Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 - Goodbye.

Happy New Year all Oyome-sans everywhere - Japanese and non-Japanese!
I'm ending my year of blogging in a slightly drunken haze - started drinking wine as I prepared dinner - now I am packing to go to England and my step-mother tomorrow early.
All went well. Yujiro came home from skiing safely. 
The three of us sat down to instant noodles, sushi, pickles and soup. Okaasan looked a bit sleepy - apart from lunchtime conversation with me she hadn't done much all day. A bowl of wet laundry has been sitting on her living room carpet for 4 days now...

 It's been a truely terrible year. 2010 has got to be a whole lot better.

I'm going to stop sitting at the computer now and go and sit on the sofa with my guy and a bottle of wine...and K-1 or Susan Boyle.

Happy New Year to everyone!

A really HAPPY New Year.

He's coming home for New Year!

I came out of the movie with my friend at 5 pm and as we headed to Starbucks for A Million Calories Latte I checked my cell phone.

2 emails minutes before - he is coming home for dinner.

I don't have to do Okaasan alone. Thankgoodness for her...and for me.
Better get back to chopping long onions now.

New Year...with Okaasan.

Here we are.
The end of 2009.
I am so glad. Awful year for me. Next year can only be better.

And today?
I am taking down Christmas decorations, feeding Okaasan breakfast, packing for England tomorrow, clearing snow outside the front door and catching an afternoon movie with a friend to give me strength for...New Year's Eve alone with Okaasan!!!!
Oh My God. (If I had one.)

The ski school haven't cancelled Yujiro's January 1st ski lessons in the mountains above Otaru. So that means he won't come home tonight. And I have to give this old Japanese lady her end-of-year Ohogatsu dinner and feeling.....

New Year/Oshogatsu is a big deal in Japan.
Special food.
Special customs.
Special decorations.
Family time.
Special TV - a terrible singing competition on TV where past-its and now-its sing everything from ballards to hip-hop.

Poor Okaasan! She has to spend this special evening...with me. There is no chance this time that she won't know what day it is -TV has been yammering on and on about it since first light.
Has she made any preparations for it? Not sure. There may be a whole Oshogatsu feast of noodles, deep fried shrimps and miso soup hiding down there under the heated table blanket - but I doubt it.
She DID go out yesterday and get an Oshogatsu door decoration (not using the same one for 5 years like me!).

Last year she shopped like crazy - all the special foods to make New Year meals. And Yujiro and I supervised her 3 hours of cooking in our tiny kitchen as she tried to remember a million times about the soy sauce.
This year feels different. It's an indication of a decline in a her dementia. Or should that be "progress" of her dementia?
She still goes out and shops for random stuff. She must have been in crazy-supermarkets in the past few days with all the Oshogatsu ingredients screamingly on sale...but I don't think she has planned to make any of it.

Yesterday I bought pre-cooked umani - a tofu/vegetable dish - and seaweed things and black beans. There is soba noodles and fried shrimp topping for tonight's dinner. Enough to make it feel like an Oshogatsu dinner without giving me a heart-attack of preparation stress.

Maybe - inspired by all the TV Oshogatsu cheeriness - suddenly she'll jump up from the TV watching and start work with the soy sauce, veggies and tofu in the kitchen....but I'm guessing not.

All over Japan families will be settling down in front of the TV singing and a bowl of noodles. Poor Okaasan will maybe get a phone call from a brother, or even the errant older son....but her main entertainment tonight will be an English woman.

She came to my Christmas - where food and customs like crackers and decorations made a Friday-night in Japan special for me. Now it's my turn to give her Oshogatsu.

But I have a nice bottle of Piat D'or in the fridge for when I get to the end of this day.

Onwards to 2010!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Bite the bullet.

My New Year's Eve for 2009 is shaping up nicely - me and Okaasan sitting in the kitchen over bowls on instant noodles.......while a cheesy TV singing show plays in the background.


Yujiro came back from skiing last night all elated because he CAN ski again and the ski school have booked him in for work - December 31, January 1st, January 2nd... etc etc....
But the roads are so icy here at the moment - not enough snow cover - that we both agree that if he has the January 1st job he shouldn't drive back all the way from Kiroro just for one night. He should stay at his ski school near Otaru.

Which means dear friends: Okaasan may have to see in the new year with Oyomesan!

Her and me. Kitchen table. Soba noodles, TV singing show, chat....this is probably my bad khama coming back to bite me.

New Year dinner when Yujiro and I were a carefree couple was never noodles. Instead we had something delicious: steak or crab, champagne. And K-1 fighting on the TV. He'd come home from ski work around 5 pm, we'd eat dinner, drink and go to bed early - and on January 1st go private skiing together on the almost deserted ski grounds. A wonderful New Year.

This time?
I'll cook for his mum. He'll stay at the ski school lodge.
5.30 am I'll get a taxi to the airport.
Okaasan will spend January 1st daytime trying to forage for food in the kitchen.


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Yes - I can. No - she can't.

I just walked to the supermarket!
And back!
And I'm still standing.
It all took about 20 minutes.

That was the first time since May to walk from the house, down the street to the subway station and its shops. It's a big step for Oyomesan kind.

It made up for staying in my pajamas until 2 pm.....

I stayed away from Okaasan. I sat upstairs eating Stollen Cake. Around 1 pm I could hear her in the kitchen. Trying to cook lunch. 

I stayed upstairs quietly and tried to guess from the sounds what she was doing, or trying to do. And failing. Switching on and off the microwave. Switching on and off the electric oven. Taking stuff out of the fridge and cupboards and putting it back again.
Yes. I'm a cruel Oyomesan.
I want to know what she can or can't do.

The answer is: she can't prepare even a simple lunch for herself. 

Finally at 2 pm I put on my fleece jacket and slung my handbag over my shoulder, held my housekeys in hand. Crept downstairs and opened the kitchen door as if I was just returning from outside. Did a cheery greeting. Okaasan was happy to see me.

She was still trying to use the microwave and trying to out the nabepot on the electric cooker. Which wasn't switched on. 
She'd managed to make a cup of instant soup.

I quickly heated up some of last night's nabe and gave it to her as she sat in front of the TV. So at least she had some warm food during the day.

But this isn't good.

