June 27, 2012
My mom nearly started a revolt at her assisted living facility.
She called me at work recently, upset that a water cooler had disappeared from the dining room. Having been led to believe that it was not coming back, she and another resident conspired to make their complaints heard.
Five minutes after her first call came a second. Hold fire. An aide had assured my mother that the water dispenser was sent out for repairs and would return soon.
She giggled when I accused her of starting an uprising. I am really happy that my mom feels comfortable advocating for herself at the place she now considers to be her home. But even better is that she is able to laugh at herself and others, which has made the most stressful of situations easier.
At 70, mom has physical and mental challenges, but is in better shape than other residents, many of whom have dementia. So I am thankful every day that despite life's twists and turns, she manages to maintain her sense of humor.
More than a year has passed since we moved her from California, after my sister, her youngest child, died of cancer. Jokes — OK, it's often low-rent bathroom humor — have always offered our family relief, even at times that might seem inappropriate to others.
"I am the Mighty Oz, behind the curtain," my sister boomed while in the hospital, as she perched on a portable toilet behind the flimsy screening. She was so short, we could see her legs dangling below.
Now I know where we picked up this trait.
On day one at mom's new home, the aides explained that they would have to check her physical condition before admitting her. Mom, who is short and round, with curly white hair and creamy skin, uses a walker to get around but is otherwise able-bodied.
"Lisa beats me daily," she deadpanned.
I laughed, then felt my heart jump when I realized that this was akin to joking about carrying a bomb in the airport. The aides stared, momentarily speechless, before recognizing my mother's mischievous streak.
Sometimes mom delivers zany one-liners. Other times, she's funny without intending to be.
In the car, she reads the signs out loud as we pass by, with restaurants getting special attention. When the light changes, she'll announce, "green!" or "red!"
Once she complained that she fears that she won't make it to the bathroom on time. My husband suggested that she try protective underwear, like the product Depends. "Oh no, I could never go in one of those," she said, not realizing that she had just solved the problem.
She arranges her three pets — a stuffed cat, bear and dog — in different places at her home. Sometimes they're on the couch, sometimes the bed. The dog, Pudgely, is often banished to another spot after "pooping on the couch."
Me: Aren't you afraid that Pudgely will be a bad influence on Bee-Bop-Baloo-Bop (the cat)?
Mom: Her name is Boop-Boop-Be-Do. And she's pregnant.
She also reports the goings-on at her home with an air of authority. The remote control has gone missing. The showers were cold. Her roommate has diarrhea.
"Steve ate a teabag today," she told me one afternoon. "Just grabbed it off the saucer and ate it."
The resident, whose name I changed, was fine. But months later, mom refers to that event as "The Teabag Incident."
During Scrabble games at our house, she has shocked the kids with an occasional word choice.
Spelling out "S-E-X" one day, she cracked: "I haven't done that in a long time."
In the documentary, "Young@Heart," filmmakers captured the humor and challenges of growing old by following a traveling chorus of senior citizens who belt out songs by The Clash, the Ramones, Rolling Stones and Talking Heads, among others.
Imagine your grandfather delivering in monotone his version of James Brown's, "I feel good." Or a room full of octogenarians singing: "I wanna be sedated. ..."
Studies have shown that laughter can lower stress and it has been linked to healthy function of blood vessels. There's even a name for research into the physiological study of laughter: Gelotology.
But who needs a study to know that it feels good to giggle, even at the small things?
Mom just called. The water cooler is officially not coming back.
Let the mutiny begin.
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