Parenting Parents or: How I Turned Into an Oreo


I’m not sure where the term “Oreo Generation” came from – a quick search brings up more hits on Jeff Foxworthy than anything else, so I suspect the most recent apt description of my life is coming from a comedian. That is, in its own way, suitable.

The term is in reference to the generation of young adults who are simultaneously caring for their children and their own parents. Factors in the becoming of this generation are people delaying the having of children, and their own baby boomer parents living longer.

I used to be an unwilling member of Gen X, and somehow I ended up an Oreo.

I had my son at 34, and as their youngest, my parents had hit 60 before his birth.

The first two years were fabulous – I stumbled through Motherhood with blissful ignorance, routinely delving into what I call “tiara stripping territory.”

“Tiara Stripping” is  what happens when one does something so utterly dumb as to be stripped of their Mother of the Year Award.  Things like telling a little one that monsters live in the dryer will get your tiara stripped. By the time Quinn was two, I was sure I’d never get to keep my award.

And when I hit a roadblock, or a question, or a Calgon moment (does anyone know what a Calgon moment is, anymore?), I’d call my parents.

And I had amazing parents – the sort that my friends would call for help before calling their own. Over my life time they took in no less than 23 strays – kids, not animals. Runaways, new solo flyers that crashed, friends on the “outs” with their own parents. Any or all were welcome, for a few days, and in one case for 23 years. They were so known for this in the community that when the local Children’s Home caught on fire, most of the residents were dropped off at our house.

So as new parents, we were spoiled.  No random babysitter or daycare for us – my Mom and Dad took Quinn from the time my husband left for work in the afternoon to when I came home 5 hours later.

Did I want them to take Quinn while I grocery shopped? Absolutely!

To be fair, we didn’t take advantage of this, but the advantage was given to us and we appreciated it. My parents adored Quinn. And to him, there was no one better than Dam and Damp.

And then.

Then my mother’s arm started, ever so slightly, to shake.  And her memory became a bit shaky as well, and she routinely had rounds of lethologica. Spell check doesn’t think that’s even a word. But it is, and you suffer from it as well. Now and then.

It’s the condition of not being able to remember a word, or to put your finger on just the right word. For Mom, it happened a lot.

And so the field trips began. Neurologists, physiologists, rheumatologists and more. The diagnosis?

Parkinson’s?

That question mark’s not a typo. It conveys the confidence with which  the diagnosis was delivered. I’ve never heard such doubt in so many doctors’ voices, and coming from me, that says a lot…my family has a unique deviation in cellular bone structure as to warrant a university study looking just at us and one other family in the entire country. Glad we won that lottery.

But when you start out that frigged up, you hear a lot of doubtful doctors. A hip replacement at 23 with no prior trauma? Your patella is behind your knee-joint and you were just standing there? It’s experimental, but…

Doubtful doctors are kind of the norm for me.

But the Parkinson’s Dx didn’t sit with us.  It just didn’t feel right. So back and forth to the neurologist we went, for more hemming and hawing.

There was also the suggestion that Mom was so depressed that she was exhibiting physical manifestation of that illness.

That seemed more plausible, given the last two years with her mother’s death, the loss of her job, my near death in the delivery room. But she refused therapy.

She is one of those people who believes that if you need to see a therapist then you are crazy. Flat out bats in the belfry, unsafe around people, walking around talking to one’s self crazy.

But she kept getting worse. Then my Dad got sick.  He hadn’t been to a doctor in 25 years or more but after much nagging from my end, I finally got him to the doctor.  He went in with a stomach ailment and came out of the ER 3 days later with a sporadic heart beat and astonishingly high heart rate, even with the meds.  He also had pneumonia.

Then she fell.  Shattered her shoulder and had to have reconstructive surgery and spent 4 months in a rehab unit.

Every day, despite his illness, my Dad went to the rehab unit and kept Mom company. Even when he got so tired I had to drive him there.

The pneumonia cleared up, but there was something else…the lungs still weren’t clear. His PCP ordered him to see a specialist in July.

At the end of September I was still nagging him about that, and that’s when my mother came home.

Scared. Afraid she was going to fall again. Since she’d been in bed for the better part of 4 months, she had declined so much that it was a real concern.

Over the course of three days her fear grew until it consumed her, she slowed more, became rigid at the thought of moving. Then she just stopped moving. Literally. Three of us combined couldn’t get her on her feet, she was nearly incoherent with fear. We were left with no choice. We called an ambulance.

The ER physical was short and to the point – there was no physical reason my mother couldn’t move. It was time for a psychiatric evaluation.

Her answers to the questions were truthful – yes she was afraid. Yes, she cried for no reason. Hallucinations – oh no. Moving on. Then she said something that chilled me.

