A Place For Who?

Perhaps you have seen the advertisements on television for A Place for Mom, “the nation’s largest FREE elder care referral service.” According to its website, A Place for Mom can direct you to elder care resources and living arrangements in your area. Despite its title, A Place for Mom is a service for anyone who is elderly and needs help – it’s not just for elderly moms.

It’s rather interesting that the company’s title singles out moms. Why not mention dads? Maybe they’re just cutting to the chase and saying, “Listen, we all know that mom is the most important, and no one really cares where dad goes,” so they decided to name the website solely after the matriarch of the family.

Who on earth was their marketing consultant? A place for mom. It sounds like they are trying to find a spot for chipped China dishes or old sneakers they’re not quite ready to throw away. I envision the company’s title stemming from three squabbling siblings, sitting around a computer arguing over what to do with their ailing mother.

“I’m not taking her! Hell no. I had her for the past five Christmases and you know how THAT turned out.”

“Well, she can’t live with us! I simply don’t have the room now that Jake moved back home and converted his bedroom into a studio so he and his rock band can practice.”

“Someone has to take her.  Here, hand me your laptop. Let me Google ‘where to put your mom’ and see what happens. There has to be someplace for her to go.”

“A place for her to go … hmm… a place for mom. You know, that kind of has a nice ring to it.”

While my stint in medical social work was fairly brief, I can tell you with full certainty that the elderly do not like moving into  assisted living facilities. It means losing their last shred of independence; it’s the final step before the big NH (nursing home). Now picture the situation being made worse by referring to a company called  A Place For Mom.

“Uncle Tom, you know it’s no longer safe for you to live home alone. Karen and I are worried about you, especially since the last kitchen fire. We really think it’s time for you to move into a facility where you will be cared for.”

“I’m not moving into any nursing home. Those are for old people.”

“Now Uncle Tom, it’s not a nursing home. Karen and I used the services of A Place For Mom and we found the best -”

“A place for Tom? It’s named after me?”

“Not a place for Tom. It was called A Place For MOM. Not TOM. MOM.”

Mom? I’m not a woman! Why are you putting me in a ladies place?”

Need I go on?

In reality, the company’s intention may not have been to exclude dads or other people. The original name could very well have been A Place for Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Crotchety Neighbors and Elderly Family Friends. Or A Place for Mom, Dad, et al. I suppose they also  figured So They Don’t Have To Live With You would not only be crass, but equally wordy.  End result? The name A Place for Mom was chosen.


My Disease

I have a disease. Although it’s not recognized by the American Medical Association, it is actually quite common among women. It is referred to as the Melting Flesh Disease.

The symptoms of Melting Flesh Disease occur quite suddenly – in fact, moments after giving birth. The skin on one’s abdomen suddenly sags as though it has lost all hope. Victims of Melting Flesh Disease can go to the gym as much as their hearts content, but this only causes psychological trauma because no matter how many crunches they do or abdominal machines they use, there is no hope for Melting Flesh Disease. The damage has been done. The skin will continue to wrinkle and sag like a deflated balloon. Once round and taught, belly buttons resemble a puckered face.

Some women victoriously avoid Melting Flesh Disease. These women are either 6 feet tall and/or had babies weighing no more than five pounds. For those of us who had hearty-sized babies and are of average height, we paid severely.

It is easy to blame the media for our angst. Every magazine cover, underwear sale flyer, and commercial show women sporting flat abdomens with suspiciously perky breasts. Yet, we can’t fault the media entirely. While at the grocery store recently, a woman in a halter top was sashaying through the aisles. She was not a model, but she had a stomach that did not have Melting Flesh Disease and she clearly enjoyed flaunting it. My reaction? I stood up taller and sucked in my breath until my stretched-out belly muscles ached.

“What can be done?” I asked my physician, “Is there hope?”

“Not really. Multiple pregnancies stretch out abdominal muscles and skin until their elasticity is lost. The only thing that can be done is surgery.”

Upon returning home I did an Internet search. The cost of curing Melting Flesh Disease would be around $10,000 and it’s considered major surgery. There is hope, I suppose, if I had nothing else to use $10,000 on and had a full-time nanny to help me while I recuperate.

Thus, the only option is to make Melting Flesh Disease attractive. Like a war wound that someone is proud of displaying (“See this scar? I got that in ‘Nam”), Melting Flesh Disease must be embraced. When our loose skin peeks out from under our shirts, people would nudge one another and whisper, “See her? She carried another life in her body for 9 months. She then went through intense pain to deliver the baby. Her body and heart were forever changed. She is so brave.”

When society looks at models prancing around in string bikinis they would scoff, “She doesn’t have a mommy tummy. She’s got a long way to go.”  Tummy tucks would be dismissed – a sign of hiding the ultimate sacrifice. Melting Flesh Disease would be renamed. Instead it would be called Warrior Stomach.

