Monday, 30 April 2012


Glutton. Punishment. I. Am.

Please select the best answer:
a) Will she?
b) Won't she?
c) Oyomesan needs her head examined.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Shaking up the nest.

This is Okaasan's nest AFTER a massive spring cleaning. You can?? imagine what it was BEFORE.

First day of an 8-day holiday and what am I doing? Crouching on the carpet with Okaasan sorting through the trash on her table top, guiding her to putting it in Burnable or Unburnable trash bags and trying to make a dent in the trash mountain.

Yujiro was off on his first day of summer work as a bike taxi driver downtown. So after he'd left I swept into Okaasan's room and told her that the dry cleaning shop was offering a great discount on cleaning kotatsu blankets, so I'd better take it right now.
A kotatsu is that table in the picture. A low table containing an electric heater, all covered with a big soft blanket, and then the detachable table top goes on top.
Okaasan lives in the kotatsu. Sits watches TV there, sleeps. Eats snacks. Eats dinners when we are out there. Will probably die there.
She nests right there in the center - between the left-hand corner of the kotatsu and the clothes-covered sofa. Sits on the floor amid all this stuff.
There must be some part of dementia about needing to SEE possessions out all around you - not put away where you might not find them. But all around you. As you can see Okaasan has the sofa and the floor and the table covered with things-important-in-her-world.

I was in there an hour picking thru the stuff with her and getting 60% of it into trash bags.
Then I gave her another blanket for the kotatsu and whisked the other away to the dry cleaners.

Also moved her over-loaded laundry stand (covered with clothes and itsy bitsy shopping bags), so she can get in and out to the outside laundry stand in summer....and told her that the Glen Miller Orchestra concert she was excited about...was...err...sorry the one we went to LAST year, this is an old flyer....see?
But she did have a flyers for another big band concert THIS year, June in the local concert hall. In the afternoon - after a relaxing time at the gym and lunching with a friend - I went and bought her a ticket. One ticket. She is quite happy to go to concerts alone, that day I'll make sure she has bath and lunch and get her to the concert hall on time.

Okaasan remained shaken and stirred all day. The cleaning was a real shake-up to her nest and mind. She fussed around her room for ages afterwards, examining bits of paper and clothes. She even took out the old hula dance dresses from the closet and left them on the futon she has never used.

And in the evening she went out for her walk - took the subway downtown and got lost.

Yujiro had 3 phone calls between 6.30 and 7.30 - to and from Okaasan - and once to a helpful passerby who'd found her in an unfamiliar part of downtown. She was asking directions to the subway station near our old apartment - a long walk from where she was lost.
All topsy-turvey. The cleaning experience disturbed her calm quite a bit.

By 7.30 pm she got home and we had family dinner......and I stopped Yujiro badgering Okaasan about WHY she'd been in that part of town and why she'd been trying to go to the wrong subway station etc. No point in rehashing all of that.....

But see - that Okaasan nest above. That's clean:-)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Slipping into normal?

One week no blog?
Have I accepted my fate?
Nothing interesting to report about living cross-culturally with a dementia-heading in-law?
THAT is a scary thought.
Was a time when I would jump to blog about the smallest event - now I'm not even checking in?


But in fact, it was a good week (Okaasan-wise), because I hardly saw her.

I was out working a few nights, helped a sick friend out by teaching her classes too, we had a couple dinner out on Groupon...and I think I only sat down to spend eating time with Okaasan once.
I delivered some piles of clean laundry to her.
Um....talked for 3 minutes about the cats.

That was it.

Tomorrow is the start of the spring holiday in Japan - almost 9 days of no work. But HE will start work as a bike taxi there will be more home-bonding-time-with-Okaasan and Oyomesan.

Watch this space :-)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Talking the Talk.

Day Care  for Okaasan next winter.

Ahhhhh.......I talked the talk with Yujiro.
Not positive about the feedback, but I am dealing with a Japanese male - so who knows :-)

Since the cat is now home and we can refocus on other things, I thought I'd add "Get Okaasan assessed for daycare" to his To Do List...maybe between Buy Beer and Buy Toilet Rolls.


