Today I sent Ralph on an errand. That’s right, I sent him off to perform a task without me there to oversee him. I gave him a twenty dollar bill and asked him to go to the gas station down the road, buy “something,” ie cigarettes, and bring me a five and 3 singles back with the change.
Asking Ralph to perform tasks is not something I do a lot obviously. He used to handle all the manual chores that required any skill. He did electrical, plumbing, carpentry, auto repair, you name it. He wouldn’t let me hang a picture because he didn’t think I could meet his critical standards. What he never did was run errands. He was not one to go out of his way on the way home from work to pick up milk, or a kid from school for that matter.
Now he is more than willing to do whatever I ask. Willing just not capable.
So my request was an experiment of sort. He still drives to the gas station daily for his cigarettes so getting there and back was not an issue. And willingness clearly was no problem; he offered to leave that minute. But remembering to bring me what I ask for…there we’ve had problems in the past. Even if I call him while he’s at the store or he calls me from the store to double check, he’s still likely to come home empty-handed. In the past he’s resisted taking written reminders but lately he’s become more dependent on his daily written life list.
So I wrote down a note, bring me change for this twenty.
He read the note. I reminded him I needed to end up with 8 dollars and he could keep the rest for his own use (I usually make sure he has about twenty dollars in his wallet at all times.) He looked with worry at the note again.
I took it back and wrote a new note. Bring me three 1$ bills and, one 5$ bill.
He read the note and nodded. I turned back to the stove as he put on his coat and started to the door. He stopped.
I can’t remember where I put the note or the twenty dollar bill.
He patted his jacket pockets. I checked his wallet. No note. I was about to write a new own when I saw a corner of the note poking up from the breast pocket of his shirt. I put note and cash in his wallet. He couldn’t buy his cigarettes without seeing the note—well, unless he used his credit card, his usual payment method.
I sent him off with misgivings but fifteen minutes he was back. With 3 singles and a 5.He was casual as he handed over the bills, but I could sense he was feeling the same buzz of thrill and relief I was at a job well done.
Success is measured differently these days.
4 thoughts on “Making Change in Dollars and Sense”
Hi Alice –
Great similarities between how you and Ralph prepare for him to run an errand, and how my wife and I do the same for me. Whether headed out to the store, for a day trip to see one of our kids, or just a chore around the house requiring a few hand tools and supplies, we prepare for it somehow. Our pile of scrap paper isn’t quite as tall as before because we’re constantly drawing it down to jot down notes and checklists for me to carry along, but then there’s the challenge of me remembering that I have them with me. I also fold notes around my credit card in my wallet to be sure to see them before I leave the store. I bury the keys to my Jeep underneath any driving directions or anything else that’s important for me to bring along on my trips so that I can’t pull out of the driveway without being reminded to bring them along with me. Simple things increasingly are more of a challenge and take longer.
Then there’s your description of the back end of the errand, the “buzz of thrill and relief at a job well done.” I still can do most things right most of the time, given some preparation and maybe a little extra time, but the little jokes we both make when I return victorious give away our mutual growing unease at the random glitches that add an element of chance to what used to be automatic.
And as I think about all of this, I try to push from my thoughts the realization that this is all a losing battle. No amount of preparation, no well-written reminder placed where it’s sure to catch my eye, is going to change a damn thing. No matter how inventive we are and how hard we try, my wife and you are headed for the same fate – soon you’ll have to go to the store when we’re out of beer. 🙂
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As long as you (and Ralph) have your sense of humor you’re on solid ground. Yes, you’re right we won’t win the war. I try not to stop and think about that, to be honest. And the unease never goes away. But, at least today– probably because I saw my therapist who always makes me feel as if I am functioning better than I think– I am focusing on practical problem solving baby steps and how I’ll organize getting Ralph to go to an Indian restaurant with visiting houseguests this weekend. Will let you know if I succeed.
Such small successes mean a lot.
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Thanks, Mary. They really do.
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