Father’s Day Schmather’s Day

Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. In 2011, an estimated 75 million people dined away from home on that sacred Sunday. (If in doubt of these statistics, click here.) While moms were enjoying a meal they did not have to cook, they were also presented with the ever popular Mother’s Day card. Approximately 670 million dollars is spent each year on Mother’s Day cards (Thinking, “That can’t be right!”?  Click here.)

Yet, what about good old dad? I was recently contacted by a reader who wanted to know my thoughts on why there is such a measly selection for Father’s Day cards and a plethora of Mother’s Day cards. An Internet search on Father’s Day statistics resulted in very little information, other than the fact that most people eat barbecue on Father’s Day (which I assume dad grills).

My reader was on to something. Why is Father’s Day not as celebrated as Mother’s Day?

There are several explanations for why Mother’s Day is seemingly more important than Father’s Day:

Mama’s Boys: Typically Italian, these men never really cut the cord with their moms. Some mama’s boys remain living with their mom and never marry. Others do marry, but continue to keep Mama Mia their main lady. While perhaps emotionally stunted, Mama’s Boys aren’t dumb, so they know to buy their favorite lady a card and take her out for dinner on Mother’s Day. Mama’s Boys also tend to find their father a nuisance – even a potential competitor for their mama’s attention. Therefore, Father’s Day isn’t something high on the Mama’s Boys list.

If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy: Need I say more? There isn’t a saying, “If daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” We seem to be able to deal with dad’s grumpiness, but not mom’s. Not honoring mom on Mother’s Day is the mistake of all mistakes, and we pay severely. Hallmark knows this.

Greeting Card Writers are Mostly Female: And irate ones, at that. The card company employees use Father’s Day as a time to blow off some steam. Husband forgot to take out the garbage again? Or spent a tad too much playing poker with the guys?  The greeting cards would read: “Father – You Taught Me Everything I Needed To Know. Too Bad My Husband Isn’t As Wonderful As You” or “Dad – You Are So Smart. I Should Have Listened To You And Never Married Him.” Obviously, these cards never make it to the shelves, resulting in a paltry Father’s Day card selection.

Women Live Longer Than Men: Can’t give a deceased dad a card, can you?

Single Parent Homes: According to the 2010 census, there were 11.7 million single parent homes. 9.9 of them were custodial moms (meaning – the mom lived home and the father did not) while only 1.8 million were custodial dads. This means 85% of homes were headed by single moms, and only 15% by dads. These are just raw numbers of course. A mother living with her children instead of the father does not imply the father is an absent one. It does imply, however, that the kids see mom more and they are aware of this when Mother’s Day rolls around. (Remember: when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.)

Statistically speaking, it seems that gnawing on barbecue while giving dad a cheesy card is how Father’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow. Since Hallmark isn’t taking advantage of this holiday, it’s up to us to do so.

Old Men Making The Moves 101

Perseverance is an admirable attribute. Monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles on their fragile wings – persevering through harsh elements and predators – to warmer climates. Men and women serving in the military persevere through long separations from their families. Cancer victims persevere through treatments that often make them feel worse than the cancer itself. And some old men persevere, despite the odds, at the pursuit of younger women.

Whether these men think they’re still desirable, or they just want to give it one last shot, remains a mystery. But their tenacity is commendable and the methods they use to seduce their prey are rather intriguing. The wooing tactics old men commonly utilize can be narrowed down to three approaches: creative, debonair and reckless.

The debonair approach is considered the most commonly used method by old men in their pursuit of younger ladies. The debonair approach tends to include an invitation of some sort; such as dinner or a cup of coffee. The debonair approach also handles any rejection with dignity. While grocery shopping one hot August day, my mother was approached by an old man wearing galoshes and a raincoat (it was sunny out). He asked my mom if she would like to return to his apartment after she had finished shopping. When my mother declined, the old man shrugged and said, “Figured it was worth a shot” before walking away.

Other old men are not quite as bold and use a more flattering technique. A friend of mine was recently in the cafeteria of the hospital where she works when an elderly gentleman greeted her.  “Excuse me,” he said, “But do you ever get tired of old men telling you how pretty you are? Because you are prettier than free fried chicken.” In this incidence the creative approach was utilized. Other analogies that have been used in the creative approach are “prettier than Ava Gardner”, “prettier than Niagara Falls” and “prettier than a car hop.” The problem with the creative approach is that along with it sounding a bit odd, it also tends to date the individual.

