Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taking my old mum for a haircut

Arrived at my mum's aged care facility - ACF - at 9.40 this morning to take her to my hairdressers in the far flung suburb of Taylor's Hill. Taking mum with me queers my pitch just a tad. I don't think I'm alone in enjoying a precious forty minutes or so having my hair done. But mum needed a haircut and Paul, my lovely hairdresser, was able to squeeze her in at the last minute.

Doesn't pay to book a haircut, or a podiatry appointment too far ahead for mum. I've turned up to collect her for an appointment a couple of times to find she's made some private arrangement with a visiting provider. No good writing it in mum's diary. She doesn't check it.

As I pulled into the car park at said time, a staff member key-padded mum out of the front door. Was pleased to see mum's clothes were well coordinated: padded short black jacket over a long sleeved striped tee shirt; black jeans; good black leather zip-front shoes. (She's not so keen on the lace ups these days.) Her hair was nicely combed. Good effort, mum.

I'd prearranged for mum to be waiting for me at 9.45 so I was actually early. 'I've been waiting for ages,' she said, not unhappily. 'Since 9 o' clock.' I suppose she was keen to get out under whatever pretext. I would be.

She didn't mind, she said. She'd had lots of company, as she would have sitting outside the nurses' station in the busy reception area. I was slightly annoyed that she claimed she'd been waiting for ages and 'thought [I'd] never get there.' Once I'd have automatically believed her.

It's a fair drive out to Taylor's Hill, a newish labyrinthine north-western suburb. I was about to drive across busy Mount Alexander Road heading for the free way when the questions began. How's Al? Pete? Didi? Do you ever hear from your sisters? And so on. Cruelly, I suppose, I nipped the interrogation in the bud, only because the loop would have ended in five minutes and I'd have to answer the same questions again.

"Don't start blathering, mum,' I said. That's an expression I learnt at my mother's knee. 'Just listen to the music.'

'Cross the roundabout and take the second exit.' That's Jane, the sat nav. I needed Jane because I hardly know Taylor's Hill  having only been out to hairdresser Paul's new premises once before.

'You needn't worry,' says mum, who's miffed, to me, not Jane, 'I will never speak again.' She does that if I'm abrupt with her. She always has. I glance at her. She's set her face and is staring ahead.

Half an hour later, we're at the hairdressers. As I sit in my chair, looking into the mirror, I see mum who's sitting behind me - me in 25 years? - looking back at me. I wave. She smiles. It's warm, she has a coffee and the winter sun's shining through the huge windows. There's a new, green reserve across the road with playground equipment, tables and a few young trees coming along nicely. They certainly build amenity into these new suburbs. Still don't know where I am. Neither does mum.

Mum gets a lovely haircut, as opposed to the generic ACF trim. Both hairdressers praise my mum's gorgeous thick white hair which has been beautifully cut. Mum beams and preens.

I was considering keeping mum with me for the day. It would mean a dawdling time and lots of inane albeit animated repetition, not unlike the time I spent with preschool children in some ways. But as I drove towards the city, mum anxiously reminded me, again, that she had no idea where she was. She needs reassurance that I'm onto it and that I'm not going to abandon her and expect her to find her way back to wherever. Because at this stage she has forgotten where she lives.

The sadness begins. 'I feel like weeping,' she says. 'Weep,' I say, 'go on.'

Yes, I'm harsh but this is self-preservation. Why wouldn't she have this nebulous melancholy, that is, when she's not being the life of the party, buoying up the other residents at her ACF? She doesn't know why she feels this way but I think I do. I feel it too but bemoaning and crying doesn't achieve anything.

I indulged that sadness after Monday's visit when mum asked me where my dad was. 'Your dad didn't die, did he?' she pleaded, contorting her brow. It caught me off guard. 'Where was I when he died?' she asked.

'Mum, you were there and you did all the right things,' I said, straining to stem the tears.
'Did I?' she asked.

That made for a sad evening. Once I'd started crying in the car park after I'd left mum, it was hard to stop. And then I felt so washed out. Best not to begin.

Happily, compensations of memory loss, mum forgets these moments, just as she's forgotten that her husband died over three years ago.

When I left mum today, she looked amazing. She'd applied a bit of foundation and lippy; several staff had complimented her on her new haircut.

Just as I was about to make my escape, mum got me by the shoulders and looked into my eyes. Hers were brimming with tears. 'You know,' she said, looking down at me,' if you think of ringing me, or dropping in later, don't. Just leave me alone in here.' A rebuke.

But, weather permitting I'll be back to take her for a walk and a coffee on Saturday. And she'll be as delighted to see me as if I've been away for six months.

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