Alzheimer’s, a Bloody Thief

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease; she is in about stage 6 (of 7), from what I can tell. She also suffers from spinal stenosis which has limited her ability to stand and walk, so she’s wheelchair bound, as well.  The last few years have been Hell, especially on my father as he’s not only been her spouse of 60-plus years (they’ll celebrate their 65th anniversary this upcoming December), but decider, caregiver, and advocate. Until quite recently, my father–himself nearly 88 years old, now–cared for her at home, alone, including feeding and bathing and bathrooming, as well as taking care of house cleaning, gardening, mowing, snow removal, shopping, bills, and all the tasks that life necessitates.  While she’s spent short periods of time in various nursing home facilities, she’s been home, with Dad, until January of this year, when he finally placed her permanently in a Memory Care unit.

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Then, he promptly got sick himself and nearly died.  Twice.

Dad’s on the road to recovery from kidney and heart failure, but he’ll likely not regain all of what he was before his illnesses in February; he lost forty pounds, first of all, and didn’t have that much to spare to begin with.  He’s gained a few back and we hope to help–with Justin’s cooking–in his gaining twenty pounds more back (his goal) after we all move in together this summer.

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

I bring this up because today, Justin and I were in my parents’ town to celebrate Father’s Day.  Dad had gone to “break Mom out” of the home for dinner, so we all went out then returned to their home so Justin could help move some boxes (my father’s far more along on packing than we are, to no one’s surprise, despite his having had eye surgery only days ago, the use of only one arm, and being shaky while walking with a cane). I sat with Mom while Dad directed Justin and the handcart.

And I was totally unprepared for my response to Mom’s current stage of dementia.

Alzheimer’s, I’m finding, not only transitions with very blurry edges in the patient, but tends to sneak up and surprise the Hell out of the family members, as well. I’ve visited with Mom, in person, at least weekly for months now, so it’s not like there’s been a lot of time elapsed. I just was at her place on Thursday, four days ago.  But today, sitting with her in their Den, despite the fact that she was in a terrific mood and happy and laughing (and had been flirting with the waiter, in Norwegian), broke my heart.

My mother, the wordsmith, the woman who’s never been quiet more than two minutes in her whole life, the veteran teacher who taught grade school for forty years, who’s read and promoted quality language use her whole life, no longer has the ability to use the right words.

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

I’ve noticed this before, mind you; here and there.  It frustrates her, but I’ve always been able to understand what she was trying to say.  Often, she’s incorporated a word or concept spoken behind her (or on TV) into her own communication, but it’s been easy enough to follow.

Not today.  Today was an entirely different beast. A very ugly one.

She was speaking in word salad. Grammatically correct (as always, bless her heart); using the right parts of speech, correct syntax. But none of the words meant anything that she wanted to say.  Worse, when she’d ask one of us a question and wait for an answer, and none of us had the first clue what she was asking. It was as if she were randomly selecting words from pages in a dictionary, without any tangible connection to her thoughts that I could discern.

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

I turned off the TV, hoping that would help.  No.  I sought to find patterns in initial letters, or concepts, or images, but could find none.  Her brain seemed to simply be supplying words chosen by a roll of the dice.  And she had no control, and worse–she realized she had no control.

She attempted to maintain her sense of humor, and to keep communicating, but I was horribly frustrated and–to my own shame–embarrassed. Not of her, exactly, but of the whole situation. Damned mad, which I process by becoming overly anxious and short.  More than once, I left the room to find something to do to get away from the incomprehensible communications, and then I felt bad for doing that.

Next time, I hope to be more prepared for this.  I hope to find a way to communicate with words even when the words haven’t any meaning.  She could understand us just fine, which is helpful, but I can’t imagine being my mother, being the woman I’ve known, without being able to verbally express my thoughts. What a horrible, cruel, worthless shitty joke to play on her.

I hate Alzheimer’s more than ever, today. Hate it. Hate it more than cancer, waaaaay more than fibromyalgia or Hashimoto’s disease, more than anything.

