A mother’s place is in the wrong

Here’s something I wrote back in 2010 before I properly understood my son’s executive function difficulties.

Our Town, June 2010

Dear Stan,

It’s a few minutes before midnight as I begin this letter of love to you, at the end of a very busy day.

Earlier this evening you shed tears of disappointment as we walked back to the car after the great Our Town Scout Jamboree. All the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts were gathered for a games night: tug of war, hide and seek, the bucket filling race, and toasting marshmallows on the campfire. You were awarded the Chief Scout’s Silver Award – the highest badge available in Cubs – and formally passed from Cubs to Scouts.

cub_challenge_badgeBut still you cried, even though you have never been a cry baby. Why?

Because you did not receive the ‘Scottish Challenge Badge’.

And you blamed me.

When you were younger, you used to resist doing your reading homework, using every dodge, trick, displacement activity you could think of, and you had many, many tantrums about it. Later on, in P5, your homework refusal transferred itself to maths. Luckily for you, you hardly ever got maths homework in P6, but when you did my heart sank as it was always a horrible scene.

One evening a few months ago, you had maths homework, but wouldn’t do it. Work that should have taken 20 minutes took over an hour, and most of what you did was incorrect. By the time the maths homework was finally finished it was nearly 7.30 and you had missed an hour of Cubs. As the Cubs meeting finished at 8 pm, I said you couldn’t go at all, thinking that missing something you enjoyed would be a good lesson to encourage you to get your homework done in future.

Well, it turns out that three activities counting towards the Scottish Challenge badge were done that evening at Cubs, and it all came home to roost tonight when you saw other boys get that badge and you didn’t. You cried bitter tears, you couldn’t keep them in, as we walked back to the car after the meeting broke up. You said it was my fault you didn’t get the badge because I had made you miss that Cubs meeting. I could tell you remembered that evening even more clearly than I did.

I tried to gently reason with you that if you’d done the work quicker you wouldn’t have missed the Cubs meeting. You said I had made you do extra sums as well as the homework, and perhaps I did to try to reinforce what you’d been getting wrong. I reminded you that you’d had a dreadful tantrum and refused to do the homework. You said, “Of course I had a tantrum, because you were hitting me.”

I did hit you. Smack you. I did lose my temper. Although it was after I spent a very long time and a lot of emotional energy trying to get you to do a few little sums on a worksheet. It was after you were in a full blown oppositional-defiant tantrum, and I had used up all my resources, not before.

I’m sorry I hit you, I’m sorry I lost my temper. Those things are my fault and I am to blame. I am responsible for my behaviour.

I’m sorry you are sad about the Scottish Challenge badge. But is it my fault you missed out on it? It was a consequence of a chain of events that began with you refusing to quickly do a little bit of maths homework. When will you be responsible for your choices?

But I feel awful and am crying as I type this.

I love you more than I love my own life and I always will.

Mum x

Thursday is my day off – it’s when I get to go to work

I don’t know how typical this is for carers, but going to work is as good as a holiday for me.

For a few years now, my elderly mother has gone to a ‘lunch club’ on Thursdays. She gets picked up by a volunteer driver at around 10 am, has social time at the club followed by lunch at noon and is taken home again at 2.45. I’ve come to cherish it as my ‘day off’ because it’s the day Mum doesn’t call me in the morning wanting me to go and keep her company or take her out on some errand.

Except that in the last few months Thursdays seem to have acquired a podiatry appointment before lunch club and a hairdresser appointment after lunch club, meaning that my ‘day’ is actually just five hours from 10-3 because both of these activities require me to drive her.

Her vascular dementia is worsening at quite a pace in recent months, and she is now often confused in the mornings, although often by mid-afternoon she is completely lucid. So this morning – a Thursday – she left a message on my answering machine while I was in the shower, sounding befuddled and saying she didn’t know what to do today. There was also a text message from my brother to say she had called him but he was at the dentist. So, I called her back and had an impossible conversation with her like this:

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Your’re going to lunch club today; a driver will pick you up as usual.”

“But I don’t know where I’m going.”

“It’s OK, the driver will take you.”

“But I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.”

“You go to lunch club; it’s Thursday, and someone will take you, as usual.”

After several minutes of this, I said I was going to say goodbye and hang up. Then she said she didn’t feel well enough to go to lunch club. And this is what makes caring for her so hard. I don’t think she does it consciously, as a planned strategy, but she always manages to construct a scenario in which I am supposed to say ‘OK, I’ll come down and spend the day with you.’

But I have a life, too. And on Thursdays I usually do my own free-lance work.

So, I hardened my heart and said, “Well, see how you feel when the driver arrives. I’m working today, so I’ll talk to you tonight. It’s now 1.45 pm and I haven’t heard from either Mum or the lunch club leader, so I guess she must have gone…