Week Four

Yesterday, we dropped off Conor at school, went to see Isabelle’s mother, Pat, and then headed for the ‘TAB’ (‘Take-a-Break’) Carer’s group. We had to find a toilet for Mum halfway there, but made it. Mammy was especially confused this morning and my patience was flagging.  The ‘TAB’ are such a lovely group of odds and ends – a whole range of ages – from a 17-month-old sweetie, through the whole spectrum up to the oldest, Jack, at 97. Olive just had her 90th and is a bundle of smiles and encouragement. They consists of ‘Carers’ and the ‘Cared for’ – with a wide range of care needs – real people, unpretentious, kind, daft and, above all, supportive of one another. I am very much a newcomer, but they have really welcomed us both. It was they who had organised yesterday’s trip to West Midlands Safari Park. There is always the ‘raffle’ – even on the coach.

Mammy didn’t seem to like the coach journey, although it was straight forward (except for the necessary right and left turns); but Mammy had me round the bend. She was huffing, muttering and shaking her head, sure that the driver had got it all wrong and was going around in circles. After about an hour and a half, she looked about to burst with frustration, wondering “why has he brought us all this way and now we’re back where we started from and haven’t done anything!” She would not be reassured that in fact we were approaching Kidderminster and not far from the Safari Park. She had that ‘I know I’m right and you’ll see’ expression, that I remember so well. Then of course there was the prudent toilet-stop at the first car-park and back into the coach again. That took some explaining. Unfortunately, it didn’t then ‘all become clear’, because whilst the driver reeled off the names of the species of animals that we were about to see, and the rest of the crew cooed and ‘ah’ed, poor Mammy could see nothing.

I was excitedly saying, ‘Ooh, look this way, Mammy; here’s a white tiger/ a shabbily dressed camel/ a rhinoceros/ an elephant…’ whilst Mammy became more and more cross and frazzled, unable to see anything at all.  The animals were staring in through the window at us, but Mammy couldn’t see them. She refused keep her glasses on and kept shaking her head and humphing. She did manage to see the zebras though, or said she did.

Eventually – about 2pm, we were off the coach for a walkabout. We grumps had one and a half-hours to explore the rest of the place and Mammy relaxed. She enjoyed the sea lions and could appreciate the snakes, alligators and a lonesome leopard. We ate lunch and had just two more tasks – ice cream and precautionary toilet stop before re-boarding the bus.

 “Two 99s and some of that stripy fudge, please.”

 Mammy always used to relish a ‘Mr Whippy’ ice cream, so it didn’t occur to me that it might now pose a problem. Have you ever considered how unbalanced a ‘Mr Whippy’ ice cream actually is? It  takes some skill to hold the fragile, hollow cornet straight, whilst reaching to lick the top-heavy creamy melt from above. It proved too difficult for Mum and after a crazy few moments trying to help, I ended up carrying them both, conscious of our time running out and trying to get her to stop for licks on the way.

Toilet next. I hope they won’t go without us.

“Mammy, you’ll have to be quick, because we’re already a bit late and Nottingham is a long way to walk to!”

Oh, the noises that Mammy can make. Public toilets are not the most congenial place to enjoy an ice cream, but Mum’s is dripping down through the cornet all over my ankles and shoes.

“Hurry up Mammy, your ice cream has nearly gone!”

Then there was a quick hand-wash and a run for the bus. Last ones again. I gave her the remainder of the ice cream and sat down two rows behind. I’d had enough.

Someone said, “Is your mum alright with that ice cream?”

“Am I bovvered? What Mum?” are what sprang to mind.

The journey out there had been largely silence, except for the grumbles. I had tried to make conversation, but gotten nowhere. I told her I was going to sit her next to someone else on the way back – at least she might make an effort to be sociable. I wished I’d remembered to bring a book..

 “What was your favourite animal?” I tried.

“Errr…a cat!”

I don’t know whether it was an attempt to make conversation, but as we neared Carlton, she asked “So, what are we doing tonight?”

“Same as ever,” I growled selfishly, “Nothing much!”

