Happy Mother's Day From Your Devoted Son...

When Bessie first came to the nursing home she was a nervous wreck.

Whenever you're anything at the nursing home other than demented or deleriously happy, they call me in, the psychiatric social worker. It's my job to help you find happiness, or at least get you to shut up about whatever it is that's bothering you.

Truly, sometimes that's what all it boils down to. Call in the social worker and make this problem go away.

Only I don't do that. I can't. First of all- Come on, if you were in a nursing home, would you be happy about it? Secondly, if someone's not happy, it's flat out wrong to recommend medicating them into a stupor so no one's bothered by your painful transition into Happyville.

So I try and figure out what's the worst part of being stuck in Hell, then try to see if I can't turn the flames down enough for my people to bear their new situation. Sometimes, more often than I'd like, there is nothing I can do. But when Bessie came to stay in her new home, I was able to help.

All I had to do was get her quite wealthy son to agree to come up off $12 a month so she could get her hair done. The sad thing was- this was no small feat.

Do you know that if all that stands between you and the street is your Medicaid check, the nursing home takes all but $30 bucks of it in order to cover your stay? Now, in a lot of cases that check doesn't go very far at all. Five hundred and something bucks to provide care, room and board...give or take $70 for an aspirin.

So there you are with $30 every month to clothe yourself and get your hair done. The hairdresser costs $12 a pop to wash, trim and set your hair.

When Bessie's son said his mom didn't need the services of a hairdresser, Bessie nearly lost her mind. You see, Bessie worked hard in the tobacco factory all of her life, raised her children without benefit of a father or child support, and still managed as time went by and the children left home, to get her hair done every Saturday morning.

The nursing home social worker and I went round and round with the man just to get him to leave enough of the $30 in her account for her to get her hairdone at the home once a month! Finally, the activity director flat out told the man the $30 belonged to his mother to spend as she wished and she would be getting her hair done every other week.

But it's been two years and Ms. Bessie has forgotten the struggle. She sighs and says it would be nice if she could afford to have her hair washed and set once a week.

Her cousin, who already comes over and dyes her aunt's hair once a month, shakes her head. "He's loaded," she mutters.

And now this ingrate son won't float his mom for two extra hairdos a month! $24 bucks.

"I bailed him and an even dozen of his friends out that time they got in trouble," Bessie says, giving her visiting cousin a knowing look. "Lost a week's wages goin' with them to court and God knows how much money bailin' him out. And one of them boys was the preacher's son, too!"

Bessie's cousin looks at me while Bessie searches through an old black and white composition book to come up with her current bank balance. "He's an idiot!" she mouths.

You think?

I spend a half an hour consulting with the billing department only to find out later from the activity director that the son takes all of Bessie's extra money. This is why the cousin buys Bessie's clothing and snacks and why a grandson takes her home with him on Christmas.

Bessie even set this child up with his own business when his job got too physically demanding.

When I say I have to go, Bessie says "Oh, don't leave! Just stay here all evenin' and set with us." Her new dentures, a size too large for her mouth slip from side to side as Bessie struggles to smile and talk without losing her upper plate.

I hug her, remembering one of the past social workers telling me that Bessie's son now has a lovely vacation home in the mountains. I want to kick his ass.

Instead I come home and pause for a few moments in the doorways of each of my sons' rooms.

"Listen," I say. "If you two strike it rich and I, God forbid, wind up in a nursing home and want to get my hair done and it only costs $12 bucks a week, please don't be such a tight-ass you can't spring for a once a week cut and curl!"

"Huh?" they say.

"I mean it," I say. "Do you really think a measly $12 is too much to ask after all we've been through? I mean, I get my hair done now in the outside world and it costs about a hundred bucks so I really don't see that..."

"Why do you pay a hundred now?" the practical Youngest Unnamed One asks.

I sigh. "It's a long story," I say. "And I don't do it often, but mainly it's because I tried to do it myself for so long it took extra just to repair the damage and really, that's beside the damned point. Just promise me you won't let it come down to not even getting a $12 wash and set."

"Mother," the Oldest says, sighing the word in his best, long-suffering tone. "Of course we wouldn't do that!"

He is mentally telegraphing his brother the phrase I have heard him say again and again, "Just agree with her. It's easier. You always get all up into the details and then she goes on and on!"

I stand between their two rooms, looking at the backs of their heads because they are both on the computer while having this serious conversation with their sainted mother. I am trying to decide if it's worth the energy to walk into each boy's room and whop him upside the head like I usually do for emphasis.

But I am too tired to put forth the effort.

Besides, I am probably just being irrational.


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