BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Parent

Who really knows?

Parenting is hard.  Not everyone should do it.  There are lots of “manuals” in the form of “self-help” books, thousands of them.  Every theory, every strategy, every study, every child-rearing notion known to man available in print.  Oh, and blogs galore!  Present company included.

I can honestly say that, as a parent, I read my fair share of books.  I also observed other parents and their children to help me decide what was the better plan of attack.  Raising children is like planning a war – preparing for battle each day – and you will all get plenty of battle scars, parent and child alike.  If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean.  (They don’t want to wear that, they want to wear that.  Put it on and they don’t want to wear that either.  They don’t want to eat that not even one single bite.  They don’t want to read OR to take a nap OR to pee!)  It is exhausting!

My husband and I were very strict with our children.  We had very rigid rules:

  • No screaming unless you are bleeding or dying.
  • You must clean your plate – if you take it, you eat it.  (And you must try everything – at least a small portion)
  • Good manners are important.  No talking with your mouth full.  Say “please” and “thank you”.
  • No fighting!
  • Saturday was chore day – everyone must clean their room (older children had to help younger children)
  • Mom & Dad were in charge and there was NO ARGUING and you should never have to be told something twice.
  • If you are out playing and you hear my whistle – stop what you are doing and come to me. (this still works to this day and they are adults!)
  • If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.

I’m sure there were plenty of others (my kids could probably add to the list) but those are the major rules that I remember.  Of course, in hindsight, I do realize that in some cases we were far too rigid.  Meal times were often very stressful because my husband was adamant that everyone learn those good manners.  We both regret it now — although, they DO have good manners and could make a good showing at a meal with foreign dignitaries – but mealtimes should be a time of sharing and relaxation.

I do know that, as a mother, I needed to have these rules in order to keep my household moving forward.  When I was in my thirties, my friend told me about John Rosemond, an author on parenting.  I bought his book, The Six Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children.  It helped me immensely!  That was back in 1994 or so — but so many of his ideas remain true (to my mind anyway).

Life has changed.  There is so much technology and lives move much faster.  With divorces, same sex marriages, single parents – the core family looks very different.  There have been many new studies and there are new theories on how to raise children, as a species we continue to evolve in that regard.  But I am old fashioned, I still believe that the parent has to be in charge and while you can be less rigid than we may have been – you still have to call the ball.  You make the rules and you enforce them.  Children need to know that you are watching over them – they may not like it sometimes, but they know where they stand in the grand scheme.

BUT.  Parenting is hard.  Sometimes, you are co-parenting with someone who has no parenting skills.  You spend much of your time doing damage control.  Sometimes, you work a full-time job and are exhausted before you arrive home to your second job – parenting.  Who wants to continue the battle – 24/7?  Take it from me – rules do help.  In this day and age of loving the child and trying not to hinder their spirit – things do get muddled.  Before I understood what my true role as a “mother” was – I wore myself out trying to reason and argue and yell – basically, begging my children to behave.  Rosemond’s book helped me to realize that I was expending all of my energy and they were learning how to ignore me.  I wanted them to behave but I didn’t expect them to do so.

“Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.

From a child’s perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. “I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so” means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.”  John Rosemond

Once I finally understood this and began to implement this attitude., I was truly amazed at the difference for my stress level.  The kids didn’t like it and it took a while for them to adjust but eventually they knew that the dance had changed.   I would love to say that I was a calm and stern mother for the rest of their young lives – that would be an exaggeration.  I still had moments of doubting myself and falling back into feeling like I needed to let them have their way because I did so love them.  There is a magnitude of outside influences for all of us.  Each one of us has our own road to travel and struggles to endure.  No two children are alike but they can accept (and need) guidelines and boundaries.  They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Even with the manuals, self-help books and advice from scads of sources — parenting is hard.  We do the best we can and when we know better, we do better.  It’s all in the knowing…and who really knows?

