Thursday, April 12, 2018

C'est pas tes oignons

by Giselle Renarde

When I was in kindergarten, the whole class had to line up single file by the door at the end of the day. Mlle Medina wouldn't release us into the care of our parents or picker-uppers until we'd neatly arranged ourselves in no particular order.

One day, I saw Grant bud in front of Nathan. I was not happy. You can't just cut in line like that. Nathan was there first! How dare you?

Even at the age of six, I was not one to let injustice go unnoticed. I went over to Grant and I was like, "I saw what you did! How dare you? Nathan should be in front of you!"

Mlle Medina came over to see what all the loudness was about. I explained the situation to her. She explained that it had nothing to do with me. C'est pas tes oignons, Giselle. I should take my place in line. Mind my own business.

My teacher wasn't mean about it. Not at all. I could tell that she was amused by my crusade to right the wrongs of the kindergarten line. This was the same teacher who told my mom not to worry too much about my... behaviour. Life would soften out the edges.

It hasn't.

I'm in trouble again.

With family, this time.

I just finished watching a very touching documentary called Much Too Young, about caregivers of parents with early-onset Alzheimer's and dementia. The thing that sets this film apart from others on the topic is that these caregivers are young men and women in their twenties, some in their teens. I could never have done what they're doing. Not at that age, not at this age, probably not at any age. I'm not a nurturer. I care, but I'm not caring.

But some of the sentiments they expressed resonated with me, especially early in the film before the various participants had met each other. They didn't know who to talk to about what they were experiencing. There were support groups for caregivers, sure, but not for people under 30. All the caregivers were the age of their parents. They felt very isolated.

I've been feeling that way too, when it comes to stuff with my grandmother. If you've been reading my posts over the years, you know that I've participated in her care. She does not have dementia. That's a big distinction. But she is legally blind, she's experiencing hearing loss, and her mobility isn't the best. Recently, she was hospitalized for 6 weeks with multiple infections that resulted in a whole lot of delirium.

She checked herself out of hospital prematurely. Realistically, she requires round the clock care. She can afford it, but she's too cheap to pay the money. A lot of people who grew up in the Depression era are like this. She wants to stay in her house. It's not safe for her to be living there anymore, but my grandmother is one hard-headed motherfucker. I'm allowed to trash-talk her because I AM her. We have exactly the same personality. We share the same faults. Anything negative I say about her, I would be more than willing to say about my self.

So how did I end up in hot water with my family?

Well, here's the thing about old people... they can be assholes. I have this on good authority. Every story I tell my girlfriend about the latest asshole thing my grandmother (whom I love very much) has done, she's like, "That's old people. That's what happens."

I sure as hell hope that by the time I'm in my late 80s, those suicide booths from Futurama will be a real thing, because God Almighty I don't ever want to turn into that. Does it really happen to everyone?

"Focus narrows," my girlfriend says. "Life becomes very narrow."

This is what I see in my grandmother now. It's not that she's necessarily a different person than she was before, it just seems like you're dealing with the worst possible version of her. Someone who takes everyone else's time and care for granted, someone who feels entitled to all this and more, someone who expects everyone to give give give even when they're already drained and never feels the need to say thank you.

Without getting into too much detail, it came to my attention that my grandmother had lied about a medical professional in order to manipulate a situation and achieve her own ends. My grandmother's actions led to serious repercussions for that medical professional.

I love my grandma, but no. Just no. You can't fuck with people's livelihoods like that. This is someone's job, someone's career, someone's pay cheque. Someone's life. I don't care how old you are and how much your focus has narrowed, you don't pull this shit.

My grandmother's already reeling from feeling that she's lost control of her life. She calls us "mean" and tells us we won't let her do what she wants to do, even though everything we do is what she wants. At times our entire lives are wrapped up in doing what she wants. So I went over her head with this one. I phoned the supervisor of the medical professional to tell them my grandmother had lied and here's what her motives were.

The supervisor was frankly quite relieved, because their whole organization was baffled about the accusation. It didn't make sense to anyone--didn't make sense because it wasn't true. I was told that an investigation was already underway, and I spoke to them less than 24 hours after the whole thing started.

Maybe I'll always be the same kid I was in kindergarten, but if I see someone doing wrong by another human (even if the wrongdoer is a relative and the wrong-done-by is a relative stranger), I need to speak up. You can love someone and not support their actions.

When I talked to that supervisor, I figured they'd tell me "Oh yes, your aunts have all called me to give me this information." I was very surprised that, even though the whole family knew about my grandmother's wrongdoing, nobody was willing to say it out loud, except to each other. I told my mom I'd made that phone call. She supported my decision but warned me not to tell my aunts.

Last week I let my guard down. I told one of my aunts I made the call. To my face, she was smiley and supportive, but my sister tells me that, behind my back, my aunts are all saying I should mind my own business.

These days, because anxiety has been an issue, I'm trying to reflect on potential repercussions before I get worked up. When my sister told me my aunts are mad at me, the first thing I did was laugh. Then I said, "What are they going to do? Punch me? Disown me?"