We have to lay out the kitchen and food in it so she can get better food than just instant soup! She really is reduced to basics - she can't use the kitchen equipment. There are two packs of tofu in the fridge - she didn't open either of them

She just doesn't have the mental capacity to take a saucepan out of the cupboard and pour the stew in it, switch on the oven from OFF mode and then heat up pre-cooked food.

I'm not going to have to cook and sit with her every day. Am I?

When Yujiro comes back from skiing there'll be some serious conversation here....

Back to complaining.

Well, season of goodwill has finished.
I'm back to complaining to this blog.

I finished work yesterday, last class and cleaning up the classroom - stripping off the Christmas decorations and putting up the Japanese New Year door decoration.

Some students got seriously on my case after they discovered I'd been using the same decoration for 5 years...SUCH bad luck apparently. I should burn the decoration mid-January and buy fresh every year - because the shrines need the business.
I don't believe in this stuff at all - but after the past year - I'll get into ANY superstitition going and give it a whirl.
So in the picture you see the old and new decorations. Can you tell the difference? No, me neither.

Meanwhile at home....
Yujiro is getting into his ski life. He is trying practice skiing to test his leg strength etc and the ski school are trying to get him booked in for classes.
I'm happy for him - finally he can get into the life he loves. He can get out of the kitchen and into the snow and mountain sunshine with the guys.

Trouble is....feeding Okaasan.
I'll do evenings - that's fine. Whether he is here or not. I'll cook and sit and chat to Okaasan.
But I really, really object to doing lunches for her.
It just isn't necessary. She can get up off the living room carpet and walk 5 steps away from the TV into the kitchen and do SOMETHING for herself - heat something up in  pan, put boiling water on instant noodles...whatever.
It won't be healthy maybe, but she won't starve.

He's molly-coddled her awfully the past year, cooking every single lunch while he was home and unemployed.
I am not going to do it.
If I am home I want to have MY day of my plans and that includes making my own lunch and eating it when I want to.

So we had all of this as a slightly tense discussion at bedtime last night.
Hmm. Don't go to bed on a fight is the old saying. Well, it wasn't a fight. But after we turned off the bedside light the negative feelings were whirling around in the darkness.

I'm reading a great book at the moment called The Year of Living Biblically, by a New York writer who tried to follow the bible's rules for a year in his every day life. I'm identifying with his struggles a lot! I know what I SHOULD be doing with Yujiro and Okaasan - but there is a large, selfish part of me that is screaming "NOOOOOOOO!" a lot of the time.
At dark moments I get depressed about this life. I'm doing pretty badly. I congratulate myself if I spend a few hours with Okaasan at a concert, or sit and chat to her over lunch. None of this is coming naturally.

At Christmas dinner I watched Etsuko, one of our friends, work Okaasan into Happiness with lots of cheery chat and ego-stoking - like workers in old people's homes...and endless loop of bright, noisy chat and opinion-comfirming questions. Okaasan was a bit suspicious at first, but she blossomed into it all and lapped it up - becoming animated and happy.
I just don't do that. I'm not that kind of person even in English - a gusher. It feels false and patronising.
If Okaasan was living with a Japanese Oyome-san she'd probably get all of that and be so much better for it.
I sometimes wonder how this will all play out - will I stay with this guy and his mother? Will I eventually move out? Will he find a woman who'll do the care of this old lady so much better than me?

I led an entirely selfish life until now. No brothers and sisters. Single life until 30 years old. In charge of my working life. Couple-life with an independent-thinking guy. What I wanted to do - I did.

And then at age 48 it changed. I have to do things with this old Japanese lady. I have to care. I have to....but I don't have to go downstairs an hour from now and cook for her.
Yujiro can telephone her from the skiiing and remind her to get up off the carpet and go and find something in the kitchen.
I'm staying put in my pajamas upstairs. Gonna do my business accounts. Gonnna play word games on the computer. Gonna clean out the fish tank. Gonna watch a few more Sex and the City episodes.

Tomorrow night here is a ski instructors' party. I said I'd "do" Okaasan. But now a friend says tomorrow night is good for the get-together we've been planning for after Xmas. So. Yujiro gets to go out with the guys and drink away his cares. And I get to go out and chat away my cares to a sympathetic ear (and she has 2 great cats!!).
Okaasan will be Home Alone with food delivery.

It isn't warm and friendly. But it's our reality.

Friday, 25 December 2009

"Thankyou Oyomesan! Christmas Shock!

Sitting here at 3 am on Christmas Morning to record a warm, fuzzy fact:

Okaasan said "Thankyou for taking me to the Christmas music concert".

I've got all sorts of reassuringly, squishy, rattling, silent packages behind me to open later this morning thanks to friends and students....but "Thankyou" from Okaasan is a pretty good Christmas present.

Last night I'd just come home from the last class of 2009 at my English school and staggered into the kitchen for dinner - and she came out of her room all smiley and said it.

After all the shit - (can we use that word on Christmas Day?) - it was right up there on the Warm Fuzzy Christmas Events schedule. Amazing!
Maybe Yujiro primed her into saying it, maybe she got a visit from the Angel Gabriel who told her to show some lurve, maybe...whatever.
It was GREAT!

As such it deserves a Blog all of its own.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Super Woman!

Moved the chair inside.
Fed the Okaasan.
Grabbed 2 hours of Sex and the City.
Took Okaasan to concert.
Took Okaasan to restaurant.

No time to save the world too.

The chair.....10 cm too big for the entrance hall door frame.

So....round the back of the house, over the fence, in the snow....

Chair all trussed up and ready to fly. Santa Eat Your Heart Out!

YES! Did IT! I am Super Woman!

Thru the window....
Happiness to get the chair inside made even better by the feeling that after months and months of being unable to do anything much physically - I CAN! I CAN!

and then I popped downstairs and cooked lunch for Okaasan, and sat and chatted to her.
And then 2 hours to myself.
And then concert.

   The concert was ok - not great - too much gloomy organ playing and not enough joyous singing. Sitting looking at the back of a musician while he sits and fiddles with a keyboard and pedals does not make for great entertainment.
   But finally the local college choir came on with a soprano in a big pink dress - and sang Silent Night in German and other Christmassy songs.
   Okaasan seemed to enjoy it all - she told me about 20 times about a pipe organ in a department store in Tokyo, and I managed to get her to the toilet in time (I think!)...we looked at the Christmas trees outside the concert hall, we looked at the ladies in was all ok.
   Yujiro picked us up afterwards and we all had dinner at a local izakiya - Okaasan drinking sake and getting a bit tipsy....

