South Charlotte

Those childhood habits come back to haunt me

When I was a kid, my mother, Rose Beebe, and I butted heads about two things: Eating my vegetables and taking a shower.

I not-so-fondly recall being forced to sit at the dinner table until I'd eaten my smelly broccoli and cauliflower. Secretly slipping it under the table to the dog only worked for so long before it was back to staring at odd-looking food that just didn't stimulate the appetite of a finicky 6-year-old.

As an outdoorsy busybody, slowing down from my playtime to take a shower didn't appeal to me, either.

So I'd turn the shower on to make Mom think I was taking one. Then I'd wipe my face and arms off and head back to my fun. (My dirty bare feet often gave away my brilliant scheme, however.)

As karma would have it, my childhood defiance has come back to bite me in the butt. Getting Rose, 87, to eat healthy and bathe regularly are continual challenges.

Alzheimer's has reduced her appetite and interest in food. Presented with a plate of baked chicken, peas and carrots and mashed potatoes, Mom would balk and say she wasn't hungry.

This ongoing battle became frustrating, and I worried she wasn't getting the nutrition she needed to keep her mobile. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I did what I had to do to get Mom to eat. I brought out the junk food and sweets and watched her taste buds dance with joy again.

This, of course, was fine with my daughter, Jazlyn, 16.

After all, Mom helped her develop her sweet tooth at an early age, as any good grandmother would. They were best buddies when it came to eating food that wasn't "Lisa approved" and were now getting the chance to extend that partnership.

So the three of us began making excursions from Mom's memory care facility to a McDonald's or Wendy's drive-thru for Mom and Jaz to get Happy Meals. Because it's hard for Mom to get around, we have picnics in the car.

As Mom gobbles her cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake, she often says, "Lisa, you're so smart about food. This is delicious and delightful."

I cringe. What Mom doesn't remember is that I am a hardcore health nut and editor of a natural living magazine. Fast food would never pass my lips and sugar isn't even on the radar.

But if this experience makes her happy and she eats, I'm heading for the golden arches.

As for the showers, I have not found a surefire way to get her to take one. It's always a test of wills and patience, with a bribe of chocolate mixed in.

When I recommend to Mom we need to give her a shower, her standard answer is always, "No, I've already had one today. I take one by myself every day."

I don't know if she really believes this or is pulling my leg like I used to pull hers.

On the days Mom is agreeable, I am meticulous about our shower ritual - making sure the water feels just right, using her favorite soap, putting lotion on her and helping her dry off and dress. Her appreciation is heartfelt.

"Aren't you glad you only have one old woman? You take such good care of your mama. I'm awfully, awfully proud for you to be so nice to me and get me so clean."

"You took care of me when I was little, Mom," I remind her. "I don't mind at all."

"You're very nice to me and I think about it a lot. I love it. It's like God has sent you to me and that's a great feeling," she replies.

After Mom is spiffed up, we head to the living room to hang out with her friends. She proudly goes up to each one and says, "This is my daughter. She scrubbed my face and she scrubbed my hair - now how do I look?" I chuckle at her innocence and pride in appearance.

Then we sit down and I whip out her reward, a Nutty Buddy. She smiles with childlike delight as I peel off the paper. This was our favorite treat when I was a kid.

As I watch her enjoy this simple pleasure, I can't help but think how lucky I am to be able to share this time with Mom - karma and all.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.