Carnett: As child gains motor skills, granddad's wane

I've noticed lately that my 8-month-old grandson has been acquiring a lode of new physical skills.

Those skills, enhanced and refined daily, surprise and delight his fawning family.

The funny thing is his new skills seem to mirror those that I've recently been shedding.

It's almost as if some immutable cosmic force is at work ensuring equilibrium. Judah gains 'em, I lose 'em. Perhaps not. More likely it's an eerie twist of fate — and also the fact that I have Parkinson's disease.

I was diagnosed almost eight years ago, and Parkinson's is daily taking a toll on my physical frame. I track its insidious advance.

Parkinson's is a degenerative brain disorder with no known cure. It causes nerve cells to die or become impaired, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance difficulties. Other signs include a shuffling gait, cognitive problems or muffled speech.

Judah spends lots of time looking at — and deliberately flexing and splaying — his fingers and hands. To him, they're an incomprehensible wonder. Now that I think of it, they are. Aren't you amazed at what a hand can do? Play a violin, sculpt the human form out of a chunk of marble, unwrap a Hershey's Kiss.

Judah has learned to grab, grasp and clutch. It's uproarious to him to pull his grandmother's hair and listen to her squeal.

Conversely, my hands seem no longer to work. Gone are my fine motor skills. Tying a shoe is a major undertaking. I ask myself in frustration, "How can this be so difficult?" I have no satisfactory answer. Only, Parkinson's.

My mitts have become clumsy, shaky and sometimes disturbingly non-compliant. I have great difficulty stuffing dollar bills and credit cards into my wallet — and pulling them out. I encounter awkward moments at the checkout stand.

There are other challenges, like buttoning a dress shirt, zipping up a suitcase and signing my name.

I used to type more than 90 words a minute; I now type 15 in 60 seconds on a good day. And with my tremors, I strike loads of letters that I don't need. It's disconcerting.

I useta be a contenda!

Fortunately, I'm no Arthur Rubinstein (pianist), Andres Segovia (classical guitarist) or Jascha Heifetz (violinist). If I were, my world would be shattered.

Cruel fate stole Beethoven's hearing, yet somehow he managed to compose "Ode to Joy" and a host of others. Given my fingers, I'm afraid Mssrs. Rubinstein, Segovia and Heifetz would be mute.

Fortunately, my life's raison d'etre is tied to something other than nimble digits. Typing 90 words a minute is a nice bonus for any writer. But should that scribe be suddenly reduced to pecking out 15 WPM, well, that's far from a deal-breaker for life. Accommodations can be made.

No one Parkinson's patient exhibits every single symptom of the disease. Though I have problems controlling the tremors in — and rigidity of — my hands, many of my Parkinson's colleagues have no such hand problems. We're all different.

My plucky little grandson bravely pulls himself up on our living room sofa and endeavors to gain his balance. Sometimes he'll stand unsupported for a few breathtaking moments before toppling.

Once a handhold has been established, Judah sidesteps down the length of the couch to the other end. He gets more adept at this game every day.

Balance is something I've increasingly been losing. The world may put its pants on one leg at a time — standing up — but not this cowboy. I either resort to leaning against my bedpost or the nearest wall, or I just plain sit down and shimmy up my chaps.

My wife pulls a T-shirt over Judah's little head and shoulders in nothing flat. I wrestle for interminable seconds trying to get a sweatshirt over my head and my arms inserted into the sleeves. Why is this so difficult? Parkinson's.

Despite life's minor inconveniences, these moments that I'm privileged to share with Judah are priceless. It's a joy to watch him develop.

God is good.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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