Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cream – who’s got it?

“You bought a what!”
“Not ‘bought,’ ‘adopted,’ – remember, we’re Americans now.”
“But why. Why now?”
“It’s been on my mind for a while, but this morning – that was the final straw.”
“What happened?”
“Rascal brought another mouse into the house.”
“Yes – but I caught it - so hopefully no babies this time.”
“Well that’s alright then. So why did you buy another cat?”
“Because I didn’t kill the mouse, I let it go in the garden.”
“In the garden?”
“Actually that’s a lie – I threw it over the fence into the empty lot.”
“Like a rickety old wooden fence is a cast iron barrier.”
“Why didn’t you kill it?”
“You never kill them.”
“And anyway, I wasn’t going to kill it in cold blood in front of an audience.”
“Which particular audience?”
“All the children and Nonna.”
“Ah – I can see why you’d want to avoid being type cast as violent annihilator of innocents.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you bought another cat.”
“Well Rascal caught it again and brought it back into the house. This time it escaped - upstairs. Took us all morning to track it down and trap it – mayhem, absolute mayhem. I haven’t managed to get one thing done today.”
“And buying another cat is somehow going to increase your efficiency? Did it ever occur to you that now you’ll be chasing double the amount of vermin?”
“Hmm. But this new cat is going to eat them.”
“You know that for a fact?”
“Indubitably. She is a ferocious mouser. It's genetic.”
“Rascal will leave - he’ll be jealous.”
“It’s a female cat.”
“Yup. Smaller than Rascal, company not competition.”
“I don’t know how you can have such confidence in such inanity.”
“I’m merely quoting your mother.”
“Ah. So…….?”
“She’s absolutely thrilled – Christmas has come early.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Presented on a salver

“So Maddy?”
“Wot you do wiz doz tings den?”
“Which things?”
“Doz tings dere – dat you made.”
“Ah the sugar-paste. They’re not finished yet. I’m painting them silver.”
“You start a new career?”
“I don’t think I could earn my keep making cakes somehow.”
“No. De other.”
“The other what?”
“You know…….” I watch her as her arm flourish as she makes a little twirl, I am none the wiser, “er…..Turkish dancing?”
“No. Dah ladies of dah night.”
“Wot you call dem?”
“Good. I think I’m a bit old for that.”
“Wot they called when they take their clothes off, dancing around?”
“Yes dats right.”
“So dey’re not props then?”
“I thought they were breast coverings, like coconut shells.”
“The handles are a bit cheeky though.”
“At least dey’re dah right size.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A bid for freedom – sheath your weapons

I take the advice of my brother, in advance of any possible New Year’s resolutions. I request a copy well ahead of the December meeting of the Mystery Book Club. Once a month, early evening, more than doable.

People differ so much in their doings but I know my own preferences. By page 247 I know who did what, when and why, but I leave the last chapter, the solution, untouched, so that I’ll be able to relish the moment. It shouldn’t be gobbled in snatched seconds, stolen from my other responsibilities during the day, but savored, like the last chocolate in the box.

I have that time slot ear-marked, late morning, where I plan to sit in the front room by the window and wait for the boys to return on the school bus. 20 minutes of uninterrupted silence. Indulgence, once duty is fulfilled, so that the all will be clean and fresh and bright in my mind for the evening meeting. Who needs a lunch break when you can have a book break and brain food?

Or at least that’s the plan.

I drive home – with a bit of luck Nonna will be up so that we can have the third breakfast sitting. The combined expedition: school drop off, supermarket, post office and library pick-up, was swift. I pause at traffic lights, knee deep in bags of stuff. I review my latest campaign, the one I think I can manage, rather than the one that I know that I can’t.

The ‘can’t’ issue is delegated to her son. I’m aware that elderly people often worry about money. I’ve experienced it first hand. My dad has one version, the version where you hand it out to every Tom, Dick and Harry, smile without a care. His signature began to falter on the cheques, so my mum intervened. It was a joint account, no choice. Now he’s limited to cash, small denominations only. But I do exaggerate.

Nonna has another version, the kind where everyone is a thief, no-one can be trusted, least of all light fingered daughter’s in law. I claim ignorance – ‘ask your son, not my department.’ I agreed at the time – so clever – so non-confrontational - no travelers cheques. No Greenbacks. He’s in charge of the finances. So what if I’m not a woman of independent means. What would I do with a stash of pounds sterling? Did I mention the exaggeration?

I stick to doable things, manageable campaigns, as I know my limits, or at least some of them. I cannot rationally explain why this issue is quite so irritating. All I know is that I’ve had enough. I've devised a counter measure to stop one of the repeats, just one, the second new repeat. This one repeats at approximately 20 minute intervals, just after the money repeat, just before the other repeats.

Nonna arrives in the kitchen, cross, clutching her carrier bag to her chest; Christmas presents which she has forgotten about. It is a very heated exchange – necessarily louder than I would wish. Often the children are well within ear-shot. They have known for over a week that Nonna has chocolate for them for Christmas. Whilst we have this conversation, each boy echoes the exchange, word for word, which is presumably why it has become ever more excruciating, not for them, but for me.

“Wot about deez tings den Maddy?”
“They’re for the children, for Christmas, remember?”
“They are for me?”
From you. We bought them for you, because you were worried about the presents, remember?”
“But I don’t ave any money?”
“I know, we paid at the time. It’s fine. Don’t worry.”

But she does worry.

She continues to worry.

My answers were inadequate the first time around and have continued to fall short of the mark thereafter. I am aware of my failing but unable to climb back out of the mire. Hence, like most cowards, I’ve decided to simply remove the object of obsession. As soon as I get home I shall take the bag elsewhere, for safe keeping, for the next 21 days, because I am selfish and do not want to flail incompetently for the next three weeks. Not a time out or a confiscation, merely moved to a pending file, out of sight and hopefully out of mine. Far from perfect, but ‘good enough’ is all we can manage these days.

Mercifully we usually shift gears seamlessly into other, older, more familiar repeats:-
“Wot about dis one den?” she’ll ask, every time a knife is in sight.
“I’ll put the cover on in a minute, don’t worry.”
“Ferocious dey are, fiendish weapons!” So animated and expressive with her powerful Italian accent and flourishing hand gestures, each time, every time, because each time is the first time.

The boys love it. They think it’s hilarious. All cutlery has been renamed in accordance; not 'pass me the knife please,' but ‘hand me the ferocious,’ the infection is contagious and permeates every mealtime.

As I pull into the driveway I notice that the front door is open. I run in to check but nobody is home. Her coat is gone, as is her bag, which is good. There is no note, not that I expected one. I nip over to my neighbor to see if anyone saw her leave:- “sure, while after you left in the car. Did you know you’ve left the door open?” We have a brief exchange, eyes on the look-out for wandering elderly people or would be burglars and I’m off, trolling the streets. I am aware that I am a danger on the road as my attention is directed to pedestrians rather than cars. I have my phone but no-one to call:- ‘dear husband of mine, sorry I mislaid your mother today whilst I wasn’t paying attention, I’m sure she’ll be fine with her deafness, diabetes, heart condition, high blood pressure, one leg an inch shorter than the other, intermittent attention, left over jet lag, in unfamiliar territory, on the wrong side of the road and a penchant for jay walking.’ I have a whole two hours to find her, two hours before my loyalties will be divided by the impending arrival of the school bus.

She’s cross and defensive when I find her, just by the main road, heading in the wrong direction.

I’m cross and worried, but less worried than I was as I lock her into her seat belt.

I press a cup of coffee into her chilly hands as she sits hunched in the family room, diminished.

I wait until I am calm and then ask if she can recall our address. She’s almost right but the difference between 10,000 and 1,000 is about 10 blocks – it’s a very long road. I also know that like everyone else, if she were flustered and lost, her recall would also be challenged, assuming she could hear them, assuming they could understand her. It’s assuming too much by a long chalk.

She is adamant that there were people, other people, in the house when she left. She is not responsible for leaving anything unlocked - “but I can’t be a prisoner in dah house!” Luckily she’s only half teasing. I can see how elder abuse comes about, no matter how unwittingly; it doesn’t have to be physical restraints, merely the denial of freedom of movement. For her well being? For my well being? Where does one start and the other end?

I ask if she has her map or the card or the ‘locator’ in her bag, which is mean because I already know the answer. I step out to answer the phone as she rummages in search of what is not there.

I assure her son that all is safe and well, if a bit shaky. We decide to talk, later. Something must be done, but what? My last chapter beckons but the book club will have to wait til next month, as there are some things you can’t sweep under the carpet.

I replace the receiver to the cradle as I think. It’s tough to be reliant on other people for transport, especially when you’re used to your independence. Although she’s a voracious reader, she can’t be expected to be stuck in the house, morning, noon and night with a book. I step over to the computer, flip to the library page and reserve two copies. In a month’s time we can go together, to the Mystery book club meeting, leave the hungry hoards to fend for themselves. I return to the family room where Nonna sips coffee and nibbles from a Holiday print candy wrapper from her bag, “nice chocolate dis! Such a nice present. I love Christmas. Thank you.”

One down, 2 to go.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Choking on the Chalk

One of the great things about elderly relatives and old people in general, is that eventually they just stop trying. Instead of giving inadequate, age inappropriate, naff presents, they admit defeat and hand over the cash instead. It’s a fabulous eventuality for the youth of the era. The kid doesn’t have to try and thank the elderly relative in a fake manner, tinged with resentment for the dinosaur puzzle or a doe eyed baby doll. Instead, the youngster can demonstrate genuine glee, even if the amount is more suitable for a child in the 1920’s.

