“Who’s that lady?”

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Dementia is a funny disease. I don’t mean odd, although it is odd. I actually mean amusing. I’m aware that this is probably a terrible thing to say, and that I am the only person who finds dementia and mental illness and spinal cord injury entertaining, but what can I say? It’s the life I was dealt, and I can only presume I’m meant to try to enjoy it. If everyone else wasn’t put on this planet to amuse me, what the hell are they here for? I did once tell my mother that the world revolved around me. She shot out a challenge: “So what was it doing before you were born?” I told her it was revolving in anticipation. I think I was about 12. The thing about being an intelligent child, is that you’re also a bit of a pain in the arse. I’m learning that with my own intelligent child. He’s clever and manipulative. It’s the downside of being bright. And, like me, somewhat self-centred.

So, that’s my disclaimer. I’m the centre of the universe and that’s why I laugh at the funny things other people say.

My dad has dementia. It’s been gradually deteriorating over the past few years. You almost don’t realise it’s happening. It started with him forgetting people’s names if he didn’t know them well. Introducing himself to acquaintances that he’d met before. Asking “Who’s that lady?” several times in a sitting. Just occasionally. Everyone does that. Well, I do. And I’m pretty much the basis of every one of my assumptions about the world. But now it’s gotten to the point that Dad has started to forget names of people he knows well. He recently didn’t recognise Brad. He asked “Who’s that man?” and when he was told it was Brad he was confused. “Our Brad? Are you sure?” That was the first time he failed to recognise a close family member. Brad pointed out that, in Dad’s defense, Brad’s gotten much shorter since he started sitting in a wheelchair all the time, so it’s a fair enough mistake to make. On the bright side, if you have dementia you always get to meet new people, and every birthday party is a surprise party.

My Dad does remember things from a long time ago. Everyone says that about dementia – the longer term memories stick. And Dad’s been living back there a little bit. He recently spent a couple of months working with old film movies. He used to be a photographer. He did weddings – both photo and video (ie: film) – and still has some quite beautiful old movie cameras, and a gorgeous old film projector. So he’s been playing with the films. Old family movies that he’s been looking through, taking scenes he wants and splicing them together. He put together a movie for me, for my birthday, and had it converted to DVD. A couple of years of family birthdays, Christmases and outings to the zoo, starting when I was about 18 months old.

We watched the movie on my birthday. It was like the whole world was one endless party for my little family. In nearly every scene I’m blowing out candles or opening presents. We had such a great life back then. And my parents knew so many people! I, being only a baby in the film, had no idea who most of them were.

“Who’s that, Dad?”

“That’s our neighbour, Rosita*.”

“And who’s that?”

“Those are the children that lived down the street. They often came to play with you.”

“Who’s that?”

“Just some children that happened to be at the playground that day. We didn’t know them.”

“Who’s that lady?”

“ … That’s Rosita again.” I heard a hint of laughter in his voice. I must have pointed to Rosita four times in forty-five minutes and asked who she was (she kept wearing different clothes and changing her hair in different scenes!) so I began to understand what it must feel like for Dad to be always forgetting people and then told that he already knew them. “Well, she looks different this time.”

If only people were like cartoon characters and never changed their look, it would be easier, you know? In fact … I almost just came up with an awesome new law for when I rule the world. But then I realised I might not be allowed to change my shoes under the law of always having to look the same, and I immediately dismissed it as a terrible law. Who comes up with such stupid ideas? It actually bothers me that cartoon characters never change their clothes, to be honest. Do they shower? Do they change their underwear? Do they never put on weight and discover they can’t zip up their jeans? Seriously! Why doesn’t anyone ever question these things? It’s just lazy animation, is what it is.

It was nice to talk to Dad normally again, to have him recognise places and tell stories from my childhood. In fact, it was so nice that a couple of weeks later, at Christmas, I put on my DVD again. Because, you know, there’s a lot of opening Christmas presents in the movie so it seemed appropriate.

Dad said “What’s this film?”

I said “It’s the DVD you made me for my birthday.”

“It’s very dark. It isn’t very good quality. Who’s that child?”

“… That’s me, Dad.” Then there was silence. Because it was a silent film and because no one was talking. We all just sat there awkwardly for a bit … until “And that lady there, that’s your old neighbour Rosita.”

