Monday, January 21, 2013

On aging

My honest opinion: don't do it.  

Poh Poh (the Big Yam's Tai Poh) got a spot in a nursing home this past week and was moved into her new digs on Wednesday.  We went to visit her on Sunday evening with my mum.  

The good: the facility is a Chinese one, is close to my mum's house, and is a newer building so everything looks fresher and cleaner and brighter than some of the other, sadder places I've seen (like that one on the corner of Dufferin and Bloor).
The bad: it's a nursing home, people.  They suck, any way you cut it.

The staff were all really sweet.  I think something about the Chinese filial-piety, veneration of the elderly thing means that there's inherently more respect and care for the elderly, but maybe I'm projecting.  I will say that I'd be very surprised if the staff that I met were capable of elder abuse, whereas that hasn't been the case of other retirement residences/nursing homes I've come across.  My Poh Poh's Alzheimer's means that she's on a floor that has restricted access - to prevent people from wandering off and strangers from getting in.  

There's nothing to say - it's grim, but in order to assuage my mum's guilt over having to put my Poh Poh in there, I will say that the grimness is inherent to the generalized process of getting so old/incapacitated that you can no longer care for yourself/be cared for by loved ones who have external full-time responsibilities, and nothing to do with the facility.  We arrived at meal-time and all the residents on that floor eat together at one time, grouped at tables.  The food smelled pretty good.  I think another thing about the specificity of Chinese-run facilities is that (as far as I know), the specific Chinese foods they're serving have to be made fresh and can't necessarily be delivered in powdered form from a Serca or Beaver Foods truck.  

She has a private room that overlooks the courtyard and features utilitarian, hospital-issue furniture with her own bathroom.  It's all pretty institutional-looking but there are activities to do every day (like karaoke - Dotytron: "I have a feeling that particular session is pretty hilare," and cooking classes and gardening) and this is only her first week there.  

The Big Yam, bless his little geriatric-loving heart, was in high spirits.  He's been talking about "maybe see Tai Poh" for the last few weeks and when we picked up my mum to go, he said to my mum, "Go see Tai Poh's new house" and my mum (who is hearing impaired), said, "we're going to see Tai Poh's new home" and the Big Yam replied matter-of-factly, "yes" (more correctly, it sounds like "yesth" with his lisp).  It's pretty cute watching him and my mum interact because they frequently have parallel conversations about the same thing entirely in short, observational sentences with an economy of language.  He was SO HAPPY to see his Tai Poh and of course, the other residents on my Poh Poh's floor (the ones who were more aware of their surroundings) loved him.  

This one old guy was like, "he's grown so much!" (I've never met him before in my life) and kept giving the Big Yam an enthusiastic thumbs-up and big, toothless, gummy grins.  When we went around the corner, the Big Yam pulled on my hand wanting to see "Gung Gung again" (Gung Gung being a general, respectful designation for an older man.)  

It relieved a lot of the internal pangs to see the Big Yam in that environment.  First of all, it made my Poh Poh so happy.  Second of all, it helped make some of the other residents happy.  Third of all, he's at the perfect age where he's so blissfully unaware of his surroundings that he can interact with her without being aware in the slightest that she's not 100% herself.  I'm not going to lie: it was emotionally really hard for me and the Dotytron (and my mum too, I'm sure).  An old woman in a wheelchair was periodically shouting a nonsense refrain from her room, at nothing.  It is a strange hinterland that people with Alzheimers and similar degenerative brain conditions occupy and it hurts you, as the outside observer because of their liminality - my Poh Poh is at once lucid and aware enough of her own surroundings to know she's not at home, and yet, not so aware or unaware that she can either continue to live with my parents or fail to care about her immediate environment (assuming that any level of brain degeneration results in enough loss of sentience that one can reach the point of not caring at all, on any level).  

I try to take comfort in the fact that the Big Yam and my Poh Poh have such a special bond and such a special relationship, but it is a bond that makes us unbelievably happy and sad at the same time.  Because he won't be able to understand when she's gone.  Because he's so young that he won't be able to remember how they were best buds.  Because life is inevitably about losing people you love and being lost in turn.  

It's an old chestnut, but a true one: every day, is a getting closer, going faster than a roller coaster.  The amount of things that have happened in the past 5 years, both good and bad, is staggering.  I blink and I find myself married, with a home, a kid, and down 4 grandparents, and a father-in-law.  I don't know how we're supposed to manage it, and by "it" I mean "life."  