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Luck

A conversation with my grandson, Ollie, last week (while looking at a portrait of Grandpa Sarge):

me: He was a cowboy just like you.

Ollie: But why?

me: Oh he just liked to ride horses and feed cows.

Ollie: But why?

me: oh, he just liked it.  Did you know he was my dad?

Ollie: But why?

me:  I was just really lucky…

Monday the 13th would have been my dad’s 85th birthday.  I often wonder what he would be like now – if he had lived.  I believe he would be thrilled to have his children all living on the same road, within a mile of each other.  He would absolutely love seeing all of his grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.   It has been almost 16 years since he passed away.  Doesn’t seem possible.

As time goes by, I think of him less and less.  It is a natural part of the process.  But there are still things that remind me of him.  Red flannel shirts. Tobasco sauce.   Seeing my uncle Pat who looks JUST like him from a distance.  Seeing a sorrel horse.  Hearing a tuneless whistle.  Seeing the age spots on my own hands.

Dad loved to talk and he was a great story teller.  He had a very soothing voice and a colorful vocabulary.  I still miss hearing his voice.  I have very vivid memories of times when he knew I was hurting and he tried to talk me “out” of it or when there was a point he wanted to make, a lesson to teach.  I don’t always remember the specific things he said but then his message was usually relatively covert.  He would start talking about how to chop wood and the conversation would morph into being proud of a specific talent you might have or how to avoid a certain type of boy.  How did he manage that?  It was a gift.

After his heart surgery, and the subsequent staph infection, the doctor had to reconstruct dad’s sternum using the muscles in his chest.  We were told that dad would have to wear a shield over his chest for extra protection.  He would also be limited with some of his activities after his recovery.  Unfortunately, he didn’t survive the infection.  He was 69 years old.  That was in 2002.

I am so grateful that he was my dad.  I’m grateful for all of his camouflaged life lessons.  He was a wonderful grandpa.  He was so good to all of us.  He was a cowboy.  And I was just really lucky.

Ours is not to reason why

It is hard to imagine what you would be like today if this disease hadn’t stolen you away.  In many ways, you have already passed but, unlike being in heaven, we can still see you but you can’t see us.  It is heartbreaking to see you in that place, in this state.  Your beautiful blue eyes are vacant.  Your face is relaxed and absent of emotion.  Each day your body is thinner, more emaciated.  You sleep, you sit in a chair with your head in your hands, you eat, you walk, you wait.  What are you thinking?  Are you thinking?

My wish for you is that you will fall asleep – sideways on your bed, as you always do – and peacefully find your final rest.  Though I didn’t know you as well as some daughters know their mothers, I do know that this is not what you would want.

I know you were lonely most of your life.  You were torn from your core family as a young woman and moved across the country to a small town where winter and your in-laws were equally unyielding.  You were in a relationship void of day-to-day intimacy.  I always like to believe that you and dad loved each other – but your timing was always off.  Neither of you understood how to communicate in a loving relationship – or how to belong.  Poverty was not new to you but it was something you abhorred.  Who doesn’t?  We can all withstand poverty if we have steadfast love and friendship.  That was just another thing that was in short supply.

Resentful.  That is the word I would choose to describe what I knew of you.

And now, I am to come visit you.  We had nothing to talk about when you were you.  Now, it is all I can do to stay a full 5 minutes.  The heartbreak is the loss of you but visiting isn’t much different than most of my visits to you throughout my life – except you can’t speak to infer an offhanded criticism.  I know you loved me – but you didn’t really like me and it hurts me to this day.

When the time comes, I will help write your obituary and I suspect that I will learn things about you that I never knew while you were living.  I will always remember and appreciate the love you gave to my children.  I will remember the life you gave me. But I will also struggle with the neglect and resentment I have felt from you in my lifetime.  And I will never know why.

