The Mom at Chuck E Cheese

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We went to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party yesterday. This sort of breaks one of my big rules in life – going to Chuck E Cheese at all – but we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and it seems like a good idea to have the boys grow up with family. I grew up this way, and Steve did, but as we’ve gotten older, our families have scattered and we often “do our own thing,” like so many families these days. We’re all so busy, right?

I used to call Chuck E Cheese the worst place on earth. But I’m older now and I have new definitions of the worst place on earth. Watching my mom die in a sad old nursing home and spending any time at Children’s hospital pretty much made me realize that Chuck E Cheese is a breeze. So, we went.

The boys ate pizza and cake and watched the little show they put on with the big furry robots, which Lincoln loved at a distance and hated close up. Incidentally, this reassured me that he is smart. Then the boys ran wild with the games and the coins and the tickets, having fun with all of the noise and the chaos and being allowed to act accordingly. Hence why I hate it. Because I’m a control freak, you know? Plus, I’m also a germaphobe and there are a million kids there eating and playing all at once with their snotty little noses and I’m pretty sure we could start the Bubonic plague again out of one of those places without trying hard at all.

On this note, I used the bathroom there, which also kind of breaks my rule but it was necessary. A young mother came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands. She was holding a big chubby baby of maybe 6 months old. The mom kind of peeked around as if there might be somewhere to put the baby and then went looking for a stall. I realized she was just going to do her thing with her baby in her arms.

Go ahead, freak out about the gross factor here but let me tell you that every mom has had this moment. Where you just have to pee or whatever and the baby is with you so you make the most of it. I almost didn’t ask her if she needed my help, but then I did, because I’ve been practicing using my instinct and not my crazy questioning mind.

So I said “Do you want help?” over the sound of the hand dryer. But she didn’t speak English. She cocked her head and raised one hand as if to say she didn’t understand, and kind of like why was I talking to her when she had to use the bathroom.

So I said, “Help?” and I held my arms out to her in a gesture to take the baby. And her face fell in relief and she rushed over and handed me her most prized possession. Her most prized person and her most precious anything. The one she made from her body but needed two minutes away from to take care of herself. She handed me her baby and I took her.

Big, dark, dark brown eyes and big dark lashes and the sweetest little head full of dark hair. So very different than my light-skinned, fair-haired babies, yet she had the same lazy, chubby baby body of my 3rd baby. And that amazing baby smell that every baby on the planet has. She warmed my heart from the second she hit my hands.

I thought briefly that she might cry when her mom left her sight but she didn’t. She let me hold her and looked at me like I was new but not scary. I said, “Well hello, little friend,” and she looked at me for a few moments and then laid her little head on my shoulder. I leaned my cheek into her dark hair and I was so thankful. Just bursting from top to bottom with thankful. Because this baby felt safe with me. And thankful for being a mama and knowing how to make a baby feel safe. And thankful I could help this mom, who didn’t know me but knew that I was offering help and not more problems. Just… Thankful.

It was a little moment. A blink. A fraction of the day and speck of sand in the grand scheme of my life. But it meant something to me. To know that there is trust out there. To know that there are mothers willing to take each other’s hands for help. To know that we have a connection that goes deeper than language or words. Some magic that speaks merely between the beats of a mother’s heart.

Thoughts From a Mother’s Heart

 

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Me with my mom, 1974.

 

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My oldest and my youngest, 2014.

I didn’t hand pick my children. They came to me as they were, with imperfections and sweetness and the smell of baby. And I loved them with all of me from the start. This is true of all mothers, I think. It feels built in and huge and primal to love them so completely, even though they aren’t some perfect fine china that I went out and selected. They come as they are.

This is very similar to life. We don’t choose ours, at least not our starting point. We get dropped in with parents in some house or city and life and we don’t know any different. By the time we can really think about it at all, our lives are merely our lives. Normal to us.

On this note, I think often about how privileged I am. I got dropped into a home with heat and running water in the cold Wisconsin landscape in 1974, a privileged time to be born in America. I had clothes and plenty of food and Christmas presents and good schools and parents who loved me. My life has never been perfect and I’ve had my share of hard times, like most of us. But I was set up for thriving in the place and time that I was born.

Again, I did nothing to earn this. Like a lighting strike, all factors came together and I came to be. If there is more to it than that, I have yet to prove it.

I’ve been feeling actually sick about the Syrian refugees. Because like me, they didn’t hand pick their children or their life, but I have to believe they love them with the same ancient old mother’s heart that beats through all women. (Yes, all women, even those that aren’t mothers, because we all have it. We are born from it. )

So I’m thinking of these moms trekking across treacherous landscapes and oceans with their babies. You know, the babies that they love like we love ours? Of course they do.

