Saturday, April 6, 2013

On parental units

A tiny iron angel
     Today, Saturday, I went down to the folks for lunch, as per usual (on Saturdays). When I entered the house, they seemed to look at me oddly. Ma got up and then sat down and said, “Well, I’m ready.”
     “For what?” I asked.
     “For going out to lunch!”
     I had a quizzical look (I suppose). So she said:
     “Remember? You talked to me about the possibility of going out to lunch! I told you that Annie had asked about it. We all agreed that we’d go out today!”
     Well, much of this was true, but it occurred on Thursday, not yesterday. And, sure enough, I took ‘em all out to lunch—down in San Juan Capistrano, yesterday. We had a nice time.
     But nobody said anything about going out to lunch today, Saturday.
     My dad then said, “Well, see, I don’t remember it that way at all. I Hope you’re right, Dietsche.” That’s his pet name for mom. “But I don’t think you are. You are confusing days.”
     At some point, I said, “Well, we can go out. That sounds good!”
     They wanted me to weigh in on this controversy about what had been said. I made a minimal effort to explain that any arrangements we had made concerned going to lunch yesterday, not today.
     Mom has an odd quality of being silent and profoundly stubborn. She seemed to think we were all wrong and she was right. Somehow, we were all confused.
     “Well then, let’s go out to lunch,” I said. I was happy to do that, though it appeared that Pa wasn’t available. That typical for Saturdays.