But she does know when she is being deliberately difficult. Later she apologised again for being so mardy. I suppose anyone would be though. It must be so terribly frustrating and humiliating to be so incapacitated and still so aware of it.

Still, I need a break now and we are back just in time for me to take Conor swimming – ALONE. Simon is back from work and can hold the fort.

***

Mammy was still hard-work last night – struggling to see the film, finding dinner difficult to catch off the plate, and as for the shower…another one of those “I’ve just done that…” grumbling sessions; ‘take a slow, deep breath Dawn’…

I do need to talk to Simon.  We have not had the opportunity to be alone recently, not awake enough to talk, anyway.

Given that yesterday was tricky, I tried to go in early enough to reassure her today, if she was up. She was up. What a smell. I’m really not very good at dealing with the commode. Simon is excellent. His nose clearly isn’t as sensitive as mine. It has advantages for me in the garden and disadvantages elsewhere, clearly.

And what a sight. One has to laugh as well, but today it didn’t seem kind to laugh. She had found her clothes and put the lovely red top on inside out. She had a shoe on one foot and a sock on the other and her trousers screwed up in a knot on her lap. I gave her a hug and sorted the trousers, then put both shoes together and gave her the other sock to put on. (We can turn the top round to show it’s pretty spangly bits after breakfast, I thought to myself.)

She succeeded, but it had taken a lot out of her and she needed more hugs and encouragement.

If it were me, how would I like to be treated?

Conor was great over breakfast, but he’s very snotty and barking too. I think we’re all ‘barking’. He had Mammy laughing with his ‘hanky’ being in his pant drawer, having a bit of ‘hanky panty’’.

Conor is not so enthusiastic about so many journeys alone to school now. But there’s not much I can do about it, unfortunately. He is old enough to go alone and I know that the angels go with him. I might see whether Social Services could offer any more support for Mammy and myself and family? I don’t like asking. They have offered us a lot of support already, but it seems to take a lot of meetings and forms to get anything underway. It is worth it though – for me it is.

After all the boys had left and Mammy was rearranged, we began our regulartour of the garden – of all those beautiful roses, leaves and other flowers that  “don’t look real, do they?” 

I reminded her that tomorrow we have an appointment at Neurology at the West Hospital, to see whether she has early onset epilepsy. If not, we want to know what it is that causes her occasional fainting fits. We also want to ask them what is causing her not to perceive what her eyes can, according to the optician, clearly see. Perceptively, she then commented that her eyes have difficulty when she is under stress, which is definitely something I agree with, but also when she is tired. As she stood close to tell me this, her eyes were wobbling and blinking furiously and I asked if she was stressed talking to me. She said she didn’t think so, but thought that maybe she was going mad.

I think it’s a fine line for all of us – between sanity and insanity – and I’m sure that we all regularly cross those lines. I appreciate it though, when she can converse with me.

She has a fabulous smile when she wants to. Two men on the bus were good enough reasons to want to smile today. She looked a picture in her tinted glasses with dangling gold chain, her red sparkly top and her newly washed hair. She can be such a flirt – playfully – but will often come back from a Day-Centre announcing that she has “another admirer” and then be coy, shrugging dismissively when you pry further. She complains that they are ‘much too old’ for her – being only 61 years young herself.

We did have a laugh last week with that – Conor, Mammy and I were in the chip-shop, waiting for our order, and a smallish, jolly-faced man walked in the door, just as Conor and Mum were playing a cat and mouse game around the pillars in the shop. Mammy emerged from behind a pillar wearing Conor’s coat on top of her own and an ‘I’m going to gobble you up’ sort of manic grin and went straight for the man. He was fairly nimble and dodged, but Mammy went trotting after him. Conor was in screams of embarrassment and laughter and calling “NANA, I’m here!”  I think she realised her blunder, but wasn’t going to show that it hadn’t been intentional. What a giggle.

She’s done that a few times now – followed the wrong person. She panics a bit crossing roads and if I am not holding her hand she can easily march away with the fastest walker. Recently, I was holding her hand and a jogger-lady with dyed orange hair trotted past on Mum’s side, looking for a space to cross the road. As she darted across the road, Mammy pulled at me to run after her. She looked at me restraining her, momentarily very confused and we both laughed.

