Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who's Next?

People don’t talk about Alzheimer’s as a spectrum disorder.

I think we should.

Like a lot of disorders, there are good days and not so good days, we’re in the middle of one of the latter. Fortunately the children are at school and all other adults are otherwise occupied away from home, so it’s just me and Nonna.

She’s having a tough time so I scale down my ‘to do’ list to one single item – produce supper for 8 people. It proves to be a tall order as Nonna is restless, a condition exacerbated by several liters of espresso. It can be difficult to take charge in such situations but I decided to be ruthless at ten in the morning – when the last coffee bean was crushed and consumed, I lied boldly – ‘we’ve run out – no more until I’ve been to the shops.’ After that I’m in the dog-house, although I’m really in the kitchen.

I chop in the kitchen, onions, four pounds, in preparation for something or other, as I’ve not had a moment to formulate anything vaguely resembling a recipe.

We’re run through the usual list of repeats several times – the inventory of household members, the date, the whereabouts of pets, their names and ages, what I am doing currently, why I am doing it and how I am doing it. We’ve searched for all the usual suspects, glasses, sunglasses, reading glasses, handkerchief, book, remote control, pills – many and various, as well as a whole miscellany of other items too numerous to list. As I dump onion skins in the compost bin on the window sill, I feel a presence close by – you know who. I speed up and brace myself because if my productivity gives out today we’ll all starve. I chop faster as my shoulders rise to my ear lobes. Damn her rheumy eyes – go away and come back in five minutes – but bless her cotton socks. I don’t know how to play this game, a newbie, drowning, but I have to stay afloat, play it by ear, for both of us.

I wait for the question and wonder which one it will be? I can more or less guarantee it will be ‘wot about dis den?’ without any other clues. I try to swallow my ire and breathe deeply to find a tiny kernel of energy reserves, otherwise known as patience, but the silence endures.

I’m ready.

I turn to see her behind me and suddenly I see her – she’s at a distance of about six feet, a polite distance. I recognize that woman. It’s the woman on her best behavior, I’ve seen her many times before, mostly when we have guests or visitors. It’s her, ‘I’m a dear, sweet, innocent, old lady,’ act, the one she uses for strangers. I feel my face tighten and eyes prick. We all do it sometimes, pretend to be something we’re not – she’s had more practice than most, a magnificent master class graduate. She hovers with uncertainty, wearing a courteous half smile, standing demurely with one hand holding the other. It’s an affectation I’m all too familiar with. I try to think of something to say to the woman, something in code that won’t startle her. I smile at her cautiously and she flutters back, “ello.” I put down the knife gently on the board, as we have already said “good morning” approximately 50 times. I try and think of something neutral, “would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Ooo thank you. Dat would be nice.” She doesn’t advance or retreat, holds her ground, rallying, as she asks, “do you like coffee?”
“I do. I’ll make one for us both shall I?”
“Ooo lovely.”
Her diction is sharp as she fakes an English accent, copy cat to blend in.
As I move ten feet to the right she takes a tentative step forward to ask, “you like it ‘ere?”
“Oh yes. I do. Very much. Always sunny in California,” I add with a wave out the window. Her eyes follow as she mutters under her breath, ‘California.’
The espresso machine is noisy but I watch her floundering as I drown and I wrack my brain to ease the pain and hunt for the trip switch to get her back on track. Her finger tips dance on the edge of the kitchen counter, “so…I like it ‘ere,…I tink I ‘ave been ‘ere before?” she asks nervously and I see her eyes flick over my face to check, coz she’s sharp and if I give her a minute she’ll click into place.
“Yes, it’s a home from home really. After all, you’ve been coming here for twelve years,” I bellow. I see a little shudder rattle through her, nothing to do with the sound level as her eyes widen in disbelief. I need to give her a toe-hold, something not too obvious. While I back pedal, thinking, she’s pro-active, “it’s a lovely ‘ouse dis.”
“Yes, it is.”
“And big!”
“Very big, just right for all eight of us.”
If her eyes get any bigger they might just pop out. I skip the toe-hold and opt for the leg-up, “Mike will be home soon,” I lie.
“Mike…”
“Michael, your son, my husband.”
“So…you’re happily…married now…for ‘ow long?”
“Fifteen years.”
“As long as dat…”
“Long enough to have three children, your grandchildren.”
“Children…”
I point to the photo of her favorite grand-daughter, the one she hates because it makes her look older, a pre-teen instead of sweet innocent. The fa├žade falls away as her face formulates a frown. Bingo!
“Ooo I ‘ate’ dat one, it’s an ‘orrible picture.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A little of what you fancy does you good

With the children at school and Nonna on nap, I take a calculated risk. It’s probably the ideal, if not only time, to make dash to the post office. With a bit of luck I’ll get there and back, before she has the chance to wander very far, if at all.

I leg it.