Cash is cash, no matter how meager. Young people can forgive the miserliness, because old people don’t grasp inflation or the exchange rate or the current value of either. I know, or rather, I remember when that transition crept into my own life, several decades ago. You love them in their decrepitude but really, how hard can it be? Something’s triggered in the expanding brain of the nearly teen; ‘ah well, what can you do, chalk it up to experience.’

It’s easy to remember amid the noise of the television, washer, drier, dish-washer and radio, simultaneous with my all too good fortune, white goods, wealth and an easy life style; as I pick out the candy wrappers from all the plant pots on the ground floor, because diabetics can cheat and none of my children are that devious, yet. I turn off running water and light switches as I travel in the new daylight. I gather detritus as I roam, lost glasses, dropped hankies, notes, clothes, dust bunnies and pills. How can any of us reasonably keep up? So much has changed in nearly a century.

I hear my daughter scream with delight as she comes rushing out of Nonna’s room at this unearthly hour of the morning. Wide eyed she fans out the green backs, a fortune. I watch her father flair with a mixture of irritation and despair, but Nonna’s not bothered, she’s perfectly happy, as anyone would be on Christmas Day. We sit everyone down in front of the pile of birthday presents, wrapped in blue for a girl. Her excitement is uncontainable as she begins - cards first; it’s a rule.

Pacing is everything.

The third card is from Nonna. As she rips it open; more greenbacks appear, a King’s ransom. I put my body between my daughter and my husband, before his hands can snatch it back, a gesture that no-one would understand, as instincts ignite reaction. He turns away to gouge his eye sockets, but that won’t erase the picture. All his careful plans dashed. All his precautions evaded. There is little hope of avoiding a repeat performance at Christmas, in ten days time.

Not now.

Don’t make a scene.

Deal with it later.

They’ll understand, given time, or at least one of them will.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dossier for deviants

I rush around the kitchen on maximum efficiency as it’s time to ramp up production. Next to me on the counter is the menu plan for the entire quarter, three whole months, to encompass the holiday season, when there will be 8 bodies skulling around the place all in need of three meals a day and two snacks.

Nonna is jet lagged but vertical.

Special needs, special diets – not my specialty.

I pause between cake icing and caramelized onions to deal with dog barf.

“So Maddy……….wot do we ave ere den? Divorce papers?”
Her fingers pat the stapled papers and ruffle the corners because she is the source of the twiddle gene whilst I scrub the carpet nearby. She pats down her body in search for the all elusive, reading glasses. The document is formatted to size 14 font, perfect for me but still too small for her. “Here, borrow mine.” She takes my reading glasses with doubt, “I don’t think deez will elp.”
“1.25 will still make a difference.”
“Not when dey are so mucky.”
I nab them back as I wash both hands and glasses in the sink - “try them now.”
“Ooo dats better. So what do we ave ere den?” Her fingertip helps her navigate the plan amid many sighs. She nods with approval every time she finds any item that includes pasta. Little squeaks of satisfied joy every time she comes across pizza. In my children’s ideal world, they’d eat eat pasta or pizza daily, quite possibly both. I’m the only deviant: whilst I loathe both of them, pasta is quick and pizza is purchased. On the one hand it keeps them all optimistic; on the other hand it’s an easy night off for me. It would be so easy to have easy nights every night. She turns page after page, week after week, month after month. “Lot of chicken you ave ere. You like chicken?”
“It’s cheap.”
“Ah!” She pats the paper, a sign of finality if not fatality, as she makes her little raspberry noise, the sound equivalent of ‘rats to that!
“Something wrong?”
“No…’s just I see dat we’re not going out to a restaurant at all…… the next three months.”
“Hmm……I see what you mean.”
“Does he keep you on a budget? Housekeeping?”
“Sort of……he earns it, I spend it.”
“Oooo you are a lucky woman den!”
“I suppose I am.”
“Dah budget doesn’t stretch to dinner out sometimes?” It’s my turn to sigh but she cottons on without another word, “I spose it is a lot isn’t it……all 8?”
“Hmm…..” I pause, spoon mid air as her son appears in the kitchen brandishing his brand new phone, great for games apparently, “ooo dere you are! Where you bin hiding with your silly phone.”
“It’s not silly, it’s a Droid.”
“Don’t tell me about google goggles again! You and your toys and your gizmos! We ave more important tings to talk about.”
“So wot you tink den?”
“Think about what mum?”
“Shall we go out to dinner?”
“Sure if you like. Where would you like to go?”
“Not fussy. Anywhere, just make it sometime soon.”
“Soon? Why soon?”
“I want to go whilst I’m still alive.”
“Why you are always so fat?” she asks him as she pats his tummy affectionately before leaving, as she calls over her shoulder, impish grin in place, “maybe it help keep your bag of bones wife alive too!”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Annual Solicitations – sackcloth and ashes

I chatted with my neighbor the night before because he’s older than me and has far more life experience to share - his parents are in their nineties. He knows a lot about Alzheimer’s. He had lots of siblings and ten children. I only have two, one brother, one sister, piggy in the middle. I wore my new cardi, a voluminous grey affair that the shop assistant described as ‘fashionable.’ I was advised that it wasn’t a cardi but a duster, as I still have a lot to learn. She asked me a great number of questions, unusual at the check out, until the penny dropped, as it often does, occasionally, eventually. I was happy to advise her that my accent was British, happier still to tell her that British people speak English too, delighted to explain that England is a tiny little island and is jolly close to Europe. It could be sarcastic but it’s not, just a wee private joke. It made me smile. It always makes me smile. It’s a smile I recognize from my Dad, the most polite, courteous and considerate man I’ve ever met, although my emulation falls short of the mark. I suspect you need to be a Victorian or an Edwardian to match; bygone eras are the yardstick and don’t allow for millimeters.

She was a lovely young thing, fresh faced, apple cheeked, huge dark eyes, and silky haired, ripping off security tags with a vengeance, although it doesn’t do to type cast, even though we all do it. I do it today because my smallest baby is nine, which means it is my mother’s birthday too, eight hours ahead, back in England. I could have phoned at midnight, but octogenarian’s don’t appreciate early morning calls, so I waited. I waited until after all the presents here at home, the excitement of his last single digit birthday: Lego, cats and gold-yellow-orange, he’s so easy to please; the positive reinforcement of the first window on the Advent Calendar.

So much hopefulness amongst the festivities.

I wonder if the shop assistant was the eldest in her family? So forthright. Or the youngest – so girlish. Or the middle child – so pleasing. I wonder if birth order really has an impact? If you’re typecast as the baby of the family, does it stay with you forever? My brother was the baby; he was the brainy one. My sister was the eldest; she was the beautiful one. I was the middle child; the amiable fool. We knew our place, content with the pecking order.

My parents talked in code, made reference to a different cultural age: my brother was the heir, because he was the only boy, fee simple, absolute but not yet in possession, my sister was the eldest unmarried daughter, spinster of this parish, at 12, because it was amusing. I remember the staff at the bank being very amused when I turned up at the window with a hand written missive from my father, my authorization to collect his money, in his own unique style. There could be no mistake. I might as well have had it tattooed on my forehead – my gene pool. It might have been humiliating but it wasn’t – just plain funny. No other customer was likely to describe their emissary in such terms, as marital status is a thing of the past.

It was difficult for him, my dad. I was the first person to ever be divorced in our family. It was a shameful disappointment; the mark of parental failure; it was a heavy blow. It was a long time ago. Divorce did not exist within my parent’s circle, unheard of, unprecedented, unbelievable. The bank tellers were indulgent as they wiped away the tears of mirth – ‘your driver’s license would have been fine!’ they beamed as they passed the note around, colleague to colleague, so that each could read it, glance in my direction to check, see if we were a match – we were – the offspring of an eccentric. There were many ways he could have described me – I was glad it wasn’t age, height and weight, another chattel. He was old school. Whilst I was unmarried, I was his responsibility. Children can be so unwittingly cruel.
When I was divorced I returned to the family fold, soiled goods.

‘This is my daughter – see we have the same eyes.’

‘This is my daughter – she’s skinny like me.’

‘Don’t know where she got her height from – must have been the postman when I was away at sea.’

‘This is my daughter, the dud, divorced.’

‘She has the same wicked sense of humor and an eye for detail.’

All such a long time ago as I listen to the telephone - one ring and he picks up. I can see him sitting in his winged backed chair as we exchange the formal pleasantries that are customary, a script. We practice the script every Sunday before he finishes with the same line, “would you care for a word with your Mother dear?” because that’s all he can manage these days. Today is my mother’s birthday, not Sunday but Monday. The drugs keep him docile, manageable. If my mother is home my father and I exchange two sentences first, before the hand over. He sounds exactly the same. If my mother is not home we exchange three sentences. No-one would ever know. Always the same exchange, two lines or three - so I can tell if she’s home or not. He used to be ten feet tall, magnificent. Now he’s nearer 5. Three sentences means phone again later, as he doesn’t function as a message center. He can legitimately claim deafness when required but I’m still startled when he asks, just one extra question that changes everything and I wish I hadn’t heard –

“who are you?”

