Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Habit or Humor?

Ever since my ninety-three-year-old father-in-law moved in with us a few months back, I've been witness to the mysteries of memory and habit.

 Although the memory of daily doings sticks to him as loosely as a dandelion puff on a breeze, once he has repeated an action several times it becomes entrenched in his mind. He even continues to do the things here at our house that he used to do when he lived on his own—like rinse out his cup as soon as he’s finished, turn off the light every time he gets up, and shut doors and drawers.

I am thankful for this power of patterned behavior. It helps him to function very well even if he doesn't remember what he had for breakfast twenty minutes earlier. The problem is—how to reprogram some of those routines that don’t work so well in my own house.

For example, I always keep open the door of my Shaker jelly cupboard where I have my random collection of family forget-me-nots.  One day, I walked by and saw it closed. I opened it.

Two days later, there it was shut up tight as Buckingham guard. I opened it.

Now the first time something unusual happens, you might think nothing of it. The second time it happens, you question yourself—am I forgetting whether or not I did this? The third time it happens you cast about for suspects. Pa was high on my list but I never caught him doing it.

Finally one night my husband saw Pa shuffle by, stop, shut the door and continue on his way to his chair.

The next time he walked by the cupboard I intercepted him. “Pa, do you see this door?”

He stared at it as though I were the peculiar one. “Yeah, what about it?”

“It’s open,” I say. “I like it open, but you keep closing it. You had me worried. I thought I had a ghost!”

“I’ll never close it again,” he declared. Smiling all the way to his chair.

Two days later. . .              

P.S. One of the ten books in my June pile was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Interesting insights on habits and how to change them. Duhigg covers a wide range of subjects as examples—from business and advertising, to addiction to football coaching techniques. He acknowledges the power of belief in changing our response to habits, albeit not necessarily a belief in God,although we know He is the One who sets the prisoners free.

Still, worth your while if interested in changing habits. (Not sure about Pa’s!)

Blessings abundant this middle week of June which includes National Hug Holiday, Loving Day, Kitchen Klutzes of American Day, Flag Day, and National Hollerin' Contest Day, among other who-would-have thought-occasions!



  1. I can imagine your confusion! Thankfully it seems to be a not-too-awful habit...could be much worse, right?
    And thanks for commenting on my blog, I feel honored.

  2. So funny, Marcia. I constantly remind myself that one day I will be the senior citizen doing quirky things. I just pray the family finds my quirks endearing :)

  3. The cabinet looks lovely closed and open. You have excellent taste no matter how you display it. I hope Pa learns to leave the pretties on display, but am glad that you aren't still working with toothbrush-borrowing. :)

  4. Marcia:

    I admire your father-in-law's power of patterned behavior, and your patience at understanding him and caring for him. Bless you and your kind heart.



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