I’ve been away from the blogosphere lately. No crisis, thank goodness. It’s just that my caregiving has taken a not unexpected but time-consuming turn.
For the ten years my mother resided with us, I lived in the middle of that sandwich cookie analogy about middle-agers caught between aging parents and growing children. Now I find myself in a somewhat different care-sandwich between 74-year-old spouse on the Alzheimer’s spectrum and an intellectually curious about everything three-year-old grandson. Ralph and BabyRalph—oops BoyRalph or he’ll be affronted—are the two sides my life and increasingly the filling too.
I am not complaining, believe me. I’m just amazed that someone who as a girl never played with baby dolls or wanted to be a nurse let alone a mother, has ended up filling my hours competently nurturing.
One on hand, Ralph has been on a more needy plateau since his illness. I am personally handing him his daily pills and doing chores like dog feeding that he used to enjoy. I am learning to lower expectations of what I ask of him in general. On the other hand, the time and energy I expected to expend on grandmothering after our move to Nola has expanded because of Covid and will probably expand further when BoyRalph’s baby brother arrives in a few months. For now I am watching BoyRalph at least five mornings a week, through lunch until his nap. (When he wakes up, his teenage sister takes over until a parent is free.)
We spend most of our time at my house with Ralph and the dogs. At first both Ralph was a little standoffish around his grandson, or maybe shy, but bonding has occurred over their shared love of peanut butter sandwiches, nutty buddies and the dogs.
Although I can’t leave one with the other because I don’t trust either’s judgment, caring for BoyRalph has actually made caring for big Ralph much easier.
Now BoyRalph gives Ralph’s day structure, the way cigarettes used to; only this structure is positive. I leave our house every morning by 7:30 after bringing Ralph his coffee and pills. When I return an hour or so later with BoyRalph, Ralph is almost always up and eagerly waiting. And although he wanders back to his room at times, he is engaged. He’ll even join us for Candyland.
The Ralphs’ relationship is symbiotic. Ralph is the grown up, but he’s also childlike in a way that draws BoyRalph out, and BoyRalph has energized Ralph. Even when they argue, which they do, there are no hard feelings. BoyRalph is quick about wanting to make up while Ralph’s memory deletes BoyRalph’s misbehaviors anyway . Moments after BoyRalph has stormed off yelling “You’re not my best friend anymore” or spent time in time out for being too rough with the dog, Ralph will turn to me to say, “He’s such a good boy.”
Yesterday BoyRalph actually got Ralph to do participate in an activity that I feared he’d discarded. The two of them stood, or sat, at separate easels in Ralph’s new “office” in the garage working and humming for about an hour. And both finished works of art (before BoyRalph got mad that he couldn’t squeeze out all the red paint and hid behind the easel).
I’ve felt my share of resentment over the last few years about how Ralph’s cognitive impairment has affected my life. Now keeping a three-year-old drains my physical energy as well as limiting my time for everything else. But grandmothering BoyRalph has taken the edge off some of the loneliness I feel as Ralph’s caregiver spouse. No, it’s more than that. As I finally admitted to myself the other day, the joy I receive from my relationship with BoyRalph is what I want right now. And it’s a joy Ralph shares. The first real sharing we’ve experienced in a long while.