Wednesday, 14 October 2009

birthday girl

This year I really struggled to think what I could get Mum for her Birthday. She doesn't read books anymore, can't follow movies, doesn't seem to care for music, new clothes wander immediately, and it seems I already turn up each month carrying twice her weight in chocolate. As the day approached I could feel myself panicking and I reacted in my normal way: I ignored the problem, left it until the last minute, and hoped for inspiration.

And so there I was wandering around a Department Store en-route to the Care Home, looking in just about every section. Eventually, I settled on.... a Lava lamp. A pretty lame choice, I suppose, but it was something I'd had in the back of my mind since seeing "The Savages" last year - I remembered Laura Linney turning up with one for her Father and thinking that it would be a soothing item for Mum's room. I also bought her some Chocolate Gingers and Turkish Delight (her two favourites), a pretty Birthday Cake, a flashy Birthday Card and (on impulse) a Teddy Bear.

I arrived at the Home in the evening of the day before Mum's Birthday and checked into the guest suite. Before bedtime, I decided to test the lamp (just in case) and it was then that I realised I'd made an error: the leaflet in the box declared that the Lava lamp should not be operated beyond 6 hours a day. I knew this was a stricture that Mum wouldn't be able to follow reliably and my heart sank. I went to bed thinking, "I'll have to return it to the store and take Mum with me to chose something more appropriate." I berated myself for buying something for Mum that was really for me - exactly the sort of glamorous treat that I'd always wanted as a child but was never allowed.

By the time I awoke, my sub-conscious brain had provided the answer: all I needed was to buy a timer-plug to turn the lamp on and off. So, I headed into Mum's household with all my gifts. Mum was sitting with a box of chocolates and a large bunch of flowers, both from my Brother-in-Law. She's always thrilled to see me these days but, with gifts to open as well, she was quite overcome. She reacted somewhat bemusedly to my Lava lamp but LOVED the card and the Teddy Bear most of all. I wondered how parents feel when their infant children play more with the packaging than the expensive toy.

Note to self: keep it simple and sentimental in future.

For the first time in a year, I took Mum out for a drive. I had been so freaked out last year at her 80th celebration, where she had an "accident" whilst out, that I'd not dared risk it since. So we made it to the Department Store and I took her around in a wheelchair, pointing out things I thought she'd enjoy while Mum scanned the floor for young children - Mum is enthralled by toddlers.

I must confess, it's cute to see the reaction of a small child in a buggy as they look at a grown-up person being pushed around in a larger version of their own chair...

At Lunch, in the store restaurant, Mum was already asking about dessert before her main course arrived. She ate a few chunks of seared tuna and a couple of boiled potatoes before putting down her fork and looking at me quizzically. I turned parent and told her that she must eat her greens.

I had to laugh 20 minutes later, when she was scoffing the last bit of green decorative icing from a carrot cake and said (without irony): "I must finish this green, here."

I'm really glad I arrived the night before and got to spend time with her in the morning. Mum was on relatively good form before lunchtime, but by mid-afternoon her personality was unravelling and she was erratic and I was fractious. Our second toilet stop of the day saw me having to get a bit more hands-on than I'd hoped (surely a rite-of-passage for any Son), but I coped far better than I thought I might and wasn't half as scared as I was a year ago.

Our day together was effectively over by 4pm. Although I was there until evening, Mum was only with me in body.


karen said...

I think the best present was you spending so long with her. You are a great son to even try to help her with the potty. My brother did almost all the dirty work changing mom while I was on vacation yr. before last but now he says no way . He had enough. But at least he did it for a week. Taking mom out to eat is long over for us. I do wish we could. Good luck and you did good.

Greg said...

Thank you, Karen. It took yesterday to make me realise the truth of what you've said. All my fussing over getting the right gift was needless when just turning up and being there for her made her day. A nice card and a teddy bear were more than enough excitement for her, and she'll treasure both for months and years to come.

Y | O | Y said...

Happy Birthday, Mom! Was it the 13th? That was my birthday so she's a Libra like me.

I agree that the teddy bear was enough and I'm sure it will be treasured. The lava lamp was a really good idea. I looked for one when Mom was still here at home but I couldn't find one that I liked. My grandparents used to turn theirs on in the evening and got such enjoyment from it and I'd get entranced watching it, too.

citygirl said...

Greg, great to see an entry from you. I've been missing you!

Sounds like you had an excellent birthday visit with your mom (save some little glitches but those are expected!). I'm happy for you.

My mom used to love stuffed animals and toddlers too. I think your mom will definitely enjoy the lava lamp - it's a visual treat that she can enjoy now that she doesn't read or watch movies. Good call on the self-timer!