Dad was surprised. “Do you remember Rosita?”

It was hard to know how to answer. I went with the truth. “Well … I do now.”

 

*Disclaimer: I’m not actually certain that Rosita was her name. So I don’t really remember her after all. Even though I was told her name repeatedly less than a month ago.  I’m obviously beginning to lose my mind too.

Negotiating with a toddler

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You know how you generally assume that you’re a fairly intelligent and reasonable person? My child really makes me question that at times. I find myself nit-picking at the things he says. For example:

Me: “Can you come here and put your clothes on?”

Tristan: “No. I can’t walk over there.”

Me: “Well, actually – you can. You just don’t want to.”

Tristan: (getting angry, because no one likes to be corrected by the Grammar Nazis) “No I can’t!”

Me: (because I like to be right) “You can’t walk over here. Why not? Are you incapable? Are your legs broken?  Is your spine broken?”

Tristan: (feeling guilty because his Dadda can’t walk and he actually can) “I can come over there. My legs are not broken. My legs are fixed.”

And then I’m left there, knowing that I’ve won this argument, but unsure if I really should have had the argument in the first place. Is it really fair to question a child like that? He isn’t even three. Another time I told him his teeth would rot and fall out of his head if he didn’t brush his teeth (he immediately decided he needed to brush his teeth – I won that fight too.) Many times I’ve tried to sing in the car, only to be told – very firmly – “No. Mummy doesn’t sing.” I pretty much never win that fight.

But the other thing you find yourself doing, that’s completely absurd, is negotiating. “Tristan, if you finish eating your pumpkin, we can go and pretend to be planes.”

Because that’s a really great offer.

My father-in-law is good at negotiating. He very famously (you know, within the family) once talked a guy down on the price of a boat. The original price was “Free.” He thought that was too much. Ended up getting the boat, plus $1000, plus a case of beer. Now that’s good negotiation. He can do it when selling things, too. He once helped me sell a car. I had it advertised for $1900. It was rubbish. It wasn’t worth $1900, but I left some negotiating room. The car rattled like crazy when it was idling. It was two different colours – although, in my defence, we did respray it to just one colour by the time anyone was looking to buy it. When the guy came to look at it, we discovered we didn’t even have the key – and had to distract him for an hour and a half while I went to get the key from Brad at work. By the time I got back, my father-in-law had convinced the guy to buy the car … and he paid $2000 for it. He talked him UP on the price, without even having driven it. Even after he drove it, the guy agreed that the price was reasonable. It was not reasonable! It was ridiculous. But he thought he got a great deal, and everyone went home happy.

This is not the kind of negotiating that I am good at. The extent of my skill is something along the lines of “Hey, Tristan – if you go get in the shower right now, we can read a story after.” Or: “Hey, Tristan, let’s go lie down in bed – Don’t complain! you don’t have to go to sleep! – but we can just lie there and rest and if you don’t want to go to sleep, that’s okay, we will just hold hands for a bit.”

Because for some reason, children hate sleeping. It is the greatest thing in the world, child. Enjoy it.

My son, however, appears to have inherited his grandfather’s negotiating genius. He recently decided that he doesn’t wear nappies anymore. It is not actually that surprising – the kid was toilet trained before his father’s motorcycle accident, and only regressed because of the traumatic fucking trauma that hit our family. Clearly, he’s feeling more confident again, and it’s time to return to being a big boy. So – no more nappies. “I use the potty now.” Apparently we’re not such a big boy that we’ll agree to use the toilet – even though we used to, Tristan. Which is, of course, fantastic. Glad he’s feeling secure again and all that.

But then came the negotiation. This one was aimed at Nanna, because he knows how to pick his target. “Nanna … if I do my wees on the potty, can I have a quad bike?”

 

Quad bike

A fucking quad bike.

Nanna rings me, all proud and stuff, and says “He’s doing really well…. And he never asks for much. What do you think?”

And I say “Are you kidding me? It’s been one day. No, he can’t have a quad bike for wearing his undies for a day.”

But Tristan kept asking. Basically every time he used the potty, he would say “Can I have my quad bike now?” or “Nanna’s going to buy me a quad bike.” Very confident. It’s unbelievable.

