Things I want to keep in mind.

Month: December, 2015

Not knowing

What does she see?

My mother will turn 81 in 12 days. She has been in a memory care facility since June. With each passing day, she slips farther away.

I think the most difficult part of this disease is never being able to know what, if anything, she is thinking. Some days, she will just repeat everything you say to her, or whatever is playing on her television. Other days, she will respond with appropriate comments, “Oh really”, “Is that right”. She may call you by name as you enter her room or she may look at you as if she has never seen you before.

She used to wander the halls or sit in the lobby, but the last few times I’ve gone, she has been lying on her bed. Recently, she won’t get up off of the bed when you come in to visit.

What could make her happy? Music? Reading to her? Talking to her? Does she hear us? Does she wonder where we are when we aren’t there? Does she wonder where she is? Is she frightened, angry, sad?

Everyone you meet has suggestions for you. Tell her about your current activities, talk about memories of your childhood, sing to her, read to her, just hold her hand. All good suggestions. All difficult things to do, at least for me. When mom had her faculties, those acts of devotion would not have been comfortable or preferable.

Naturally, as her children, we think of this as a sad existence: lying on her bed, staring at the television, eating, sleeping. We think of the woman who could never sit still and was always doing something or driving somewhere or calling on the phone ready to share some gossip. We have no way of knowing what she sees or thinks. It is painful, for us, but for her – I believe it is a simple existence with minimal needs. She no longer has to worry about anything. No more worries about her children or grandchildren, no worries about money, aging, relationships, or the state of the world.

I would also like to believe that there are fleeting thoughts of her life. I hope she thinks about the carefree summer days, camping, walking, playing, riding her bike, teaching Sunday school. I hope she remembers her relationship with my dad – back when they were young and their lives were full of promise. I hope she can feel our love when we come to see her.

When I visit my mom, I tell her all that is going on with my kids. She loved her grandchildren very much. I know she would want to know what they are doing if she could remember them. I try to find funny anecdotes to share. Sometimes, I bring my Ipad and show her photos of her great grandchildren. I don’t stay very long. She loses interest fairly quickly and it hurts to see her. Three out of five times, I cry as I leave.

What does she see? Is it something beyond those walls? Does she see the end of days or the beginning?


No time like the present

Most of us enjoy the holidays – but not all of us. Those golden days can bring a deep sadness for some. Maybe they’re homeless. Maybe they’re alone. Maybe they’ve lost someone or everyone.

We watch the holiday movies and tv programs because they make us feel warm and cozy. At the end, the main character who was either sad or lonely or lost or cranky – always re-discovers the light in their soul. The music alone can bring on the tears.

We wrap gifts, we bake Christmas cookies, we send Christmas cards, we plan for meals with friends and family.

We also fret. Did we buy enough? Will everyone be happy with their gifts? Will the turkey be dry? Will everyone make it home?

Imagine if you couldn’t buy anything? No gifts, no turkey, no flour for cookies. What if you didn’t have money for gas? What if you didn’t have a car? What if you didn’t have a home? What if there was no “feel good” music at the end of your Christmas story?

Stop fretting. Instead of buying more and more for your household – make a donation to a homeless shelter or youth home. Most stores have programs donating gifts or food. Try being cheerful while you’re out shopping. Be kind to your fellow man. Instead of giving wonderful, elaborate gifts – give of your time.

It’s difficult to think about doing – we rush and rush. Scurrying about from one dinner or event to another. Now that I am old and retired, the holiday season is much less hectic but, of course, for my children it is STILL hectic. They are working and trying to squeeze everything in.

If I could change anything in my life as a parent, I would have revamped my view of how Christmas should be. I remember worrying too much about the gifts and the lack of money to buy the elaborate gifts that all of their friends would be getting… Would they be sad or envious? Usually they weren’t – at least they never let me know it. We always tried to make Christmas dinner a pleasant meal – that was important to me. I strived for having Christmas be a good memory for them.

I’ve seen several posts about getting children four gifts: something to read, something they want, something to wear and something they need. I think that is great. I didn’t get my kids books very often – but I did usually get the other three. The problem for me was in feeling badly about not getting them exactly what they wanted. Usually, our budget just wouldn’t stretch that far. I wish I could have let that feeling of shame and disappointment go – I would have enjoyed the holidays more.