I laughed out loud when I read about the children in buggies looking at your mom in wheelchair - what a funny observation!

You are an EXCELLENT son. Thank you for sharing your mom's birthday with us.

p.s. I'm a Libra too!

Greg said...

Thank You, Y|O|Y and Citygirl

I'm feeling okay about the day. It went a lot better than the big family 80th last year and was much less stressful.

I'm still re-learning the lesson each year to "buy ahead". It's the opposite of buying clothes for a child that they will grow into. Instead, I have to be careful not to buy something that she's already too far gone to appreciate. In this case, I think the Teddy Bear will be the longest-lasting and most appreciated gift. We spent all day with Mum naming him and then later asking if she should maybe name him.... She pulled "Buster" out of the air at one point, which I liked.

Greg said...

Happy Birthday Y|O|Y ! Mum's was on the 14th. Overall, I think you had a better one visiting Washington :D

Y | O | Y said...

Buster is a good name.

The bear Mom has is one I brought back to her for Christmas when I lived in CA. Do you have "Build A Bear" stores there? They are in the malls here. You go in, pick the "skin" (I picked a polar bear), then you go to the filling station and put the stuffing in, a plastic heart, pickout out clothes, and name it with a birth certificate at the end.

I named hers "Fuzzy Butt".

Greg said...

Yes, we have "Build A Bear" here, too (Hello Globalisation!). I was keen to find a fluffy white dog that might look like my Mum's Bichon Frise (pictured with her on in the beach photo at the top of the blog), and I checked the store especially, but they didn't do anything close enough, unfortunately.

I had bought a Bichon Frise teddy bear for Mum a few years back, when she was in Hospital once. I made sure it was one of the things she took with her to the Care Home, and she did treasure it. However, she gave it away to a little girl who was tearful one day. I admire her for doing that, but I'm wondering if I'll ever find a replacement. Perhaps it's not that important - I do tend to get caught up worrying over some trivial details sometimes.

BigAssBelle said...

What a great birthday for your mom. The lava lamp sounds intriguing. It would be fun to watch. I remember being mesmerized by them as a child.

What to give, what to give? I find that I've lapsed into giving chocolate. But he loves it. It's a small pleasure and why not? Very soft no-pressure socks. Classical music. He still loves that. But the books I used to give him mean nothing now.

One thing I'm doing this year for Daddy's birthday on the 14th of November ~ actually as quickly as possible, because I'm very worried about his physical health ~ is a memory book.

Family photos with short descriptive paragraphs and names, just to let him look back over his life. Even if he doesn't remember, it might make him think he does if I do it just right.

Man, I can't even write that without crying. This fucking disease. I am so angry about it. And it hurts so much.

LSL said...

I'm always so glad to see a post from you, Greg. The picture is so beautiful - I can't stop looking at it. The time you spent with her is incredibly loving. And I'm glad to hear she finished the right green. xo

Lily said...

I've just found your blog, Hallelujah!

Greg said...

Welcome, Lily! I've just been reading your blog and I recognise so much of what you've been through and are still dealing with. I look forward to reading more when I have time. I feel even more grateful at how content and settled my Mum feels just now.

Greg said...

I'm so pleased to hear from you, Lynette.

I feel wretched about what's going on with your Father, about the standard of care in that hospital and the indignities that he's facing. All just when you were realising your dream of escape. It's all so unfair and I hope that you somehow navigate a way through as best you can.

It's not often that I consider how lucky I am to be living in the UK and benefitting from our social services and hospital system. I think I'm going to watch 'Sicko' again tonight. Michael Moore did a great thing making that movie, but I think someone equally talented needs to keep this issue at the top of the agenda until the corporations and their stockholders are removed from deciding what goes down on US hospital wards.

From my professional life I am aware that there are forces at work trying to bring a US-style healthcare system to Britain, purely for the sake of realising a profit from a hitherto-untapped market. I pray we don't succumb just as I pray that Obama and Hilary somehow pull off a miracle for you over there.

Rant continues offline x

Sorata said...

I'm a bit late... But HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!! :) Hope you like the cute Teddy bear that resemble cuddly Gregory!

Hope you are doing well, always nice to see a post from you. *hugging fest*

Greg said...

Hello, Stranger! Hey, cut out the "cuddly" remarks, you chubby chaser, you :D

gemma said...

Hi Greg,

I hope you don't mind me contacting you, I look after the PR for caring with confidence and have been reading over your blog.

I don't know whether you're aware of Caring with Confidence, but the programme helps carers with practical tips and tools, as well as emotional support, to cope with caring - backed by the DoH they provide local group sessions, home work-books and online courses. The free programme aims to support carers across England.

I would really like to talk to you some more about CwC, my email address is