For both of us

Recently, I have been missing my mom – which is unusual because we had never been very close.  I’ve been thinking about the way she used to be — about 10 years ago when she was still delivering the mail and stopping by on a whim.   She would call fairly frequently just to fill me in on gossip or ask something about the kids.   In those days, she was a gadabout.  If she got bored, she would jump in her car and drive to some unknown point in the valley or to a neighboring town.

Every Sunday, she played the organ at the country church.  For a time, she would regularly come to our house for dinner after the service.    We had a small family discord and she stopped coming over and rarely called.  As time and her dementia progressed, we lost contact until the memory loss became a safety issue.  By then, when it was time to step in and arrange for her care, she no longer remembered the discord but the disengagement of recent years only made matters worse.  I feel deprived of the last few reasonably normal years of her life before the dementia changed her into a stranger.

As I said, we were never very close but the dementia has forced into grim reality the realization that we have lost any possible opportunity to be close. Looking back into my childhood, I wished for a mother who would talk to me, tell me things, hug me and tell me she wasn’t angry with me.  That just wasn’t meant to be and, now, it truly never will be.  Having to let go of that hope and wish is hard.   It makes me sad for both of us.

Mom remains in a memory care facility.  She has lost a lot of weight and she no longer recognizes anyone.  Her biggest pleasure is when my sister brings her cinnabons or something from McDonalds.  She still walks loops around the hall with her walker and she hasn’t fallen for a couple of months (knock on wood).  It isn’t easy going to visit her – in fact, it is very difficult.  Her face is sallow and her eyes are vacant.  She rarely makes eye contact and only grunts as a response to most questions or she repeats the question.  Somewhere in that shell is a woman who had 4 children, cooked on a wood stove, chopped wood, taught children how to read, delivered mail, played the organ and acted as eucharistic minister in her church.  She was also a woman who wanted to go to college but couldn’t because of financial constraints, a woman who loved her family but always wanted something more – a woman whose true dreams and desires will never be known.

I miss having her around and I wish that things could have been different – for both of us.

The gift of peace

My mother-in-law passed away peacefully on June 10.  She was in hospice care for one week.  I hope she has gotten back to her bridge club.

Funerals are difficult and no one likes attending them.  It is a time to say goodbye; to show support for family or friends; a time to reflect on the life and times shared with the dearly departed.  Depending on the person, a funeral can be very personal or very religious or very long or very short and not so sweet or a combination of all the above.  There can be music, prayers, readings, masses, poems, speeches, fire and brimstone, tearful goodbyes.

My family lost four important members in a 4 year succession.  We learned a lot about funerals and how to plan and implement a decent, respectful and personal service.  There are so many details that you just don’t know about – so many choices to make.  What type of service?  Where will it be held?  Who will preside? Will there be a viewing?  Casket or urn?   Flowers? Special program for the service? Who will write the obituary?   Where will they be laid to rest? Who will be pall bearers?  Will there be a reception afterwards?  Where will it be held?  Who will bring food?

These are all details that people have to think of when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.  For some of us, having something constructive to “do” actually helps.   For others, it is overwhelming.  It is a very emotional and raw time.

In the case of my mother-in-law, she requested a full catholic mass.  She belonged to a large church and the priest did not know her personally.  The service was typical of a full mass and because the priest knew nothing about her, he read her obituary during the sermon portion of the service.  He mispronounced her name and the name of her home town (Butt? Montana).  He had not read through the obituary beforehand so it was read in a choppy manner and it was hard to understand.  It was supposed to be a celebration of her life and it really wasn’t.  Fortunately, at the reception afterwards, the family held a more personal service in remembrance of their mother.

There is a saying, “Funerals bring out the worst in people”.  Families have broken apart in the aftermath of a funeral – the loss of a loved one and the arguments that ensue.  Past hurts come to the forefront and the battle over material things can be a detriment to most families.   Wars are waged and lines drawn in the sand over grandma’s crystal gravy boat or the diamond dinner ring.  It just isn’t worth it but it happens frequently.  Having a will is very important for legal reasons but it is the responsibility of the survivors to deal with division of property and personal items with consideration for each other and in honor of the memory of the departed.

