A Four-Event Day: I Hope You Dance

My mother, dancing

New Jersey, USA

Our days here are predictably crazy, filled with so many activities it can be difficult to stay in the present and cherish what I know are precious days with our U.S. family and friends.

My mother is teaching me by her example, as she has done all my life, how to be positive, to be grateful, to live life with dignity and each day to the fullest.

In my first post of the year, I offered the lyrics to ‘I Hope You Dance‘ by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, in lieu of New Year’s resolutions.

‘ … and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.’

I read the full lyrics to my son at his twenty-first birthday gathering in Sydney a few years ago. Never did I imagine I would think of them when watching my mother at her assisted living facility.

A Four-Event Day

A typical day for me and Clive running on the hamster wheel in New Jersey involves multiple ‘timed events’ — programs and appointments with definite starting times — mixed in with errands and shopping and other tasks that don’t require a specific time.

As all children of divorce know, having parents who are separated adds another layer of complexity to juggling schedules. In my case, my parents live in adjoining towns; in Clive’s, they are in separate countries. Both situations make for their own sets of challenges. Here in the U.S., it’s a matter of making sure we see my father and his wife as often as possible, though for a number of reasons my main priority is spending time with my mother and ensuring her needs are met.

In planning our days, we start with our master trip calendar, which includes non-negotiable dates and times (our flights, my mother’s birthday, Father’s Day). Next, we follow Rule #1 we’ve learned by experience and read in multiple places: when visiting older people, try not to disrupt their normal routines.

We are intimately familiar with the weekly Activity Program of my mother’s assisted living facility. It’s published each Saturday. When in Sydney, I receive this via e-mail and in our daily conversations, my mother and I talk about what she’s doing each day and how she likes the different programs. When we’re here in person, we go over each day together and she writes down what time ‘C&C’ will arrive each day, what programs we’ll attend with her, what times we’ll pick her up for outside appointments, and what we’ll be doing if we’re not with her.

My mom still plays bridge three times a week; despite failing memory, she, like her mother before her, is able to remember a bridge hand well enough to bid and play, though lately she is faltering somewhat. We schedule appointments and errands so they don’t conflict with her daily morning exercise, regular bridge games, or afternoon music programs which she loves.

When not with my mother or father, we do what many American ex-pats do when they return to the U.S. for a visit: drive and shop, first for my mother (her facility will shop for her, but there are certain things she prefers me to get — her favourite cosmetics, new shoes) and then for ourselves. I’ve also met with the usual cast of supporting characters — accountant, bank manager, lawyer, doctors — to keep my personal contact and communications with them up to date.

So, a four-event day for us means we have four timed events, interspersed with many errands. Two days ago, it looked like this:

– 9am take Mom to eye dr.
– 10:30-11:15 Shoe store on Route 17 to buy slippers for my father for Father’s Day
– 11:30-12:30 meet with my mother’s accountant
– 1-2pm sit in car and eat sandwiches (made by Clive) at the Duck Pond
– 2pm return to assisted living to visit with Mom after her lunch
– 3pm Big Band Quintet party at assisted living; attend with Mom
– 4:30-5:30 K-Mart for toiletries for Mom
– 5:30pm meet Dad and wife for early dinner at local restaurant
– 7pm Stop & Shop by hotel to get milk and bread for us
– 7:30pm return to hotel; make calls to relatives and friends to confirm plans or just chat if we’re unable to connect this trip; make calls to family in Australia; process the day’s papers; do a load of laundry; catch up on news, Internet, and my favourite blogs; e-mail with England (Clive) to arrange similar events and appointments when we’re there later in June; and try to stay awake until 10 or 11pm

And in the midst of all our running around, I sit in the balcony of the assisted living facility’s main activity room and watch my mother below. She loves that we’re there; she smiles and waves up at us frequently. My mind is racing with the errands we still need to do that afternoon and the calls I need to make that evening, but then I see my mother get up and dance with one of the men at her table, and my mind clears, and all the to-do’s and errands fall away and I feel joy and thankfulness that I am able to look down and see my mother, dancing.

By the time I’ve gone down to take a better photo, she is sitting down again, and one of the aides is putting a crown on her head for being such a great dancer.

A well-deserved crown

And I thank my mother, once again, for showing me how to smile and appreciate the moment. I also smile when the other ladies want Clive to dance with them, but the band takes a break so he declines (and whispers, ‘Whew.’).

