September 21st is recognized as World Alzheimer’s Day. A day of awareness and remembrance of all of those afflicted by this condition, which is currently said to be 5 million in the United States. But the people affected go beyond those that are suffering. In 2012, it was estimated that there were 15 million caregivers who logged 17 billion hours of unpaid care. For people like Alexandra Rosas, serving as a caregiver for her mother allowed her to see everyday life in a whole new light.
My mother is a small woman. As she has become older, almost 88 years old now, her world has become small too – and made even smaller with her diagnosis of Dementia. But there is one thing that she keeps as familiar, and counts on as much as the sun rising, in these, her last days. My children, my children continue to be huge in her life.
My husband graciously and generously — to the point that just typing this brings tears to my eyes — drives 30 minutes to pick her up Sunday mornings at 8 a.m. and then drives 30 minutes back to our house, bringing her to spend the day with us and our three boys. It’s a lot of work; she tires every few steps, she’s unsteady on her cane, and moves as if her bones were those of a bird — fearful of a fall, knowing what a broken limb will do to her at this stage in her life.
When we pull into our garage, it takes two of us to lift my mother out of the front seat of the van. We guide her to the ground, and she clings to my husband. My husband leads her, with me closely behind. She takes the three stairs into our house, one at a time, stopping at each one. Opening the door to the back hallway, we enter and she thanks us for having the house cool and air conditioned. Two steps by two steps, I help her work her way deliberately across our long wooden kitchen floor, she leading with her cane.
“Your floors are too clean,” she complains, her way of letting me know that they feel too slippery for her. With much relief, from both of us, she finally comes to rest at her place in the living room. I hold on to her right arm, and she shakily holds onto her cane, as she falls back into our 20-year-old weathered leather couch. I have found two extra-large square pillows that I keep there for her, placed upright behind her back to help her hold herself up. This is her chosen spot, in the middle of the house, where she can watch all that goes on while she’s here.
We do everything that is normal for us that day, on a Sunday, her big visiting day. We see her throughout the week, but on this day, she stays, in the background, and in the undercurrent of our day. I ask our children to stay downstairs when she visits, since I know she likes to feel their presence. She doesn’t even need their words, she just likes to watch from where she is, and see the strong bodies of youth as they get up from the floor where they’re sitting reading the Sunday paper and easiest thing in the world to do.
Our house has a floor plan where there are no walls. Fancily called “open concept;” I like it because I can be in the kitchen, in the center of the house, and my three children can be anywhere else downstairs, and I will still see and hear them. Funny how much like my mother I am in that way — needing to see flashes of the three of them as they run from room to room.
To keep everyone engaged while I’m busy getting her small lunch ready, I let the kids do a Netflix marathon. On Sundays when my mother is over, they can watch Transformers and Tron and The Regular Show until their eyeballs turn inside out. It keeps them all together and I don’t care.
The little one’s favorite show is Transformers, good guy and bad guy robots who come to life and battle for Earth. His hero: Optimus Prime, the leader of the good guys who is trying to keep Earth out of the hands of the bad guys, who are headed up by the evil Megatron. My son and his grandmother decide that they want to watch this show first. He leans against her, and together they sit on the brown leather sofa that has softened with age as much as she has. He holds her hand.
I’m at the stove stirring something, but soon I’m reaching for my notebook and pen to write what I hear as my ten-year-old son explains in English to his 88-year-old Colombian grandmother who answers back in Spanish, about the scene unfolding between the two robot leaders today:
Oh, mijo (son). He is mad. Who is that one that is so mad?
That’s Megatron, Nona (grandmother). He’s the bad guy. He’s a bad leader, too, he never fights. But he wants the good guy’s job.
The good guy? The one I like? That one?
Yeah. That red and blue one. He’s a good leader. He gets in and fights on all the battles but Megatron just gives orders and even his own guys hate him.
Then they should overthrow him. Like my government did to their leader.
They can’t. They don’t have enough guys. There’s only five of the bad ones. The good guy has the most guys.
Then they need you. You should go with the good one.
I would, but the bad ones like being bad. Hear their laughs? They like being bad.
You would be good and destroy that bad one. You are strong and smart.
I would fight with Optimus because I know tricks to beat Megatron.
You need to do it then. If you fight with that good guy, you would win. You would be the best one and you would beat that bad one.
Yeah. I know.
You would beat him. I know it.
Megatron wants Earth. That’s why Optimus has to fight him for it. I love you, Nona. I like it when you come.
Me, too, hijo mio (my son). I like to come here. Who is that new one now that is so mad? He is upset.
Oh, that’s Starscream. Remember? He’s a double crosser.
You have to tell that to the good one then.
I know. Optimus always believes Starscream and then Starscream tricks him.
They need you, mijo.
I would tell Optimus to never believe Starscream. Wanna watch the next episode, Nona? Mom? Can we watch another episode?
I put my spoon down and join them in the living room. I want to enjoy the show as much as the both of them are, but I am an outsider. I only see a cartoon of animated robots: the good guy fighting for planet Earth, the bad guy wanting to conquer planet Earth. I know how it ends.
But my mother and my ten-year-old son: they’ve entered a shared world; one where the destiny of Earth is in the balance. My mother looks at her grandson and sees him as the critical link to winning this battle, and my son looks into his grandmother’s eyes and sees himself — her hero.
Alexandra recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s disease and is still coping with her new normal. To learn more about this disease, we encourage you to visit Alzheimer’s Association.
Alexandra is a first-generation American who writes memoir and humor for various writing websites. She posts on her blog Good Day, Regular People of life in a small town as the mother of three boys. Alexandra was named a 2011 BlogHer Voice of The Year/Humor and 2012 Most Interesting Blogger and Best Female Blogger by Studio30Plus, an online writing community, and is a 2012 Babble Top 100 Mom Blogger. She proudly presented alongside Molly Ringwald as part of the nationally acclaimed The Moth Live Storyteller’s Tour, and not once asked her about the dress in Pretty in Pink. She is also the producer/director of Listen To Your Mother Show/Milwaukee.