I'm in a melancholy mood.  I re-read The Fault In Our Stars because I picked it for our book club next Wednesday and I wanted to refresh my memory.  The season doesn't help.  Reading about mortality and love and what it means to live and die doesn't particularly help.  That book is SO GOOD.  So good, but not really doing much to dispel the glumness of my latest trifecta of read books.

The Mansion of Happiness is a collection of Jill Lepore's essays on life and death (as the cover says).  The essays are loosely related, but generally use one illustrative example (like, the board game from which the book derives it's title) to use as an aperture into how American views on life and death have changed over the past 150 years.  The essays can be a little disjointed from one another, but I particularly found the ones on birth control and the right to life movement fascinating, as well as the ones that detail the regrettable perversion of Darwin's theory of evolution into social Darwinism and the subjugation of certain races and classes of people.  The first essay is a bit of a slog, but after that, I found the rest of them quick going, with a lot of interesting factual nuggets and a feminist slant.

Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers earned it's Pulitzer Prize like whoa.  This is investigative, immersive non-fiction that lies at the junction between anthropology, sociology, and Dickens.  Detailing the lives of select residents of Annawadi, a slum that lies at the edge of the Mumbai International Airport, bordered by luxury hotels, over the course of 4 years.  This is a ground-level study of global capitalism and the seemingly insurmountable division between the ruling classes in a booming metropolis of the new millennium, and the shifting underclass that lives on the margins, endlessly searching for openings to grab a foothold on stability and to rise up from poverty.  The book is descriptive - there is little editorializing from Boo on the widespread corruption, hope, despair, and capriciousness that make up the stories of the Annawadi residents.  This is globalisation and it is capitalism in all its raw, unfettered glory.  Where there are opportunities for upward mobility but where these opportunities are dependent as much on luck and fate as hard work and skill.  Here are the clashes between old beliefs and new, between traditional gender roles and a new world for educated women, where Muslims and Hindus are forced to live side-by-side, where caste still matters even as the city churns itself towards a newly imagined, democratic future-self.  I can't say enough good things about this book.  It is staggering in its scope and execution.  The questions that Katherine Boo asked to land in Annawadi are central to anyone hoping to understand the realities of unfettered capitalism outside of the North American context.  

Katherine Boo is so damned smart.  This is her quote from the afterword of the book: "It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in under-cities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people ARE good, and that many people try to be...

See?  Smart.  That quote and the experiences of the people in this book also made me re-think some of the unquestioned, institutionalised racism towards First Nations in Canada  that I had unconsciously been allowing to color my views of the "Idle No More" movement that's been happening.  I needed that kind of re-alignment and re-assessment of my unconscious biases and I'm glad that this book kick-started it.

The rest of the weekend was busy.  Chinese school, grocery shopping, visiting our friends R & R and seeing their new little baby M, who slumbered away in my arms like a quiet little sack of teeny tiny (fingerling) potatoes.  We started watching Homeland, which I enjoy 150% more than Deadwood, if only because it provides lots of opportunities to see Claire Danes do her signature-Claire-Danes ugly cry.  It also provides lots of chances to crack up any time someone says the name "Abu Nazir" with intense solemnity.  It's super-far-fetched but I find it way more engaging than Deadwood.

On Friday I made us homemade Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supremes.  These were AWESOME.    I based it off this recipe, which is less a recipe and more of a wake-up call to spark the thought that OH MY GOD, OF COURSE I CAN MAKE THESE AT HOME.  Very filling, but very delicious.  I made my life easier by pressing them in the panini press and also crunching up the tostadas into big pieces, which made folding the (whole wheat) tortillas around the filling much easier.  Big hit:

Sunday we went for all you can eat hot pot with my mum, after R & R stuffed us with a million Babu treats (fish patties and samosas).  The Big Yam seriously ate at least 4-5 different treats (which Babu charmingly calls "Shorteats") and the patties were SPICY!  He kept reaching for another one after I tried to cut him off.  He's a total Tamil Tiger.  Consequently, he was ruined for any food at hot pot.

Tonight we had tuna noodle casserole with my patented buttered challah cube topping, alongside green beans and brussels sprouts.

And that bring us to the end of this lengthy post.

Remember: don't get old (but also don't die young - you can see the bind you're in).


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