To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honours.
– Tia Walker, American blogger
I live in a house with four ‘kids’. They are not kids in the real sense of the word. The four ‘kids’ in my house are my mother, my dogs Lucky and Cookie, and my cat Meme.
I call my mother a ‘kid’ because she is reliving her second childhood. At age 83, she is an Alzheimer’s patient and behaves just like a kid. I have to make sure she bathes at least twice a day and takes her medicines. I have to feed her also.
She is always hungry and complains she has not eaten even minutes after a hearty meal and even after I have taken her out for breakfast or lunch.
She can help herself to bananas and biscuits on the table but forgets to make her own hot drinks. She forgets to keep the house clean and herself clean.
Sometimes I leave food in the pots on the stove. There are times she will eat it and times she will not touch it.
I consider my dogs and cat ‘kids’ because like kids, they depend on me for sustenance.
My dogs and cat, of course, cannot feed themselves. I often cook the bones and meat in advance and keep them in the fridge.
I go shopping for their bones and meat once or twice week, often on a day I am off duty. I feed all of them before I leave for work in the afternoon. I feed them again when I reach home after work at night and before I go to bed.
I am always very happy on the nights I get to leave the office early. Going home early means my four ‘kids’ get to eat early, too.
The first thing I usually do upon waking up every morning is to cook a pot of rice. If I wake up late and I am rushing for time, I ‘tapau’ food for my mother and the rice for my dogs and cat from a food centre in my neighbourhood. (Tapau is from the Chinese word ‘da bao’ and it means take away food).
As I have stated before in my column, my house is now an empty nest. All the little birds in it have grown up and flown off to greener pastures. Now, I live alone in the house with my mother, my two dogs and cat.
Because my mother lives in a world of her own, there is not much I can talk with her. She keeps asking the same questions. One of her favourite questions is, “Where is Ah Hong?” Ah Hong is her favourite granddaughter. Another question is, “Where is Bella?” Bella is another granddaughter.
Sometimes, late at night or early in the morning, she will ask me, “Where is my mother? I have not seen her for a long time.”
Sometimes, I reply, “Mum, your mother has been dead for a long time. She died when I was in Form Three.” And that was decades ago. Actually, there is no point in answering any of her questions because she will ask them again less than five minutes later.
“Auntie, why don’t you record her questions and your answers and play them again and again?” suggested one of my nieces when I told her how tired I was at being asked the same questions over and over again.
At home, I often talk to my dogs and cat as if they are human beings. My pets understand a few languages or dialects — English, Bahasa Malaysia and Hokkien.
If I want the dogs particularly to stop wandering around outside, I would say, “In!” And if I want them to go out of the house into the car porch, I would say, “Out!” If I want them to wait for their food, I would say, “Eat!” Or “Wait!”
If my dogs and cat could speak, what would they say, I wonder. Most probably, “Why do you buy us chicken heads all the time?”
Sometimes, when they are milling around and competing for my attention, I ask my dogs, Lucky and Cookie, “Do you love me? Whose dog are you?”
From their actions (wagging of tails, nose-nudging, eye contact and licking, I think they do love me. If they could speak, they would definitely reply, “Yes, I love you. Your dog, of course.”
At home, my dogs and cat are my best friends. They welcome me home from work like a long-lost friend every night and after being fed, they are contented to lie down at my feet for hours. Cookie even sleeps at my feet at night.
I thank God for my best friends. If not for them, life for me at home would have been so boring, lonely and frustrating, my friends!
I leave my mother alone in the house when I go off to work. Some people have criticised me for doing so. “So, am I supposed to bring her to my office?” I asked them. “If she dies, do I have to die with her?”
Although she has dementia, my mother, 83, is quite strong physically and mobile. I thank God for her good health which has made it easier for me to take care of her. On the days when she is hyperactive, she will make a mess of the pots and pans, plates and spoons, clothes, shoes and slippers in the house and the food in the refrigerator. Having to clean up the mess after a hard day in the office can be quite stressful.
I have left keys to the front gate and main door of the house with some of my nephews. Some of them, especially those close to my mother, make it a point to drop in regularly when I am not around. They come with food and drink for the old lady and will inform me of their visits through WhatsApp.