BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Parent

Aging – we all do it

Sixty.  I will be 60 years old next month.  It is so strange because in my mind I’m still in my 20’s.  How is that possible?  One quick glance in the mirror will remind me that I’m NOT in my 20’s — and watching my age spotted hands on the keyboard is another grim reminder.  Still, being young in my mind helps me to not really feel old.  I still like to “play” and laugh.  That’s the best part of having grandkids, you get to play with them and be silly.  My husband hasn’t been prone to silliness since 1965.

Of course, when I try to do things a 20 year old might, it results in sore muscles and a possible injury or two.  I spent this weekend cleaning windows and floors on my back porch.  It was exhausting work.  As a 20 year old, I could have done the whole thing in a day AND vacuumed the house afterward but as an almost 60 year old, it took me two days with a multitude of rest breaks.  As an aging generation, these are the things we can accept.  We can’t do EVERYTHING that we used to do but we can slow down, take breaks and continue to roll.

For the most part, I feel pretty good about aging.  I am in fair shape, although I know I could do more walking, stretching and SHOULD be eating more vegetables (yecch).  I have pockets of fat in new places — but they can be covered with a flouncy shirt.   My breasts went south for the winter and stayed — so an extra supportive bra was in order.  Let’s just “pretend” they are perky.  I have the “turkey neck” skin and LOTS of wrinkles on my face.  Lots of new skin blemishes throughout.  I won’t even go into the more intimate aging markers — suffice it to say there is plenty of positive proof that I am no longer in my 20’s!

As part of aging, my husband and I are participating in the usual old-age indicators.  Reading obituaries and announcing who has passed.  (“Oh geez, I thought he was already dead?”)!  My husband is falling into the “old codger” role quite comfortably.  I have to remind him it is NOT a necessity — but he fades in an out.  He complains about the government, other drivers, the weather.  (Again, with the WEATHER!  What is the obsession?).  I obsess over having to look my age – should I continue to dye my hair?  What makeup can I use to cover the wrinkles and LOOK like I’m only 50?  (Answer? NONE – putting make-up over an older face just makes you look like you have a lot of make-up on an older face…)  I can still fit skinny jeans but should I wear them?  Every time I go shopping for clothes I resist shopping in my own department – “women”, it just sounds so prehistoric.  For my “age” group there are the sequins, lots of bold decorative stitching and elastic waist bands!

Even more than the physical losses and changes are the mental changes.  Sure, we are getting forgetful.  We walk into a room and forget why we came.  We go to bed early and get up well before the sun.  We can be content to sit on the porch with a summer drink – for hours.  And we are fading into the background, slowly but surely.  It happens.  In the beginning, we are the center, the parents – we make things happen.  As everyone matures into their own lives, we become the outer circle and, eventually, the afterthought.  No wonder old people get cranky!

My husband and I made a pact when our kids started to leave the nest.  We would live our lives, learn to do things together and try to keep growing, learning, having fun even as we got old.  The hardest lesson was in knowing that FUN at 60 is different than fun at 20, 30 or even 40 — and that’s okay.  To each their own.  (And try not to become cranky…)

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Rewinding

I dreamed about my mother again last night.  It is like my subconscious is on rewind – from her death, back through the grief of dementia and back to her younger years.   By younger, I mean in her 50’s.  As time passes, the guilt and anguish seem to be releasing their grip.  We lost her over the course of several years, little by little.  So much time for regret.

It has been so long since she drove up my drive in her white Taurus but I’m starting to remember those times again.   And she LOVED driving and gallivanting.  It was her favorite thing in this world, her only hobby.  She was a “drop-in” visitor – she would come to see what was going on and then leave.  It was rare for her to stay much longer than 15 or 20 minutes.  But then she didn’t ever have much to say – she would share a little gossip and be off to her next stop.

Even though she died two months ago, we have felt the loss a lot longer.  Her passing was just a formality and we can finally grieve properly.  As I sit and remember her, there is a mix of sadness, regret and resentment.  Not unusual, given our relationship when she was living.  Eventually, I hope to feel less resentment and regret.