***

Every morning you renew your mercies” is a line from an ear-worm this morning. After a late, great girls’ night out and a few glasses of wine,  I had all the ingredients for a dodgy day today – what with the rain and a trip to the car park at the West Hospital to look forward to. But I have felt very alive and full of joy and gratitude today. Us women sure do roller coaster with hormonal moods – I do anyway. I wrote a poem about this from my perspective:-

Roller Coaster

Climbing, soaring, awesome

falling…

The excitement is breathtaking as the ride just begins;

the path I steadily climb,

higher and higher, the air getting thin,

exhilarating rushes of wind;

Reaching a peak it rests for a while…

the views from up here, I inhale –

the beauty, creation, the planets and stars

from this awesome height I rejoice…

With joy and with awe I would stay here forever

a sigh as my head tumbles back…

but this is the ride where high turns to low…

and this will not last,

back down I will go,

with a scream and a tear

and a moment of fear;

I will land with a thump back below!

The body has landed but the rest is still up there,

sick with no stomach and empty inside;

and now it all seems, back down on the ground,

that this is reality and that was a dream…

Climbing, soaring, awesome

falling…

Why don’t I get on the nice Carousel,

that gently rotates all the time?

No ups and no downs, no loops upside down

no sickness or wobbly limbs.

I could pick a gold lion, a lamb or a horse

and wait while each animal follows its course –

round and round

round and round

round and round…

But I’m not alone on the ride of my choosing,

Jesus knows what it’s like.

His highs and His lows were deeper with love

than mine ever were or will be;

and God raised Him higher and higher

and higher

and he’s here even now with me:

giving me hope

that I’m never alone –

In the climbing, the soaring

the awe and the falling –

and I trust He is leading me home!          Dawn.

Ticky-tacky

As I march along my daily route, movements catch my gaze hither and thither, swinging my head from side to side, up and down… the water gushing from a hole in the roadside, being splashed onto unfortunate pedestrians, by indiscriminate wheels; a tail of hair trailing behind a cyclist whizzing down the last part of the hill; a child in uniform dragging a buggy and parent from a red front-door with coloured glass panels; two birds flitting indecisively between the trees…

“And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same…” I sing… but no, if I stop to think, or look a little closer, I know that those birds have names – not Peter and Paul like the childhood rhyme, but “classifications” I think we could call them – so these I know are blackbirds; I recognise them by their size and their orange beaks. The trees, I said – another generalisation (useful in some contexts perhaps, but lazy often) – though I don’t know all the types and names of trees. At this time of year I recognise many types by their shade of green and their blossoms… so, here on the hill are cherry, lilac, laburnum, apple, chestnut, hawthorn, elder and dozens more… and some aren’t even trees, but bushes and creepers and other types of plant and vegetation. When summer comes I shan’t recognise most of them, though I may remember that the one on the walled corner is the magnolia, with the pretty maple in the hollow… some I know best as they shed their fruit later in the year and others only as the autumn waves her wealthy palette of gold and copper upon them. Such beauty and diversity, yet I called them trees! How do I know the names of some and not others? Five decades of loving the trees, eagerly learned from a mother who fought to grow them on a wind-swept island and, later, who hugged the trunks of trees whose names she had quite forgotten… Some types I will never forget due to emotions grafted into their association: laburnums were my father’s favourite and we would watch as he made himself a tea from their poisons, saying he wished to be buried under the yellow boughs in our garden; the cherry blossoms that snowed on us infants their pink confetti in my first year of school…

As you walk up the hill beside me, you may not even see the trees, but you may know the cars, their classifications, their makes and even their names, of which I am a complete ignoramus. To me, “there are red ones and the blue ones and the pink ones and the yellow ones, and they’re all made out of…”

I do this with people too; we all do – I generalise based on immediate observations and emotional responses. We each have our alien groups, which are “all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same” – they may be a certain brand of politician, a religious group, a criminal type or “deviant”, or a favoured type who sit on rosettes and can do no wrong… but if I take a closer look, listen carefully and am interested enough to identify unique features, I may learn who you are and next time, I may recognise you again and smile…