Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bop Til I Drop

It's fun to not say no. I like not setting limits.

Of course, I could only be talking about grandmothering. Generations of grandparents have discovered this before I did. My daughter says it takes several days of detox for my grandson after he returns from a visit with me. I try to express sympathy but, secretly, I'm proud.

Yesterday morning my grandson and I danced. Sometimes we've joined hands and danced, but this time he wanted me to pick him up and carry him as I twirled and dipped. We put our cheeks together for a while, then he'd pull away and clap his hands together. His mother danced near us, and her dramatic moves made him shriek with delight.

I've never been an especially good dancer. Nor have I been known for my agility, strength or gracefulness. But my grandchild thinks I can-- and should-- be able to do anything he asks. If that means dancing, then by golly this granny is gonna move.

Part of the reason I'm able to follow my heart and do whatever he wants is that his parents set the necessary limits. I'm glad they do. I value them. But I don't want to be them. I want to be the granny who bops 'til she drops.

Monday, September 17, 2007

After the Fall

My dad fell Saturday. We received the call about 11:15 that morning, picked him up at his independent living facility and took him to an emergency room, where we spent the next four or five hours. My dad, who walks with a "walker," could not get up or stand unassisted after he fell, and we feared the worst-- which in his case would have been a broken hip. But x-rays were negative and, though a painful gash on the back of his head required five staples, we were relieved. He is with us until we can make some confusing but necessary decisions.

Falls are awful. My husband has been telling me for years that I go down harder than anyone he's seen. "You've never learned to fall," he concludes, then tries to tell me what to do when I feel myself falling. I know, I answer, I've read the instructions.

Honestly, I never thought much about falling until I began to work with the elderly. After several of my special people died as the result of them, I began to fear falls. Nursing homes are hazardous places. I've read studies that say 50 to 75 percent of nursing home residents over 65 years old fall at least once every year; "only" one in three people who live at home fall once a year. As a staff member, I fell several times each year, so I suspect the percentages are actually higher.

I've tried to think of another word or phrase to describe what happens to a person when he falls, other than "shaken up." He didn't break any bones, we say with relief, he's just a little shaken up. But people are shaken deeper than their fragile bones, down into the psyche.

I can't believe this happened to me.

I'm afraid to go anywhere again.

My dad is using his walker now and testing out his world after the fall. Yesterday he slept a lot. As he lay on the couch, eyes closed and breathing steadily, my son gazed at him and murmured, "Doesn't he look sweet?"

Yes, too sweet, too good to fall.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Happy Birthday to Us!

It's your birthday, Mother, and if you were here I'd say Happy us! That's what we used to say, you and I, once I was finally willing to acknowledge that it was your birthday, too! I used to be a self-centered little thing, didn't I? I'm glad you never held it against me.

I thought it would get easier to live without you and I guess, after nearly ten years, it is. But I still can't get through a day without thinking of you and, when I do, the tears surprise me all over again. No, I'm not really sad and certainly not depressed, but there's something about thinking about your mother. . . . I know you'd understand, because you were that way about your mother, too.

Sometimes it helps to list the things I'm thankful for. I'm glad you got to know Scott and Diane, because in knowing and loving them, you learned even more about me, and about Steve-- your own children. You thought Steve and I were both pretty lucky in our mates and marriages. I even jokingly accused you of liking Scott better than me, and though you denied it, I noticed you didn't protest too hard!

You spent time with all four of your grandchildren, making up in quality what you were denied in quantity. I feel a little guilty about that, because I enjoy such easy access to my own grandson. Speaking about yourself and my dad, you'd say, You just have no idea how much we love these kids! I used to think to myself, Of course. I know you love them a lot. But, as usual, you were right; I didn't know. Not until I held my own grandchild would I understand.

I wish you could have been at your grandchildren's weddings. I wish you could have met their spouses. You'd have been so pleased, and so reassured. You wanted nothing less than complete love and devotion for them and, from those wedding days forward, that's what they've had.

I wish you could see your three great-grandsons! I picture you holding them, laughing at their antics, looking at their photographs. I know you could find resemblances that have never occurred to the rest of us!