Grieving is a strange process.  There are a lot of flashback memories.  You begin to forgive the transgressions, real and perceived.  I have begun to acquire a better understanding of my mother – of her personality and her character.  I’m grateful for her sacrifice.  While I will always regret never truly knowing her, I can finally accept that it just wasn’t meant to be.  She wasn’t built that way.  I will continue to strive to do things differently in my own life and remember that she was the best mom she could be.

 

The end

The flowers were beautiful at my mother’s funeral.  Her casket was dark oak, very plain, as she had requested.  The service was very personal with granddaughter’s doing the readings and a very nice, young, enthusiastic priest presiding over the ceremony.  The “Prayers of the Faithful” were read by my aunt and were very specific to our family.  At the burial service, a cold wind came in but it did not rain.  In fact, the weather of the day was very much like my mother, gray and calm in the morning, cold and windy in mid-afternoon, clear and sunny by late afternoon.  A perfect day to celebrate her passing.

Naturally, the funeral ritual is for the living.  This is a way to say a final goodbye, to celebrate (and review) the life of the person who has passed.  My mother was a humble woman and I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all the kind words.  She WAS strong and giving.  She never hesitated to help when she could.  And she was a deeply religious person.

I realized, yet again and as I knew I would, that there were many aspects of her life for which I was not familiar.  Her relationships with others, were different than her relationships within her family. This is common for all of us – we step into each role of our lives from a different set of stairs.  There are so many different influences, expectations and obstacles in each role we play.  Some roles are too difficult to take head on and we have to limit our time and conserve our energy – so we withdraw.  We tackle the easier roles that don’t threaten to deplete us.

I am grateful that the funeral was so personal.  It was a great send off for a woman we really loved, but didn’t truly know.  After the reception, we had a gathering for a grandson’s birthday.  We talked and laughed, watched him open his gifts and blow out his birthday candles.  We took family photos.  The sky was clear and the sun was nice and warm.  A perfect ending.

 

 

Mother’s Day

It was around six in the morning on Mother’s Day.  The phone never rings at this hour.  It is my sister, my mother has passed.  This was expected as she was placed on comfort care through hospice just a few days ago.

We began working through the end stages of her time on this earth, making the arrangements for the final ritual: the funeral.  Our family has been through this several times before as we have had several deaths in the family over the years. We are aware of all the steps: contact the funeral home, choose an item of clothing for the deceased, write the obituary, notify friends and family, choose pall bearers, set date and time for the services, choose readings, songs, flowers. Get through the days prior to the funeral.

A common cliche about death and funerals is this: “They bring out the worst in people”.  You always hope that won’t be the case in your own family but this is a highly emotional time.  People are hurting and suffering, each in their own way.

Because my mother had dementia and has been in a memory care facility for the last three years, we have already taken care of most of the usual processes.  We have already cleaned out her house.  There was no will and no money or property to fight over.  All that is left of her is this one final hoorah.  Can we get through it unscathed?

On the positive side, the people of this valley have been wonderful.  I have felt a little resentful because over the last 5 years, we haven’t seen or heard much from anyone in the church where she spent the majority of her lifetime.  But everyone we have had contact with since her passing has been kind and gracious – expressing such gratitude for all of her hard work and effort over the years.  She had many friends and they do recognize and appreciate how important she was to their church family.  I suspect we will hear many stories about her contributions and kindness over the next few weeks.

I have yet to cry about mom’s passing.  I feel very stoic.  (Maybe I am more like her than I thought?).  In truth, grieving for her has been going on for years.  It is difficult to think of her in terms of what she was before this awful disease.  I will be sorting and processing these feelings for a long time.  I have little pockets of memories and thoughts – I will eventually have to clean them out – kind of like the pockets of your jeans.  Will likely find some treasures and plenty of lint.

