Monday, April 11, 2016

An Observation

On Sunday, my husband and I went out to breakfast with our children as we do from time to time.  One of the restaurants we frequent seems to have a higher percentage of elderly clientele on Sunday mornings than our other favorites.  While we eat, both my husband and I are aware of the tables around us and the patterns of behavior we see.  At this restaurant, we've witnessed an elderly man lead his wife from the table to the restroom and stand up to wave her over when she stepped back into the dining room looking for him.  We've heard another elderly man explain that a particular occupied table helped minimize the confusion his wife with dementia experiences and that they would wait until the table was available.  This week, we had another, related encounter.

A man in his early 60s accompanied his very elderly mother in for brunch yesterday.  They entered the restaurant just before us and were seated at the next table.  Just after our food was delivered, my husband indicated that the woman had been in the restroom for a very long time and her son was exhibiting increasing concern and helplessness.  He wanted to check on her but didn't know if he should open the door and call to her.  I quickly got up and asked if he wanted me to check on her for him.  Relief flooded into his face.  I asked her name and went in.  She was fine.  She asked if he had sent me.  I explained that we had witnessed his concern and offered.  She chuckled and said "He doesn't realize just how long it takes me these days to do things.  We lost my daughter a few months ago.  She understood.  He's just learning."  I expressed apologies for the death of her daughter and held the door for her as she shuffled her walker forward.  She was surprised that another table had noticed and thanked me for checking.  I told her it was my pleasure as we entered the dining room.  Her son jumped up to help usher his mother back to her seat.  He was clearly attentive but seemed a little unsure of what to do.  He had moved his mother into assisted living over the winter.  She wasn't thrilled but she acknowledged that her frail health was more than he could manage in his home.

While this lady clearly had all of her mental faculties, some of the others we have encountered did not.  When I look at the restaurant, I can see the appeal to these families.  Aside from the things you expect from a restaurant such as cleanliness, good service and food, it has a few other aspects that make it preferable for them.  There is no music being played.  The restaurant has a much lower volume than others which allows for easy table conversation.  The decor is of a more classic stye with  little visual clutter or over stimulation.  The lighting and color scheme also lend to the feeling of sitting in a cosy home instead of a busy restaurant.   It feels like a break from restaurants with black walls, harsh lights, blaring music and over-the-top decor.

The encounter with the lady and her son combined with the topic of discussion at our table.  We were talking with our kids about the various discriminatory laws being passed in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi under the guise of "religious freedom."  We feel it is essential that our children get exposed to controversial topics in a way that lets us set the context.  We want our children to learn to care and have compassion for others; not to expect people to comply to one set of narrowly defined behaviors.  As a result, our eldest is supportive of a friend who has come out as transgender and asked for a different set of pronouns and name to be used.  While we don't live in North Carolina, the law that was recently enacted there has been of concern to our eldest.

The restrooms at the restaurant are single gender rooms.  There is not a unisex loo there.  The man clearly felt that the "Ladies Room" label was a full prohibition to his ability to verbally check on his mother much less access her should she have needed his help.  My eldest quickly realized that these laws actually prevent caregivers from being able to properly support the people for whom they are caring such as the man and his mother.  These laws also mean that mothers cannot take their younger sons into the restroom.  Fathers are also prohibited from going to the restroom with their younger daughters.  My eldest was already angry about these laws because they are openly targeting our transgendered friends and family.

Now, we were able fold in the concept of unintended consequences into the conversation.  These bathroom laws are coming from a place of discrimination and they impact more than just the LGBTQ community.  They hit all levels of our society from our youngest babies to our eldest seniors.  If a man cannot help his mother, what are we doing to ourselves?  I've debated with a few folks in the Alzheimer's community about their personal desire to see the transgendered from being forced into the bathroom which corresponds to the person's gender at birth.  During those conversations, I'm not sure they expected that they would also be prevented from providing adequate assistance to a dementia patient of a different gender.  These laws are offensive and unnecessary and I hope they get repealed or overturned by the courts.




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