Chimichangas on the Sly (or Life Interrupted)

I did manage to finish this shawl on my last trip to Arizona.  The design, "Plum Lace Shawl," is by Zabeth-Loisel Weiner and the yarn 
is from the Cat Print Hand Dye Collection by Schoppel, color 2153.  

This blog post, loosely connected to knitting, is a response to numerous people I've run into lately who've asked me about the status of my fledgling real estate career.  

“How is your real estate career going?  Been busy?”  I can’t count how many times people have asked me this question in the time that’s elapsed since I passed my real estate exam.  My answer should be, “Great!  I’m inundated.”  Indeed, the market has picked up since the crash of 2008 and people are moving to the Charlotte area in droves.  New businesses and roads are under construction, so this locale is booming with hustle and bustle. My answer to such inquiries, however, has been convoluted and lengthy.   

The day after I passed my exam, June 18 of 2016, my 22nd wedding anniversary, my husband greeted me with the news that my older teenaged son had once again gotten into some trouble.  After a few days spent digesting the latest crisis, the announcement of which cast a gloomy pall on any anniversary and licensing exam celebrations, I set off for Arizona for eight days.  I went to visit my mother in Green Valley, a sprawling 55-plus community nestled in the in the desert, roughly 30 miles south of Tucson.  My mother was unhealthily thin and, characteristic of her, for at least the last five-or-so years, hesitant to go anywhere except Safeway, Wal-Mart, and the 99-Cent store.    I left Green Valley with mixed emotions, relieved to be freed from the spic-and-span environment of my mother’s house, where every aspect of daily life seemed to merit a complex ritual—throwing out the trash involved all sorts of machinations, requiring Ziplock bags, staples, and numerous plastic bins and buckets—but melancholy about how little time I had spent with my mother over the past 24 years since she had moved to Arizona after the loss of her son, my brother.  But, as I’d learned once again on this trip, any mention on my part of my mother’s moving to North Carolina invoked rage in her.  

After I’d returned home and set about completing three 30-hour post-licensing real estate classes, my time in Green Valley seemed a hazy dream,  I’d thought these courses would be a breeze, but learned that each had a difficult exam, and some required the memorization and use of complex math formulas.  Ugh!  In-between classes, I dabbled a little bit in my new real estate career, but most of my time was involved in studying, sitting in class, or completing some long-neglected home repairs.  Finally, though, towards the end of September, I took the exam for my third-and-final class and drove away from the Superior School with a light heart.  As I was sitting at a red light, though, just a few blocks away from the school, I glanced at my silenced cell phone and noticed that I’d had some calls from my husband and from a friend of my mother’s in Arizona.  I pulled over into a leafy subdivision in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte and started to return calls.  I learned that my mother was not doing well.  She’d been suffering from diarrhea, was losing more weight, and seemed very confused.  She wanted me to come to Arizona.  I made plans to leave in a few days and headed off for a ten-day stint.  

During the time there, I shopped for and cooked three meals a day.  Once an inventive gourmet cook, my mother now had an obsession with the sodium content and other nutritional values of her food, a preoccupation related to a previous bout of malnutrition as well as lymphedema in her legs.  Cooking for her was maddening.  And shopping trips, where my mother spent hours reading the sodium and nutritional content of products and nine-times-out-of-ten rejected those foods, were tedious affairs.  Exhausted, one night I decided to serve frozen dinners.  I bought five different types of one brand of “healthy” dinners, and, thankfully, there was one in the bunch that my mother, after reading labels, would deign to eat.  

During that time I also took her to a new doctor, an Indian man with a genial bedside manner who specialized in treating patients over 65 years of age.  My mother was convinced that a drug she’d been taking had been the cause of her confusion and weight loss.  With my cooking and the drug out of her system, and an admonition from the doctor (whom she'd immediately liked and trusted) to ignore sodium content and eat more or be placed in a nursing home, my mother improved some when I was there.  She did seem somewhat confused about numbers, time, and the use of the remote control, but these incidents still seemed few and far between.  I figured she was just getting older.  

On this trip, for the first time in her life, my mother permitted me to drive her car.  I am 52, but she’d been fearful over the years that I might get into a situation that would cause her insurance payments to increase.  Her car is ten years old, but had not one single scratch or door ding, as my mother was as obsessive about choosing a remote parking place as she was about her diet and disposal of garbage.  Towards the end of this visit, I urged my mother to return home with me, so that I could continue to oversee her cooking and help her to get better, but she refused.  

After I returned to North Carolina in early October, I set about gaining some momentum in my real estate career.  I pushed aside worries about my mother.  She’d gained some weight during my stay and seemed clearer-headed.  I got to working getting ready to set up a table at a fall festival in my neighborhood.  I showed a few houses, did some open houses, and attempted to help an elderly lady find a home, a woman I now realize, after my experiences with my own mother, was mired in depression and probably suffered the onset of dementia. I even co-listed a house with my broker-in-charge.

