Ralph and I just spent an intense week in New Orleans: We spent working hours babysitting BabyRalph during the hiatus between summer day camp/day care ending and preschool beginning, and we were also house hunting. I use the word we,but obviously I was doing the childcare and the house hunting. Having Ralph along with me was a challenge on both counts.
Usually, when I go off on babysitting or business travel, Ralph stays home since he hates leaving his dogs and settled routine. I prepare an extended life list, call him constantly and arrange for “visitors” who make sure he is eating and following his list. But I took him along last week because: one, he’d had a precancerous growth surgically removed from his wrist the week before so I needed to clean and bandage his hand daily; and two, I wanted him to have a sense of involvement in the decision-making process of moving from the farm to New Orleans. Not just a sense–his involvement mattered in practical terms as I realized the longer we were there. Needless to say, Ralph was challenged in New Orleans in ways he is not challenged by his daily routine at home.
We slept at an Airbnb a block from my daughter’s home, but Ralph spent most of his days either “reading” (i.e. napping) on my daughter’s couch and smoking on her back porch. Not unlike home, except he was “reading” on a couch in the living room, not tucked away in his bedroom, so BabyRalph and I were always aware of him and affected by both his presence or absence. BabyRalph would ask where “Bop” was going all the time and would try to follow him to the porch–where he could no longer play since it was given over to cigarette fumes–or try to rouse Bop from his couch stupor so they could play guitar together.
In fact, the two had some lovely moments making music together; a useful reminder to both Ralph and me that Ralph still can and should play his guitar on a regular basis, an activity to add to his daily list. But while Ralph is gentle and wants to be helpful, his cognitive limits and needs were more apparent than ever. I was caught between a curious, active 2 year old whom I need to keep an eye on at all times and an oblivious, inactive 72 year old whom I needed to keep an eye on at all times. It is not that Ralph is irresponsible all the time, but I can’t rely on his judgment from moment to moment. I could not leave the two alone together for even a few minutes any more than I could leave BabyRalph alone with another two year old.
2. House Hunting:
When I was off BabyRalph duty, I took Big Ralph to open houses. It is important to note that he has completely accepted that we are moving.
“I don’t do any of the things on the farm I used to like to do anyway,” he says with a certain calm acceptance that both gladdens and saddens me.
“The house we move to in New Orleans will be the house where I die,” he says with less calm and even more poignancy.
But acceptance is not enthusiasm. If Ralph’s capacity for enthusiasm is extremely limited these days under the best of circumstances, leaving the home where he’s lived for over 20 years, really the only home he remembers well, is far from the best of circumstances. And looking at property for sale—once his favorite activity in the world and what he did for a living as a small time developer/renovator/manager—has become a tedious chore for him (no smoking for one thing).
I thought of not making him come along but besides wanting him invested in the house-buying, I wanted to get a sense of what, if anything, might spark some, well eagerness seems to strong a word but at least a smile.
I personally was looking for something that needed no renovation, was relatively close to BabyRalph, and offered walkability. I was thinking small, but, of course with a porch for Ralph and some kind of yard for the dogs. Oh, and an office space I could escape to. I was thinking cute bungalow. But not one house I picked based on my criteria brought anything like a smile to his face.
Then on a whim I dragged him along to a house that was totally outside my comfort zone: both bigger, a two-story, and older than I wanted. We went to see it for fun because my agent had seen it already and said it was “Amazing,” and because my daughter wanted a peek inside.
It was pretty amazing but what was most amazing was that Ralph actually liked the house. He loved the yard and the garage and the workshop. I liked the loveliness of the architecture and the fact that though old, it seemed in better condition than any other house I had seen in the price range. Ralph said he could imagine living there. I wasn’t sure I could. It was so not what I’d been looking for.
The next day Ralph didn’t remember the house at all. So we drove by it again, twice, he liked it again both times. I did too, but I still wasn’t sure.
Ditto the next day.
And the next. Meanwhile I kept checking out other houses by myself, but none compared. The yards were tiny. The layout, even in smaller houses, would have been too confusing for him. The prices as high or higher.
So we now have a signed contract on a house. If all goes according to plan, we will move next spring. I am more excited each day, planning small changes, plotting what furniture to take. This will be the nicest house Ralph and I have lived in.
As for Ralph, I still wouldn’t say he is enthusiastic but as he repeats daily, “It’s the one with the yard and the workshop, right? That should work fine.”