I realized after my dad’s funeral that it is important to think about, and to make known, what your wishes are prior to your death.   But it will save your family a lot of stress if you also plan what you want as a final goodbye.  I have a file titled – “when I die” and it talks about what I want for a service.  It is not overly specific, just little tidbits.  Songs I like, that have special meaning to me; things I feel would be nice to say about my personality; my feelings about religion; how much I love my kids,  grandkids and my husband.  Most importantly, I have included my wishes that my children stay close – rely on each other – no matter what.

I’ve heard it said that it is morbid and depressing to think and talk about those things.  I don’t feel it is because it provides clear instructions for your loved ones and saves them the stress of having to wonder what you would prefer.  It can be as specific or generalized as you want it to be.  In truth, there are so many things that we don’t know about each other and that we don’t normally share.  I’m certain that my mother, who now has dementia/alzheimers, had no idea that she would never have the chance to say the many things that she was saving for “someday”.   There are so many things about her that we don’t know, she never shared, and now there is no one to ask.

It is sad to think of your final days, your final resting place, leaving those you love behind.  None of us knows WHEN that will happen, but we do know that it WILL happen.  To provide a means of saying a final goodbye and of saving your loved ones from that difficult process is truly a gift.  Your final wishes conveyed in black and white will give all of you peace.

 

Getting back to Bridge Club

She loved to play cards.  One of the most difficult parts of her illness in the end was that she couldn’t play bridge anymore.  That was borderline devastating.  How would they ever find a replacement for her at bridge club?

She had sclerosis of the liver, diabetes, a disease similar to leukemia and heart failure.  The combination kept her homebound for the last few months of her life.  This was the worst form of torment for her.  Normally, she had an activity on each day of the week – Bridge club, pinochle, bunko, newcomers club.  If you called to invite her to attend something, you had to squeeze it into her busy schedule.  She kept herself busy and had many friends right up until she could no longer drive or walk very far or travel.

She loved being the center and if she wasn’t, she would find a way to place herself there.  She was kind and loving but she was also bold and brash when she wanted to be.  She would tell it like she saw it — whether you liked it or not.  Getting older was very difficult for her – she fought it every step of the way.  Shortly before she died, after returning home from the hospital for the umpteenth time, she no longer wanted to hear about hospice or funerals or churches.  In exasperation she said, “I just want to get back to playing bridge, I’m not dead yet!”

The week before she died, we had a surprise party for her.  All of her children were there and most of her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  She had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time.  It was time for hospice.  Initially, when we rolled her into that room filled with people, she was a little confused as to what was going on – but then she realized that this was her family, all of her family, and she broke down in tears.  We ate dinner, sat around and visited and then took pictures of everyone, together.  I’m sure that was her favorite part, the photos.  Of course, she didn’t have a chance to refresh her lipstick…spent a few minutes looking for anyone with a tube of red lipstick then we finally gave up and just took the photos.

She didn’t talk much that day, which was very unusual.  I suspect she was exhausted and in need of a warm bed, but she smiled and smiled.  So happy to be with her family, happy that they did this for her.  Happy to have the chance to see them for the last time.  We all knew this.  It was as hard for us to believe as it was for her.  I still can’t imagine a world without her.

The funeral mass is Thursday, the burial on Friday.  It will be a strange thing – as funerals often are – realizing that she really is gone.  I only knew her for 32 years, she was my mother-in-law, but I will miss her.

