Sad to say, I have not posted in over a month and so I thought I would catch everyone up. Almost five-year-old B is in a real smooth groove–there are not too many surprises with him–so most of this will concern 21mo G who is at the age where things change from week to week.
February started off rough, maybe not for him but definitely for me and Mama. Out of nowhere, he started calling us “poophead,” then that gravitated to “doodoohead,” and then crested with “butthead.” All the names were funny at first, but then it grew tiresome being called “doodoohead daddy,” and admittedly it stung at times. There was real intent behind it.
Whenever he got mad at anyone for anything he would turn to me and say, “butthead daddy”! Most of the time, I shook it off, but then there were moments when I was stressed out or in a bad mood and he would like me right in the eyes with tears or rage in his and sling one of these feces-related epithets at me. “Why am I a butthead?” I’d usually respond, but occasionally I could not help myself and responded accordingly. “No, you’re a butthead.” Not one of my best moments, but…
Fortunately, he seemed to tire of the name-calling, and as February rolled into March, I thought we were out of the woods. Would March bring us a kinder, gentler G? Yesterday shattered that notion. Last night, as his mother pulled him out of the bathtub, I sat at the doorway to the bathroom. She wrapped him in a towel and began to dry him off when he looked at Mama and then me and uttered the words “terrible daddy.”
It was like a gut punch. Not merely a dirty name, this was really descriptive. I laughed but in disbelief and repeated it to myself all night. Even writing about it now pricks a bit. “Terrible daddy.” Really? I’m scared to think about what’s coming next.
When I was a senior in high school I had a brother who was the same age as my oldest son is now–four. This brother had the habit of always leaving the dinner table to go poop and about five minutes later we’d all hear “I’m done” ring out from the bathroom. I’d always chuckle as one of my younger siblings trudged down the hall to wipe his butt (I never had to as I was the oldest of four brothers and sisters.)
Now, all these years later, at least once a day and usually on my watch, four-year-old B suddenly announces that he has to poop, often with the warning that “it’s about to shoot out.” I help get his pants down and him up on the pot and then a few minutes later the familiar phrase, “I’m done!” I head back into the bathroom and nose held perform the not so pleasant task of wiping my son’s dirty butt.
Two or three years from now baby G will be potty trained and doing the same thing but by then B will be the one on wiping duty. But no longer will I chuckle as I did some 20 years ago. Now it will be just a sigh of relief that I’m not the one performing that unseemly task.
As summer came along, Granddad’s health worsened. Most significantly, he lost control of his bowels and was going to the bathroom on himself an average of three times a day–sometimes in an adult diaper, but even then it got everywhere. Despite all the humiliations increased old age had brought to him I could tell this latest development hurt–it certainly explained his deteriorating mood.
One July afternoon I noticed that the two old men were missing for some time so I walked back to their bathroom to see my grandfather standing in front of his toilet, holding his shirt up. He had no pants on and Paul was wiping his butt off. “Did Granddad go on himself again,” I said, asking an obvious question. “Yeah, but we’re getting him cleaned up,” Paul replied. “I apologize,” Granddad said.
Only in recent weeks had my great uncle begun to help with Granddad’s care. As a “caregiver” and someone in need of care, Paul was a bridge between granddad and myself. “If I’d known I was gonna live this long I would have taken better care of myself,” he would always say. At 74 then, Paul was a bit long in the tooth but all in all in decent shape. Of course, his mind was not as preserved and that presented its own problems.
Another afternoon in July I returned home from a trip outside our closed-in world and upon walking in the door found Paul in his recliner but Granddad absent. “Where’s the old man,” I asked. “Back there,” he said. I guess I knew already. I dropped my stuff in my room and ventured back to theirs. The door to the bathroom was open about a foot but the light was off. As I approached I could see movement in the dark and pushing the door open saw Granddad with his pants partially down, fiddling with his adult diaper. He had another movement and seemed befuddled. “Granddad, we gotta get your clothes off, buddy,” I said, and proceeded to undress his lower half. Then it was time to wipe him off. “Granddad,” I said with a sense of emphatic urgency. “You’ve got to go to the bathroom in the toilet.” He replied instantly, “I know how to do that.”
Paul and I tried to cope but it was hard—being Granddad’s caregiver was wearing us both down. Only twenty-four hours later, I walked in the front door to find Paul flustered, a diaper in his hand. “He did it again,” he said. Just then Granddad sauntered in with only a shirt and socks on. “You having fun doing that,” I said, prodding him, and he lashed back. “Does it look like I’m laughing?”
