“Time to pack up the house,” said my friend, Jayne.  Her comment took me back to the years when my children were nearly new and curious.   With each day of discovery they were building tiny bits of gathered information into knowledge on their pathway toward adulthood.   From the time they stopped eating dust bunnies and dog hair off the floor while exploring the world from a crawling perspective and moved up to the more interesting level of table tops, chairs and kitchen cabinets, our home provided them with an array of items to touch, handle and hold.  But before we allowed their small inquisitive hands to turn our treasurers into a destruction derby, we gathered up what was valuable and packed it away.

The replacements were either unbreakable or theirs.  Included in the collection were Little Golden Books, Lincoln Logs, building blocks, an array of toys and my older magazines.  In addition to their newly developed mobility, a keen sense of adventure took their tiny, toddling feet from room to room in search of everything in general and nothing in particular.  Our generation didn’t have “baby locks” to attach to cabinets and drawers.  Therefore, we often tied the handles together by looping a shoe string from one to the other which restricted door openings.  They also learned the meaning of “no,” allowing normalcy to return to our home very quickly.

It’s been a broad jump from small toddlers to my tall toddler, but some of the problems are similar.  Alzheimer’s has taken away Ken’s recognition of many things, but not his curiosity.  I often find him looking at something with the same look of puzzlement that a toddler might have while examining an unfamilar object.   He also rearranges things to his liking.   On the kitchen counter, all things are shoved up against the back splash, and I have found decorating items and candles jammed into the flour and sugar cannisters.  My watches were removed from a small jewelry box and replaced with a handful of screws; two watches still missing. It was about this time that Jayne reminded me to put away what was truly valuable: pack up the house for Ken.

He likes the toss pillows on the bed to be in a row and not in a pile.  My cologne bottles are also in a row, but lying flat on the glass-top vanity. On our bedroom desk, there is a recently framed photo of the two of us. I came in one afternoon and was surprised to see Oprah staring back at me from the same frame.  Ken had taken off the back, removed the filler — and the glass — then stuffed the latest issue of  “O” magazine inside.  He then replaced the backing and set Oprah where we had been.    While his rearranging is harmless, the tall toddler, because he is tall, can get into more trouble, posing more danger to himself (and possibly others) than a small toddler.

I found him in the bathroom one day going through the medicine cabinet where he had found a recent prescription for tranquilizers prescribed by his neurologist to keep him from becoming overly agitated.   A tiny, but very potent pill, he receives 1/2 in the morning and the other half in the early evening.  When I found him he had three pills in the palm of his hand.    “What’s that?” I asked innocently.  “These are mine,” he answered.  “See my name on the bottle.”  I agreed with him that, indeed, they were his, but three pills were far too many.  He allowed me to put them away and we went on to other things.

I knew then with certainty it was time to not only pack away valuables, but to lock up potentially dangerous items and meds.   He is still too smart for baby locks and I have found that AD patients have a certain cunning about them, so I have had to devise other means of security.

The recessed medicine cabinets and mirrors are flanked by two linen cabinets.   By drilling a small hole through the linen cabinet into the edge of the medicine cabinet door, I can slip a nail through the two holes; the nail entry hidden by towels.  The medicine cabinet door doesn’t budge, proved by my sister, Janet, when needing two Tylenol tables for a headache.  Still puzzled after searching the door in vain for a lock she finally asked for my secret combination.

In one bathroom, Ken has forgotten how to turn off the water with a single handle control, flooding the bathroom each time he used it.  With the plug in and the water running at full force, the overflow couldn’t handle the rush of water.  When the flood began spilling onto the floor, he walked away.  Fortunately, I discovered it  just as the water reached the hall carpet.  I have turned off the water under the sink: problem solved.  I’ll be putting in baby wipes for guests.  I tell Ken it’s broken and encourage him to use the other bathroom, which isn’t without its own problems.  With two handles, he remembers to turn off only one.   Under the sink I have adjusted the valves causing the water to barely trickle, and dismantled the plug.  Frustrating for all, but, again, problem solved.

