Sunday, November 19, 2006

Never Leave Your Mother Unattended

"I want some candy," my mother says in her wheelchair, looking at the dish of wrapped hard candies at her eye level on the desk in the elegant lobby of her residence.
"But you just had breakfast," I argue.
"I want a candy!" she insists.
"Oh, all right," I concede, slipping a couple of the wrapped sugarless lozenges into my pocket. "But not until we're in the car."
It's 8:50 am and I'm signing her out as we leave for church. Usually we go to the 9:30 service, but for two Sundays in a row I need to attend a membership class from 9 am to noon. Last week Mom got bored and restless in the class, so I wheeled her into the 11 am service and left her there for half an hour under the supervision of an usher. I'm planning to do that again this week.
As we reach San Vicente Boulevard, I realize the street is closed for a 10-K run to benefit some charity. After making the detours, we park a block away and arrive just after 9 am.
It's a circus of a Sunday at this large Presbyterian church. In addition to the 10-K runners jogging past in front, there are signs on the patio directing members to a flu clinic, an assembly line to make Thanksgiving baskets for the poor, and a sign-up table for the third-world gift fair coming soon. It's also stewardship Sunday.
Steering past tables filled with canned goods and boxes of stuffing mix, we enter the room for the new members class. Mom holds out pretty well but at 10:30 demands her second trip to the bathroom.
After completing that mission, I decide to wheel her into church. Mom always enjoys listening to the music and putting her envelope in the offering plate.
"Please keep an eye on her and let me know if she needs me," I say to one of the ushers. "I'll be in the classroom off the patio."
"No problem," says the usher.
I return at noon, greeting my friend Dorothy Beals, an usher.
"She slept most of the time," Dorothy tells me.
I slip into the pew next to Mom. When the service ends, I walk up to the front and drop my stewardship pledge into the basket there. I notice two crystal bowls filled with water and some pretty aquarium stones in the bottom.
Why those bowls are there? I wonder. A baptism maybe?
Mom and I wheel out of the church, greeting the pastor and starting to head for the car.
"Well, did you enjoy the service?" I ask.
"Yes, but this candy in my mouth won't melt," she answers, slithering something around with her tongue.
At first I barely hear her, my thoughts elsewhere. But suddenly it hits me: Candy? What candy? Was one of those candies in her purse? Or maybe a button?
"Mom, what's in your mouth? Here, spit it out," I demand, putting out my hand.
Out pops a small flat glass stone, the kind used to hold flowers in a vase or to decorate an aquarium. It sparkles and has a pale blue wave of color locked inside.
"Mom! Where did you get this?" I shriek.
"That kid gave it to me," she answers.
Half-laughing, I push her back into church to tell Dorothy.
"Yes, everybody walked to the front with their stewardship pledges," she confirms. "They each took a stone as a token of their promise. One usher went to her for her pledge."
And handed her this glass stone, I realize. She must have thought it was a mint.
"Thank goodness she didn't choke on it," we conclude.
What a close call. It must have been in her mouth for twenty minutes. She could have tried to swallow it or chew it up.
Worst case scenario: a dramatic asphyxiation in the middle of the service, at the site of the subsequent funeral.
Note to self: Never leave your mother unattended.

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