A Card for Mom

When Mother's Day came around, I used to find myself blank-staring at the cards on display at CVS. I stood there puzzled by their messages: "Thank you for always being there for me, Mom," said one; "You've encouraged, inspired and believed in me," said another. I knew many were corny, but I was scratching my head over something else. I wondered, do people really feel this way about their moms?

Feeling obligated more than inspired, I'd eventually find the perfect card for my mom. It usually had a lily or other flowery flower on the front and the message inside said nothing more than "Happy Mother's Day." After a lifetime of longing for but not getting a mom that's "always been there" and "encouraged, inspired and believed in me," it would be the only card that made sense.

My relationship with my mom has been strained for as long as I can remember. There were the standard abandonment issues and then the whammy of all whammies when, at age 18, I inadvertently learned that my dad wasn’t my biological father. But what hurt most has been her emotional inaccessibility. A classic narcissist, she was only ever interested in herself and being the belle of the ball. All eyes on her. She, and whatever fascinating thing she was working on at the moment, were her favorite subjects. She would ramble on and on, usually repeating herself, to whoever would listen. 

I longed for her to say anything that might show she was interested in me. I was starved for her attention. I needed her to comfort me when I had had a hard day or to be happy for me when I had had a good one. But instead of getting her, I got stuff: a pony for Christmas, an elaborate carnival party for my birthday, a singing telegram (phoned in from Europe) for college graduation. She never had deeply felt words for me, and that’s why for years I had no words, not even corny, pre-printed ones, for her. 

My mom moved to Europe when I was in college which, pre-internet, made keeping in touch difficult. After 10 years there, and blowing through her divorce settlement, she returned to the States and to work. She moved around a lot but, regardless of how close we lived to each other, we were in and out of touch for the next thirty years. A few times, several years passed with no contact at all. I always hoped that she'd make an effort and reach out. I wondered if she thought about me. I hoped that she'd miss me and call just to hear my voice, but that never happened.  After a while, I'd reach out to her but re-connecting always ended up the same, with her being inaccessible and self-focused and me being disappointed and hurt.

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About eight years ago, during one of our sabbaticals from each other, the manager of her senior living facility called to tell me that the other residents were complaining that my mom hadn't been bathing or washing her clothes. As I stepped in to help, I noticed other peculiar behaviors -- writing duplicate rent checks two days apart and long before the rent was due, misspelling simple words, and having trouble working the TV remote. She ate only sporadically, missing meals for days at a time. After trips to the neurologist, cognitive testing and a brain scan, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. With my brothers living in other cities, I became her default caretaker.

I've heard that as Alzheimer's patients slip away they revert to their core, true selves and that this process can go in one of three ways: they can be sweet, or ornery, or somewhere in between. For my mom, I would have put money on ornery. Instead, the most extraordinary thing happened. She stopped talking about herself entirely, she became sweet and gentle, and she took a genuine interest in me, my husband and our two girls. When I sat next to her on the bed, she would gaze at me lovingly, stroke my hair and my face. She would ask about my day, compliment me on my outfit and tell me I looked beautiful. Who was this woman? I asked myself. Where had this sweet mom person been all these years? Didn't know. Didn't care. I just relished who she had become.

But it soon seemed like a cruel joke. Just as quickly as her disease gave me a glimpse of the mother I'd spent a lifetime longing for, it whisked her away, deeper into its fog. Over the course of two years, she vanished entirely. She stayed sweet and loving and affectionate but spoke less and less. When she did speak, her sentences were a mishmash of syllables with just the occasional recognizable word. Now she doesn’t speak at all, and it’s hard to know just when the disease will take her away. 

