Earlier this week I got home from work. I needed to start dinner, then pick Frances up from volleyball tryouts, swing back by the house to wolf down some of said dinner while going over Brad’s homework and what he needs to do while I am taking Frances to softball practice. I also took a load of laundry out of the washer and put in the dryer. During all of this commotion, I am yelling out inquiries to whomever is close by: Has the dog been walked? Has he been fed? Did anyone feed the cats? Did Brad practice his piano? Where is his agenda for me to sign before I leave?
Suddenly. Things stop. Brad is upset. His book bag and its’ contents are strewn across the living room floor. I can tell he is upset but my initial 3 times of asking him in 3 different ways what is bothering him are met with a brick wall.
I squeeze out some time to take him alone into the living room and sit down calmly to talk. I am feeling irritated and rushed. It was a long, very cold day at work and I want to try to change before heading back out the door. He tells me he has a quick temper (pretty impressive for a 9 year old and I wonder if that is something someone else has told him). He and I continue along this path for a few more minutes and then his flood gates can no longer hold back the tears. The pure, clear, heartbreaking tears streaming down his innocent, beautiful, soft face. I hold him close. But I am not crying with him. I have come to realize that I have already been mourning Jim so long, I no longer am able to cry each and every time. (I still have moments) But I am shattered inside. I can only hug him and wipe those tears away. I cannot change what is happening to our family or his Dad. I am powerless against something a million times stronger than any of us.
I learn that Brad had asked Jim to fix some mac-n-cheese for a snack when they got home from school. Jim got out the BOXED version. Brad went to do whatever it was he was doing. When Brad came back into the kitchen, Jim had evidently put away the BOXED kind and instead had started up the oven and was putting in the FROZEN kind. When you are 9 and you want and expect the BOXED kind of mac-n-cheese, the FROZEN kind will just not do.
So, I sat and hugged him and we discussed how disappointing it must have been because he had in his mind what kind of mac-n-cheese he was getting and was looking forward to that specific snack. A life lesson for us both began to unfold. There have been numerous accounts of similar situations in our families’ history where I would have lost it. I would have been rushed, needing to move on to the next thing and I wouldn’t have found the time to sit quietly with him and work through the whole mac-n-cheese drama. I would have never figured out what was at the root of his anger and attitude. An opportunity would have come and gone and I would have never known the difference. This episode would be melted into a conglomeration of childhood tantrums and reasons to throw more discipline his way. After all, does it really matter what kind of freakin’ food we are eating when Jim is DYING? Does it really matter, as long as you get some form of mac-n-cheese? Shouldn’t we just be grateful that Jim can still fix some kind of food at all and not burn the house down? Maybe, but to a 9 year old little boy, that was what was important and what was causing frustration and anger. But the REAL anger was that his father got confused. His father forgot what kind he was making and ended up with a version that wasn’t originally agreed upon. For this 9 year old little boy, the switching of the mac-n-cheese was just one more sign that his Dad is slipping and things are changing and life isn’t fair. Although he is only 9, he is so wise and gets it. He gets what is happening and is sad and scared and helpless. Like all of us.
Lost in the shuffle is Jim. Standing by, shuffling from room to room. Understanding that Brad is upset. Understanding that he did something “wrong” to cause the debacle. But not included in the discussion with Brad or me and not given a hug of understanding. I realize this only later and it puts a knot in my gut. I must remember next time.
Fifteen minutes later, I was driving Frances to practice, feeling like I had accomplished something. I had grown as a Mom. I had carved out time I really didn’t have to do the right thing for my son. For my precious, smart, sensitive son. I realized how good it felt in contrast to my normal rampages of rushing, misunderstanding and eventual guilt. It is so easy to glide quickly over disruptions in life. But the real life is in stopping and learning from those disruptions. With Alzheimer’s, you are given many chances to learn, re-learn and become an expert on disruptions in life.
Now I can only hope that the next time a similar situation arises, I will be able to stop, think, react appropriately and feel the wonders of motherhood again.