Do you remember when you were a little kid and it was your birthday and you were SO excited that “today is my birthday!”? All day, you wore a grin on your face and made sure to tell every person you came in contact with that it was your special day. Sometimes, you might have even asked somebody what present they had gotten you for your birthday, while your mom stood by, cringing. At least, that’s how I remember my birthdays when I was a young child.
Mom is still very much aware of birthdays, hers in particular (and her brother, Jeff’s birthday whose is a week before hers). We wanted to celebrate with mom so she knew that we love and care about her. I didn’t quite have the energy to host anything at my house this year. So we decided to keep it simple and take her to dinner to her favorite restaurant. You guessed it: Outback Steakhouse. It’s not a big place, so we kept the group to a minimum and invited those family members who are closest to us (in proximity as well as in our everyday lives). My dad, siblings and a few Aunts and Uncles who go that extra mile for mom came to celebrate with us.
When we arrived, dad went inside to check-in (we called ahead to get our name on the waiting list); they gave him a pager and he returned outside where we stood in the cool breeze and chatted with one another. Mom, however, was very concerned with everyone’s standing around when she was ready to go inside and eat. She kept urging everyone to come inside so we could sit down to eat. We tried to explain to her about the pager and that we had indeed checked in; we were simply waiting outside because there was more space and fresh air. She could not understand the concept.
“I don’t know why everyone won’t come in now, I’m hungry! I don’t want to eat severely late!”
Eventually, she marched right inside that restaurant, agitated that we were all seemingly hanging around and ignoring her pleas to be seated. I followed after her to find her approaching a hostess.
“We need to sit down now, we have so many people here too. We have 14 people here and we need to sit down now.”
They began asking if her name had been put on the list and I interjected, stating that we had already checked in and, in fact, had a pager. Mom was still insistent, however, that we be seated. The hostess looked at mom, then back at me, in a bit of confusion. I quietly whispered that mom has dementia and didn’t quite understand what we meant by the pager/waiting list. The hostess nodded, smiled and assured mom we would be seated shortly and welcomed her to have a seat inside.
Mom took a seat inside, still complaining that everyone else was outside and they needed to come inside. I sat beside mom and tried to distract her from the waiting game.
“How has your birthday been? Did anybody call you?”
Mom thought for a minute and noted the people who did-and even more so, the people who DIDN’T- call or send cards. She was concerned about her siblings who had not yet made contact with her on her special day.
After several minutes of chit chat, mom announced that she had to go to the bathroom. I pointed her in the direction of the ladies room and soon after she left, my dad came inside to let me know that her brother was going to call her to wish her a happy birthday (and to make sure she answered her phone). Mom returned from the bathroom with her phone to her ear, her hand cupped around the speaker of the phone as if she was on a very secret call. I had to chuckle at the sight of it.
As soon as we were seated, the waitress came to order our drinks and mom tried to speak over everyone to order her food. We explained to her that she was only ordering drinks and the waitress asked mom what she would like to drink. Mom shook her head,
“No I already have my drink,” mom said, pointing to her can of Diet Root Beer that she had brought in. She continued to try and order her food and when the waitress was finally ready to take our order, mom was the first to speak over everyone to tell the waitress what she wanted. She also made sure that she knew the reason we were there.
“And also I wanted to tell you that it’s my birthday today so if you could please bring me one of those things, like when we came here for her birthday” (pointing to my Aunt) “they brought her that thing too for her birthday, birthday thing…I think it was that…ice cream…stuff for birthdays, so if you could bring that too please,” mom ordered, waving her hand around the table as she spoke. We all laughed and the waitress chuckled (we had clued her in to mom’s condition to prevent any confusion at mom’s behavior).
Mom ordered her favorite dish,
“The meat stuff that’s cut up, kind of smaller pieces…”
Translation: Baby back ribs with french fries. She polished off those ribs faster than you could blink!!
Mom opened cards and presents with a smile on her face. She was so excited that my Aunt had bought her an Outback gift card. She waved it in front of my dad, declaring,
“We can use this to pay for our food tonight!”
Dad reminded her to say thank you, and she complied-just like a child.
The best part of our night came at dessert time. Mom was SO enthusiastic about the hot fudge brownie sundae that was brought to her and she wanted everyone to partake of the deliciousness. She asked each and every person, individually, if they would like to please try her dessert. If one objected, she frowned and looked genuinely hurt as she said,
“What? You don’t want any? But why not? It’s so delicious!”
Then on to the next person,
“Cassandra do you want to try? Do you want a bite? It’s so delicious, it’s so good. Try it, will you take a bite and try it?”
I took the spoon that she was waving in front of my face and gave an exaggerated response,
“Mmm, it’s so good mom. Thank you.”
Down the line she went until finally she could no longer reach her guests at the end of the table. She then stood up, calling down to my Aunt at the end and pleading with her to try her dessert as she waved her plate and spoon overhead.
“It’s okay Deana, I ordered my own dessert,” Aunt Sharon replied, holding back her laughter.
“Huh? You want to try it? It’s so delicious, it’s so yummy, will you try it?”
As we all giggled, Aunt Sharon finally gave in to mom’s pleading and took a bite of her dessert.
“Mmm, that’s very good Deana. Thank you,” Aunt Sharon said, graciously.
We were all laughing quite a bit. What a sight to see! After mom had shared her dessert with all who would accept, she sat down and stirred up what was left of the brownie, hot fudge and ice cream, making it into a soup. She ate just about every bite until she was finally too full to eat any more.
Afterwards, we went outside to take a family photo. From the left: myself, my twin brother, Joe, mom, my sister, Christina, and my dad.
Happy 52nd Birthday to mom. I’m sure that this was never what she envisioned 52 to look like. It’s sad to think about how young mom was when all of this began and hard to think about and wonder how many birthdays we have left with her. For now, we live in the moment and I’m glad that we were able to take her out for her special day.