Anyway, I decided to play the negotiation game. Keep in mind, I am dealing with a genius here. I need to play it very carefully … I could end up paying two grand for the shitbox car, if I’m not clever. So I said “Okay, Tristan, I will make a deal with you. You can have your quad bike – ” (since Nanna’s going to buy it anyway – she’s such a sucker) – “But not yet. You need to show me more than a few wees in the potty. You need to perfect this thing. You need to do all of it – pants off, wiping up after, washing your hands, clothes back on – all of it. For several weeks. And then I will let you have your bike.”

All Tristan heard was “You can have your quad bike.” Because men hear what they like to hear. He is very excited. He keeps telling people about it. To his credit, he is still going without nappies and doing quite well … but as I said, he’s learned all this before. I suspect I am still getting the raw deal here. He’s just tricked us into buying him a massive gift in return for doing something he already knows how to do.

I don’t know whether to be proud or scared. Or ashamed of myself for getting involved. The kid isn’t even three yet. He’s either going to become a lawyer, or a used car salesman. Either way, I better brush up on my own negotiating skills. He’s going to outclass me soon.

Weird things people say

“Making Murderer. Why the fuck would you want to watch that?” – Brad

“Can you be a plane?” – Tristan

“I’m on an accordian bus!” – Kasey

“Accordian is not a word.” – Spellcheck

“I am pretty fucking sure it is.” – Me

“I’m going to underline it anyway.” – Spellcheck

“I suddenly doubt everything I know.” – Me. “If it isn’t accordian, what is it? Can you stop fucking underlining that? You’re messing with my head. I swear to God it is a word. Anyway, I didn’t even say it. Someone else did.”

“Who?” – Spellcheck

“My friend, Kasey. He was on a bus. It was either a concertina bus that had two separate compartments separated by an folding bit, or there were accordian players entertaining the people on said bus. He did not specify which. Either way, I gather it was exciting. The exclamation mark notified me of the excitement.”

“Huh.” – Spellcheck. “Well, I still don’t believe it’s a word, and I am an authorised entity. Also, authorised is not a word. I want you to use a z. No matter how many times you try to tell me you aren’t interested in the letter, I will keep reminding you.”

“I really dislike you.” – Me. “If I knew how to switch you off, I would absolutely do that. You basically suck and are the bane of my existence and I wish you’d go away but I’m too lazy to figure out how to get rid of you and your stupid rules.”

“There’s no need to get personal.” – Spellcheck. “But while we’re on the subject, I really think you need to listen to Grammarcheck too. You use far too many sentence fragments. It’s confusing to people who like their sentences to be complete. Also, Grammarcheck is not a word. Just saying.”

“What?!” – Grammarcheck.

“Existentialism is a problem for all of us.” – Me

 

Merry Christmas

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My parents are generous to a fault. I mean that literally. They are really quite poor and their generosity keeps them that way. We grew up in a Housing Commission home, with both parents on welfare – my dad is bipolar and he spent much of my childhood in psychiatric hospitals. Mum frequently struggled to put food on the table for us kids. I recall many meals of toast. But one thing my parents never failed to do, no matter how little they had, was to give and give and give to anyone in need. We almost always had some stragglers around for dinner. We had whole families in need stay with us while they were struggling to get themselves back on their feet. My parents taught us to share, even when we had nothing to share.

I am ashamed to say that I resented it. Christmas has always been my mother’s favourite time of the year. She LOVES buying gifts for people. People she barely knows, even. Anyone she thinks needs a pick-me-up. I used to wish she would limit the number of recipients to just us kids, and buy us something decent. I also used to wish she’d focus some of that intense Christmas energy on me, on my December birthday, and make me feel special too. Instead she spread herself as thin as possible, to cover as many people as she could. I’m also ashamed to say that I think most of the gifts she gives are rubbish. Silly cheap pieces of junk. It was only in recent years that I understood my mother loves gifts just for the joy of giving them, and I should try to appreciate that sentiment rather than the item given. And she loves receiving gifts. She is proud to receive every tiny item anyone thinks to give her. She’s kept every single crappy thing we made for her in school for Mother’s Day. Every vase with painted rice stuck to it, every self-portrait made of felt and cotton wool. And even since we’ve grown up, she’s loved every shiny tacky piece of costume jewellery, every bunch of flowers, every meal we’ve cooked.

My parents are always struggling to pay the bills. They live on very little. They never go on holidays, barely go out for dinner, hardly ever have new clothes. But they never fail to give to those in need.

