Thursday, 30 January 2014

That special time

If you get dementia - and there's a big chance you will - WHEN do you think will be your special time?
When is the time in your life when a great proportion of your stories will be about?
You'll bore the people around you stupid with those same old same old tales of a day or a place, or a conversation that you had a long time ago.

Dementia sufferers all have them. Those favorite stories. The same words. The same gestures. They get to the end of one telling - maybe a minute or two - and then just pick up again with the same words. Another round of the same impressions.

Probably a happy time. Hopefully so. A time when you were praised or lucky or surprised.
And for some reason that will stick in your memory to be brought out at the slightest trigger.

Mention "Korean food" to Okaasan and she is sucked down the memory tunnel to a Korean restaurant in the department store complex of Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo. To a counter of many people eating food. It's noisy and everyone is eating. She has just finished shopping and is about to catch the train back to the suburbs.
 Strangely enough, a year or two ago, if you mentioned "New York" or "tour guide" she was straight to a time long ago when a JTB guide in New York agreed with her that "Korean food is the best in the world".
But now? "New York"/"guide"/"Korean food"/"the best in the world"? Nothing.

"Ah, really? There are Korean restaurants in New York? Yes, Korean food is delicious...."

Of course, for her generation wartime is a big memory. That is true of all people who have lived thru war. Many of Okaasan's stories are about Kawagoe berfore/during/after wartime - her father and his business; the lack of food; the famous temples and buildings; the GI Americans who couldn't fix their jeep; walking and carrying younger siblings along a road and so on.
Last night it was the amazing luck of Kawgaoe NOT to get bombed. Because the Americans knew it was a beautiful old place. Only one bomb was dropped on a neighbor's home. It was lucky.

I heard THAT story about 10 times last night over dinner.
It's ok, such is a carer's life. I listen to students who tell long tales about their health or car troubles. I'm a professional listener. Dinner with Okaasan is one more lesson-time at the day's end.

When Okaasan talks about her clothes - she always says that she bought them "just after I got married". I guess that was the time when she enjoyed buying adult clothes as a new wife in the 1950s. She bought clothes as a young mother or a middle aged woman in the 60s, 70s and 80s too - but for her clothes always date from "just after I got married".

Will this time in my life - living here in Japan with Dear Son and the skiing - will this be my special time in my memory? Will it be my single life as a young journalist in southern England in the 1980s? Will it be the backpacking days in Asia? Or school days?

Monday, 27 January 2014

And again..

Still here.

Last week passed in a flurry of schedules - work and home to do shopping/cooking./Okaasan and cats. Snatched a few hours of Tv in there somewhere.
That's what it feels like when he is away - I make a schedule every day and get thru it.
Had some evening classes - did the shopping, put food on the table. Chatted with Okaasan when needed to. Got her off to day care twice. Cleaned her room etc.
One night I only ate cheese crackers and Marmite...because when I came home and planned to have dinner alone I found Okaasan had fallen asleep and was just sitting at the table at 8 pm eating the food I'd left out for her.
I couldn't face dinner with her. Just too tired. I wanted to unwind.

So I lied ("Oh, had dinner at work") and retreated upstairs to the TV. Found some crackers, some margarine and Marmite. There was no knife upstairs, so I wiped the plastic handle of a cat toy and used THAT to spread the margarine on the crackers and dribble Marmite on top.
Didn't pee in the trash box though :-)
Sat watching TV in a tired daze.

It's not that Okaasan is a bad person. Not at all. She seems all relaxed and friendly with me. But it is the idea of having to sit and prattle  away in Japanese at the end of a working day. Sometimes I just can't. It's worse when I think I am going to have dinner alone...and there she is.

Anyway. Friday night Dear Son returned from ski work for a whole weekend at home. Family happy time...well meals round the table with the three of us anyway.
I took Okaasan to the subway station by car on Sunday. She went downtown for 3 hours.
Came home tired but happy and grateful to me.
He and I did all the stuff that we can't: watched endless TV shows we had recorded, went shopping together, got up to date on household expenditure, computer problems, plans etc

And then this morning. He's gone again. Another 12 days.

I came home and cooked dinner, entertained Okaasan with some chat about something. Made beef and potato stew for the next few nights dinner.


