Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Time out.

I try hard not to be annoyed with my elderly mum who's filled my empty nest in a big way. She's not consciously doing anything annoying. When I greet her in the morning she expresses this histrionic joy that I'm in the house. Take her a tea in bed, as Al and I do, and she's overwhelmed with rapture about the best cup of tea ever in this the best of all possible worlds.

I'll be in the kitchen, getting my breakfast prior to setting off at 7.30 am for school. Mum will stumble through in her fluffy red dressing gown and almost cry with surprise that I'm still home. "I didn't know there was anyone home!" She'll wail. " I thought everyone had left! Oh! I didn't know you were here!" Her voice is loud, over-enunciated precise, heavy on the consonants. This is mum apologising for being in the way; getting in my way.

On Tuesday morning she inadvertently blocked the doorway I was trying to go through. I was in my cycling gear, complete with mandatory helmet, gloved up against the 3 degrees outside, headphones already inserted. As I did the requisite dance to get around her I knocked over a stool, scattering stuff all over the floor. It seemed, at the time, vaguely metaphoric.

I try not to feel irritation.

When I get home around five, exhausted from the demands of teaching 70 adolescents & cycling 7k of hills to get home, mum's at me. Same histrionic elation bordering on tears at my 'surprise' return to my own home. She's been alone all day apart from her 4k stroll to the local supermarket - see, she's still very capable & fit. She'll have chatted with a few strangers. Yesterday she paid a bill at the local post office. She was drinking coffee when I walked in. Channel 9 news was turned up to stun - but she swears she's not deaf.

All I wanted to do was remove my jacket, crash helmet & contact lenses and chill..

I tried not to be irritated as she kindly, kindly offered me coffee, wine, anything, when all I wanted was some peace after the day I'd had. I was actually summoned by the principal yesterday for some perceived transgression. That was fun, siting outside his office while he finished his phone call, this guy who was at teachers college with me & is now my boss.

My house is no longer a refuge. I hung around at the local shops the other day just to grab some time out.

I'm currently delighted to be kept waiting at the doctors because it's relatively peaceful.


Apart from my lovely doctor's free counsel this morning - I didn't have to pay - I discovered something else. Despite mum living here, I should resume cycling on my days off. I haven't been able to ride lately because that means leaving mum on her own for even more time.

I cycled to the doctors this morning; a flat 9 k round trip. It was blissful. Two hours time out on a cold, sunny morning. Therapeutic, unlike the more fraught school rides where I'm mentally preparing lessons or trying to expunge the day's trials depending on whether I'm coming or going.

Mum seems to have survived my absence.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Me and The Third Ager.

If you met my mum now, you'd see a slender statuesque, somewhat stooped 80-something. She always looks good in her fashionable, casual clothes; her accessories match, her feet wear Rockport, her hair is well-cut and she pops a bit of lippy on before she goes out.

If you met my mum now, as I keep explaining in a slightly hysterical voice, to anyone who'll listen, you'd meet a smiling, solicitous, wide-eyed woman. She'd lean in close and encourage you. She'd want to know who you are, where you're from and what you do. I really think you'd like her.

But don't leave her presence, even for ten minutes. Because upon your return I could introduce you again and you could reenact the entire scenario. Mum, having completely forgotten you, wouldn't find it repetitious or strange because it would be completely new to her. If I mentioned you enough, dropped you into several conversations, told her a few of your exploits, it might sink in. But then again.

Mum's rich fabric of memory is wearing thin, fraying, and that's very hard to live with.

It's an extremely complex situation, as you can imagine. I'm not coping very well with having my mum living at ours.

In another post, I compared living with my aged mum to having pre-school children. But it's more taxing than that. There's a lot of joy in raising your kids - well, at least for a few minutes a day. They're learning, and you go and look at them while they're sleeping and you're filled with love.

I'm not finding any joy in my current situation, other than the idea that I'm saving my mum from being in some sort of supported care with others with 'memory loss'. My head hurts and I'm even more of an insomniac. I went out without any emergency glucose today because I'm not thinking straight - I have Type 1 diabetes. Happily I didn't need it.

Basically, I'm in my mother's service except when she's sleeping or when I'm at work. I bounce out of the door on my three working days looking forward to some respite, but unfortunately I don't get that because I'm a secondary teacher and I need to put the educational and emotional needs of my kids above my own.

While I'm writing this I can hear Al chopping veges in the kitchen whilst chatting, apparently happily, with mum. She's explaining to him that she doesn't want to be a burden and that there are plenty of other places she can go. I wish she'd go into the lounge and watch TV so I could write in peace.

On my right I have about 300ml of chardonnay.

As I've said many times, chardonnay helps. Mum enjoys it too. Oils the wheels of human endeavour.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Paying it forward. Me and my old mum.

For the 'time being' my life has dramatically changed. But somehow it's not dissimilar to the life I had for 11 years when I was a stay-at-home mum for my two kids, born 16 months apart. Back then I learned to be in the moment and not expect to have any time to myself until after the kids had gone to bed. And even then, Al and I were alert.

In those days we didn't sleep in. We were grateful if the kids sat close together on the couch, cuddling blankets and soft toys, sucking their fingers, gazing at cartoons on TV for ten minutes. You can achieve critical mass given ten minutes.

At times I'd be half asleep in the morning and Pete's little fingers would open one of my eyes for me, to see if I was awake. Kind of cute, on reflection. When you're a parent to little kids, once you're up you're in service. You know, you know. Jeeze I hope I'm not turning into a latent 'mummy/mommy blogger'.

So now I'm once again in service; a labour of love. My mum, aged 82, has taken over my daughter's old room. She's been living with Al and I for three weeks now, since I did my mercy dash down to her seaside home.

I brought her here so she'd be safe, warm and well-fed and so she wouldn't be alone.

But it's a little taxing. Mum has dementia. There now. I've said it. Memory loss sounds so much kinder.

I suppose she has classic symptoms, if my Google searches are any indication: confusion, memory loss, mood swings. So she gives me a bit of a hard time, especially first thing in the morning when she demands to be taken home. Ah, Life, as sister Reggie says.

Mum was brilliant, in her heyday when she was Director of Nursing of a massive organisation. In my late teens if I needed her, I'd often be hard-pressed to get her on the phone, given her professional status. 'Sorry, Sister J is unavailable,' I'd be told by her secretary. 'She's in conference. I'll let her know you called.'

Mum has also put in the hours as an exemplary grandmother to her eight grandchildren. I'm not sure I could have coped without her. Many are the afternoons Reggie and I dumped our three babies with mum for a couple of hours. We'd go shopping, sometimes coming home to find mum with three babies aligned on a blanket on the floor while she changed three lots of nappies.

It's good to think of this while I'm sitting here in the lounge with mum, watching a bit of afternoon TV. It's not unpleasant with the autumn sun blazing in through the curtains.

We've had our little trip to the shops with my elbow getting a good workout as I lead mum around. I've sourced a walking frame for her, but she doesn't like the look of it; prefers to hang onto me.

The local shopkeepers are getting to know her and oblige with a chat. And props to our Lebanese cafe guy who keeps telling my mum that she and I look like sisters. (Hope he's joking.)

But there you go. I remind myself, as I'm putting her a bit of foundation and lippie on, that she's just me in 25 years.

One good thing: she responds well to a chardy, and so do I. Think the sun's over the yardarm now.