I realise this year, that I have learned this generosity from them. And I think it’s one of the things I like best about myself. Even if I sometimes feel like a sucker for being that way. I give money to people in need, even if it’s the same people all the time and everyone else is sick of bailing them out.

This year, Brad and I have gotten by on the generosity of others. We’ve relied on family and friends to help us pay the bills. And I tell you what – I have been astounded at how generous people are. To use a cliche, we have been humbled by the things people will do to help a family in need. People who don’t even know us. It’s absolutely incredible … and it makes me so happy. I love all the people who know how to give. Everyone should know it.

And we’ve felt like we needed to share some of that love. This Christmas I bought gifts for strangers, partly because I was desperate to do something to make myself feel better deep inside where I am just sad about how our lives our changed. I was grieving. But I was also reading stories of people who had it much worse than me. People who didn’t have any support network. People whose government and insurance companies weren’t helping with the basics. People whose lives were ruined by illness or injury or broken relationships – and then you add bankruptcy to the list, just to really nail it in. I wanted to help, so I helped by buying some necessities for some strangers in need. And it didn’t make me feel better. It didn’t stop me grieving at all.

But … it helped them.

Those strangers I had never met and never will meet. It made their day brighter. And maybe that’s enough.

Maybe that’s why Mum keeps doing it. She lives in an endless cycle of poverty, and she will never get out. But at least she has love, and she can share it around.

Reasons why I am angry at polar bears

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I’ve never even met a polar bear, you know. Fucking cliquey snobs.

EDIT: Except the Bundaberg Bear. That guy’s a legend.

Lessons in renting

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I recently had to move house. This is huge. Because I hate moving, unlike everyone else in the world who totally loves it. Last time we moved was 4 years ago, when we bought a weird old house and spent weeks renovating it and that’s when I discovered I also hate renovating. If I have to paint another ceiling, I will die. Like Michaelangelo did. Except that he was TRYING to paint pictures on his ceiling, and I was TRYING to remove hideous pictures from mine because what the hell were the previous owners thinking? Ceilings should be WHITE. Four coats of white later, hand-painted by brush because the ceiling was ornate and a roller wouldn’t cut it, you can still see the dark blue gloss underneath.

After that I promised my husband that we would never move again, unless we somehow got wealthy enough to be able to discard all our old belongings and buy everything new to be delivered to the new house, so I wouldn’t have to move it. Also, the new house would not need a single stroke of paint or a carpet to be removed. It would be perfect.

You know what? The one we already renovated … that one’s perfect. Let’s stay there forever, until it’s falling down around us and developers are kicking us out.

My husband nodded politely.

He gets that look sometimes when I say things.

Also – he ruined all my plans to never ever move. He assures me that he ran off the road and hit that tree head-first specifically with the thought in mind that, if he was wheelchair-bound, I would have no choice but to move house while renovating the perfect one for accessibility.

Incidentally, he also assures me that he broke his spine because our son was getting older and heavier and, having taught the kid how much fun it is for daddy to throw him up in the air, he decided to sit down for the rest of his parenting career and let me take over the toddler-throwing games.

I’m never sure what to believe, you know.

Anyway, we have to renovate our house. Seriously. Because it isn’t wheelchair-accessible and suddenly that’s our number one priority. But that will take for-fucking-ever because that’s what it’s like to renovate a house. We’ll be doing it for the rest of our lives. We didn’t even finish the last renovations because our painter (me) quit after doing that ceiling. And in the meantime we have moved into transitional accommodation, which is, in short, a rented house that’s a lot more wheelchair-friendly than ours, and which the owner plans to knock down next year so he’s happy enough for us to mess with it to make it work. Things like removing the shower screen and adding air conditioning. He was all, sure, as long as I don’t have to lift a finger, go for your life.

Note the conditional: “As long as I don’t have to lift a finger”. It seemed reasonable when I was signing the tenancy agreement. Now I’ve realised it means a lot more than I expected. That part about the landlord and real estate agent never having to lift a finger applies to things like broken doors, faulty wiring, rodent infestations, and providing me with rent receipts. I’m beginning to regret my choice to rent a house rather than just book us into a 5 star hotel for 6 months. It would have been so much less stressful. Right up until we ran out of money a month in and went bankrupt trying to pay our room service bills. But whatever.