For a long time my tall toddler didn’t bother the stove, but recently Ken began “testing” the burners.   “This is my house,” he explained, “and I have to make sure everything is working.”  He wasn’t really sure how to turn them off, so two or three remained on until I found them.  For a while I pulled the 220 fuse, but it’s easier to remove and hide the knobs, retrieving one when I need to cook.   I have also changed the passage knobs on the bedroom doors replacing them with ones which are keyed.  This procedure is for me.  Keeping him out  of rooms where he need not be eliminates the possibility of countless hiding places.  It also curtails his ransacking the drawers when he is looking for “something.”

Years ago and before my mother’s mind was taken away by this same awful disease, I had written her about a minor problem in my life at the time.  I can’t even remember what it might have been, but in response she sent me a comforting letter and a small message to ponder, which I kept.   It said, “Accept the challenges and problems that come into your life.  Think of them as broadening — stepping-stones to a richer you — even if they wound and hurt.”    If she were here I would tell her that in coping with my tall toddler, I’m giving her advice my best shot.

Originally posted 2009-09-27 08:23:41.


I recall my grandson, John, being the helpful boy he was, had surprised his mother by putting away all of the dishes in the dishwasher.  At six, he was so pleased with himself,  and she thanked him with a generous hug and kiss telling him how thoughtful he was and how much she appreciated him.  There was just a slight problem.  The dishes hadn’t been washed.  So when he had gone his merry way to play she washed every dish in the cabinet — dirty ones and clean ones alike.

When Ken is my husband he often wants to help in the kitchen.  A one-time Navy cook he had bragged for decades about his skills, but  during all of those boastful years Ken seldom used any of those skills in our kitchen.  However, when he retired I strongly suggested to him that cleaning the kitchen would be one of his homemaking  jobs saying, “If you’re retired, then so am I.”   I was pleasantly surprised to find he was totally accepting of his new job assignment and would often ask, “What can I do to help?”  And he began rekindling his old skills.

It seems, though, that time and circumstances do have  their way with us, making change a constant in our lives.   As his memory began to fade he could accomplish less and less in some areas, but was still a very good prep cook happily peeling vegetables, taking out the garbage and sweeping up the floor.  When even those skills diminished I found I would rather he didn’t do anything, but just as a wise mother doesn’t discourage the help of her young children, I didn’t want to hurt Ken’s feelings by telling him that he was actually in the way.  So, for the most part, when he is cooperative and not argumentative he can help.

Perhaps it’s because of those years when the kitchen was his responsibility that he has become obsessed with the sink and counter space.  When I bring out greens and other vegetables to make a salad, he puts them back in the refrigerator as soon as I turn my back, he also puts serving bowls out of sight, washes  greased cookie sheets while I’m mixing the batter and polishes the sink each time I rinse my hands.

If I wash a few pots and pans, leaving them to drain in the sink he wants them put away — right now — dripping wet.  More often than not our home and cooking area has become HIS house and HIS kitchen, wanting everything in its own place or out of sight — according to him.   Sometimes if he discovers dishes in the dishwasher he will empty it.  With the progression of Alzheimer’s, though, he can’t tell the difference between clean and dirty dishes even though I periodically sprinkle them with catsup believing that might identify them as needing to be washed.  One morning, however, I caught him as he opened the dishwasher and began to remove the dishes, catsup and all.

“They’re dirty,” I said.

“No they’re not,” he replied, apparently not seeing the red blotches.

“Yes,” I insisted.  They are dirty.  That’s why they’re in there.  This is the dishwasher and when it’s full, it will wash the dishes.  That’s it’s job.”

“Not necessarily,” he said in his arrogant tone, which is not that of Ken.

“We’re not going to argue about this,” I stated.  “The dishes are dirty.  Do not put them away until they are washed,” I concluded emphatically, closing the door, and suggesting that there might be a ball game on television.

I busied myself elsewhere and later that afternoon I noticed he had managed to empty the dishwasher in spite of me.   He mentioned how hard he had worked cleaning up the kitchen and putting everything away.  I sighed and thanked him for his effort.  Later, when he wasn’t looking, I filled the dishwasher to capacity with dishes from the cabinets and emptied all of the forks, knives and spoons from the drawers into the basket washing it all, just as my daughter had done with six-year-old John.

“Let’s see now,” I asked myself thoughtfully, ” is there another way?   How did we do the dishes way back when……?”    Oh yes:  fill the sink with hot soapy water, toss your helper a towel and say, “I’ll wash, you dry.”  And he does.

Originally posted 2009-05-21 06:42:17.

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