Monday, January 17, 2011

Double-standard

In honor of MLK's birthday, Grampie and I celebrated by going to the neurologist together.  Yep, that's right, we share a neurologist, and in an effort to make my life easier, the clinic makes our appointments back-to-back.  Because this neurologic clinic is in the next county, once a month or so, Grampie and I make the drive down together, then he sits in the waiting room, nodding off while I talk to the doctor about all things nerve/ nerve-pain my body (and I'm not talking about stress--that's a different kind of doctor altogether).  Once we've finished with my appointment, I go rouse Grampie, bring him back to the same room and the good doctor puts Grampie through a 30 question/task test, to gauge how the dementia is progressing, and whether the meds are slowing that progression.  It's the same questions every time, but oddly the same things don't trip him up each time.  Last month he couldn't draw the two interlocking octagons, and was so upset about it he told the doctor about it today.  Today, he said the date was 1972, inexplicably.  A very good year, to be sure, but what was he thinking about?  And he absolutely couldn't pull up 'doctor's office' or 'clinic' to save his life, though he could subtract 7 from 100, at least three times.  Steve (who went with us today) and I were both impressed with that.  We thought math was long gone.

But then he said to me, "I'd like to sit in on your appointment to see how you do."  At the time I didn't think of it, but later it hit me hard.  He thinks that I'm sitting in that room doing those very same tests.  He thinks that we are going to Dr. Morris for the same reason.  I know he once knew otherwise, but he no longer remembers, so now he thinks I'm merely trying to hide it from him.  Hide my own test and results, while sitting through his, talking about him, tattling on him (from his point of view).  And...his old man/little boy brain reasons only so well.  That is, it tells him that I'm not playing fairly, but I have all the power now, so he can't do anything about it.

The whole thing was like a magnifying glass on our relationship and how it's changed. The power has shifted from Grampie and Thyrza to their kids.  We're always telling them what they can and can't do and why. They love to take us out to eat--to be the parents--but their math skills, i-yi-yi! When they first moved here and took us out to eat, we often looked over their shoulders as they tried to figure out the tip. Often Beve left extra money on the table to make up for their stinginess.  Then we began grabbing the meal-check from their hands and calculating the gratuity for them.  They didn't raise a fuss or argue.  Nor did Grampie argue when I told him my appointment was private but his wasn't.  He just went along, because...well, what choice does he have? 

But it's a double standard. Isn't it? All my rights intact, and none of his left at all? 

I think it's appropriate to be thinking of double-standards on this day of all days, when we celebrate a man who bled hope that our country would be free of them those caused by race, especially.  I confess that I have lived all but the tiniest fraction of my life as a member of the 'majority' race, if that's the opposite of minority.  It was only when I spent two months in India that my race made me a minority, and my gender made me a target for very inappropriate public behavior by the opposite sex.  It was demeaning, sickening and the closest I've ever gotten to understanding what it must feel like to have lived in a different time in a different place, in different skin.  There was a double-standard for how white women could be treated and how Indian women should be treated.  White women were viewed as loose and 'asking for it,' simply by virtue of dress and skin color.  I hated it.  I hated feeling impotent to do anything about it--about the most basic thing about myself--my skin.  I was what I was, and that made me a target.

But that was a mere two months.  It changed me, though.  Made me re-think what I'd always thought was perhaps a little too much whining and complaining.  I didn't understand double-standards.  I hadn't really faced them.  There's been too much privilege in my life for that.  But the one thing that will creep up on me (besides my gender, and my middle sister would really hate it if I didn't at least mention that I get that there's a double-standard there too), is age.  Sooner or later, unless that proverbial bus hits me, I will be at the mercy of my kids or someone else's (if mine bail as they tease me that they will), and they will have all the power.  In fact, perhaps if there's an arc of power in a person's life, I've already begun the downward slope.

So...I abdicate.  Right now.  Today.  I give up. I won't hold it over Grampie, who can nod off in that examining room while I'm talking to the doctor as easily as he can in the waiting room.  And why shouldn't he?  Then he can see that there's nothing every exciting going on behind that closed door. Mostly he'll be disappointed that I don't have to remember what year, season, month, date, day of the week it is, nor what--blast it, what is it?!!!--county we're in in that doctor's office.  Or remember those three words (football, boy, tiger were today's--he remembered one, and 50 bonus points if you guess which one he remembered!).  And perhaps that will give him back a sense that we're in this together...even if he doesn't remember it by the time we get home.

Like Thyrza, whom I told all about Grampie's appointment, then, as I walked out of the room to write his next appointment on the calendar, asked her husband, "How did your appointment go?"  He didn't answer.  "I just told you," I told her.  "You did not,"  she said, quite indignantly.  "You just got here.  When could you have told me?"  Wow, I told Beve later, that's five minutes I'll never have again...but maybe I never had it at all.  Hmm, if there are three people in a room and the two with dementia are sure something didn't happen, how can the third be sure that thing really happened?  Sigh.  I just gave up and told her the whole thing over again.

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