I have learned my lesson. Renting sucks. The real estate agents already hate me, because of my incessant and unreasonable requests for receipts, and my ability to read my contract and point out the relevant clauses in it that state they have to give me those damned receipts, and the way I ignore their pointed sighs and threaten to stop paying rent if they don’t give me my receipts right away. It’s only been 3 weeks. I am in for a really long 6 months. I suspect they are thinking the same.

Future Gen will never rent a house again. Future Gen will move back into the perfect (read: not so perfect) house we own and delight in the fact that I have to do all the work, but at least I won’t have to get anyone’s permission but mine to do it. Except maybe Brad’s, but I’m not sure there. He was unclear on whether he planned to sit out the rest of his decision-making career.

 

The Listmaker

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I make lists.

It’s probably an anxiety thing. Like, if I don’t keep a list of this stuff, I will forget and the world will end as a result and it will be all my fault. Because who else is going to list the chores I need to do or the bills I need to pay? No one. That’s who. No one.

So I make lists. Some of them are more useful than others. This is probably going to be the weirdest one I’ve ever done. On account of the layers. You’ll see what I mean. It’s like Inception, but on a notepad instead of in a billion dollar movie.

Things I Have Written Lists About:

  • All the injuries Brad had when he had his motorcycle accident, eg broken spine, 12 fractures to the face, etc
  • All the injuries Brad DID NOT have when he had his motorcycle accident, eg brain damage, severed limbs, ruptured eye sockets (it was close)
  • Weird things Brad has said since the accident, eg “I can feel my blood moving” and “How’s YOUR spine?”
  • Weird things Tristan has said at any time, eg “Can you lick my eye?” “You’re not a grown-up yet, Mummy” (touche) and “Are the cows on fire?”
  • Songs I like that happen to be on Rage tonight
  • Film clips that freak me out
  • Reasons why I am happy today
  • Reasons why I am angry at polar bears
  • What the fuck do you think cats are plotting

That’s just a few. I got bored before I finished. That pretty much is how all my lists end. I do like the kind of lists where you get to tick things off and feel accomplished, but I also like the kind of lists where you can read back and go “Yeah.” … That’s it. Yeah. Because what else is there to say?

Tips For Making a Good List:

  • Every list needs a good title. It helps bring all the random thoughts together, and make sense of the purpose of the list. You can’t just list things with no meaning. That would be weird.
  • That’s it, really
  • Bullet points are kind of amusing
  • Until they’re not anymore

Reasons Why I Am Happy Today:

  • Brad was discharged from rehab and I like him

 

 

Lists

This is the greatest list I have ever seen

 

And one time I crashed the doctor’s office

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Last week I wore a cute dress and Alannah Hill cardigan (ebay! $20!) to work. It was gorgeous. So springtime and floral and happy. Then after work I went to pick up Tristan from his grandparents’ house and the floral happy springtime turned into a massive thunderstorm and I decided I would rather not drive in the rain that was coming down in sheets. So I stayed at the in-laws’ place for the night. In the morning, I got up, dressed again in my cute dress and Alannah Hill cardigan(!), bundled Mr Teddy Bear into the car and went to my weekly psych appointment. That’s a thing people encourage you to do when your family is going through a trauma like severe injury, or parents with dementia, or cancer, or you’re witness to a crime that tears you up inside.

It’s kind of fun. The psychologist listens to you whine and they aren’t allowed to look bored of it and they have to tell you that you’re doing a great job because they’re meant to make you feel better. Mine has given me such encouragements as “I honestly believe that some people just never get a break. You’re one of those people” and “You seem very calm for someone with anxiety disorder … how do you do that?” (I sound like I’m mocking, but these are some of the greatest things anyone has ever said to me. It’s like my psychologist has a dark sense of humour that perfectly mirrors mine. Either that, or she’s genuine, and I’m fucked.)

Anyway, the other day she commented on my cute dress and Alannah Hill cardigan and asked if I was going to work. I said “No, I wore this to work yesterday.”

And then she wrote a note in her notepad.

About me. And my unwashed clothes and poor hygiene. About how I am in such a bad way that I can’t even be bothered getting undressed each night. Or I just pick up the first thing I find on the floor in the morning. Because I am not coping. I look calm on the outside, but inside I am fluttering about, incapable of even putting on clean clothes.