During the first weekend of November, I attended an inspiring workshop at the beach, one which encouraged me to take care of my attitude and physical health each day before turning my focus to professional activities and one which helped cheer me up a bit after my encounter with the agitated older lady.  I returned from those few days at the beach recharged, but, when I walked into my house after the four-hour drive home, I noticed a missed call on my phone from my mother’s doctor.  I called him back and he told me that he had diagnosed my mother with dementia.  I spoke with her and she informed me that she needed to move to North Carolina, had stopped driving, and would give me her car. Rather than rush westward, I stayed home for a couple of weeks to tackle the logistics of moving my mother.  My initial plan was to rent her a house in my neighborhood, but, a few days before I was set to fly to Tucson, that deal fell through, and, after a day spent looking at other rental houses, I had the wise realization that my mother was probably no longer capable of independent living.  I visited an assisted living facility near my home and arranged for a respite stay for her there.  During this period before my arrival in Green Valley, my mother’s anxiety about moving gained in momentum, as did her fear of staying alone.  I hired caregivers to stay with her, at first for a few hours every day or so, and towards the end of time, they remained with her day and night.  

I headed for Arizona on Thanksgiving Day and returned to North Carolina with my mother and a dear friend, Dawn (who’d traveled to Green Valley a week before our departure) on  December 14.  My time in Green Valley were surreal. Save for a few moments the first few days, there was little-to-no time for knitting . . . or reading . . . or  social media or real estate.  I can’t recall a phone call I made or took (and there were many people with whom I spoke:  realtor, cable company, car shipper, newspaper office, doctor, etc.) that was uninterrupted by my mother’s questions and demands.  And I was away for the closing day for the house I’d listed.  

I typically woke at around 4:00 in the morning  (the time change didn’t set well with me) and opened my eyes to my mother standing over the bed, ready to begin her series of demands and questions.  I packed 57 boxes, mostly of antiques and artwork, while my mother interrupted every few minutes to tell me how she needed my help or to ask me questions.  She would not settle down to sit, even after 10 or more hours on her feet and, when she did rest, my mother would begin listing things we needed to do or discuss.  I was cranky and exhausted.  While I packed and attempted to coordinate the move, my mother spent 10 days going through old photographs and stayed up the 24 hours before out flight out of Tucson, obsessing about how she would pack some necessary personal-care items.  I spent lots of time sneaking items into the trash, not because my mother was hesitant to dispose of things, but because the procedures she used to wrap trash would have significantly slowed down or halted my attempts to pack an entire house's worth of belongings in three weeks.  

Dawn was a miracle worker, whose soft-voiced reassurances comforted and settled my mother.  And even though Dawn was suffering from a horrible sinus infection when she was in Green Valley, she worked indefatigably and inspired and calmed us with her mealtime prayers.  I could feel the urgent pleading in her voice (probably the result of shattered nerves) as she prayed, “Dear Lord, thank you for this meal and for bringing us together in peace . . . “  Dawn also made me peal with laughter when she described my mother and me as vampires, who never slept, and when she asserted that my mother’s ability to be next to us at every moment, even at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning was “freakishly uncanny.”  

One night, near the end of our trip, near midnight, Dawn popped out of bed and said, “I can’t find my nose strips!”   These are adhesive strips placed across the nose to open nasal air passages, to aid congestion and limit snoring. We both laughed hysterically, maybe a little too much so, as I had just spent three weeks in a house with my mother, who loudly announced every five minutes, “I can’t find my glasses!”  “Where are my keys?”  

I’d told Dawn before she came that this trip would not be a vacation, but I believe she’d underestimated the scope of my assertion.  On the morning she’d arrived, however, I’d hired a caregiver to stay with my mother for four hours, so that Dawn and I could stop off at San Xavier, a Spanish mission church on an Indian reservation south of Tucson and then grab some lunch.  That day, I guiltily ate at a little bistro before we headed to my mother’s, knowing she’d be wondering where we were.  (Although my mother’s recent  lack of a sense of time did work to our benefit, I suppose.)  On another day, when we knew my mother would be having a friend over for a few hours, I informed Dawn.  “Go get dressed.  Be ready to go as soon as her friend gets here.”  Trying to look nonchalant, like teenagers up to no good, we informed my mother that we had a few errands to run and would grab a sandwich or something.  Dawn and I then drove to nearby scenic Madiera Canyon and walked a bit.  The clock ticking, we ate chimichangas at the Cow Palace in Amado, a dark cowboy-themed bar and restaurant south of Green Valley.  The enormous chimichangas that were served on platters were rich and meaty,  but I felt rushed and guilty.  Somehow, my mother, who’d seemed to spend much of the last 24 years having a busy social life and avoiding me and my family, had become a needy child who wanted me by her side every minute.  
San Xavier lacks one of its domes as it is presently undergoing restoration.  