My brief, sweet time with my mom has been oddly healing. I can’t say the pain of the past – a lifetime of longing and disappointment – is gone. But now, as I stare at the Mother’s Day cards at CVS, instead of wondering if people really feel that way about their moms, I’m a bit more touched than puzzled by the corny but loving sentiments. The time I had with my mom before Alzheimer’s took her away, wasn’t much and it wasn’t for very long but it’s what I got, and I am thankful for that. 

lowercase and the black cloud

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i like using lowercase letters because it's just so much friendlier than using initial caps. lowercase says "hi, i don't take stuff too seriously." lowercase says "hi, i don't take myself too seriously." lowercase says "hi, fuck the rules." lowercase is playful.

when i order stuff online - which is a lot cuz i hate shopping in real stores with real people, ew - often times after i've very deliberately typed in "k" or "r" or "c" or whatever, the fucking form will auto-correct and capitalize those letters which really pisses me off cuz, hey!, i used lowercase letters on purpose, asshole. then, of course, i have to go back and manually correct each and every cap letter. why do i take the time to do something that really doesn't matter in the scope of anything that matters, is a massive waste of time and is clearly very ocd?

i don't know.

maybe i have ocd too. and when i say too, i mean in addition to depression and adhd. i'm kind of a mess but, on the bright side, i'm also a pharmaceutical company's dream-girl so, i'm kind of doing my part to help the economy - right?

i'm not really a mess but it's true i do battle the little, and sometimes not so little, black cloud. my doctor calls it "major depressive disorder." whatever. the cloud comes and goes, unannounced, whenever it damn well pleases and there's nothing (more) i can do about it. i say more because i'm already on drugs so i mean, really, what else can i do? change my diet? fuck that, i already eat really well. exercise more? i exercise plenty. stop drinking sapphire and tonics? as if.

before i got used to the cloud's visits i used to freak out when it came and think that i was going down, for good. i used to think that it was the beginning of the end - an abysmal downward spiral into the depths of never-to-returndom. but, after it had come to visit enough times, i realized that eventually, it left. kind of like bad house guests. honestly, are there any good house guests?

when my "house guest" knocks, i get a sharp pang in my gut and my world comes to a screeching halt. the cloud is that demanding. i strap on my seat belt, cancel plans and disappear until it's had it's way with me. waiting for the cloud to leave is brutal - literally painful. all i want to do is curl up in a ball and die. seriously. i want to do, exactly, nothing. i want to see, exactly, no one. i don't even go on my computer, much less shop online, and i don't give two shits about lowercase or caps or anything. it's that bad.

and it's way hard on my family cuz i, literally, go blank. it's like someone vacuumed the personality right out of me and left a blank outer shell of me standing there with nothing to give. but, because my husband and girls are so awesome, they understand. they know that it has nothing whatsoever to do with them and everything to do with my own private personal fucked up chemistry. they know to give me and my cloud the space we need to get through the visit.

my family knows that i will, eventually, reemerge when the coast is clear and my personality has returned. they know that in time, i will be back shopping online and cursing at screen when the order forms auto-correct my letters. they know i'm back when i take the time to do something that really doesn't matter, in the scope of anything that matters, is a massive waste of time and is clearly very ocd.

xo, kim

p.s adhd chapter to follow

Who Is This Woman?

I used to think it was one of the funniest stories I’d ever heard. My husband has a lot of funny stories from his years as an estate-planning lawyer, and this one was, by far, my favorite. Sometimes when we’d be in social settings and when people would start sharing anecdotes about their work, I’d beg him on to tell “the story.” And he would, and people would laugh. And I would laugh too, just like I was hearing it for the first time.

My husband is very good at his job mostly, as I like to tease him, because he’s a “ladies man.” He has a way with the ladies. And when I say ladies, I am referring almost exclusively to the octogenarian set. The old biddies just love him! 

Once I was sitting in a garden with my grandmother when Doug (we’ll call him Doug because, well, his name is Doug) walked in and suddenly my dear, proper, delicate little grandmother seemed to transform into a schoolgirl right before my very eyes. She adjusted her skirt a bit, sat upright in her chair, and a big grin came across her face. I’m pretty sure she was blushing.

He’s tall, and handsome, looks fantastic in a crisp work shirt and, most importantly, he’s nearly 100% gray. The gray thing is huge when you’re a lawyer. People want seasoned lawyers. The gray thing sucks when you’re a graphic designer. Everyone wants the cheap twenty year-olds that learned coding in pre-school. I digress.

