Well, maybe it’s you…
I had to break up with Mama J, just a little bit. I’m sure there is some kind of official name for this — caregiver syndrome, or something like that — but the day I cracked was Hallmark Ornament Day, aka Big Deal Day 2016.
Each year, Mama J buys Hallmark ornaments for friends and family for Christmas. It’s not really my thing, but so much love and care and thought goes into it that it’s become quite meaningful, both for donor and recipient. It works something like this: the customer gets a “wish book” and places his or her order months ahead of time. Then, in early to mid-July, the ornaments come in to a local Hallmark store. This is a Big Deal of a day in the Hallmark ornament world.
So Big Deal Day arrived, and my job was to take Mama J to the Hallmark store to pick up her ginormous ornament order, and then we would go back to her apartment, take everything out of the boxes and ooh and aah over them, then repack all of the ornaments. The first part of this went off without a hitch. It was even kind of festive and fun. The Hallmark store had a photo booth of sorts, and snacks, and lots of excited people picking up their ornament orders. Mama J carefully checked off her two bags of ornaments against her list, had me push her wheelchair around the store while she added a few more items to the pile, and checked out her small fortune’s worth of ornaments.
All finished, we loaded up in the car and headed out. Then, Mama J wanted to go to the post office. This was totally fine; she had everything ready to go, and we got through it relatively painlessly. Now, please understand that Saturdays (did I mention it was a Saturday?) are pretty sacred to B and me. We go run in the morning, have breakfast, and then settle into the business of errand-running and spending precious time together since it’s really our only day that we typically have to ourselves. So, since Mama J and I were on our big Ornament Day adventure, B and I had postponed hanging out, but we did have a much-anticipated lunch date.
Back to the post office. Mama J and I finished up, and I had started pushing her wheelchair back to the car when she said, “I need to go to the grocery store.” I can’t explain what happened next, really, except I felt everything in me go absolutely flat. I didn’t know whether to cry or yell at her. I was filled with both anguish and anger. I know that seems like a perfectly reasonable and appropriate request, to go to the grocery store in the midst of running other errands, but I was suddenly stricken by the fact that I had allotted a certain amount of time on my Saturday, and now Mama J wanted more of it, and I just didn’t think I could give any more. For the past eight or nine months, I have given and given and given — every spare moment I can spend with her — and this one simple request was just too much.
My voice trembling, I said, “Mama, you’re going to have to help me.” Instantly concerned, she asked what was wrong. Somehow, I managed to choke it out. I know this is hard on you. I know you don’t get to go out much and when you do, you try to make it count. But I’ve allotted a certain amount of time to these errands. I have a much-needed lunch date with my husband. I can’t go to the grocery store and ooh and aah over ornaments. We’ll have to choose the grocery store over ornament unpacking.
I felt awful. I felt like the worst human being on the planet. I stood my ground, and it made me feel incredibly selfish and small. My feelings were hurt, and her feelings were hurt, and we somehow got through the grocery store and back to her apartment, and I went off to my lunch date, and she sat there later and unpacked and labeled the ornaments all by herself, and we never spoke of them again. Even now, writing these words, I can still feel our mutual pain in that moment.
But I have “broken up” with Mama J a little bit. I have let her sitter’s role grow a bit more, getting Candace to take her to the grocery store and hairdresser. Every once in a while, I don’t see her for lunch or dinner. Some nights, Mama J is responsible for her own medicine and turning down her own bed — letting her do the things she can still do. B and I just returned from a glorious, Mama J-free weekend at the beach, a time to reconnect, to spend time together, to just be.
Despite the difficulty of doing so, I know with certainty that standing up for myself was the right thing to do. I cannot be a good caregiver to Mama J if I am not giving care to myself, and to my own little family, B and the dogs and me. And in the coming months, as things get harder, I am going to do my level best to do both … even if it means breaking up with Mama J every now and again.
PS If you want to read our journey from the very beginning, start here: And Mama J makes 3 or click the blog title at the top of the page.
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