Monday, April 22, 2013

The Perfect Birthday Gift

Today I took mom out to Target to buy a few household essentials and to shop for dad’s birthday, which is this upcoming weekend. I wasn’t sure how this would go. For those faithful readers of mine, you can understand why I would be a little apprehensive about gift shopping with mom, after our Christmas shopping experience.

As usual, mom had a list ready to go when I picked her up. She generally makes her list by looking at the labels of the product she wants; sometimes there is no empty bottle to look at and she has to write down from memory what it is she wants. This usually requires much interpretation. Among the items she needed was Lysol toilet bowl cleaner, window soap, sink spray, dishwasher soap, fruit and table soap. On our way out, I made a quick call to my dad, just to double check how he wanted me to have mom pay for this. He asked about her list and I told him the items which were on it. He informed me that she already had Lysol toilet bowl cleaner in the laundry room cupboard. In fact, she had bought a 4-pack the last time he took her out to run errands. I turned to mom and let her know that she still had plenty of Lysol toilet bowl cleaner at home. Immediately, she took my words as an attack; she seemed only to hear the words “you don’t need to buy that”…the rest of my words were lost in space. She became angry and agitated with me,

“I do too need that. Your dad doesn’t let me buy what I need, my kind is better than the kind he buys too. I wish you wouldn’t call him when you take me out, you guys don’t support me!”

I tried explaining that dad was fine with her buying the other items on the list-and he was fine with Lysol for that matter-they simply didn’t need it. Eventually, after a lot of back and forth about it, she seemed to be catching on to what I was saying.

“Laundry room, what? Laundry room? Bathroom, living room, laundry room…what? I’m trying to think, laundry room.”

I explained to her what the laundry room is…"the place where you wash your clothes” and after several minutes of deliberation, mom remembered what the laundry room is.

“I don’t remember ever seeing any in there. There isn’t any in that front room too. I haven’t seen any.”

I reassured her (over and over again) that the Lysol was in the laundry room cupboard. Eventually she gave up the fight, though she seemed skeptical that the Lysol really was in the cupboard. But not another word was said about the Lysol toilet bowl cleaner.

As we pulled in to the Target parking lot, mom’s finger set on the seatbelt’s release button, I urged her not to run ahead of me.

“Please wait for me mom, I’d like to shop with you.”

To my great surprise, she actually waited for me this time outside the car while I got my boys out of their car seats. She walked with me into the store and I explained to her that I needed to make a really quick exchange at the customer service desk.

“I don’t know why I can’t just go shop around here, why I have to wait for you.” And with that, mom grabbed a shopping cart and took off down the aisle towards the house cleaning products, leaving me struggling in the return line with my two little boys.

It took about 10 minutes for me to get through the return and find my mom. She was right where I figured she’d be-in the cleaning aisle, concentrating on her list. Only one item had made it into her cart in that lapse of time (the “sink spray”). She struggled to remember what dishwashing soap is (and what a dishwasher is) and was looking for the window soap. I grabbed a bottle of Windex from a nearby shelf as she inspected it. She then asked me where to find the table soap. I figured she must be talking about dust spray, so we made our way to the back aisle and I picked out a can of dust spray for her.

“Where does that say table soap on it??…I hope that’s the right thing,” she said.

When we were done with the list, I asked her if she had any ideas of what she wanted to get for dad for his birthday. Much to my surprise, she responded right away,

“I was thinking that card thing to that place he likes so much, Home Depot. He really likes to shop there too.”

“Perfect idea mom! He loves Home Depot.”

This was going to much easier than I thought!!

The only problem is, nothing is that easy when dealing with a person with dementia.

To start with, she was very objectionable about my suggestion to walk next door to Home Depot to buy the gift card. She was insistent that she could buy the card at Stater Bros. (our local grocery store).

“Mom, I’m not going to Stater Bros. We are already here and you can buy the gift card here. I’ll show you.”

She finally gave in to my coaxing to get the gift card at Home Depot. But not without questioning me further,

“How do you know they sell it here? I hope they have it here.”

I led the way to cash register and showed her the display of gift cards. I picked out a nice one with a picture of a heart made out of tools. Wrong move. Mom did not recognize it as a gift card and rejected it.

“No, that’s not what I’m looking for, no! I want to go to Stater Bros, that’s where the really good ones are. This isn’t what I want.”

I tried to keep calm and patiently explain to her that it’s the same thing. I quickly put the heart-pictured gift card back and picked up the standard, Home Depot gift card-the one I knew she would recognize.


She took the card from me and inspected it carefully.

“Where does it say this is a gift card? No, this isn’t the one I buy. Where does it say the money on it? This isn’t what I buy. I don’t want to buy this one, no. I’ll go to Stater Bros.”

I was getting frustrated, but it doesn’t do any good to lose patience. Instead, I pulled the cashier over and asked her if she could confirm to my mom that what she held was indeed a gift card.

“Yes, that is a gift card,” she said with a smile.

“See mom, it’s exactly what you’re looking for.”

“No. Where does it say the money on it? This isn’t the same, no,” she continued.

Back and forth we went as I tried to keep my cool. I told her that she would be better off to get it there because I wasn’t going to Stater Bros, and besides-she didn’t want dad to see what she was getting for him. I led her to the register to pay as she continued to protest and as I continued to reassure her that this was what she wanted to get him. She kept resisting because the price wasn’t on the card (it was the type where you tell the cashier how much to put on). I  asked mom what amount she was looking for and she told me her price. I asked the cashier to please write the amount on the card as to satisfy mom. She finally seemed okay with the card and paid for it. *Whew!*

I thought it would be nice to take mom to lunch and made the suggestion to her. I tried this with her last week as well. She insisted that she would go home to have her “really good sandwich” and try as I might, I could not convince her to go to lunch with me :(

“Mom, you never want to go to lunch with me anymore. I miss going to lunch with you…won’t you go out to lunch with me?” I asked. She did not respond at all to what I said, but instead looked ahead out the front windshield. Over and over throughout our 10 minute drive home, I tried to get a response, and each time I got nothing in return.

So…no lunch date today. BUT, we accomplished the most important goal which was to get dad a birthday present from mom. And it wasn’t laundry soap!!

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