Puppy

When the kids were little, they loved puppies.  They wanted to pick them up and hold them.  It took a lot of effort for them to learn not to hold them too tight.  The puppy would choke or struggle to get free.  We had to teach them to just sit still and hold the puppy very gently.  The puppy would then relax and welcome the attention of their soft, gentle hands.  The puppy may even fall asleep.  Sometimes, though, the puppy would want to get down from their lap.  This was disturbing to them as they WANTED the puppy to stay with them, they wanted the puppy to WANT to stay with them.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with holding on to the proverbial “puppy” too tightly; trying to make it stay on my lap.  It would be so much easier if the silly thing would just cooperate.  Sit still, go to sleep, stay here where I can see you and watch over you.  I don’t want to have to chase after you.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, if all of our “puppies” could stay in our little circle of control?

Unfortunately, parents get dementia.  Their bodies start to give out.  No matter how tight we hold them – they will leave our circle.  Kids grow up and have kids of their own.  They move in different directions and different rates of speed.  We all start to get OLD.

We wish and wish that time would slow down. We hope our parents go peacefully, with our blessing and gratitude for a life well lived. We hope that our children stay together and maintain a close relationship with each other.  May they always know that there is nothing like a sibling, always and forever – beyond all else.  We wish the grandkids stay little forever and, please, let me stay young enough to get down on the floor and play with them….

We have to hold the puppy gently, with kind and loving hands.  We have to let the puppy get down from our lap when he wants to – we can’t force him to stay.  The puppy needs to run and play and grow and so do we.

Welcome back to comfort

Writing for comfort.  When I am away from my computer and I am not able to write – either because I am busy or I can’t find a topic – I really do miss it.  (For some reason, I don’t feel as comfortable just writing with pen and paper…).  In some ways, not writing makes me feel lonely; as though I am missing someone.  That someone is me.

When I was a child, I played alone a lot.  I talked to myself and had elaborate games in my own imagination.  I mimicked different accents and dialects and developed new scenarios for the characters I portrayed.  I lived inside my head and had dreams of being an actress on a soap opera.  Lofty goals.  As I aged, I realized the possibility of being discovered for my acting skills in a very small rural community in Montana were slim to none.  Still, I enjoyed fantasizing about fame and fortune as a diva on The Young and the Restless.

In college, I was living in a strange place, with no real friends.   I held tight to my life back at home by writing to friends and family.  Everyday, I wrote at least 3 letters.  I would fill the letters with anecdotes and details about my days.  In return, I would receive at least one letter a day from someone — usually my mom.  As I made friends, the need for maintaining contact with my old life began to wane.  I didn’t write as many letters but I used writing letters as an outlet for expressing my happiness, sadness or loneliness.  Writing became a habit and though I never really kept a journal – I “journaled” by writing letters.  To this day, if I need to express something I can do it best by writing TO someone.

I have written a play and receive royalties for it in September and April.  It is always exciting to open that envelope and realize that a drama club or group has performed MY play.  It has been performed in Canada, the UK and in several places in the U.S.  I’ve started several other plays but just can’t get beyond the first outline.  Not sure why — maybe the first play was just a fluky thing.  Perhaps if I wrote a play as if it were a letter I might have better luck.

Being retired has given me the opportunity of having more TIME although it feels as though I am just as busy now as I was when I was working and I wonder how I ever had time to do anything before!  I have a couple of writing projects that I’ve started but can never seem to finish.

One project is to write about my life just for general principle.   When my mom developed dementia, I realized that I don’t really know much about her.  She never really talked about herself.  I’ve been thinking about having to help write her obituary when she dies and it won’t be easy.  So many details we don’t know.  I wonder if my kids know me any better?

Do they know how much I love the sun and warm summer days?  Do they know how much I love tacos and salad and cold cereal?  How much I loved to play basketball?  That I can sing? (or that I used to be able to sing…)  My favorite color is green – not forest green but sage green.  I like Coke over Pepsi.  I hate onions.  I don’t like to ride a bike, I hate jogging but I love to walk.  I was chubby in college.  I wore braces in high school.  I was the shortest girl in my class in 8th grade and the tallest as a senior.   I was anemic and sickly as a child.  I never did work to my full potential in school because I never believed I was very smart (I now know better).