Most probable scenario is they'll keep talking about me behind my back and never say a word to my face.

You know what? I can handle that.


  1. We've been going through much of the same gut-wrenching issues with my MIL. She's in assisted living now, but trying to guilt someone, anyone of her 7 kids, to let her move in with them, or she insists she'll get her own place, even though she's unable to care for herself. Sigh...

    So yes, when folks get very old, they can be a real trial to deal with. The fact that your grandmother's actions were potentially hurting someone's career, and it was a lie, necessitated someone from the family biting the bullet and setting things right. The fact that none of her kids would do it is tragic. And the fact that you may lose closeness with your aunts because of it, is sad.

    I guess this fits in with the theme because you had to, de facto, become the family spokesperson to make things right because no one else cared to do it. The medical professional is lucky that you are a caring person, even if you're not a nurturer. We are not all the same, and just as we need some to be nurturers, because someone needs to do the shit-work and not complain (been there, done that, burned the tee shirt), someone has to take charge and do/say the unpleasant things when needed. Good for you!

    1. Thanks, Fiona. My grandma's been asking me to move in with her for over a decade. Ain't never gonna happen. She asked to move in with one of my aunts, but that was a no. She really needs to go into care. Who knows when/if that'll happen.

  2. When my father was still living at home, I know he would lie--at least by omission--to the visiting nurses. But I could tell by how fast he went through a box of super-sided bandaids that he'd had another fall, or at least a semi-fall that made him scrape his arm against a door frame. Now, after too many falls and some spells that may have been mini-strokes, plus other problems that are definitely Too Much Information, he's at an extended care facility just ten minutes from me. I give thanks day after day that he says he'll go along with whatever is easiest for me and for my brother, no matter how much he wishes he could have stayed in his house, and how appalled he is at how much the care facility costs. At 98 he's still declining, and may reach a point where he can't be rational about these things, but so far he says he trusts me to do the right thing for him. Which makes me feel guilty for not taking care of him by myself, but I see him almost every day, do his laundry every four days or so, bring him to my place for lunch at least one day a week and we all meet at my brother's house on Sundays, and so far he's accepting things as they are. Meanwhile I'm caring for another family member disabled by delayed-action Lyme Disease, and that's about all I can handle.

    I wonder if elderly women are more apt to be pigheaded about their situation than elderly men. The men, however much they may wish they could cling to their younger manhood, are often accustomed to seeing women as nurturers and accept their care.

    1. It sounds as though you've managed to find a really good compromise, that lets you still spend time with your dad without burdening you 24/7.

    2. IN the case of my MIL, the reason she resisted so long was that she was a homemaker in every sense of the word, not working outside of the home for most of her life. She'd scrub the walls until they shone, and you could eat off of her floors, they were so clean. She took pride in maintaining her home as a showcase to hard work. So now that she doesn't have any cleaning to do, she's bored.

      Me, I keep the kitchen clean. That's the sum total of the housework I do. Husband cleans the bathroom because he insists on it being clean, and my motto is: if it bothers you, then you're the one to clean it. I can't even remember the last time I vacuumed or dusted. Probably about 20 years ago.

      But as I tell my husband, he knew I wasn't "Suzy Homemaker" when he married me, and what he married me for, I'm still good at.

  3. I would have done the same thing as you, Giselle. It IS your business, in my opinion.

    Still, it's sad to see your grandmother becoming this selfish, self-absorbed caricature of herself. I agree with you, I never want to be that way. But I wonder... if it happens, will be recognize our own bitchiness and dishonesty?

    1. I wonder that also, Lisabet. I've told my daughter that when it's time to pry the steering wheel out of my aging, arthritic, shaking hands, she has my permission to buy me a kids' steering wheel, complete with a horn for me to toot, and to set it up on the passenger side of her car; she can tell me that it's a British car, so I'm driving from that side. And if she wants to get fancy, get me a fake gas pedal, because I've always enjoyed driving brake pedal needed. I'm only half-joking, because I want my kids to know that I've given them permission ahead of time, to correct my behavior if I ever get like that.

      I've told them all for years that if I start acting like my mom, they're to call me, "Emily," and hit me upside the head with a 2-by-4, because obviously a screw has slipped and needs adjusting. My mom was a worrier, who worried when there was nothing to worry about, because something must be going to happen soon to worry about, and she needed to get a jump-start on it right now.

  4. I hadn't heard that saying about the oignons, Giselle. However, I would say your intervention was justified when you were a child, and more justified lately, when your grandmother lied about a medical professional. Unfortunately, there's often no reward for good behaviour except a clear conscience.

  5. That's so tough, Giselle. My grandmother also changed a lot as she aged. Some of what she said and did was hurtful but some of it also gave me the idea that she was finally speaking up about things she'd been holding back her whole life. It's a mixed bag, like a lot else in life.

    FWIW I'm really glad you made that call, and I'm sure the employee who was affected by your grandmother's behavior is glad too. Hugs.


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