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"Dementia Will Be My Mother's Golden Hall Pass" by Emily Baber

The nurse will hear her say something biting and reassure me that it’s the dementia. It makes them say things they don’t mean. But I’ll look at my mother and she won’t be an elderly, Catholic field mouse. She’ll be a leopard that just realized the electric fence is down. The coast is clear.

I’m not accepting feedback on that at this time. That’s how you’re supposed to respond to your family member when they say something hurtful,judgmental, or gross. As if the feedback has not already been delivered. I think the better approach is to announce that you’re currently closed to feedback first thing - the moment you walk in the door for Thanksgiving dinner, shoes on, green bean casserole in hand - before anyone has the opportunity to say anything shitty. Set the boundary proactively. But my mom doesn’t need to provide her feedback, anyway. I always know what she wants to say.

I’ve heard that the way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice, which is a pretty heavy thing to say to a parent. But that’s parenting for you, and in my experience this is accurate.

In high school, they came up with the idea to give certain students a special, perpetual hall pass that they could use at any time. These students could just get up and walk out of the classroom without asking permission. Teachers were getting sick of the constant interruptions to approve bathroom breaks or trips to the nurse or whatever. Students with good grades and no disciplinary infractions received the first round of golden hall passes, and the rest could earn theirs through good behavior and improved academic performance. Pretty fucked up to base a kid’s access to the bathrooms on their grades if you ask me, but it was 1999 and they weren’t asking. Maybe they’re still not. I wonder if they’ve figured out by now that honor students also smoke weed and buy Adderall in the bathrooms.

When her mother’s dementia got to That Point, my mom was mostly embarrassed by the things she said. She was like a little kid who was boggled by the variety of sizes and shapes of people and hadn’t yet discovered her inside voice. Child-like is the best way to describe who she became. Sometimes unkind, but not intentionally. Hard to manage in public.

My mother has earned her golden hall pass. She has been meek and pious. She has worn her naivete as a signet of her sin-free life. Instead of telling me that I’m a stoner and a failure (I never said she was wrong), she says I look tired and asks how my job is going. It’s the affect in her benevolent tone that gives her away, but also the inner voice thing. She says what she says and I hear what she means.

She’ll wait for the diagnosis before softballing in her next form. She’ll start with things like that shirt doesn’t flatter you before moving on to you’re selfish and entitled, then You walked away from God and you deserve the hell you’re living in and the one that lies ahead. I can’t imagine how satisfying this will feel for her. One day, she’ll look me in the eye and say I don’t like you very much. And I’ll say I know. And then, maybe, hopefully, we’ll set it all down and have a nice visit.

Emily Baber (she/her) lives in Cleveland, Ohio and loves Lake Erie, the intricacy of natural systems, and Pee-wee Herman. She writes for work, but only started writing for fun again a couple years ago. She is a late bloomer and she is not a serious person. @EnemyBaber on Twitter.


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