Only they didn’t get born into white middle class America. Or even poverty level America, which is more sad and terrible than anyone understands but it is still worlds better than what these refugees are going through.

But they aren’t refugees. They are people. They are mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin or friend. They are human beings.

Are there bad ones among them hell bent to cause hurt? Maybe. But there have been 750,000 refugees let into America since 9-11, and not a single one turned out to be a terrorist. This statistic makes me say there’s not a real worry there. We, the people of this once great nation, are causing the problem. We are bathing ourselves in fear and throwing it around. And we are leaving innocent people behind because our fear is more important to us.

And this causes hate. And I’m so freaking tired of this hate. I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers and blame and not doing their part. Really, other than posting memes on Facebook, what are you doing to help this world be a better place? Ask yourself that.

I see people stand behind Jesus like He’s an excuse for bad behavior. Or others who swing poor Jesus around above their heads to swing Him at folks, like He’s some form of punishment. Only that isn’t what Jesus was, and I do know that. I was taught about Jesus since I remember anything, plus for all the rest of my childhood. And the Christianity of today, the one that that fills our media with hate and has everyone pointing to reasons to be unkind, this religion does not remind me of Jesus at all.

I don’t know how to fix anything, but I do know that we’ve got to stop being enemies. All of us. With our Facebook wars and our drama-causing gossip. Especially since we’re standing here on our high horses in our warm homes on this rainy November day. Especially since none of us are aware of what won us the cosmic lottery, allowing us to be safe reading this on the internet while families are bombed out of Syria. Especially since the US sent like 8000 of those bombs. But no one wants to lay claim on that little coincidence.

All this hate in the name of terror. And it’s working. We’re so scared of the enemy that we forget we are not each others enemy. We’ve forgotten that we are all human beings with a responsibility for each other. Isn’t that what our children and our aging parents are here to teach us?

Be a human being today.  Do something nice. No judging, no fighting. No borders and religion. No us versus them.

Be thankful for your life and your privilege. Because this world needs some human kindness.

 

A Syrian refugee hugs her crying baby after arriving on a raft on the Greek island of Lesbos, October 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters

If You Want to Be Popular on Twitter…

Okay, that headline was totally misleading. I’m not popular on Twitter. I’ve had an account for years and I actually don’t know what I’m doing at all. But I’ve been going there lately because I keep getting told that I’m supposed to promote myself, which I hate and think is bullshit but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something that needs to be done.

So I’ve been trying to go there a few times a week and do some twittering. This mostly means I peruse the atmosphere and see what others do and try to see how it all works. Once in a great while, I tweet, but who cares, because no one knows me there. It’s kind of like walking around invisible, able to take it all in but not on anyone’s radar even if I do say something brilliant.

Until today. When I made some joke (kind of) and all the shit hit the fan.

I was walking with my best friend this morning and we were talking about how warm it is (it was 75 today in November in Wisconsin, so, warm). And I really like warm so I wasn’t exactly complaining. I freeze easy and early so I was glad for the nice temps. And I made a joke about how the climate deniers have been suspiciously quiet on these balmy November days. And we laughed, because we both believe in the fact that 97% of highly trained scientists have proved many times over that humans have an impact on the climate of this earth. So I didn’t even feel like I was reaching all that far out of the norm with this statement. Plus, it was just kind of a joke, even though it is true. I mean, every cold-ass-day of the year, the climate deniers love to ask where global warming is. So, I thought I’d toss the ball back. I mean, I AM funny.

I even made a joke this morning to my friend that I might post it somewhere, and I thought it’d be a perfect little tidbit for Twitter. And the drama-avoider that I am, Twitter meant that I didn’t have to deal with the Facebook wrath because I have lots of people who know me there. And I’m still trying to get over the fight that I caused last week when I opened my mouth.

At some point this morning, I went and tweeted my little thought and forgot all about it. Cause no one knows me there, remember? So I had no reason to check back. NO ONE comments or retweets or sends me videos and articles and causes a war in my name. But they did today.

My husband, Steve, texted me about how my Twitter was blowing up all day with a big climate change war and I was like, “There is? Really???” And then I went and looked and HOLY SHIT.

It was kind of a shit storm of people agreeing and retweeting and people hating me. One said, and I quote: I sure hope you adopted those 4 planet destroying children you have and that you aren’t just pot calling kettle black.

Moral of the story….

You want some attention? Make a joke about climate change (using the deniers as the butt, or maybe the weather, depending on how you look at it) and use the hashtag #climatechange. You’ll get popular.

Okay, you won’t really get popular on Twitter, but I do know how to get you noticed.