Alzheimer’s has just robbed my mother of her greatest joy.

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

FCC: 1 gazillion Ms. O: 1

Addendum to Irony 2 of a few days ago:

So, the final straw came yesterday afternoon.  I had a group of kids in my classroom, on their own time, after school, to play with ArtRage on my SmartBoard.  I had just gotten the upgrade to the pay version okayed from the office, and I had the school’s credit card in hand to get the upgrade so I had use of all the tools.

Coolness.

Fill out the form.  Get the registration key in e-mail.  Open the link…and…

Blocked.

Yep, blocked.  The page where I could actually download the program.

So, yeah, I looked up the number of the liaison at the service co-op that provides the filtering and, as nicely as I could, begged for some sanity.

After he unblocked the website for me (only took a few minutes), we had a chat about my concerns.  I said that while I was told (see earlier blog’s comments) that to receive funding, the co-op had to block a minimum number of categories based on a rating system (one more asinine than the MPAA, I might add), I queried why blogs and wiki slide presentations and everything was blocked when it wasn’t on the neat little list my Principal handed me.

The nice man (thank you, Josh!) listened to me gripe, and then promised to check the list against the blocks and do it soon.

Then I asked him who provides the funding and filter mandates, and he said, as I suspected, the FCC.

Vision of Carlin danced in my head…

“So, I get to take on the FCC?  Freaking awesome!” I joked, half-serious.

He laughed, too.  “Yeah, good luck with that…” he said.

But I’d really, really like to.  I think I’ll follow this up and find out who makes these decisions, based on what data, and how designations like “R-rated” and “inappropriate” are awarded.

And why it is that when I googled “Greek people” the other day for an image to use in class (I’m teaching The Odyssey in my LA 10), I got, uh, much more than, uh, Greek people.  (My point here is not that I was offended–far from it, I can deal–but that even with all the freaking filtering of quality information, the ugly or objectionable or age-inappropriate still gets through.)

I’ve had students unable to write research papers on breast cancer research (the word “breast” is blocked) or write arguments against drug use citing NIDA (blocked because–get this–of the word “drugs”).  And we’re supposed to be educating?!?

Anyway, today?  Blogs are no longer blocked.  I can actually read all these blogs I have linked to over here on your right —>.

I won one battle; the war continues.  I hope I’m not alone in it.

Irony 2

A week ago, I attended the TIES (technology information education services) Technology conference in Minneapolis.  It was extremely worthwhile, and not just because I got to stay at the Hyatt Regency and splurge on room service breakfasts (I have medication I need to take with food in the mornings–that’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it even if I have to cut back further on Christmas shopping).

I got to network with other teachers, as well as media specialists, librarians, administrators, and various folks who have interest both in educating kids and using technology to helps us do that.

During my two days (I was not there the entire four), I took workshops in podcasting, using Twitter in Language Arts, Web 2.0 tools, legal issues surrounding Web 2.0 use, and a lunchtime presentation on many websites that I may or may not be aware of (I was both aware of many and unaware of many, just as I predicted).

I got to play with audacity and artrage, record sound and learn many new ways to create images to team with podcasts and presentations. I got some new contacts, and several more sages to follow on Twitter and link to on this blog.  🙂

And, best of all, all the presentations were uploaded to the TIES 2008 Wiki so I could re-view them on my own time, at work, and help share them with the faculty and staff at my school!  How cool is that?

Ah…here’s where the irony comes into it.  I cannot share this with my faculty, because my school has a severe paranoid streak when it comes to technology.  All the presentations from the TIES Wiki are…

blocked.

As are the majority of blogs (including most of what I have highlighted right here) in the blogosphere, Twitter, YouTube, any image- or slide-sharing website, and, of course, facebook and MySpace (not that I have problems with these last two being blocked, I suppose).

