I have finally gotten to a point in my chaotic life where I can exhale an overdue sigh of relief.
After a bumpy couple of years, I have adjusted to being a caregiver to my mother, Rose Beebe, 88, who has Alzheimer's disease. She is stabilized and thriving at her memory care facility. And my daughter, Jazlyn, 17, is feeling less stressed and more balanced since we've begun home schooling.
I am enjoying this sweet spot as much as I can, realizing it may be brief. As I juggle the demands of care giving, single parenting and multiple jobs, I have come to realize a few things: My house will never be clean; I'll never get everything on my list done; I can give up having a personal life for a while; and I won't survive any of this without a sense of humor.
Growing up, humor was infused into every situation and laughter was commonplace. My parents, siblings and I were constantly outdoing each other with practical jokes. Jazlyn inherited this funny gene and entertains me with her quick wit every day. It is with comical coping skills that I deal with the reality of Alzheimer's. And there is much to smile about at Mom's place.
On a recent visit, I found Mom in a cranky mood and stuck in a repetitive mental loop. I couldn't reason with her so I grabbed a stuffed animal off her shelf that my sister had gotten her for Valentine's Day. The brown dachshund wears black shorts with chili peppers on them and has a red collar and a heart-shaped red bell on its tail. When you press his foot his ears move up and down and his tail wags as he sings the classic disco tune "Hot Stuff."
The minute Mom heard this dog singing the infectious '70s melody, her mood shifted. She started dancing around the room singing, "How's about some hot stuff baby this evening, I need some hot stuff baby tonight." I couldn't resist the opportunity to join in her glee.
Before long her bedroom door opened and two of her girlfriends toddled in, one in mismatched pajamas and the other with her sweater buttoned crooked and shoes on the wrong feet. They are adorable in their wide-eyed innocence. They asked what we were doing. I told them we were having fun and encouraged them to take part.
They excitedly got in the groove, the one in pajamas holding onto the chest of drawers while bouncing up and down and bobbing her head, the other with her hands on her hips, wiggling them from side to side.
It's "The Golden Girls" meets Donna Summer, and I stand back and take in this hilarious sight.
"Gotta have some hot stuff, gotta have some love tonight," they all sing. "Baby tonight," adds the lady with her sweater buttoned crooked. The dog stops singing and we all giggle like silly little girls.
I ask them what they think hot stuff is. One lady says, "Just dancing." Mom says, "No, it's liquor and stuff like that."
I told them I thought hot stuff meant a good-looking man and the lady in her pajamas says, "Well, where is he?" which only incites more giddiness.
Mom's friends toddle out of room and she turns to me and asks, "Who were they?" I chuckle to myself because she has lived with them for a couple years and encounters them constantly.
Mom looks a little tired from her entertaining routine, and I sit her down on the bed. She asks me, "How long has my husband has been dead?"
"Over 20 years," I reply, thinking she is about to get melancholy.
"It's been quite a while since I've had hot stuff, but this dog says tonight. It'll be good having that hot stuff tonight - it's been a long time." I snicker, not certain if she's being serious or silly.
I get Mom ready for bed and crawl in bed beside her. I rub her head and snuggle close to her, enjoying this precious time.
"What am I, an old woman?" she said.
"You're 88 now," I tell her.
"Yeah, well I don't feel like it," she says, grinning mischievously at me. "I feel like hot stuff."
She got me again. We laugh until we are wheezing and tears stream down our faces.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
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.