Babooshka

72

February 27, 2014 by Katia

You may want to read the entire post or proceed straight to the part below my grandma’s photo. Definitely check out that part. It’s awesome. The post itself is not a happy one. Please proceed at own discretion.

***

I look at the painting on my computer screen. An oval shaped object, a giant egg with a rectangular opening – a door – at its bottom. I try to come up with the perfect comment. One that would both capture the way I feel about it and make him appreciate me for hitting the nail on the head.

papa

I’m sending you five pictures. They’re metaphysical,” said my dad. “I want you to look at them today and email me back. Even if it’s just a few words.”

I look at his drawings and think of the words that I want to put in that email. The words that I should. They have to be just the right ones, but so often when I try to penetrate the landscape of his mind it feels like I’m shooting in the dark. And then the name Bradbury floats through my mind. Ray Bradbury. And a warm blanket of childhood feel wraps itself around me. Hand in hand with that name emerges my grandma. “It has a distinct Bradbury atmosphere to it.” I want to tell him and then realize that I’ve never even read anything by this author. It was her who recapped Bradbury for me, mixing in the ingredients of her own perception. She’d captured and eternalized for me that atmosphere that we stay with long after we forget the content of a particular book. And just like that the name of an author I’ve never read becomes a term too emotional to ponder.

When my parents separated at childhood the task of raising me became equally divided by three women. My mom, who was the divinity I worshipped, and the two patron saints of child Katia, Babooshka and Ninulya, grandma and her sister whose devotion knew no limits. Once when I broke my leg in junior high, Ninulya who taught drama in our country’s leading school of performing arts, held the rehearsals in our apartment, so she could watch me while still contributing to our nation’s cultural progress. In her book there was nothing grave enough to stand in the way of art, not even the gulf war and its rain of Scud rockets that hit the city where she was teaching. The knowledge of the artistic compromise she was making by holding the rehearsal at home instead of on stage is something I treasure. Babooshka believed that there was nothing grave enough to stand in the way of my well being and therefore she once reread Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and wrote my essay for me in high school. That’s right. Guilty as charged, but not as guilty as I become whenever I think about moving away from them.

Saints work miracles. To my absolute mortification my Babooshka would magically appear at my exact hangout spot at the mall, years before the cell phone age, with my forgotten set of keys, or at school with a notebook. When I was even younger, she would work her miracles on me guiding my imagination into pine-scented water to soak my body in until it felt all heavy and tired and ready to submit to sleep. Babooshka could control her own body and make herself stop bleeding by looking at her wound, a skill she frequently got to practice what with the abundance of family cats and the special interest they took in the palms of her hands. I don’t know if she would just plain stare or whether she’d actually talked her blood into stopping, the same way she did that time when she convinced her body as a seventy five year old tourist, lying on an icy Moscow sidewalk for a couple of hours as the result of a slip and fall, that it was fierce and almighty and capable of withstanding any blow. Now she doesn’t control her body anymore and probably doesn’t remember ever speaking to it.

Like any Saint babooshka, too, had her attributes. A lit up cigarette, a book and those endless scribbled pages she would fill up with her writing. Now she holds neither one. She can no longer remember that she’s an avid smoker and an obsessive reader. I doubt she remembers writing a book. I wonder what she makes of her surroundings, the rows and rows of bookshelves in my mom’s apartment.

Last summer I’ve traveled with my son to see her. I left a country where she wasn’t to go to another one where despite being able to watch her she wasn’t either. I sat and watched her take instructions from the caregiver telling her to open her mouth wide and show her eighty eight year old sister, who was also there with her own caregiver, how big girls eat, because baby sister, Ninulya, has gone on a strike. The two caregivers made a big production of it, injecting enthusiasm into their raised voices, cajoling, scolding, rushing.  I struggled with the shame of witnessing this just as much as I struggled with the shame of not witnessing it often enough. I can still play this part in my head. Babooshka opens her mouth to the caregivers’ cheers, wraps her lips around the spoon then lifts her eyes questioningly, as if to say “well, how did I do?” and I notice a glimmer of triumph over being up to the task in the eyes of the woman once celebrated for her wit.

Dementia makes her forget most things. She has a hard time telling the rooms in the little apartment apart, or realizing that she is not there all by herself but with her daughter, my mom. She can’t remember the conversations with those who call to check up on her or the fact that they did. Nor can she remember meeting her older great grandson. Twice. Not too long ago, she was hospitalized and wandered out of her hospital room. The other day she fell on the floor in her room – my old room – again. My mom rushed in to pick her up as soon as she heard her call out Katinka, my childhood name.