My Family Photos

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We took our own family photos on this rainy Saturday, because this was kind of the only day that we were left with. A stupid cold-scratchy throat-gross eye-nebulizer-ear infection thing went through our house the past two weeks and hit every single one of us. And Georgia heads back to NYC tomorrow, so if there was going to be a family photo done, it was going to have to be today.

We ran around all summer and fall in different directions, everyone at work or school  or rehearsal or sleeping or napping or whatever. We talked about doing photos many times, then we ran off and took photos of others. The life of photographers, it seems.

It would’ve been nice if this Saturday would’ve given us some puffy clouds and a blue sky and a nice row of colorful trees. But life is not always what we planned. It’s what we do with it.

So I set up the tripod in our lovely glass porch and took our photos there. They are not perfect, and I am picky with this. Yet it seems to be fitting. These photos of low shutter speeds and high ISO’s and just enough light to make it all work at the very last minute. Our lives are full of imperfections and magical moments, all at once.

Because there are smiles, and tears, and a constantly moving toddler. It is us. Not perfect but happy and well.

My family. ❤

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The Girl From South Carolina – Part 2

We all know that the girl we are talking about was orphaned this past year and is in foster care, right? Because no one seems to find this relevant, despite how traumatic that must be. We have all faced the harsh blow that comes with the death of loved ones, but few of us have been orphaned. We don’t know what she’s facing right now.

She is new to Spring Valley High and is known for being quiet. I don’t know much of her past, but these things have all been confirmed by numerous sources. So, if you are looking to blame her parents, they are dead, so there is really nothing good that could come from that blame.

I’m confused that we find it more believable that every teenager should follow every single rule every time, but we make no mention of holding adults, highly-trained in their profession, accountable for holding their temper, or for not being able come up with reasonable solutions to problems. Why do we blame a child for misbehaving, but not ask why neither a teacher, a high school administrator, and a safety officer could not pool their minds and training and years of experience and find a better way to handle this?

A non-violent way, for a non-violent offense.

I’m all for accepting responsibility for one’s actions, but we all need to be held accountable.

And is this is REALLY what you all think should happen every time a kid refuses to give up a cell phone in America?

The Girl From South Carolina

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Photo from Associated Press

I spent a lot of last night thinking about the girl in South Carolina. My husband came home and we talked about it. Again. Another video. Another story we don’t know the whole of but still feel terrible about. Because people keep getting beat up publicly by police, and it gets shared with the world. And instead of it being a shock, it’s become normal.

And then there are people defending this. People so safe in their white skin that they can’t even see how unfair it all is. We don’t know the privileges that we have had by growing up white, or at least we can’t totally understand them. It’s all about perspective.

And that was what Steve and I kept saying was that we don’t know this girl. That we don’t know her story and that she was just a blur of girl being assaulted on a video that went viral. Yet there were so many nasty assumptions out there about her parents and how she was raised and how she was obviously so much of a problem to be so defiant. And how she had it coming to her.

This line of thinking- that an unarmed 16 year old girl deserves to be slammed to the ground repeatedly- it’s bullshit. It literally makes me feel sick to read that anyone could believe in their hearts that a kid deserved this. She was not a threat to anyone. She was being a brat and chewing gum and not putting her phone away like her teacher asked. Just like so many kids that I see when I visit the school, or from the stories that I hear from my teacher friends. This was not an infraction that needed to involve the police. And when it did, it escalated. I watched that video. The room is calm and kids are working quietly until the cop steps up to the girl. So I have to wonder what kind of disruptions she was causing if no one was even paying attention to her.

That officer has taken an oath to serve and protect, but he threw her around the room. A girl. A 16-year-old kid. Who, if you didn’t know, recently lost her mother and was subsequently orphaned. She recently moved to that school when she was placed in foster care.

I really don’t want to hear any more excuses about this being totally fine because of her behavior. Cause get this… I have teenager girls and they roll their eyes and talk snotty and tell me, “Whatever,” under their breath and don’t do what I ask sometimes. They are good kids who have never been in any trouble with the law or even the school. Not even a detention. I raise them as well as I can and they still get pissy-ass teenage attitudes. From all I’ve read, this is a growth and hormonal teenage thing and it’s normal. And my kids aren’t half as bad as so many out there. I’m often shocked at the behavior of the privileged and popular (and white) kids that I run into with photography or kid’s sports. There is some real nastiness out there in the teens. They are hormonal and they act out.

This girl wasn’t a threat. No one needed protection from her. So what that “safety officer” did is assault. He is supposedly highly trained to diffuse situations, to handle children carefully, especially when they act out. This is his job.  Truly. His job.

