The Shirt Off My Back

More fun from the Eldercare Underground:

Another week, another trip to the grocery store with my 91 year-old mother. 

For those of you who have been keeping up with this saga, you’ll remember we last left our heroine in a pitched battle with the Mother of All Mothers over why the grocery list was tossed out after the last trip to the store and the brouhaha (I’ve always wanted to use that word) that ensued.

You’ll also recall that there were no winners in that one.  There never is. 

All my mother has to do is claim that I never told her what it is we’re “discussing” and that pretty much leaves me with no rhetorical ammunition with which to fire back. 

You can’t argue with “You never told me that.”  I may as well be shadow boxing.

So today I went over to her house to pick her up to go grocery shopping and found that she wasn’t ready for me.  She insisted that I had told her we were going tomorrow. 

I had last spoken with her just the day before to suggest we go today, but it was my duty (or will be from now on) to call her in the morning and confirm our appointment.  And you know if I’d done just that she would have been miffed that I doubted her memory.  Again, you can’t win.

While I waited for her to change her clothes, I washed her breakfast dishes and surreptitiously tossed out some really wizened up tomatoes she had left on the kitchen counter, along with some anemic looking cooked squash she had in the fridge.  I also checked the expiration dates on some of the stuff in there because I never know how long she’s been hanging on to things. 

She has no concept about expiration dates and never has, so this is not something that’s surfaced in her old age.  I don’t know if it’s a Depression era thing or what.  Food doesn’t get thrown out no matter how awful it looks. 

Last month I tossed a half of a head of cabbage that resembled a science project despite her objection of “that’s still good!”

My mother-in-law, who’s 92, is also notorious for saving little dribs and drabs of food in Tupperware containers in her freezer. 

A tablespoon of some unrecognizable foodstuff here, a dollop of what we used to jokingly call “pre-digested” food there.

Finally my mother was ready to go.  As I walked out the door ahead of her she barked “Pull your shirt down in back!”

This, and the poke in the back to “stand up straight,” has been the bane of my existence with her.  I’m short-waisted.  Things ride up on me. 

I replied that it would be nice if she didn’t start out the day by criticizing me right off the bat.

She said “Well, you were adjusting my clothes.”

To which I responded:

“That’s only because you asked me if you’d put your pants on backward!” 

I guess I should count myself as fortunate. 

At least at the grocery store she didn’t say “get your hand off the cart” this time.


31 thoughts on “The Shirt Off My Back

  1. I’m reading, and sympathizing.

    My mother in law is… how shall we say it?… getting up there. We are the only local children (my husband’s siblings having fled the time zone decades ago) so the responsibility falls to us. I’m already having issues with my in-laws and their filters going offline; I can hardly wait to have to have the “you can’t drive anymore” (really? Neither of them has no business being behind the wheel NOW, nor have they for the last decade or so) or the “it’s time to move into an assisted living condo so we don’t worry about you burning your house down” conversations.

    What I’m trying to say in my long-winded way is, “I feel for you.”


  2. Thanks, Mrs. Chili. I’m not looking forward to the assisted living conversation either. It will probably take a fall or some other disaster before my mother would be willing to go. At least we have the driving discussion over with. That was a lulu.


  3. The game of “Food Safety 101” is a game we’ve played far too often with Mom. She’s always catching a ‘stomach bug’ – but in reality, it’s often from eating a bit of sandwich stashed in the back of the fridge from her last trip to Chili’s, which was over 2 weeks prior… “It’s Still Good!” is her battle cry…. (sigh)


    • I hear you. The real eye-opener was the rhubarb pie she baked and then several days later sent some home with my daughter. Thankfully, my daughter took a good look at it before eating any. There was a fine growth of mold mycelia over a large section of it because the weather had turned warm and humid and she’d left the pie out on the counter. Ackkk!


  4. You’re lucky. My mother has something she does with expired food. She gives it to me to either: feed to the youngest (“he’ll eat anything”), feed to the fish or feed to the birds. We have a pond, by the way, not goldfish in a small bowl. However, I am the only one leaving the senior housing apartment with a 12 pack pop can box full of bread crusts and a half gallon bottle of sour milk.


    • I went through my mother’s cupboard recently and was going to toss out an unopened jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce that had an expiration date of early 2009. My mother wanted me to take it home and use it. What part of “expired” don’t we understand here?


  5. I want to live in the decade in which that ‘pin up’ was taken. If that was the standard of a beautiful body, I think I’d stand a chance.

    Also, now that you’ve used brouhaha, how about ‘bandersnatch’ (used to name things that have no name – like the stuff in your mother’s fridge).


  6. What was the movie where Debbie Reynolds offered her son some ice cream and said she just needed to remove the “protective ice” that was covering it inside the carton?! Check to see if your mom’s ice cream is growing icy fuzz.

    (I don’t know why I’m laughing– I made blueberry muffins this week and used baking powder that expired three years ago.)

    BTW, I’m long-waisted. Want a transplant?


  7. I think that movie must be “Mother” with Reynolds and Albert Brooks, made in 1996. I missed that one but the quotes from it are hilarious!

    Brooks: [upon eating very old orange sherbet] “Blaaah! Oh God, this is horribly old! This tastes like an orange foot!”

    Got to see it now!

    We recently threw out some old baking powder we’d had in our kitchen cabinet too, but at least we have the consolation that it a.) didn’t have mold growing on it, and b.) couldn’t kill us if we used it.


