Chicken Soup for the Soul chose my story as the featured free story in their daily newsletter on Friday 8/13/21. This story was released June 23, 2021 in Chicken Soup for the Soul Eldercare and Dementia. My mom did not have dementia. She sure knew how to juggle, though.
Social Butterfly by Linda O'Connell
“You are not moving me into a nursing home, young lady!” My tiny mom with a tight gray perm and pursed lips sat in the passenger seat of my car with her arms crossed, refusing to exit.
“Mom, this is not a nursing facility; it’s the independent living, senior apartment complex you applied for two years ago. You’re free to come and go as you wish.
Mom sat like an obstinate child. Cajoling didn’t work, sweet talk didn’t faze her, so I used my teacher voice and ordered her out of my car. I buzzed the office intercom.
“See! They lock you in!” Mom was convinced she was about to become a prisoner.
The property manager greeted us with a wide smile, “Welcome, Virginia. We’ve been expecting you.”
Mom put on her happy face like a kindergartener being praised. We walked through an elegant vestibule, past a large aviary where parakeets flitted. A lobby area with comfy plaid couches, overstuffed chairs and a large screen television had a homey feel. Tables and chairs and stocked bookcases invited residents to linger in the lobby. Mom gave me the side eye and whispered, “I am not visiting people I don’t know.”
I nodded. “You won’t have to.”
From the office to the elevator, we strolled a long, glass-enclosed hallway. Outside, the green space, teeming with flowers and bushes, was home to bunnies and even a box turtle.
“I do like to walk, and I don’t like to feel closed
in. Nice.” She commented to herself.
The manager explained the four apartment buildings were connected by these corridors, so she would be able to walk in comfort, regardless of weather.
After Mom settled in, she called me several times a day. “Do you know they have line dancing here? But I’m not joining!” She’d never been a joiner. When I had Tupperware parties she refused to attend because she didn’t feel comfortable in a crowd. I was amazed when she mentioned amenities such as card making, book clubs, and free bus transportation to shopping centers and grocery stores.
I felt a sense of relief. I had been my mom’s sole transportation for many years. I was about to get a break. Mom used her sweet voice to entice me.
“Honey, if you have time, could you come take me to the grocery store?”
I hopped on it, even though I wished she’d hop on the free bus.
“Can you come over and help me straighten my drapes?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
I dropped by whenever she called. I brought leftovers and bags of homegrown tomatoes for the residents. I took her shopping and on evening rides.
One evening while carrying her groceries to her apartment I looked at the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board. “Why isn’t your name on the bus list? I thought you said you were going to the mall this week.”
Mom waved me on and said, “I might, and I might not.”
I called my grown daughter and asked if she had seen her grandma lately.
“Of course, I have. I see her almost every other day. I always take her to the mall and grocery shopping.”
I phoned my adult son and encouraged him to stop by his grandma’s. “She might be feeling lonely, you know?”
“How could she be? I’ve seen her almost every other day. She asked me to program her television remote. Then the VCR wouldn’t rewind. When she called to tell me her thermostat wasn’t working, I had to convince her not to touch it because it’s a heat pump system. I took her for ice cream last night. She wanted me to put something high up in a closet. Next week she’ll call me to take it down.” He chuckled.
The next day Mom asked me to take her to McDonalds for a fish sandwich.
That evening my
daughter called to tell me she’d taken Mom to McDonald’s.
“Not true!” I said. “I took her this afternoon for lunch.”
“Well I just took her for a chocolate sundae.”
While we all imagined Mom suffering from loneliness, she was busier than ever yanking all our strings, orchestrating which one of us she would see on different days at different times.
Little did we know Mom, who had been shy all her life, was becoming a social butterfly in her later years. As it turns out, she had joined all sorts of clubs and had even met a best friend in a Bible study group.
When the office manager called me into her office to show me a photo of Mom and three other residents wearing white cowboy hats and silver badges, I couldn’t believe it. Mom brave enough to stand before a group?! Dressed in costume?
“This was our monthly residents’ meeting. There was a theft in our building. Someone stole the large screen T.V. last night. So, because your mom is always walking the halls, we deputized her and these other two women and man as our residence watch committee. Did you know your mom has even tried kicking up her heels on the dance floor?”
Really?! I walked into Mom’s apartment. “What have you been up to lately?”“I’ve been busy working as a deputy,” Mom beamed showing off her badge and photo. I expected her to run to the closet and pullout boogie-scooting-boots.
Mom, a late bloomer, was like a lovely wild rose that finally blossomed in her elder years.