"What do you want? Tell me?" he said, somewhat aggressively, in English.

"I want her to go at least one day a week to day care next winter, go in a bus from the front door here - go and join an exercise class, have lunch, chat to people - whatever. Have some human contact apart from us. Get OUT."

"And I want YOU to want it too - otherwise this whole process will be harder to persuade her on its merits".

He says he is wanting it too. I'm not sure. He was already throwing up all the problems he'll encounter along the way - that of course Okaasan will resist the whole idea...and I was telling him that I am sure every single family has the same problems - no old person wants to be shipped off to daycare. I am sure.
The city office staff must be skilled in dealing with all of that. We're not special.
One of my students, a super energetic 75-year-old, told me "I don't want to sit in a circle and catch balls", and that of course is the image of daycare....

But Okaasan doesn't need to know at this stage that the  checking visit to the city office/hospital is in connection with daycare - just tell her it is a "free Sapporo city check on all old people"....then later, after she gets accepted as suitable for the service, I hope that some nice, persuasive city office staff person sells Okaasan the idea of how fun it would be to go to day care....just a few times to try it out...

I hate having to be the one pushing for this.
But it will all be so much harder if HE isn't 100% behind the idea.
I know it'll be a struggle...but it IS for the best. Another winter of Okaasan sitting for days in front of the TV, with a deteriorating toilet situation and no conversation  apart from us isn't good, he is a ski teacher gone for a week at a time, I'm a working person...and Japanese is terrible.
She must be a suitable candidate for a once a week day care trip.

But, I hate being the person pushing this. I want to be the light-hearted girlfriend/life partner with jokes and laughter and happy things to share in life. Not the complainer about how-to-care-for-mother...

I will wait and see. I shall try not to mention it for a few weeks and see if he does something about it before he starts the summer bike taxi job....

I hope.....

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Home...and smelly???

8.38 last night I hear a little patter of feet and a squeak over the TV noise.
And in Chichi runs.
All wild-eyed and happy to be hooooome!

Very thirsty.
Not so hungry.
Smells of....????? incense????

WHERE has he been? Locked in a shrine? A butsudan/house altar - with the spirits? Did he survive eating the altar food offerings, but couldn't open up the little jars of sake that Japanese families leave  for their ancestors on altars?

We'll never know.

*  Yujiro got to know our neighborhood a lot during this missing-cat saga - as he walked the area and talked to people. Yesterday he was talking to one kind woman, whose house is just the otherside of the subway line.
"No, I don't think I've seen this cat...where do you live? Over there? there an old lady and a foreigner? A few days ago I brought the old lady home! I was worried. She was standing near my house - looking confused - and she told me she lived in a <white house on the corner> and I brought her back...."

Okaasan IS getting lost when she tries to come home via that road, but also she is getting help. So glad we live in an area with kind people.
We saw her coming home a few days ago and talking with a woman, but when we asked about it she just said it was someone she'd met in the street and was chatting to - already she'd forgotten the getting lost part.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


No - not Okaasan.
I wish.
SHE is safely under the heated table watching hours of TV shopping from behind a mountain of old newspapers and supermarket flyers.

No. Chichi. Our dear, squeaky black and white furball.
He popped out last Thursday late afternoon and never came back.
We have looked and looked and looked, called his name at locked garage doors all OVER the area, told the police, told the ward office, put posters in the shops....and looked and looked some more.

I KNOW. Boy cats wander. It's spring and all that.

But it is mentally exhausting. And walking round the streets looking is adding more to my already busy days.
Yujiro let him out and feels guilty - which is rubbish, because it was only 4.30 pm and we both let the cats in and out freely until about 7 pm at night. They always come back. Until now, Chichi's longest disappearance was the 2 nights he vanished when I was in Australia. This is 5 nights now.


His brother Popo? Showing no signs at all of sibling sadness. Just noisy, playful and demanding - as usual.