  I came home and finally had a beer.
  So glad I got the chair inside. Relieved I did the day with Okaasan. She didn't bite. Now I have one more day of work - and THEN CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


I have a whole, wonderful day with Okaasan.
So so happy.

At dinner last night I gave her the concert tickets, all wrapped up nicely in a box and xmas paper - she seemed interested and happy about it. Not sure that she gathered she has to go to the concert WITH me...but hopefully Yujiro will be home early enough from skiing so I can use the car.

He's just left for his first skiing this year. First skiing since last year's ligament accident.
And it's the Emperor's Birthday. So everyone in Japan has the day off - and most people are having Christmas parties with friends and family because December 25 is just another working day in Japan.
It is a wonderful irony that on the Emperor's birthday most Japanese people are eating cake and chicken in a local version of a Christian festival. have to feed Okaasan lunch, get her primed to go out to the concert, take her to the concert, chat to her...
This is my Good Christmas Deed of the Season.

But I think I might chicken out of actually sitting down and having lunch with her....I don't think I have enough conversation for lunch AND concert...Yujiro often gets her to eat her lunch alone in the kithen while he goes out. Maybe I'll tell her a white lie and say I have to pop out for a while...
I so wish I could spend the day watching DVDs and thinking about Christmas dinner cooking on Friday..instead Okaasan Care looms large in my day.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Washed out...........

Pre-Christmas exhaustion.

Too many Last Class Parties and End of Year Parties - all fun - but coming all together, it just feels exhausting. I think I used to be good at end-of-year-class-parties. Now I think I am washed out on the whole thing.
I haven't actually been home and had dinner here since Saturday...I think.

Haven't actually spoken to Okaasan since...what...Sunday?

Now Yujiro is at another job interview and I have to get an easy dinner on the table for the 3 of us....and give Okaasan my present: the Xmas concert tickets for tomorrow.

Will she want to go? With me? Will I survive an hour or two with her?
Who knows.

I feel so so tired.
It's times like this I feel I actually want to stop ALL my classes and take a year off and go and travel somewhere and get away from responsible life.

And to top it all: I bought a big basket chair as Yujiro's Christmas present from a second hand furniture shop. It was delievered this evening. It doesn't fit through the hallway door!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think we may have to return it to the shop. It's too big to enter the house!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Japanese Conversation Classes

So...taught five classes yesterday - came home and did another at the dinner table.
Five in English and one in Japanese.
That REALLY helps the digestion!

Dinner with Okaasan feels like work. Thinking where to guide the conversation next, thinking what words to use - concentrating on meaning. Being genki (lively and friendly).

She's fine. Anyway, seems so. I can feel Yujiro and I lobbing the Conversation Balls over the table at her: tofu, monks, tofu sellers a long time ago, post-war food shortages, wartime schooling,  working on a farm....until finally we can make our excuses and go upstairs to OUR life...a can of  beer, boxing on TV, emails, Christmas present wrapping.

I expect it will all get easier as we get more practiced - and I certainly appreciate him making the efforts now with Okaasan. He was always correcting her and explaining things, which didn't give HER the chance to chatter on about stuff she knows.

But still. It feels like an extra class at the end of the day.

and the turkey and oven drama?
Well, here is the puzzle...

It won't fit, will it?!!!! Size does matter.....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Doctor's advice...finally.

We went to the doctor this afternoon - and discovered how many things we've both been doing wrong with Okaasan care - and what we can expect to look forward to in the coming years....

It was SO GOOD to sit and talk to a sympathetic, un-shockable guy who mercifully didn't have us on a limited timetable and he let us - well mainly Yujiro - talk and talk and talk.
Yujiro had prepared in writing a timetable of events in Okaasan's decline...from 2 years ago when he noticed that she was giving up on the housework and cooking in Saitama, to last year's accusations about the post office stealing Y300,000....and then right up to last Thursday night's son/mother domestic violence.

The doctor was a young guy - with plump hands and belly, dressed casually...we sat around a coffee table and he took notes...scribbling down furiously when we admitted to another Carer Mistake: Contradicting, Correcting, Assuming, Invasion of Personal Space.....

Our main concern was: What to do next time she accuses me of taking her stuff?
He said - calmly offer to help look for the item, gently say a mistake may have been made...calmly, calmly....and after any tidying of her room to put the removed items (papers and trash) out of sight.
He and we wonder if these outbursts are connected to something else entirely e.g. food she doesn't want to eat (cheese fondue last week!) or some other negative experience.
But he also said that these accusations will return - whether it is "who touched my stuff?" to "who took my money?"....

Interestingly he said dementia sufferers lose track of days and dates first, then location...and finally the identity of people around them. Okaasan is definately at the first stage and when we moved in spring and early summer she drifted into location problems when we got phone calls from people around the city who found her wandering.

So. It was a successful doctor trip. We all agreed that GETTING Okaasan there would be impossible at the moment (and Yujiro and I have agreed counter-productive at the age of 79), so we left it as advice for us, information about a Dementia Sufferers Family Support Group....but in 2 hours with Dr. Plump - we covered a lot of ground.

Wish we'd gone earlier. But now we have.
Put it all into practice at dinner tonight - lighthearted chat about food and year end parties, fish, Hawaii.....trying to give Okaasan topics she can start her monologues on. The book I read about dementia likened conversations to tennis ball serves - putting up a topic, tossing it gently over the net...and seeing if there is any response. If not moving the conversation on to another "ball".

It took a whole-lotta-stress-and-anger to get us into that office this afternoon - I felt we were at a Marriage Guidance Counsellor - but it was all worth it.
I hope we can try to make a new start.....and now I can focus on the MUCH more important topic of how to fit a huge turkey in a small oven next Friday night.

More on that another time.

Every breath you take

Did it.
Nobody hit anybody. Nobody broke the kitchen chair. Nobody cried.
We sat down and just had dinner.