Waiting and watching

It is pouring rain as it often does in May.  The rivers are rising as the rain comes down, the temperature heats up and the snow begins to melt in the higher elevations.  There are people who live near a water source, in the flood plain, who are pacing, fretting, praying…as the muddy water rises.

Water has some significance to me although I’ve never been able to identify why.  If I have a nightmare, it usually involves water.  I am either falling in water, under water or avoiding rushing water as it eats away at a road I am traveling in the dream.  I suppose water represents some angst I am feeling in my waking hours.  Perhaps, I’m trying to keep my head above water.

Today, while the waters rise, my mother is sinking.  She has taken a turn for the worst.  For months now, she has been steadily losing weight and losing her ability/desire to eat.  She doesn’t speak and rarely makes eye contact – at least that has been my experience on my visits.

Mom has been under hospice care for the last six months although it was more of an extra care type of hospice, where they monitor her a little more carefully than the attendants at the memory care facility.  As of yesterday afternoon, she is under true hospice care.  They will begin giving her “bed baths” instead of getting her up to shower.  She will receive comfort care.  They will keep her comfortable.

Knowing my mom, she would never have wanted to linger.  She would have hated being in the “home” and having anyone see her in this condition.  Her best “end” would have been in her own home, lying down and just not waking up with the morning sun.  We don’t always get to choose our own ending.

For the last few years, I have thought that I was working through the grief, preparing for the end.  We have known it was coming – the doctor and hospice people will very kindly and graciously reveal the signs.  You learn the key words and catchphrases for the “end of life” scenario.  Loss of appetite, difficulty walking, eating, breathing.  It is a gradual process but it does proceed.  You think you’ve cried all the tears you can cry.  You think you are ready.  But how can you be?

We wait and watch.  And the river rises.

A**holes of divorce

Why can’t they just be normal?  Why can’t they care about their children as much as we do?  Why don’t they ever see the damage they are doing, the lives they are ruining?  But then, that’s part of the reason we chose to abandon the marriage, isn’t it?  We knew they couldn’t or wouldn’t see or do those things.  We realized we were already single mothers and didn’t want their influence on our children.  Those same uninvolved, unaware people suddenly demand inclusion when realizing divorce is imminent.  What a tangled web.

Things are no different than before the divorce except now they are actively pretending to be fathers.  It is painful to watch.  Especially when those are our babies under their care and tutelage.  With no previous experience, true understanding or interest, their parenting is haphazard at best.  No thought is given to proper meals, playtime or a decent bedtime schedules.  The focus is not what is best for the children but what will make it appear that they are the BEST parent.  It is a horrible book of fiction and we keep turning the pages, powerless to rescue our favorite characters.

There is no true “co-parenting”.  You wage the same battles you would have experienced had you stayed married.  This is why women often stay.  It is easier to fight those battles or stay under the radar when you can parent your children silently with only minimal and sporadic interference from a neglectful partner.  But most of us realize that is just existence.  We want an authentic life for us and for our children.  We choose to lean in and get out, hopeful that we have the strength to pursue the more difficult path.

Not surprisingly, we find that we do have the strength. Once the smoke clears and we can see the light of day, the anxiety and fear begin to abate.  It never gets EASIER dealing with the shenanigans of the ex but we get tougher and more savvy as time goes on.  You do the best you can to counter all of the ravages of the custodial visits.  You try to do no further harm.  You try not to think about how much easier this would have been if only that asshole had been hit by a truck…

I can tell you from my own experience: you do survive and you can find the authentic life you deserve. Although, at first, it only comes in small snippets.  Your kids do suffer.  You cry buckets.  You worry endlessly about the kids – Are they safe? Are they scared? Do they know how much you miss them?  Will they tell you they want to go live with him instead?  Are they ruined?  It is a lifelong struggle.  So much pain, so many transgressions.  You will want to throw in the towel – many times.  But you don’t.

One day, your children will know.  They will see.   Until then, you just keep laboring.

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?

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.