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Lately, I can’t stop eating cookies. I never set out to eat cookies. I set out to
eat lettuce with steamed chicken. Then I
add a rice cake or two “for crunch.” Then I add a third because who’s ever felt satiated by a rice cake or
two? Smacking my lips chasing the crumbs
of the third rice cake is usually when the idea of a cookie hits me. The errant piece of dried rice serves as kind
of a memory jogger, as if I need one, of other tasty crumbs. Like ones from cookies. And that's when the hunt begins; “I shall eat all of you!” roars
inside my head as I slam cabinets open and shut, “Nya, nya, nya!!!!"
I admit it; I have a kind of evil
superhero relationship with cookies.
I was able to keep this alt persona
at bay for most of my adult life by living alone and not exposing myself to
cookies. Because I never smoked pot, I
was not one of these people who would put on shoes and go out and buy
them. The cookie urge would hit me, usually
watching some TV commercial, and I’d have the thought to eat every sweet,
crunchy disc in the world to eradicate them once and for all. I’d quickly realize this meant leaving the
house and think better of it. I’d read
Page 6 of the New York Post, try on a skirt from 10th grade and move
But now, as is every single gal’s
fantasy when dating and eating sweets in the dark in your studio apartment
after yet another disappointment, I actually have a husband I live with, and
two small boys. Guess what these civilized
people enjoy after a meal or for a snack with a glass of milk? Yes!
Cookies: peanut butter, chocolate
dipped, ginger snaps (ginger snaps kill me, aren’t they just spicy, sugary
chips?), snickerdoodles, vanilla sandwich, everything but oatmeal—which I
keep trying to get them to eat and they don’t and then I have to.
For the past 13 years I have
impressed myself with my ability to manage my inner cookie monster. Perhaps it is a desire to save face with my
children, to not embarrass myself with these tiny people who I would prefer
worship me rather than be frightened by me. Or that I don’t want to answer my husband’s question, “Did you eat those
Milanos that were here last night?” with a lie, that I have kept it all in
check. Until, and this is going to feel
like it’s coming out of nowhere so hang on, my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
In this last year, since meeting
with my mother’s neurologist, I have eaten more cookies than I have since before
puberty hit; and I figured out they can make you really fat.
I didn’t see the connection right
away. I thought maybe the uptick in
Pepperidge Farm consumption was some nod to peri-menopause for which I also
qualify. Until I was foraging through my
friend’s kitchen cabinets in Las Vegas while she struggled with morning
sickness in her bathroom. I ate half a
bag of some kind of yogurt-covered granola balls in the time it took her to
wash her hands and flush the toilet.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise to me that cookies have made a grand reentrance into my life.
I had been trying to reach my mother for days and couldn’t get her on the phone. She’s having trouble with phones now, it’s always Verizon’s fault.
“You can’t believe what they do to me!” she barks on almost every call.
She never knows where her phone is to answer it and can no longer decipher how to retrieve messages. When the lack of communication with her stretches beyond 24 hours, I start to get tense. This happens pretty much every 48 hours.
I continued opening various cabinet
doors in my friend’s condo hoping and not hoping my mother would call
back. I never know what state she is
going to be in and talking with her when she’s disoriented is almost as
disturbing as not hearing from her at all. Also, I couldn’t shake the low-grade anxiety
of knowing that in five days I would be getting on a plane to see her in New
York City, with the boys, to finally take the reins in putting together some kind
of team of people to help her at least stay safe, since happiness seems
impossible for a woman who is still present enough to know she is losing her
As I chomped on some gluten-free
oatmeal crisps, I thought about my fear. Side
note: That exact sentence, if you changed out the type of cookie, could describe
every binge I’ve ever had. I chewed X, Y, and Z and thought about my fear. This
particular time, however, my fear was covered in a thick frosting of
self-loathing, too. How could I be
worried about going in and taking charge? I’m a “take charge” kind of gal, I thought, desperately wishing my
friend had a taste for Double Stuffed Oreos instead of all things quinoa. I have produced shows for over 10 years in
multiple cities with a rotating cast of probably 100. How hard could it be to put all the pieces of
one old lady’s life together?
“Your mother is one of the most
resistant patients to giving up control that I’ve had in my career as a
geriatric therapist,” her therapist had said to me over the phone
the week before. Dr. Miller called to
introduce herself. I asked her if I
could call her Abby, since she sounded the age of my UCLA students and she
said, “No one else does.” Then Dr. Miller told me that if I didn’t find a way
to get my mother the support she clearly needed, that it was her obligation by
New York state law to report her to the geriatric care board or some entity
that sounded a lot like that.
“Oh,” I said.
I hung up, ate a box of Trader
Joe’s cinnamon letter cookies and booked plane tickets.
Eighteen years ago I sucked back a
lot of pecan sandies watching my father die of cancer. It was as bad as any cancer movie has made it
seem. I left for Los Angeles shortly
after his death to start a new life, which I’ve done successfully. If you understand success to mean having literally
seen the fragility of life, of the difference between breath and no breath in
the existence of a human being, and still managing to carry on. I let go of enough cynicism to fall in love,
marry and be blessed with two boys and even a little dog, Pepe. Despite knowing we all die and that the key
to life is keeping enough balls in the air to distract you from this simple
fact, I have a lot of laughs.
Just when I thought I’d settled into
some kind of normalcy—when your big worries are where your children will go to
middle school and if they will be scarred terribly if we can’t afford summer
camp, and do I look hot enough to go to my next college reunion—enter
Alzheimer’s. I have no right to make my
mother’s illness about me, or I wouldn’t if it didn’t mean that I had to get on
that plane next week and act like a grown-up and figure out how to make this
incredibly stubborn woman comfortable for this next phase of her life. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to me that
cookies have made a grand reentrance in to my life. It’s no secret that I find the most soothing
way to meditate is to chew and swallow.
I replace my friend’s treats with pregnancy-friendly ones, and we head home to Los Angeles. The
night before we are leaving for New York, I wander into the kitchen after
dinner—of course. But in anticipation
of the trip, the cupboards are bare. I
go to my office to pack my laptop. My
desk is littered with school art projects and pictures of my boys at all ages. As the printer spits out our boarding passes
I remember how shocked people were when I told them I was pregnant the first
“Really? You’ve never struck me as the nurturing kind.”
“Me neither,” I’d joke, having no idea how I was going to pull off being a mother. But I’m doing it. Having children has helped me discover that part of myself. And my deep love of animal crackers.
But now there’s this. How am I ever going to take care of a grown
woman who doesn’t want it? A person who, when you even suggest helping her snaps at you the way Pepe does if you try to
take food from his mouth?
“No, thank you! No one is in charge of me but me! When I die
you can take over.”
No one wishes this more than I do,
I think, stashing the passes in my bag, closing the office door and hoping
there are graham crackers out in the garage, forgotten from last summer’s camping