Just about ok. But it felt like one of those painful, breath-by-breath scenes in a movie where there are dangers lurking beneath the casual chitchat. Quentin Tarantino should come to my kitchen. He  direct me in a massacre with a large, frozen turkey.

Didn't want to come home and do it at all. Thought about bolting for the hills. Or at least staying on the second floor.
But gritted my teeth and got stuck in.
Instead of watching Tv/checking email while Yujiro prepared dinner - I went down into the kitchen with him to "own the space", so that Okaasan could hear my voice, hear us talking...KNOW Oyomesan was In The Building.
She was sitting watching TV, with her back to the kitchen as usual.
I emptied the washing machine of her underwear that's been there since Monday night and popped my head round her room door to casually give it to her in a washing bowl.
She didn't spit fire at me. Didn't give me any warmth either. I could have been the under parlour-maid.

Then we 3 sat down to eat.
Yujiro chatted away about a cooking Tv program, Okaasan responded..I actively joined the all chatted along ok....but Okaasan was always looking down at her food or looking at him. She didn't look in my direction at all.
My confidence was sinking....would I have to go upstairs afterall?

Ahh! Oranges from my friend Heather! Yes! Bingo!
"Those oranges over there are from Kyushu! My friend gave them to me as a souvenir from Nagasaki!" I exclaimed in excitement, gesturing wildly to the fruit bowl.
Okaasan looked up - looked at me as if noticing me for the first time, looked over at the oranges.
"Really? They look good, Kyushu has delicious oranges..."

Did it. Broke the ice with oranges.
Thanks Heather!

After that it was better. She seemed to relax. We relaxed...she even laughed at the story of a student who had to buy a second-hand freezer to store all the end of year fish presents she'd received.
She didn't accuse me of anything....this time.
He ate his dinner and didn't shout, hit, break chairs.
I didn't retreat to my classroom 1 km away.

After dinner he and I went back upstairs. He turned and grinned at me - and we High  Fived eachother on the stairs. We did it.

*  The biggest thing he says he has learned from the book and Social Worker is how to deal with Okaasan's stories about what she's done - NEVER to contradict her, even if you know it isn't true.
My book about dementia says this too - just agree and reflect back with smiles and interest whatever she says: I ate Korean food (actually it was Indian food because she didn't have enough money for the meal and he had to go the next day and pay the extra Y200 to the restaurant), my other son lives in Tokyo (actually he lives in Nichinomiya)....
I always felt this was one of Yujiro's weaknesses as an Okaasan conversationist - his natural desire to correct her all the time, to set her right. But apparently with dementia sufferers this just isn't helping them, it just confuses and eventually stresses them.

But the type of food and where someone lives isn't important. Accusing someone of taking stuff is. I'm hoping the doctor today will give us some idea HOW to respond to that kind of a statement! We can't just nod and smile ("Ahh yes, I came into your room and took your stuff, yes, you're right!).

So. I'm really looking forward to going to the doctor this afternoon.
Last night was ok. But it was exhausting. I felt as if I'd finished one lot of work 10.30 am to 4 pm...and then did another stint of work from 7-8 pm. Home and dinner shouldn't be like that.

*** and Heather dear...those oranges may have been cheap - but oh - SO USEFUL!!!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Home...sweet home?

I'm home.
Came home last night in a snow storm.

Yujiro came to my classroom after work and we talked.
He had spent the day talking to the Social Workers at the city office and getting a lot of advice. Then they recommended a local doctor who deals with dementia - and he phoned the clinic and got an urgent appointment for this coming Wednesday - for me and him. To talk about Okaasan and her care, and how or whether we can actually GET her into that building...what white lies do you have to tell to get a lady into a clinic when she thinks nothing is wrong...

So. I felt he had tried his utmost to come to grips with all of this.
And I agreed to come home and do it all together again.

He isn't 100% out of the dog house yet. He is still a man who hit someone in anger.
But I feel he is really making an effort and that some kind of progress is being made.

We DO wonder though how Okaasan will react to me being back in the house. Will she remember the fight? Will she go back to: Amanda is the stuff thief?
I was in the toilet just now and she was in the kitchen...I came out of the toilet and up the stairs SO quickly (painfully on my bad knee) so she wouldn't see me.
I'd prefer to hide on the second floor until tomorrow when we can see the doctor and ask his advice...but if I meet here, I meet can't be helped. Just a cheerful "Hello" and carry on as normal?

I guess so.

But thankyou to all friends, students who have sent me supportive messages the past few days - in e mails and phone calls, only 2 people actually posted messages here..but about 10 people sent me love in other ways....thankyou.
I think this will happen again I feel we will all be back here again sometime...and that is a sad thought.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


Everyone probably.
I went to the house this afternoon to collect clothes and work stuff for next week.
Didn't meet Okaasan, but Yujiro wanted to talk some more.

Okaasan has said that she doesn't want us to clean her room. Fair enough. We could dig her out when the newspapers hit the ceiling and the rotting food jungle reaches the level of an eco-system.
And she was upset that Yujiro had invited her hula dance friend to Xmas dinner with us.
"Why didn't you as me?". Fair enough.
She doesn't want the poor woman to come for Christmas dinner. I wonder why?

Nobody likes to feel that they are not in control of their own life. He and I have been too highhanded with the cleaning and the arranging things. We were trying to help, but she doesn't feel that.

He also said she looks very unlikely to go to the hospital tomorrow...or any other day.
Can he tell her that it's a requirement for a Health Check in connection with the health insurance card? A free check for Over 75s? Something?
He says her mood isn't good at the moment and he doesn't think she'll go to the hospital.
So HE will go to the ward office tomorrow and try to talk to the advisors there.
But this is a central problem. How do you actually GET a person with dementia to the hospital for professional help?

He was down. My mood of relaxation from a morning quietly at English classroom "home" evaporated. It was hard to be in the house together. He tried to hug me. I couldn't.
I did my class prep, watered a dieing plant and packed clothes.
Then I drove away.
Parked in a shop car park down the road and phoned a friend to cry.
Went to have an early dinner in a family-style restaurant. Read my book. But looked at all the Sunday-evening families having dinner together. Feel like a failure.

I gave him the book I bought about caring for family with dementia. He started reading it while I was there and said: ahh....there are many things in this book like us, I'm not good at dealing with her when she tells the same stories endlessly...the books says...