A Holiday Monday (in some countries)

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the U.S. and, in between a midday cook-out at assisted living and another early evening get-together with my father, we’ve blocked out a few afternoon hours for us to have a long-ish browse at Barnes and Noble. Hooray! I’ve written about Travel and Books  before, and I am so looking forward to having more than a few minutes there (which we have admittedly done three times thus far for twenty minutes at a time, once with my son and twice in between other events).

I hope those of you reading this in the U.S. have a great Memorial Day holiday and those in England enjoy the bank holiday. For everyone, everywhere, my wish for all of us remains: I hope we dance.

My mom, dancing

Cheers for now and keep dancing.

9 Responses

  1. Phew a busy schedule … you will need another break 🙂

  2. Such a beautiful image (both words and photographs) of you getting to rejoice in your mother’s appreciation for and participation in life. Precious moments indeed!

  3. How sweet your mother looks. Good for her. My parents are still married-to each other-going on 65 years now. I’m divorced though and I know my children have to do a little hoop jumping now and then although it helps that I don’t live in Texas anymore.

  4. I’m certainly thinking about you jumping through so many hoops these days! Unfortunately, I know exactly how it goes, and you and Clive are doing such a great job of meeting the needs of both of your parents while you are local. It is exhausting, isn’t it? And we’re the YOUNG PEOPLE!
    It would be great to visit with you here, but if you get a chance to visit GR and we don’t get to horn in, we do understand. I can be patient – it sounds like you’ll be much closer if you move to Felixstowe – and we’ll have many more opportunities to see each other. Can’t wait!

  5. Anne, it’s definitely a ‘phew’ thing — we should all plan a break together sometime to just RELAX!

    Kim, appreciate your kind comment. I know you understand about being far from parents, too. Linda, that’s fantastic about your parents 65th – what a great couple they must be – and also great you’re sensitive to your children’s juggling situation.

    Mary – hello there! I’m so happy to ‘see’ you and thank you for your understanding – I know you totally get it and love that reminder that we’re the young people! I look forward to seeing you and the Washington gang in person on a future trip.

    In the meantime, cheers and thanks all.

  6. Hi Carol,

    I meant to say that I enjoyed the pictures of your mother. I’m glad she is still playing bridge; she always loved to play and I’m sure her experience takes her a long way even if her memory isn’t always wonderful. I wish my mother could dance, although her bridge skills remain undiminished. She stopped driving about a year ago, and lets my father do whatever driving is necessary.

    It sounds as if you have an awfully busy schedule during your time in the United States. I hope you accomplish every thing that you want to.


  7. Eleanor, thanks for your comment — I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures.

    It’s wonderful your mom is still playing bridge; it seems so many of our mothers enjoyed that activity as part of their friendship and fellowship when they were all raising young children in Ho-Ho-Kus and elsewhere. And I’ll always marvel that they all had their kids home for lunch every day 🙂

    Cheers and take care.

  8. Having read through parts of this blog I have found many interesting comments and stories…But talking about your Mom resonates most with me. My Mom is also in a nursing home in the Alzheimers Unit. The transition has been tough for her but the way it came about was a blessing. It is those times when I sit with my Mom, just the two of us that I feel like I have come to terms with my relationship with her. Of course it has flip flopped as is to be expected but we now can spend some quality time with each other and all the past grievances are stripped away. I do my best to treat her with dignity as she tries to stay connected to this world. She desperately wants to come home but she thinks of her home in Willimantic Connecticut…I want to honor that wish of coming home at least to her home in PA but don’t know if it will be a reality. My mother never had the same outlook as Dot and as a result is not very happy and it is sad to see…but she rises to the occcasion when I walk in the room and she loves seeing the grandkids!! So ultimately family is truly the most important thing! As I begin to walk ever so slowly down the path of “oldness” my promise to myself is to be positive and see the cup half full…with my husband beside me and always pushing me I can do it. I am my mother’s daughter but I do have choices and I choose to not be miserable!HA

  9. Kathy, it’s so wonderful to ‘see’ you and thank you so much for your beautiful comment! I’m glad to know what’s happening with you and your mom, and glad you’re able to spend time with her. It’s so true that family is what it’s all about.

    I too hope and pray I will be positive myself — you speak so eloquently about ‘we do have choices’ — I can’t imagine what our mothers are going through but we are lucky to have them.

    Sorry I’ll miss you at the RHS reunion this weekend.

    Thanks again and xxoo love from Sydney to you and your family.

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