So why was this guy (with a seasoned history of inappropriate behavior) in a freaking school? And since when do we call the police when a kid won’t put down a phone. How about the teacher just ignored her ass? Let her sit there and Twitter and not listen. Really. What’s the harm in that? Take her aside after and explain the consequences. Give her an F for the day, give her make-up work, or give her detention. But I can’t imagine needing to call the police EVERY time someone refuses to set down their cell phone. How would anyone get anything done?

If I called the police every time one of my kids didn’t listen to me I’d have to hire one full-time.

And if I did what that officer did to one of my kids for their bad behavior, I’d be in jail. Just like that officer should be.

Looking for Light

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Every morning, now that the seasons are changing and the morning brings a crisp bite to the air, Lincoln and I head out looking for light.

We start out with Brice on his bike, half a block ahead of us, soaring down the hills from our house towards his school. I do all I can to not scream at him to be careful. But he is. I’ve taught him and he’s careful. He stops at driveways and long before an intersection. He goes as fast as he can and then slams on the brake and fishtails. He looks back to take in the black mark he created on the sidewalk and then looks at me with a huge smile. He gives me a thumbs up and I give one back. Lincoln waves.

We drop off Brice at school and we visit with a mom or two each morning. It’s a lovely way to start the day. Brice takes off with his friends and then heads into school in a single file line when the bell rings, so Lincoln and I head off, me on foot and him in the jogger.

We used to have a plan, a route I’d take based on the day and how much time I had to walk. We’d head up towards Tahoe Park and walk through the grass, chasing up geese and looking out at the ski ramp before it was brought on land for the winter. We’d head down Haskell past where my cousin Frank and his wife Suzanne used to live, and then over the dam and wind our way through downtown. Some days we headed along the lake through the green manicured lawns of the subdivisions along the water, then up the secret sidewalk and come back home on our own street. It depended on the day, but usually I had it mapped with a clear route.

But these cold mornings leave me wanting to head back home to sit on a warm radiator, so instead, we walk wherever the sunlight hits. At the end of each block, at whatever intersection we find ourselves, we head toward the light. It warms our faces, and hopefully Lincoln’s head and hands, since he throws hats and mittens like baseballs. Instead he holds my hand as I lean over the jogger, and I try to keep them warm.

We wind through town mostly, past tiny little ranches and huge old Victorians and everything in between, the sun on our faces. We walk just as long and just as far probably, but we wander in a zig-zag in search of light and the warmth it provides.

I wouldn’t have done this, had it not been for the chill in the air. I’m a planner, you could say, and I like things in order. I’d have stayed on task and created a specific route.

But what if this is better? To have a goal in mind but not be really picky about the exact path that gets me there?

I’m planning only a block or an hour or a day ahead, because that is where the sun is shining right now. I’ll walk in the shade if we have to, because sometimes that’s all there is. But if I can, I’m choosing the warmest path, the one where the light is shining.

How We Treat Our Poor and Elderly

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I’ve written a lot about my mom in the past year. This past weekend was the 1 year anniversary of her pelvic fracture and I’ve been thinking of her more, and about how it felt like I lost so much of my mother in that moment.

It’s the smell of the autumn and the crunch of leaves underfoot and the quality of light. But it’s also how she appears in my life as her subscription to Family Circle, dropped right into my mail slot because I forwarded her mail here after she passed. She comes to mind as Lincoln totes around the bear she gave him, his favorite thing in this world, which he cannot sleep without. I think of her sitting on my porch with the kid’s right after we moved into this amazing house, and having dinner in our dining room before Georgia left for college. These thoughts I welcome. They make her feel closer and I feel more at peace.

But what is not peaceful at all has been the past 9 months that I’ve been trying to settle my mother’s “estate.” It’s a funny term to use for my mom, as she had no property, no vehicle or boats or RV’s. She had no stocks or bonds or savings. She had a few hundred dollars to her name in her checking account at the time of her death. She survived for 10 years on SSI and Disability, and received less than $900 per month. She had $5000 in burial insurance that she carefully paid into for years. But the Estate Recovery of Wisconsin for Medicaid and Badgercare Plus seems to find my mother interesting. Although it’s rumored they find everyone living in such poverty so interesting. Ironic, no?

But what makes me sad, what I have not written about, is how their interest feels pretty insulting, since I could not get a single person to help me or listen while she my mother was alive. While she was suffering. And dying. Then, no one cared about being, “thorough.”

It seems that these thoughts and feelings that we don’t say (at least for me) turn into wrecking balls if we hide them away. And as much as it might be easier to avoid the sad stories in our lives, there is no other way to shed light into the darkness than to do the telling.

So here is the story, told in the letter I wrote to the folks at the State of Wisconsin who want to know where my mom’s 1987 Honda Civic went to.