So. That's good. He is reading this kind of topic with a close understanding.
Maybe that will help a little.

But what happens?
The public care workers say: go to the doctor for an assessment.
Okaasan refuses.
I am living here. They are living there.
So I move back into the house and we carry on as before?
And somewhere down the line she will say/do crazy things again and he will hit her.
And I will leave. Again.

and of course Christmas. He showed me the frozen turkey that has arrived from the Foreign Buyers' Club. It's huge.
Who on earth will feel like sitting down 12 days from now and celebrating goodwill-to-all?

Talking and Waiting

No change: I am living at my English classroom and Yujiro and Okaasan are at home.
Last night he came here to talk.
He rather over-dramatically came in a SUIT ("to show I am serious") and brought all the alcohol from the house. He put it all on the table here and told me he wasn't drinking any of it. I don't think that will last long...

Anyway. We talked. A calm, reasonable conversation. We have always been good at talking/listening to eachother over problems.

I said:
  • Not coming home until Okaasan sees a doctor and the city care workers are activated about us as a family in crisis.
  • You are not a monster, but I think you would hit her again and that is no answer to any problems.
  •  This is only the start with her, this paranoia about stuff on her will grow and we have to deal with it calmly.
He said:
  •  Okaasan remembers the hitting and I have apologised many times,
  •  She is confused about why you are not at home, I told her it is my fault.
  •  She knows the forgets things and seems to accept that maybe a trip to the doctor is a good idea.
  •  I hit her because although the original accusation was a general "someone's been taking my stuff", when we were standing at the cooker it became "ask Amanda, Amanda knows" and that made me more angry.
  • When I was a child I never saw my father hit my mother, but my father hit me -and I hit him.
  • I don't  think there will be much public help for us, because Okaasan is able at the moment and we are there to care for her.
So that's how things stand at the moment.
Tomorrow he will try to take her to the hospital and I hope they will do a good interview and brain scans etc. I hope he will be honest about this situation, so the doctor realizes that this family needs outside help.
I have classes and a end-of-year-lunch - so he can use the car.

I'm doing ok. Staying at my English classroom is fine. It's warm and has enough bedding, hot water, a shower, xmas music, decorations. It's near the shops. I have this new laptop.
I am going back to the house this afternoon to get clothes for the coming week of work and to prepare lessons on the home computer and printer. I feel calm about it all.
Last night after The Talk I went to the bookshop and bought a Japanese book about dementia for him (being Japanese it has loads of cute cartoons about sufferers and carers!! This country can Cutify any topic), then I had dinner and went to the late show of the new Brad Pitt movie.
So I am ok.

It's hard to put on the happy face with students and NOT talk about this situation. I know some of the Monday and TUesday students read this, so some of them will know. I feel I can't talk about this in a class.

Strange that a family death is an easy thing to share publically. Domestic violence is not. I expect that is why it is one of those hidden crimes. Hard to share and hard to admit. Even I feel some kind of responsibility for this: I chose to love this man, now am I making excuses for what he did (family background/culture/frustration). Am I letting him off lightly by saying I will likely go back if he gets outside help?

Is there a different attitude to it in Japan? A few years ago a Japanese diplomat hit his wife in Vancouver, and told Canadian police: It's a private, family matter - this is the Japanese way.
And turn on any Japanese TV so-called comedy show and there are always people play-hitting eachother over the head, something which sits uneasily with many non-Japanese viewers.

Yujiro told me about he and his father hitting eachother with a SMILE on his face.  It was a funny memory to him. That was shocking. Just one of those things that happens, a man hitting his teenage son, the son hitting back.

I was beaten as a child for doing wrong. My step-dad and mum beat me about 3 times. I was put over step-dad's knee and hit on the backside as punishment. But nobody hit anybody in anger.
I have been violent myself: to cats. If I was very angry I smacked the cat strongly. Felt terrible immediatly afterwards.
I've always thought that is maybe one pyschological reason I have never wanted kids: the base fear that I am pretty sure I would/could hit a child.

Domestic violence. I never ever thought I would witness it or be concerned with the aftermath.

But here I am.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The End?

This is hard to write.
But in the interests of a record of sudden life with an elderly Japanese in-law....I'll try to be honest.

Last night there was a fight.
Yujiro lost his temper badly and hit Okaasan.
I walked out of the house in disgust.
Now I am sleeping at my English classroom and friends'.
I've given Yujiro an ultimatum: Get Okaasan's dementia assessed by a doctor and get outside help for this situation. Only then will I talk about our future as a couple.

It was awful.
I've never seen anyone hit someone. No man in my family would hit a woman. I strongly believe that if a man hits a woman once...then he'll do it again. And I know this is at least the second time for Yujiro.

It all blew up over dinner.
I got home to find him cooking cheese fondue, which we are pretty sure Okaasan won't like because she has the idea that she doesn't like cheese - although she eats pizza.
So although she reluctantly tried a piece of bread dipped in the sauce, she said: No thanks.
We hurriedly cooked her pizza, soup, Japanese pickles, salad instead.
But she ate it all silently and wouldn't make eye contact with us at all. She looked SO depressed and inside herself. Recently she hasn't had  haircut...because my hair-dresser is no she looks pretty wild....We tried to chat about stuff and get her on a topic. Nothing.

Finally Yujiro asked her directly: Are you ok? Are you tired?
And she said: someone's been in my room and moving stuff on my table. It's all outside the front door.......
Again the paranoia.
Of course we did clean WITH her on Sunday. But we didn't touch the table stuff. Mostly old newspapers, rotting trash and dirty underwear long forgotten in bags and boxes.
The recycled newspaper is sitting all tied up on the doorstep.

I started to laugh a little and shake my head. Here we go again.
But Yujiro just exploded.
He stood up. Grabbed Okaasan's collar and pushed her against the cooker and shouted at her.
I jumped up and told him to stop.
Then he suddenly hit her! On the face.

She wasn't injured. But shocked.
Me too. I pulled him back and shouted at him.
Then I got my car keys and bag and walked out.
He came to the door behind me. Luckily not with a Mrs Tiger Woods golf club. And I shouted at him and drove away.