I am very proud of them – this, I think they know.  I love to play with my grandchildren – they know that too.  I love to laugh with them and to watch them laugh with each other.  I love it when we are all together and there is no strife or worry.  Those days are the very best, the days I cherish the most.  I find great comfort in writing about those days…

Melting

My mother is melting.  Each and every day.  She has lost so much weight and sleeps most of the time.  My sister and I report to each other how she is on each of our visits.  We feel a glimmer of hope whenever she speaks – even if she is only repeating what we have said to her.  She does not recognize anyone anymore.  It is rare to see her smile.  Like a pile of snow in the parking lot – she is slowly melting, getting smaller and smaller – and the runoff is slowly finding its way to the river.

This disease has given us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We have been grieving for our mother for the last few years – as her view of us narrowed, our view of her expanded.  I’ve realized all of the questions that will never be answered.  I should have asked them earlier.  To be honest, I couldn’t.  The answer is there, isn’t it?  For some things, there are no answers or the answer is with the inquirer.

We prepare for the last few miles of the journey.  My mother is strong.  She always has been.  As a young woman, she moved to a foreign land (may as well have been) – far from family and friends.  She learned to cook on a wood stove and lived in squalor with her three children (eventually four).  She believed in her fairytale – someday, the prince would find and claim his kingdom and they would live happily ever after.  She cooked, cleaned, sewed, taught, sang, drove, washed, dried, mowed, raked, canned, gardened, laughed and cried throughout her very long and full life.   There are so many other things that we don’t know about her.

In her last leg of the relay, she sits in a chair with her face in her hands.  Or she lays sideways in her bed and sleeps.  We have no way of knowing if she is “thinking” or dreaming while she reclines.  What does she see and understand about where she is now?  Is she like a captive in her body, just unable to communicate?  Is she gone except for the daily routines and body functions of living?  Those are the exasperating questions for which there are no answers.  Her body just keeps going from day to day.  We stand by and watch as she melts, helpless to do anything about it.

Writing

Ahhhhh, early morning.  It is dark outside and so bright and clear inside.

When I was a young girl, I can remember rare mornings when I would awaken early.  I would tiptoe into the kitchen to find my mother sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and writing a letter.  Of course, she would send me back to bed and I thought it was for my benefit – so that I would get more rest but, no.  I was interrupting her reverie.

Mom was a quiet woman.  She did not speak loudly or with exuberance.  If she was angry she could certainly yell but, as a general rule, she was soft spoken.  I would guess that her letters were very loud at times.

She wrote to her parents and her sister, Dorothy, almost daily.  In return, she received letters as well.  Since mom has dementia, I can no longer ask about those bygone days, I have no way of knowing what she wrote about.  I suspect she told her sister everything – Dorothy was her one main outlet for expressing her frustration, her dreams, her disappointments.  But there is no way for me to know – their letters to each other were like a private garden meant only for the two of them.

As mom’s illness progressed, she tried to continue writing.  She would write all the things that she wanted to remember but knew that she couldn’t.  A journal was on her table, each page with scribbled notes: names of people she heard something about, places she heard about on television, some other note that lost importance hours later.  By the time we moved her into the memory care facility a year and a half ago, she could no longer sign her name.  Writing was a lost pursuit.

When visiting my mother, you will either find her lying in her bed or sitting in her chair, with her head in her hands – staring at the floor.  Her eyes are vacant and there is no recognition.  My sister and I have speculated that my mother probably does remember us but as children or at a younger age.  When we say our names, she tries to make the connection but we are strangers to her, far too old to be her children.   If one of her grandchildren come to see her, she expects to see them as little ones and to see them as adults just doesn’t make sense.  Of course, there is no way for us to ever know for sure.  She can’t tell us what she is thinking, feeling, hearing or seeing…she can’t write it either.