Essaying the Situation
Sunday, September 12, 2004
"Just because you're old..."
"...doesn't give you the right to be inconsiderate of others, Mother, Mrs. Hudson [when I add the 'Mrs. Hudson' part it is usually delivered in comic sneer]. I eat cottage cheese, too, you know. And mustard. Remember the mustard we had to throw away last week because you decided to eat it out of the jar with a spoon?"
    "It didn't hurt my blood sugar."
    That's true. I suspect it may have helped it. That evening her blood sugar was normal. We don't buy many condiments with sugar in them and this mustard was stone ground, with fiber. And mustard oil, well, we all know its cathartic effects. "Point taken. Now, take my point, Mom. I have confidence in you. You can remember that this refrigerator is a shared refrigerator, that, aside from you, I eat out of it, our friends and relatives eat out of it. I know, on everyone's behalf, you are capable of remembering, and caring about something you drilled into us from the time we were able to open the refrigerator and cupboards independently, 'Don't eat out of the carton!'"
    Not yet contrite but getting there. "I know, I know."
    "See? This isn't new information. I live here, too, Mom, and, occasionally, others eat here. Just because you're old...", here it comes, "doesn't give you the right to assume that the household revolves around you."
    Still squirming, "I suppose not."
    A friend of mine asked me, maybe four years ago, if my mother was being unusually and unfairly selfish as she perceived her mother in her last years, living with her and her husband. I was shocked at the implication, sure that my mother would never exhibit this kind of self-absorption. I still can't say that she absolutely has, as she is not always inner-bound.
    Sometimes, thogh, I can see that she's just not thinking. It occurs to me that it isn't dementia, it's laziness, because it involves long term memory of habits and a social attunement she has not lost. As well, I am very honest with my mother, what would sometimes be considered, I'm sure my neighbors would agree (I don't have an indoor voice) roughly honest with her. I monitor her before action, and sometimes I've been wrong. I acknowledge when I have erred and apologize. Lots of times, though, I've been right and the correction has kicked in.
    I think that, for as long as possible, it is important for Ancient Ones to be prodded to remember that they exist as part of a household that revolves around everyone in the household. Social awareness is imperative in the at-home caregiving situation. It is also, I sense, therapeutic. Beyond this, I think that the household comes to revolve around the Ancient One in order to keep her feeling safe. My mother continues to feel safe, within our home and within my care.
    My mother is still of competence in the area of social awareness, enough so that I can expect certain behaviors of her and scold her when her public courtesy slips. In fact, in the wild, so to speak, her manners are impeccable and, while they don't put mine to shame, they remind me immediately to keep my head up and be aware of others. She is never inordinately selfish in public. She, as well, possesses a critical stare when I cross certain boundaries of public etiquette, which I've been known to do.
    Still, I can see where I must remain flexible in this area. With the feeling of safety, my mother is more able to relax in her Ancienthood and occasionally becomes a little queenish. Which, of course, encourages further queenishness. She makes a very cute queen, though, irresistible.
    In ways which I am about to explore and which may not be as connected as I think they are, this is as good a place as any to insert the story of the strange woman at the grocery. This story illustrates, well, hmmm...I guess we'll see.
    After a long walkering at Costco in which I'd tried not to walker-coach my mother, her back was "giving [her] fits" and we still needed to make a short stop at the grocery. I promised her, if she'd walkered just inside the store with me and endured some drill sergeant coaching, I'd let her sit out the visit and "pick her up" after I'd purchased the few items. She agreed.
    The parking lot, as usual, was not busy. As well, this store is known for courteous traffic; lots of senior citizens visit. We began walkering toward the storefront, me keeping vocal time with her in a marching cadence, encouraging her to "step up to the plate, back straight, shoulders back, eyes forward," all the way to the bench just inside the entrance. As she approached the bench I took her through the pivot turn sequence in which she pulls her walker toward her in order to manage it well as she sits down so it doesn't slip out from underneath her.
    As she was seating herself to the tune of my full voiced, drill sergeant encouragement, I noticed a woman, probably in her early 30's, turned toward us, glaring at me. I understood immediately what she was attempting to communicate. Once my mother was settled and I was facing the social intruder as I selected a cart, I stared back at her and told her, "It's a very hard skill to learn."
    Her expression sharpened.
    As I turned into the store I thought, well, she's never taken care of an Ancient One.
    As I continued through the store, I became angry that she should presume to know anything about the limits of behavior between caregiver to an Ancient One and care recipient. On my way from one end of the store to the other I noticed she was still sitting up front, glaring at me every time I passed her. I rerouted myself. "Do you take care of an Ancient One?" I asked. Whoa, I thought, that's the first time I've used that phrase in public.
    She quickly oriented herself to the terminology. "No. I am a mother. I have a mother."
    "Have you ever required intense care?"
    She looked at me, affronted, remaining silent.
    "Have you ever needed physical therapy?!?"
    She recovered her glare.
    I didn't care. "Until you've done either, think before you judge."
    Before my next pass she'd left her staging area. I wasn't sure I'd been completely fair with her but I understood where she was coming from and I understood that she needed to be corrected.
    Sometimes, people need to be coached. At others, people need to be scolded. This applies to everyone, Ancient Ones included.
    If you let them, I think, family roles can become flexible and versatile, allowing correction when possible and safety when necessary. In order to allow this, I believe it is imperative to think of Ancient Ones as members of a family with obligations to the unit as long as they give indications that this level of involvement can be realistically expected.

    Once again, last night, it was a jar of raspberry jam. By the time I entered the kitchen she'd put the jar in the refrigerator, where it's never kept. There were also signs by the toaster that she'd used the jam on toasted, buttered bread.
    I quizzed her. "Did you eat out of the jar?"
    She looked sugar dazed, a dead give-away. "Which jar?"
    "The jelly jar. Did you eat out of the jar?"
    She mocked offense. "No. I ate it on toast."
    I zipped out the glucose monitor and set her up to be tested. "Okay. I believe you. You made a mess at the toaster."
    "I don't believe I've used that toaster, before."
    "You did when we first moved here but it's on its last legs, now. It's a little touchy."
    "It almost burned my toast."
    "Well, be careful. Thanks for not eating out of the jelly jar, Mom. I'm usually the only one who eats jelly, now."
    "Yes. I've noticed. I've been meaning to ask you about that."
    I explained that I'm trying to control her blood sugar through diet. "Do you feel deprived?!?"
    "Oh, goodness no!"
    "And you've put on weight, some of it muscle weight, I think. That's good. But, you know, thanks for using utensils."
    "I licked the spoon. The jelly spoon."
    "I'm sure you did. Before or..." no, I decided, I didn't want to know.
    "What germs could I have that you don't have?!?"
    Point taken. Silently. "Don't eat out of the carton, Okay?!?"
    "I didn't. And I won't."
    "Neither will I..."...just because I'm not so old.
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