And I wish you were here for Daddy. He needs you still, as he always did. No one understands him as you did, though it's not from lack of effort on our parts! Whether it's making the bed, folding underwear, or loading the dishwasher, he unintentionally reminds me that your ways were best. You felt both relieved and a little guilty to leave first. You didn't want to say it, but I knew-- strong as you were-- you didn't want to live without him. For your sake, I'm grateful that you didn't have to.

I'm crying as I write and, though you didn't want me to mourn forever, you would have understood. You knew about grief, just as you understood love and family. . . . . and birthdays! They're all part of life, our lives, and denying any of them is impossible.

So, happy birthday. . . . to us!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


If something just won't leave my mind alone, I write it down hoping that the muddle will explode into eloquence. That's just a dream. Usually I'm satisfied if I have a little more clarity at the end of a session at the keyboard than I did at the beginning.

Sometimes I begin writing a blog post that I'm not sure I'll publish. The reason for that, most of the time, is that I know I may get fed up and delete it! Other times I realize that, whoa, I don't want people to read this.

I don't know when I first heard the phrase "Sandwich Generation." It was catchy, whenever it was, and I thought it might apply to me. I still had children at home, though two were teenagers, and my parents were getting older and needier. I introduced the term to friends in similar situations, and together we pondered the meaning of belonging to this newly identified group.

That was long ago, but my membership card has not yet expired. No, I'm not taking care of my children now (though I'm still available for giving advice!), but I have a grandchild I want to be with as often as possible. And my father's life is one I lean into more each day.

My reluctance to write about this (see second paragraph) stems from fear that people will think I'm complaining or, worse, glorifying my importance. The truth is, I don't do that much. My grandchild is in another city. My dad lives in Waco but not in my home.

Still, I feel "sandwiched" between my desperate need to be in my grandchild's life and my helplessness to change my father's. The two longings don't compete with each other, but trying to maintain my footing as I leap from one to the other is tricky. And I think I just changed metaphors, because sandwiches don't jump.

Yesterday evening I sat with my father as he described another hopelessly bad meal, throbbing hands that make it tortuous to tie shoes and button shirts, and his sickening dread of a nursing home. I know he usually feels better the next day. But the tears I held back as he talked fell freely the rest of the night. In my frustration I slammed three doors.

As I write this, my dad has gone out to breakfast with my son. I didn't sleep last night but I'm better today, too. Why? Because I'll soon hold a baby. . . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

For Example

My mother lived for eighty years, but it wasn't long enough. I know that babies lose their mothers, and women in their twenties die every day. But gratitude for her longevity hasn't lessened my longing for more time with her. I wanted her to see my children get married. She didn't get to. I wanted her to meet her great-grandchildren, and she never saw them. She was fun and loved life as much as ever and if she were still here she'd still be grateful for the gift of it.

One of my friends said, when her mom died, "I've lost my cheerleader." No one else cared in quite the same way. It's true. I am blessed by the affection of many people, some related and many not, but no one is interested in me like my mother was. My mom knew how mundane my life could be, and she still wanted to hear about it! If I had guests for dinner, she wanted to know the menu and what I wore. For example:

Did everyone eat a lot, or was someone picky? What time did they go home? Did I think they'd be inviting us over very soon? If not, why wouldn't they?

Didn't I think I was catching colds too often? Maybe I wasn't sleeping enough. No, vitamins probably wouldn't help. Was I worrying too much? Well, I shouldn't, because after all I was doing the best I could and that's all anyone could be expected to do.

Who would I say my best friend is now? And why is that? Maybe it's because she's the one who still writes you. People should write more letters. Or at least call, though long distance is expensive. Anyway, you always need friends.

Didn't I dread moving so often? At least I had a wonderful husband who helped me. Most women don't have it so good. But, really, when did I think he might get out of the Air Force so that I could stop moving? Only if he wants to, of course, because it's important that he's happy, too.

Did I realize how well-behaved my children were? Better than most people's, and better looking, too! At least we could say that to each other without bragging, because we both know it's the truth. Don't you hate it when people brag on their kids to make themselves look better? We don't want to do that.

