Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Magic Kingdom

I’m sitting here in Orlando, Florida – the land of sunshine, swamps, afternoon thunderstorms, and all things Disney.

It’s the real “La La land,” surrounded by private living enclaves with streets named Dreamy and Bonnet Lane. Bright, cheerful road signs dot the highway. A Disney archway blasts: “Where all your dreams come true.”  

The gift shop at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel sells Princess gowns and magic sabers, luring childhood dreams as adult conference-goers dash by with tags dangling from their necks.

I point to the plaster-molded regal crowns under glass that line the hallway as Hank and I make our way to a dinner with business friends.

“This is insane. It’s Disney everywhere here,” I say. “I just don’t get the Disney thing.”

My pragmatic husbands responds with, “Lots of people like it, Heath.”

“I guess, but I’m not getting the allure.”

Have I forgotten the wide eyes of our children on their first trip to Disneyland? Or, that our daughter, Hilary, wore a Snow White dress for a week and begged for a Cinderella Birthday Party at five?

Or that I’d found Hank’s Daniel Boone hat in an old box tucked away when we were cleaning the garage?

Still, I don’t get the Disney thing.

After dinner, we hop in a car that will take us back to our hotel. On the floor of the backseat there is a bright colored sabre. I pick it up and show it to the driver. “I see someone on your last run left a souvenir.”

“Oh, no!” he sighs. “That belongs to the little eight-year old autistic boy here with his family. I’m going back to their hotel to return it.”

“You are so kind,” I say.

“I’m a grandfather,” he tells us. “You should have seen the delight in this kid. The parents said they’ve never seen him so happy. I have to return this to him. It’s not that far away.”

“Yes,” I say, looking out the window at Goofy on a marquis touting: “Where to next!”

I turn to Hank. “You’ve got to hand it to Walt Disney. That little boy who forgot his sabre…the joy he had all day in the park.”

Back at our hotel, I see tired parents pushing strollers, a child asleep on a father’s shoulder, his Mickey ears cocked to the side.

My Disney cynicism has washed away. How wonderful to enjoy the illusion of fantasy while the real world sometimes seems in disarray.

“I get it now,” I tell Hank.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Her Obsession

I’m fingering a novel on the new books table at Hudson Books at LAX when an 818 area code lights up my cell phone. My husband, Hank, and I are delayed three hours on a flight to New York due to bad weather and we’re just killing time. I stare at the phone and realize the only 818 number I know is for my eighty-nine year old mother’s skilled nursing facility. I take a breath.

"This is Dr. Smith from The Jewish Home for the Aging. Is this Heather?”

I put down the novel and feel my heart pounding out of my chest. “Yes,” I say, preparing myself for what may be to come.

I move away from the other patrons to a souvenir display of coffee cups and shot glasses. Beyond the glass partition, travelers are dashing to and fro in Terminal 3.

“I’m your mother’s psychiatrist at The Jewish Home.”

My mouth is dry and my words sound like combed cotton.  “Is everything alright?” 

“Well, your mother’s an unusual lady,” he says, easy and calm. I immediately relax. They don’t have the psychiatrist call when a patient has a stroke or dies. At least, I don’t think so. Besides, I’m used to Mom’s antics.

“Has she been complaining to you about me?” I ask. “She constantly asks me if I love her, if I’m mad at her. Honestly, I don’t give her any reason to question that. But, it’s Mom, she’s always been like that.” I find myself rushing the words, defensive. “Is she upset with me?”

“Nooo,” he says, stringing out his response.  I sense hesitation.

“Oh, ok…”

He explains that sometimes with Parkinson’s patients, patients become obsessed.

“Obsessed,” I repeat, deadpan.  “Yes, Mom gets obsessed about needing me to bring her certain things. One week it’s Q-tips. The next, its more false eyelashes…”

He lowers his comforting voice. “I’m speaking about an obsession of a sexual nature.”

Oh, boy, I think, my eyes now fixed on a display of mini golden Oscar statues.


“She seems to be obsessed with finding a boyfriend.”

“Oh, that,” I laugh. “Honestly, Doctor, that’s her baseline. She’s been boy crazy since she was in Kindergarten when she kissed Ken Karrier because he smelled good.”

“I’ve talked with the social worker about this,” he continues. “Your mother’s clearly more anxious about having a boyfriend. And, she’s having more hallucinations, seeing a cat at the end of her bed. Very typical Parkinson’s.”

“I know,” I reply, “but, she says that the cats are nice.”

“There’s a new drug that is helping Parkinson’s patients with obsessions. It helps to take that anxiety away and does not interfere with the other Parkinson’s medications. I’d like to try it for her. On a low dose to begin.”

My mind drifts back two years ago when I had to take her to ER because of a fall. My mother loved getting an X-ray with all “these good-looking guys lifting her onto the table.”

“Is this fixation with men normal?” the nurse had asked me then.

"Yes,” I’d replied. “It’s nothing new.”

“It’s interesting,” the doctor says now as if he’s talking to himself.  “Your mother is very specific about the culture of men she desires.”

I inhale, preparing myself. Although, I’m pretty sure that I know what’s coming.

“She desires either a ‘Philippino, an Israeli or a Swarthy Italian.’”

I don’t know whether to burst out laughing or cry. “The Philipino is a new one on her list,” I tell him.

Who gets these calls about their eighty-nine year-old mother confined to a wheelchair?

“Doctor, I understand why you might think this is unusual, but Mom’s been like this all her life.” Dare I tell him that she sold her diamond ring from her first husband, my father, to go to Italy to find a man?

“Yes, the social worker said that as well, but, well, recently, this obsession with finding a boyfriend has increased. And, it’s making her more anxious.

“If this drug will help her anxiety, I’m all for it, but I don’t want her to become comatose. She’s still so vibrant. Maybe, a little too vibrant.”

“It’s just a trial on a low dose. If she doesn’t respond well, we will take her off it immediately.”

“I do want her to have quality of life despite her condition,” I say, relaxed now and picking up one of the Oscars. Is it a coincidence the label on it reads Best Mom?

I put it back and wander over to the magazine rack. The doctor gives me the name of the drug, spelling it out slowly as I grapple for a pen in my handbag. I write it on my boarding pass.

It’s hard to make these decisions. I trust her doctor.  And, I trust The Jewish Home. They’ve provided excellent care. “Well, let’s give it a try,” I say.

I slip the boarding pass into my handbag and call my sister, April.

“You did the right thing, Heather,” she says.

I sruggle over the possible side effects and April brings me to a halt.

“Stop, Heath. It’ll be fine. They’ll take her off if there are any problems.”

When I rejoin Hank in the airport lounge and relate the story to him, he says: "You should have asked the psychiatrist where he was eighty-four years ago when this obsession emerged!”

I laugh so loudly that the two women seated opposite us look up from their reading material. I smile back at them. If they only knew…


Postscript: I read this to my mother today at my visit. When I asked for her permission to post this, she replied: "Hell, yes!"