“Wait.” She began to cry. “I don’t know if I should tell you…”

We encouraged her to speak and she pointed first to a small table in the ER room. “While you’ve been talking there’s been a doll in a green dress on that table. It’s not there now.”

There had never been a doll.

There weren’t many more questions before she was packed up and sent off to the Psych ward at the Thayer hospital an hour away.

We were told that for the first three days she would be allowed no visitors, but she could have her cell phone. So we talked to her every day and that Saturday we went up for the first time. In another tiara stripping moment I brought my then two-year old with us thinking it would be good for her.

If you’ve never been on a psych ward, they are all you’d expect them to be. Call to be let in through one locked door. Searched and told to leave our belongings in a locker, then let through another locked door into more white and blue than I ever wanted to see. Nurses behind glass enclosures. Patient’s shuffling the halls. My mother sitting in a bare room looking out the big window to the helicopter landing pad below.

She responded clearly only to Quinn, who climbed up in her lap and snuggled on her wheelchair. To my father and I, she barely spoke, only to express the fear that she would be in there forever.

As we were leaving I could see the toll the visit had taken on Dad. I again urged him to see the lung specialist. Finally he relented.

On Monday morning I made the appointment for him – I was only on the phone for about 10 minutes and call waiting rang in constantly. How strange.

I hung up the phone and just looked around, wondering what Dr. Brassard would have to tell us about Dad. The phone rang, but I let the machine pick up, as I had a lot on my mind.

But it was Mom, and she was crying hysterically – so much I couldn’t even understand what she was saying.

Alarmed, I snatched up the phone.

Mom? Mom? MOM! I had to yell at her to get her to stop wailing into my ear.

“Where am I? What happened? I don’t know who these people are. They’re trying to kill me.”  The stream was still hysterical, the words all running into and over one another, but I got the gist of it.

So I explained. But when I got done, it started again, the same string of questions, the same fear of her impending murder.

So I explained again.  After about 20 minutes I got her calm enough to ring off and I called my Dad. Five minutes in, caller ID buzzed in again. It was her again. I released Dad and took her call, only to go through the exact same process again. She didn’t even remember talking to me before.

Stunned and having no idea what was happening, I released her again to call the hospital. And got the standard run around, the doctor will call me, and all that.

She rang in four more times while I talked to them.

After being assured the doctor would call me in 15 minutes, I clicked over to another incoming call.

Again, Mom didn’t remember talking to me before, but this time she added a new twist. These people had her trapped in Augusta, out behind the Department of Transportation building.

What?!?

I got her calm once more and asked her to look around and tell me what she saw.

Carefully she cataloged her surroundings for me. The tin roofed, green walled buildings where the snow plows are garaged. The capitol dome. The street that would take one down to Capitol Park. Every detail made me more and more horrified. If I didn’t know for absolute certain that she was in a hospital, I would have believed her.

There were more than 40 calls that first day. The one from the doctor came early, but was only marginally reassuring.

She had been totally unresponsive to anything, nearly catatonic. Drastic measures had been called for. Electroconvulsive Therapy. AKA Shock Treatments.

And one of the side effects of the procedure is temporary loss of short-term memory. She really didn’t remember calling me.  40 times a day. For weeks.

Delusions are also part of the potential fall out. So are “holes” in past memories.

All short term, the doctor assured me.

She went through this for a month, each session renewing her despair and panic and 40 plus calls a day. Can we remove her phone? It seemed a terrible thing to do, but I was nearly out of my mind with the calls. I couldn’t just ignore them – it was my mom.

Screen your calls, the doctor said. That might have worked, had I not worked from home needing to answer calls and listen to any messages to get my client contacts.

When the month was up, she was moved closer to home in anther rehab facility, which was good, because the visits an hour north were getting harder as my Dad’s appointments accelerated.

We spent Thanksgiving in the nursing home, camped around my mother’s bed and had my own birthday cake two days later in the same room.

My father’s biopsy was scheduled two days after that.  He cancelled the appointment to review the findings three times over the next couple of weeks. He didn’t want to get any more bad news before Christmas.

Considering Mom was still delusional to the point of calling 911 from her hospital room to report drug rings, murder and so many other things that the police told us that if she called even one more time they’d have a judge place an order prohibiting her from accessing a phone.

But Dad’s doctor felt it was urgent that we understand. He called me on December 23rd. It started off so technical that I really didn’t understand…then – asbestosis, mesothelioma and finally – cancer. THAT I understood.

We didn’t leave cookies for Santa last year. I forgot, and Quinn was small enough to not know of the tradition. But just like that, I was turned from Gen X into an Oreo – that little sliver of cream, squashed between two hard cookies.

And as it turns out, being turned into a cookie was just the beginning.

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3 thoughts on “Parenting Parents or: How I Turned Into an Oreo

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