And in advance, this is sad. Just so you know. It’s sad. But I think it’s a story needs to be told.

RE: Estate of Patricia Roth

Dear Estate Recovery for Wisconsin Medicaid and Badgercare Plus,

Each time I receive a letter from your office regarding my mother’s estate, I’ve called in to verify what I need to supply you with. Each time, I’m told by whomever answers the call that this is all being done in the name of “thoroughness.” So in that respect, I am going to tell you what I remember in as much detail as possible, in the hopes that I may satisfy this matter for you.  It is traumatic to keep reliving the details of my mother’s death for you over and over.

The only reason that I even decided to settle my mother’s estate with the state of Wisconsin is that my daughter Georgia Roth had a minor savings account attached to my mom’s bank account. My mother set it up for her when Georgia was a young teen, as a way to help teach her to save her babysitting and spending money. There was never much money there, probably always less than $100 and certainly less than that at the time of my mother’s death. We were told after my passed away that my daughters account would remain open, vulnerable to all kinds of fraud, able to negatively affect her credit score, and unreachable to my daughter if we chose not to settle my mother’s very meager “estate.” Though I was told by numerous friends and colleague that attempting to close a person’s account when that person lived in poverty and on government assistance was “torture,” and “not worth the hell they put you through,” I assumed since my mother was so very poor for so many years, and proved it so very often, that this would be a simple process. How wrong I was.

For a little history, my mother had a heart attack when she was 54-years-old. The heart attack was misdiagnosed for over a week by 3 physicians, so by the time she was admitted to the hospital, her mitral valve was damaged beyond repair. Her heart was too weak to remove the angioplasty balloon without her bleeding out, so it was left in for nearly a week, hoping her heart would gain more function. Three months later she was healthy enough for bypass surgery and a replacement of her mitral valve. She was given a mechanical valve and was put on blood thinners for life to keep her blood thin enough to pass through the artificial heart valve. My mother recovered some, but never fully. The highest heart function she ever registered after that was 43%. Through those years my mother endured numerous internal bleeds, bleeding from the gums and severe nose bleeds. She had many bouts with pneumonia and various forms of Influenza and was hospitalized many, many times. Her rheumatoid arthritis was so bad that her legs visibly bowed. She had large blood clots in her legs that they could not safely remove. Through all these 15 years, I took care of my mother, for most of those years in my home. It was only about 6 years ago that life with small children in the home proved too difficult for my mother and we decided semi-assisted senior living was better for her. I was still her caregiver, her chauffer, her nurse and the only person she could rely on. For most of the years, I was a single mom working 2 jobs because for many years my mom was not considered sick enough for disability, though there was nothing she could do to improve her physical health and she couldn’t walk around a block. And someone had to take care of her, and that someone has been me. For 15 years.

In answer to your most recent set of questions, in the order that you asked:

1…. New York Life is the company that my mother had her burial insurance with. She paid into that insurance for years in hopes to not straddle myself and my husband with the majority of her burial expenses, though I cannot tell you how often or how much she paid. I do know that we found her current bill was due as we were packing up her room to move her to a new nursing home. She was not treated well at the Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam, as proven by her very extensive bedsores that were found when she was transferred on the day before she died. She asked me to pay the bill for her through her account as soon as I could. To the best of my recollection of something from nearly a year ago, I paid it on the evening of December 3rd, online, after I got her moved into her new nursing home in Randolph. Mostly I remember making sure to pay it for her on December 3rd because she was concerned about it and it needed to be paid immediately.