No time like the present, however. Today, I’m going shopping for my last few items. I’m going to buy a few little things and I’m going to find a way to donate something to someone, a toy or food or both. During the holidays, I’m going to enjoy spending time with my kids and grandkids. When that nagging feeling about whether I’ve done enough comes up, I’m going to remind myself to be grateful not fretful.

Do your best

Do what you can do. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

I am not a seamstress. I hate to sew, my head starts to itch and it is just not enjoyable. I know many people who find sewing therapeutic. They create beautiful quilts and clothing. I have never learned how to make a good pie crust but I can make tremendous desserts with cream cheese. I am a great organizer – I can anticipate all the little details well in advance of any event or project. I have difficulty figuring things out on a computer – although, in my younger days, I was a whiz. I am a horrible dancer, I have no rhythm – but I can sing.

In recent posts, I’ve been on my soapbox about the division of duties in a household. As was obvious by my commentary, I feel very strongly about this particular topic. If women are to be able to compete in this man’s world – the only way to level the playing field is if men have to deal with at least a portion of the woman’s world. However…I must be clear. The division must be determined by the coalition of the household. In other words, it is open negotiation, considering all strengths, abilities and desires.

We do each have our strengths and weaknesses. The key isn’t making sure everyone has exactly the same number of duties, it is in understanding and knowing that it is a partnership. Some days, we may give 110%, others only 50%. The point is we realize that there will be days like that and our partners are there to pick up the slack. In every household, the division will be different based on the flow of the partnership. There is no set rule that everyone must abide by – let your lifestyle purpose be your guide.

Do what you can do. Do what you do best. If it isn’t in your “wheelhouse”, do the best you can.

On a positive note

Did my last two posts seem like they were a little unfair to “men”? Possibly. I hate to generalize like that but statistically – men are still in the higher numbers of those who don’t actively participate at home. No offense intended. If inequalities in the work place are ever going to change, it has to start at home. We can make more progress one house at a time – not saying that we shouldn’t stop fighting at work too but if we have the support at home, we’ll have the energy at work.

I do know men who participate. My husband, though he was a slow starter, was very helpful. He is an unusual man because he likes babies and will take care of them – feeding, changing and playing with them. He’s cooked as many meals, gone to as many games and functions, vacuumed, swept and transported kids easily as many times as I have. He is a dad in all ways – especially since he is also a step-dad but he doesn’t differentiate in that way. They are his kids – blood relation or no.

My son is an equal partner in his relationship. He participates 100% – feeding, changing, transporting, cleaning, laundry and dog care. He knows what goes in the diaper bag – and that really means something! He works a full time job and is a full time dad and partner. You go, Gabe!

I know many men who are active fathers – they participate without being asked because they realize it is important. They talk and listen to their kids. They wouldn’t miss a minute. They cry when their children leave for college and when they return to visit, they greet them at the door with open arms. They not only love their children, they KNOW them.

I also know men who are learning what it is to be a father, not all men have an example to draw from. Kudos to those who are working to figure it out. You won’t regret it.

The lesson here is men ARE important: as caregivers, as cleaners, as partners, as people. Together we can make it happen.

Delete Perfection – the plan

It just occurred to me, as I was cleaning my toilet, that my post this morning was not very helpful. Oh sure, I went on and on about the difficulties of pursuing perfection and I made a big statement about how we need to STOP but I didn’t really say how – did I? When you are in the throes of raising kids and working – and are just keeping your head above water – adding one more thing to think about and do – well that’s just hurtful. Duh.

So – we need a plan. Nothing too complex – an easy plan that we can follow without completely disrupting our lives. The following are just suggestions based on things I’ve experienced, read or heard of and know to be plausible.

First, we need support from those closest to us; our spouses/partners. If they are not willing to participate – that first step is going to be the biggest.

So, let’s address that: Partner Participation. Let’s start with what matters and what doesn’t. Sanity matters. Rest matters. Peace matters. Co-parenting matters. Who makes the most money doesn’t matter. Who has the most prestigious job doesn’t matter. House duties and child rearing duties are no longer based on gender – gender only matters as agreed upon by active participants. (i.e. perhaps one or the other is stronger for heavy jobs or more squeamish for jobs involving unpleasant bodily fluids or dead carcass removal).

