Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Having your parents living with you and your family can be very frustrating at times in ways that may surprise you.  For instance, both of my parents were always quite  fastidious and tidy people when I was growing up. Which was not unusual for that generation.  Even pictures of lower income families in the 30s, 40s and 50s showed people in their Sunday best at a ballgame or going to the movies. That was the way it was.  I never saw my father wear anything but business suits or business casual clothing.  He was well-groomed and slept in pajamas and always wore a robe over them.  It would be unthinkable for him to lounge around the house in boxer shorts or to go out in public without a shirt, even on the hottest day of the summer.  Have you ever seen  Mr.Cleaver in "Leave it to Beaver" when he mowed the lawn wearing long pants and a tie?  My dad did that!!!   Or he would wear khaki pants with a pull-over shirt tucked in neatly.  I never saw my father in a pair of shorts or athletic shoes until the late '70's.  And I have never seen him in a pair of blue jeans.  I grew up believing this man could walk on water, well, at least until I was a rebellious teenager!
My mother was also quite concerned about her appearance, except in her case it was because she cared about what other people thought and therefore would never be seen leaving the house imperfectly coiffed or sans make-up or (gasp) wearing pants!   My mother wore a skirt or dress every day.  With heals.  And usually pearls.  You know...June Cleaver?  (See, the thing about those old shows was that they weren't the exception, they were the rule.  But we laugh watching them thinking "what were the writers thinking?"  When, in fact, they were probably writing about themselves!)   I got my mom to put on some painters' pants once when we were in St. Augustine on vacation one year when I was a teenager.  She actually wore them outside!   I was thrilled on several levels.
One, she was in pants.
Two, she was in public.
Three, we were the same size!  (I mean, that was pretty cool!  I was a typical thin person in 1974 which meant she was, too and she had just turned 49 that year!)
And four, she was downright cute in those painters' pants and it was like passing a milestone.  I had visions of the two of us dressing alike and having people wondering who was the daughter and who was the mother?  And then... reality hit.  The next day she was back in her skirt for the remainder of the trip.  She remembers that day in pants as the day she lost her mind, or something like it.  She would say that pants were too confining and never considered wearing them again.

So after my parents moved in three years ago, we realized there was a new reality.of existence for them that we weren't aware of in terms of their habits.  When you go to visit someone or they come to visit you, time is usually short and therefore you don't notice little things that people do.  Once you marry or move in together or become roommates, little habits become more prominent and then frustrating and then, downright annoying. It quickly became apparent that sometime between my leaving home at 18 and moving my parents here 3 years ago, my parents have become, well, gross. They rarely shower when it used to be every day.  My mother brushes her teeth with water because according to her dentist in Ohio, it's the brushing that matters not the toothpaste!  Gross.  She also began the habit of using a bucket next to her bed for nighttime urinary eliminations.  Now, you might think, "oh, she had trouble walking to the bathroom".  No.   In the old house the bathroom was right next to her bedroom and the use of the bucket, I believe, began out of laziness sometime in the last 6 years.  When she moved here I admonished her about the "pee-bucket" habit and she scoffed and waved me off saying she wasn't doing that anymore.  I have come to realize in the last 3 years just how naive and gullible I can be.   I believed my mother when she said that the pee-bucket was gone. And then I found it.  I was in their bedroom vacuuming and I kept getting a whiff of something really unpleasant.  I thought it spelled like urine, but that didn't make sense because I was no where near the master bathroom   I opened a drawer in my mother's childhood antique desk and there was my mother's ceramic ice tea pitcher!  "Well, that makes no sense", I was thinking to myself as I picked it up just in time to see the yellow droplets inside and realizing that that was indeed where the smell was coming from!  To make matters worse, she had taken her brand-new bed jacket I had given to her and was using it as a decoy!  As if laying it on top of the pitcher would keep anyone from finding out her secret.  Gross and ewww!.  Another lovely habit of theirs was to use washcloths like sani-wipes instead of bathing and then lay them out on the towel rack to dry.  I walked into their bathroom one day and discovered the brown tinged rags all over the bathroom as well as, used underwear.  The smell just about made me pass out.  Double gross and double ewww!  So I had to come up with a system to accommodate their need to clean without creating a health hazard.  I set a bucket in the garden tub with bleach water and told them to put the cloths in it.  That way I could keep the bathroom from stinking and sanitize the cloths before washing.  The system has worked quite well with only one adjustment.  I had to place a plastic flower planter in the bucket so that when I need to empty it I won't have to touch the wet cloths or wear a hazmat suit just to retrieve them.  I just lift the planter out and allow it to drain then transfer the cloths to another bucket in order to wash them.
Another surprising habit  was their practice of using tainted tissues or handkerchiefs as a way to wipe up spills!  We also became aware of their lack of hand washing after using the toilet.  We realized that it meant we had no choice but to wipe down every surface they touch with Lysol wipes.  Tables, chairs, counter tops, cabinets, knobs, door handles, door knobs and banisters!  There are executives at Lysol who go on expensive vacations thanks to us!  We literally buy wipes by the case!  My daughter even uses them to wipe down the car if they had been in it!  Luckily,  none of us have been hospitalized with Ebola, e coli, or hepatitis!  There are days that I wonder who are these people?  And what have they done with the people who raised me to be conscientious about cleanliness?
But the answer to all this, I have come to learn, is that yes, these are the same people, but they forget things even things as simple as hand washing.  It isn't on purpose anymore than when a child forgets.  They aren't children, but unfortunately they behave that way.  For their own safety, caregivers must remind them, with love, to wash their hands.  You become the parent to elderly children and it is embarrassing, but to ignore these and other bad habits puts them and your family at risk.

The other side  of this is how they let themselves "go" in terms of dressing.  My father puts on an outfit and stays in it until the next shower, which is usually 2-3 times a month.  He sleeps in an outfit, too.  Even his jacket or tweed coat. The only other way he changes sooner is when he has bowel accidents, but that's another story!   My mother lives in her nightgown most days, but when she does dress in street clothes, she'll put on a short sleeve top with her khaki skirt, any time of the year!. She complains about being cold all the time.  I'd tell her to put on something warmer like leg warmers and sweaters, but she would refuse.  She won't wear pants because she says they are too restrictive, but earlier this year I actually got her into a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt!  They are baggy which I think is why she acquiesced to putting them on.  Of course it took a lot of cajoling to get her in them, but once she got them on and felt warm, she was sold.  Being warm is a paramount issue to someone their age.  So being warm always trumps fashion!

No comments: