Vexations and Conundrums – October 2022

Sign Language

My sisters still jockey for position in the caregiving of my mother. The situation has deteriorated into a category which could be deemed “unhealthy communication.” They no longer have positive conversations about daily issues.

For instance, preparation was underway for a hand-off so that the main caregiver sister could resume her role after attending to personal business. When she arrived, she noticed an abundance of small, brightly colored sticky notes, stuck on numerous surfaces all over the house. My temporary-duty sister wasn’t giving any instructions verbally. She would have preferred to have the assignment full time and wanted to force my other sister to demonstrate her ability to handle the job, albeit with guidance from her, and to her standards.

One pink square sticker by the refrigerator gave strict instructions for how often the automatic ice maker should be refreshed. Another lime green sticker was on the coffeemaker. “Turn off at 8:30 A.M. without fail. If more coffee is wanted, make a fresh pot.”

My full-time sister peered fearfully into the living room. Sure enough, colored squares were on multiple surfaces. “Turn off T.V. before 11 P.M.” This sister is a night owl and watches television late shows. She retires at midnight. Was she being denied late night entertainment?

The next day, the temporary-worker sister left for home. She had left all drapes and blinds closed tightly so that sun wasn’t coming inside. A sticky note next to the cord indicated that there had been a recent prowler in the neighborhood, so no window openings were allowed. The room was dark. The doorbell rang, an electrician arriving for a follow-up appointment. She remembered he had a physical limitation and communicated by text, as he could no longer speak. Immediately the electrician pulled out his phone and texted “Are y’all vampires?” We will never know if that was a joke, or he believed it.

The main bathroom held its own surprise. Taped to the wall was a stern warning in red permanent marker: “Use very little of the bamboo toilet tissue. This toilet stops up.”  Next to it was the last plumber’s bill to clear the appliance. My sister couldn’t understand why the bill had to be posted, but she left it there until she found what would be the right moment to remove it without causing strife.

We spoke by phone about the note phase of caregiving, and she shared with me that her confidence was shaken by the need for such micromanagement. However, we both agreed that my mom was fortunate to have people trying to be sure her care was excellent.

The next morning, my cellphone rang. My sister was tired from her previous day of assuming her full-time assignment. She said she had to share just one more thing. The previous night, after trying to arrange the house to her specifications, she had finally laid down in bed to read. It was well after midnight, and she turned on the bedside lamp and lay her exhausted head on the pillow. She said just as she looked up, yet another note caught her eyes. This one was orange, taped to the ceiling above her bed. “Be sure you remember to change the air conditioner filters Wednesday!!!”

Sighing with exasperation, she asked me, “Why did she use so many exclamation points?”

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Katina Pontikes
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