In just over a week, I fly to Africa, heading for the bush. Not for the fainthearted, the whole bush thing. Lions, leopards (outside the door) snakes, spiders, bad tempered buffalo and rhinos, sweet long=lashed giraffes and oh, oh, elephants, also with long lashes but not always sweet tempered. However, everyone with a modicum of sense is absolutely polite-without-question around elephants and, as I will so not be on foot when we meet, but in a Buckie, with a guide, I am confident there will no opportunity for disrespect. One flap of those ears, one growl and we are solid gone.
The forward planning, prior to said trip to Africa, for one whole glorious month, is most definitely a fandango. I’ve checked the gas supply, the oil supply, the wood for the fire. I’ve emptied the inside paper bin into the outside paper bin a few times and yet, I am here for another ten days. I have stocked up with tissues, kitchen roll, loo paper, washed the cloths, bought in extra bin liners, cotton wool, washing powder. If I were to leave right now, this minute, all would be perfect, but how much of anything is a muchness in my absence?
I write and write and add to the list of NOTES FOR THE CARERS. It doesn’t come easy because I do it all, and without listing any of it. How to explain, for example, the workings of our old, but reliable, built in oven and grill, with all the relevant stop points eradicated over time. I just know that I need to flick to 6 o’clock to get the lower oven working and the grill settings…….well, they went long ago, but I just know! All those little tasks that make up my day, any day in the life of a housekeeper, dog feeder and walker, washerwoman, floor sweeper, bed changer, encourager and sorter are legion and extremely hard to list. I have to notice, stop, write down, and, as I do, I consider what a marvel a woman is. I always knew it, but somehow this noticing and writing down thingy elevates womanhood to angel level. The carers are my support team. They are also women who run, not only their own domestic lives but mine, in part, and that is the part I need to translate for them, as all homes and situations have their own quirks.
Teaching is a gift. There used to be a ridiculous saying, ‘if you cant do, then teach’. Well what nonsense! If you can’t do, you so can’t teach because to be a good teacher is most definitely because you can do what you plan to teach. It isn’t about book learning but about experiential learning and that knowing is knowing indeed. When my kids met a good teacher in their lives, this teacher changed everything for them. The rest, well, say no more. To interpret things we know into a language that others can accept and understand is skilled work. As my list gets longer and l o n g e r, I wonder if it makes sense at all. And, in my need to over-say, I forget they all have a deal of common sense and will work everything out for the best. Bullet points are enough, even if my pen hovers over the paper, as I fight the urge to detail every tiny thing, a result that would cause their eyes to roll, for sure.
So, it comes down to letting go. I’m not good at that and how would I be? I’ve been the main carer for many years now and the one who notices, thinks things through, solves all problems, either via email, or phone, or with my own abilities to fix broken parts. Letting go sounds lovely and feels like pants. But, soon enough, it will be me, heading off with E ticket and my kit, and there will be no popping back to check that everything is done the way I would have it done.
In the days prior to going anywhere, even for two nights, the to-do list frazzles me, leaves me a bit shaky and brim full of doubt. I know that anything forgotten will be my fault, even if I also know that’s a load of unfair dinkum and not the truth at all. I have often wished that I cared less, like some other sensible women who have no problem in letting go, but this is not me. I even fretted over the kid’s packed lunches, so there is no hope for me now. But, and but again, I can learn new ropes, even now, even as an oap. Or so I tell myself. And, just think, you crazy old coot, you will be thousands of miles away in the sunshine soon enough.
So, I made a rag doll. I had always wanted a rag doll and never did have one that I can remember. She is badly sewn together, filled with old bandages instead of the right stuffing, and dressed in what could never be called an outfit. She is not colour, nor pattern, co-ordinated and her lippy is smudged. She is a fandango. But she is smiling and I love her. I had to split a cork to fix behind her floppy neck and one arm is longer than the other. I followed no pattern, but guessed my way through the making of her which is evident on closer inspection. She is sitting in front me right now. My Tatty. And smiling still. She reminds me of myself a while back, sassy and smiling and multi-coloured, before caring took its toll, which it does, and let it be said, and heard. Of course I am changed. Who wouldn’t be? But, despite a retrograde flow, not just for me, but for everyone involved, there are times of laughter and fun and it is these times that hold the line and keep it strong. I can see my children holding it too. When one of us falters, others tighten their grip.
And, for now, Tatty Fandango smiles on.