I remember, just in time, because I’m good at time travel, back to the 70’s when everything was so much more simple, “it’s me dad, your youngest unmarried daughter.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Permanently Waving

If you have not already read ‘Deaf Sentence’ by David Lodge then I would highly recommend it as a thoroughly entertaining read whether or not you have any particular interest in hearing impairment. David Lodge exactly describes the emotions and practicalities of life with dwindling hearing, the frustrations of the victim and those around the victim, their respective inability to communicate. ‘Deaf Sentence’ is black humour, the kind I like most. One scene of many, particularly illuminates the underlying complexities of why a hearing impaired person might ‘pretend’ to understand a conversation but I shan’t include a spoiler.

Suffice to say that we experience this situation all too frequently as Nonna’s hearing declines. Sometimes it is simpler for her to just simply agree, a nod of affirmation, because deafness can be exhausting for the victim in the land of the hearing majority.

I believe I may have mentioned the repetitive nature of my relationship with Nonna. What I haven’t mentioned is that there are several different classes of repeats, the daily ones, the less frequent ones that simmer and boil up once a week and lastly the intermittent ones that pop up at random intervals. The last batch are generally stories of yesteryear. I had assumed that all family members were familiar with each category even if they didn’t share my categorization.

The intermittent repeats are many and various. One is an on-going nag. Nonna is an accomplished painter. Her neighbours gave her a photograph of their cat in the hope that she would produce a portrait of the feline. Nonna is reluctant to oblige. Her reasons are completely logical:- it’s a lousy photograph of the cat, doesn’t do him justice and his eyes are closed, the most important feature of any creature. We print out a picture of the moggy frequently, as they always seem to get lost. So it’s a recurring theme, her obligation and her avoidance, a mere prevarication.

Another is when my daughter offers to cook dinner, another random occurrence although very welcome, when I have commitments elsewhere in the evening. Her efforts are splendid as a new cook, wholemeal, meat-free, healthy and hearty. The children also object but that’s following one unfortunate incident with the timer because one person’s ‘well done’ is another’s ‘cremated!’ Sadly, that one incident of cremation has been seared into Nonna’s memory bank, a recipe for disaster, permanent. The association has been made, a cast iron link.

Although I warn Nonna in advance that I shall be out for the evening, it is not until I physically leave that she connects the dots. Suffice to say that some elderly persons have certain expectations when it comes to food, possibly more so if they are Italian. Whatever is on offer is shunned in favour of bread and brie, with a hunk of salami on the side. I’m not unsympathetic. Healthy eating is all very well but if I were over 80 I think I’d prefer to have my taste buds tickled than a clean colon.

Another is the visit to the hair dresser. “Wot about dis one den?”
“Which one?” She pats her head and pulls at strands of hair in exasperation.
“My air!”
“Yes, we must make you an appointment.”
“Wot I do wiv it den Maddy?”
“Short at the back, swept at the sides. You remember how you liked it when I did it last time?”
“Not a perm den?”
“No, you hate perms. Too much bother.”
“Yes dat’s right. Looks fine when you come out but dah next day! Ooo gawd it’s a bird’s nest.”
“Right. No perm.”
“No perm.”

Then there’s the other one, or one of the other ones, that follows intermittently after the nightly squirrel surprise during dinner. This amounts to a debate as to whether some animal lover has created a permanent structure of squirrel runs through the trees or whether it is a naturally occurring phenomenon. The latter, I assure you.

It is when the hairdresser issue is addressed that I realize that I am way behind schedule. My elder daughter offered to take the matter off my hands as she volunteered to take Nonna to the hairdresser when she went herself. However her life is busy, newly married, newly working. Hair is not a priority and days have morphed into weeks. I suggest that she may wish to push the hairdresser to the top of her list, the list that now has ‘acquire or purchase suitable clothing for substitute teacher post,’ in the number one slot. She accepts that personal appearances can sometimes be important. She recognizes that a professional appearance also encompasses hair. She jumps on the phone and confirms that she and Nonna will be off and coifed within the hour.

As they leave I have a quick after thought. I run after her to add detail, “remember, no perm just short at the back and swept back at the sides.”
“Got it.”

I continue my supper preparations and prompt each child to comment positively about older people when they return from the hair dressers. We practice out loud just to make sure there are no hic-cups, no references to curly frogs, no mention of lanolin and sheep and certainly no references punk rockers and their ideal hair colour.

By six o’clock, supper time, they are all well versed, exhaustively rehearsed. By six fifteen they begin to flag. There is no reassuring telephone call. By six thirty, they have lost interest in everything, as well as hair and food. There is no sign of the salon goers. By seven fifteen interest in everything has waned to inertia. Empty stomach walls adhere to each other. By seven thirty the dried up, not to say burnt bake, is somehow far more appealing than it was at it’s peak, an hour and a quarter earlier. All of a sudden there is a flurry of activity as Nonna bursts into the room accompanied by my fully flustered daughter. The heated debate that ensues is difficult to unravel. A combination of English as a second language to Spanish, Italian and some Asian language which wasn’t Cantonese, a mislaid hearing aid, the accusation of the possible theft of the battery to the hearing aid, conspire to confuse. They’re all tangled up with breathy swearing and volatile hand gestures. Whatever the truth to the matter one thing is clear, Nonna is annoyed. The second thing that is clear is that my daughter is exasperated. The third thing that is pertinent, is a very tightly curled head of hair, Nonna’s hair, as well as a very tightly coiled temper.

Now lets be fair as I wasn’t there, I was at home, so I shall choose my words with care. I can picture it all too clearly as I have experienced it many times before. There are certain situations where Nonna morphs into another being. She adopts an easy persona, that of the dear sweet little old lady with beaming, gentle smiles of compliance. This generally occurs under a very specific set of circumstances. It is in situations where the conversation is too difficult to follow, she is with people that she trusts to interpret accurately for her and she hopes that her stereotype will be accepted by whosoever is about to act upon her, benignly. Not an act so much as mere expediency.

The hot air of emotion in the kitchen is mixed with the crusty black flakes of the supper as Nonna attempts normal breathing patterns in the face of adversity.
“Well……enough of dat……..what about supper den……or did I miss it?” I look at the casserole with a certain degree of doubt, Nonna’s eyes follow mine, “dat’s not supper is it?”
“I tink I am not hungry really……I just ave a bit of bread.”
“With some brie?”
“Ooo yes dat would be nice.”
“And salami?”
“Ooo yes.”
“Wot I don’t understand is……?”
“Why you are ere?”
“I live here.”
“No……I mean……ow can she be in two places at once?”
“Who is in two places at once?”
“Tamsin…….she is ere cooking dis…er…..dinner……and she is with me at the hairdresser?”
“Well…..I think perhaps……”
“Next time you take me to dah hair dresser……leave her to cook dinner?”
“Well I….”
“It’s better dat way.”
“You think? I thought you didn’t like ……….her dinners?”
“I have cheese! Dat’s good. I make it in minutes…….but my hair! Gawd! Dat will be months!”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fruit Salad

“So what’s your favourite fruit then?” I ask my son as he makes vomit noises during dessert despite half a gallon of cream to take the edge off. It has been a very long dinner, the light is fails as the chill rolls in.
“Chocolate pudding.”
“That’s not a fruit dummy it’s not even a proper food! Is it mom?” But I can’t get another word in edgeways as the more verbal exercise supremacy.
“There’s only one food group and it’s not a pyramid it’s shaped like a bean, a cocoa bean.” I turn to my silent son, the one who loathes fruit, all fruit, especially bananas, a mere whiff from fifty paces will make him gag, “what about you dear?”
“What’s your favourite fruit?”
“Fruit…… fruit to eat?”
“Oh……..maybe……pineapples.” It’s like extracting teeth to get him to say anything sometimes.
“Nonna……what about you? What’s your favourite fruit?”
“Me? I like anything…..everything….pasta is my favourite though.”
FRUIT!” we all bellow in unison. The unison is surprising as it means that in one very rare occasion we are all on exactly the same page at the same time. Unfortunately, Nonna, unusually, is wearing her hearing aid, together with fully functioning batteries. I watch her reel with deadly feedback and blink, repeatedly, as she regains her composure, “oh, fruit you say? Well I like peaches best, whatever is in season really.” As an after thought, seconds later, when no-one is listening and the conversation has moved on to the subject of a fish called croissant, the French for fish which sounds like croissant but is really poisson, she adds, with an expression crippled with distaste, “but I do hate bananas,” and in a snap, my son who has only uttered 12 words since breakfast blurts, sotto voce, in a tone of dripping ice, “welcome to the club.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How wonderful to have a built in baby sitter

I arrive back at the house, otherwise known as Fort Knox, from the school run to find the gate and front door wide open. I pause on the driveway, motor running. I tell the children to remain in the car, to listen to their sister and wait until I return. When I return, I shall return with M & M’s for anyone who has managed to remain in the car, because the lowest common denominator usually works. I remove the car keys from the ignition so that when the criminal escapes from the house, he or she will be prevented from abducting my babies. It occurs to me that if there is a mad axe murderer in the house that I may, inadvertently, have given my children false hope. Since I am not armed with a handy ax myself, I pick up the abandoned garden fork instead. What a pity that it hasn’t been washed recently, if ever. Inside I find that the back door is also wide open to the garden. As many as 50 flies are having a party in the mid-air space of my dining room which means that every door has been open for some considerable while. I dart over to Nonna’s room where I find her asleep with a book open on her chest, peaceful. I check every room in the house to ascertain whether or not peace reigns throughout.