The most unexpected part of being a grownup is that the people who raised you turned old.

babushka

***

Phew.

Still here?

I’ve got some very cool news. But I won’t be sharing them right away. Instead let me ask you a question.

ARE YOU LIKE ME AND GO ON REGULAR NETFLIX BINGES?

If you could ask Jenny McCabe, one of Netflix’s leading bigwig’s, influencers (OK – Director of Media Relations, if you’re formally-inclined) any Netflix-related question, what would it be? I’ll be letting you know mine next week, but please chime in.

***

This post was an FTSF post on the topic “The most unexpected part of being a grownup…”. Please visit our hosts:

Stephanie at Mommy, For Real

Kristi at Finding Ninee

Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?

Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic

72 thoughts on “Babooshka

  1. Jean says:

    Oh, God, yes. Guilt for leaving and not being there to help in old age but at the same time knowing that leaving was what they raised us to do.

  2. mysending says:

    If you are very lucky, they get old.

    • Katia says:

      Yes! What a perfect observation. I need to remind myself of that. Thank you!

    • godansker says:

      Best comment. I have a hard watching my parents get old (only 1 grandparent left at this point) and they aren’t facing health issues or anything dire. Just a reminder that life is moving forward so fast. Beautiful post.

      • Katia says:

        Yes, I agree. A very wise woman left it…

        Definitely very hard watching your parents change categories. I completely agree. And thank you!

  3. Sarah says:

    This is so beautifully written on such a painful and important topic. We can all relate to the difficulty of watching the giants of our childhood become weak.

  4. Oh you’re right, this is very sad, but also beautiful and moving. Thank you for sharing it, Katia.

  5. Please read my blog and comment and tell me what you think please http://lessonedlearned.wordpress.com/ BTW I loved your blog

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, I’m sick that my parents and grandparents are getting old. Watching then struggle with their bodies and their memories is almost more than I can write about. You’re brave for tackling this topic. I love the honesty and can definitely relate to the feeling of guilt for seeing them decline but the guilt of not seeing it enough. You hit the nail on the head.

    • Katia says:

      It was kind of more than I was assuming to take on, but I wrote it at a point when I felt it should have been written.Thank you so much, my friend!🙂

  7. is it the idea that, their being so old, we are forced to see our future, or by being so old we must confront our (own) past slipping away.

    (there are few ‘life conditions’ that are, to me, as disturbing as dementia. perhaps it is because, as a clark, I am so much ‘in my head’ that the thought of losing my claim to this place is so very terrible. and yet, I can imagine that it is the world from within for each of us that really matters and therefore, how can I really know how the world/life is for another person. this is surely an excusable indulgence in an attempt to make myself feel less bad, but in past times with my own family members, I have chosen to allow ‘perhaps they are living in a reality that simply does not correspond to mine’.)

    • Katia says:

      I think it’s actually all of the above and how incredibly insightful – as usual. It’s seeing us in them but also not seeing “them” when we expect to. What a great observation on the fear of a Clark to be forced outside our heads – so not our comfort zone.

  8. Definitely put some tears in my eyes and will tell you it is so hard to watch our loved ones who raised us grow old. My grandmother, who also had a hand in raising me, passed away 4 years ago and she too was very forgetful in her old age. She would ask me the same thing over and over constantly and tore my heart out to know that she couldn’t remember much. So, as I was reading this you truly brought me back and then some. An now I am beginning to watch this in my own parents (not truly forgetful or anything), but still my parents are becoming senior citizens and definitely noticing them getting older each year. Wish I had some words of wisdom, but just is the way it is I suppose and definitely doesn’t make it easier by any means.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you, my friend, there are sadly no words of wisdom for this but I guess there’s some comfort in us assuming the “responsible adult” position and being able to repay them, if only a morsel, for their huge contribution to our lives. Thank you so much, Janine, for this very personal comment.

  9. findingninee says:

    Katia, this is stunningly gorgeous. You’ve perfectly captured the gratitude for our grandparents, and the heartbreak in watching them grow old. The last time I was in Denver, I was so surprised to see how “old” my entire family was getting – all of us. It’s horrible, beautiful, heartbreaking, and so much better than the alternative. I love this and send you huge big big hugs.

    • Katia says:

      Totally right, SO much better than the alternative, I’m ashamed to admit I never thought about it from that perspective when writing the post. I was just very very sad and concerned for my babooshka who was at the hospital at the time. Thank you so much, my friend, for understanding!

