Week Eight

The school fair on Friday was not good for Mum. She couldn’t see anything on the stalls, the children were moving around too fast, the sun was too hot and she couldn’t hold the hot-dog properly and inevitably lost the sausage on the floor. I was partly to blame, as I was still agitated.

Mum had a great day out with Debbie yesterday and even though she has no idea where she went or who with, she enjoyed doing something different. So did I. It was good knowing that someone else was caring for Mum and happy to do so. It felt strange being in the house at the boys’ dinnertime though and Mum not being there.

On the morning of our friend’s wedding, I found Mum in her favourite place – the downstairs loo. She sometimes goes in there just to ‘hang about’. It was such a funny sight. She knew something wasn’t quite right, which must have been why she was hiding and looking at me with a ‘naughty girl’ kind of apology. She had put on her stripy blouse, but only fastened the top button; she had a black sock on one foot and a black shoe on the other; and nothing else – no pants or anything. Fortunately she was able to laugh with me as I inquired as to whether this was her ‘sexy get-up’ for the wedding. Suddenly she became very upset and scared again. Her inability to perform what her mind envisions sometimes bothers her so much. The frustration then cripples her and it’s a downward spiral. I can only hug and reassure and blame the ‘whatever it is’ dementia and tell her it’s not her fault.

She cries at weddings too and, although she didn’t know who was getting married, this was no exception. Mum was beaming. I put her in the top and suit jacket that I got her for my wedding. Taking Mum to get our food at the Reception was another mistake I’ll not make twice. There was so much choice and people busy foraging, that it was enough for Mammy to just to hang on to me and follow me around the table, whilst I filled our plates. Then the disco set themselves up and Mum panicked. It was too loud again, so we searched for a quieter place for her to sit. She ended up in the cloakroom, which was a shame, because she loves dancing so much. We were very late home.

Fortunately the First Holy Communions were not until 12noon the following day. It was very special for me to witness my Goddaughter, Violet, and Bruno, receive the Eucharist for the very first time. There were some Italian guests at the house party and for Mum the treat seemed to be one of the Italians himself and she became so amazingly animated and sociable, completely unlike the Mum who had arrived an hour earlier.

Later that evening, at home with two exhausted boys, Mammy asked me, “Did you have a good day? Did you do something nice?” – as if we had been in different parts of the world. I told her that we had just spent the entire weekend together – at a Wedding and at a First Holy Communion celebration. She looked at me sceptically and then conceded, “I must have got it wrong again then?”

I did press, but she couldn’t tell me what she thought she had done instead.

***

I’m feeling very anxious – about going to Jersey, about Mammy being in Broad Glade and about Ana and the boys and all the arrangements necessary. And I suspect I am pregnant. On Saturday it is the 07/07/07, and that was our lost baby’s due date. Can I do it this time? Will I manage to care for Mum and have a baby?

***

I’m back after a great weekend in Jersey. We managed to walk our socks off and eat the most delicious seafood. I’ve taken so many photographs of unusual petals, shrubs and other anomalies. One of my favourites is called ‘Agapanthus’. I found out the name from the taxi driver en route to the airport and bought one. I wonder will it grow in Nottingham? The pregnancy test confirmed my suspicions. Simon knew by then and is equally excited and nervous again. I spoke to the midwife yesterday and they’ve booked me for an 8-week scan on 6th August.

Mammy was pleased to see us. Conor and I could see her sitting in a lounge with two other ladies – all equally motionless and grey. Conor stuck his head in front of her, with an “Hello Nana” and she transformed magically into a bouncy, smiley and colourful young ‘Nana’.

Ohhh, I didn’t know you were coming. It’s so lovely to see you.” Up she jumped then to give him a hug and to find me.

The man on reception took us to get her things and as we searched the whole ward for her medication, there was not another member of staff to be seen. It makes me very sad, but grateful that I have not yet been forced by circumstances – as many are – to put Mum into a home permanently.

Debbie repeatedly commented on how much Mum has improved since she saw her even at Christmas. She also sent me a text, after dropping Mum off at the respite home on Friday, saying that she really appreciates all we are doing for Mum and apologised for ‘the hard time’ she had given us initially. I really did appreciate that.

***

Mum dressed herself this morning – only the trousers were wrong today and they look so funny: like a little elephant with it’s floppy ears (pockets inside out). She wished her breakfast a ‘good morning’ and when I mentioned ‘having a bath’, she asked me, “Which one are we going to today?” She loves having her head and back scratched; then I sorted her crabby foot and nails and she looked fresh and comfortably pampered.

I really do enjoy her more when I know I’m going to have a couple of hours to myself.