I drove to a friend's house. She wasn't on her phone. I drove around the city. I bought nightwear and work clothes at a late night store. I finally went back to my classroom and slept. I had a 7-hour teaching day today and needed sleep.

This is really bad. I will NOT live with a man who hits women. No excuses.
He has got to get outside help with this old lady and HE has got to talk to mental health advisors about his feelings and how to deal with her.

I feel ashamed that I am in this situation.
He has never hit me. But he did tell me last year that he "hit" Okaasan when he was trying to move her from Saitama here. At the time I thought...hoped?... he meant "pushed strongly"...but now I am sure he meant hit.
And that is disgusting.

I know many of my students read this blog and I feel ashamed that this is happening in my life and they will know about it.
I am a strong, outgoing person. I am not a wallflower.
I like Yujiro because he is a confident, opinionated person. But violence is violence.

He needs help. Okaasan definately needs help.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Oh dear..(Gap Fill)

Read the sentence below and fill in the gaps.

*  Oh dear, what can the matter be, one old lady ________ in the __________

Maybe British and American readers will get this one. Cultural background is essential to understanding!

For anyone still in confusion, try this gap fill exercise:

Read the words below and use them to understand the story.

Department Store
Japanese style squatting toilet
Old muscles.
Long time.
Loud conversations with another customer.
Panicing staff
Ladder. Chair.
Many, many apologies.
Lots of bowing.

Got it?

Monday, 7 December 2009 stealth.

We got in to Okaasan's room and cleaned yesterday!
With her and without her...carefully.
After lunch we started vacumning the kitchen - which is next to her room - and then it was a natural progression to open her door and invite ourselves in.
Actually a good idea for both of us at the same time - because while one was asking her whether she really needed two months of newspapers and supermarket flyers - the other was stealthily across the room exploring plastic bags and their contents (rotting food, tissues, sweet papers, dead flowers, old biscuits, shop receipts).
Moving around the room with the vacumn cleaner was a good excuse to get her to pick stuff up and look at it - and maybe decide to throw it out.

And later, when she set off for a walk, we rushed downstairs together and moved the whole hot carpet round 90 degrees so the switches are near the door. Usually they are under her pillow and at night we can't get to them. She doesn't remember about switching on the carpet of course. Now at least, if we can quietly open the door while she is sleeping...we can switch on the carpet.

Oh...and I went back to some of the bags and clothes boxes I'd noticed earlier on and took out THIRTY pairs of pants...and washed them in the washing machine. Not sure how I'll get them back into her room - if I give them to her directly she'll know I've washed them...maybe a few at a time...

*   and I am a good Oyomesan. I've bought her a CHristmas present....a ticket for her and I to go to a Christmas music concert...I AM a good woman.....Christmas cheer and all that!!

Anyway. Good feeling. We cleaned it all up a bit.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Conversation Merry-Go-Round . Year 2.

It's that time of year again - for the "I cooked New Year dinner for 20 people all on my own when my husband's office staff came to the house, we came back from Kawagoe on January 3 and I was so busy that evening because 20 people came to the house for dinner on the 4th. I cooked dinner for 20 people all on my own. They were my husband's office staff and they came to the house on January 4th or 5th. We went to Kawagoe and we came back and I cooked...."

I feel another year of familiar conversations heading my way.....aghhhhhh!!!!

I came home from work last night in a storm - wind, rain/snow...cold....everyone hurrying home from the downpour.
I had to stop the car to pick up an old lady who'd fallen facedown on the sidewalk and couldn't get up....poor thing...nobody else stopped, she was a bit of a bag-lady and I guess nobody wanted to go near her. I jumped out and put my arms round her waist and hauled her to her feet.

Anyway. Finally got home.5 pm
I opened the door and breathed out: Home.
Okaasan was in the entrance hall - JUST setting out for a walk!
I opened the front door again and showed her the swirling storm outside. You shouldn't go out. Bad weather etc etc.
No....she was going out for fresh air.
She spent the next 30 minutes actually trying to GET out - coming back into the house several times for umbrella, keys, bag, different umbrella, god-knows-what....and Yujiro said she's actually started getting ready to go out at 4 pm....

We called her at 7 pm (she was in the local supermarket again) and told hr dinner was ready...and finally at 7.30 pm she made it home. Looked SO cold.

Really a terrible night. But what cn we do? We can hardly pick her up and carry her back inside! If she wants to go out she goes out. But so strange that she didn't make the decision to cancel the walk. Nobody would SET OUT in that weather for a casual walk. Strange.

Friday, 4 December 2009

One year with Okaasan....

Okaasan and Me - ONE year. Oh my God!

December 4th last year I went home from work - with Tokiko's kind gift of a sushi plate - and Yujiro brought Okaasan up from Saitama to Sapporo.

So what deep, thoughtful observations do I have about this momentous occasion?


Good Things:
*    We moved from a tiny house to a home with real size rooms. And a big bath. And a heated toilet seat.
*    Okaasan is much happier and healthier being here with daily mental stimulation and her money and schedule confusions sorted out by her son.
*   Yujiro has a chance to bond with his mum.
*   I have got hours and hours of Japanese listening practice, with many useful repeats.
*   We've eaten less meat, curry, pizza - more fish, rice, pickles.
*   We don't have to wash up so much because Okaasan mostly does it.
*   We've learned a lot about dementia.
*   Yujiro and I have become closer as a couple.

Bad Things:
*    We've lost relaxed, interesting dinner conversations.
*    We can't be spontaneous about going out for dinner or seeing friends.
*    Yujiro became a housewife.
*    We can't have CouchSurfers from all over the world staying in our home.
*    We have to think about shopping and cooking, hula dancing, laundry....
*    We can't easily have delicious food like cheese fondue.

*    Going naked in the kitchen is no longer an option.

Am I happy living with Okaasan?
No. Not at all.
I still can't believe I am and I look forward to the day when I don't.
But for now I have to, so I have to make a go of it.

This year has been awful in so many ways - Yujiro's re-injury at Christmas, the stresses of house hunting and moving, being dropped by a dear friend after a fight, my knee, Dad's mystery faint, Jane's car crash and 6 months hospitalization, getting fatter, 4 trips to the UK, Dad's death, Bob-cat's death, Yujiro's it was hardly a good time to take on a new life as Oyomesan too...

