Why I Couldn't Care Less

Alison Chalmers writes with candour about the struggles of caring.

Author: Alison Chalmers

You have been away for nearly two years now but now it’s time to come back home to me. Social services and education kindly pooled their individual budgets to allow you to attend residential college and access the much vaunted '24 hour curriculum'. Of course you’ve been back for weekends and those extended holidays the education loves but now you’re destined to return to the fold, like the prodigal son or a bad ‘Penny’. And I haven’t a care in the world.

I can’t care because I won’t care but I do care because I don’t care. You’re not coming home to me. These last two years I’ve found someone new to care for, to look after and cherish and that person is Me. Me-not Mummee but Me and I like her and loathe her. 

She is intolerant of indolence and of slowness, shoving her way through supermarkets as if on some mad Trolleydash. And you, my friend, are aimlessly idle in the aisles. If asked to get something you stand stock still, affronted by the very notion of having to pick up a tin of baked beans and, if you can be persuaded if it is something you might like, you have an unerring knack of not getting it quite right - Heinz versus own brand - so you won’t be asked again. 

Then check out the check out. You stand arms folded, looking the other way as I struggle to with the trolley - entally and physically pecking and picking the items to go on the conveyor belt in the right order like a contestant on the ‘Generation Game'. I ask for help - you slowly unfurl your arms with a sigh and tilt of your head and reach down for the eggs, grabbing them like an arcade game you omelette them onto the belt and fold your arms back. You’ve done what you were told, no less but no more. Shopping stuffed into bags I proceed to pay whilst you wander off to sit down - this supermarket shopping don’t arf take it out of you! And no we won’t be going for ‘pepsi please’ I want to go home; I’m tired but so are you. Long, loud yawns, you stretch your arms exposing your fat and flabby midriff but of course you were up all night.

I need my sleep and so do you. But it’s much more fun to keep the lights on or play music or even better keepthelightsonandplaymusic and watch TV. How nocturnally nasty am I knocking on your door - ‘Can you please....?’ Hurmph, hurmph, hurmph. You snap off the electricals but revenge me by going down stairs and leaving the milk out or here’s a better one – finishing the milk so breakfast will be black and dry - like my humour!

But who cares? We have a meeting – we are off to talk about transition – life after learning. We are due at a stuffy office the other side of town. To get there we go by bus, but you won’t sit with me - you chose to sit beside a young man who you stare intently at; he looks awkward and you look in love. You giggle and grin and his head goes lower and lower; you mutter sweet nothings and he quickly texts, willing for a conversation with anyone but you. I ring the bell and you pole dance your way off the bus but still need my help to ‘mind the gap’.

We arrive at the office – to meet your very ‘draw your own’ social worker – with her sandals, bunches, fixed grin and reams of paper. She asks if we would like a drink – coffee is fine with me but you say ‘coffee is crap’ and are given juice which you drink in a oner and then burp and belch before demanding ‘more’. The meeting is so-called ‘person centred’ a phrase that may have turned heads in the past but now just turns my stomach.

I know nothing will be decided – you will be asked questions; you will say the most random or abstract thing that comes into your head and it will be slavishly written down, recorded for posterity, because it's your choice and ‘you have a voice that counts’. You are the band leader whilst I am just the bystander; you can call the shots whilst I want to kill the shits! Who cares?

But no today you are not playing ball – you are tired and so am I. But I have to smile sweetly, act benignly benevolent and appear alert and interested. You, on the other hand, can put your head on the table and moan when asked ‘what makes a good day?’ You can pick your nose when asked to chose what you want to do. ‘Aw bless, a little tired perhaps?’ – too bloody right it was High School Musical until two this morning.

I say I don’t want you home when you leave college, not in so many words in case the words ‘bad mother’ appear like invisible ink meeting lemon juice on your files. I seedcorn phrases like independence, skills, consolidated, control, community and see if they take root. The social worker nods her head, then scratches it. ‘This won't happen over night’ she says wisely. Damn and there was me with the suitcase in the hall! And at that moment you fart loudly and announce ‘toilet now’. Care-free.

So back home we go – nothing ventured nothing achieved. I ask what you want for tea ‘pub’, no not tonight what do you want for tea ‘pub’, no maybe later in the week what about...’pub’. Every night it would be ‘pub’ and in every pub it would be ‘burger and chips’, eaten chips first followed by a three bite burger with any ‘green leaves’ removed, topped off with some dry retching. And to drink? Ah yes a pint of pepsi – that brown fizzing acid- fermenting stomach ulcers and rotting teeth. But hey it's ok the dentist said because you drink it so fast (chug chug) it doesn’t even touch your teeth. Care full.

Bath time – I run the bath as you would have it overflowing as you watch the water. You undress and attempt to step in but it’s a struggle so I help by holding. You splash in, sitting there, your women’s breasts and rolls of fat and stretch marked legs. When did all this happen? I turned my head from the chubby chattering child with her washer woman arms to be confronted by her bigger, uglier sister. I leave you to mellow and wallow in the bath, relishing the peace and a chance to watch war on the news. Have you washed your hair? No you do it. Do I have to? You do it. I step into the bathroom and recoil as I see the bath water has turned a nasty shade of brown and there are floaters of sweetcorn, potato skin and seeds flotsomming on the foam. You have shat in the bath – you are twenty two – you have a learning disability – and I care.

I care that you go to bed, I care that you get up. I care that your clothes are clean and that they fit and are fashionable. I care you eat healthy food and have fun and have friends but I can’t care forever and that s-cares me. It s-cares me so much who will care for you when I can’t care, not because I don’t want to care but can't. Who will care that you could read all the words to Green Eggs and Ham aged three? Who will care that you have a wicked sense of humour and who will care that you can find your way round YouTube with the twitch of a finger.

I care. I care about you and I care for you. I care for you and I care about you.

But hey who cares?

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Why I Couldn't Care Less © Alison Chalmers 2015.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Story | 20.08.15

education, intellectual disabilities, social care, England, Story

Alison Chalmers


Voluntary sector health and well being co-ordinator, advocate & freelance writer

Also see