I’ve been a bit uptight lately, anticipating a week long Thanksgiving visit from Doug. I journeyed Saturday to his group home up in Marion, N.C.
My car has not been running well so I asked a friend if I could possibly borrow her car for the trip. She happily agreed, but asked if she could ride along. I was happy to have the company.
My friend had never met my son, so during our ride up to Marion I spent the two hours filling her in on his past and on his condition. I wanted her to have some background, not only to help her understand him better, but also to help her better understand me, when I am around him. My entire demeanor changes when Doug is with me. I try not to let things bother me. I try not to let his constant “I’m sorry Mom.” or “Are you still my mom?” statements get to me, but they are so constant that I sometimes lose my temper having to tell him… “Of course I’m still your mom”… or ask him “sorry for what?”. My tolerance level drops quickly once the initial hellos and hugs are out of the way.
Saturday, we arrived right before noon. He greeted me with big outstretched arms begging for a hug that he has needed for a long time. I held him tight. I then introduced him to my friend Mary and he gave her the same bear hug he’d given me and thanked her for letting us ride in her nice car.
I was surprised at how much weight he’d gained and relieved that he was apparently over his anorexic tendencies. For a while I was worried that he would starve himself to death, or cause his body irreparable damage from throwing up after an eating binge. He had, at one time, lost down to 140 pounds, which is extremely unhealthy for a man that stand 6’4″. He looked like a skeleton yet still felt as if he was very fat. Clearly, he is over that body dysmorphia, I hope.
We stopped for lunch on the way home. He ate everything on his plate and half of mine and then asked if he could order more chicken.
His right hand shook violently as he lifted his fork to his mouth, tossing food on his lap and on the floor around us. He kept apologizing for being messy. Mary and I both assured him that he was fine and he needn’t apologize. Doug has had severe shaking since he started on medication years ago. Although we have tried to find something to counteract that side effect, nothing has helped.
The ride home was pleasant enough. Mary was great with Doug. Talking to him on his level and being kind when he’d apologized for talking to much. “Doug” she would say, “there is nothing you need to apologize for to me. You are a nice young man and I’m enjoying our conversation. Just relax and enjoy it with me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Okay, I will.” he replied.
Later in the day, about an hour after we’d parted ways with Mary and arrived home, she called me. “Karen, I just want to tell you that I think you are a remarkable woman.”
“Ha, well thanks Mary, where the heck is that coming from, are you drunk?”
“Most moms get stressed out raising normal kids. You kept your calm with Doug. You answered his same questions over and over again without ever raising your voice. You speak to him in a way that is direct, but you never lectured him or fussed at him. He really is a nice kid, Karen. Clearly he has a lot of problems, and I think he seems to be more like eleven years old rather than thirty, but you take it all in stride.”
“Well, yeah, the doctors have told me that mentally and emotionally he’ll never be more than around fourteen. Mary, I’m only taking it in stride because if I take it any other way I’ll go insane. And if I fuss at him, his apologizing increases like a hundred times over. Anyway… talk to me nearer the end of the week, you might just change your mind about me being so remarkable. I’ll be very stressed by then and you’ll see an entirely different side to me. Ever see Mommy Dearest? Mary, I am far from remarkable. I sent him off to live somewhere else, didn’t I?”
We talked a bit more, wished each other Happy Thanksgiving and said our good-byes.
I hung up the phone and thought to myself how glad I was that I’d taken a class the previous week about behavioral health and coping with the mentally ill. The class had really given me fresh perspective and I was ready to try communicating with Doug on a different level. I replayed the phone conversation with Mary. As long as I’ve known her, about 40 years, I’ve never known her to be the type to dish out compliments. This felt good. She thinks I’m a remarkable woman. Wow. Me? Well, damn. Maybe, just maybe, I am a bit remarkable. Or not.
The clothes Doug had on when we picked him up were horrible. He wore sweat pants that were clearly more than a few sizes to small. They kept pulling down well below his waist and the legs rose up well above the calf of his legs. So as soon as we got home and got settled I took him to buy some clothes. Last time he was home he wore a size 32 jeans. Now he is wearing a size 40 and 42. At one time I was worried that he refused to eat. Now I am concerned that he eats entirely to much. As I am typing this he just came in and begged for some pizza. We just had a large breakfast less than two hours ago. I am a diabetic and worry that he is destined to take on this illness as well.
Another new problem I am concerned about is that he has become a bed wetter. I’ve never had a problem with him doing that before, but he has wet the bed each night of his visit thus far. It is time I call and line up doctor appointments and get him a complete physical.
Meanwhile, my ‘remarkable’ is fading and my tolerance dropping as I keep trying to smile and reply to my son “Of course I’m still your mom, I’ll always be your mom.” and “No honey, I am not mad at you, you’re fine, quit apologizing.”
When I shop for groceries I shop for two weeks worth at a time to coincide with our pay schedule. So whatever groceries I buy have got to last at least 12 to 14 days. I carefully plan 2 weeks worth of meals and buy accordingly. Nothing more and nothing less, and hopefully within our budget. With Thanksgiving this week, I had to really stretch that budget. I am proud that I only went over by around $40.00. I was able to get the Turkey, a honey baked ham, a few pies, as well as some snack items to have on hand for the kids. I was pleased with myself that I was able to stick so close to our normal budget even though there will be two extra mouths to feed this week, having both Doug and Rusty home for the holiday.
It sounds cruel I know, but to protect my food shopping investment, I have put a bicycle lock on my refrigerator. That may sound extreme, but if you knew how uncontrolled Doug is with his eating you’d understand. During his Easter visit, I left the house to run some errands. I specifically asked Doug NOT to touch the chocolate pie I’d made. I told him it was for the Easter meal and I didn’t want it eaten before then. He promised that he understood and would stay away from it.
When I arrived home from my errands, he greeted me at the door asking if I’d brought home any lunch. I looked up at him and saw chocolate all around his lips and on his chin. “Doug, did you eat my chocolate pie?” “No ma’am.” He had, in fact, eaten more than half of it and tried to disguise it by using the back of a spoon to smooth over the top. It was not a good disguise. By the end of that visit I was at my wits end. I prepared myself for this visit buy getting the bicycle lock. I am Thankful however, that at least this visit, he no longer sneaks into the bathroom to throw up after he eats.
I am thankful for many things this Thanksgiving. I am Thankful my husband who provides the best he can for his family. I am thankful for my children, who keep me laughing and keep me living. I am thankful for my friends, who see in me someone ‘remarkable’ and let me know it. I am thankful for God, who blesses me everyday in a knew way, and thankful for the ability to finally recognize all of those blessings. There was a time I did not see them. Now, it is hard to keep count. Thank you God. You are amazing.