2… The ATM withdrawal of $400 was for some clothing my mother needed, but mostly for the Christmas gifts she had picked out and asked me to order. From my best recollection, I used the ATM later in the day on December 3rd, but I do not recall the exact time. What I do know is that the week before her death, my mother asked me to help her find Christmas gifts for her 4 grandchildren, my brother and his fiancé, as well as my husband and myself. Though the nursing home claimed that all residents had access to Wi-Fi, we were never able to get it to work so my mother was unable to search the internet herself. And at this point, she was so weak that it was difficult for her to even hold up her phone for more than a minute or two. So I made a list of the kind of gifts that she had in mind for everyone. I went online at home and found some options for her, then I took photos with my phone of the gifts that I found online that I thought might fit her requests. I brought my phone to my mother’s nursing home and we sat together looking at the choices I had for her. She picked the gifts she felt suited everyone, and though she kept calling them Christmas gifts, the gifts she chose were meaningful and personal for each of us. Necklaces with quotes, meaningful toys for the littlest grandkids. They were her last gifts to us and she asked me to order them for her. My mother was afraid to buy things from online stores so she asked me do this for her with my own account and she would pay me back. This was how she bought anything online for years, whether she needed diabetic socks or a new cold air mask for winter. She was afraid of her money being stolen so she asked us for her help. I totaled up the gifts for her, but then she realized that she had forgotten gifts for my brother’s fiancé and my husband, so the total was close to $250.00 when all was said and done with shipping. I have included some text messages between my mother and myself that shows we were working on these gifts together. She understood that the cost of the gifts but she asked me to take $400 out of her account for myself to help pay for the clothes that I had just bought her that week. I purchased her 8 pairs of pants and 12 pairs of underwear and a zip up fleece jacket, because she was always so cold even in sweatshirts or sweaters and asked for a warm jacket with a zipper that she could wear inside the nursing home. I do not have a receipt for this purchase, because I was constantly purchasing things for my mother at this time because she was bedridden. The nursing home requested items for her, and my mother asked for what she needed and I bought them for her. I was not expecting to be reimbursed by my mother, just as I helped her for many years without expecting that. The clothing items that I had bought her that week totaled more than $200, but I did not tell her that. She insisted I take $400 out of her account to help cover all of the expenses she knew we had been covering. (My mother needed 4 sets of clothing after her injury and before her death, because of losing 25 pounds, but also because of her losing control of her bladder and bowels by then.) I did all of her laundry because the nursing home admitted a tendency to lose patient clothing, so when my mom’s clothing became too soiled and smelly, or too big for her shrinking body again, I bought her more. I never asked her for any money for the things that I bought because the last thing I wanted was for my mother to worry about money. My husband and I were happy to supply her with what she needed. The only reason I took out the $400 is that she insisted for numerous days before her death that I take the money that I spent on her that week. As I said, I spent much more on her even that week, but I took out $400 like she asked me to. I am enclosing receipts for the gifts that I bought online. I paid $25 to a pet rescue shelter in LaCrosse, which is what my sister in law requested as her gift. I have no recollection of the name of that company or the method in which I paid for it, but I donated the money as asked. My mother asked me to buy my husband an antique punch bowel that he has mentioned to her, but this was purchased at a local antique store for $25. I don’t have receipts from this either. It never occurred to me that I would need them. My mother was alive and asked me to help her buy Christmas presents, so I did. I don’t know why the ATM withdrawal says December 4th, because as I recall it was on December 3rd.

3… Colonels Cab Rent. I have no idea why money would be taken out of my mother’s account on December 4th to a cab company. My mother was bedridden at a nursing home since October 11th until her death, and she required medical and ambulance transport with support staff whenever she was being moved anywhere. The earliest she would’ve last used a public cab would’ve definitely been prior to her fall and broken pelvis on October 11th. Although she did use the cab at times before this injury, she mostly relied on myself, my daughter, my husband, and the occasional friend, for rides when she needed to go to the doctor or the store. I wish I could tell you more about this withdrawal, but I have no idea why it would be taken out of my mother’s account. As I have stated numerous times in this ongoing process of examining my mother’s financials, my mother was in charge of her own accounts and I was merely acting for her when she asked because she was physically incapacitated.

4… Bayshore Apartments is where my mother lived. The withdrawal on December 4th was taken out to pay for her rent, just as it was taken out automatically early each and every month since she moved into that apartment. I can only use my best reasoning, though I certainly can’t ask her or verify it for you, but I would assume that this bill got paid because my mother was not planning on dying that night and thus would not have cancelled the automatic withdrawal. I’m just guessing, but I’d think she was hoping she would have a place to live should she survive.

My mother fell and broke her pelvis on October 11th, 2014. My oldest child was moving away that very week to a prestigious musical theater college in New York City, which required extensive preparation and time to accomplish. My barely 18-year-old daughter ended up flying to college in NYC alone, because I couldn’t leave my mom. We had also just closed and moved into a very large old home two weeks earlier, in the end of September of 2014. So I was still unpacking and getting organized, having dryer vents put in and a new dishwasher installed. Trimming bushes so that we could park in the driveway.

I have 4 children. My oldest was 18 years at the time of my mother’s injury on October 11th. My youngest was not yet 5 months old. I also had a 16-year-old brand new driver and a 4-year-old who had just started 4K. My husband works in an office in downtown Milwaukee and commutes 3 hours each day to our home in Beaver Dam. This particular time in my life that you continue to question me about was the busiest, most stressful and most traumatizing of my entire life. I was breastfeeding a very small baby full-time, promoting my first novel that had just been published a few months earlier, and I had deadlines as both a freelance journalist and professional theater photographer. All of this along with caring for my recently very ill mother that no one believed was wasting away before my eyes.