Not great blog. Sorry. Just plodding thru it all.
It's a life.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Whoopie! (I think she got it..)

I write a lot of negative stuff here about Okaasan - stuff she can't do, times when she gives me frustration.

Here is a positive posting. :-)

Yesterday after bath and lunch I offered to drive her to the subway station for a trip downtown and she jumped at the chance.
Got ready in 20 minutes. CAN do it if the motivation is strong enough.

At the station I made sure she had an up to date subway card and tried to remind her how to phone ME when she came back later.
"No, don't press number 1 on the cell phone - that's DS, and he isn't number 2 - like this - and it will be me! I will come and get you".
Repeated a few times as we stood outside the station entrance.

Not hopeful. In the past she has called Dear Son, and he calls me. Or she waits and waits in a convenience store until I find her by chance. Last week she actually called the house telephone - using the emergency contact card we put in her handbag.


At 4.15 pm came a call on my cell phone while I was doing housework and studying kanji.

A call from Okaasan. :-)

"I'm at the station! Can you pick me up?"

I was SO happy and pleased with her. She got it!
Whether she'll keep it for next time is another matter. But yesterday she had it.

Even more rays of sunshine: we had a fish and veggie nabe for dinner, lots of chat about wartime food and how Japanese should eat fish because the country is an island...

and then - she washed up all the plates after the meal.

A good day.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Me as Okaasan

Hi - sorry. Long week. Xmas holidays are over and it is back to work on a full schedule.

Me as Okaasan. Me as a mother. To Okaasan......

Wednesday was hair salon day.
I took Okaasan downtown to have a cut and perm.
All went well, she looked great afterwards and felt happy.

But, you know....these trips are feeling increasingly like me and my child. I don't have kids and this role is new to me. All the pre-thinking, planning and double-checking. How do mums DO it all every single day, with multiple offspring?

Hair appointment was for 11 am.

So that meant a 10.30 am departure in the car.

And that meant: should Okaasan eat something at home before we left? 
She doesn't usually eat breakfast, but a cut and perm starting at 11 am was likely to go on until after 1 pm....

At 9.30 am (after my own breakfast and shower and dressing) I was offering Okaasan a little bit of food. She didn't think it was necessary.
Fine. So countdown to departure. 9.45 am. 10 am reminder, 10.15 10.25 am Okaasan was STILL in her pajamas in front of the TV!

What IS this complete disconnect from time? She appeared to know we were going downtown for hair salon. The "10.30 am" time was repeated constantly..but still she made no move to get ready. Day care is the same, she is usually getting up and getting dressed right up against the time of the activity. It's getting worse - I am sure.

Is it actually not remembering what I'm saying? Or is it losing the ability for time management? If I am leaving the house at 10.30 am I should get up and wash my face and get dressed...and  those things will take time...

SO frustrating. My stress levels rocketed. I should have gone into her room at 10 am and started picking up clothing for her and offering her sweaters etc.

Anyway. Drive downtown and deliver Okaasan to the salon. Via: "Do you need toilet before the salon?" checks.  Lots of young male stylists on duty: so Okaasan looked happy :-)

I actually went out and bought her a rice ball and took it back to the salon in case she DID get hungry while it was all happening. Left my cell number with the salon.

Off to escape for a few hours of stuff to do downtown.

1.20 pm the salon called, and I go back - move the car near the salon doors, wait for Okaasan, go upstairs and get her, pay for her etc and get her back downstairs and into the car...and quickly drive away from downtown before she can suggest eating anything in a coffee shop etc.
Get her home and then prepare lunch for her and get her sitting down to eat it etc.

Rush off to work at 2.30 pm.
All duty done.

It doesn't sound hard. Just take someone by car to a hair salon. It isn't hard. But....arranging it all and making it run smoothly takes effort.
Gone are the days when Okaasan would look in the mirror and think "Hmm, very straggly, need haircut" and then book an appointment, go to the salon on time, have the perm and cut and come home and make lunch for herself. Gone are those days.