      • findingninee says:

        Well of course you were focused on the sad – as you should have been. Nobody sits and writes about such a life altering and important experience and thinks that she’s “lucky” to still be around because well. Am I putting my foot in my mouth? Truly beautiful though, Katia. Regarding the Netflix ? – I’m not sure. I’d thank them for making Orange is the New Black though. Oh and I’d say that Ellen from Damages is annoying.😀
        Maybe, I’d ask if they put hidden crack in the episodes because I click “next episode” much later in the evening than I should!

      • Katia says:

        You are terrific for coming back here just to get back to me on the Netflix thing. You’re a great friend!🙂 And, yes, Ellen is so annoying. And, yes, they are SO using crack.

  10. Lizzi R says:

    Fuck.

    With actual tears in my eyes and my heart and soul squeezed into a vice so tight that breathing is difficult, Katia…oh this one aches so deeply.

    Your guilt, your hurt, your loss…and I feel like an utter shit, because I’ve been thinking for too long about going to visit my granddad, who lives down the road from me, and never have yet. And I’m so bad at it. We were never close, but he’s mine, and he’s lonely and I’m a shit for never going. And then this, which you wrote, and what you’d give for that opportunity.

    But, dear heart, they raised you with the BEST THEY COULD GIVE, and gave repeatedly ENTIRELY so that you could go out and be your own person and stand independently, wherever in the world that took you. And by not remaining tethered to them, by having cut those apron strings and flown the nest, you are fulfilling the dreams they had for you, in that you have been, and are, ABLE TO.

    This is the point of raising children – that the day comes when they stand alone, successfully. And you’re doing it. Truly, truly, truly. Even on the days when it’s a struggle and a challenge and you feel like you’re failing and want nothing more than to go back and hide yourself in their pine-scented safety and the comfort of their voices.

    But the dementia. No. Is it better than losing them at their peak? Is it better than mourning the entire loss of the person we once knew them to be? I struggle with that.

    It’s one of the cruellest things, to see them die in increments, not physically, but to bear witness to the steady erosion of their soul and their self and all we understood of them, and sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to just lose them altogether, at once, and be done, and bear that grief instead.

    Alzheimer’s is present in both sides of my family. It is my heritage and I’m watching my mum carefully. My paternal Grandma disappeared to it, long before she died. She was a shell. Aggressive. Lonely. Scared. She didn’t know anyone any more.

    My maternal Nana has it. She forgets what to do with simple things like cutlery. She forgets to eat, or why it’s important. She once rolled out of bed in her care home, in between morning checks and got stuck down the side of the bed, trapped against the wall with her face so injured she required hospital treatment, and she just…she just LAY THERE, trapped. Because she didn’t remember how to do anything else or call for help.

    And one day the disease will take her and she’ll forget how to breathe, or her heart will forget how to beat, but not before she’s gone already.

    Oh this strikes me deep.

    Damn!

    • Katia says:

      Oh my gosh, friend, to know that you cared enough to leave such a comment makes me feel ever SO grateful.

      This paragraph resonates with me so much and is especially meaningful to me:This is the point of raising children – that the day comes when they stand alone, successfully. And you’re doing it. Truly, truly, truly. Even on the days when it’s a struggle and a challenge and you feel like you’re failing and want nothing more than to go back and hide yourself in their pine-scented safety and the comfort of their voices.”

      What a horrible story about your maternal grandma.I think that that helplessness is possible the worst thing about old age. The helplessness of someone who had already experienced independence.

      Don’t feel bad about your own grand dad. You can still visit him and make him very happy. Sadly we’re not always as deeply emotionally interlaced as we would want to (or presume would be expected) with members of our immediate family. I have relationships like that within my family too, it’s also okay to have a life that keeps you busy and fuels your soul.

      And finally, I had a lump in my throat reading this. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

      • Lizzi R says:

        How could I not? Once again your words and their resonance within me left me with nothing but to pour out all that was stirred by your writing. You have *such* a way of doing that.

        I’m glad that I managed to write something good/helpful/useful back though, that’s pleasing🙂

        And yes, it’s definitely one of the hardest things to stomach – the mental and physical lack in someone who was capable before. It’s heartrending to observe, and to know that YOU can do nothing, either.

        I will visit him. I will. In spite of the lesser relationship, there is still much to work on, and it’s warmer now than it ever was, so I should maximise on that. And thanks for letting me off the hook and sharing a bit more of yourself🙂 Makes me feel better.

        And finally…adore you. *HUGEHUGS* Always write. Please.

      • Katia says:

        Oh my gosh, thank you SO much for putting it this way, Lizzi! This is one of the most meaningful comments I’ve ever received and it will stay with me.