I have done my best to supply you with the information you’ve requested, but most of my time then was spent going from contractors for home repairs to babies in need of nursing to visiting my mother and caring for her apartment, her cat and her needs every day, as well as the needs of all my children. I had a mile long to-do list each day and I plugged through it. Whatever didn’t get done got added to the next list. A paper list that I carried around in my pocket everywhere I went so I could stay on track in the madness. It was by far the most hectic and difficult time of my life. Still, the state of Wisconsin seems to continue to ask me to relive it. So I am telling you all of this with as much detail as I can, in hopes that it will finally satisfy you that my mother died as poverty-stricken as she lived. It’s interesting how much the state cares so much now in the name of thoroughness, because the only answer I ever got when she was alive was that no one could help her.

Through my mother’s last 7 weeks on this earth, she was bedridden at the Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam. She was given pain pills regularly because of the pain from the broken pelvis, as well as the lung cancer, and her health declined as the days and weeks went on. I contacted everyone that I could, trying to get her more help. She couldn’t breathe. Her stats were terrible. No one listened, or seemed to care. She was just an old women with no money that they were going to let die.

She was not seen by a doctor for over a week after her pelvic fracture and the nurses at the nursing home merely followed the ER doctor’s instructions for temporary care. She was not given her normal medications since no one was in charge, it seemed. I called everyone I could think of during that week, trying to get her help. Her regular doctor didn’t have privileges at Golden Living Center so she just wasn’t seen. I was told to call her case worker, to call varying offices and numbers, all with, “the State of Wisconsin,” in the name. I got passed from office to office, person to person. It seemed that no one knew how to help her. I got passed along for 7 full days with no answers.  She was finally seen by a doctor 8 days after her injury. I have to wonder how this outcome could’ve been different if someone was in charge of making sure my severely ill elderly mother got to see a doctor sooner. But as it turns out, that was the one and only time my mother was seen by a doctor while she resided at Golden Living Center in Beaver Dam. One other time, after I insisted numerous times that certain labs and blood work be done for my mother, and she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, where they removed 16 ounces of fluid in her lungs and found she was severely anemic. Just as I had suspected and fought to have her tested for. But without me calling and begging and pleading, everyone was fine with her suffering and not being seen or cared for.

Through the last 7 weeks of my mother’s life, I spent hours on the telephone trying to improve the quality of her life. The nursing home dropped and broke her teeth, so she was unable to eat very much of anything after that. I took to purchasing and bringing her soft foods, making her pudding and oatmeal and soups. I brought her almond milk and chocolate milks and coconut water and juices. Anything to get calories into her. Because no one else seemed concerned that she lost 25 pounds in the 7 weeks she was there. Again, I could go no one to listen.

The thing about the poverty-stricken elderly is that it seems no one cares about them. And they are often too sick and too weak to speak for themselves. I screamed from the hilltops as an advocate for my mom, fighting for medical transports and someone to pay attention that she was not being seen or checked on by a physician. That she couldn’t breathe. Always, I was referred to call a place that started with “State of Wisconsin” just like it states on the top of the letters that you keep sending to me. I was told they had to approve it or find a doctor or decide if she was in terminal care or temporary care. I had to call constantly about her therapy and her insurance. Her doctor that never came to see her. And then, hospice. This was a constant, daily occurrence. While my mother was alive and suffering, I couldn’t get a soul from this state to care or do anything. Apparently the dying don’t have a department in charge of being thorough with their actual physical care. But now that she’s dead, there is much interest in her 29-year-old car and why she paid rent for the month that she died. It’s an interesting comparison, at the very least.  Something that, as a journalist, makes me want to show the world how terribly wrong we are doing it when it comes to our old and dying poor. The research I’ve been doing shows that this is more normal than exception. That no one cares for those that are dying in poverty, merely the money they might leave behind. It seems so satirical to me, since the poor (by definition) don’t have money.

My mother was a 68-year-old disabled woman who survived on food stamps and state medical assistance for many years, meaning that she repeatedly proved her level of poverty to the state of Wisconsin many times over during that period. At least 2 to 4 times per year for 10 years straight since she got on disability, she provided copies of bills and her bank account statements.  I am unsure of what exactly you are looking to uncover here in my mother’s estate, but I assure you that mother died with a lot less money than what would even cover her funeral expenses that I paid for. You have documented proof of that, actually. A check from myself and my husband to the Koepsell Funeral Home for nearly $3,000. That does not even account for the grave marker that I have yet to even purchase.

I appreciate you being through. I realize that it’s your job. I just wish someone could’ve been 1/10th as thorough with my mother while she was suffering and struggling to breathe and unable to keep food down for the months until her death. I wish THAT was someone’s job. And I wish that I could lay my mother to rest now, rather than kicking up her ghost while I list off the memories of her hardest time, digging through our precious text messages so you can see receipts of her wishes, to show the State of Wisconsin, again, how little money my mom had. And how much money and time and energy my husband and I spent trying to save her. To attempt to make her more comfortable. And then to bury and honor her in the way we ALL deserve.