Did I need so many dogs? How could I keep a house clean with all those animals running around? Yes, they're cute, but still.....

I miss the conversation that continued regardless of how many miles were between us. I miss sharing things that only she would find worth mentioning. I have so many questions for her now, almost ten years' worth, that I didn't think to ask back then.

And the first one is, Did you have any idea how much I'd miss you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Last Drive

It must be hard to give up driving. In my experience, men often find it more difficult than women do. More than one male nursing home resident with whom I worked has thought he was in his car or truck when, in fact, he was lying in his bed. I'm talking about dementia, of course, but I've never seen a woman's confusion take that same route.

Prior to Christmas my dad, age ninety, still drove every day. He met friends for coffee on most mornings and then drove to my house for coffee with me, all of this happening before 9:00 A.M.. And he still came over for dinner at least once or twice a week.

Shortly after the holidays he experienced a series of seemingly minor medical problems. Test after test revealed nothing major, but-- long story short-- he now uses a walker and is frailer than he was last year. His car has sat for weeks in the parking lot. He admitted driving to the dry cleaner's several weeks ago but otherwise hasn't seemed motivated to drive. This is not a problem for me. It's a relief. I've been able to take him for appointment and errands.

Recently he mentioned selling his car "because I probably won't use it anymore." Without sounding too eager, I tried to be encouraging as I casually mentioned the good reasons to give up driving. When a family member mentioned buying his car, my dad seemed interested.

When I called him early Sunday afternoon and he didn't answer, I wasn't too concerned. I left a message. When he didn't return my call within 30 minutes, I called again. No answer. I began to consider making a trip to his apartment to check on him.

Finally the phone rang. He was trying to sound jovial.

"Well, you probably won't believe where I've been."

I thought I knew but played dumb. "No, I really don't know."

"I drove to the cemetery." This would be the cemetery where my mother is buried.

"Oh? And you felt up to doing that?" I tried not to sound irritable. But this is a man who usually notifies me when he's going to be in the bathroom for longer than five minutes.

"Well, I did all right. I can drive fine. It's just getting in and out of the car that's hard."

We continued our conversation for a few more seconds. Sensing my concern, he finally said, "The bluebonnets are blooming there."

"They are? Are they pretty?"

"They're beautiful." He said it softly. A long pause, then, "I guess I needed to take a last drive."

I don't know for sure whether that was his last drive. I'm praying that it was and that he received some comfort, as I did, that his last drive was to visit my mom.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Mistakes Were Made, Maybe By Me

I've been trying to avoid becoming obsessed with the sentence "Mistakes were made." It's such an easy target, the passive voice, and all day columnists and bloggers have been hammering Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for using it. Bad, bad, bad Alberto!

We've become accustomed to hearing public figures, politicians especially, "apologize" without admitting anything. Bill Clinton probably wished later that he'd stuck with mistakes were made rather than uttering his famous denial of not having "sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." See what happens when you slip into the active voice?

As indignant as I am when someone owes me an apology and just won't give it, I have to admit that at times I have avoided reeeeally taking responsibility myself. In the interest of honesty and personal growth, I would like to make amends. I intend to demonstrate that I can indeed take responsibility, even when employing the passive voice. Here goes:

Mistakes were made on my Trigonometry final exam in 1968. Lots of them, and probably by me, since it was my grade that dropped from a B to a D.

Mistakes were made when a kitten was smuggled into our no-pets-allowed university housing. Yeah, okay, I made the mistake when I smuggled the kitten. Also, my husband was the apartment manager. He worked for the university. Awkward.

Mistakes were made when I tried to speak German to Germans in Germany 1987-1990. I must be talking about me, because the Germans seemed to speak pretty good German.

Mistakes were made by not getting a flu shot this season. My mistake, my flu.

