Another flat tire yesterday, 9-miles out. It was the 4th flat in 72-hours. All the recent rain has washed a lot of debris into the roads. Most of my flat tires take place in late winter and early spring here.
After a roadside repair, I limped home due to uncertain tire pressure, exchange bikes and headed out again. Every ride is a new stoke, and most rides are the best ride I’ve ever had.
I was thinking a lot about caregiving today…
A firecracker, unexpectedly detonated in your proximity might startle you, make you pause, and even take you out of your rhythm for a moment, but would otherwise be harmless. After a firecracker explodes, life carries on within a few seconds, as if it never happened.
A landmine exploding unexpectedly, can kill you. If you’re lucky enough to trigger a landmine and actually walk away, the consequences of the concussion can still be profound and often life-changing.
In assuming the care of my aging mother, I spend most waking moments apprehensive of the firecrackers and landmines which surround us. More firecrackers than land mines at present, but I know as her dementia advances, they will come into equal portion and at some point, the number of landmines may exceed the firecrackers.
Since my mother lives with me, and I work from home, my mother is within 50-feet most of the time. The only exceptions to this are when I walk my dog, go to the store or am on my bike.
Though I attempt to keep distinct separation between my mother and my business life, a big part of why I have them both in my home is so I can toggle between them and assist Mom in-between my appointments and when I’m not working.
My mother, a retired federal worker, is in her late-80s. She walks exclusively with a cane, is in the early stages of dementia, but is lucid most of the time, just not all the time, and rarely when it’s convenient.
Mom is capable of engaging in normal conversations which might include gossip, current affairs, and the events of the day for each of us. She’s also capable of some light housekeeping duties, enjoys TV and reading, but naps in equal portion to anything she does when she’s not napping.
There are some quirks and idiosyncrasies which come with old age that can be disruptive, but are relatively harmless. There are also some heavier eccentricities that can stop a peaceful moment in its tracks. Those quirks are like firecrackers. The eccentricities are the landmines.
Sometimes, for no reason I’ve been able to understand, my mother will separate Oreo cookies from their main package and individually wraps them in paper towels, places them in coffee mugs, and put the mugs back in the cupboard — without making any mention of this to me. Imagine my surprise when I reach for a coffee mug, fill it with water and put it in the microwave to heat up the water for tea. Only after the fact do I realize I’m steeping my tea in Oreo water. I’ve learned to inspect the coffee cups before I do this. Still, if I’m in the rhythm of my day, I might forget to look in the cup first.
That would be an example of a firecracker.
A landmine, on the other hand, might be when I’m coming in for just a moment between appointments and I am confronted by Mom with the following information…
“I’m certain I’ve just seen the neighbors throw a baby into the dumpster in their backyard…“
I don’t believe this actually happened, but I don’t stand in front of my window for hours at a time looking to see what the neighbors might be up to. I do though, need to take time to discuss this with my mother.
If I have just a couple of minutes in-between appointments when she advises me about the baby murdering neighbors, negotiating that conversation might take a little more time than I actually have, and I might be late for my next appointment.
No Mom, I assure her, I don’t believe the neighbors did put a baby in the dumpster. Would you like me to call the police…?
It just doesn’t set up for a quick conversation. Again, that’s a landmine.
Seeing Mars in the western sky one evening, Mom told me she thought it was the space station and that they were looking down on Fallbrook spying, but not on her specifically, at least not yet.
There was nothing else going on in my life that evening, so that was more of a firecracker, but certainly had the potential to be a landmine. Still, she met me with absolute disbelief at the thought that it might be Mars and not the space station. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the evening.
Occasionally she leaves bed in the middle of the night to unplug all the appliances — so they don’t start a fire overnight. Of course, she does this in the dark so not to wake me — what could possibly go wrong with that…? If she were to fall in a darkened room, which she hasn’t done yet, that would be a landmine. Waking to hear her knock over a lamp or two in the process, is still just a firecracker.
When I’m in a session with a client and I hear the smoke alarm go off in the kitchen, a semi-regular occurrence, and I have to interrupt my workday to open windows, fan smoke out the door, and clean up any messes that might be caused by splattered grease — that’s a landmine.
Those are just a few instances of how my mother sees and negotiates the world differently than I do. Instances like these, however ord, are a semi-regular occurrences. These can be a little funny, sometimes entertaining, occasionally a nuisance, often frustrating, and at times dangerous. All in a day’s care.
These firecrackers and landmines — these sudden pops and explosions I navigate between each day, can wear me down. Occasionally, I catch her still attempting to do things I’ve asked her not to do, like use the stove or the vacuum cleaner. When an adult child has to discipline his parent for what is in-essence, misbehaving, both are sure to have heavy hearts, at least for a while.
There is one more landmine though, that comes up every 4-weeks as though it scheduled. It’s the day we deposit her retirement check into the bank.
Some months ago, my mom received a check from an insurance rebate for roughly $4,000. I asked her if I could hold the check overnight so it didn’t get lost — my mother has a habit of allowing the important documents and checks to end up in the recycling bin. She agreed to let me hold the check overnight. The next day we deposited the check and that’s where the story should have ended.
Every month since the day we deposited that check, on the day that we deposit her monthly retirement check, she asks me if I have the insurance rebate. When I tell her that we deposited it 6-months ago, she disbelieves me and asks over and over where that check is.
So once a month I have to convince my mother that I haven’t stolen $4,000 from her. She never fully believes this, and despite that we have this discussion every 4-weeks, we have it again 4-weeks later. That’s dementia, high-fiving me.
And the worst thing about these landmines is this…
As immediately as they explode and are cleared, they return again, in the exact same place.
I am frustrated with firecrackers, but I am haunted by landmines.
Confessing all of this might help you understand that if my only break from this is walking my dog, going to the store, or being on my bike, then these things are the methadone of my existence.
To be continued…
This is what I think about when I ride…
16.9 mph avg 😁
Yesterday’s earworm: The End Is Not In Sight, by The Amazing Rhythm Aces