Getting Old is not for Sissies

At least that’s what my 95-year-old Nanny (grandmother) tells me, and after spending a little over a week with her in Illinois last week, I would whole-heartedly agree with her.

My daughter Bryn was going on vacation with her grandparents, so I flew her to St. Louis from LA, handed her off to her grandparents who were driving to Florida for a week of fun in the sun, and then drove the three hours north to my grandmother’s house in Bloomington, IL.

Upon my arrival, my grandmother burst into tears and announced how happy she was to see me.  I had just been to visit her the month before as part of our annual summer vacation, but sadly, at 95 years of age her memory is not what it used to be.  Although it had only been a month, she was unable to recall my previous visit.  This always breaks my heart.  She will say things like, “No one ever comes to visit me.”  I gently remind her that I see her every summer, and although she believes me, her reality is such that she cannot remember the visits, so for her it’s like it never happened.

10422269_10153164412434668_2062150226730818813_n[1]While my Nanny is very healthy physically, her memory loss and diminished capacity for independence grates on her self-esteem.  She hates that she can no longer stand at the stove and prepare full meals or bake the delicious cakes and desserts she always enjoyed having in the house.  Every time I came to visit she always had a cake, pie, or some amazing sugar creation waiting for whatever company happened to stop by.  She was always prepared for company.  Now, she is still able to care for her own physical needs, prepare light meals like sandwiches, and also do some very light housekeeping, but for the most part her recliner in the living room occupies most of her attention these days.

12019820_907152482686906_3905592130149668443_n[1]My Nanny is 95 and my grandfather turns 97 this week.  They don’t have computers, internet, Wi-Fi, or even a DVD player.  They have cable TV, but that’s about it for modern technology.  Their day consists of rolling out of bed around 9am, and sitting in their chairs in the living room all day long, watching baseball, Mass, Fox News, and AMC movie classics.  That’s it.  I imagine I will find that life pretty enjoyable if I make it to their advanced age, however, for a 41 year old active woman, it was enough to make me want to throw myself from a cliff.

I wanted to spend quality time with them, so that meant sitting with them in the living room.  For hours.  Every day.  For nine days.  Watching Fox News.  And Lawrence Welk.  For the love of God, Lawrence Welk.  Watching her sing along to songs she has known for fifty years was heartening, but it was also like nails on a chalkboard.  My grandmother sings beautifully, and it made me happy to see her happy, but an hour of Lawrence Welk is enough to make me want to grind my ears through a pencil sharpener.  Now imagine a week of that.  (If you are reading this and you don’t know who Lawrence Welk is, google it.  Right now.  Then drink a bottle of wine and thank your lucky stars you weren’t me last week.)  I used to watch it with her when I was in college, just because it made her happy.  I did the same thing this week, just to make her happy.  Damn, I’m a really good granddaughter.  One night I came upstairs to find them watching AMC Classics, and Animal House was on.  OMG!  Talk about awkward!  But I sat through the movie because it was two hours of something funny and relative to my age group.  At the end, my Nanny declared it to be “junk” and she stated that if people actually thought this movie was good, then she held little hope for the future of our country.  I informed her that Animal House is a cult classic and almost everyone loves this movie.  She was thoroughly disgusted with humanity and went to bed.

11870911_511767202313147_6626111183102035627_n[1]Oh, and did I mention that many people tend to lose their filter when they hit advanced ages?  Well, my Nanny is no different.  This is a Christian Catholic woman who took her responsibility as a Christian seriously, and my whole life she refrained from talking trash about others because she felt it was a horrible sin.  However, that is no longer the case.  She has become brutally honest and says whatever pops into her head.  For example, among other shocking statements, she told me one day that I was the fattest she had ever seen me, and what the hell did I think I was doing letting my body go to shit like that.  I’m totally serious, and this is a woman who never cussed.   I reminded her that I’m not 25 anymore, I’m almost 42 years old and I usually work out 3-4 days per week.  She said, “Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s not working for you.”  One day I came upstairs wearing fashionably distressed jeans.  She said, “Are those the best clothes your husband can afford to buy for you?”  So I said, “Yes Nanny, and can you believe I bought these jeans with the patches already sewed into them?”  She rolled her eyes in disgust.  I winked at her.  We both laughed.

Due to her memory loss, we also had many repeated conversations.  She would ask me the same questions every few minutes, and I would give her the same answer, every time she asked.  We did this every day.  Several hours per day.  I was kind to her.  I was gentle.  I tried to remind her that she was still pretty and valuable.  Whenever I told her she was beautiful, she would say, “Yeah, pretty ugly, and pretty apt to stay that way.”  I’m laughing as I type this because her sense of humor is awesome.