Prioritize what is important to the well-being of the family. DIVISION OF DUTIES IS PARAMOUNT FOR THE WELL-BEING OF THE FAMILY.
Cleaning: usually a spotless house is the first thing to go. Nobody has time for that. If you can afford it? Hire a house cleaner! If you can’t – set aside a day once a month for deep cleaning (and everyone does their part on said day). The rest of the time – keep it tidy and free of health hazards. Deleting perfection means a little dust is okay – pick your battles. I’d go with a relatively clean bathroom – toilet in particular…
Laundry is something that is easy to do as a side job while you are doing something else. Anyone can do laundry – including washing, drying, folding and putting away. Does this have to be assigned? Up to you and yours… Deleting perfection means sometimes the folding is done differently by different individuals.  Deal with it.
Cooking depends on the schedules of the participants. Always try to eat together as a family – it is better for everyone. If you cook, you don’t have to clean up afterwards. Better yet, cook together, eat together and clean up together. That will give you at least a good hour of time together. Decide on a meal time when every one can be present and then make everyone responsible for being PRESENT. **Remember – with small children, the schedule may depend on their meal time and bath/bed time. Adults need to be flexible and responsible. Also, remember that children as young as 2 can help with prep and cleanup. It is important for them to participate as well, what better way to show what family IS?  Deleting perfection means sometimes you cook a box meal, order in pizza or cook breakfast for dinner.  Cook as healthy as you can as often as you can.  Make dinner about family not a four star rating!
Child care after a long and full day: this is where you really need to consider your children as much as your partner. They benefit from having both parents participate in this very important ritual. Working together to get the kids bathed and in bed as a tag team is a great option. It doesn’t work for everyone. Alternating nights gives each of you a chance to do something else on your “off” turn. Remember to be flexible and to be PRESENT, for the sake of your own children. Deleting perfection means accepting that each of you has your own methods that work for you. As long as the children are clean, warm and safe, roll with it. **No belly flops in the tub and no candy during story time, however!  There are rules for bedtime!
Morning routine and transport to daycare. Morning time can be a three ring circus – often more difficult than bedtime. Same rules should apply, helping with dressing, breakfast, packing bags, packing vehicles and alternating transport days. Flexibility is the ticket. If it is impossible because of work schedules – consider helping with the prep the night before. The key is to be AWARE of what is needed and participating in accomplishing those tasks. Deleting perfection means teaching/learning what works best and being available. Relaxing as much as you can about the small stuff.
Other stuff like taking out the garbage on garbage day, taking the dogs for a walk, doctor appointments and school programs for children – those are all totally negotiable. What works best for you? I can tell you what won’t – expecting one partner to do the lion’s share. Deleting perfection here means assigning/accepting responsibility so that one person doesn’t feel resentful and exhausted. Say what you need and hear what is being said.

Closing snippets (for partners just learning to participate):

  • Pay attention to family queues. If you are watching a TV program and you hear a child screaming for an extended period – go look into the fray. Perhaps you can lend a hand. Often just a different set of eyes and hands can bring an alternate ending to an otherwise predictable story.
  • Step up without having to be asked.
  • If you have difficulty stepping into the house routine after a full day – take 30 minutes to decompress. Remember, your partner may need a reciprocal decompression break later.
  • It is NEVER too late to start.

Closing snippets (for the perfectionist trying to reform)

  • Change doesn’t happen overnight for anyone.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking this is the way to a perfect family. We’re trying to delete perfection, remember? These suggestions are a means of finding a more peaceful existence but they are just suggestions. Do what works with the same goal in mind.
  • Accept that your partner may not be as tidy, or attentive, or strong, or careful as you.
  • Accept that there are limits – work hard but not to the point of exhaustion. Complete work assignments as they are due – not before they are due. Get some rest instead.
  • Choose activities for your children that make sense for them and for you. Don’t overextend yourself or them.

Deleting perfection means not doing what others think you should do but what you can do. Find your center, THEN lean in.

Delete perfection

Perfection. Expectations for perfection. That’s a killer.

As women, we expect perfection in every venue. Why? Because we are bombarded with those expectations from every direction; the media, churches, family culture, social culture. We see and hear it so much, we believe it. We want to be perfect mothers, with perfect children, in a perfect house, with a perfect job. In every profession – women are told to lean in, lead, fight for what you want. The message is clear – you can do all, be all if you are willing to work HARD. You don’t have to be perfect just precisely excellent with a side of accomplished. (You didn’t really fall for that smokescreen, did you?)