I sincerely hope that this matter is closed and settled. As much as I have been a willing and helpful participant in settling my mother’s estate for her, I feel I’ve reached my limit of what I remember or can help you with. I can think of no real reason this case is taking up so much time and state resources, especially since my mother proved so many times in her life that she was extremely poor.

In all honestly, re-opening the wounds of my mother’s death every couple months in the name of your research on an obviously impoverished woman is starting to feel more like emotional harassment than thoroughness.

I have listed off here for you every detail that I can remember from that time, in hopes that it will be enough for you, finally, and you will allow me to set this down now and let my mother rest in peace.

Best,

Michelle Roth Baade

  1. P.S. I have enclosed a photo of my mother that I took on Halloween of 2014 where she is pictured with my youngest child, Lincoln. I would like this photo included in her file, to show that she was a person, a human being who was full of even joy in the darkest of times. I’d like her face to go along with your records. Thank you.

What Keeps Me Away

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I want to blog to you fine people. I do.

But then it goes like this… I make two phone calls that I really need to make when it finally gets quiet. But no one answers when I have time to call so I leave messages and go off to find the baby. This is how I spend a lot of the day, finding the baby in a very big house. He’s in his room with the cat this time, playing with the baby monitor. He smells poopy, so I take him downstairs to change him. He keeps the monitor and I don’t have a free hand to fight him so the cat chases us down the stairs after the cord, because that’s helpful.

While I change the baby and try to get the cat to back off, both phone calls got returned. But now Brice is asking for a snack and our fix it guy is putting in a new sidewalk out front, so his son is here playing. And there is dinner to make and phone calls to try to return from the chaos. I spend the time on the phone bribing children with cookies and a finger in the air, as in, JUST GIVE ME ONE MINUTE PLEASE! Silently, cause I’m the phone.

And this is why I don’t write to you nice folks. Because I can’t really seem to create a total and complete thought much less a complete blog post.

I want it to be perfect and meaningful and have some answer and message. But sometimes, the only message I seem be able to have is the one I live, which is a cycle of all day, every day… feed, water and wash. And wash is really optional depending on the day. So…

I’m going to try to be here more, even if my thoughts are random and not complete. Even if I don’t have all the answers, or any, on some days. But I’m going to do all I can to keep coming back.

Now I’m going to go find my baby.

Also, everyone keeps telling us that Lincoln is not a baby anymore. Obviously a subject for another day.

Brice and the Balance Bike

Brice started kindergarten this fall.

I know, right? I don’t even know how that happened so fast…

So we’ve been taking advantage of the weather and walking to school while Brice rides his balance bike.  He hasn’t quite figured out the pedaling thing, at least not in any way that would enable him to ride a regular bike to school, so we got him a larger balance bike for now. And you know what? That kid can fly!

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He coasts along with his feet out, his bright red Lightning McQueen Crocs splayed out while he intentionally swerves the bike around. His big red helmet on his head. He calls out to people as we walk, thanking cars for stopping at the crosswalk, or yelling good morning to everyone we see, even when it’s afternoon. He makes people smile with his genuine love of life.

It is somewhere around the time that we near school, though, that I start thinking about how Brice isn’t exactly “cool” in the traditional sense. We see a 5th grade boy raising the flag and Brice runs to the kid screaming, “Good morning, Lunch Buddy!”

And the Lunch Buddy smiles and says, “Good morning, Brice.” And every day, Brice gets happy as hell that the Lunch Buddy knows his name.

And every day, I say, “Do you know his name now?”

And Brice says, “His name is Lunch Buddy!”

I worry so much that someone will tell him that he isn’t wonderful the way he is and that he should change so he can be better. Because right now, it hasn’t even occurred to him that he “should” be anyone else. I worry about that seed of doubt being planted in his carefree, loving little heart.

Somewhere along the way, we get shaped and altered and trimmed and changed by our lives. Because of what we want, because of what we don’t. To fit in, to stand out. A tide of people-pleasing that we could coat ourselves in until we don’t know who we are anymore.

He rides his balance bike because he loves it and he doesn’t worry that it isn’t good enough to use. He wears the clothes and shoes he likes and that feels comfortable in. He eats hummus with a spoon for snack because it’s his favorite food. I pray that no one starts telling him those things aren’t right.

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Because those things are him, before anyone told him who to be. And in my mama heart, I pray that if anyone tries to convince him he needs to change, he wouldn’t believe them.