caring for a grandchild, Caring for a parent

Extreme Caregiving 9: Doing Not Being

I split my time this week between toddler care and elder care. Toddler care provides more opportunity for photography, but they have some of the same issues.

Last week Mama told the hospice nurse she didn’t like to spend her time to rest for sixty seconds between walking laps at the tiny mall, a recommended solution to her complaints that two laps (she used to average five) makes her tired and unsteady. Laurel said to me, “she doesn’t much like to relax does she?” Um, no. (Caregiver Michelle tells me she’s given up on encouraging a sit down.)

IMG_0955My memories of the space my mother occupied in the house are kitchen-centric. “I don’t have time to read the paper,” she used to tell my sisters and me when we would suggest it, hoping to get her out of the kitchen so we could do dinner clean-up without her “instructional” eyes looking over our shoulder. A sister-caregiver in England—the only other person I know who lives with her mother—tells me her mum, at 93, does crossword puzzles and (still) bakes bread, though she needs to rest after. You know she didn’t suddenly take up those interests. I imagine other old-olds knitting or even, for gawd sake, watching the soaps. My mother has no experience with any of those things, so now she has nothing. She dabbled in some hobbies in her 70s, but it wasn’t ingrained in her over a lifetime, and therefore nothing that could sustain her now. Her interests remain, as always, the kitchen and obsessing about her health. And what she can still do in the kitchen is limited. You see what that leaves.

IMG_0959Studies, based on Maslow’s theory, show that as people age they focus on being rather than doing. Not mama. She still wants to do and here I am doing for her, because she can’t. I think there is some resentment, or jealousy, in that; which may explain why she is stingy with expressing gratitude.

IMG_0962She berates herself for falling asleep in her chair at the kitchen or dining room tables, or in the recliner in the living room. She takes a nap every day now—a new development since my arrival—and sets her kitchen timer for 20 minutes. She doesn’t want to stay in bed too long. On the occasions she sets it correctly, she often sleeps through it, getting up two hours later, saying she wasn’t sleeping, as if admitting she slept is a personal failure.

IMG_0964“I was lazy,” she says when asked how her day was, or “worthless.” She is not accustomed to relaxing and cannot let it be okay, even when listening to a recorded book. Idle equals worthless. Being busy is where she is most comfortable. Sometimes I don’t know where I come from.

IMG_0970Speaking of busy, I got to spend Monday in the company of Elliot! It’s been a long month since I last saw him. Both he and Mama are growing older at warp speed, he moving into increasing competence and action, she regressing to increased needfulness and stillness. He got up at 6:30 and wanted to go outside before 8; but it was barely daylight, and I knew if we used up outside activities too early it would be an interminable morning. I held him off with books, puzzles, (“Is this an ‘i’?” “Is this an ’e”?” “Is this an ‘o’?” he asks), and dancing to the music. Doing rather than being. I don’t know if he resented the two hour nap; he seemed to use it to his advantage—and mine.

IMG_0976Elliot has added “yes” to his vocabulary, and says it nearly as often as “no.” Not always meaning yes, but making it much easier to figure out his advancing-but-still-a big-fat-guess speech. Mama says “ok” pretty often when she really means “no.” And that makes it hard to figure out what she wants, what she really really wants.

IMG_0983Elliot is learning to use eating utensils. Mama has more and more trouble using hers. She can’t see to scoop up the bite. The rimmed plate I got helps some, but she doesn’t really get how to use it. She doesn’t consider my suggestion that she use her fingers—and thereby her sense of touch—an option. It’s how much of the world eats, but not we refined Americans, and certainly not a Southern girl.

IMG_0985Elliot doesn’t throw food he doesn’t want on the floor anymore, he just quietly moves it from his plate to the table—per training. But he still likes most everything. Mama is increasingly disappointed with my cooking and my entree choices, and pushes things to the side of her plate. A sure-fire way to get no complaints about dinner from her, and even a compliment, is for me to apologize for the meal as soon as we sit down, beating her to the punch. “I’m sorry it took so long.” “This didn’t turn out well.” “I’m sorry I overcooked the…” “I’m afraid the … isn’t cooked enough for you.” “It’s all delicious,” she will say. “It’s exactly as I like it.” Martyrdom is her language. It’s not mine, so I rarely think to employ the technique, nor do I want to wear her martyr complex.

IMG_0992The lesson to me: make sure I have interests that—God willing—I can continue to do into ancient age. Writing. Reading. Knitting. Petting the cat. Breathing fresh air. Enjoying a good nap. Yoga. Maybe I should take up crosswords. I hate crosswords, they make me feel stupid. I plan to take ukulele lessons in February. I read that playing music does more to ward off memory loss than Sudoku or crosswords.

IMG_1010Meantime, there is another baby coming to Seattle in May! Next September I hope to get my childcare gig back. Of course, it will depend on Mama. There will be a century between them in age. Ain’t that somethin’?


9 thoughts on “Extreme Caregiving 9: Doing Not Being”

  1. Yes, music…listening, practicing, performing…it’s all so good! Preparing Brahms’s Requiem for performance this weekend is challenging, uplifting and wonderfully joyous! I intend to sing my entire life, You go, girl! Enjoy! Thanks for sharing news on the coming little one!


  2. Great writing as usual. Really enjoy your talks about “Mom,” and Elliot. I live with my daughter and her young ones, not in my house, but hers. It works for me and I hope for her!!!


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