Tuesday, May 12, 2009

pelouse tondue and other things

Dad and I hacked away at our unruly front and back yards today, starting around 10AM and working until, oh, a few minutes ago. While both yards have essentially become a mix of weeds (there's very little actual grass there, but I was comforted to note that many of our neighbors are having their own clover, dandelion, and crabgrass issues), the buzz cut at least presents passersby with the illusion of orderliness. About one or two weeks from now, we'll probably have to do it all again.

Personally, I'm not a fan of lawn care, not because I hate the work (on the contrary, I generally find it meditative, like washing dishes), but because it seems to be one of those vain human activities that perpetuates a "man versus nature" dichotomy. Alas, the imperative to care for one's own lawn comes from the neighbors: allow too many dandelions in your yard, and your neighbors will worry about all those seeds wafting over to their own lawn. Even if you don't "keep up with the Joneses" in terms of what technical gadgets you own, you have to keep up with them when it comes to lawn care. And that's vanity, too: maintaining appearances for the neighbors' sake. Such is suburban life.

Mom saw me come in after my sweaty effort (I did the mowing and grass-bagging; Dad did the trimming and stick-bagging; he also combed the back yard for any debris left over from the renovation). When I declared I was done and that both lawns had been mowed, Mom shook her head and "tsk"ed me.

I'm getting better at decoding what this new Mom means when she does this sort of thing. Because of the damage to her frontal lobe (if you saw the post-surgical MRIs, you'd see just how much had been removed from the left frontal lobe, and even partially from the right frontal lobe), Mom's inhibitions have been somewhat reduced. Whatever her first thought is, this is what burbles to the surface of her consciousness and gets expressed. "Tsk-tsk," in this case, refers to the grungy state I'm in and the effort I must have put into the yard work. Were Mom capable of more complex, nuanced reactions, she doubtless would have followed up with her normal "Thanks."

Despite understanding all this, I deliberately asked Mom why she had "tsk"ed me. I often pepper her with occasional "why" questions, because I want the undamaged parts of her brain to start to pick up the slack, to do some cognitive heavy lifting, to make Mom once again aware of-- and responsive to-- the causal connections between events. "Why" provokes "because," and "because" requires elaboration of the initial thought. As a language teacher who spent eight years in Korea, I quickly discovered that yes/no questions were death in the classroom (a fact also known by American mothers who try to ask "tween" and teenage children about their day). To provoke thoughtful responses, you have to stick with "wh-" questions.

Mom's response to my "why" question was silence, which has been par for the course since her operation. I don't care that she was silent this time; my hope is to keep at this problem in a gently persistent way until we achieve some minor breakthrough.

For those who are curious about how all this has affected Mom when she's in Korean-speaking mode: there's no real difference. Because she's a fluent* speaker of English, her performance in both languages is about the same (changing back and forth between Korean and English during conversation is what linguists call code switching). Asking "why" in English or asking "wae" in Korean will elicit the same reticence in Mom.

Tomorrow, we're off to Fairfax Hospital for Mom's appointment with Dr. Tonnesen, the radiologist in charge of the radiotherapeutic aspect of Mom's treatment. Mom gets the cast of her face made tomorrow as well; it's possible that her in-tandem radiation and Temodar treatment will begin the following day. If not Thursday, the I'm guessing it will all start the following Monday.

Once Mom's routine has been set, I need to start looking for work. Being home like this is a financial burden on the folks (large guys eat a lot and have piles of laundry), and I've been jobless since the second week of April. My original intention had been to quit the proofreading jobs and give myself a free week to prepare more comfortably for the upcoming walk; I quit work around April 10, with the intention of leaving for the Pacific Northwest on April 18. Since Mom's symptoms manifested themselves on April 16, things have veered-- like the new "Star Trek" movie-- into an alternate time line. We are all now living an unanticipated sequence of events.

But money counts, and I need to be working, if for no other reason than to service my own monthly debts and keep myself from becoming too much of a burden to my folks, who are still smarting from the house's massive renovation. Ideally, I need to get a job similar to what I was doing-- whatever keeps me at home and on call is better than a job that requires a commute plus office hours. I'm going to try to find something local; in working for those Korean companies, I inverted my sleep schedule until I had become a vampire-- sleeping from 5AM to noon, working most of the day and into the night, taking breaks for dinner, and barely interacting with my parents. Whatever job I find, it needs to come with normal sleep hours.

One quick update (This Just In!) before I end this post: Mom is apparently upstairs fixing dinner for us. One of her friends is coming over to deliver some Korean food for Mom, so I'm curious as to what Mom is preparing, and whether she means it merely to supplement whatever her friend is bringing, or whether she means it to be eaten exclusively by us guys, while she focuses on the Korean food. The only way to find out which alternative is correct is for me to sign off here, so...

*Fluent doesn't mean perfect: a person can speak with perfect grammar and have an accent; another person might have great listening skills, but have grammatical troubles; fluency is a hard concept to nail down, but as the word's Latin root implies, it's related to one's ability to handle communicative situations in a fluid, flowing manner.

In Mom's case, she has long understood full-speed American English, up to and including many slang and idiomatic expressions. She speaks with an accent and makes some grammatical errors, but she makes herself understood clearly and in a short amount of time. The ability to express oneself succinctly means that one has command of a large active vocabulary; a smaller active vocabulary forces one to resort to circumlocution ("talking around") to express even simple thoughts in a second language.



Anonymous said...

Based on what (relatively little) I know about young children's learning, you might try the following to encourage/speed up your Mom's re-learning how to make higher-order connections: Pause after your wh- question to give her a chance to respond, and when/if she doesn't, follow up with your best guess as to an appropriate answer. E.g., in this case, you would first ask why she tsk'd, wait a moment, then say something like "Yeah, I really need to go take a shower, don't I?" or "Yeah, it was a lot of work" or some such--whatever your best guess is. I have no idea if this would help your Mom or not, but I do know that children learn what questions mean by seeing both question and what counts as an answer. Even for adults, it's not always obvious what someone is asking. The "why" question is particularly subtle.

She also may need some re-learning as to interpreting and verbalizing her own feelings/reactions (something else we do with young children.)

It couldn't hurt, and it might encourage additional interaction from your Mom--think how thrilled you'd be if she came back with "That wasn't what I meant", or even "I'll get you some clean towels".

chuck said...

hey Kevin, a little 2-4-D and water and all your broadleaf problems will go away for this year about 3 oz. per gallon of water spray on with a hand sprayer, it will not harm your grass. do not apply if temps are over 70 degrees it volitizes. But it really works.