It does.

Or rather it doesn’t really. I may as well have a yard sale and dispose of the entire contents of the house, give it all away, hang a neon sign on the open doorway saying ‘muggers and thieves welcome, help yourselves, anytime, open all hours.’ I grab a handful of M & M’s and step out towards the car. En route I find Thatcher, good and faithful hound who thankfully has decided to remain in residence rather that escape as puppies so often do. I march out to the car in the 80 degree heat and reward my good and faithful children. I beam so that they know that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about, even though there really is, it is of no concern to them, at least not for now. The adrenalin rush still courses through me as I hang onto the door frame as my children slather themselves in well deserved chocolate, because they’ve taken a giant collective leap forward. It’s the nature of things, forwards and backwards, swings and roundabouts, one step ahead, several in arrears. My youngest pipes up in-between munches, cheerful and sweaty, “Nonna is bad.”
“Is she? Why is she bad?”
“No what?”
“She isn’t as bad.”
“As bad as whom?”
“As bad as us.”
“You’re not bad. Who told you you were bad?”
“No what?”
“Dah door is being open.”
“I know…….but it’s o.k.”
“Nonna did it.”
“I know but that’s alright. Nonna is allowed to leave the door open…….sometimes.”
“She forgotted.”
“You’re right she did. But that’s o.k., we’ll help her to remember to keep it closed.”
“But she isn’t being bad to go outside.”
“That’s right, no harm in taking a little walk once in a while. It’s probably good for her.”
“Yes, so she’s not bad.”
“Right. Not bad, good.”
“She is good…..gooder…….good to go outside nicely.”
“Hmmm. We can all go out nicely now can’t we?”
“Yes but Nonna goes out nicer,” he struggles with the seat belt and pulls off his T-shirt bathed in sweat as he hops out of the car.
“How?” I watch him make a dash for the house, for the shade, for the cool as he discards his clothes en route and shouts over his shoulder, “coz she ain’t naked.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eye opener

A very long time ago we had children we few words and a great many frustrations. Several developmental leaps later, they had more words and a great many more frustrations.

My job description at the time was ‘the finder of things.’ I had been trained by a couple of experts. One would scream ‘Thomas’ and off I’d trot like a heat seeking missile, but not as accurate, nor fast. During a lull on the demand for brain cell function, it occurred to me that it might be a jolly good idea if I could train my children to find their own things. I devised a not so very cunning plan and we made a start. We experienced a great many hic-cups due to my short sightedness and my inability to predict roadblocks but eventually the ‘search’ plan materialized into something doable.

If I had my time over I would probably have used different words but the words were adopted, swallowed whole at the time and became deep seated. It became a prompt, an aide memoire that was thoroughly well scripted. I would approach a howling child and gently calm him down until words became possible. Clever people will know that if you have to attend to a howling child this means that you as a parent have missed the opportune moment to intervene, prior to the howling, but I still had a great deal to learn about pre-emptive strikes.

Once calm we could begin. Identify the name of the missing item, although that in itself might take quite a long time. Having identified the item we would then think. We put on our thinking poses, cartoon style, an index finger to the temple or mouth, deep in thought. ‘Aha! I know, why don’t we look for the thing with our eyes.’ It was an exaggeration, it was banal, it was a prompt to promote body action, movement and the first step to active problem solving.

But as I said, it was a very long, long time ago.

I bump into Nonna in the hall as she rears around the corner with faulty brakes as her right leg is one inch shorter than the other, “sorree, sorree, sorree,” she mutters as she regains her breath. “Can I help you? What are you looking for?” Her hands continue to pat surfaces as they search for whatever it is. Whatever it is, is currently nameless, or if it can be named it most likely will come out as the Italian version. She mimes instead. “Ah glasses!” because I’m quick off the mark like that. “You get a coffee and I’ll find them for you.” I trot off to check out all the usual suspects. The four pairs of reading glasses and three pairs of sun glasses have had a unduly high rate of escapism of late.

My son has witnessed this exchange, unusually. He watches Nonna walk to the kitchen and me go in the opposite direction. I see his head swivel to double check before he darts after me in Mr. Speedy mode. He has a huge cheesy grin plastered to his face as he flits around me on fast tapping tippy toes and a rapidly nodding head. His lips open and shut rapidly as do his hands, one at each cheek to show three lipped synched mouths all chattering in silence, ‘help ME! Help ME! HELP ME!” mouth the lips. “I’m helping Nonna, I’ll help you in a minute dear.” But he persists running back and forth in front of me, running feet, running mouths, cheesy grin and nodding head. In Nonna’s room the glasses are in plain sight as he bounces up and down on the bed, still miming, "HELP ME!" I return to the kitchen with mosquito boy still in full zap mode, and hand the glasses to Nonna. She smiles and returns to her room with a coffee. My son, deflates in another exaggeration of exhausted disappointment. “Right. What is it dear? What are you looking for?” But he is wordless with a scowl. He mutters something inaudible. “Pardon?” He whispers something quietly, probably the first real whisper in recorded history around here. “Why are you whispering dear?” which is a counter intuitive question in view of the fact that it is his first and I should be celebrating the event. He points to Nonna’s room with a stab for emphasis. “Nonna? What about Nonna. She’s in her room now, she can’t hear you.”
“She couldn’t be hearing me even if she was being here!” he scoffs.
“Enough of that matey. Use your kind words, just not in a whisper.”
“Why for she is not be lookin for her own stuff coz I am be needin for you to be helping me with lookin for my own stuff?”
“Because you know how to look now, don’t you.” He pulls a face, as he recognizes that it is indeed true, he is independent in that skill area, most of the time. “Darnit!” he screams, returning to his usual modality of 50 decibels.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Not as green as you’re cabbage looking*

The thing about dementia is that it is often very gradual. A person can swing gently back and forth within a certain range, take a dip below, and bubble up above, all in the same time period. I exist in a zombie period of time after four consecutive nights with my nocturnal son. I sit on the edge of the swimming pool with my feet in the water fully dressed but unwashed. Green top, green trousers, green cardi, crumpled and un-ironed with green shoes waiting as it’s the closest I can get to co-ordinated. The washing line flaps in the hot breeze loaded up to full capacity. Ostensibly I am supervising swimming. In theory I would save myself time in the washing and dressing department if I did have a swim, fully clothed but I’m on a strict time limit before Respite workers arrive. It is very important to appear to be co-ordinated before such people, public people, people who measure ‘togetherness’ by a dress code. Nonna appears after her thirty minute warning. Thirty minutes allows the children to work off the edge of their exuberance so that they’re less likely to mow her down.
“You not swim today?”
“No, not today.”
“No? Ow come?” She peers at me, critical. “You know, you look dreadful,” she says with a certain eerie sincerity.
“Maybe you need a break?”
“I’m off to the dentist in half an hour.”
“Ah dats good. Is dat good?”
I give her a quick flash of my retainer, the never ending saga of teeth.
“Change is as good as a rest, hopefully just a clean.”
“You’ll be lying down den.”
“Good……..So Maddy?”
“Did you know?”
“Know what?”
“I ad a visitor last night.”
“You did?”
“Yes, crawled into my bed at 5:03… I suppose it must ave bin morning den.”
“Yes, all like a … a……wot it called again….an edgehog! All pointy elbows and knees.”
“You must ave been asleep I tink?”
“Must have been I suppose.”
I shoed im away…….but ee came back again at 5:36.”
“Yes… curled up like a little prawn. All wiggly… a cat trying to get comfortable.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Dat’s o.k. I just wanted you to know dat I know even doh you don’t tink dat I know.”
“Thank you.”
“Dat’s o.k……….it’s not often I can truthfully claim to ave ad a gentleman visitor in dah dead of dah night.”

* do not make assumptions based upon appearance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I swear to you

The subtleties of language are complicated by culture, custom and hearing skills.

Because my children are American and have the power of verbal speech they are apt to say “I’m done,” on completion. This phrase is less common abroad. If you are abroad and say “I’m done,” it would be more likely to indicate that the speaker had run out of patience with the task or conversation. The speaker might make a hand gesture at the same time to emphasize their annoyance, terminating the chat. I think Brits would say ‘I’m done with this,’ but I’m out of date so don’t quote me. It is because of this inference that Nonna seems to always catch this phrase, it catches her interest because of the underlying implication that her grandchildren are upset about something. Saying ‘I’m done’ in English, especially if it’s your second language as Nonna is Italian, is the American equivalent of ‘I’m outta here’ or ‘enough already.’ Nonna, being the concerned grandmother that she is, will then encourage the children to explain why they are upset. Her inability to hear their replies usually makes for an escalating scene of frustration all round.

In essence, it runs like this:-

“I’m done.”
“You’re done? What ave you done?”
“I’m done.”
“What ave you done?”
“I said…I’m done?”
“Yes I know you said you were done but I am asking you what ave you done?”
“I’m done already!”
“What have you already done?”
“I’m done!”

Let’s just say that it’s one of those little repeats that I would prefer to repeat less often as it makes for lots of hurt feelings all round and ever greater degrees of confusion for everyone. Hence, just lately, I have been trying to persuade my children to say that they are ‘finished’ instead of done. I thought it would take a long time, as so many of these things take longer around here than they do in other places. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when after any number of prompts, I found that the children helped each other out and began prompting themselves. When the ‘done’ word popped out, I was right on their case with my pre-emptive strike, but I wasn’t quite quick enough as my youngest son shouted at his brother at 50 decibels, “no dummy! Use the F word!” I watched Nonna’s hands fly to her mouth, speechless, before the hesitant question, “did ee just say wot I tink ee said?”

