Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do Conversations Really Need to be Meaningful to be Meaningful???

So, it goes without say, My Mom is full of a lot of nonsense. Some days more than others. She can carry on even lengthy nonsensical conversations. At first, being a true Mom to My Mom, I'd try to steer her toward sanity, lately I find myself engaging full bore in completely meaningless conversations with her. Honestly, most of the time I'm finding them quite fun.

This week while watching the Olympics I said I wondered how ski jumpers learn the sport. What does it take to learn how to soar 140-meters through the air, I wondered, merely contemplating aloud. I didn't really expect My Mom to answer, but she did. "Oh," she said quite confidently, "you just go to the store. They show you how. (pause) You could do it." (as in "even you could do it.") For a moment I thought about calling her bluff, then decided to see where this would go. "You think I could?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, her tone very believable. "I did it. In fact, I was going to go to the Olympics."
"Really..." I say, trying not to crack a smile as I pictured Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies catapulting through the air. "Were you good enough?" She hops on that comment and confirms emphatically that she was quite good, for a while, but then confesses she hasn't ski jumped in a long time. (Or how 'bout never, I thought to myself.)
"Why did you give it up?" I ask. "Well, it was a lot of work, and there were just too many men," she says exasperated. I know she's half recollecting her days of golf back in the 1950's and early 60's when few women played the sport. She met my Dad on a golf course at a singles mixer. But the ski half of her story -- pure bologna.

This summer she told people she rode horses. She even recalled having a pony as a young girl. This is the same woman that couldn't go within a mile of animals at the state fair when we were young because the smell made her sick. She knows just about every famous person on TV. She met Hilary Clinton at "the nice stores at the mall". She's been to virtually every city you could mention, seen every play and recently an obscure opera being advertised on PBS. Oh, and she made her quilt. The one that says "made in China." Since the day she got it, she repeats the detailed story of how she cut every square and stitched every panel. I comment on how perfect the stitching is, as if it's store made and she gives me a dramatic and worn out look. "If you only knew how long it took..."

I used to be appalled and, of course, frustrated at the tall tales. Any one would. It's embarrassing when people who don't know her listen in -- it's frustrating to have a know it all, seen it all, met them all roommate. Yesterday she commented on the milk being delicious before even taking a sip as if she personally milked the cow. The behavior that I found funny for a few months when I first took this job began to wear on me, until I read "The 36 Hour Day," which led to a great epiphany. The author gave caregivers permission to mislead patients when necessary, such as saying you're "going to lunch" as opposed to "going to the doctors." What harm is there in making them think they're going to a pleasant activity? the book said. There's no benefit in creating angst for the entire duration of the trip. Wait until you arrive in the parking lot, then announce that you're at the doctor. Hhmmm, I thought. Makes sense. My Mom asks where we're going every three to four minutes during an entire outing anyway. It really does no good to tell her ahead of time.

So if that's the case, what's the harm with the reverse? My Mom not only likes tall tales, she loves to play make believe, regularly acting out a wide variety of characters from a little girl to monsters. I now consider her antics "story time" and it's really enhanced our interactions. I'm more inclined to hang in there and listen to her -- as if she's telling a story -- and she's thrilled with an audience. (even an audience of one.) The conversations, however off beat, are forging a stronger relationship between us once again, taking us out of the caregiving scenario rut.
The stuff she concocts is really quite funny. Just now at dinner she was wielding a giraffe pencil with an animal face eraser on top. "That's an eraser," she started out fairly sane. A few moments passed and she banged the giraffe's head on the table like a gavel. "Now you better listen to me," she said in her deepest commanding voice. She knows she's pretending. She's become some kind of ruler, banging some type of a club. I try to throw her off by being nobody's servant. "Do you really think you can be the boss of me?" I ask her. She laughs, then launches into complete gibberish -- I think making a case about why I should listen to her. The logic and words so far gone it's not even fun anymore.
I redirect. "Let's make it a wand," I suggest. "Like this?" she asks creating swoopy magical circles in the air -- a better depiction than I would have imagined. "Yes," I say enthusiastically. "How about making me a princess and finding me a prince?" I ask with enthusiasm. She laughed again. "Now you know that could never happen."
How about that? I embrace her fantasy land and she gives me a giant reality check. I guess I'm stuck kissing frogs.

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