My mother is one of those fine-boned, teeny-tiny, osteoporosis-prone women. You know the ones: women who shrink so with age that you find yourself fearing they might one day simply disappear into thin air. Mom’s little companion dog, a toy poodle named Teddy, is equally diminutive and fined-boned. Both have well-manicured nails and shoulder-length white hair.
They are inseparable.
So there we all were – Mom, Teddy, and I – sitting in the lobby of the DMV on possibly the most uncomfortable chairs ever made, filling out our paperwork to get her a new government-issue ID card. What a ninety-year old woman with Stage 5 Alzheimer’s needs with a new ID card, I’ll never understand. Stage 5 Alzheimer’s, in case you don’t know (oh, how I hope you don’t know) means Mom is starting to forget even the simplest of details, like how to spell her own name. If I’m not right there with her, she usually thinks I’m dead.
Anyway, as Mom was signing her name, one careful letter at a time, inside the yellow box on the little card that they use these days to put your signature onto the back of your newly issued ID, a guy with a well-behaved young pit bull mix walked by. Of course, Teddy went ballistic like he always does when he see other dogs (read: Little Man complex). Thankfully, the incident was over almost before it even started: the other dog passed by and Teddy barked. They went out the door and Teddy stopped. But that didn’t stop a very cranky DMV employee (let’s call her “Claudine”) from letting us know what’s what.
So, Mom and I are both sitting there on our impossibly hard plastic DMV chairs, minding our own business. Teddy is on my lap, done barking, not making a peep. All of a sudden, here comes Claudine, running our way like a wet, angry hen, planting hands on hips, sticking her bony chin out like she’s trying to poke a ‘possum out of his den.
“Service dogs,” she scolds, “are not supposed to bark.”
I look at Mom and then up at Claudine. “OK,” I say. Like, what am I supposed to do? Teddy barks. (And for the record, he isn’t a ‘service dog’: he’s a companion dog.) Then I sit there, hoping she will go away.
“They are not supposed to bark,” she says again, as if my response wasn’t satisfactory. Teddy hasn’t made a peep since the pit-bull left.
“Ok,” I say again. “He’s a companion dog – for my mom.” As if that should explain it.
“Service dogs cannot bark at other dogs.”
Hmmm. Pretty sure they can. It’s probably not a good time to correct her grammar though.
Long silence. Apparently, she wants me to apologize for bringing a poorly trained “service animal” into the holy shrine that is the DMV. Maybe she wants my assurance that Teddy will never bark on government property again.
There are so many things I want to say to Claudine, the first being, it’s sad that your life sucks so much that you get some joyous power rush over verbally attacking little ninety-year old ladies and their tiny dogs. I don’t say anything.
In my mind, I’m already writing about Claudine. She already has a name.
Mom looks at me. She doesn’t know why Claudine is there, or why she isn’t leaving. It’s gone on long enough. I don’t need to defend us. I just say, “Thank you.” Dismissively, with a smile on my face: the same way a teenager will say thank you when they really mean “F* You.”
Claudine has no idea what to do. Her body language suggests she is bracing for an argument, but the small crowd on our side of the DMV is watching her as she hovers over my tiny mother and her equally tiny dog, and from all outward appearances, Mom and I are both being courteous and compliant. There really isn’t anything else she can do without coming off like a full-tilt witch. She narrows her eyes at me, turns on her heels, and goes back behind the counter.
Mom leans in and asks me what that was all about. I tell her that the lady was just reminding us that Teddy isn’t supposed to bark inside the building. Mom says, “He’s such a good boy.” She looks down at Teddy, “You wouldn’t bark in here, would you, Teddy?” Then she gives him a hug. She’s already forgotten about the pit bull.
Every once and a while, Alzheimer’s works in our favor.