Dear Son came home for 1 night this week between ski jobs and is gone again. I did all the rest of stuff I usually do. MUCH easier this winter with the car. I can go shopping and get heater oil and cat food cans between classes.
Okaasan chatty at dinner times with me. Had a slightly disconcerting time slip conversation about how to cook the New Year rice cake decoration...."We should display this until January 7th, when is New Year? It isn't yet, is it?" - before I dragged her back to January 17th. Funny - she laughs about her mistake, but doesn't seem particularly shocked that it isn't the date she thought.

Day care good. Requests for non-smelly clothing etc. Spare trousers to change Okaasan after toilet accidents at the center.

**** EXCITING News! Nothing to do with Okaasan and me.
The stuff I had to do downtown on hair salon day?
Reserve rooms at a community center for April screenings of the documentary film "Hafu". It's about the growing mixed-race  community in Japan, people born between two (or three) countries/cultures.
I've been a supporter of this project for a while, even when it was in planning stage. Now the film is finished and getting showings around the world at community and film festival screenings. There were two screenings in Sapporo at a university and a school. 
Now I am trying to arrange a more public screening downtown, near the main station.
Reserved rooms for April 26 and 27th! Exciting! I wasn't quite brave enough to book the big hall for 90 people, But I went for a medium sized room for 70...but more likely 50 plus if we move the tables and chairs.
So: two screenings for 50 plus people. I've put in the application for the screening kit to the film distributor etc and am starting to make the contacts locally to get the word out.
Very happy and excited about it.
Here is the trailer for the film. If you are interested in organising a screening please check out the website for details. It's a great little documentary about Japan and its future citizens.
I'm guessing that as you are reading a blog about people in Japan you might have an interest :-)

Sunday, 12 January 2014 we go again...a deux.

Haven't blogged - just had a normal life.
As normal as it gets around here. :-)

He was home for a week and we had family dinners, and watched TV and worked and shopped and stuff.
Even went for a date to see the movie Gravity Zero with Sandra Bullock looking SO BLOODY TONED! And George Clooney somehow looking sexy in a space suit. Amazing movie. Go see it with the 3D glasses and lose the contents of your stomach.

I also had an old colleague staying in the classroom - so lots of reunion dinners etc with people I used to work with way back when I was Okaasan-less (didn't even BUY tofu in those days!).
My friend even came to dinner with us and Okaasan in the kitchen. We ordered up a big tray of sushi and Okaasan was very stiff and polite with the guest, we had to tell her endlessly to help herself to sushi. But she appeared to enjoy someone coming to dinner.

Okaasan went back to day care Tuesday and Thursday....slow to get up and ready, needed prompting about gathering the right things together - but happy enough to go.
I took her to the subway station yesterday and released her for a few hours downtown alone. Luckily my shopping/play trip with Cutest Baby and Mum ended just as Okaasan was back at the station.
She actually called Dear Son's phone - but he was still at the ski resort - it was just lucky that I called her a few minutes later. I don't think she knows/remembers that on her mobile phone the One button calls Dear Son and the Two button calls Dear Oyomesan.

And now.
Dear Son has gone again. Maybe a week. Who knows...

Okaasan and I are alone again together.
I cooked her dinner tonight...but she says she has a sore mouth...or is it tooth...and only gingerly chewed on a few grains of rice.
BUT! She stayed sitting at the table with me chatting: and actually said "I don't remember so many things now, it's on my own would be hard...that's why I live with you and Dear Son!!"
My Japanese isn't great. But I think that's what she said.

I made reassuring noises about losing memory being ok, because he and I can remember the important things...what you had for lunch today or whether you even had lunch isn't SO important. And she agreed and chatted on about how her mother had lived into her 90s!!! and then wartime food shortages, and American planes not bombing Kawagoe, and the military police stealing any food that relatives had sent....on and on and on.

* Clothes shopping alert....
I think I'll have to go clothes shopping again with Okaasan. This time for long sleeved shirts or sweaters. She really has very few winter-place clothes, and the ones she have are old and frayed.
Getting ready for day care the other day she got very stressy:" I don't have ANY clothes! I don't have ANY money! I never go shopping!"...whining like a child.
It's not that bad, but there is a shortage of longsleeves.....
I will have to get my brain together for that.
Can't send her to the shop with money and hope she'll come with the right thing. It'll be another silk scarf with rose patterns, or a bag....

shopping. I hate shopping.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Downtown a deux

Did a whole trip-downtown-for-walk-and-lunch with Okaasan today.
More than 3 hours of it.
I am patting myself on the back. Well, I would if my Belgian chocolate expanded waistline would let me stretch that far.

