Friday, April 1, 2011


Last night I told my brother that we were bringing Mom home and we were going to take care of her here and enroll her in the day care down the road. There was a silence.

"Um, I think that is something that should have been discussed with me."

I went red in the face even though I was on the phone. I had already told Burke to bring her home today. I had told my dad we were doing this. But Matt was right: He needs to be an intricate part of the conversation.

He said, "What happened to putting her in a nursing home in Provo?"

I called Burke and told him to hold off. Burke, trooper that he is, immediately offered to help me find a place nearer to where I am for her. I am not sorry that I gave notice at Sunrise. I may have even mentioned something yesterday about making sure that everybody we know hears about how shoddy that place is. I may have mentioned reviewing them on the Internet, too. Apparently, word of mouth is important.

The next and trickiest challenge was going to be telling my dad that I had changed my mind AGAIN and we were NOT going to move her home.

I laid some groundwork when he went to bed last night. "You know, Dad, I think we need to think more about this situation with Mom. Lori said yesterday that she thinks one of the reasons you are doing so well is that Mom isn't here."

"That's not it," he told me.

I didn't say anything else. I'm not going to fight with a dying man before he tries to sleep, when sleep is often elusive for him. I had pushed enough. I did dread the conversation we would have today about it, though.

Fortunately, he introduced the conversation first:

"You know, Jen, I was thinking about what Lori said, and I think she has a point."

Then we went back and forth about how difficult she is and what it would *really* be like to have her back at home, so he agreed pretty readily to finding a place in Provo.

I feel like I dodged a bullet. So, now I have some time to find her a new place.
Dad pointed out that yes, it might be less expensive to have Mom at home, but not if we are all crazy. There are more expenses than just the ones with $ signs attached. He went on to talk about how she picks fights with me and Matt, that she always starts it, that it's particularly tough on Matt, and it all stressed my dad out. We have a pretty peaceful setting in the house right now, and upsetting the balance would not necessarily solve anything.
So, there's that. But before I can find my mother a new nursing home, I have to figure out what went wrong this time.
I am a nice person. To a fault. I like for everyone to get along. I like people to walk away from our interactions feeling good. About me. About themselves. About everything. But mostly about me.

This is partly innate and partly how I was raised. I was raised by people who don't like confrontation and don't like to make a fuss (which makes my mother's current personality particularly interesting. Who knew she could become such a fierce advocate for herself? Even with dementia?). I was raised by people who can be terminally polite. I grew up eating cold french fries because to send them back was too much fuss.

But this is also tatamount to being taught that we don't deserve hot fries. That it's more important for us to suck up shitty service than to inconvenience the teenager who has to make new fries, which cost the restaurant NOTHING.

My therapist used to ask me, "Why do you always think you have to be nice?"

She was serious, but I did not understand the question. Why on earth wouldn't I be nice? I think I always have to be nice because people should be nice!

The problem is that I have a temper. And I've done a pretty good job of mastering it in my adult life. Frankly, it scares even me a little, because I have gotten more control at NOT exhibiting it than in wielding it usefully. It's a tool I haven't developed because I fear getting burned. I think it's time to take it out for more rides and learn to channel it a bit.

I made a mistake when my children were growing up. Well, let me backtrack a little bit.

When Christian was very little, he was in speech therapy. Unfortunately, I lost my temper at the speech clinic with consequences that pursued me for years in one form or another, so again, I learned to fear it. My main problem is that I am nice, I am nice, I am nice, I am nice, and then I explode and worlds collide, the sun burns itself out, and the city is left in ruins. I have a slow burn, but then WOW. It's white hot.

I need to learn to just stop being so nice from the beginning. It will spare people exposure to that temper in the long run, so really, I'm just going to be doing people a favor by getting in touch with my inner bitch.

The mistake I made with my children was this: When Tommy, in particular, was very young, I tried to support his teachers. I knew that he was hard to manage in the classroom. His father and I staunchly refused to give in to teacher pressure and medicate him. Children are being vastly over-medicated in this country, and he was so little (kindergarten) the first time they tried to get us to medicate him. But I would try to work with the teachers on motivating him, I would discipline him at home for poor school behaviors. We tried a lot of sticks and carrots over the years.

But one of the things I learned (sadly) from trying to work cooperatively with the teachers is that I was, in essence, giving them license to treat my child poorly. Because that was the result. Over and over and over. So, eventually, I stopped sympathizing with the teacher about my willful child and started going in to meet teachers with more of a glint in my eye and more protective of my child, classroom order be damned.

That may not have been the best approach either-- we just started him, via mutual agreement, on ADD medication. We think it may be the only thing that can help his studies now. But he's 13 now, tall, and his body can take the meds better. Should we have done it when he was ten? Probably. But you do the best you can with the information you have. And Christian's diabetes distracted us for a good long time as well.

I made the same mistake at the nursing home. The staff at the nursing home, though, are not your friends. They are your service providers. And being nice to them only means that they are going to think they can treat your loved one like crap, ignore their needs, be completely dismissive of them. So, this next time, I am going to go in with a vastly different approach. We I were was too open about the fact that *we*  I think our mother is a huge pain in the ass and we were desperate to unload her. That was a huge mistake.

The next facility is going to understand that we expect excellence in every respect for our beloved matriarch who might be a pain to some, but not to us, that we only want the VERY BEST for her and that we won't hesitate to remove her if we don't get it.

Yesterday, my mother made one of her startlingly accurate observations: The other residents who have a strong family presence there get treated the best. Because we were not in their faces and not there enough, she was easy to shuffle to the bottom of their list of priorities. However, after I unleashed hell, she got an apology.

It greatly saddens me that this is the way the world works. That you have to be mean in order to be treatedly decently. But I have been trying the nice approach for almost 42 years, and I have not yet changed the world. So, I am going to change me. At some point, you have to do what works.


  1. I really needed to read this today. I need to rethink my approach on a few things.

    Thanks for sharing, Jen! *smoosh*

  2. I think I am going to try operating under the theory that nice is for family and friends. Civil is for business. Bitch is for everything else.

  3. Jen - I soooo resonante with you. I think your last comment is a terrific mantra. I'm going to give it a go myself.

  4. I wish I could find a copy of the song "I'm Nice" by Wally Pleasant. I'll have to send it to you over email or something.

    I want to see more BITCH! :)

  5. I like where you're headed with that mantra too, but there may be times that friends, family and business all need a reminder that there's a bitch to deal with if they get too far out of line ;)