See what I mean? It's not so hard. Give it a try, Alberto.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Along for the Ride

You are going forward toward something great. I am on the way with you and therefore I love you. --Carl Sandburg, "I Love You"

Though Thanksgiving can get swallowed up into a pre-Christmas frenzy of shopping and partying, three other days during the calendar year are, for me, mini-Thanksgivings. My children's birthdays are occasions for remembering my first glimpses of their newborn faces and how each of them greeted the world in a style all their own. I relive the exhaustion and the ecstasy of that birth day, and I intentionally spend time breathing my thanks for the amazing life that began at that particular moment.

Life with our son has never been dull. He's funny and smart and his mind works in mysterious ways. One of our friends called him "a tender tough-guy." And he is. But more than that, he is an affectionate uncle whose antics make his nephew squeal with delight; a compassionate soul who held his "dog-brother" close as life ended; an attentive and patient grandson; and an irresistible son who lights up his mom's world by just passing through the room. From the moment I saw his furious little face in the delivery room and heard his not-so-little roar of outrage (he was probably hungry-- hunger, to this day, puts him in a really bad mood), I was captured. As the actress Helen Hayes put it, "That was the end of my heart. I never got it back."

I don't think many of us parents want our hearts back. We want to be along for the ride. Sometimes we forget who's supposed to be driving or holding the reins, a common parental amnesia, but the journey is nevertheless as exquisitely exhilarating as it is unsettling.

And on this day, my Thanksgiving in March, I am so grateful-- and humbled-- to be along for the ride. Happy birthday, favorite son!

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Sourpuss Amnesiac with an Attitude

I was in a hospital waiting room this afternoon. As usual, I finished the three-month old Time magazine quickly, so there was nothing left to do except stare at other people-- which is so rude-- or eavesdrop-- which is rude but subtle.

A woman about my age wearing a full-length white furry coat plopped down in a chair next to a man who turned out to be her husband. She was talking on her cell phone in a loud voice. "Do you want to meet me at Tom's . . . . well, why not? . . . you're always saying you want more time with me." She argued for a few more minutes before hanging up. Then she turned her attention to her husband, who was wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket-- kinda cool in my view.

"I think you have amnesia," she stated flatly.

"No, I don't."

"Uh huh, you do. I'm sure of it."

"No. I just can't remember everything you say." A minute of silence. Then she said:

"It just really frustrates me when you act like such a sourpuss."

"I am not a sourpuss," he answered.

"Yes, you are definitely a sourpuss, and you've been that way all day. I hate it."

"What do you mean? I got up this morning, I gathered wood, started a fire. . ." Silence again.

"You've had a real attitude. Something is wrong with you, and you have an attitude."

This time he waited a while before responding, then:

"Maybe I'm just tired."

(Ah. So that's it.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why would I be here if I didn't have to be?

I spent the morning with my dad at the hospital. He had a radiology appointment. We were told to check in at Admitting at 10:30. From there he would have lab work and then proceed to Radiology. It didn't take very long to check in, though it involved more paperwork than he thought necessary.

"I don't know why they have to open up a new account every time I come," he said, not very quietly. On the other hand, he wondered why the Admitting person didn't spend a longer time reviewing the drivers' license he was required to show. "Did you really look at it?" he quizzed her. He then rattled off his drivers' license number for her just in case.

"That's fine," she said, "I just needed to verify that you're who you say you are."

"Why would I be here if I didn't have to be?" he countered.

The lab work went smoothly and soon we were already in the Radiology waiting room. It was only 10:40. Our appointment, we were told, was not until 11:30. They always allow plenty of time for the lab. Great, I thought.

By noon I had read all the available magazines. My dad had visited the men's room a couple of times. I asked the lady-behind-the-glass if she knew how much longer we would be waiting. Then I shared what she had said with my dad.

"She says they're running a little late, and it will be a few more minutes," I whispered into his ear.

"Oh really?" he answered, staring straight ahead. "I never would have guessed that."

I heard giggles all around me.

Finally at 12:15 his name was called. The technician asked him,"You've had this kind of test before, haven't you?"

"I'm 90 years old. I've had every kind of test before."

He came back 45 minutes later. "This place has some problems," he told me as he sat down to rest.