That’s what she wrote. I am sure of it.

I explained, “I didn’t make it home last night.”

And she nodded. Understandingly. Because she believed that I spent the whole night out drinking until I was so wasted I fell asleep in the gutter, and then when I woke up in the morning I stumbled to my psychologist in my crumpled clothes, which was an obvious cry for help… because it turns out I didn’t even have an appointment. 

That’s how clearly I need help.

I promise I will never tell this kind of story again.

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Our first night out after the accident was to the theatre. Classy stuff. We had dinner with friends beforehand, had a drink each, laughed a lot about … well, who knows what people talk about over dinner. It’s often very strange stuff, like whether that dress you’re wearing is similar to one I have or if it’s actually my dress that you borrowed two years ago and never gave back; or if that man over there who looks a lot like someone we know is actually our friend and the person sitting here at the table with us is an imposting doppelganger. And whether imposting is a word. And if it is customary to wear marzipan eyebrows at the cutting of your wedding cake. Or someone else’s wedding cake. Stuff like that. That’s the stuff we talk about over dinner.

One of the realities of having a spinal cord injury is that sometimes, if Brad is somewhere that doesn’t have a properly accessible toilet, then he needs a bit of assistance in the bathroom. It’s no big deal, really. At least, not to me. But he isn’t exactly a fan. He told me once that he used to be so well toilet-trained – he was so good at going to the bathroom – that he didn’t even think about it. So I can understand how it’s a bit of a downer to suddenly find he needs someone to help him not fall off. And I can understand why it sometimes makes him a bit grumpy to listen to me chattering away happily while he’s somewhat humiliated and wishing that I would just leave the room.

Privacy, Gen. It’s a thing we used to have in our lives.

Not anymore, Brad. I’m here for you. You’re welcome.

So what I’m getting at is that before the show, I had to assist Brad in the bathroom. We were in a pretty hilarious mood. And that’s lucky, because what happened next could only happen in a comedy movie. In fact, it often does happen in comedy movies and I hate it. I hate toilet humour. I’d like you to know that. I have nightmares about that kind of thing. Any bathroom scene is bound to be horrible and I don’t want to see it. But I digress.

As I helped Brad onto the seat and then waited to help him back into his wheelchair, he told me about a nurse at the hospital who scrunched the toilet paper instead of folding it, and we were both horrified that this is actually a thing people do, and we lost all respect for her immediately. We can’t be friends. Sorry. It’s over. We wondered how many other people do this, but we didn’t want to ask because that’s rude and also because I don’t think I want people to tell me too much about themselves. Privacy, people. It’s a thing we need to have in our lives. Also, let’s not talk about anything to do with the bathroom. I don’t want to have nightmares.

When Brad was safely back in his chair, I realised that I quite desperately needed to pee, and it just so happened that there was an available facility right there in the room.

“That’s disgusting,” Brad told me. “I can’t believe you’d do that while I am right here. What about my privacy?”

Then Brad accidentally bumped the green button that opens the door. And it happened.

The door opened.

Wide.

And there was a man in a suit, clearly also going to the theatre, standing in the doorway. Right where he could see me. It was the most humiliating thing in the world. I screamed. I told Brad, very cleverly, “The door isn’t even closed!” And then I went to hit the button beside me on the wall. But Brad panicked and he hit his button too. And basically we both kept pressing buttons and the door started closing, and then opening again – and this went on for-fucking-ever!

Brad started laughing gleefully and I grumpily asked him what he was so happy about, and he said “Now we’re almost even. You just need people to see you in the bathroom about a million more times. Then we’ll be even.”

I’m not sure I want to be even, Brad.

But at least Brad is no longer embarrassed about asking me for help so I think we both win. Although it’s possible we both lose. Semantics, hey?

Dementia is amusing. Except when it disturbs my sleep.