Apart from that I spent the weekend rescuing roses and many other plants from a coffee shop garden with friends. I wrote about it all here on my classroom blog, so I won't write about it all again - here is the link. Imagine English School - Amanda's Blog.

And we went to baseball on Friday night. Very boring game. We enjoyed the atmosphere in the stadium, the beer and snacks, the going out for a date together.....and left at the 8th inning with half the stadium...caught the shuttle bus home.

She really DOES so little that is worth writing about! Which is good for her. Just days and days, months and months of the same little world - comforting for her.
Yujiro is home and housewifeing.
Okaasan sits and sleeps and eats. Goes for a walk. Sleeps some more.
She has understood that we are missing our baby boy - and even remembers to ask us about him - which is nice.
This is the time I wanted to be pressuring Yujiro into getting Okaasan booked in for a day care assessment check - but he is so very stressed about Chichi that I am leaving it.

I've had cats before, lived in a country where cats come and go a lot - in Japan it is unusual to have cats that go out freely, so Yujiro is more stressed than me. But...ordinary life with work and stuff seems less important while our squeaky isn't home.


Friday, 13 April 2012

Head above water...

Still here....frantically paddling around, with my head above water.
Hate April in Japan, actually.
It's the new start time for everything - schools - jobs - businesses - systems - laws.

It just means everyone is a bit fraught.
I introduced two classes to their new text books this week - had to put out a lot of energy reassuring students that they CAN do it etc.
And the Fukushima documentary subtitle work project is getting underway, this week I was in contact with 13 translators who are going to each take sections of the film and do the Japanese to English translation. I look forward to seeing the interviews in the film emerge into English.
So lots of work-related stuff this week....
Had a killer Tuesday...and then a killer Thursday. Did almost 7 hours of classroom time yesterday. ;-(

Luckily, Yujiro is home and shopping and cooking. So I can escape that.
Okaasan muddled along in her life.
 She was late coming home Monday, Yujiro called her phone and she claimed to be just 5 minutes away...but still hadn't appeared 10-15 mins. later. It sounded like she was in the same maze of streets where she was found by the police the other week, so I went out in the car to find her.
The car headlights zoomed in on her about 200 meters from home, staggering along the badly lit street, clutching onto the fence as the car lights approached and weighed down by a slab of a fashion magazine in her an apple and some yogurts.
Really not the best time of day or place for an old lady to be out: but we can't stop her. Well, I could if chains and padlocks were legal.

Apart from that: not much to report.
I took her dry cleaning to the favored shop. We cleaned up another toilet accident.

Really can't think of anything else to say.

It's been a looooong week.
Tonight we (he and I) are going to see a baseball game because a student gave me tickets - I am so tired I shall probably doze off in the boring bits ( of which there are many in baseball, in my walking around scratching their balls and throwing chalk around).

Oh, and North Korea fired a rocket this morning, which didn't go very far. The Japanese Government was on panic alert about the small chance it would fall on the far south islands.
Now the Japanese media will have to find a new story to fill the airwaves and news pages.

Let's end on a happy note: THIS was my dinner-between-classes yesterday.
Yes, shop near my classroom has this incredible waffle delight.
I didn't bother with coffee or dinner. Just ate this.
It was scrumptious...............

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dementia in the movies.

Saw another movie about dementia yesterday.

Well, it wasn't ONLY about dementia. But I can't help myself: I tend to hunt out and focus on the condition.
Looking into our future maybe? Hunting for clues to see how far along Okaasan is in this strange half-life?

The movie was actually Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister who held Britain by the neck in the 1980s when I was at university and just starting work. Excellent movie. Streep was very good. Strange though to see MY youth up there on the big screen. My past became history already. :-)

The film concentrates on Thatcher as she is now: with dementia, with flashbacks to her public past. Living now alone with a housekeeper, police guards at the front door and fretting care by daughter Carol. Dear Mark is away in South Africa, getting lost and conniving with private armies.
Thatcher spends her days in the company of a hallucination of husband Dennis.

