Musings on Mom and Shredded Wheat

This evening I bought three boxes of bite size Post Shredded Whole Wheat and two curtain rods in Walmart and I feel sullied.


It was on my way home from visiting my mom in her assisted living in New Jersey – a two-hour trip one-way.  She was at the table napping in front of a magazine when I arrived, but one of the caretakers who likes to make me feel that my trip hasn’t been in vain, badgered her (but in a gentle way) until she lifted her head from her chin, opened her eyes, and together they sang a few bars of My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean and Cielto Lindo in Spanish.  My mom never knew Cielto Lindo or any Spanish when she was who she was.  I find it interesting that she has learned something new.  She said hi to me and gave me a smile, and went back to sleep.  

Mom and Me at the BeachWhen my mom isn’t too deep into her own thoughts or too sleepy, she recognizes me and that makes me feel good, but I would have been okay going home without connecting with her.  She’s 96 and she is tired.  I have no idea what goes on in her mind.  She has started to mumble when she is half-asleep.  She might mention her oldest grandchild by name, or my father, but there is usually no context to her mumblings, and I miss most of the words if they are words.

Often when I visit the house is full of chatter. Her housemates talk to themselves, one speaks on an imaginary phone she holds to her ear, some talk to baby dolls.   They are important conversations but only one-sided.  They have their own languages and sometimes they talk to me, expecting an answer.  I comprehend nothing except their desire to communicate.  I try to respond but feel very inadequate.  There is one man with the most beautiful smile and brightest eyes who speaks bubbly words of nothingness.  What was he like when he was whole, and what makes him so happy now?

Why should my mom wake up to smile at me?   I lowered my expectations a long time ago.  My visits are opportunities for me to see how she is, which means is her color good, has she slipped further into her illness, is she in pain, is she miserable, does she look comfortable and peaceful, does she need anything, and we hold hands.  If we talk, it is for a few minutes and then she drifts off.

When I left, I was already in my “why?” state of mind. 


My plan was to stop at the bank and Lowe’s and to pick up cereal.  Lowe’s had the paint but not the curtain rods. I don’t usually shop at Walmart.  It’s too big, too much a bully, too destructive, but it was on my way out of the big box complex, and it would have everything I still needed.  Just one stop on the way home instead of two stops in the other direction was a good idea.

The parking lot was very crowded.  I cringed looking for a space and once again entering the store.  Memories of my husband who would come home from errands excited by the tattooed ladies in the Walmart in Plymouth, New Hampshire made me smile.  I stood on tiptoes and stretched to reach the three boxes of shredded wheat that were on the top shelf — so far back and high that I had to coax the last two forward by knocking them down with the first.  Obviously PSWW is not a big seller.  The price was nice, but it made me even more uncomfortable with my lack of resolve.  It is so easy to slip into abetting the enemy.

PSWW is the only “just cereal” that I have found, even on health food shelves.  It has nothing added – no sugar, no honey, no nuts, salt, dried fruit, cinnamon, additives. The back of the box proudly shouts out that Post shredded wheat has “an ingredient list that is so good, we have nothing to hide.”  Why does this statement madden me instead of making me happy? I’ve  researched it and it seems to be true.  It’s not organic, but I want a “NO GMO INGREDIENTS” label, and no BHT, and more choices.

My body was quickly moving to rant mode, and eventually my thoughts caught up and settled on frankenfish; over-processed flour; chemical-laden apples ripening in boxcars; aspartame in milk; misuse of antibiotics; chicken breasts with no bodies, heads or feet lined up on shelves in a dark warehouse, hooked up to feeding tubes.  I just don’t understand an agricultural-industrial complex that arrogantly tries to convince consumers they have no right to know what they are putting into their bodies.  Individuals run agribusiness.  Their families eat food, drink water, and breathe air.  How can they  greedily produce foods that negatively effect their children’s bodies and their children’s environment?  How do they and the politicians who support them twist the reality which is that they are destroying the agricultural diversity and sustainability of our planet and the integrity of our food supply into the fantasy that they are graciously feeding the world?

