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.