When I see a portrayal of dementia or videos uploaded by families and carers/doctors on YouTube - I am transfixed.
Is THAT what Okaasan does? Yes! Yes! That funny shuffling, tilting walk. That endless looking at things again and again, the tuning out of conversations and then the moments of clarity.

I felt this movie did a good depiction of dementia. From the outside usually ok, to the self absolutely ok and puzzled by the actions and words of others - and then suddenly veering off into strangeness.
In one scene Thatcher attends a dinner party of old political friends, she is in her element after Carol primes her on who will be there.
During dinner she zones out of the chitchat a bit, but when brought back into it all and asked her opinion on the latest terrorist bombing she is knowledgeable and eloquent.
Later upstairs Carol helps her undress and get ready for bed: Thatcher asks for Dear Mark, "send him up after he's kissed the children goodnight, I must talk to him"...and we see the veering off. Mark lives in South Africa, he hasn't been here in this house to talk to, for years.

I don't think Okaasan has hallucinations about her dead husband...or more likely her much dearer dead father. But, but...I always see these scenes and think this is what is ahead for us.

In OUR present: Yujiro came home suddenly yesterday - stayed a night and has now gone away again. A few more overnight trips to go till the end of the ski season.
Last night we had a threesome family dinner, lunchtime today we went out to a suburban shopping mall for a noodle lunch.
Okaasan fussed around about going out; going back inside the house several times for real or imaginary forgotten items. Last week she cme back into the house FOUR times, before finally setting out for a walk. Today I helped her buy vests and pants in the store, guiding her through her decision making about which items she wanted. Ordinary stuff takes a long time...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Boring ongoingness.

Nothing much to report.
How NOT to start a fresh post on a blog.

But, I guess it is a sign of how much I've accepted and got into the Oyomesan groove (rut?), that I just do a week alone with Okaasan now and don't have much to vent about.

First week for several classes as April is New Start time in Japan for work and studies, so I had new text books, a few new students...things to arrange.
I tried explaining to students that in England we just don't have this season where everything starts - schools start in September, but new staff join companies at all sorts of different times, as required. In Japan this week there were formal entrance ceremonies for everyone - from new kindergarten kids up to office workers and army recruits. 
So it is hard for my adult students to think outside the box and imagine a society where people start work at different times. I think I graduated in July and had a bit of a holiday, and maybe started work in September? I don't remember at all. Certainly no ceremony - I was the junior reporter on a local newspaper, and I got a desk and a typewriter. Probably I was given Flower Show results to type.

Anyway. Okaasan.

She did her usual stuff: sleeping, TV, little trips out for a walk, had a bath, sat and bored me silly with stories of wartime and Nishi-sensei.
Japan was hit by a huge spring typhoon this week - here it was gale force winds and snow. Two students cancelled and I had a long lunch and coffee with my friend and her baby instead.
The lunch box delivery came all week, so I only had to do dinner for Okaasan. Tuesday night was a late rush in with a box of KFC and heat up some soup. Luckily she likes KFC.
I did her laundry, I took out trash from her room, gave her spending money, told her to close a forgotten open window.....blurgh.

I told you it was all very boring.

The city has sent the 2012/13 Health Cards and information about city health checks - so when Yujiro  comes down to reality from his ski/hotel life - THEN I will nag him into submission to get Okaasan sorted for a daycare assessment.

That is going to happen. Yes, I can!

Monday, 2 April 2012


I am here.

(well this was actually 3 years ago before we moved in, but you get the idea..)

Yujiro? He is here...Hotel Piano at Kiroro ski resort. All week. Free food. A bit of work at some ski association event. No dinners with Okaasan. No cat toilet box. No supermarket wandering. No laundry to hang. 

Somehow I made the wrong turning in life. Didn't I?

Dementia 101. Fail.

What do the books say?
DON'T question what the dementia sufferer says.
However nutty. Just accept it. Again and again. Don't contradict. Don't get angry.

Yeah. Right.
Just failed that one this weekend.