My son, the one who works with food and public health, and I talk a lot about the world’s food supply.  He has convinced me that a new round of make-millions-while-crippling-life-as-we-know-it will belong to the medical-industrial complex.  They will discover ways to alter our bodies so that we can adapt to our unnatural diets, and of course we will pay with our health and our money to fix their “mistakes.”  Maybe we already are on this path; there certainly are enough pills and medical procedures that help us cope with our debilitated digestive systems and allergies and ballooning numbers of ill. 

One neighbor always tells me that we have choices.  We can shop at natural food stores, grow our own vegetables, buy at local farms, prepare from scratch. These choices are still very limited and they take research and energy, commitment and time.  They are luxuries not available to those who are struggling.  They are not concerns of the hungry.

There is more to life than shopping for food.  


Something new to think about:

My Teeth and Me

Recently I had a small space at the gumline of a tooth filled.  My dentist called it a cavity.  I always have thought cavity = decay.  But really cavity = hole.  He’s a very intense dentist and very likable. I go for two check-ups a year and he put on a crown so that was a few more visits.  At most we’ve been in each others faces ten times..

During one of the crown work visits Dr. Dentico (and I am not making that up) had a conversation with his assistant.  They spoke about a new machine he had ordered.  It would allow him to make his own crowns.  I had never heard a dentist talk about his work before, and was tickled by his effervescent enthusiasm.   He couldn’t wait to get this new machine.  I left disappointed that I wouldn’t have one of his first home-made crowns, and glad that I had discovered a very dedicated dentist who enjoyed his work.

Most dentists are pretty adamant about Novacaine shots before they do work.   I prefer to wince, and from the first of my visits made the point known.  He doesn’t like the idea. This visit tho, when he was telling his assistant to get the needle ready, he readily agreed to my request.  I was more fearful of wincing and upsetting him than of the pain.  There was no pain.  There hardly ever is.  Why do dentists give Novocain, or perhaps it is a different drug now?   Please don’t tell me it is corporate greed.

I’ve had two sets of braces, the second just 10 – 15 years ago.  My poor husband had to kiss me with braces (ick) for two and a half years.  It was a hard decision to make.  My teeth were very jumbly and I was very self-conscious and wouldn’t give a toothy smile for the camera.  Still I pride myself on taking things as they come, and wouldn’t consider going through the discomfort and display of braces again just for cosmetic purposes.

One day I realized I did not know how to close my jaw.  Studying my teeth I saw that they did not line up, they were crushed forward.  I had known that for a long time, but now realized that my entire jaw had to twist in order to bite, and no bite was comfortable.  I had been complaining of shoulder, back, neck, and jaw pain for years.  My bite was the problem and now there was a solution.

I went to an orthodontist.  He insisted I got to a periodontist, a sadist with witches for technicians.  Periodontal surgery is terrible — don’t ever go voluntarily.  Then months of  being wired.  Going to the orthodontist’s office made me feel very young — a little out of place, but young.

After my first obligatory set at age 13, my orthodontist talked about retainers, but I didn’t get them. My mom said enough with the braces, but I could be making that up.

At the end of my adult “orthodontury” I received a set of retainers.  Ten years later, I still wear them, no longer every night since I have a new love life, but pretty regularly  My orthodontist thinks I’m nutsy. .  (I’ve had to go back to Massachusetts to have him fix the lower retainer twice.)

Dr. Dentico also thinks I am a bit odd to be wearing them.  What was so fascinating was that he asked me why I don’t wear them every night now.

I don’t know.

Do you miss them if you don’t wear them?

Yes, I wake up and toss and turn for a while, then realize I’m not wearing my retainers, put them in, and immediately fall asleep.

He was very interested in this, and thanked me for sharing.  I wonder if he had gone through a similar experience.  It was like he was doing research on the subject.

That evening the sunset was candy-striped pinks with white.  By the time I found my camera the pinks had faded away and I have no photo for this post. I could look for the before and after pictures of my orthodonture work but think I’ll let that pass.


Afterword/ 5/28/2013

I know it is a far stretch to compare Dr. Dentico to Dr. Stephen Zeitels, the founder and director of MassGeneral’s Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, but I can compare my enthusiasm for my dentist to Julie Andrews’ for her voice specialist.  She has been attributed with saying that his “compulsive enthusiasm for his field . . . lends him a Peter Pan quality.”

Thank you John Colapinto!  Giving Voice:  A surgeon pioneers methods to help singers singer again, The New Yorker, March 4, 2013