It’s a gentle reminder, to think through the natural and all possible consequences of one minor change and just how far the ripples will travel.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hide and seek

It is often difficult to describe someone to other people with accuracy. So often our own bias creeps in to distort the picture. At best we can only capture little glimpses, snapshots in time. If someone has accumulated more than 80 years of life then any description is sparse but I’d still like to share a patchy fragment.

Nonna is wildlife’s best friend, always has been always will be. She has never paid hard cash for a pet, they simply deposit themselves on her doorstep in the sure and certain knowledge that they’re entitled. Thus far, they have proved to have made the right choice. If you asked her, Nonna would tell you that hers has been an ordinary little life of no great import. She’s quite accurate of course, because I’ve seen the photographs of her and her chums. Old sepia photographs of her with her group of fellow mountain climbers as they sit at the bottom of the mountain, resting. I think you would need a rest after fitting planks of wood to my boots to ski down en masse. It would have been tough to keep up with all those fit young men, the only woman, or maybe that’s just me? These days she would tell you that she doesn’t like crowds although I suspect that is influenced by her hearing loss. You can see how she copes with crowds when we take the children to a theme park. There are fewer older people at most theme parks than one might think. There are lots of grandparents but so many of them are merely middle aged. There are fewer octogenarians. Of the octogenarians that are there, they are mostly observers. Our octogenarian is most often found squished into a plastic helicopter next to her grandson, attached to a pole, forty feet in the air, waving to the ground, laughing. She’s the sort of person that will pinch your M&M’s when you’re distracted, especially when she’s the distraction, such a tease. Of course these days it’s so much easier to get in and out of vehicles designed for the under 11’s, now that she no longer needs a cane, now that her hip replacement has mended, now that one leg is an inch shorter than the other.

The shorter leg taps the bar under the table in the garden as dinner draws to a close. Her hearing aid is in her pocket as we spoon feed two yelping children, nearly the last spoonful over a period of more than 40 minutes. Nonna’s plate is empty, it’s been empty for 35 minutes but she has no complaints as she comments on squirrels and hummingbirds, strokes the cat imprisoned on her lap and feeds the dog morsels by hand, because she is exempt from all the rules. I pass the spoon to my eldest daughter, a hand over so that I can address Nonna directly and loudly over the ambient level of noise, “want to play hide and seek?”
“Hide and seek?”
“You want me to ide or you want me to seek?”
“I want you to seek the tortoise, Fred.”
“Oh no. Eee is lost again, Gawd dat creature is a menace.”
“No. He’s in the pen. See if you can see him.”
“In dah pen? Out ere in dah garden?”
“Yes. Come on.” I lead her unsteadily over a couple of yards to the edge of the house where we have a make shift pen for Fred, because he is so small and can’t be given free reign yet. She peers into the two by four square foot of grass, shaded by a towel as we don’t want to accidentally cook him in the Californian sun. She reaches down to search with her hands to no avail. She steps into the pen and then gingerly crouches down on all fours to hand search the blades of grass. “Am I getting warmer?” she asks with the evening sun on her back. “Bit more, keep going.” Her fingers brush his shell and she parts the grass to reveal a very small tortoise. She pulls him out backwards from the hole that he’s dug himself into, “well look at dat! Wot a pretty little ting she is!” she beams with delight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bullies and favourite grand-daughters

Since the ‘clean up after yourself campaign is floundering,’ I decide instead to push for a snippet of independent living. It’s a tricky one, as diabetics need to eat regularly. Elderly people also need to be encouraged to continue independence in small manageable tasks but it’s hard to draw the line between that and being a slave driver. It is just as easy for me to make sandwiches for everyone in one fell swoop but I need to have the children attempt to make their own, despite the mess. Why not do likewise with Nonna? Several reasons immediately come to mind, not all that different from the barriers my own children face such as ‘where is the bread/butter/filling/knife/plate etc. It’s all very time consuming.

I am also alarmed to note that we have fallen into an unfortunate habit, although the fault is entirely mine. Nonna appears at around lunch time in the kitchen. I mention lunch. She mentions that she really isn’t hungry, at all. I remind her of the importance of eating regularly. She leans against the door and asks what if anything, there might be to tempt her. I take out the temptations and before I know it I have made a sandwich, a custom order. I pass her the plate, she beams with just the tiniest hint of satisfaction. Just call me Pavlov! She’s a force to be reckoned with and no mistake. Having learned from my mistake, again, try a new tactic. We repeat our daily conversation up to the point of temptation, whereupon I suggest she has a look in the fridge and make whatever she would like. I then remove my self to a safe distance, the utility room, to fold laundry but within shouting distance. My back is turned towards her as I lift and fold and lift and fold surrounded by four already full laundry hampers as I’m sure the visual reminder will keep her on track. She may be mischievous but she’s not certainly not mean. I’m confident that given time she’ll persevere rather than ask. I listen to her mutterings as she gently sequences herself through the lengthy series of tasks. I know she can do it.

“Where is she?” she calls but I ignore the distraction, at first.
“Who?” I call over my shoulder as we’ve only just finished the tortoise repeat.
“Where is she?” When she says it a third time I turn to face her, holding a packet of Salami in her hands.
“Penny who?”
“You know…….your daughter, Penny.”
“Do you mean Tamsin?”
“No dah other one.”
“Ella? Is dat er name?”
“Right,” she acknowledges with hesitation.
“She’s at school. I’ll collect her in half an hour.”
“Right.” Her first grandchild of three. The similarity between the two of them in both humour and temperament is quite marked. Her joy at the birth was a sensation, unparalleled by subsequent arrivals, as is often the way with these things. She puts the open packet of salami on the counter next to the bread before she wanders off, leaving, but she pauses and calls over her shoulder, “I know I shouldn’t say it, but Penny az always been my favourite.”
Lucky Penny or bad Penny? I wonder who she is?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Changing the points

We talk our talk, the alternate version from the "I do miss fruit" conversation. It’s like a regular detour, shunted off to a siding, waiting for the freight train to pass.
“So Maddy?”
“Are your teeth still bad?”
“No they’re alright now,” I beam a demonstration of my flashy straight gnashers in confirmation.
“Oh…………ow come you don’t eat fruit den?”
“I do, every day, several pieces, certainly far more than the 5 a day.”
“Do you?”
“Yes. Do you remember last night when you all had ice-cream and I had raspberries?”
“Oh yes… ow come nobody else eats fruit?”
“They do all of them, especially the girls, they’re both fruit bats I swear.”
“Yes…..that’s why I’m always buying it, why the fruit bowl is nearly always empty.”
“Ooo eats it all den?”
“We all do, pounds and pounds, all 8 of us.”
“8? Eight of us?”
“Yes, all eight.”
“Ooo are all deez people den?”
We switch seamlessly into the ‘head count’ conversation where each person is itemized, has their name, age and marital status confirmed before we move onto pets, and whether or not they are spade, the benefits of being spade or neutered, swiftly followed by the conversation pertaining to the sexuality of the tortoise. As we reach the end of this cycle, several times a day, it becomes far easier, although sometimes I feel ever so slightly dazed at just how many of these conversations we can slot together in one sitting.
“Well……..dats alright den.”
“Yes.” We both pause and take a deep breath, dry mouthed. She pats the counter for a few moments, revving up for the next exchange. She blinks at me a few times, something flips over, track back and we’re on the mainline again, “you know………?”
“I tink maybe everything is going to be okay.” I smile in reply as I’m sure she genuinely means it. It’s just a chink, like a little gear change, a switchover.
“So den?”
“I tink maybe you don’t love me any more?”
“Yes……I tink you forget to put on the BBC for me. Ow can I keep up with world events if you cut me off,” she scoffs, nudges my arm and giggles.

And other old sayings

He’s barely over the threshold after work when I detail him off to remind his mother to take her pill whilst I finish off supper preparations. Even with the extractor fan working full tilt above my head I can still hear every word they say together in her bedroom with the windows open.
“I need to go to the bank to get some money. I aven’t been for a week.”
“You don’t need any money. Anyway, you’ve not been to the bank out here.”
“Ow long I been ere den.”
“2 months.”
“2 weeks……well I suppose…..”
“Months! Two months not two weeks.”
“Two months! Gawd I can’t ave been ere dat long. I need to go home. When I go home den?”
“September. Another month.”
“Gawd! Another month you say?”
“It’s like……”
“Like fish!”
“You don’t like fish. You hate fish.”
“I know……but it’s like fish.”
“What’s like fish?”
“A guest is like three day old fish.”
“A guest.”
“What guest?”
“A guest! Me! You silly goose. A guest is like three day old fish!”
“Smells bad! I’ve bin ere too long.”
“No you’ve not. Don’t be daft. This is your home.”
“Gawd it’s not at all. I ave my own ome.”

He re-appears in the kitchen, eye gouging. I feel a tad guilty. There are so many repeats that I assume he’s heard them all before. I feel a bit like a thief. She’s his mother not mine. It’s not just the repeats but the treasures of childhood, Mussolini, the war, Italy, her youth. Admittedly they’re repeats too, but I just assumed that we were singing from the same hymnal.

