Sunday, September 27, 2009

Choosing sides

Every night with Bandar around 9 o'clock bedtime, Sophie takes mama through her evening rituals of cleaning and toileting. This happens in the first-floor master bedroom and bathroom I used to call my own.

Once teeth are out and face is washed, Bandar ambles with her walker to the right side of the bed, which I used to call my own, and plops her bottom down so she can get her pajamas on and position herself for her night's rest.

Always the right side of the bed. It has to be this side and never the left. Except when it was the left.

When Bandar came home in August from Jennings Center for Older Adults, she announced on her first night in my former bedroom that she could only get in the bed from the left side -- not the right -- and this, despite her having gone to bed from the right side 54 nights in a row while living in the short-term rehab unit.

We tried to reason with her and explain the error of her thinking. To no avail.

"I can't do it," she said, employing one of her most-used expressions. She could only get in bed on the left side, and that's how she did it always, she repeated, incorrectly.

This phenomenon was strange. But it was no stranger than most of her many other oddities and habits. We shrugged and obliged her for a few nights, bringing her to the left side even though it's much more difficult for us to navigate and assist her because of its close proximity to a dresser.

And we continued to try to convince her, without success. Didn't she remember how she got into bed while at Jennings? Always from the right.

"Oh, no," she said, "I can't do it. I always get in the bed from this side," meaning the left side.

And so it went.

I marveled. How or why couldn't she discern her left from her right? And why did it make such a big difference to her which side she got in from -- when clearly and empirically it didn't matter in the slightest, other than in her head?

With a little time and tough love, we managed over the course of a few more nights to get her reacquainted with the right side. She insisted it was the wrong way to do it, but after a few days' resistance, she accepted the change. And now, she would swear she never got in bed from the left side, nor could she ever.

Then came Friday night. On the way home from a rare night out (thanks to Morris for taking another turn at Bandar-sitting) Sophie presented me with an idea: Let's see if we can put her mom to bed from the left side again. What would Bandar do?

Okay, it's not a purely evil idea, and that's good. But it is mischievous, and just enough so to have some fun to test how well we know Sophie's mom. Mostly harmless, too, in the great scheme of things. So long as we were kind in our execution.

As we continued home, considering how things might go, we both laughed, knowing the highly probable outcome of this experiment. And we agreed to undertake the test. At once.

When we arrived home, thanked and relieved Morris and got Bandar wheeled into my former bedroom, I feigned needing to find something from the magazine basket, which sits to the right of the nightstand that sits to the right of the bed. I pulled the basket out onto the floor just next to the bed, pretending to search for a certain magazine while mama watched intently.

"Ma, you'll have to get in bed on the other side tonight," Sophie said, referring to the left side. "Steve is looking for something."

"Oh, no! I can't do it," Bandar said. "I can't do it. I have to get in the bed from this side."

Not wanting to distress the woman, I picked up the basket quickly and agreed to sacrifice whatever I was doing for Bandar's benefit. Satisfied, she got into bed from her "normal" side. We kissed and said our goodnights.

We can never underestimate the importance of ritual and consistency in our lives, particularly as we grow older. Even when those rituals lack obvious sense or meaning to others, they may represent something very important to us for reasons only we may know, and quite possibly for reasons even we don't understand.

Sometimes living in the familiar just brings us comfort, helping us to make sense of a moment in time when so many other things in life fail to explain themselves adequately.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
The image above is from a performance-art-dance we saw during our night on the town Friday, Sept. 25. We attended the Bridge Project, on the second level of the Detroit Superior Bridge.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely story. More photos from the Bridge Project at Click the first photo.

    This story reminded me of my grandmother. Once she was convinced that my parents next door neighbors had moved out for many weeks. Insisting they had moved everything out and had moved away. Until one day, my mother walked her over to the neighbors house to show her they were still there.

    AS they were walking down the sidewalk and the reality confronted her she said to my mom, "When did they move back in?"