Thursday, January 10, 2008

First and Second Childhoods

When I was on holiday in Melbourne, Griff, Richard's little son, was visiting from London. We spent a lot of time with this delightful nearly-two year old and I was constantly reminded of how much very young humans live for each moment. "Look, truck!" is Griff's most common declaration of joy, and the happiness created by the discovery (each sighting a wonderful surprise) lasts until said truck/van/tram/ride-on-mower has been admired, waved to (and so many drivers wave back to small children), and has roared or sailed or putt-putted off into the distance.

At the other end of the spectrum is my Pop. Eighty-seven, he is beginning to suffer from dementia. Well, I say suffer, but I don't think he's really suffering... in fact in some ways he seems happier than ever before. He's become uncritical, non-judgmental, accepting. Like Griff, he's also living for each moment. We had afternoon tea. I got him a cappuccino and the richest, most sickly-looking bit of cake, which he gobbled down with relish. Then we walked slowly arm in arm along the St Kilda pier and he looked for a long time at a hovering seagull. "They make it look so easy" he said, then asked when we were getting our afternoon tea. But his memories of long ago are still intact; he knows that in 1941 he had lunch every day at the Lyons tea rooms in Liverpool opposite the university: ox-tail stew for sixpence - "it really filled you up" - and for an extra threepence you could also have soup or pudding. He can still tinkle out a Chopin waltz or a Mozart sonata, and he tells the occasional joke - "I can't walk far you know, I might wear my shoe leather out" - which tickles him, especially if you repeat it straight back to him.

There are so many similarities between Griff and Pop right now: the pleasure in the moment, the love of and need for repetition, the total dependence on others. But while Griff develops by the day, nay, by the hour, learning new words, walking backwards and on tippie-toes, jumping into the pool, Pop slowly loses things: names, events, the alphabet, his PIN. He often says "it's all very confusing". He brings home other people's mail, wanders off, falls over, and is driven home by kind strangers. My frail Nanna is beside herself with worry, and they're looking at nursing homes for Pop this week.

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