***

Walking to pick Conor up from school, past all these separate other beings, I felt completely ‘spaced out’. It is like continuing a long experience of years of being alone; day dreaming, anxious, hiding, hoping I won’t be noticed – a numbness, only half alive, yet simultaneously tingling with sensation and nerves everywhere, too painfully alive. I think it was a coping strategy, when extremely scared or alone as a child. I lived in my own intense little world a lot, usually in dread of what might be next.

***

Last night as Mum joined in with prayers she implied that she had been thinking a lot about everything and trying to get everything in good order, and although she had done well, she wanted help to do even better. I didn’t ask her what she had been thinking so much about, because her prayer is not to me, but it might explain why she was so much ‘‘easier’’ for me yesterday?

I had a little reminisce this morning with Mum and Conor, because next Tuesday is the All Hallows’ performance of “Joseph and his Technicolor Dream-Coat”. I described to them how at Junior school, I practised for weeks for that same concert, but in the end I was not allowed to be in the performance, because “They…” I said to Conor, whilst waving an accusing finger at Mum… “wouldn’t let me do anything after school.”

***

I always had to be home 10 minutes after the school bell had gone. We had chores to do at home – cleaning, shopping, laundry and, often, cooking the tea.

We had left the caravan when I was 8 years old and moved into a large, 3-bedroom Victorian house on Porchester Road. There was a cellar and a secret corridor between the hallway and the dining room, which fired our imagination and was an inexhaustible catalyst for games. There were also two sitting rooms and a crooked kitchen, with a twin-tub and a mangle. Daddy decorated the rooms with multicoloured spray-paints and lots of different wallpapers, and Mum painted the moulded patterns on the doors and filled the house with sparkly brasses and knick-knacks.

I would often sit in my room in Winter, to do my homework, wearing hat, scarf, coat and gloves. The windows would have frosted leaf patterns all over the insides, and I could see each nervous morning breath shiver around my bed. We never had hot running water, except for the bath every fortnight, which we shared one after another. Other jobs were done by boiling kettles and pots on the stove. Water was never wasted.

Mum looked after our basic needs for food, clothes and a roof over head and she tried to make sure that we were washed and schooled, but she couldn’t provide much emotional support and was always more distant than I would have liked. I would sometimes try to trick her into kissing me goodnight by pretending to whisper something and then grabbing her round the neck. Unfortunately, she would pull away from me irritated and leaving me feeling even worse.

I was envious of Debbie, being the Elder of us. She seemed to have the privileges and the space and apparently never got the abuse that I suffered. Dad always said that she was like him and that I was too much like Mammy and drove him mad.

The Summer of 1972, Mum bought a shop. It was a ‘drapers’, called ‘Nine till Five’. She also did dressmaking and repairs and I used to help make soft toys to sell at Easter and Christmas. I knew that it was good for us to have the shop, because often we had no income at all. But I hated her being away all day and, because Daddy was super-sensitive to noise, I would spend hours picking bits out of the rugs, to avoid the noise of the sweeper. Most of all, I hated being alone in the house with my Dad.

One day, when I got home from primary school, Dad was waiting with an important question to put to me and Debbie, that we would have to answer before Mum got home from the shop. He and Mammy were going to separate, he said, and he needed to know which of us was going to stay with him and which of us with Mum. She had apparently done something ‘unforgivable’, but he wouldn’t divulge. He left Debbie and I to argue this ‘Catch 22’, but we decided that we girls would not be separated. We were scared to tell him the truth – which was that neither of us wanted to go with him. Eventually, at the tortuous eleventh hour, we said that we would go with Mum or run away together and go into a home instead, but we never heard anything more about ‘the separation’ again. Dad never forgot our response though.

Safety and protection were not rights that I was to know at home as a child. Mum never had them either during her married life and I believe that must account for some of the fear and anxiety that she experiences now.

School was my refuge and a place where I did feel safe and valued. It was the place where Dawn was accepted and encouraged and nurtured. I dreaded going home. I hated his torturous speeches. I hated what he put me through and the unknown waiting…

I was also very aware of our financial poverty. I wore clothes that were not only hand-me-downs, but had been bought in jumble sales, altered for my sister and then passed on to me. I was embarrassed by my outgrown rags and admired the pretty girls with their fancy clothes.

I saved birthday money and wages from my paper-round and eventually bought myself a second-hand bike. I loved my £14 bike and would play out on it after tea and ride out to the countryside in the holidays.

***

When I was telling these stories at breakfast, Mammy was smiling and laughing as if I was talking about someone else. I suppose I was. She was no more to blame then for making my life difficult, as she is now for what she can or can’t do today.

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