My mother has always been the classic energizer bunny, and even now as she approaches her 94th birthday, in her heart she still is.
As a young adult, she worked full time as a bookkeeper. And continued to work after she married, until she was pregnant with her first child. She stayed home to raise her children and actively supported her husband in his career. She did not work five days a week in eight-hour shifts. Like most stay-at-home-moms, her work schedule ran 24/7. And even after her children had fled the nest and her husband had passed away, she still remained a busy little bee.
Yet every now and again, she would spend a day playing at what she called a “Lady of Leisure”. This meant a day when she was officially off duty. She would have a long lunch with friends at a favorite restaurant. Or read a book. Or watch television. It was a day where she did whatever sparked her fancy. All day long.
When she hit her mid-80’s in age, she began to have more “Lady of Leisure” days, where she’d put her projects and responsibilities on hold for the day. And when she moved into an assisted living facility a little over a year ago, she announced that every day felt like a “Lady of Leisure” day.
She still reads a lot, but doesn’t watch much television any more. She plays bingo at least once a week and attends the special presentations that her facility sponsors. She’ll visit the chapel when the mood strikes and participates in an exercise class twice a week. She keeps to a regulated schedule for her three meals in the dining room each day.
Housekeeping chores are taken care of by the facility staff. Her medications are administered by the nursing staff. Meals are provided by the kitchen staff. The only duty she is responsible for now is doing her own laundry.
A few doors down from her room is a pristine laundry room with pre-measured soap dispensers and immaculate washers and dryers. She places her laundry in a small basket and puts it on the seat of her walker and away she goes. She says she likes having this one simple chore to do. It gives her a sense of independence which I know is so vital to her.
As my mother’s dementia progresses, my tasks range from being the supplier and inventory controller for all her personal care items to managing her finances to monitoring the quality of care she receives. And making sure she has clean laundry. However, over the past few months, I have noticed she is no longer being as proactive with her laundry routine. I’ve casually mentioned it to her a number of times, even offering to have her laundry done for her. But she always told me she would get to it later. I suddenly found myself in the position of either having to believe her, or to go about making arrangements to remove this responsibility from her court.
Yesterday, I drew my line in the sand, since her laundry has been piling up for well over a month. I called her up and asked her point blank if she did her laundry last week.
At first, she told me no. Then when I told her I would drive up and pickup her laundry and bring it home to my house to do, she told me she did do her laundry. She told me she had clean sheets and clean towels and clean clothes.
I hesitated a moment before I responded. Because now I was really confused. Had she done her laundry or not? Was she being coy, or was I talking to Mama Dementia?
So, I decided to be honest. I told her I was confused. I told her she had first said she did not do her laundry last week. Then she changed her tune and said she had clean laundry. So, which was it?
Her response was classic. And honest. “Oh honey, I was just being lazy. I simply didn’t feel like doing it. Really. It’s nothing more than that. But I promise you, I did do my laundry last week.”
“Are you sure, mom?” I asked. “Because I was getting a little concerned, honey. And I need to know if and when you need additional help. You know, I can always do your laundry for you, or arrange for the staff to do it.”
“No honey. I’m fine,” she replied. “I guess I just decided to be a Lady of Laziness instead of a Lady of Leisure.”
Now, how can I argue with that logic? And you know what? I am still grinning and shaking my head.
That’s my mom.