  8. I was eating a very nice lemon scone when I read the comment about “pre-digested food” eeeeyuw! My Mum would have related to your Mother in her views of expiry dates, but I have had food poisoning enough times that I am totally paranoid about them.

    Really enjoying these eldercare stories!


    • Ha! Sorry, Natalie. My mother-in-law always used to cook the foo out of everything (I think it was because her husband wore dentures). We got to calling it “pre-digested”, just between the two of us of course, because it looked like it had already been through the digestive process.

      Mmmm….lemon scones. Now I’m hungry!


  9. Good Lord, honey!! This is a sorry situation, indeed. I know how hard it is to care for aging parents, since I was solely responsible for both. My mother was a termagant whose last substantial communication with me was to ball me out royally for over an hour.

    A few months after her death, when we brought my father down to an assisted living facility nearby, I established communication with his doctors (who will usually cooperate quietly with the caregiver of an elderly parent); I suggested that he might very well be depressed and cited his irritability, in particular. We were both SO much happier when his anti-depressant kicked in. I didn’t feel bad about it at all, since it improved his quality of life hugely (got a girlfriend at assisted living, laughed, enjoyed his last years, and missed my mom, but didn’t dwell on it).

    Frankly, I got a prescription, too. There’s a time and a place for everything.


    • Oh, Nance, so sorry about your last conversation with your mother. I try to tell myself that I’m a 63 (soon to be 64 in June) year-old woman and I shouldn’t care whether she criticizes me or not, but the baggage of the past is hard to get rid of, isn’t it?

      She has her moments of being nice to me, but that makes it all the more difficult because I’m always waiting for the critic in her to emerge, so I can never really relax and relate to her in a mother/daughter way. Ah, well. Things could be a lot worse. I have to keep reminding myself of that. And, chocolate (and plenty of it!) is my drug of choice. 🙂


  10. My mother is very quick to tell me, after I have become impatient, that she never gets mad, loses her temper or becomes impatient with anyone. The unsaid words are maddening. It’s like all the times she has complimented my painting or writing, paused and said, “but…” The cricism is always there and, I have accepted, will always be there. Like the grandsons I have, because they were being abused by my daughter and son-in-law, no matter how mean your parents were to you, you still always want their love and approval.


    • Thanks for your thoughts, Sheryl. I think my mother is insecure in her own abilities, so sometimes when she does give a compliment she has to add a qualifier (like the “but”) to kind of balance things out. I remember when I first got accepted into the dental hygienist program I attended, I had been competing against 250 applicants for 24 places in the class. So what does my mother tell me? “If it gets too hard for you, you just quit.” 🙂 She didn’t want me to become one because I was supposed to stay at home and let my husband support us.


  11. Oh, mothers and daughters…what fun we have as the years go by! For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to share a house with my mother (79) when she moved up here from Florida 7 years ago. I walk a thin line between trying to be all Zen about her proclivities and trying to re-educate her so that she doesn’t waste money/electricity/food… I just have to remind myself that she’s the only parent I’ve got left, so I’ve got to get all the material I can from her, while I still can 🙂


    • Omigosh, Layla, if I tried to share a house with my mother, one of us would end up in prison or the loony bin—and I can’t guarantee which would be my fate. 🙂 I, too, try to look at our adventures as good blog material. Thanks for stopping by!


  12. Had a chat with my Mom tonight, she took a tumble in her garage carrying too many things to the recycle bins.

    Mom has said several times that she is ready to move from her house to a condo style apartment. Not quite assissted care but decidedly less than home ownership requires. I’m all for that, sibs, not quite ready to admit that Mom is failing in some ways.

    Add to that that of Mom’s last two remaining (out of six kids, the three brothers died with in three months of each other this past year) her two sisters have full blown Alzheimers disease.

    Mom and I have chatted (along with my sibs) that a nursing home was, at some point, in the future for Mom. My sibs joke that they get the house and the estate and I get Mom, but really, we all get Mom. I already know that I can’t go that route alone. Whenever that route is the only option, I’ll need help.

    Thanks for the therapy session, I guess I’m needing to talk someone about a lot of this. Mom on her own, wonderful. Mom, not living with me? Priceless.


  13. Laurie B, thanks so much for adding your comment! I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to make transitions (like moving from a home to a condo) when your mother is still lucid and agreeable. Despite what your siblings say, you might want to take advantage of that while you can. We moved my mother here to Texas almost twelve years ago after my father died. At the time, I was surprised she agreed to the move. I know it would be a helluva lot harder, if not impossible, to try to deal with that now. My brother kind of scoffed at the idea then, saying that she was healthy as a horse, but I know from working with older folks when I was a healthcare professional that they can go downhill fast. Neither one of us could afford to attempt long-distance management of her health or her finances.

    I’ll send you my email address (I have yours from your comment) and feel free to vent anytime. It helps to have a sympathetic ear sometimes, believe me. And your comment about “Mom, not living with me? Priceless.” was perfect!


  14. Thanks for that and your email too. I am going to add supportive/questioning comments to the sibs about the reasons that Mom might want to move now, while it is her own decision. She might have lousy neighbors in an apartment or condo but my best guess is that she’d be a lousy neighbor as well. Mom is a night owl and loves to listen to Johnny Cash and Kate Wolf music late at’s great if you like it and don’t have to getup early. That might be another reason to sustain her in her house with a life line call button.

    I’m sitting here hand wringing over stuff that may or may not happen. I try to not loose sleep over that small of a factor. But it is there. Thanks.


  15. Hey, anything I can do for you? Sounds like you might need a place to be safe to chat as well. Thanks for opening the door, we are all in this together.


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