Some old men throw caution to the wind and make their move with gusto. This can be defined as the reckless approach. The reckless approach is the most disturbing for the female because it often involves physical contact. An example of the reckless approach is when I was a medical social worker and an elderly patient grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me in for a smooch. After I wrenched myself free, the patient proceeded to purse his lips and make kissing noises. The fact that I was clearly disgusted meant nothing to him.  Typically, those who resort to the reckless approach do so out of desperation (or dementia), caring only about the end result and not so much as how they arrive there.

While the perseverance of old men pursuing young women isn’t as noble as, say, medical school or Navy Seal training – their efforts must be commended. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

WTR! (What the Reflux!)

My daughter entered this world the traditional way: with a nice strong epidural and lots of yelling at my husband. I will never forget the moment she was born. She let out a high pitched scream and didn’t stop. My obstetrician paused, looked over at my daughter and said, “Well! There’s nothing wrong with her lungs.” He then pulled off his gloves, tossed them in the garbage, and left to go deliver another baby.

My husband and I looked at one another with raised eyebrows. Even though this was our first baby, we both had a suspicion that if an obstetrician comments on how loud an infant is crying, it can’t possibly be a good sign. We were right. She did not stop screaming. Even the newborn nursery – where I tried to put her so I could sleep – brought her back.

“She can’t stay,” the nurse said cheerfully as she wheeled my crying daughter into my hospital room, “She’s keeping all the other babies awake.”

As I watched the pink-smocked nurse leave, I burst into tears. I didn’t get it. Weren’t babies supposed to sleep? How was I going to sleep with this red faced, screaming little person in my arms? Welcome to parenthood.

The hospital made us take her home. She cried the entire way there. She cried the rest of the day. Then all night. She cried, and cried, and cried. For weeks. And months.

She also vomited excessively. No sooner had I fed her then everything she had taken in would come right back up. Our pediatrician, an angel in the form of a stocky Italian man, was concerned about the weight she was losing. He also wasn’t pleased with her incessant screaming. He diagnosed her with reflux and so our journey began.

My daughter is almost ten now, so most of us are familiar with the term “reflux” being associated with infants. But back in 2003, it was a relatively new concept, and this concept generally did not go over well with the majority of people.

“Reflux? Whoever heard of a baby having reflux? That’s for adults”, “In my day it was called colic”, “How can you medicate a six-week old infant? Aren’t you worried what that will do to her?” “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”, “Who is your pediatrician?” These were only a few of the comments I heard when I tried to make excuses for why my daughter was so fussy…and didn’t sleep…and why I looked like something out of Night of the Living Dead.

People tried to commiserate with me. “It will get better once she turns three months old.” (It didn’t.) “I know exactly what you’re going through. My son was so colicky when he was born! He didn’t sleep through the night until he was five weeks old!” (Excuse me while I sob.) “Have you tried burping her more?” (Thanks Einstein. Never thought of that.) I found I wanted to kick these people even though they were trying to help.

The word “reflux” became equated with a naughty four letter word in our household. A pacifier was the only thing that would occasionally soothe her, and yet when a well meaning acquaintance told me that her children never used pacifiers (since a good mom should know how to soothe her baby without the use of a pacifier – her words, not mine) I threw it away; Only to drive out to the grocery store late at night to replace it.

I felt inadequate and not up to the task of caring for this puking, crying, squirmy, rashy, insomniac baby. Was I accidentally assigned the wrong daughter? Wasn’t she really supposed to go to a great mom who could handle everything? A mom who makes her own bread and soap and doesn’t own a TV and drives a Prius?

Shortly before her 4th birthday, the doctors discovered that my daughter had a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. In other words, the muscle that was supposed to tighten around her esophagus to keep her esophagus closed and stomach acids in her stomach was not working at all. The doctors suspected that even though she was on reflux medicines, they would never provide adequate relief. At this point, the only option was surgery.

If the idea of my four year old daughter undergoing major surgery hadn’t freaked me out, I may have felt vindicated. Her reflux had been really bad. I hadn’t been overreacting or wrong to use medicine. She wasn’t sleeping because she was in pain, not because I put her to bed too early or too late, or because she didn’t nap. I had done everything I could, and what I had done had not been wrong.

Six years ago on July 12th my little treasure had a Nissen Fundoplication to correct her reflux. The surgery was four hours long and it seems like just yesterday we were sitting in the OR waiting room of the children’s hospital, watching parents leave because their kid’s surgery was over but my daughter’s was not. When they finally wheeled her out of the OR, she looked so tiny on that big gurney. As I approached her the anesthesiologist put his arm around my shoulders and said, “She did great and you’re doing great.” They were the kindest words I could have heard at that moment.

My daughter opened her eyes and looked around with heavy eyelids. “Mommy,” she mumbled groggily, “Get me out of this thing.”

The nurses placed her in my arms and I rocked her back and forth, knowing that the worst was over. Knowing that when we left the hospital the pain she had always known would finally be gone.