Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bedtime 101

It seems to me that an important childrearing tool has gone out the window since I was a young mother. I sound archaic even to myself for mentioning it but I have noticed that young parents today take their kids everywhere they go and that they are all tired. It's as though there is no such thing as a set bedtime anymore. Kids, even toddlers, get to go out, to restaurants, movies, even private cocktail parties. They stay up late, get overly-tired and fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, often after exhibiting inappropriate behaviour, rather than when their parents tell them to. It makes everyone involved cranky.
I understand that the dynamics of a working couple have changed the way kids are brought up. When are you going to have quality time with your kids if not after hours? And I can also totally appreciate how tempting it is to bring your little darling along when socializing. But past a certain age, a sleep deprived child who comes to believe that the world has no limitations is not a pleasant thing for the rest of us.
Anyone who knew me as a child will tell you that I used to create mayhem on a daily basis. My poor cousin, my main partner in crime back then, was often in trouble thanks to me. Not only did  I get us into countless scrapes, I would embelish scenarios which just sort of popped into my head as I went along, often leaving him to clean up our messes because I was already on the next adventure. But our mayehm had a schedule.
Like most kids of that era, we had basic rules to obey which included, among other things,  not leaving our garden without permission. This was in the days when, outside of school hours, children were expected to entertain themselves and to go and play outside right after breakfast with orders to stay out until they were called in for lunch. Except for bathroom breaks it was best if you did not show your face before being called or you were likely to be given a mundane task to perform, like having to set the table or peeling potatoes. Barring bad weather we much preferred being banished to the garden.
What our hours of freedom taught us was invaluable. We learned how to fend for ourselves, how to problem-solve, and how to let our imaginations run wild. We  learned to rely on ourselves and on one another, thus becoming capable later on of facing the world with a healthy dose of self-confidence.
We also absorbed quickly that certain punishments were not worth the crime, thus showing us concretely that all acts have a consequence and that we are all responsible for any action we choose to take, even at the age of six.
Whatever adventure the day held, when we came in to clean up for supper, we knew that playtime was officially over until the morning. No amount of wheedling would alter that. During dinner we were expected to practice the table manners that were constantly being drummed into us. We could not get up, run around, or leave the table without first asking to be excused. It was also expected that we would help clear the table after the meal was over. If we hurried with the chores we could catch a program or get time to read. Bedtime was absolutely not negotiable and the longer we dawdled the less time we had for the fun stuff.
I wasn't quite as strict when raising my own kids and our Canadian winters meant that I could not just open up the back door and let them run out to play, though I have to say that on sunny days I did just that and they turned out fine. But I was a stickler about not being disturbed past a certain time in the evening, especially when we had company. Bedtime wasn't any more negotiable at our house than it had been for me as a kid because I always felt that if I didn't get some "me" time and some "couples" time, I would go mad. I needed to recharge my batteries, connect with my husband and the outside world. What was that famous quote....if Mamma ain't happy, nobody's happy? That was certainly the unspoken rule when I was a young mother.
Parenting, like anything else worth doing well, requires guidelines, parameters, hard work, dedication, routines and a loving but firm hand that cannot be twisted with wheedling, pleading or bribery. I honestly don't know how couples today survive without those all-important daily moments of peace and quiet. I'm beginning to think that often they don't.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Be Kind: Shed!

For many months now, I have been watching friends who live in another city, struggle with all the elements that come into play when an aging parent develops dementia. The parent in question is his widowed mother, who lives in my home town, a good six hour drive for where our friends live and work.
Because doctors, banks, notaries and social service agencies are mostly closed on weekends, my friends often had to take time off work to come here on a Friday or Monday so they could move forward with the daunting task of getting his mother into a safe environment, something which requires a written mandate and which my friend's mother had not provided.
Our friends had first begun to notice a change in thought and speech patterns when talking to mum on the phone last year. A subsequent visit to find out why her electricity had suddenly been cut off (the bill had not been paid in many months) showed a tremendous change in her handwriting, her signature in particular. Moreover, the fridge was empty, the house was in total disarray and there were holes in their conversations because mum could no longer remember certain things.
The earliest doctor's appointment they could get was weeks away. In the meantime, bills had to be paid, money had to be transferred, groceries had to be brought in. The people next door were helpful to a point, mowing the lawn and buying milk, but one can hardly ask even a well-meaning neighbour to take on the intimate activities of daily living; showering, nail clipping, changes of underwear, laundry.
While waiting for the doctor to confirm their worst fears, our friends took time off work whenever they could and also drove here weekend after weekend to try and keep things going. They soon discovered that the fridge full of groceries was not a good solution because mum no longer knew what to do with food. Frozen, ready-to-heat meals were ordered instead. The trouble with that system was that mum didn't always want to open the door to the 'strangers' who delivered it. Same for the woman who was hired to clean. She never knew from one week to the next if she would be allowed in to perform her job.
After the initial doctor's appointment it was established that a geriatric assessment would be needed. Another appointment, another long wait. In the meantime, my friends continued to go back and forth between their city and mine, always trying to stay one step ahead of mum's needs. Even before the assessment could be made, it was clear that she was in jeopardy being left alone. Constant worry about falls and fires kept my friends awake on many a night.
It's now a year later and my friend's mother has finally been placed in a facility that has a floor  for people with dementia. She is not exactly happy but at least she's out of harm's way and gets three meals a day. She will settle to her new routine soon enough. But for my relieved friends, already emotionally exhausted, the real work had just begun.
Mum's house, now empty, was filled to the rafters with a lifetime worth of stuff. Old furniture with ring marks and faded upholstery fabric. Rooms reeking of cat urine and stale cigarette smoke. Closets crammed with never-worn clothes and drawers filled with items in desperate need of laundering. Linens in tatters. Chipped china, hidden silverware, paper, paper, and more paper, puzzle pieces, cigarette butts, mismatched shoes, old dentures, buttons, old nail files, brooches, faded photographs.  Just when they thought one room was more or less 'done' they discovered that the garage was still full and that there was a trunk full of more papers in the basement. A huge task to tackle on weekends after they have dealt with all the issues in their own lives. They did their very best but in the end had to pay someone to cart it all away.
Clearly, a big favour we can do our children is not  burden them with our left-overs. You may love that stained tea cosy aunt Maude gave you all those years ago but your son or daughter will likely throw it in the garbage the minute your back is turned. So get real. Leave a legal mandate or a least, written instructions and then shed stuff as you go. How many raincoats does one person need? How many magazines can you read at one time? If a mug has lost its handle, don't use it to hold old  leaky pens, throw it out!! If a puzzle is missing a piece, no point in keeping the box with all the other pieces, is there?
Keep what you absolutely need to be happy and comfortable, of course. Give no-longer used treasures to those who will appreciate them and then have a garage sale every year for the stuff we all accummulate in our lifetime. Whatever doesn't sell should be donated or thrown out. Left to rot in an empty house, stuff  morphes into costly junk.