Thursday, April 1, 2010
The problems of aging are many and one is the problem of perception. Things are not always viewed with flexibility and adaptation, but are structured by the past.
I usually just wear clear fingernail polish. This is one step above the example set by my mother who never wore polish. Last week, I took off my old polish and then neglected to replace it. On the way to Busybody’s I looked down and observed my hands and thought, “Oh, well. No one will notice.” We had been there about twenty minutes when Joy came over and whispered, “Gigi, if we get through in time this afternoon, I will polish your nails for you.” Good. A four year old noticed. Either she has much more time in her schedule, is more perceptive OR every adult I have encountered has noticed but been too polite to comment.
When my Mom was just entering the shadows of Alzheimer’s, but still able to walk around and attempt some limited tasks, she needed a full-time caregiver but resisted much of the help offered her. Through the week, I would pop in and out to check on her (and the caregiver) and deliver stuff, but Sundays were our days together. I would do many of the things that she refused to have the caregiver perform. Her nails seemed to always need care. I couldn’t stand that little –sometimes-bigger—line of grime that she wouldn’t submit to letting the caregiver remove. On Sunday afternoons, we would sit with a pan of warm, sudsy water on one our laps and chitchat until her nails were Mom clean again. Even from me, however, she balked at any attempt at manicuring, and it was a real challenge to keep her looking cared for.
One Sunday, I thought it would be fun, because the quest of life is for the good, the true, the beautiful and the fun, to take Mom out for a real manicure. She was always mistrustful of leaving the house because I might be tricking her into doing something she had specifically instructed me not to do, but then again, we might be going out for ice cream or pie or boxed candy (from a candy store) and so she went with me, but made it as difficult as possible. At least, I thought it was as difficult as possible until we reached the nail salon, and then I encountered what as difficult as possible really was.
She didn’t want to extend her hands to the manicurist but would turn towards me and grab my dress with both hands and, being far too ladylike to raise her voice, would entreat me with the most pathetic of looks to pleeeaaassseee, get her out of there. The manicurist had to firmly hold one hand while I held the other while she took off a snippet of nail. Mom then forgot being a lady and yelled, “ouch, ouch, ouch.” “Did you feel that?” “Well, no, but I thought I was going to”, she explained to me—the manicurist was either invisible to her or so far beneath her contempt that she would not talk to her. “Well, just wait until you do feel it, please don’t yell about “going to’”, I requested. My request went unheeded. As the snippets came off the second hand (it had to be snippets because Mom was jerking her hands so spasmodically, that the poor girl was afraid to do more) I said, “ Just dry her hands and slap on one coat of polish, we’re leaving” with a glare at the misbehaving mother. As I outrageously tipped the frazzled manicurist, Mom found her inside stage whisper and instructed me, “Don’t give her money for trying to hurt me.” The door had barely shut behind us when she burst out crying with huge crocodile tears running down her cheeks. I was truly fearful that someone would make a 9-1-1 call for elderly abuse while I was trying to get her back into the car.
I clicked her seatbelt with finality thinking I might leave her in for there for the rest of my Sunday visit, tried to cool off as I went around the car and got into my seat and turned to her and said, “What was that all about?” She was too absorbed with her sobbing to tell me. Her little, stooped shoulders heaved with the utter sorrow of her plight and I was helpless to be with her in it or to remove her from the immediacy of the situation. I had cooled down: There was ice around my heart and my hands were ice. THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!
Finally, she said, “I don’t want to die this soon.” I tried to keep my voice normal, “Why do you think you are going to die soon?” She said, “Well, aren’t you trying to make my hands look nice for when they’re folded?” Ohhhhhhhh, I exhaled that as an eight-syllable word. All her opposition to basic hygiene had really been, to her, her fight for life.
Last week, we didn’t finish playing restaurant, or school or talent show in time for Joy to polish my fingernails, but tomorrow when I get there, we are going to spend a blissful few minutes letting her tend to me while I can still refrain from grimacing, grabbing and downright yelling. I may, however, sneak into the bathroom and remove the polish that goes onto other areas than my nails. Grandmas, you know what I’m talkin’ about!
Posted by The Editor for Gigi.