Oh? I was sort of hoping he wouldn't elaborate, but he continued. "They still weren't ready when I got back there, so they put me in a storage closet to wait."

I mumbled something about a construction project but didn't press him about being put in a closet. Turns out I didn't have to.

"Yes, it was just an old closet. Maybe six by six. There were boxes stacked all around me."

Really? Oh. Wow. Hmm. . . .What else was there to say?

Evidently he had thought of something. "I told them I wasn't coming back until they got themselves together. And I'm not."

Fine with me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

60 is the new 40

When I turned on the TV yesterday morning, Today Show host Ann Curry was presiding over a segment called "60 is the new 40." First on was a 67 year old model, discovered at age 63. She's now working for Eileen Ford's modeling agency and living a most unexpected life. She said it was wonderful and looked very happy. I loved the color of her hair-- white-- but thought the style was pathetic. No way the Ford Agency would tolerate that hair on an under-40 model, but I guess they were relieved that she still had hair.

Next, Ann Curry interviewed Raquel Welch and best-selling author Gail "Passages" Sheehy. They both agreed that 60 is the new 40 and that the older model is bound to be very inspirational to aging women. Yes indeedy, I feel better already and know I'll sleep good tonight.

Raquel talked about, uh, Raquel. Sheehy trumpeted her new book Sex and the Seasoned Woman. My favorite moment of all came when one of them said-- are you ready for this-- "But getting older is about more than sex." I was overcome with shock and heard myself shouting at the television, "It is? Oh noooooooo!" In other words, I was profoundly disappointed. My mood did not pick up when Curry closed by inviting the viewers to stay tuned for a feature on depression. But I suppose I can rationalize that not only is getting older not just about sex, it's also not just about depression. Sigh.

I was ever-so-slightly impressed with a phrase spoken by Racquel. She seemed to be regreting her pattern of "living life on the surface" for so many years. Since she's presenting herself as an example of how good an older woman can look-- as opposed to be, for example-- I'm not sure she's much deeper than she's ever been. But perhaps she's trying, and that's all any of us can do.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Zone

I spent a couple of hours Thursday playing with two of my best buddies. Their mother, who had a lunch meeting to attend, is also a friend of mine. I never know exactly how the boys and I will spend our time together, because I am definitely not the one in charge. What I can be sure of is that we will have fun and that I will learn something new. Learning something new is a very fortunate thing-- otherwise I might turn into an old fogie.

That afternoon we spent almost all of our time in the boys' bedroom. They had removed the couch and chair cushions and carried them from the living room to their room, where the cushions began new life as a tall tower. That this tower was quite wobbly and was being climbed upon by two wiggly bodies made me a little nervous at first (I imagined myself telling their mother when she returned, "I'm sorry, but they both crashed through the window and I haven't seen them since!"). As time passed, however, I relaxed and entered The Zone.

The Zone is a place where thoughts of schedules and obligations do not exist. In fact, I think they're banned. While in The Zone, my voice switches octaves easily and my body participates in activities that I Do-Not-Attempt-At-Home. Words like poo-poo are funny in The Zone. New ideas and scenarios flow seamlessly, interrupted only occasionally by a call from the bathroom ("Miss Ann, come wipe my bottom!").

We usually play with Sock Monkey, whom I bring from my house. Interestingly enough, I am the one almost always chosen (ie., ordered) to hold Sock Monkey and be his voice. The boys prefer doing things to Sock Monkey. In other words, Sock Monkey is a perpetual victim, doomed to yelping and whining about the unfairness of his plight and begging the boys to make things better for him-- which they invariably refuse to do. Nearly every toy in the house is brought forth to inflict some sort of torment upon poor old Sock Monkey. Thursday he was mashed by couch cushions. Even Lucy the cat was summoned to the bedroom in the hope that she would introduce her claws to Sock Monkey. Instead, Lucy was unimpressed with her potential role in our drama and quickly escaped to a-- relatively-- safe spot under the bed.

Eventually my time in The Zone must always come to an end. Mommy or Daddy arrives home to a joyful reunion, and Miss Ann climbs into her red Bug and waves herself away.