Yet another
     I said: “I’ll go put on some shoes. I’ll be right back.” My mom said OK, chirpily.
     I drove down to Annie’s place. I asked her if she thought “we” were going to lunch. She obviously had heard nothing about that. She referred to a conversation she had had with Ma on Thursday. But that was about lunch on Friday—yesterday.
     She also explained that she had to go to work in an hour. I drove off. I put on my shoes, changed my shirt. I went back to Ma and Pa’s.
     When she came out to the car, Ma got into the back seat. I said, “Why don’t you sit in front?” She said, “No, I want to sit with Annie.”
     “Annie can’t make it,” I told her.
     “But that’s OK. We’ll just go to lunch, just the two of us.” OK, she said.
     I drove down the canyon, toward the plano, acting like everything was just swell. It was an odd sight: I sat in front; Ma sat in back.
     We managed to get to BJs all right and we got a nice booth. I ordered an appetizer and helped Ma with her order. I could tell that she was looking for her “usual” but couldn’t find it. So when the waitress came by, I asked about the availability of the “fish and chips.” Oh sure, said the girl. All was well.
     We had a very pleasant conversation, discussing many things. We spoke especially about Stettin, Germany (now in Poland, near the border), which I knew she’d like. I explained my love of old places and old artifacts. I revealed my sense of the sadness of contemporary Stettin—that it had once been a very wonderful and elegant city, and all of that was destroyed, not only through the destruction of most of its buildings, but the killing and banishment of its population and replacing it with strangers who had no feel for the place (not that I blame them for that; they were victims of a similar kind).
     She seemed to like all that, as I knew she would. I noted what was special about old Stettin, which can still be discerned in what remains of the city. She commenced talking about Stettin, and Berlin too, and how special these cities once were. She launched into a dissertation about the special German of these cities. She recited a little ditty the point of which was to ridicule the denizens of those cities and their big city ways.
     This went on. We were having a good time.
     As we drove home, I asked about the odd recent Bugsy episode. Evidently, the little guy took a big bite into Pa as he was trying to sleep. “Why would he do that?” I asked. I suspected—but didn’t say—that there must have been more to the story than that. Cats don’t just up and bite their owners. Especially Bugsy.
     That inspired a curious revelation. Ma explained that she “doesn’t like it” when Pa yells at Bugsy the way he does sometimes. She seemed to say that “he just doesn’t get it” when it comes to animals. Yes, he truly loves them, but he doesn’t understand them and sometimes he does things, and she can just see something coming, but Pa doesn’t have a clue.
     I didn’t want to pile on, but I did suggest that Pa has always tended to anthropomorphize animals outrageously. I mentioned his “war” on gophers. “It’s as though these gophers were malicious; that’s how he talks about ‘em. He doesn’t seem to understand that they’re just gophers being gophers.”
     Ma said that that is what she was trying to say. Pa—and his father and mother and sister—were odd in some ways. “There was something missing” in all of them, she said. They just wouldn’t “get” certain things.
One of two cat bookends
     She’s right. There is something missing there. I’m especially clear about Pa. I have no doubt at all that he loves the critters (and people) that he loves. I think he’d do anything for them. But he also has displayed an odd, and sometimes distressing, insensitivity. Annie has some of that too. She’ll grab her cat (TigerAnn), stick her inside her jacket, and then assert that “she loves this.” Well, no cat loves that. And it’s clear that TigerAnn in particular doesn’t like it. But you can’t tell Annie. She won’t listen. It’s amazing.
     Pa’s like that.
     Ma broadened the point. The Bauer deficit, whatever it is, concerns more than the treatment of animals. I won’t go into it. I’m not sure I could even explain.
     So there we were, having a very good conversation, communicating about interesting and important (if somewhat distressing) things. Ma exhibited sensitivity and intelligence. She had insights. She noticed something that most people don’t see; and she could communicate that point effectively.
     I dropped her off. Soon, I ran into my dad, who was puttering around near my place.
     I parked and got out of my car, I wandered over toward where he was working, knowing that he’d want to talk to me about Ma.
     “I’m very worried,” he said.
     “About Ma’s memory?” –That’s what I said. That's my dad's category, not mine. I don’t think I’d make the point about Ma by zeroing in on memory. She’s been seriously goofy lately—but no goofier than he often is. She’s often been maddeningly inarticulate and mentally lazy. Drives me nuts. But she hasn’t been goofy. But lately, she’s been goofy all right.
     “She needs to take those memory pills. I take ‘em. She ought to take ‘em!”
     He was referring to the pills he takes to “ward off” dementia. A while back, we had a bit of an intervention, the upshot of which was that Ma took Pa to Dr. Eastman to get him checked out—for dementia. We did this as sensitively as possible. Ma had been vacillating between denial and consternation—she tends to do that. But, at long last, she got Pa to get tested. Unfortunately, Dr. Eastman, a family friend, dropped the ball. It appears that the informal tests that Pa was given revealed a level of mental dysfunction that was on the border between “normal” (for an eighty-year-old) and, well, not normal. At one point, he was asked to move the hands of a clock to 1:45 (or whatever), and he just couldn’t do it. His performance was spotty.
     Eastman, I guess, decided to put the best face on the whole situation and explained that the results of the tests put my father in the “normal” range (barely), but that it would be a good idea for him to take a certain drug that keeps a person in that twilight zone before serious dysfunction—delaying the descent into, well, dementia.
     Naturally, as is his custom, Pa has interpreted (and reinterpreted and reinterpreted) Eastman’s words in a manner that has by now left him declaring that, according to the good doctor, he has a “clean bill of mental health.” Nonsense.
     So, today, as he muttered dark worries about Ma, he alluded to his own alleged “good memory” and he insisted that it was time for Ma to get on those drugs.
     I didn’t disagree. I didn’t say anything. I was vaguely agreeable.
     “I’m scared to death,” said Pop. (He can be overly dramatic. Not sure if this was an instance.)
     “About Ma’s mental state?”
     “Yes, and our growing old.”
Cat bookend #2
     I didn’t take the opportunity to discuss the wider problem of mental health for the two of them. I focused on Ma.
     “We’ll keep a close eye on her,” I said. “We’ll watch her carefully. But let’s not get upset yet. We’ll just do the best we can.”
     And that was about it. I walked into my house.
     It’s an odd situation. Pa is at his best these days when he’s taking care of Ma. He can be very lucid, even wise, with regard to her. But he’s also by far the hardest of the two to deal with on a day-to-day basis. He can be very deluded, confused, addled. He occasionally denies that he’s losing his rational faculties—and yet he occasionally reveals that he understands that that is occurring.
     And yet I am vaguely cheered by this curious day. I suspect that Ma’s new wackiness is temporary, a product perhaps of her unconscious, unrecognized horror at losing her sister (a week or two ago). Or maybe it's a product of her worries about her kids (I won’t get into that).
     My folks: they both can be very smart, even wise. I’ll take these patches of clarity, mix them with my own concerns and machinations, and carefully move forward “with them.” 
     It will be OK.  
     (April 6, 2013)