“I take it you’ve not heard that one before then?”
“The fish? Nope. Never heard that one before.”
“Funnily enough…….”
“O.k. Point taken. How often?”
“Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we use the same tactic.”
“Enlighten me?”
“She’s not a guest……she’s family.”
“Ugh…..that’s a bit gushy for you.”
“Only if you have to say it more than once and be sincere, then it grates a bit.”
“Pass the barf bag.”
“Believe me, I have every reason to regret the things that first come out of my mouth and are then cast in stone to be repeated, I’ve had lots of practice.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sharing a repeat

The first time I was taken aback, as well I should be, but this is still one of my preferred repeats, even though I’m familiar with the punch line. One of our many daily exchanges. I find it quite endearing that she needs to check on each and every household member, their whereabouts, their welfare, from the highest to the lowliest. Our current exchange is much briefer than the original.

It goes as follows:-

“So den Maddy?”
“Wot about dis one den?”
“Which one?”
“Ow is she today?”
“Dah…..wot it called again…..?”
“Ah yes. Ow is she today do you tink?”
“Very well.”
“Where is she?”
“In the tank, in the family room.”
“Not outside today den?”
“No we’ll put him out in the garden later to stretch his legs.”
“Dat’s nice. Wot iz her name again?”
“Dat’s a strange name for a girl isn’t it?”
“He’s a boy.”
“Is he! Ow you know dat den?”
“Well…..we don’t really, not yet, we have to wait for him to get a bit bigger and then we’ll be able to tell.”
“You will! Ow?”
“If he’s a boy then the bottom of his shell will be concave, for mounting. If he’s a girl then the bottom of his shell will be convex.”
“Hmm….I see. It’ll be bad if she’s a girl……Fred.”
“Frederick for a boy. Frederica for a girl.”
“Oh…..I see. Fred…..always feminine of course.”
“Feminine? Like I said, we don’t really know yet.”
“No…..always feminine.”
“Well……like I said……we have to wait and see.”
“Feminine. Always. Tartaruga!” she announces with a flourish.
“La tartaruga, in Italian, always feminine.”

Note to self – in my next life, now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I shall study Italian instead of failing French, German and Latin, mixed in with occupational and speech therapy of course.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The new campaign

The "children" return to school. I still worry about notes because they seem passive aggressive. Do I wake her to tell her I’m going out or do I risk her waking and finding herself alone and confused. Although my daughter is home, she doesn’t live in the kitchen as I do.

First off I would say that I’m not quite sure what I shall be doing but be sure that I will be doing something.

Nonna has always had two alternate versions:-
“What do you mean, I always sleep perfectly!” or
“No, I always sleep badly.”
It’s familiar territory, or at least it was.

Now it is different.

Recently we have experienced a new variation on a theme. She remains in bed for the majority of the day, dozing and reading, and dozing and reading. This seems an entirely sensible option when the weather is hot, the European Siesta option. However, lately the weather has not been true to form. Warm? Yes. Sweltering? No. I cannot be certain until I notice something else.

I knock, wait and enter with a cup of coffee. Not an early wake up call but a 9 o’clock call to action which I hope is a reasonable compromise for someone of advancing years. On my previous similar entries I had noticed that the rubber sheet had been discarded, unfortunate but perfectly reasonable. If it had been me who had be presented with a rubber sheet by my daughter in law I doubt if I would have been so tactful with the implied insult.

Since it is warm it’s also sensible just to use the duvet cover, alone and empty as a semi blanket and reject the puffy duvet’s heat. What is less understandable is the use of the fitted sheet as a top sheet where your body lies next to the bare mattress. When I see her smile back at me in greeting whilst clutching the elastic of the sheet I am at a loss to know what to say. Instead we run through our first meet and greet session before I leave on automatic pilot.

Back in the kitchen I am left with a sinking feeling, a very familiar sinking feeling. I stop worrying about why the tumble drier smells of burnt plastic. I talk to my daughter about it, another adult. She in turn tells me that she noticed the disarray on a previous occasion, meant to mention it to me. She didn’t mention it because at the time I was dealing with other matters, children’s matters, in the thick of it. She didn’t want to tip the balance, so she held it, held if for later, for now, for this moment now that the children are not here. A different moment, a different matter.

It is a matter of opposites, stark. It’s the emotion a parent experiences when their child first smiles, when it isn’t a burp or takes their first step, when it isn’t a stumble. The gasp of breathtaking delight is an anxious one, celebrating the first, anxious for the repeat. The parent of a child with special needs, who may have waited a lot longer, also knows they may have to wait much longer for a repeat, that the repeat may not come, so they hold back their expectations and practice patience, because given time and encouragement, it may just be that whatever this next skill might be, it might just, if they’re very lucky, become part of their general repertoire. It is precisely because we have these common experiences that this should be easy, plain sailing. Except. Except here, it is the exact opposite. Debatably a first step, one that I do not want repeated, or it if is repeated, to be repeated a very long time from now, and please delay inclusion in the general repertoire. The difference is the element of hope. It is hope that sustains us, the brighter future, possibly, always the possibilities, although now even that begins to wither. And that is exactly how it feels, in reverse, just so you know, and I know that you surely know.

So where does that leave us then? Whilst I’m not entirely certain, I do know that it somewhere between there and here. If we can get her up, fed, showered and dressed in a timely manner, then we’re probably not doing too badly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lets make believe

I keep up a cracking pace all morning to get as much done as possible before the heat kicks in. The children play, noisy but happy as they have far more capabilities in the morning than later in the day. All the while Nonna sits on the sofa in the sitting room which functions like the main thoroughfare of the house. She holds a single torn sheet from a Garfield comic book. By mid morning at snack time, I’ve done just enough to get by, as good enough just has to do these days. I nip back into the sitting room just to check but she’s still there, static. I hover for a moment, indecisive as usual, bathed in early sweat. She beams and I surrender, “so Maddy!”
“Would you like a coffee and a snack?”
“No I’m quite appy ere……watching.”
“I thought you were reading?”
“No……..I just watch……it’s like watching dah tennis.”
“What is?”
“You! Back and forth and back and forth…….always so busy I tink.”
I give up and plop onto the sofa next to her. “I used to be so busy too…..” Her shaky hands finger the page the way they normally manipulate a hanky, constant movement. Hopefully calming, repetitive, familiar. I’m always fine until I stop. Because I’ve stopped I can’t help but yawn. She blinks at me, offended but up on her feet, unsteady, as she makes her way towards the kitchen. I skip after her in my size tens.

In the kitchen she is assaulted by the smell of fish, something she absolutely loathes, and mistakenly left by the coffee machine to cool. “Wot is dat terrible smell?”
“Fish pie. It’s for her birthday. It’s her favourite.”
“Disgusting. I’ll just have bread.”
“It’s o.k. I made you a chicken pot pie. This little one here.”
“Why so small?”
“It’s just for you, for one. Everyone else will have the fish pie.”
“Not me. Just bread. Where is dah bread?” She seems close to tears but I’m not sure if it’s fear or fury or frustration. I suspect it’s also mutual. I remember by “bible” readings but I am truly out of my depth.
“It’s just here, by the coffee maker, but it’s not supper time yet.”
“Only dat little bit……you will make some more?”
“You make it now?”
“In a bit.” She rests her arms on the counter and shakes her head slowly, despair?
“I don know………I tink maybe you want me to starve!”
Dear Lord! I blink and swallow hard, close to the edge without a clue. The hub bub continues all around whilst we exist in this one tiny little bubble, stunned. Then she shoves me, gently as she breaks into a smile. “I tease you! You silly goose!” she beams as she gathers loose flesh around her midriff. “I tink I got a long way to go yet before I starve.” She’s surely saved me this time, but it’s sobering. “Why dah long face? You worry too much you do.” She walks away with a coffee, pulls a biscuit out of her pocket and calls over her shoulder “I know what you do……kill me off with sugar temptations!” chuckles the diabetic.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Circling around

It is a rare occasion indeed for me to put my foot down, but sometimes I do.

A very long time ago when Nonna was a bit more with it, we enduring a very difficult period in our family life. You could call it a bit of a clash of cultures. You see for a long while, Nonna has been a diabetic, a fact that she took in her customary stride. However, when her son was also diagnosed as diabetic, a new habit occurred. Instead of checking her blood sugars within the privacy of her own room or bathroom, she and her son tested their blood together, in harmony, at the dining room table to compare notes as it were. It may sound unduly grand, however, I should point out that the dining room table is the only table in the house, central, in an open plan design.

The arrival of the testing kit was my visual cue to scurry the children away to another room. Over protective? Maybe. But at that time both the boys had a morbid fear of blood, associations with death and anything that could be remotely categorized as a dangerous weapon, which included nail clippers.

Many might view this as a perfect opportunity to up the anti on the desensitization campaign. A fair criticism but we were very, very far away from that stage of desensitization. It would have been the equivalent of marching on hot coals before you’ve mastered looking at them wearing sunglasses behind a protective barrier with your feet in a bathful of ice-cubes. Twice a day this ritual took place. Twice a day I would remove my children from view, as ever, the line of least resistance. All was well and goodish.

Good enough, until one day Nonna decided that the children should witness the ritual. Because I know her so well, I am confident that whatever her reasons might have been, and I’m sure there were many, her intentions were well meant. It was a spontaneous moment, combustible. The bedlam that ensued was catastrophic from any vantage point you could choose.