It was a nice weekend: shitty weather, but my other half was home all weekend, and we spent hours doing stuff like TV, housecleaning, essential shopping, my accounts and other ongoing life things.
Took ourselves out for a couple lunch date on Saturday, because Okaasan had a lunchbox delivery - so we went to a great local Italian place that puts together pasta and crab in a yummy combination, AND has two big slabs of homemade tiramisu for the lunchset dessert.
Awesome :-)

Sunday lunchtime I thought it was a good chance to use these: dried rice cake pieces.

A student gave them to me as a souvenir. Different colors for different flavors. Little playing card size bits of dried rice. Yes, in Japan this is a good souvenir.....don't ask!

I hadn't been sure how to cook them, but Yujiro said make miso soup and then drop them in...cook for a few minutes tilll they soften and then serve. But maybe not Okaasan's soup because she said recently one of her teeth has fallen out.
So, a little tricky: one pot of soup, serve her portion from it and then add the rice cake for us and serve our soups a few minutes later. She won't notice the difference.

Then he started changing the idea: he ASKED her if she would like rice cake too. Why? For F*&K sake? Don't give her the choice!! But he has snow for brains, so he asked her.
She said yes, so I took her soup bowl and threw her soup back in the center pot. And cooked it all for a few minutes...and a few more...and a few more...and bugger me...20 minutes layer ( after we'd all finished the other lunch foods)  - the soup was still boiling and the rice cakes still had the consistency of credit cards.

Obviously NOT the way to cook them.
We put some more in the grill and pre-cooked them, then added them in the soup...which was getting overcooked and a bit thick by now.

Anyway, finally we ate some and gave Okaasan only two small pieces.

She complained of course: too hard!

And she complained again.

And again.

Every time we said: yes, we cooked them the wrong way, 20 minutes in the soup didn't soften them, so just drink the rest of the soup and leave the rice cake.

But that information stayed in her brain for about 20 seconds.

And then she complained again.

It was like one of those crazy comedy routines where two people are talking at cross-purposes, each getting more bewildered by the other.

Except this was our nice family lunchtime.

I wanted Okaasan to just give up on the rice cake and eat the  rest of the soup. She kept trying the rice cake and saying: too hard...and so we went,  on and on.

Finally I threw my hands up in frustration and left the kitchen to clear snow in the garden.
 And Okaasan kept the rice cake bits in the soup bowl and tried (unsuccessfully) to pour soften them with hot water......later in the afternoon I threw them away.


And the good news?
Okaasan went out walking both Saturday and Sunday. And came home without a police escort.
And....on Sunday night she even TOLD us about something she'd seen while out: crowds of people round a shop downtown because the shop had been refurbished for the April spring season.
She actually remembered this fact and told us.

Just the fact I am writing about that here shows you how unusual this is, sadly.

Okaasan hardly ever remembers anything she has seen or done during the day, so the idle sharing of experiences which constitute family conversation is one-sided as we chat, but she has nothing to offer. Her mind is a blank, usually.

But last night she actually told us, three times, about the shop and the crowds. It was notable.

* And my nose. Just so you...know (s)....if you ever have the same problem. I share Okaasan's body functions here on this blog, so in all fairness I should share mine too.
I think I mentioned last week that I've suffered for 2 months now with non-healing, internal nose sores? Recently all crusty and nasty and bleeding. Gross.
Last week I went to the hospital. Waited 2 and a half hours for a 1 minute doctor check. 
While 3 nurses gathered round for a gawk (foreigner in Japanese hospital familiar scene), he took  long metal pliers...and.....stuck them up my nose and peeled off the crusty bits.....and then stuck a Q-tip with ointment up my nose and told me DON'T PICK THE BOOGERS YOU STUPID WOMAN! THERE ARE VIRUSES UNDER YOUR NAILS! HOW OLD ARE YOU ANYWAY??????

Well, he didn't actually put it like that. But you get the idea. Now I am sticking Q-tips up my nostrils twice a day (dangerous with cats playing at elbow) and my nose is glorious.

So, now you know (s).

**** And he's gone away for another week of ski get ready for more Oyomesan whinging :-)