IMG_1163I had to leave the house for a little while each day to maintain my sanity.  I found myself falling asleep on the couch with them at 6:30pm.  I was sleeping until 9am in the morning.  I was becoming an old person.  One day I looked at my VivoFit and saw that in the entire day, I had only walked 892 steps.  In a whole day!  The next day I went for a four mile walk just to combat the sedentary inclination.  I also went to the local campus, Illinois State University, my alma mater, and walked the quad.  It felt good to see the buildings, the new renovations and the efforts made to beautify and modernize the campus.  I found myself thinking, “Damn, I went to a nice school.”  I relived a lot of great memories that day and refreshed my old lady soul.

One day, Nanny let me take her for a drive.  She was alive with excitement driving around this town where she had spent her entire life.  She was seeing old and new buildings, construction and modern architecture, as if she were a young child in a new and enchanting land.  She was filled with memories and emotion as we drove past homes where she lived as a young woman with my grandfather, and cried when she observed new buildings where her old favorites no longer existed.  She lamented the time when she also would no longer exist, torn down and forgotten like an old, worn out building.

The day I left we said a tearful good-bye.  We are both painfully aware that at the end of each visit there is a very real possibility that it will be our last.  Before I left she looked at me and said, “You know I may not remember you at all next year.”  I held back my tears and said, “Yes, but I will remember you.”  And I drove away watching her in my side mirror as she stood in the driveway, beautiful and proud, with her hand raised in the air.  As she always does when I leave her.

So yes, whether you are 41 or 95, getting old is most definitely not for sissies.

Wanda Says…On the Subject of Toddler Memory and Childbirth.

mother and childMy son Bryce gets physical therapy for a slight gross-motor delay.  During one of our sessions with his PT, she asked if my kids ever talked about their early childhood memories.  My daughter has a really good memory and she can recall things from her toddler years that surprise me.  I’ve never really thought about it with Bryce, but once I did, I was surprised to realize that Bryce can also recall various events from as much as two years ago, and he’s only four.

Anyway, our PT went on to explain that she has a colleague who’s interested in early childhood memory, and had recently read about a study that showed evidence that some toddlers, if questioned before the age of three, could recall events from their birth experience.  (Keep in mind we weren’t having a scientific discussion here.  It was more sharing this cool story about kids who can accurately recall memories from their birth, which I thought was pretty amazing).

So, PT told me that one night she decided to ask her own two year old daughter, just to see what she would say.  As she was putting her to bed, she asked the child if she remembered anything about being born.  She said that her daughter got very quiet, and then responded by saying that her arm hurt, and she cradled her arm to her chest.  PT then told me that when her daughter was born, her arm had been in a difficult position, which made the birth a bit complicated.  Her baby’s arm was wedged up and pinned, and the result was a rather large and colorful bruise on her arm for over a week after the birth.

Holy shit!  For a two year old to recall her arm hurting and gesture that seems pretty amazing to me.

I guess the idea behind the theory is that toddlers are like free-thinking sponges, and their brains aren’t bogged down by preconceptions of what they’re supposed to know and not know.  They don’t know how to second-guess themselves, so their reactions and recollections are genuine and open.  There are many studies that prove that learning begins in the womb, and what prevents babies and toddlers from expressing these memories is a simple lack of developed communication skills.  I did an internet search for toddler memory studies and there were all kinds of cool things that popped up, but I was unable to locate the specific study on toddler memory of childbirth.

But I decided to ask my son Bryce and see what he had to say.  Bryce is four, so I knew it might be too late for him to remember anything, but I asked him anyway.

We were snuggling together, just the two of us.  It was quiet and I had his full attention. He was sitting on my lap and playing with my hair.

Me:  Bryce, do you remember when you were born?

Bryce:  Yep.  (There was no hesitation in his answer).

Me:  What do you remember?

Bryce:  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!

(OMG!  Does he remember the counting through the contractions?  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this process, the nurses will usually count to ten while you are pushing through a contraction).

Me:  Wow.  Do you remember anything else?

Bryce:  Yep.  I remember shapes………..and power.

(Could the “power” be the contractions?).

Me:  What kind of shapes?

Bryce:  Circles and ovals.

(Does he mean the overhead lights in the birthing suite or bassinet?  There were warming lights over the newborn bassinet and over the bed).

Me:  That’s pretty cool, buddy.

Bryce.  Yep.  It was cool.

So, I have no idea if these were true memories or just something he decided to say, but I think the concept of toddlers remembering their birth experience is pretty awesome.

What do you think?