- The neuropsychologist
People with crap memory get tests to monitor their progress.
On Friday 8th June Mrs. Culshaw of 3, Pelican Place took Jim, her twenty-one year old pet zebra for a walk. When she got home she put him into his stable and went shopping for carrots, and then returned to the stable to give him one as a treat. She unlocked the stable door, which was bolted, and looked in to find him gone.
This is read three times and then it’s my turn:
Some time in June Mrs Culshaw of Pelican Place takes a zebra for a walk. It’s called Jim. She puts him away and goes somewhere and when she comes back he’s gone.
….and again after she’s distracted me with something else:
A lady has a zebra called Jim and he goes missing. Carrots. Gone. Or was it a pelican?
The tests continue. Recreating line-drawings and repeating back ten-digit numbers. Thinking of nouns beginning with the letter S. And what happened to Jim in the first test?
I blink. Who was Jim again?
In the end I score no better than I scored a few months previously.
Thwack. That’s the sound of hard news hitting, not a zebra kicking down a stable door. I don’t want to be like this forever.
2. The Parenting Psychologist
I arrive alone. Hubby doesn’t want to come (turns out later he’s assumed ‘psychologist’ means ‘private’). I don’t actually know what we’re here to discuss, but it turns out to be parenting.
Which throws me: I’m not prepared. I’m finding the kids harder, sure, and we argue. But off the top of my forgetful head I can’t pluck out an example. The guy asks what time they go to bed. I don’t even know that.
I remember that meal-times are difficult. The kids are never hungry at dinner-time; they’re only ever hungry ten minutes after washing-up. Or sometimes when we’re about to go out.
I can see the psychologists weariness. He says that kids need routines. They have to have a bed time. And they shouldn’t have pudding until they’ve finished their main.
’So you’re suggesting I use pudding to reward them for eating food they don’t want to eat?’
I probably look incredulous.
‘I thought that was really wrong, from a psychological perspective?’ I can’t remember why. ‘Eating disorders, and stuff?’
’Well, I did it with my kids.’
Anyway, he says, I need boundaries. Kids respond to the sort of boundaries and routines that I don’t have. He mutters the term lassiz–faire under his breath. It doesn’t describe my parenting, but perhaps he thinks I won’t understand what he means.
I stomp home and seek out the prejudice-confirming world of Facebook. Various replies remind me why using food as a reward made me cringe. If my kids’ bodies are not prompting them to seek fuel, why bribe them to eat using sugar? Surely withholding tasty foods makes them more desirable, and also labels them ‘bad?’
I email what I’ve remembered and click send. I’m not sure that my rant will completely change his opinion, but I certainly feel better.
A few kind Facebook friends take the trouble to explain that routines work really well for them. Some of these are parents I respect. It occurs to me now that a stable script to follow might not be a bad thing, particularly given how forgetful I am. Perhaps my kids are not the only ones who need routines.
I send a second email. In balance I’m happy to meet him again – to listen. Then I spoil the effect. Talking of boundaries, I refuse to use sweet bribes to make my children eat food they don’t want.
I press send.
3. My friends
Thank goodness. Bank holiday. My friends arrive. No psychology appointments for days.
Somebody compliments me on my children. Perhaps they feel they have to. But if my kids behaviour was worse than my declining garden, surely they’d compliment the garden instead?
And then, my friend Chris, who was there when all this started, asks what we did today.
And I tell him.
‘You know,’ says Chris, ‘a few months ago, you wouldn’t have been able to remember.’
And suddenly I remember what else the neuropsychologist said about her test. It’s not that I haven’t improved. It’s that I haven’t improved that they can measure.
But maybe positive, tiny, unquantifiable improvements are happening under the radar. Perhaps a big, measurable thing will happen all at once, like when people with paralysed legs suddenly stand. People who haven’t seen me for a while are already noticing differences. Perhaps, because memory is so intangible, things are actually better than she thinks….
Next appointment, she will probably shake her head about that; point out that neurological improvements slow down as time goes on. That the more time passes without quantifiable improvement, the lower the expectation of a miracle.
Right now, that doesn’t matter. Chris can see an improvement! Not to mention that my kids are enjoying the unstructured late-evening BBQ food, and one of them is gorging on lettuce.