The day before our departure, when a long-haired older man with missing teeth saw me working in my mother’s garage stopped in to ask me if he could buy some tools, my mother rushed to my side.  She was nervous.  “He needs to show you the money,” she kept saying, while he kept talking and talking, about his  handyman business, about his wife, about his dog, about his wife’s jewelry.  Caught between two streams of dialogue, I felt like my head was going to pop off and bounce down the driveway and into the wash, a nearby irrigation ditch, typically dry but subject to flash flooding when it rained.  The coyotes would have been happy, I suppose.  

The movers arrived three days before our flight out of Tucson, so I spent three nights on the floor.  We were leaving some items to be sold by a Lutheran Church, so Dawn at least had an air mattress and my mother a bed.  

Food issues were eased on this trip, though, as Julie, a dear friend of my mother’s organized a battalion of my mother and her mutual friends to bring meals every two days.  With nary a nutritional content label in sight, my mother ate and ate.  And I was freed from grocery shopping trips, which caused anxiety and paralyzing confusion in me about what to purchase.  And somehow, despite melt-downs, tears, and tantrums (mostly on the part of my mother but sometimes on my part), we managed to get the house ready to be listed on the market, the moving van came, and the car was picked up by a transport company.  After a few days and some last-minute sweeping of items into bags, we drove off in a transport van to the airport.  Sleep deprived and brain dead, Dawn and I managed to leave all sorts of items in various airports, including a carry-on bag in the security-check area in Tucson and Dawn’s purse on a chair in the baggage claim area of Charlotte-Douglass airport.  Miraculously I was able to recover the purse after it had sat there undisturbed for over 30 minutes.  

My mother is now in her second assisted living facility here in the Charlotte area.  She has never been easy!  But the first center definitely did have its defects, including a sour-smelling carpet and subpar food.  A typical menu featured “Tater Tot Casserole” for lunch and “Chili Dogs” for dinner.  Somehow we muddled through Christmas, too, although I never made it to a church service or holiday festivity.  I did, however, spend hours each day during the holidays moving furniture and clothes and making trips to the doctor, Target, and Walgreens for toiletries, bedding, clothing, and medicine.  (My mother became ill with a severe cough and congestion a few days after her arrival here.)

The new assisted living place has white tablecloths and decent food.  It would be a blessing if my mother could put on a few pounds and have some quality of life there.  While her anxiety has significantly abated, she is painfully aware of her condition, adding to an already monumental and difficult transition.  While accelerating in intensity in the last couple of months, I believe her illness has been with her a long time, manifesting itself in her uber cleanliness and excessive frugality.   My mother, who for years, has not bought shoes and has refused to spend any money for any entertainment except for a cheap lunch once in a while, is planning to purchase some make-up and some new clothes.  Beautiful in a classic blonde way as a younger woman, if she can get healthy, she just might shine again. 

This picture was taken of my mother as a young wife and mother, while she was
visiting Washington, D.C.

And, as for me, I have a bad cold and stayed in today knitting and drinking tea.  I am finishing up a shawl for my friend, Dawn, and ordered some Manos de Uruguay yarn this morning to make a shawl for my mother’s friend Julie.  I need to do another for Pat, a woman from Green Valley who has also been a bulwark of support to my mother.  I also plan to start work with a new real estate company in a few days.  The former broker-in-charge of my previous three-woman company was an inspiring mentor, but, after six months of life in a blur of fits and starts, I am ready to start over.   Be reborn as it were.  My new real estate firm of 75 agents provides all sorts of formal training.  Training I need to point my focus back to my career.  

This shawl I am knitting for Dawn, one designed by Helene Rush, is appropriately named "Taking Flight."  The yarn and pattern are by Knit One, Crochet Too.  

The latter half of 2016 was a wild ride.  It’s time to settle in for the next challenge.  I gained a great deal of experience moving my mother and plan to use that to help future elderly clients and their families as they change living situations.  I also learned that I desperately need some down time, preferably spent knitting or reading, to replenish my energies.  My husband and sons here in North Carolina could benefit from some of my attention, as well.  Months ago I’d planned a trip to Vogue Knitting Live in New York and hope that things settle down in the next week or so, so that I can make my flight on January 12.  After that, it’s time to stay home a bit. 


  1. Beautifully written story, Liz. I hope that having your mother close by and settled will bring both of you some peace. Big hug, friend. Hope to see you at knitting. P. Freeburn


Post a Comment

Popular Posts