If that was a typical day, the rest of a week could provide exceptions to the general mundane rhythm. Just a few days later, Granddad lost his wallet. The whole time we lived together, he was obsessed with his leather fold-up billfold which he routinely yanked out and opened, fiddled with, sometimes pulling out his pictures or insurance cards. He was worried about his money and constantly said he had none. On this day, though, he had merely put the billfold aside somewhere when undressing to take his afternoon shower. Cleaned up and clothes changed, he could not find it anywhere and was somewhat frantic, at least for Granddad, displaying a determination rarely seen. He was in my room rifling through a stack of clothes, then in the laundry room going through his pants in the washer, then back to his room.
I was his companion in this mad pursuit. “Granddad, why don’t you just sit down,” I pleaded. “It’s gotta be in here somewhere. It’ll turn up.” My words fell flat as he headed back to his room. We sifted through a pile of clothes in his room. Not there. I went into the bathroom and opened the counter drawers. Then I heard a bang and turned to see Granddad trying to walk into the mirrored door of his closet. He had mistaken the reflection of the bathroom door for the actual passageway. He pushed his knuckles against it as I grabbed him by the backs of his arms and led him back into his room and returned to the bathroom in the search. Then I heard him say something and looked up. He was holding his wallet; it was on a shelf under the bill of a baseball cap. “Right where you left it,” I chided. He nodded and spoke: “Like a damned old man.”
The next night, my brother Joel came over to watch Granddad while I took Paul for a drink at a local bar. Previous to the move, Paul was a member of the Elks Lodge for twenty years and barring the odd day, he could be found there in his customary seat at the counter for two hours every afternoon, swigging “lite” beer and joking with his drunk buddies. The move had smashed this rhythm and while he seemed to enjoy the break for a few months in recent weeks he had begged me to take him out.
Ensconced on our bar stools, Paul and I guzzled a pitcher of beer and stared at the TV screen. Alzheimer’s affects different people differently, in Paul’s case it had wiped out his ability to form short-term memories. As a result, he was unlikely to remember the story he told five minutes previously, or once a day for the last year. So to sit with my great-uncle at a bar was to undergo the life of Paul, whether it was a tale of his days at Caterpillar or a remembrance of his favorite football coach, Alabama’s Bear Bryant. As he recounted, I drank and nodded. I knew about the time Paul’s supervisor got him a better job or when Bryant kicked Joe Namath in the butt for not hustling, but I sat listening anyway, my thoughts wafting along the tops of the bar-taps and the TV overhead. An hour later, and a few more mugs, we stumbled out into the bright light and headed home.
The next morning, Paul woke to find Granddad wide-eyed but in bed. When asked if he was going to get up my grandfather somberly replied, “I’m gonna lay in bed until I die.” Paul whispered as he told me this story later that morning. Granddad sat nearby, gobbling the bacon and eggs (taking care to sop up the runny yoke with his buttered toast)—his favorite meal—I fixed him most Sundays.
Later in the afternoon, the three of us sat in silence watching Tiger Woods win a golf tournament when Granddad interrupted. “You two can go out if you want to. Don’t wait here on account of me.” I just looked at him, and Paul laughed absent mindedly. “I’m on my way out of this world.” I stood up and put my hand on his shoulder. “Why are you so sad today,” I asked. He looked up into my eyes. “I’m a day older,” he said.
Almost as soon as I tweeted this, B announced that he had to poop. We were at a park with a bathroom about 70 yards away and I tried to steer him there, but we made it a mere fifteen feet before a nugget dropped out his shorts leg and onto the sidewalk. “No, no, no, you gotta hold it,” I urged him while he screamed that it was coming. Still, I exhorted him to keep going, like a football coach running alongside his running back, only 50 yards to go.
I lugged G in his car seat, and B tried to keep up, stilt-legged, but managed to make it to the toilet where I tore off his shorts and he set about his business. I looked over at G who was wide awake, then at B’s shorts smudged brown in the seat. I tried to clean them with some wet toilet paper but accomplished little, so after wiping B’s butt I put them back on, took off his shoes and shirt, and directed him to the spray ground to put his bottom over the water jets.
Thankfully, he complied. I put G under a shady tree, grabbed a stick, and went over to B’s earlier deposit and flicked it in the grass. Sleep disrupted, peace demolished, but crisis averted … sort of.