the end in our U shaped neighborhood. My kids and the neighbor kids run back and forth from one house to the next almost every day. Today, my 10 year old girl, 13 year old boy and three girls from the neighborhood were all playing in our front yard. I was in the back of the house cooking dinner. Our dog started going crazy! I know that bark. It means someone’s here. Might be another dog or a person, but someone is definitely on her turf!

I walked into the living room to look out the window. What I saw was a man walking away and toward his car parked on the street in front of my house. My daughter was coming toward the house with a flyer in her hand.

She came in and said, ”Mom this guy said to give this to you.” It was a political flyer for a state candidate.

I asked her what was wrong with what just happened. She gave me a blank stare. I pressed on a bit more directly by asking what she should do when she’s approached by a stranger. Light began to dawn a little. She tried to make it better.

“Oh, he didn’t approach me.”

Realization began to settle on me like a lead weight on my shoulders. The rest of the exchange went like this:

Me: “He didn’t come into the yard?”      Her: “No.”

Me: “Where was he?”    Her: “In the street.”
Me: “Where were you?”    Her: “In the front yard.”
Me: “What part of the front yard?” Her: “The middle.”
Me: “I’m pretty sure his arms aren’t long enough to hand you this flyer from that distance.”

“Oh.”

Talk about a teachable moment! I immediately went outside and talked to all of the kids about what happened and what should have happened.

Next, I called the phone number on the flyer and left a message. I’m pleased to say I received a return call within 10 minutes. The volunteer is a college kid. He’s not a parent. Didn’t occur to him that it was an issue. They called him right away and he also had his teachable moment.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that all the talks, all the speakers, all the books, videos, coloring pages, role playing haven’t been enough. Had this been a predator, she would have been gone in an instant and her brother and three friends would have been standing there in shock.

And, it didn’t take candy, or puppies or balloons. It was a boring political flyer!

We talked as a family about it at dinner. My daughter said something so simple but yet, profound,

“Well, it never happened before so I forgot what to do.”

After she said this, I told the family I was glad this happened. The guy, though lacking some common sense, meant no harm. But it wasn’t role playing, it was real.

Many of us practice fire drills in our families. Maybe we should practice stranger drills with people we, as adults know, but our kids don’t. They’ll probably make the wrong choice and we can have our teachable moments.

Maybe then kids, including my daughter, can say, “It’s happened before and I know what to do.” Maybe then, someone other than the dog will know what to do!

 

Note: By suggesting stranger danger drills, I am in no way suggesting the drill involve anything scary, like trying to get the kid into a car or actually taking the child. I’m suggesting the set-up of a situation in which the child always feels safe and it can be talked about after the fact like what happened in the unplanned, real-life episode we experienced. 

Take care of you.

keep-calm-and-take-care-of-you-13One of my favorite movies of all time is Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts and Laura San Giacomo play friends and roommates who are prostitutes–dangerous work. Whenever they say goodbye to one another, they say the same thing.

“Take care of you.”

I’m not a prostitute.

I’m a wife.

I’m the mother of four young children.

I’m the caregiver of my mother who has Alzheimer’s.

I’m stressed out.

I’m overweight.

I’m tired.

I hear the words over and over in my head. “Take care of you.” “Take care of you.” “Take care of you.”

I hear it at my support group. I read it on some of my favorite blogs and magazines. I see it on TV.

Easier said than done! But I’m learning.

I’ve joined a support group. This is THE single best decision I’ve made along the way. It is a source of information, resources and emotional support. I’ve never missed a meeting!

I’m learning to say, “No.” That’s a tough one for me. I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life. I like to help people. I also like to feel needed. So, when someone asks me to do something, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Sure, I’d love to!” In the last year, I’ve scaled back my volunteering. I now focus my efforts on only those things that really bring me true enjoyment. If the activity causes me stress, I don’t do it.

I also cancelled a family reunion I was to host this summer. That was hard for me to do. I love my family and don’t get to see them often. If I put it off, will my mom still be here? Will she still know them? I’ve wanted to cancel it for awhile. But, I kept telling myself not to make the decsion on a day when I was stressed out…but to make it on a day when I’m not. Then it hit me: I’m almost always stressed out!

I’m asking for help. Another tough one. I think  I’m generally thought of as self-reliant and strong. It’s difficult to admit that I can’t do it all.

I write about my feelings. This blog is a great source of therapy for me. If I am able to help anyone along the way, so much the better. I don’t publish everything I write. Some of it is too emotional. Maybe one day I’ll share those writings, but not yet.

What I don’t do is eat right or exercise. The eating thing is really tough. I’m an emotional eater. If I don’t get this under control, I’ll weigh 600 pounds before this caregiving journey is over. Exercise is tough, too. It’s hard to find time for it. But I must! I’m not getting any younger and it’s not going to get any easier!

What do you do to maintain your sanity as a caregiver…whether you’re caring for your kids or an aging loved one–or both, like I am? I’d love to hear from you!

Take care of you!

A hobo stole my toe

One of the most difficult tasks a parent has is finding someone capable of caring for your children on the occasions that dictate you must leave them at home when you go out.

I thought I had someone I could rely on. Someone who could care for them as well, if not better, than I. I’ve trusted this person with my children for more than 11 years. Eleven years. Without incident.

Recently, though, I’ve begun to wonder if this individual is really the type of caregiver I want for my children. While I don’t have a nanny cam, I do have some photographic and video footage to present to you as evidence.

Take a look and then tell me: Would you leave your children with this person?

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

Exhibit E

Exhibit F (He's a french hobo?!)

Exhibit F (He's a french hobo?!)

And finally, Exhibit G.

Now, tell me, should I leave them with their Daddy anymore?

Worst. mother. ever.

I recently read a post by Pauline Karwowski over at Classy Chaos entitled  I can’t make this stuff up. #worstmomoftheyear. In it, she tells the tale of how her beautiful daughter ended up wearing a cheerleading costume to preschool on picture day. I encourage you to read the post, it’s very entertaining, but the short version is–she (Pauline, aka Mommy) forgot it was picture day. gasp!

Never one to be outdone, I have now become the worst. mother. ever., thereby beating Pauline.

You see tonight was, well, chaotic. Michael ran out and picked up Subway and Marco’s for dinner (we can never all agree on one restaurant, it seems). As is our norm on nights like these, we let the kids set their little lap desks up in front of the TV and serve them their dinner in the living room.

He came home, we rushed around the kitchen plating up the subs, pouring drinks and delivering everything to them. Then we sat down in the adjacent dining room to eat our meals. Normally, we would have sat on the sofa to eat, but it was too piled up with folded laundry, so we sat in the other room.

Part way through my meal, Leah, who doesn’t like Subway very much, asked for a second helping of Wheaties Fuel, a new cereal that she apparently liked enough to ask for seconds, which says a lot about this cereal that contains 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving. But I digress.

So, I refilled her bowl. Two trips into the living room. First with the cereal, then with the milk.

Back to my dinner.

A bit later, Leah asked for a third bowl of the cereal. Third trip to living room for cereal refill. While I was there, Noah asked me to bring him the rest of his sub when I came back with the milk. Sure thing!

Fourth trip to living room…milk. check. Noah’s sub. check.

Then I saw Sarah. Dear little 2 year old Sarah. Sitting at her little desk right between Leah and Zachary. Her little empty desk. I FORGOT TO FIX HER ANY DINNER!

worst. mother. EVER.

Well, Michael and I thought it was funny

Sarah is 2 1/2 years old. The youngest of four children. As an only child, I’m not so familiar with birth-order roles. I expected her to be a baby longer. She has so many people to do things for her, I thought she would just go along letting everyone do for her.

Well, I’ve been wrong before.

She is the most independent of all my children. I think her mantra, if she knew what that was, would be, “No child left behind!” If the older kids are doing it, so is she!

Many many posts could be written about her adventures and hijinks. I’ll save those stories for another day. Today is Friday, so it’s time for Friday Funnies.

One of the areas that Sarah shows her independence is in diaper changing. When she wants it changed, sometimes she comes and tells me, but she often just takes off her pants, then her diaper, gets a wipe and brings me a clean diaper. (Yes, I think she’s ready to be potty trained. I simply haven’t gotten around to it yet.)

Ok…so on to the funny.

Last night she went in her bedroom and pooped. Instead of coming and asking to be changed, she went into her brothers’ bedroom, removed her pants–and, you guessed it, the diaper. Little round turds were flung all over the floor of her brothers’ room!

The boys found that absolutely disgusting!

Michael and I just laughed.

Yes! Yes! I’ll help! I mean, sure, I’ll drop by if I have time…

Warning: photos in this post may not be for the faint of heart. Pun intended.

One of my favorite things to do is to volunteer at my kids’ school. If parents are invited, I’m there!

I love being able to observe them in their school setting–learning, interacting with their friends and teachers. It’s just so much fun!

And they love having me come in. That hour, once a week, quietly reinforces to them that I am there, I care, I’m interested. (Sure there are other ways to reinforce that, so if you are not a parent that volunteers at school, don’t think I’m ragging on you, because I’m not.)

As they get older, the teachers start weaning us off of our children. By third or fourth grade, the kids start planning their own parties, we do things for the teacher, rather than work with the kids. By fifth grade, there really are no classroom volunteers. And by sixth grade, forget it! They don’t even have parties anymore. Instead the kids start taking on leadership roles in the school–at Halloween, for example, they host a carnival for the rest of the grades.