Round trip in 20 minutes, I return to find Nonna sitting on the bottom stair by the front door.

“You ave?” she asks.
I look around, mining for clues or cats or kittens – give up. There is a worrisome smell of burning plastic.
“Have what?” I bellow as her hands hold her hearing aid.
“A man?”
“Yes. I do. Your son. Mike.”
“Not im.”
“Then who?”
“Another man?”
“I don’t have another man, just the one.”
“Yes you do.”
“Well there’s the boys.”
“The boys?”
“Your grandsons. Owen and Leo. They’re at school. Until three.”
I point at the clock, praying for relief.
“Not dem. Di udder one.”
“Which other one? Mr. B? My son in law?”
“Who?”
“Mr. B. He married Tamsin in the summer.”
“Who?”
“Tamsin. My daughter, your step grand-daughter.”
“Never eard of im.”

I start to edge backwards, slowly, towards the smell as she follows, still talking,

“Dat’s right, he’s in dah kitchen.”
“Who’s in the kitchen?”
“Dah udder man.”

I turn at the entry way to be greeted by a large unfamiliar male, “Hi I’m Paul, I’ve come to measure for the shelves,” he beams. I turn to glare at Nonna, who shrugs ineffectually, “wot I tell you!” I decide to deal with her later, or possibly delegate to her son. She returns to her room, shuffling and making the very annoying cat calling sound.

I surrender to the Shelf Guy, adjust my brain and make ready for some earth shattering decisions that will transform my minute galley kitchen into an efficient working space.

Paul steps towards the cupboard the size of a walk-in closet, large enough for at least two, adult bodies, because in America everything is bigger, much bigger. Behind him, the washer washes but the drier has stopped. He opens the cupboard door to see piles of miscellaneous stuff, because there are no shelves. It is the most useless cupboard in the whole house.


Paul notes down measurements and leafs through glossy, magazine choices. I make my vision blur so I have a pleasant, fuzzy, future without the fear of price.

I take a peek at the drier – just my luck - the darned thing has fused, seized and ceased, containing one load of plasticized laundry – I can hear the washing machine laughing at me, and his pal, the spare/second/emergency washing machine, bought by accident, out in the garage, tittering.


Nonna appears as Paul and I turn our attention back to the matter in hand,

"So...wot you do den?"
"Just measuring," I bellow.
"Oh you don't need to measure, I'm sure you'll fit."
"How do you mean?"
"It's just dah right size."
"The right size for what?"
"For hiding."
"Hiding what?"
"You and your fancy man," she beams.

I look over to Paul to see if this is a common American term, even though I'm fairly sure it's not. Nonna looks at him, waiting for a reaction as his skin turns a deep crimson, "wot dah matter wiv im den?" she giggles to me, "no sense of humor!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crisis management - help!

The Crisis Support Team arrive because it is Thursday, but I had forgotten.

I show another two people into my home – they’re an investment in the future, for the boys – if and when, we ever experience a crisis, Ben and William will be on hand, or rather, at the end of a designated telephone line, ready to come and help me, wherever I am, with whatever is going wrong.

That’s the theory.

However, before the theory can be put into practice, they have to form a relationship with the boys, so when the crisis hits, everybody knows everybody else; not just a couple of strangers butting in.

Building relationships takes time. One hour, once a week, on a Thursday. Building a relationship with people, some people, some autistic people, can take a lot longer.

Reality means I now do what I have to do, while being observed by Ben and William. I suffer performance anxiety. It’s difficult enough doing what I have to do, but in the heat of the spotlight, it’s even worse. What’s worse, is how it highlights my ineptitude.

I have a short-hand version for Nonna because I do not want to explain their purpose in front of the boys at 50 decibels – 'Ben and William are from Social Services,' I say, because it’s the nearest translation I can manage.

Nonna is always perplexed by their appearance, every week, several times each visit, whilst they’re physically present, as well as volubly critical – “but dey don’t do anyting. Why dey are ere den?”

It gets worse later, after Ben and William have left, at dinner, discussion time, around the table.

Nobody listens to anybody else, as usual. It’s a cacophony of independent conversations and monologues, now that the boys can talk, because speech therapy was a success, up to a point. Until Nonna voices the subject she always voices on a Thursday night, to her son, who’s tired at the end of the working day:

“Dey came today.”
“Who came today?”
“Wot dey call again, Maddy?”
“Social Services,” I mutter, because I can see it coming but can’t avert the derailment without appearing like a rude bully of elders - a bad role model to the children. I need to think of something!

“Dat’s right. Social Services came to see dah children. But dey didn’t do anyting.”
“Ah.”
“So wot appen next den?”
“Nothing.”
“Are dey going to take dah children away?”

That’s the bit they always hear as they stampede from the room, with shrieks of terror to rival Banshees.

Next week I'll interrupt, change the subject, or start singing.