That was when I put my foot down. No more. To be fair, having witnessed the fall out first hand, Nonna was sanguine after the event. I had not been exaggerating. The fall out was grossly unfair to Nonna, as thereafter they refused point blank to go anywhere near her room which housed the instruments of torture.

Subsequently we exchanged that ritual for another. Twice a day Nonna would arrive in the kitchen together with her diary to slump against the kitchen counter, cross.
“Wot about dis ting den?”
“Ooo lets have a look. Hmm you readings are a bit high.”
“Why it is high you tink?”
“Probably the chocolate cake last night.”
“Did I ave chocolate cake?”
“Indeed you did.”
“Oh well ……forget about it den.”

Twice a day. Morning and evening.

But of course that was a very long time ago. I remember that time long ago when my son happens to saunter into the kitchen, wordless but with a trail of blood coursing from this finger, dripping down his shirt, legs and feet. He is the child that bounces of cement walls without so much as a whimper. He is expressionless as he looks around for something. A word that he can’t retrieve for the moment. I watch him circling and searching quietly in the kitchen. I know what he’s looking for and I’m ready to prompt but I wait, no interruptions. I watch until a little flinch sparks him off, off to the bathroom and the band aid. Perfect! I do not praise him because he is generally allergic to praise. He gives me a sneaky beam, because he knows, and I know that he knows. I propel him back to the bathroom so that I can clean him up, compliant. Because he did such a great job I don’t bother with coaxing him to clean up the blood trail on the floor. The 'clean up after yourself' campaign can wait.

As I clean up the blood on the floor to remove all trace elements that might spark off his little brother, a thought occurs to me as I look at my very clean floorboards, vacant. I remember that the diary ritual is absent. I recall reading in my new "bible" that quite often a change of habit in an older person may mask an underlying difficulty. An unwillingness to drive may hide an inability to drive safely. It’s something that I sort of already knew, or rather just a variation on a familiar theme.

I tip toe over to Nonna’s room where she dozes in the chair next to a pile of unread books with a Garfield comic open on her chest. Privacy versus knowledge? I dither but not for very long as her eyes open to see me and then recognize me, “ello dere. It is pill time?”
“No…….I was just wondering?”
“Your diary. Do you still keep a record of your readings?”
“No……I don’t bother wiv dat any more.” She reaches over to retrieve it from the pile, opens it and riffles the blank pages.
I wonder if an unwillingness to write masks an inability or difficulty in writing? Maybe just frustration at being unable to find any one of half a dozen pairs of reading glasses? Or pencils? Too hot? Too tired? Bad day? I double check.
“How’s the crossword going?”
“I don’t bother wiv dat old ting anymore,” she adds wearily as she pats the pile, the way she pats everything. I pull out the crossword and examine it. Two across, three down, one blank space. I beam. She beams, “only dat last one to go den.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Some things are smaller than you think

The irritations in my life are "many" and "various" and unfortunately growing, daily. I find it hard to get a grip on these petty minded emotions. I find myself descending into devious ploys.

One little campaign is to confuse the post office. I put my parcels outside the front door for collection. Several minutes or hours later, Nonna will announce the arrival of a package and kindly parks it on the dining room table for me.

Another round robin is the dance we play with the coffee maker. If I leave the kitchen for any period of time, on return I shall find her at the machine, bereft because it is empty, because yes, she is one of the few people on the planet who is not affected by caffeine.

I play umpire between her and my daughter, one determined to save the environment, the other determined to quadruple the water bill single handedly. Quite frankly I have so much help about the place I hardly know what to do with myself anymore.

But I digress.

Presently I am occupied in finding different places to hide my knitting. In a previous era I had to hide it from my son in cat mode, but nower days I hide it from Nonna. She’ll sit there quietly minding her own business, which immediately arouses my suspicion and there she’ll be, watching the BBC news and knitting. Knitting my knitting.

To those who do not knit, this would seem of no import. To those of us who do knit, we know that every knitter’s technique and touch differs. Ironically this is called tension; how tightly or loosely you knit. No two are alike. It’s the current two step of my life. Nonna knits a few rows. Later, I undo a few rows and re-knit them. I have tried other devious ploys as well, such as providing a substitute, her very own set, but somehow or other we end up in the original position. I cannot understand why her knitting is always lost and yet mine, whilst hidden, is always available?

It is whilst I busy devising other devious ploys that a spot of recall worms itself into my memory bank. A time from many years ago. Back then, as a divorced single parent, I used any many of means to keep myself and my daughter afloat, financially. Although I had a full time job, I picked up little jobs on the side, here and there, for the little extras in life such as shoe leather and food. One of those little jobs was knitting. Not the most lucrative of employments I’ll grant you but not to be sniffed at either.

So it was that I received a phone call and then a visit from a couple of women, a mother and daughter. As it turned out, neither of them could knit. They brought to me a half knitted sweater and a complicated pattern. It needed completion. The original knitter was their daughter and sister respectively. The recently deceased woman had been knitting it for herself, for her own use in her very ordinary little life when her very ordinary little life came to an unexpectedly abrupt end. I still have their faces embossed in my mind. Racked with grief they handed it over, an article of such value, in trust, as they blinked away tears and spittle spattered mumblings. I covered with ramblings of my own, tutelage in tension, explanations of excuses and a tissue of trivia before they left.

Once they had left, I was left with a dilemma. I knitted a few rows, changed the needles, changed back, fiddled back and forth in an attempt to match. It was so tempting to unravel the whole thing and start from the beginning again. They’d never know but I would know. My DNA cells might cover hers but I couldn’t bear to erase those personal purls. I gave up. I completed the sweater. To the unskilled eye it would be perfect. To those who know or knew, the tidemark was all too obvious, but all the better for it.

So for the present I’ll leave it be, as there are so many other campaigns to be tackled. Maybe I should start with something more manageable. Similar yet different. Some skullduggery to find the perfect hiding place for my swimsuit. I kid you not! It hangs off me like a dish rag but it fits her just like a glove. Ooo the gall of the woman!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Windfall – the blind leading the deaf or vice versa

I find myself unexpectedly child free for the first time in months. My daughter and Mr.B remove them to a fun, family friendly and completely enclosed location. As I wave good bye I am suddenly overwhelmed with a myriad of choices. I could do anything I want but what?

I watch the car turn the corner and have a clearer view of my neglected garden. Of course. The garden centre. I dash back inside for my list, buried under heaps of heaps when Nonna appears. We bimble through our ‘good morning’ routine for the seventh time but she is in an exceptionally good humour, as am I.
“Wot you do den you lucky woman?” I pause, because I am inherently selfish. Precious moments of alone time should not be wasted. At the same time I note that she wears the same set of clothes that she has been wearing for three days running. I also know that she always changes into fresh clothes if we leave the house. I do not wish to delay for 30 minutes whilst she makes herself presentable but of course there are so many different things that I do not want. I am so good at pretending to be nice but wicked thoughts are always there. Fortunately I have my other mother’s Roman Catholic sticks to beat myself with: if you can’t do it with good grace then don’t do it at all.
“Tell you what! Do you fancy a trip to the garden centre?”
“Ooo yes……no……..yes…….just a minute……let me change.” She trots off with haste as I search around for a book to read. How much can you read in 30 minutes? Not very many if someone’s nicked your book. I refuse to pout and cook instead. Before too long she reappears on full beam, “right den!” and off we plod.

At the garden centre we are at peace and at one, a joint therapy session. Her delight is a delight and I am thoroughly delighted myself. We stroll through Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, Camellias and Salvias because we enjoy the same language and have perfect recall. She marvels at the textures and scents, the abundance known as Home Depot. “Wot a size dey all are!”
“Yup, everything is bigger and better in America.”
“Look at dat ting. It is a giant I tink.” She pats the leaves as she moves her body into different viewing positions.

A youthful chap approaches Nonna to ask her something, something that she does not understand or maybe cannot hear. She flaps an arm in my direction so I whiz over to intervene or help or translate. “I don know wot ee sayz,” she stage whispers.
“Hello, can I help?”
“Dya wanna caught?” he says, nodding towards the flower pots.
“Wot ee say?”
“Er…..caught…..what’s a caught?” I beam.
“You know eee said caught. Wot it is a caught?”
“I’m not sure. What is a caught?”
“Ya know….for the flowers…….all the flowers in your cart.”
“Hmm I’m not sure what a caught is, sorry.”
“Did eee say caught or court or cart?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sorry, I don’t think I know that word.”
“Just caught, ya know, for the flowers.”
“Ow come you don know dis word? You are an American now. It is an American word I tink? Maybe ee say chord……or cord…….or cored…..wot you tink?”
“I have no idea.” It’s worse than a cross word puzzle. “Sorry I wonder if you could explain caught?”
I try lip reading but it doesn’t help one bit.
“Cawed…….I don know wot ee say. Gawd it’s impossible.” She taps her ear in the hope of sparkling life into her hearing aid, although that’s not really the issue.
“Caught!” he yells, but ever so politely. “Wait up.” He turns his back and walks away to fetch something. He returns with a plastic tray, “here……a caught.”
“Ooo is that what it’s called. Thank you. I didn’t know that.”
“Oh you stupid girl,” she giggles, and I must say that I do indeed feel very stupid. It’s odd to think that I now have a whole new source of a thousand different ways to be stupid.
“Yeah…….I just thought y’know…….which size……..but most of em are quart.”
“Quart! Oh, quart!”
“Wot ee say?”
“Quart……with a ‘q’………quart sized flower pots.”
“Dey measure dere plants by liquid volume? Not centimeters?”
“Yes……I forgot.” I thank the man who leaves, good natured but mystified by foreigners. Nonna pats the quart tray, “you’d better be careful I tink.”
“Careful? About what?”
“Dat you are not forgetting too much or you’ll be old before your time.”
“And what time would that be do you suppose?”
“Time for a coffee I tink.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

Familiar Territory

I reluctantly print of the “log” or documentation guide from the "Alzheimer’s Association." I read it thoroughly and make notes in a separate notebook so that I won’t bias her own son’s assessment. Later, much later in a quiet moment I take a seat beside him when we are alone. Quite alone. I explain how I think we need a base line, a starting point from which to proceed. He pulls off his glasses to gouge his eye balls with a deep and wearisome sigh. It feels like we've been here before in the space-time "continuum."