I regret that I haven't spent more time with Okaasan doing nice things. I work hard 5 days a week and May to October I was hardly able to walk anywhere, so I couldn't do things like walk round the neighborhood with her, go shopping or take her to interesting places in Sapporo.
My relationship with her is still a surface one. Polite chat, the occasional laugh. My Japanese should be much, much better and maybe I should start lessons again.
I regret that we haven't got her assessed by a doctor and registered with the city council for care.

Is Okaasan's dementia any better?
Hard to say. I think it's put on Pause maybe. From living alone amid the trash and chaos of her life in Saitama to snuggling down under the kotatsu and hanging laundry just so in Sapporo - things have got better for her. But she has very little social life, apart from the once a week hula dance group.

Many students and friends have been so supportive this year and many Japanese women said I was doing a great thing to agree to live with husband's mum.

I don't feel so. I think Yujiro is doing amazing. He's a beer drinking, noisy, ski bum kinda guy - being patient with an old lady and cooking for her twice a day almost every day...THAT'S amazing.

I've had it easy. I have to be polite for about 45 minutes a day at Family Dinner Time. A little more at weekends. But I can escape to my working life. If I didn't work it would be so different - I come from a Western background where I've been bred to have a strong sense of self and I am confident in myself as basically a good, capable person. If I came from a poor, Chinese family and was trying to cope in this Japanese family far from home - where my life and opinions count for nothing - it would be terrible.

I'm also crazily lucky to have a partner in crime who can laugh about the whole thing with me. If he was disappearing off to the office every day and leaving the Okaasan Care to me at home. AGHHH!!!

One year of Okaasan and Me. Hmmmm....hard...but could be harder. Probably will be!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Hot water and meeeeeeat!

Good day off yesterday.

I wrote Christmas cards - got  a bit emotional writing cards to people in Dad's village to say thankyou for their love and support this year. Just thinking about the village and those people made me cry.

After family lunch Yujiro and I slipped away and went to a hot spring place on the southern suburbs of Sapporo - Koganyu Onsen. Spent nice relaxing time in hot water and steam.
Yujiro has asked me if we were going to take Okaasan with us in the morning....but I firmly said "no, I need relaxing time on my day off.". He seemed ok with that, but I had vestiges of guilt. She'd enjoy a drive out and an onsen...but it would hardly be relaxing for me, I'd have to look after her and talk to her in the onsen - I'm a selfish Oyomesan.

In the onsen I watched an old lady and her daughter/Oyomesan as they drifted round the hot spring together chatting. Will I ever be like that with Okaasan? Will we ever be chatty friends like that? I can't see it ever happening.
Is it because my Japanese really isn't good enough? Is it because I am unconsciously fighting letting her get too close to me? Is it her dementia?
Who knows. But I don't see us ever being so relaxed together. I am sorry she has me as her Oyomesan, one of my friends in Saitama is a gentle, caring lady who even does hula dancing...SHE should be the Oyomesan here...not me. (Yes Naoko! I mean YOU dear!!!)

Anyway. Miss Selfish had a good time. Yujiro had a good time. And Okaasan watched TV at home and went out for a late afternoon walk as usual.

On our way back from the onsen we hunted round supermarkets for a whole chicken, so I could try out the oven.

Couldn't find a whole chicken at all! A whole bird is just not common in Japan.
Had to settle for chicken pieces and a pork roll. I roasted them up with garlic and potatoes.
SO SO GOOD! The whole house smelled of garlic and sage and meat.
It was delicious and Okaasan seemed to enjoy it - although she did need some rice cooked too....she isn't great at using a knife and fork, but she picked at the meat and veggies with chopsticks.

This week will be the One Year With Okaasan anniversary.
Hmmm... a year. It feels like an eternity.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Confusion Central

I've had a few days away from Okaasan in my working world...thank goodness. If I wasn't working...I can't even think about it.....

Yujiro though was deep in it. Poor guy. He does so much for her, nobody in his family will ever know - so I'm recording it here...

There was a phone call Sunday night from a shop in a department store to say that Okaasan's ordered something had come in but she hadn't come to collect it. Yujiro gave her the phone and she chatted to the shop.
But by the end of the conversation (and actually during it from what we could overhear from the kitchen) Okaasan was no wiser as to WHAT she'd ordered. Was it a book? A T shirt? A what?

Next day Yujiro went with her to the store and they looked around for the shop name. It was a clothes shop, but the item WAS a book.
All well and good.
He went off to the job center. She went off to hula dance class.

Later in the evening one of the hula dance ladies called Yujiro - she's been kindly looking after Okaasan while she is at the class.
After class this week - Okaasan said: "I ordered something from a shop in this department store, I don't have the receipt, I don't know which shop, maybe it's a book? Or a T-shirt? Or a what?"
So the lady helped her go to different shops around the department store....but they came up blank.
No wonder.

THIS is what dementia is like.
You don't look like a mad person. You aren't a mad person. But there are great gaps in your memory and thus connection to everyday life. And you swirl around in confusions. Okaasan knew there was something about an order at the store, she knew it was something - but the details of going with Yujiro and getting it had already gone 2 hours after the hula class. So she set out on a swirl.
If she didn't have someone to join the confusing dots...she is a very very lucky lady.

Getting old and suffering dementia - I worry about my future. We don't have children, who will look after us? And when one of dies, who will care for the remaining person?
I saw an old couple crossing the road yesterday. The guy was all there, but the woman's face and her walking style - looked like a swirl. I don't know where she was, but it wasn't the Sapporo suburbs on a Tuesday afternoon.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Home at last.

My step-mum is home at last and I spoke to her for a good chat on the telephone. She sounded stronger and so happy.
Who knows what happens from this stage. But at least she's reached this stage. 6 months of a complete turnaround in life.
You go out one day in the car to just take someone home in the next village. And never come back.

Step-mum is being for by a live-in, private agency carer at the moment because she is very unsteady walking and many things like washing and toilet are a big effort still. The carer is booked until the beginning of February and then there will be an assessment to see whether she can get along with less care - somebody coming in from the local council twice a day maybe.
All very expensive. But thanks to the great British Health Service she's had 6 months of free care, so time to spend some of that money that was "put away for a rainy day". I think it's raining good and proper now!

