Friday, May 1, 2009

Mom Literally Drove Me Crazy

Mother celebrated her 90th birthday on August 31, 2008. Well, I use the term celebrated loosely. She was out of sorts for weeks in advance of it. She kept insisting she didn't want a party or any sort of fuss, but I knew her well enough to know that if I didn't do something I would never live it down. So, with the help of the Activities Director at her seniors' apartment complex and my mother-in-law, I planned a small, low-key open house in a small cafe in the complex. She threatened to boycott the affair right up until the moment she actually showed up, and she actually filed a complaint with the management against the Activities Director and tried to get her fired. I was mortified. She was so ugly about the whole affair, I literally was choking back tears during the event. But, it came off and in the end, I think enough people came and made sufficient fuss over her that she felt gratified and was happy about it. My mother-in-law gave her a gorgeous flower arrangement that we used as a main centerpiece and the management kept in the main lobby for a while, which elongated the comments and praise, so she eventually calmed down, although she never fully acknowledged she had a good time.

In all my stress over the event, I lost sight of why exactly she was being so ugly. The obvious reason, of course, is that no matter how well you are doing at the age of 90, you come face-to-face with the realization that there isn't much time left. For Mother, that glass is definitely mostly empty. She is not one to be able to look back and be grateful for the time she has had, she is looking forward to the short time she has left and despairing at how brief that probably is. And then, there was the matter of the driver's license. Officially, it expired that day.

Now, for me, that was great cause for celebration. I had lost untold hours of sleep over the last dozen years or so worrying when I would get that call telling me she'd been in an accident and had been killed or, even worse, killed someone else. But, I had not been able to conjur up a way to get it away from her. I had tried talking to her about it, cajoling her and even blackmailing her (I'll support you doing this or that if you promise not to drive anymore). Water on a duck's back - whatever I said rolled right off. And, admittedly, I was timid in my attempts. She was my mother after all, and I was raised in a strict household where there was a clear hierarchy. Those lessons die hard. I had considered hiring an attorney and getting her rights terminated legally, but I knew that would destroy our relationship. Finally, a co-worker told me about how she and her husband had solved the problem with his mother: they got the doctor to do it. The family doctor had stepped in and made it clear that she was no longer able to drive safely. That allowed the family to steer clear of direct involvement. Great idea, but I still hesitated. Finally, one day I had a conversation with her where she just wasn't all there. She had moments where all the cylinders weren't firing for years; normally centering around times of high stress, like holidays. But, this was an ordinary day and she was just not cogent on any level. I can't remember exactly how that conversation went, but I remember my sense of alarm during it. It steeled my resolve, and I immediately called her doctor. Of course, you can't actually speak to them; you go through voice mail maze and finally are allowed to leave a message for the nurse. So, I did. And then waited, crying a lot of the time because it felt like a betrayal. After a few hours, the nurse called me back to say that she had spoken to Mother, everything seemed fine and, essentially, there was nothing they could do. She even managed to sound dismissive as she told me, which was probably more my imagination, but it made the news that much worse. I was deflated. Not really knowing what else to do, I continued to fret over the situation and wonder how long her guardian angel could continue to watch her back.

Now granted she didn't drive that much, but she did drive every week at least a couple of times a week, and she wasn't in some small little compact. She was driving a handicap van, so it was a little like a gold colored tank. I would take it occasionally and wash it because it had gotten so dusty one could barely see out the windows. The tires would be under-inflated routinely. So, the condition of the van was one reason to freak out. Her condition was the bigger cause for concern. She is diabetic and suffers from Parkinson's Disease. She has not taken an independent step in 15 years and, by the time of her birthday, was completely confined to a motorized scooter. Her limbs were weak, her hearing poor, her eyesight suspect, and her reaction time was, well, that of a 90 year old woman. But, she had a legitimate driver's license. I had seen it (I had snuck into her wallet to make sure). And it expired on her birthday. I was sure no one in their right mind would renew it, so I waited anxiously for that day, believing that if I could just make it until then, I would be home free and could take that one worry off my plate.

But, not so. And, that is where I will pick up tomorrow...


  1. I love your story telling. . . you are very good at it! :) I look forward to reading so much more!

  2. Wow. Not exactly a "Golden Girls" episode,right? I hope the Activities Director has recovered, or at least found sanctuary in a nice convent in Spain. ;)

    It's interesting how senior citizens come to view driving and their license. It's not just transportation and something to prove who you are. Or maybe, it becomes just that. Something to PROVE who you are. In a sense the car becomes the last place and thing they control with complete autonomy. It comes to represent freedom, independence, a certain amount of power and perhaps a bit of their youth- how many of us have heard "Radar Love" come on the radio and rolled down the windows and started driving a little bit faster with a smile on our face? I personally believe if a cop pulls you over for speeding and walks up to your window and "Radar Love" is playing on the radio, he or she should just tell you to slow down after the song is over and let you go.

    I Will stay tuned for your next installment. Don't know how you are going to resolve it...