Notable quotes on Dementia

In my copy of "The 36-Hour Day" I read about ‘problems with independent living’ and how different families cope. One recurring issue is an older person’s unwillingness to surrender their financial responsibilities when they become overwhelmed. The book quotes many examples. After a series of examples that make perfect sense the last one is described by the authors as ‘extreme.’ This is the example:-

‘Mrs. H…. is fiercely independent about money, so Mr. H gave her a purse with some change in it. He put her name and address in it in case she lost her purse. She insisted on paying her hairdresser by check long after she could not responsibly manage a checkbook. So Mr. H gave her some checks stamped VOID by the bank. Each week she gives one to the hairdresser. Mr. Hutchinson privately arranged with the hairdresser that these would be accepted and that he would pay the bills.’

Well done Mr. H! Now to me, from my perspective, this doesn’t seem in the least bit extreme. It’s a great idea, an accommodation, but it’s not in the least bit extreme. I take great comfort from this tale because it tells me that I am more than well enough equipped to deal with whatever lies ahead of us. I am so used to jumping through hoops, over hoops and around hoops.

Sadly, this also means that I am used to failure. The first attempt doesn’t work, so we try something else and so on, time and again until we find a good fit. I have an example of my own.

You see last year we had this "problem," what we American’s call an ‘issue.’ The issue was Nonna’s independence. I understood how frustrating it was for her to be carless, especially in America. Nonna has always been a walker so instead of being cooped up in the house she naturally decided to take a stroll. Quite often it is difficult to remember details when you’re on holiday such as your hotel room number or perhaps the name of the hotel when they all look so alike, so it was understandable that Nonna had difficulty with this too.

It was a worrisome time.

Other families might be able to allow a grandchild to accompany their Nonna but that wasn’t an option for us. Although our house has more locks and chains than the average home this did not deter Nonna. I’m sure there are many valid reasons for restricting someone’s freedom for their own safety but I was not happy with the idea of imposing such limits on my mother in law. I was not in a position to shadow her movements once she was outside the house as I had other responsibilities, not necessarily more important but certainly more immediate.

The crunch time came when a kindly neighbour returned a thoroughly disorientated Nonna to our front door, as she had found herself completely lost only a few blocks away from home.

We had already printed off the equivalent of a business card with appropriate details for her hand bag. Often she left without her hand bag. Then we tried printing off a six block map of the immediate vicinity, in extra large print, three copies, laminated, but it suffered from the same inherent problem, a map is of no use if it resides in your bedroom when you most need it.

Hence this year, this summer, these issues have been on my mind, worries. What to do? How to help? How to keep her safe? How to engineer freedom and independence? I’d guess that you too are racking your brain to come up with ideas because we all want what is best for Nonna? I feel people’s sympathy and good wishes, so I know that you’ll be as sad as me to know that this year it is no longer a problem, a non-issue. Nonna no longer ventures out of the confines of the garden, so maybe not a non-issue but a different issue entirely.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The 36-hour day*

It’s my new "bible" but I’m reading it very slowly. Because I am reading it very slowly it is often skulling about the kitchen full of scribbles, notes and underlined sections. I don’t exactly hide it but even if I did I know that Nonna would find it. She likes to read whatever I read, often whilst I’m actually reading it. Put anything down for a moment and she’s all over it like a rash. Each time she comes across it, several times a day, we have the same conversation. It starts off with alarm and annoyance, the tone is un-mistakable:-
“Why you read dat den? Dat’s an orrible book.”
“Because of my dad. I’m hoping to learn some more so that I can help mum out a bit.”
“Your dad?”
“Your father? Ee az dementia?”
“Yes and my mum’s looking after him all by herself.”
“Ooo dat is sad. I didn’t know dat. Dat’s very sad.” The sadness shows in her face. It’s genuine. Genuinely sad.

*"The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer's Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life"
by Nancy L. Mace, M.A., Peter V. Rabins, M.D.,M.P.H.

Big and grateful thank you's to everyone's generous thoughts and comments.

Happy days of yore

I play around with the TIVO after Nonna expresses delight at an old Clark Cable movie, name unknown. Ealing Theatre and St. Trininnas comes to mind as well as a few Miss Marple’s with Margaret Rutherford, the original actress in the role. It turns out to be quite a pleasant romp down memory lane for me as I have a soft spot for old Black and White films. Eventually I am all set up with the children in bed, asleep. I reach for the microwave pop corn and plump the cushions into a little nest for Nonna as we take a seat in the circle of our very own family room.

“Are you ready?”
“Ready for wot?”
“We thought you might like to watch a movie…….a film?”
“Ooo yes. I like dat. Wot you got den?”
The MGM Lion roars but there are no fearful hiding children to spoil the view.
“Ooo it’s an old one den?”
“Yes. You’re going to love it!”
“Ooo good…….wot…..Third Man! We are going to watch the Third Man?”
“Yes. A real treasure.”
“It’s his favourite. Is it your favourite too?”
“Gawd no! I’m off then.”
“Off where? Don’t you want to watch with us?”
“No tank you. Why you want to watch doz old tings? I’m going to watch Wall E in my own room. Don’t worry……dat one doesn’t need subtitles either.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bare your soul

Whilst I’m in the mood, I have another confession but this time I have a much better excuse, and believe me when I tell you that I am in great need of excuses, although I’m trying hard to pull myself out of the lake of guilt.

Just stop wallowing woman!

You see the other thing I missed was that lack of bath room use. My mother shares this experience caring for my father. It’s more difficult for her. Far more difficult with a spouse. This is especially so because of the type of man she married. She basically married an Edwardian, although I don’t think she fully appreciated the consequences at the time. Soft spoken, dignified and polite, they both had their traditional roles etched on the marriage certificate. All that has now changed. Nobody tossed her the reins as such but there she is, in charge of the horses.

Bathing became a big issue, an issue that I unfortunately had to mention. It was one of many bug bears. She knew it was an issue but only one of many. A different order of magnitude. So I tried my best to be gentle but my mother is oh so very different from me. A gentle prod was more than enough to beget action. She told me on the phone the following week. She was remarkably cheerful, far more cheerful than I’d heard for a long time. “I did it!” she beamed. “Did what?” I asked. “I phoned social services and got the ball rolling. Sometime next week a nurse will call to give him a bath. I’m done with it. Problem solved.” And solved it duly was but my predicament is far more delicate if not precarious. Nonna has been with us almost five weeks. It is the height of summer and yet not so much as a trickle of water or a smear of soap has been in contact.

I do have an explanation. Let me explain for us both, as they’re inter-weaved. It has always been Nonna habit to swim, daily. For some while last year this was difficult to negotiate since the boys couldn’t really swim, although they believed that they really could swim. We fell into a habit. I would open the pool, bring back the cover very quietly, half an hour in advance so that Nonna could enjoy thirty minutes of exclusive alone time. After that, she would sit on the side of the pool better able to watch her grandchildren, one natural seal, two flailing whales and me trying to keep everyone afloat. It was the cause of much amusement, to her at least. During the kerfuffle she would amble away to have a shower before the deluge of children ousted her.

This year, things are different. They are different but I didn’t notice particularly at first because other events obscured the true scene. The scene was basically green, a pool full of abundant, blooming algae. Technically it was safe to swim but swimming in pea soup is not a very attractive option. So, no swim equated to no shower, not daily, nor weekly, not ever. Once again I completely failed to connect the dots because it would appear that I am far more of a creature of habit that I should generally care to admit.

So there you have it, or rather I have it, or rather, she doesn’t have it, but have it she must. It’s just the ‘how to’ bit that I’m searching for but I have a tentative plan or two. It’s the how to approach with diplomacy that eludes me. I can think of few things more galling than to suffer such a personal attack from a daughter in law.

Since the pool is recovering, slowly, I could just wait a few more days, but that smacks too much of avoidance on my part. One tentative plan is to prompt, something like, ‘can I turn the shower on for you?’ The other tentative plan is to suggest that I do her hair again. If she’s going to wash her hair she might as well wash it in the shower rather than the sink. Lastly, if all else fails I shall use my trump card, the grandmother one. I shall exploit my son’s aversion to showers and ask if Nonna will don her swimsuit and accompany him into the shower to supervise. I am reluctant to use this one as I fear for Nonna’s safety in such slippy conditions but at least she won’t need her hearing aid to protect her from his agonizing screams. Needless to say, I still wear my learner plates and would welcome advice from all quarters. I’m tempted to trust my instincts but I’m not overly confident in this [new] department. Mistakes are inevitable but I’d prefer them not to be big ones nor permanent, as I suspect we all have a long road ahead of us.