*** and the other night? Did I have to have a dinner-a-deux with Okaasan? No. VERY luckily Yujiro's job interview finished and he came home in time to save me THAT stress. It will come soon, another day. This time I escaped.

Snowing and cold now in Sapporo. Okaasan is staying tucked into her kotatsu (heated table blanket) in front of the TV. And tonight I am gonna cook couscous for dinner...let's see how she likes that...

AND!!! I have borrowed a friend of a friend's oven, so I can cook turkey this Xmas. For the first time in Japan I will be able to cook my own Xmas dinner properly. Yeah!!!!
AND!!! I ordered a Xmas tree from the flower shop. $30 for a tree, but I deserve a very very good Xmas this year.

Friday, 27 November 2009's you...

Came home last night around 8.30 pm.
Yujiro was out at a ski instructor meeting. He'd ordered in sushi for Okaasan and left her with it at the end of the afternoon.
She was sitting amid the living room rubbish with the sushi plate, watching TV.
"Ahh? Good evening? Ahh? Where's Yujiro? Isn't he with you?"
SO disappointed!!! I should buy a dog so I can get a big, warm welcome!

I chatted to her a bit while I cooked my own dinner, chatted about the weather and how ski instructor "meetings" are usually drinking parties etc...joke...joke...It's always the problem with my conversations with her- nothing to do with language ability or Oyome-san Hatred...I just don't have the shared memories as a family member or even as the same nationality to natter on about shared-knowledge stuff...

I feel that I come home from a day of helping students talk in ME struggling for something to say in Japanese.

Anyway. Tonight he has a job interview and I'll cook dinner and maybe...hopefully...he'll join us later.
Okaasan and Oyomesan are gonna sit down at the table together. What WILL I talk about?

* I wrote to the Contented Dementia writer in the UK to ask if there is a Japanese translation of his book. He said not yet.

* An 82 year old student who lives in a Care Assisted Home told me that her neighbor has dementia...and has got worse over the past 3 years. Why do I keep hearing "3" years from people?

*  My step-mum is home finally. But I kept trying to call and get no answer. The Care Assistant and she are busy I am sure getting set up. I got through to the Carer last night, but she said Jane was resting....anyway...I have sent some flowers and she knows I am thinking of her.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Life at 51...him NOT me!

Yujiro's birthday today.

Last year: we were carefree singles and I spirited him away to a surprise Birthday Trip to India where we Couch Surfed with a businessman in south Delhi and rode the train to the Taj Mahal (giving my students the jitters because hardly anybody knew where Mumbai was at the time of the attacks...but we were safely half a country away.)

This year: joint trip to the dentist, a curry buffet lunch and a disaster movie.
Oh and we have an Okaasan creating a little stress at home.

MY highlight-of-the-day was that the dentist gave me the All Clear! After a year of terrible life stuff and practically zero self-care it is amazing.
While Yujiro was in the chair I managed to walk slowly round the bookshop and look at Japanese books about dementia. I want to get one for HIM to read so he has more understanding of where Okaasan is coming from. Ideally a book along the same lines as the one I read, so we are on the on the same page with her care and management.
No! Not actually as a birthday present for him! Nobody needs that. But just as a general read for our ongoing life.

I ran out of time and couldn't remember the author's name of the book I'd read anyway - so came away empty handed. But is it is SO good to be able to walk round a big bookshop now. My walking is finally strong enough to do things like this, at the weekend I even managed to walk the airports and train stations - although my knee was swollen and hurt.

Back to birthday.
We went to our favorite curry restaurant and I cued the staff into the Birthday Boy - so he got Happy Birthday sung in Hindi and WE got free mango icecream.
Then he slept on a sofa in the movie theater and I drifted slowly round a few shops.
Then GREAT disaster movie 2012. John Cusack can come and rescue me ANYTIME. And Adam Lambert sings the theme song. Woody Harrelson as a Messianic DJ good too.

Then back to our real life.
It was 7.15 pm.
From the movie theater car park Yujiro called Okaasan to check she had eaten something in the kitchen or ordered a delivery dinner. In the morning he had primed her on all of this called her at lunchtime too.
Okaasan answered the phone with such an awful down, down voice. Sounded like almost in tears: " I'm watching Tv, I haven't eaten anything, I'm watching TV...."

We hurried home. Bought good sushi to take to her. Burst through the kitchen door 30 minutes later.
Okaasan staggered out of her living room clutching an empty bowl of instant ramen. The kitchen was a clutter of  two cooking pans, FIVE bowls with the remains of food, a few cups of half-drunk tea....
She was fine. Had obviously eaten stuff he had left for her. And her own snack food. Absolutely NO PROBLEM. But she didn't remember any of it.
We sat her down with the sushi. But she didn't want it. "I'm full, I ate ramen!"
So we ate it and sat at the table for a bit with her chatting.
Then Yujiro made the mistake of going into her room to check the heating and got ambushed by the trash - he was starting to stress out about that. Which NOBODY needs on their birthday night.
I managed to persuade him to leave the trash for tomorow and come upstairs to drink sparkling wine and finish celebrating 51 years.

Okaasan had no idea it was his birthday. She doesn't really know what day it is ever, so we didn't surprise her with that info.

But her voice on the phone and her mood. That was awful. A day on her own at home and she sounded so, so down. She actually coped with the food, in  a rough and ready kind of way. She didn't go hungry. She can help herself and do simple heating up of leftovers or make instant ramen.
But her spirits were so down.
If she wasn't living with us this is how it would be for her. Long, gloomy days in front of the TV. Not knowing if she's eaten or not. Stumbling around in her pajamas among piles of clothes and old newspapers and trash.

Our life has changed in the last year. But we do a Good Thing.

But she isn't good left on her own too long. Tonight I have to work until 8 pm and he has to go to a ski school meeting in the evening, so she'll be alone again. He'll be at home during the day and hopefully can leave around 6 pm and leave food out for her.

I wish we were linked in to the city care system already so that we could arrange Meals on Wheels for Okaasan. When HE starts work more full-time away from home, I just fear Okaasan will have to do more time alone at home and her mood will plunge like it did today.
But for that she first has to go to a doctor and get appraised. And that isn't happening yet.

That's why I want to get him reading a book about Dementia so he can understand how these Black Holes of Mood are not good for her.