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After almost a year of dragging my father around from one doctor to another, I finally learned that he has Diffuse Lewy Body Disease. It’s a form of dementia that’s a bit like Alzheimer’s and a bit like Parkinson’s. Dad is slow and his movements are shaky and shuffly and it takes him a long time to process what you say to him, but all things considered, his mind is actually still pretty good. I mean, you do find yourself having the same conversations over and over. We’ve repeatedly discussed the film version of The Wizard of Oz, it’s importance in cinematography, how Technicolor works, how brilliant the Kodak company was at the height of its success, how it didn’t keep up with the digital age – even though Kodak apparently invented the digital age – and how it’s all wound up now. I could probably have this conversation in my sleep, word for word. I ask the same questions. Dad tells the same anecdotes. It’s like we’re both having it for the first time.  Like when Tristan insists that I tell him his favourite story again, and I have to pause when Goldilocks reaches the bears’ house so that Tristan can excitedly squeal “The bears aren’t home!” because that’s the way the story is told. It’s pleasant.

For my mother, Dad’s dementia is less entertaining. Apparently she doesn’t like having the same conversations every single day. And she already knows about the Kodak Company. Also, yes it is Monday. Yes, we did feed the cats already. Yes, it is sad that the dog died earlier this year. Yes, you told me about Kodak. Yes, you did take your Madopar. See how the Monday section of the Webster Pack is empty? That’s right, it’s Monday.

She just needs a break sometimes. So I decided to give her a break: I decided to have Dad stay with me for the weekend, while Mum went to visit her sister. It shouldn’t be that big a deal. Dad’s pretty self-sufficient. Like, he can dress himself and take his own medications and stuff, so it’s not like he’s a complete invalid. We’d talk about the Wizard of Oz and the decline of the Kodak Company. We’d drink tea and play with Tristan. It would be fun. His mind’s pretty good, after all.

“Yes, his mind is good,” Mum agreed. “He doesn’t wander or those other things that Alzheimer’s patients often do. I mean … he does sometimes get lost in the house.”

I almost choked. “He what?” He’s lived in that house for 30 years!

“He gets lost sometimes going from the bathroom to the bedroom,” Mum explained. “But he’s alright.”

“But the bedroom is next to the bathroom,” I pointed out. It would be hard to get lost even if you tried.

“And sometimes he gets lost trying to leave the bedroom,” Mum went on, continuing to reassure me of my father’s mental soundness. “I sometimes wake up to find him standing next to the wardrobe and he doesn’t know how to find the bedroom door, or get back to bed. But he never goes wandering.”

“Mum … ” I didn’t know what to say. I wondered if she and I had the same definition of “wandering”.

“But he’ll be fine at your house,” Mum said comfortingly. Because he’s never been there before, so clearly he’s going to have a much easier time of it than at the home he’s lived in for most of my lifetime. I made a mental note to get my mother checked out too. She seems to have some odd ideas.

Despite my anxiety at this newly-disclosed information, I had Dad come for the weekend anyway. Mum’s need for respite was clearly more desperate than I’d realised. I asked Dad about getting lost in his house and he vehemently denied the accusation. “I don’t get lost,” he insisted. “It’s just that your mother keeps the house dark and I can’t see.”

“When does she keep the house dark?” I wondered.

“At night time,” Dad explained.

Of course.

So I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. With serious fears of Dad getting lost in my home and me waking to find him frozen in front of the linen cupboard and wondering where his bed had gone, I left all the lights in the house on. And Dad was right. He didn’t get lost in my home at all. With all the lights on he could see perfectly and he made his way to the bathroom and back without mishap. I know because I lay awake all night listening intently to every creak and groan in the house, in case it was my Dad wandering into the kitchen and falling into the sink, or trying to curl up in the laundry basket (wondering why the bed got smaller during his absence). But Dad’s mind was just fine. It was his eyesight that was the problem, apparently.

At 2am I did hear running feet. Little running feet. They ran right passed my bedroom and into the living room, and then ran back. And then I heard strange noises like someone was maybe jumping on the couch. So I got up to investigate. There was Tristan in the brightly lit living room with a collection of toys he’d ferried from his bedroom, playing happily, mismatched gumboots pulled on over his onesie, each one on the wrong foot. When he saw me he smiled hugely and said “Hey! Mummy! Want to watch a movie?”

I said “It’s the middle of the night. What are you doing?”

“It’s not night time,” Tristan told me, gesturing to the well-lit room, to the lights that I had left on because I was afraid of my father getting confused.

I had not reckoned on my toddler getting confused instead.

“Will you tell me a story?” Tristan asked.

I gave in. “Sure,” I told him, sitting on the couch and pulling him into my lap. “Have you ever heard of the Kodak Company?”