Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Stepford Parents…NOT!

March 29, 2011

If you remember my last installment I touched on how terminology has changed over the recent years. Men have encroached on the once female dominated career as stewardess and have championed the new phrase ‘Flight Attendants.’ I also touched on the occupation of ‘maid,’ which has since been dubbed ‘housekeeper’ or ‘domestic engineer.’  I have now learned that the ‘baby boomers’ are completely responsible for these changes. I know this because I have started a search for an appropriate nursing home for my Mother and have come to find out that nursing homes are now called ‘Senior Assisted Living Centers.’

The reason I have come to this conclusion and blamed the baby boomers is all because nursing homes are no longer nursing homes. They actually are assisted living centers. I look at it like this. A child has at least some responsibility to help care for their aging parents. The activity of doing this is ‘assisted living.’ Years ago children actually did care for their parents until they were no longer capable of providing appropriate care, at which time the parent then acquired the appropriate nursing care from a nursing home. Today, however, many of the baby boomers shirk this responsibility and send their parents off early to some facility that does not necessarily provide actual nursing duties, but they provide some much lower level of care. Generally, assisted living. All this is due to the baby boomers. Whether it is laziness or irresponsibility, it is the fault of a majority of the baby boomers refusal to provide even a modicum of care for their parents. Or maybe the baby boomers are simply victims of an era. I don't know. I just don't understand.

I certainly hope I have instilled in my son the values necessary for him to desire to help me out as I grow old, but recognize when I am no longer in need of assistance and am really in need of nursing. A parent couldn’t be any prouder of his child than I am of mine, but I hope I have the mental facilities to be even prouder still should he choose the route that my siblings and I have taken with our own parents.

I once said that I would never write about my parents. I have already made myself into a liar with a previous entry so I may as well jump completely off the cliff and say my ten Hail Mary’s. After all, my therapist has told me that writing is good for me. It helps me to relax and calm my nerves.

Many of you are already aware that my parents are well into their eighties now and require round the clock supervision. I hesitate to call it care because there is little that you need to do for them. Most of the time the level of care provided is simply supervision to keep them from hurting themselves, or each other. Dad is unable to drive now and simply up there in age with reflexes on the slow side, and dementia has crept up on him and often overwhelms him at times during the day. He will never admit it, though. Mom, on the other hand, is in stage five (out of seven) of Alzheimer’s disease and unable to cook or do most anything that requires even the simplest cognitive skills. Although she recognizes me and my sisters as familiar faces, she is unaware of our names or relationship to her. Dad has always been called Grandpa and as a result mom has taken the belief that he is her grandpa. After all, we have always called him grandpa from the day his first grandchild was born. In fact, I believe it was mother that started that.

You may find that this article bounces around just a little too much to be a chronological order of events. That is mainly due to my taking so long to produce this installment. I have taken several selected events from different times over the last three months to bring this to you and did not keep notes on a single page, rather, I have a pile of scraps composed of anything from bar napkins to cash register receipts with notes hastily scribbled thereon. So, if I forget to apologize later on for the seemingly haphazard ramblings that appear to bounce around like a ball on a pinball machine, I do so now. (Does the current generation even know what a pin ball machine is?) Ok, for you younger tykes out there: like a group of pixels in a pong game.

One of my many chores around the homestead is cooking. Not something I really care to do, but nevertheless it is something that I was taught to do. Not only did I learn by my dear mother but also by my years in the Boy Scouts. Three meals a day, seven days a week I cook, then clean. Not completely mind you. I do leave something for mother to clean. After all, she has done so for so many years I don’t think it would go over well to simply tell her she no longer needs to help clean the kitchen. She probably wouldn’t remember it for the time it would take her to go sit in the living room anyway. It does give her some purpose. At least that’s my justification for ‘allowing’ her to help clean up. Every evening I take most everything out of the cabinet and place the items in the dishwasher. Mom’s idea of washing dishes now is rinsing them off with water and drying with a paper towel. Nuff said.

I have learned that I need to fill their plates and even cut things up into bite size pieces when I place the meal on the table. Dad’s idea of cutting up meat, for example, is to place the bottom of the fork on top of the meat as if he were holding it down from floating away, then drawing the knife all the way across it from side to side in an attempt to cut it into with a single slice of the knife. Maybe if I were Bobby Flay, but I cannot hold a candle to his exquisite cooking skills. Dad will never get any meat prepared by me cut with one draw of a knife, and his attempts to do so often results in catastrophic events at the table. Either food or drink ends up in places it was not meant. Of course, there are times where this method actually does result in nicely cut items. Bread, for example. Dad must have some kind of bread at each meal. And no matter how hard I try that bread will always end up on his plate buttered with honey on it. It is sort of like potatoes in that respect. No matter what kind of potatoes I put on his plate those potatoes will always end up mashed with a fork into mashed potatoes.

