Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving · Dogs · Teaching

Time will tell / March 15, 2007

I almost adopted another collie last weekend. I’ve been sneaking a search or two on Petfinder during my workday, and one day I spotted the picture of a beautiful 4-year-old collie up for adoption in Connecticut. I filled out the application and the rescue organization responded enthusiastically. But the owner would be the one to decide, and she wanted–understandably–an adopter who would not have to leave the dog while at work. So that was that, but I couldn’t help myself thinking, “So you don’t think I’d be a good enough caregiver, huh? Your loss.”

But I’m still feeling a strong impulse to get another dog. It doesn’t have to be a puppy, but I’m wondering if that might be the path of least resistance. How nice to have a being in my family who isn’t fading or pulling away. I was in Petco on Friday and standing beside me was a man holding a Bichon puppy. A tiny, wet-eyed, pink-pawed little creature, still too young to be frisky. “Look at his eyes,” the man told me and I saw that they were Delft blue. The sales clerk offered the puppy a piece of Milkbone, but he was too bewildered by his surroundings to take it.

I’m trying to reimagine my relationship with my mother. I visit her for an hour after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we go out for lunch and a ride on Sundays. The weekday visits are turning out to be interesting because we often sit in the common area. Before you know it, we’re joined by some of her neighbors. Their conversations can be funny and poignant, especially when I hear how the others attempt to come to terms with living there. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed an intention to return home, which isn’t surprising, but for some this will happen when they “get better” and for others it will happen in the vague future. “I guess I’ll stay here for awhile,” said Margaret, after stating that she didn’t want to live alone at home. Even my mother has told me that she’s decided to go home “next week”–at which point I will presumably have found someone to move in with her.

Otherwise, much of their conversation revolves around what day it is (”They could tell me it was any day and I’d believe them,” Connie stated flatly), and when and where they will eat dinner. They eat at the same time every day, and each person sits in the same spot in the same dining room, but they are continually surprised by this. What I am coming to love and learn from is how they accept each other at face value. Of course there are little disputes but when Cecile repeats for the nth time the story of her husband’s sudden death, everyone listens as if hearing it for the first time.

My mother has lately been returning to her role as schoolteacher and she’s often worrying about where “the kids” are and when they are going to return. I think this might be triggered by some of her neighbors going out to an activity, but on Thursday she was especially anxious about the whereabouts of someone. She left me to go look for this person a couple of times, the last time returning with her roommate Irene, who’d been lying down in their room. “Everyone!” my mother called out to the people sitting with me at the table. “This is Irene. Irene, do you know everyone?”

I almost said, “Mom–everyone knows Irene,” but the others were saying “Hello Irene” and “What was her name?” so I kept quiet. My mother went on to instruct Irene about the whereabouts of their bathroom and the dining room. “And if you just want to relax, you can sit in the bedroom.” Irene looked perplexed. “I’m just going to follow you around,” she finally said.

At this point I realized that my mother was more concerned with Irene’s situation, which actually made me feel good once I thought about it while driving home. I had hoped that she would form bonds with her neighbors, that she would be interested in them and enjoy sitting with them and worry about them. That they would engage each other. But it changes my relationship with her, and I’m not yet sure how. I used to take care of her and live with her. I ate meals with her and slept in the bedroom across the hall from her. I had time to sit with her and knit without talking, but now my time with her is limited. There are so many moments when I am actually shocked to find myself sitting alone at home and just plain loving it–and then I wonder what my mother is doing at that moment, when I am not taking care of her. Other times I wake up at night thinking that I hear the click of her doorknob turning–a sound that used to be like an alarm in the night. Can this be right?

Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll keep one eye on Petfinder and the other on Lily.

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