My husband and I recently returned from an evening out to find that my mother had headed up to bed. This is not unusual. Although we tell her that we will only be gone for a little over an hour and we put on her favorite shows, she gets tired of sitting alone on the sofa. Since moving in, she has often said that the bed is her favorite place in the house. She proves this constantly. With a chronically painful back and low energy level, I can’t say that I blame her.
The issue is that she often heads up to the bedroom with certain things left undone. This is tough on both of us. For me, I have to rouse her out of bed and give her step-by-step instructions when all I really want to do is relax and watch TV or sit on the back deck with John. For mom, it entails getting out of bed when she is groggy and performing her nightly rituals as I prod her along — sometimes patiently, sometimes not.
On this recent occasion, mom needed to change out of clothes into her pajamas, take out her dental bridge — which she refers to as her partial plate — and wash it and put it away, and brush her teeth. Things were sputtering along slowly and I was starting to lose patience. I thought that life was playing a cruel joke as I saw my mother struggling with her partial plate.
“I can’t get my partial plate out,” she announced. Lots of things have gone awry since Mom moved in. But never this. This was a”first” that I was not appreciating at all. I sighed and did what I do best. “She can’t get her bridge out,” I shouted downstairs to John. Misery loves company.
John then did what he does best. He shouted instructions from the living room. “Tell her to drink some water, her mouth might be dry.”
“What did he say?” Mom asked.
“He said to drink water, your mouth might be dry,” I yelled. “Oh!” Mom replied, startled. “Sorry mom, I forgot you and I are in the same room.” Exhaustion was surely setting in. Or was it those two glasses of wine?
Mom dutifully drank the water and tried again. No luck. “Drink more water,” I said. “Maw watah?” she asked doubtfully. She knew as well as I did that this would entail endless nighttime trips to the bathroom for her. But I needed to put this puppy to bed. I was mentally willing that partial plate to give up its iron grip.
So mom drank the water again. No dice. I sighed, thinking about the unfortunate effects that yet another glass of water would have on the poor woman. And so, desperately needing sleep and emboldened by the two glasses of wine, I did the unthinkable.
“I’m goin’ in,” I announced loudly to mom. “Oh my gawd,” she said. “Oh, my gahd,” John yelled from downstairs. If you had told me years ago that I would ever face my mother with a grimace, firmly grab the two steel hook-like fasteners behind her eye teeth, and pull — well of course I would have called you crazy.
But I did it. And nothing happened. Aggravated and emboldened, I tried again (with my eyes closed this time). I felt something happen and opened my eyes. My mother looked like a deer caught in the headlights. And when I looked at her teeth I almost swooned with shock. I hadn’t pulled out the bridge. I had merely dislodged it, to the point where mom looked like one of “them fellers with the crooked teeth” in the crude cartoons of old.
“Oh my gawth,” mom said, horrified as she looked in the mirror. “Put them back, put them back,” I begged. And, very calmly, she did with a confident “click.” Then my mother and I sighed and looked at one another. She immediately started laughing hysterically. And so did I. We both had to hold on to my pedestal sink and one another to keep from falling. “What happened?” John asked from downstairs. We were laughing too hard to answer, except for me to say, “It’s OK!”
Because it was, thanks to Mom. I had forgotten how terrifically calm my mother always was during any of my childhood and teenaged and — yes — adult disasters, and how she always managed to do the right thing or better yet convince me to do it. Caring for my mother on a day to day basis and seeing her weaken mentally and physically had caused me to forget what a rock-solid presence in my life she is.
“What do we do now?” my mother asked. I was still tired, but the laughter had taken the “edge” right out of me. “If you can’t get them out, we’ll just call the dentist,” I answered in a calm and somewhat cheerful voice that surprised even me.
After Mom was finally in bed I headed down the hall.
“Mary Ann!” she yelled.
“Yes?” I answered warily. What else could have possibly happened?
“I got my partial plate out!” she announced proudly.
“You did?” I said gleefully. I was literally giddy with joy at not having another doctor phone call or visit to look forward to.
“I knew I had to do it,” she announced. “I hate going to the dentist.”
“Yes, I know,” I laughed. I bring my mother to the nicest dentist on the planet, with the funniest assistants. I feel like going to his office is almost like going to a party. I’m serious. Mom, however, is still is not “buying into” the program and resists going except for emergencies.
“My mother should have forced me to go when I was little, but she didn’t,” Mom said. “That’s why my teeth were always bad.”
I took this information in. Mom was right. My grandmother should have forced the issue. Although strict about many things — religion and morality among the top items — my grandma was soft on others. And she went fairly easy on me as she did with most of my cousins. My plump and adorable little grandma always represented a soft landing.
But my mother — man, she was a presence. A force of nature. If my Grandmother was a placid lake, my mother was the ocean. She could be fierce when stirred. But her strength worked in my favor, because she always somehow managed to make everything work out all right.
Apparently she still can.