Mom and Dad also have very different tastes when it comes to meals. I have never been one to do a lot of cooking and therefore my repertoire of menu items is very limited. I really have to think and plan meals, and in doing so I will select a meal a week that I enjoy for my self. When I place the meal in front of them I usually get some reaction out of one or the other. Last week I tried Chicken Cordon Bleu. Dad took one look at it and said “What’s this?” and Mom ate it right up with no question. On another occasion I prepared fajitas with red and green bell peppers, and onions, and a few other spices. Topped it off with a four cheese Mexican shredded cheese topping. It was really good. Mom took one look at it and said “What’s this?” and Dad ate it right up, no questions.

As I mentioned earlier, Dad is no longer able to drive on the road. He has been driving down to the highway to get his newspaper or collect the mail (see previous entry, something about assimilation) but I had been doing that for him now for about the last month. When I returned from a recent weekend furlough I sat through an hour of him telling me about the local kids and how they must not have anything else to do and go around knocking over or damaging mail boxes. I went down to the road to see what could be done about repairing it. Sure enough, the mail box pole was cocked over in an unruly tilt to one side, and the box itself was canted back on the pole. Looking up and down the road I could see no other mailboxes damaged in such a manner. I guess maybe the neighbors had already repaired their boxes. I asked my sister about dad driving to get the mail and sure enough, she confirmed that Dad had driven down there the last two days to get his paper. Well that’s enough on that subject.

Today Mom decided that she wanted to leave for home (we really are not sure where that is…) and loaded up a box full of her belongings and carried it to the front door. Actually this is a daily event, but that is another story altogether. I was in my room at the time and was not witness to this. She and Dad had a few words that were just not quite loud enough for me to understand and then the door opens. (I have an alarm system on the doors of the house so I am alerted when either leaves the house.) I was answering email or something at the time and did not jump right up to investigate the door opening but did notice it had gotten strangely quiet in the house. You know, when you have kids in the house playing and suddenly things get quiet? You know something is really wrong when it gets quiet. Well I was right. By the time I made it out the door and to the garage they had that box loaded up and dad was behind the wheel just about to put the truck in gear. I offered to drive so Dad got out of the driver’s seat and handed me his keys (note this!) and proceeded to get in the back seat. I asked Mom where she wanted to go but she really could not say. She simply referred me to Dad, who also had no clue where Mom wanted to go. Eventually she decided that it was not necessary to go anywhere and they both returned to the house. Remember the keys?

I really dislike all this Daylight Savings Time and the government’s idea of saving energy by making it stay light later in the day. Old people tend to want to stay on a schedule. Wake up at a certain time; take naps at certain times; eat at certain times; whatever. A month ago it was easy. Dinner was at 5:00 to 5:30 and quite soon afterwards it was dark enough to trigger the sleep sensor in them. Now, however, while we have to still eat at 5:00 to 5:30 it remains light for far too long after dinner is complete. As you are aware as you age your memory begins to falter. Well, with so much light remaining (10 minutes should do it, really.) they have more than enough time available to forget that they have already had dinner. So, tonight while writing I begin to smell something. That in itself does not alarm me but I did make it a point to step into the kitchen in the next few minutes to see on what they are snacking. As I approach I can see three rolls on a plate being carried on a hot pad by Dad. If the rolls were not slightly blackened it would not have made such an impact on me, but the smell simply did not match with what I saw on the plate. Its one of these mind things. You see something but another sense just does not agree with your sense of sight and as a result you sort of get mental vertigo. As it turns out those rolls were prepared in the microwave. Now I can tell you with relative certainty how long it takes for a microwave to brown rolls. It’s not a pleasant smell.

I said earlier that I would apologize and I do. Again I have rambled on about nothing and spent too much  literary real estate in doing so. There are so many events that take place that is worthy of the written word but much of it is private and not meant to be shared with those not close to the immediate family. I wish I had started writing about my parents years ago, not for your enjoyment mind you, but for my own memories. I know that some day I will lose those memories as they have and I will then regret not having written memories of these days. The one thing I am sure of is this: I will forever cherish being able to spend this time with my parents in this era of their life. Having regrets of not being close to them while they were alive is something I could not live with when I am nearing the end of mine.

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