Cathy Hamilton: Unexplainable quirks

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I arrived at my mother's house Sunday afternoon - suitcase, laptop and mini-blender in hand.

I was there on a mission of mercy, and of love. For the next five days, I would be her caregiver after back surgery. I would sleep in my old room at night and telecommute to work by day from dad's old office - all the while, being at mom's beck and call. I would, for the week, be the manager of my mother's household.

At least, that's what I assumed.

My younger sister had nursed mom through the worst of the recovery, the first four days post-op. (Back surgery isn't something one bounces back from, at any age.) When I arrived, our patient was on the mend but still shaky and decidedly dependent.

Sunday into Monday was a blur of fetch and carry, assisted walking, medication notation and constant worrying. I stood at the ready while she took a shower. I prepared the meals and did laundry between e-mails and conference calls to the office.

It was work, but it felt good to be "mothering" my mother, for once. In her weak and vulnerable state, she was genuinely grateful I was there to help.

She needed me. I was happy to be needed. Things were going great.

Unfortunately, by Monday night, mom took a turn for the better.

For the record, our mother-daughter relationship has always been loving, amicable and fun. On the People magazine spectrum, we're much closer to Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson than, say, Christina and Joan Crawford. My mommy is not "Mommie Dearest."

"Mommie Weirdest?" Well, that's a book I could write :

You see, my mother is a creature of habit. And some of her habits are just plain weird.

Take the morning coffee, for instance. She drinks instant. Decaf instant, to be precise. (I knew this going in, and brought my own real coffee for her long-retired coffee maker.) But could I just throw some freeze-dried granules into a cup of hot water and call it good? Oh, no ...

"Put the kettle on the front left burner and set it to high, because that's the only setting that works," she instructed me from the couch, where she lie on her back. "Once it boils, move it to the back burner and set the dial halfway between off and low so it stays hot. Now, I take exactly one half teaspoon of coffee. No more, no less. Nobody believes I use that little so they always want to give me more, but don't. Here, maybe I'd better show you ..."

Then, there's the pill-taking thing ...

When I take a pill, I just pop it in my mouth with a glass of water or whatever liquid happens to be handy. When my mother takes a pill, it's a process:

The water must not contain ice. It should be cool but not cold. She'll remove the cap from the prescription bottle, check the label (sometimes twice) and gingerly remove the pill to examine it. If the pill is too big (no larger than a pearl) or of a certain texture, everyone in the room must turn their back until said pill has been swallowed. This could take upward of two minutes. (It appears to be a chalky tablet issue; gel caps are fine, as long as they're not round.)

Then, there's her definition of cocktail hour ...

Mom has her cocktail precisely at 6:30 p.m. At my home, however, we're used to a 5:30 libation. Houston, we have a problem.

"This is her house," I told myself for the hundredth time. "Her rules. But a Turner Classic Movie marathon makes for a helluva long day. I need my scotch, and I need it now!"

I approached mom about the problem and she proffered a generous compromise. We sat down with cocktails at precisely 6:15.

On Friday afternoon, I schlepped my suitcase, laptop and mini-blender home. I had my TGIF cocktail at 5:30. On Saturday morning, I woke up in my own bed, brewed REAL coffee the way I always do, and swallowed my pills in one quick gulp.

I thought about my mother, the wonderful time we had together and how lucky I was to have had her all to myself for five days. I thanked God she was healthy again and prayed she'll be around, weirdness and all, for a long, long time.

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