  11. TT&NB says:

    This is gorgeously written, so poignant and true.

  12. bethteliho says:

    Oh wow. This was touching. How amazing that you had those three touchstones as a child. And as painful it is to see her get old and suffer with dementia, you get to see her, touch her, hear her voice, which is a gift. What a wonderful woman she is. I love your stories about her. HEART SQUEEZE.

    I’m so inspired by your writing, always. xoxo

    • Katia says:

      You are such a kind soul and it means the world to me that you would say this about my writing, because, lady, we all know what you’re capable of.❤

  13. funnyisfamily says:

    What an incredible story! Beautiful and heartbreakingly rich. Thank you for introducing us to your Babooshka.

    • Katia says:

      Aw, thank you so much for putting it this way. It warms my heart to think that I’ve introduced her to a bunch of new friends who can appreciate her now🙂

  14. Your Babosshka can be summed up in one word – fascinating. Thanks for sharing this with us, Katia!!

  15. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Ah yes. I am weepy now. What a well-written, heartfelt essay. Both of my grandmothers are gone, and with them a big part of my heart. I thought of them after reading this, grateful for the time I did get with them.

  16. Liz says:

    Very touching. I watched my father go through this and now I’m watching two aunts. You hit the nail on the head with the feelings of guilt and powerlessness. I feel bad not to visit or call but I live too far away and when I call they don’t know me and won’t remember that I called. At least these are my excuses. So hard for us. But harder for them.

  17. Rachel says:

    Oh, just sitting here in tears. This line: “I struggled with the shame of witnessing this just as much as I struggled with the shame of not witnessing it often enough.” And the last line. Such painful truths of being alive. I loved both of my grandmas so. And they were also soft places to land in times of struggle. I miss them so, still. You have reminded me of them today.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you, my friend. It’s such a different and tender love that we feel towards our grandparents, isn’t it? I feel kind of bad for stirring such emotions in some of the readers, but on the other hand I know that these feelings of pain are infused with so much love.🙂

  18. As awful as dementia is, it’s stories like this that make me sooooooo thankful that we lost my Dad to a head injury from a fall before he could get to that point! We had to do an awful lot of repeating and keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t do things like walk out of a doctor appointment and head home forgetting we were in the waiting room and had driven him, etc. Thankfully, it never go to the point where he had forgotten us. I’m so sorry your family is going through this, but I”m glad (even if they don’t know it) that they’re together.

    • Katia says:

      I completely understand your feelings on this and I agree, as horrible as it sounds that your experience was, it may have been just as difficult to watch him slowly resign. I’m really sorry for your loss, Chris!

  19. JudahFirst says:

    Getting old is hard … watching our parents/grandparents/siblings grow old is hard. Life is hard. This post made me cry. Brought back a lot of memories of my sister.

    • Katia says:

      I’m sorry, I know it’s not easy to be reminded of that. Thank you so much for reading despite the pain and for being as thoughtful as to stop by and comment!

      • JudahFirst says:

        Katia, it’s good to be reminded. It helps me grieve. I hope you didn’t think I was complaining. I’m very grateful to hear other people going through this process with me. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing it with all of us.

      • Katia says:

        I agree. I know you weren’t complaining, I just felt bad knowing that you hurt, but I realize you hurt because you’re grieving and that pain is with you all the time and I completely agree with you about the healing qualities of shared experiences. Big hugs to you.

  20. Yvonne says:

    Katia, your entire piece about your grandmother is all very poignant, but that last line brought tears to my eyes: “The most unexpected part of being a grownup is that the people who raised you turned old.” Yes. It is odd how we don’t expect that somehow and yet we don’t. It is odd how when they grow old we somehow don’t expect them to get ill or die, and yet they do. Perhaps it is the mind’s way of trying to protect us from pain.

    I can imagine how it feels for you to see your grandma and her sister in need of carers. I can imagine it because I know the sadness I felt seeing my father, who had once been so strong, hobbling with a cane – or in his last few weeks, needing help to walk a short distance to the bathroom. He was of course, still mentally alert, but my grandma succumbed to dementia like yours, and she was barely aware when my grandpa died. It seems unfair in a way, that people go through these indignities when they are close to their life’s end. But it’s just how life seems to be. I guess it’s best to hold the good memories in our hearts and not let the sad ones destroy those.

    • Katia says:

      It does seem unfair to go through the indignities and to witness our loved ones as they do. I always wonder about that part…

      Thank you so much, as always, for your kind and thoughtful comment!

  21. Sarah says:

    Oh gosh, yes, it’s so hard to see pictures of my grandparents from when I was young. Lovely post, friend.