Doug commands attention with “the ladies.” In the story I used to love so well he had the attention of one such lady, his client, and her daughter. These women were sitting in Doug’s office going over the mother’s estate plan. In his calm, comforting, careful way, and in meticulous detail, my husband explained the trust, beneficiaries, tax implications, etc of the mother’s plan. He read and reread excerpts from the documents. Then he started from the top and explained the entire thing all over. (Sometimes it takes a few go-overs for this stuff to sink in.)

After having gone through it enough to feel confident that the women understood everything, he looked at them and asked if either of them had any questions. The daughter shook her head “no,” but the mom had a question. She looked Doug square in the eye and said “Yes. I have one question. And gesturing to her daughter sitting beside her she said “Who is this woman?”

Yesterday, my daughters and I stopped in to visit my mother, Linda, who is in the mid-late stages of Alzheimer's. At one point, my mom looked at my 15YO daughter and said “You’re almost as tall as my wife” as she gestured to me. That story that I used to beg my husband to tell is no longer one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. That story is now my story.

Video Killed the Radio Star

I still can’t believe I actually did it. A few weekends ago I took my girls to a Taylor Swift concert. In L.A.! They LOVED it.

It was my 12-year-old’s first “real” concert and the second for my jaded 8-year-old, who happened to have seen Katy Perry only two weeks prior. Lucky! I think I would have enjoyed Katy Perry way more. At least for that show I would have expected the spectacle.

I am familiar enough with Taylor Swift to know that she is a young, down-home country girl who writes her own sweet coming-of-age songs about love and heartache and bullying. I went to the show expecting that girl.

Instead, sadly, the girl I saw Saturday night has let her handlers craft her into a shiny, shimmery glam girl who struts (awkwardly) around stage, flips her hair (awkwardly) around like she’s pushing “volumizing” shampoo, and pauses (awkwardly and for way too long) to do a wide shifty eye-thing (a la Susanna Hoffs in the Walk Like an Egyptian video) directly at the cameras.

It is that image that I just can’t shake. She did this mostly at the beginning, between songs. Without a word, she would plant herself front and center, and mug for the video camera as it projected her close-up on the jumbotrons on either side of the stage. You could almost count her pores, it was that close.

She’d stand motionless, coyly smirk, then shift her eyes sharply to the far right and then sharply to the far left and then back again. She bathed in the applause that seemed to get louder the more she mugged and a few times she mouthed “OH MY GOD” as if in total shock that all these (35,000) screaming fans were there to see her – never mind that it was the 60th (!) show of her 106-date, 19-country world tour. It was disappointing because it seemed really rehearsed, really forced, and really insincere.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Taylor Swift is darling, and when Kanye West upstaged her at the MTV awards I wanted to hurt him. It just seems that she has allowed her handlers to mold her into something that is too far removed from her sweet country-girl origins. I can’t help but wonder how much say she’s had in it all or if she just signed the contract and let “her people” take it from there.

During the concert, the 1980’s song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was on a continual loop in my head. I guess there’s no turning back—now singer-songwriters can’t be just singer-songwriters. Now they have to act and dance and be the flawless face of huge make-up conglomerates (her tour is sponsored by Cover Girl). Never mind the music. Now their shows need to be spectacles!

There were fireworks and smoke, actors, dancers, acrobats in the style of Cirque du Soleil, and elaborate sets (a bridge, a tower, and a house/porch combo for her down-home “country” songs). A nonstop slide show played on the backdrop behind her and three massive Liberty-like bells dropped down from the rafters (one of which served as a dressing room for a quick costume change). Last but not least there was a “balcony” that hoisted Ms. Swift overhead and circled the entire arena during her last song “Romeo and Juliet.” Oh, yeah—during her flight, glittery confetti rained from the sky.

The show wasn’t to my taste. Spectacles bug me. But my girls LOVED it, and—keeping my eye on the proverbial ball—I loved watching them love it. To them, the spectacle made perfect sense. They don’t know any different. They don’t know the days, before video killed the radio star, when it was about the music. I’m hoping some day they do.