As soon as you become a mother – you realize the fault in our stars. Unless you are very wealthy AND willing to let someone else raise your child – you are now at a crossroads. Nurture baby or nurture career? Oh sure, you can do both if you don’t mind not getting any sleep. If you don’t mind rearranging your entire priority list:

List one: marriage, job, fitness, self, house, dogs — List two: baby/job, house, dogs, marriage (delete fitness and self – NO TIME)

I’ve always maintained that men are LUCKY. They are never faced with the same hard choices. Theirs is usually the main income – since they can earn twice as much, even for the same position (THAT’S yet another aggravation! But that is a post for another day…). Usually, even if they want to be an involved father – they will never have to choose NOT to work to take care of the children OR to take a lesser paying job so they have a more amenable schedule for childcare OR to only work part-time (giving up any chance of true success or advancement in a particular career) OR to change their goals in lieu of being more available to the rearing of their children. Rarely do men/fathers have to make those choices. Instead, they are able to maintain their jobs. They continue to advance – passing over their female counterparts who are not able to keep the same pace because they have children at home. Children who get sick at daycare and have to be picked up. Children who have special school events. Children that a mother is not willing to leave with a sitter so that she can take extended business trips. (Sidebar: This is NOT always the case. There are fathers who DO rearrange their lives and jobs for the benefit of their children/family. And there are women who do choose to take the extended business trips and leave their children with a sitter or spouse).

The truth of the matter is for all of the advances the women’s movement has made, there is still a LONG and hard climb ahead. The truth? We can’t do everything and we can no longer expect PERFECTION. Women are running themselves into the ground. The higher percentage of women can’t lean in because they’ll topple over. Time for a reality check and it is up to each individual woman to stop, breathe and reevaluate. There is a third list: Self, marriage/children (because it is hard to separate those two), job, fitness/dogs (kill two birds with one stone!), house, (delete perfection).

Being a mother is a very hard job. It changes every day because your kids change every day, they are growing, learning, changing. What worked with the kids two weeks ago, might not work today. Listen and watch your children – try to understand them – but understand also that they have good and bad days just like you do. Sometimes, there is no understanding. Sometimes, they cry or scream for no apparent reason. Sometimes, you’ll cry right along with them. Always remember that you are the mother – but you’re growing, learning and changing too. Any mistake from yesterday is a lesson for today. They can’t be perfect children and you can’t be a perfect mother. Accept that and move on. Never give up and never give in.

No matter what your profession – perfection is a lofty goal. It won’t define you, it will devour you. It will take time to break free of those old expectations – but start today. Work toward accepting efficiency, not absolute perfection. It can be done if you’re realistic and if you monitor that little misogynist bastard voice in your head.

I remember when my fourth child was born and I had just gone back to work. I realized I was exhausted and resentful. I was angry at my husband because he wasn’t stepping up enough. I felt like a bad mother because all I wanted was some peace and quiet, time to myself without having to answer to anyone. I knew something had to give. That something was ME. I rearranged everything so that I could keep, not my sanity, but my head above water. I started to run (metaphorically not physically). I started to keep a list in my head so that I didn’t miss anything and I could anticipate what was coming next. I stopped reading the paper. I cooked quick and easy meals; though, for me, it was rare to eat it while it was still warm. I exercised late at night when the kids were in bed. I eventually had to give up a job that I loved so that I could find more reasonable childcare and so that I could be more available as a mom. Anytime there was a difficulty at school or with the behavior of one of my kids – I felt so much shame. I was not the perfect mother that I aspired to be. I felt so alone, sad, tired and inept. I’m pretty certain that every other working mother on my block felt the same shame and sadness – we just didn’t share it with each other.

Now, I am older, wiser. I have time to process my own feelings about those difficult times, I can read blogs and self-help books that help me learn to identify the triggers and stumbling blocks. I have a better understanding. We will never be able to avoid the social directives and influences about perfection, not completely. There are still times when I find myself succumbing to the feelings of shame, self-doubt and even some self-loathing and fear of my imperfections – even in my old wise age. Was I a bad mother? Did I do enough? Are my kids okay? Would they be better now if I had been better then?

All we can do is continue to remind ourselves – where we came from and where we are now. Our predecessors worked hard to pave the way – we have a long way to go – our daughters will be glad we maintained the path.