  22. jasteck says:

    That was such a sad and wonderful post, Katia. I’m glad you have such wonderful memories of these amazing women. You are remembering when they can’t. The legacy of love that they left you is being passed on to your children. It will never be lost.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much for your kind and infinitely wise comment in general and especially for this part: The legacy of love that they left you is being passed on to your children. It will never be lost.

      I need to remind myself of this as often as I can!

  23. Lisa @ The Golden Spoons says:

    This was beautiful Katia! Fortunately, my parents are in goo health, but I have no grandparents left living. It is so heartbreaking to watch people who were once so amazing become so helpless. Thanks for sharing your story~

  24. I can’t even think of Netflix after reading this. My beloved grandpa died in November and our whole family was by his side. My grandma and his wife of 68 years has dementia but she hasn’t become unrecognizable yet. Intellectually we know that we all get old (if we’re lucky) but watching it happen to our loved ones is hard and sobering. Beautiful and touching post, Katia.

    • Katia says:

      November is so recent. I imagine this would’ve been painful. I SO appreciate that you persevered and read this. My grandma is not unrecognizable either. I was grateful to see her smile more often than I expected. Grateful to realize she’s grateful for having me there at her side if only for a while, but it definitely hurts that I can’t just up and go see her again and scary not to know who it is I will be meeting next time. If.

  25. When I read your “warning” at the beginning I felt silently grateful for putting on waterproof mascara today. I just had a feeling. Yep, sobbing here. So beautiful, so raw, so perfectly right on, that I don’t know what else to say. Brava, my friend.

  26. froginparis says:

    Beautiful. I miss my Grandma so much. Her laughter.

    My Mother In Law has something going on like that. Her ability to speak is going faster than her memory though. One of these days my Father in Law will take her to the doctor for a formal diagnosis, but for now it seems the interweb is a better doctor. Easier to manage the denial of losing her piece by piece.

  27. Candid Mama says:

    Powerful post. My grandmother, the woman who helped raise me, is starting to suffer from dementia. It is horrible to watch such a strong person start to disintegrate. I hate knowing that it is only going to get worse and it makes me want to hide from it. I don’t want to see it happen. It’s easier to distance myself than it is to deal with it. That makes me feel guilty. Thank you for sharing your feelings on this.

    • Katia says:

      I feel exactly the same way. Guilty for wanting to hide from it. It’s easier for me to do because I’m far away, but I should call more often than I do. When I do there are so many awkward pauses that I feel like it’s a burden for her to follow the conversation, or as Liz said in one of the other comments, that’s how I justify this to myself.

  28. Dana says:

    It is hard to watch our parents and grandparents get old – you said it so poignantly. I pray my own parents don’t get dementia – my husband’s grandmother has it, and watching my mother-in-law care for her makes me so sad for both of them. I know it’s the way life is, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

  29. VintageInk says:

    That was beautiful, Katia.
    You made me cry.

    My uncle’s father had dementia and to watch him and try and associate the dynamic man I knew to this person who didn’t seem to remember any of us was hard..

    “The most unexpected part of being a grownup is that the people who raised you turned old.”

    That line is very true.
    Beautifully written..

    Keep writing!🙂
    Cheers!

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, my friend. Yes, it’s such a hard topic to write about and an even harder reality to accept. They’re there but not there and I get so sad thinking that I can never have the same kind of conversation I’d have with her in the past about her childhood, family etc.

      Thank you ever so much again for reading!

  30. mommybegins says:

    Hi, I stumbled here but ended up reading for last 1 hour.

    Love what you are doing, your posts and I have nominated this blog for the Liebster Award for bloggers. But you need to also further nominate your fav blogs. Read about rules here. http://wp.me/p4nuJ5-4k

    And keep updating the blog….

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, my dear new friend! Honoured that you would spend an hour here, that’s the besr kind of compliment! I’ve gotten a Liebster before and I’m familiar with the rules. I’m terrible at picking up awards. Please don’t view that as a sign of not caring, just being disorganized and generally overwhelmed. Thank you so much, though, I’ll stop by and comment!

  31. Ah yes, how I can relate to my mom with dementia now…I moved back a little too later:( You have such a great blog…really! I took the day off and time flies…I realize I`ve spent a few yours here. I don`t know how you do it with a young family …but you do a fantastic job!!

    • Katia says:

      So sad about your mom. I’m sorry it’s one of the most heartbreaking things in life. And thank you so much for your kind words. There’s no better compliment than hearing someone stopped by my blog and stayed for awhile. I appreciate it, thank you so much!

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