As are–I kid you not–any site that is listed as “personal” or “discussion“, so all message boards are blocked, as well.  (I use a message board in my AP class–somehow, that’s managed to work for three years now, flying in under some sort of radar, and it’s not even a school-friendly server but I have it locked down pretty tightly.)

So, I get to go to a technology conference, but I can only view the materials from…home.

And I cannot share most of what I learned with…my fellow teachers.

And I cannot use most of what I learned with…my students.

I teach at a great school.  I really do.  I love my coworkers and administration and students, and I have great respect for the school board (that’s hard to find in education circles, boy).  But…this is a travesty.  This fear of technology is doing a disservice to our kids.  In this area, we are not sending them off to work and college and tech school with the skills they should have to succeed there.

I’ve had seniors ask the difference between a URL and an e-mail address; request assistance in attaching documents to e-mail (I require this for formal writings); not know what “html” refers to–or even be able to name one computer language.

And this is the majority of seniors, mind you.

It’s not that I don’t understand the reasoning behind blocking things; it’s a scary world, open for all as it never has been before, and there is ugliness out there.  Predators, grotesquerie, and just plain crap.  I wouldn’t want my kids accessing this without guidance or preparation, either.

So, we need to provide the guidance and preparation, because that’s what parents and teachers are supposed to do.  The idea behind “education” is not to play ostrich until the student is off to college and thrown into a new world without any tools, but to provide those very tools that she will need.

It’s impossible to teach my AP Language course’s requirement for analyzing blog arguments when the kids aren’t allowed to follow blogs or discussion sites.  It’s difficult to teach web responsibility when the vast majority of decision-making is removed from them.

And it’s beyond frustrating to be a teacher in a school that doesn’t even allow me access to some very useful, very needful, technological tools.  All of these things are blocked on my computer, too.

There are ways around some of these things.  I can encode YouTube videos in a different format and bring in on my jumpdrive; but my teaching style is based, most often, on discussion, and that cannot be planned.  So often the classroom conversation enters into a realm where I need a resource there and then.  Example:  Last week, the discussion in my LA 12 (Brit Lit based) veered to the Battle of Agincourt.  I wanted to show the St. Cripin’s Day Speech from Henry V, Branagh’s version, and leaped to my computer for this educational moment. But of course, I could not; blocked, as I remembered just as my hands hit the keyboard.

I could go home, reformat, and bring in the next day–sure, no problem–but it loses the immediacy, it loses the discussion forum aspect that I believe is so important in authentic education.

Teaching is a multi-sided conversation, not a one-way, or even a two-way, ball toss.

So, I’m working on this.  I’m not alone in the faculty in being frustrated with the constraints put on technology use.  I’m certainly not the only one who believes teaching responsibility is far preferable to avoiding the subject altogether.

We are teachers.  We should teach.

Irony

Adapted from a facebook note

In browsing through Flair just now (facebook app, in case you’ve managed to avoid being sent flair by me over the last year), I noticed yet another pathetic example of someone uploading her idea without checking for spelling, grammar, etc.

That’s not the irony–that’s just another day.

What’s closer to ironic is that this particular button contained not only a spelling error that would be easily fixed with the smallest amount of proofreading, but a particular slur that I loathe (as my students know), one that is so overused even by people who usually wouldn’t use such slurs against groups of people.

Oh, no, that’s still not the irony…wait for it.

The point of the button was to make fun of the lack of intelligence of Rap music artists. (I also happen to know, from teaching a few years’ worth of students, that many couldn’t find a syllabic pattern, or metrical foot, to save their lives, and writing even a few lines of words that make sense *and* fit a particular pattern is incredibly difficult–rapping is *not* easy, no matter what you think of the art form.)

In making fun of the intelligence of others, this button managed to spell a very important word incorrectly AND use a no-no put-down that’s too juvenile to even stomach.

Wow.

It said: RAP: Retards Attempting Poerty [sic].

God, please keep all the stupid people away from me. I really can’t handle them right now. And may Chuck D. rain some schooling down on this idiot flairmaker’s parade, just a little.