All went well.
She enjoyed it. I managed it. No murders took place.
No actual shopping either :-) Which is a miracle.

I felt I should give up some block of my winter holiday time to Okaasan. Amid my skiiing, meeting up with friends, watching old Friends episodes, going to a strangely non-sexual performance of Phantom of the Opera...and chocolates.
So at 11 am I packed her up in the car in clothes suitable for the season and drove downtown.
Parked at the southside of the city area and walked her up to the center along one of the underground shopping streets that criss-cross Sapporo.
Everywhere was busy with winter sales and shoppers loaded with bulging bags. Okaasan told me about every 20 m that buying stuff in the sales was a bad idea because it was the pre-Christmas unsold items. But she really enjoyed the noise and the bustle and the stuff on display.

As we drove into town I'd mentioned road heating and how some parts of the pavement are not snow covered in the city center.
But as we walked the 5 city blocks of this underground mall Okaasan kept telling me that it was better to walk on the brown tiles at the side...not the white tiles in the center of the mall.
Cos this area was roadheating and not slippery!
I pointed out several times to her that this was an underground mall and there was no snow - hence no need for roadheating. But she kept saying it....and sticking to the brown tiles....

She sat down several times to rest. Then got her to the Mitsukoshi department store...and finally up stairs to their cafe for lunch.
The chat here was all about how Dear Son had told her that it was a bad department store and going bankrupt....I now remembered he'd told her a variation of this when she first came to live in Sapporo - because he didn't want her to get a store charge card. She has SO absorbed that story that she told me various times in loud whispers: "the staff here don't know, but people in Tokyo know that it's got financial problems and might close soon!"

After lunch she wandered the sales floors a little, peering at stuff - but very, very luckily not wanting to buy.
Then wanted to go to the other department store...
But I could see she was getting tired.
I managed to change the second store plans into coffee...and then change that into coffee at a convenience store near the station.

As Okaasan got tireder her conversation slipped off the rails into odd sidetracks....buying a magazine, and then on the way out of the shop going back to the magazine rack:"Oh look, they have magazines!" and leaving one coffee drinking stop and saying brightly:"shall we go and have coffee" two steps outside the door...

Sometime after 2 pm I got her up to street level and into a taxi and back to the car park, and home.

Success. ;-)

A big reason I used to dread doing this kind of outing with her was a big lack of confidence in my Japanese ability. Left alone with her, could I chat away for a few hours? Well - I can - cos of course I can say the same things! Aimless chat is ok. Weather, things we see etc. She tells the same stories and comments. And so it flows.
I also used to be scared that she'd have an accident while in my care. I still worry about that. Specially in winter. Her balance isn't good...and she perches on sitting places unsteadily. She almost fell headfirst out of the taxi. Heart stopping moment that: I dropped my handbag and car keys in the road and hoisted her upright.

She walked well today. I don't know - but suspect - what happened about toilet needs. I kept pointing out toilets, and she kept saying she didn't need one...

But she seemed to enjoy the trip and trust me. Took my hand on the snowy places. Gave me advice about winter sales, bad department stores and food that was packaged to look good...

One more day and Dear Son is home.
One more day.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 . Bring it ON!

Happy New Year 2014!

NHK announces the new morning drama for housewives: Okaasan and Me.

Starring a young(ish) British girl who falls in love with a Japanese man.
And has to share her bed of roses with his mother.
Week by week she learns how to be a perfect Japanese daughter-in-law.
She cooks tofu, she measures miso, she folds up old newspapers into perfect piles...
And - miracles! - she slowly becomes Japanese.
Her creamy British complexion turns a ghastly white.
Her wide, laughing mouth becomes pouty.
Her merry eyes become sad and mysterious.
And she can do amazing things with a big ball of yarn.

And on the evening of January 1st she rips open some supermarket packages and does amazing things with some chicken stock, seaweed and rice cake.