I remember walking down to visit my oldest (a sixth grader) at the end of the day on Halloween party day. He wasn’t there. He was in gym class. His stuff was all packed up for the day. I walked in, probably looking very lost, and spoke to the teacher for a moment. Then walked to his desk where his costume, backpack and coat were all gathered and waiting for him. I said (lamely, I’m sure), “I’ll just take his costume with me so he doesn’t have to deal with it on the bus.”

I recognized myself for what I really was in that moment: a parent desperately wanting to feel like her baby still needed her.

It’s good the teachers start weaning us in third grade. It takes a long time!

A few weeks ago, sixth grade parents were invited to come in and help during science class!

What?

You need me?

Absolutely!

I’ll be there!

What? What did you say we’d be doing? Dissecting. Cow. Hearts?

Um. Yeah. Great. You can count on me.

Today was the day! It was actually supposed to be on Valentine Party Day. Get it? Hearts…Valentine’s Day…but it was delayed due to snow days.

And so I went. It wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be. I think my son would say the opposite.

crop for blog 2

crop for blog 3

crop for blogIn fact, he had this to say–“It was disgusting, but a lot of fun! My favorite part was when we cut open the heart along the septum in the middle.

I also liked messing around cutting open different parts to see what’s inside. My least favorite part was pumping air through the artery. It was gross.

I was surprised at how much blood there was.

I’m not sure if I would ever want to do it again.”

He may not be sure if he’ll ever do it again, but I am! I have three more kids to get through the sixth grade, and by golly, if they need me, I’ll be there!

Not so sure she gets it

100_6594My daughter, Leah, is 6 years old and lives life with a smile on her face and a skip in her step. But sometimes I wonder about her.

Last Sunday night, we watched SuperBowl XLIV: New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts. She was in the room but paying no attention whatsoever to the game. About half way through, she looked at the tv and exclaimed, “I’m cheering for Michigan!”

We live in Michigan, so at least there’s that.

On the other hand, I think she really does get it.

Sometime when she was about three she picked up a book and looked at the title. She showed it to me and said, “Mommy, the letters are all mixed up.” It was the first time she recognized letters making up words instead of just being part of the alphabet.

And sometime not too long after that, she was looking at a book and started to cry. When I asked her why she said it was  because she didn’t know what the words said.

When she was four we were going to attend a preschool program at the library. It was free, but I wasn’t sure if we had to register or not. So earlier in the morning, I told her I was going to call the library to see if we needed to register. She replied, “You mean call a person at the library or call the library that can’t talk?”

Around that same time, she asked me why pants were called a pair when it was only one thing.

So maybe she doesn’t get football.

But I think she gets the rest.

Lessons learned the hard way.

Any parent worth his/her salt does their best to teach their children right from wrong and how to handle every situation that they may come into contact with.

But there’s no way to cover every scenario. Some lessons will only be learned through mistakes and wrong choices made by the children.

Last Thursday, my nine year old son handed me a note from his teacher while I was on the phone. Why is it always when I’m on the phone? I set it aside. Annoyed that he was interrupting.

A little while later, I sat down to read the note. Here’s what it said:

“Dear Family,

Our class will be enjoying a Valentine’s Day Party on Friday, February 12….

As a special surprise, I am asking that you become your child’s Secret Valentine. Please write  a personal note to your child and send it in a sealed envelope back to school. You may have to put this envelope inside another envelope so your child’s curious little eyes don’t see it. :) I will present these letters to them while they are opening their other valentines from their classmates. Imagine the joy your child will feel when reading this secret valentine. Your loving words and encouragement go a long way. This will be a letter your child will treasure and keep for a long time…

Sincerely,

Mrs. Fisher :)”

I looked at Noah.

“Did you read this?”

“Yes.”

“Was it in an envelope?”

“Yes.”

“How was it addressed?”

“To the parents of…”

“Was the envelope sealed?”

“Yes?”

I was absolutely furious! This is the kind of thing that I would love to do for my child, and that this child in particular would be thrilled about. But because of his “curious little eyes” the opportunity was lost. My first instinct was to punish him.

I did tell him he would not be getting a valentine from me because the surprise had been ruined. I also told him that if he breathed a word of it to any of his classmates he would be punished for the rest of the school year. (I don’t think that will be an issue as he has experience keeping big time secrets that have to do with Christmas, Easter and the loss of teeth, if you get my drift.)

While I was contemplating what his punishment for this offense would be, it became clear I didn’t need to punish him.

He feels terrible. He cried and he cried. He knows he can’t undo it. He’s. so. sorry.

No punishment I would dole out would make him feel any worse.

We haven’t spoken of it again. When the party comes on Friday, he’ll be sad as his teacher starts passing out the valentines from the parents.

Until she gets to the last one which will be for him, from me.

He learned his lesson. The hard way.

He’ll also learn, or be reminded, that no matter what mistakes he makes, I still love him.

He’ll be thrilled with his surprise.

And I’m quite certain he’ll never open my mail again.