Monthly Archives: May 2013

Curing Facebook Envy

Yesterday, a Facebook friend who is a fitness trainer posted a status that read something like, “If you have time for Facebook, you have time for a workout.” In theory, I agree. In reality, getting a workout into my day is much more challenging than a quick visit to Facebook. I can log into Facebook, post a status update and comment on someone else’s in less than two minutes. I can’t put on my sports bra and yoga pants in that amount of time. Also, the gym is closed at 2 am when I am awake and on-line.

However, the real reason I don’t compare Facebook to a workout is that I HATE exercise. I envy those women who go to the gym and call it their “me-time.” They talk about how gratifying it is. They say it centers them. It gives them more energy and a sense of accomplishment, but for me, it’s only “me-time” in the same sense as a dental appointment. I exercise not for pleasure or purpose. I don’t feel myself reaping any tangible reward from lifting weights or running on a treadmill. For me, it is just a part of overall health and hygiene. It falls into the same category as that mammogram I keep postponing or my annual flu shot.

Facebook, on the other hand, is fun. I’m that person who is keeping up with classmates from elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school. I’m in touch with lots and lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles—mine and my husband’s. If I have ever worked with you, served on a committee with you, worshipped God with you, or lived next to you, there’s a good chance you have received a friend-request from me. I won’t even mention all the folks I’ve “friended” on Facebook after getting to know them on other on-line communities, like Babycenter. I post pictures and status up-dates. I share jokes. And best of all, I comment on and “like” other people’s postings.

Lately, however, I have come down with an acute case of Facebook Envy. You know, that momentary belief that other people are leading richer, fuller, happier lives than you are and you know this because, darn it, just look at what they posted on Facebook! I don’t think this is an unusual phenomenon. Most of us have at least one uber-glamourous friend, whose life is filled with exotic travel, fine dining, and fascinating adventures.

In my case, however, I have found myself envying people like me—ordinary folks doing very ordinary things. For example, a friend posted that she was headed to the beach for a long weekend. “Ocean City, here we come!” And my immediate thought was “Oh, sure, YOU can go to the beach. I, on the other hand, will have to move heaven and earth just to get to the grocery store. Must be nice not to have to think about granny-care!” The same friend posted a picture of her son in a soccer uniform clutching a trophy, and I thought, “Yeah, must be great to be able to sign your kid up for a sport and be fairly certain that you’ll be able to take him to practice and to the games. I can’t do that. Why? Granny-care! @#$%ing GRANNY-CARE!”

In those moments, I’m not the person I want to be. I’ve never cared for people who can’t be happy for others. If you win the lottery, I want to be the first person to congratulate you and I want to do so without a smidge of envy, self-pity, or sarcasm. I want to shake your hand at the finish-line even if I’m not running in the race. I want to wish you only the best as you start a new job, move to a bigger house, or win an election because feeling anything but genuine happiness for someone else’s good fortune is petty. I don’t like me when I am petty.

So, what am I going to do about the Facebook Envy? Well, I could stop logging into Facebook, but the reality is that I am stuck at home this week. I have no granny-care and so the Internet is my social life and my link to the outside world. Without it, my life is all mopping up spills, grinding up pills, and trying to keep my children from making too much noise while Grandma naps. Oh, the joy!

Besides, I think I’ve already taken the first step towards the cure: I’ve admitted that jealousy is a very petty emotion.

The second step is to recognize that most people, myself included, use Facebook as a forum for sharing the happy good stuff in life and not the harder things we all experience. For example, announcing an engagement on Facebook is fine, but a break-up? No. If you are over 16, why on earth would you do that?

My friends who only know me by what I share on Facebook probably think I have a pretty enviable life, too. My children are beautiful and healthy. My husband is always smiling. I live in a charming old farmhouse surrounded by nature. We spend our weekends going to festivals. Perfect.

I have my reasons for not sharing the harder stuff. On one rare occasion when I “vaguebooked” negatively by posting something like, “I just want to run away and hide,” people assumed I was struggling with some parenting issue and told me that all moms of small children have those days. For the most part, their assumptions and sympathy made me want to yell, “IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE A COUPLE OF CHILDREN, PLEASE DON’T ATTEMPT THE ELDER-CARE BECAUSE IT IS REALLY GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS!”

But I didn’t yell. I didn’t explain. I didn’t post the rage. Instead I sent a private message to one friend from high school who had suggested that I go into the bathroom and lock the door until I regain my composure. That’s what she did when her children were small and it worked. I sent her a private message asking, “This hiding in the bathroom? Was that before or after you brushed your mother-in-law’s teeth?” And that opened a meaningful dialogue in which I shared the harder aspects of my life.

With her children in college and her own mother-in-law in a nursing home, this friend hasn’t experienced my specific sandwich-life, but she knows all about pre-schoolers and all about dementia and so she has a pretty good idea of what my life is like. She’s now praying for me.

I’ve since shared the specifics of my life with a few other Facebook friends. They are all praying for me now, too. Every time anyone offers to pray for me, I want to hug them. Thank you! I live on prayers! Thank you!

I suspect my Facebook experience isn’t that unusual. We all post the easy stuff, the fun stuff, the good stuff in a place for the world to see, but share our hardships with a select few. There’s a good chance that the folks I envy are toiling with illnesses, financial crises, disappointments of all type. Why? Because that’s life. We all have our struggles.

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Everyone Poops, But Only Kid-Poop Is Funny

Recently, I read a blog post so funny that I snorted coffee through my nose and fell off my chair laughing. Yes, it is that FUNNY. Here, I will share it with you– http://crappypictures.com/toddlers-helping/ and warn you– it is about poop. More specifically, it is about a small child’s effort to be helpful that ends with the blogger being sprayed with poop. We laugh because if you have children or have spent any time with children, you can see this very incident happening. Maybe it has even happened to you.

Everyone poops, but only kid-poop stories are funny. I’m learning that the hard way.

Not too long ago as I was in the kitchen cooking supper and my MIL was sitting in her usual spot at the table flipping through a magazine, she broke her silence by yelling, “OKAY!”

I responded with “Mom, do you need something?” Silence.

“OKAY!”

“Mom, are you alright?” Silence.

“OKAY!”

“Mom, can I help you with something?” More silence.

As I moved closer, I got a whiff of…well, let’s just say I could tell she had had an accident. So, I wheeled her back into her bathroom to clean her and change her. As I was doing this, I said, “Mom, if you needed to go to the bathroom, why didn’t you just say so?”

And she answered, “I did! I said, ‘okay!’” Ohhhh! Now, I know “Okay” means “Get me to a toilet now!” Good to know.

I thought this story was pretty funny, but I was wrong. I shared it with a friend and instead of laughing, her mouth dropped open in disbelief, and as she cringed, she asked, “You have to change her diapers?” Apparently, this aspect of my life is something my friend never considered. Of course, I change my MIL’s diapers. She has very limited mobility and only occasionally does she tell me she has to go to the bathroom.

On a good day, not only does she tell me, not only do I get her to the bathroom in time, but she waits until she is seated on the toilet before peeing or pooping. Other than wiping—and I handle that, too—there isn’t much clean-up needed. Hooray! On a bad day, yes, I am changing her diapers—and her clothes, and my clothes–and I am mopping the bathroom floor.

Why isn’t my story funny like the blog about the toddler and the diaper spray? I think it is because most of the people who hear it can’t relate. It doesn’t resonate with my peers in a “been there, done that” way—not yet, anyway.

Besides that, yes, poop—mine, yours, a child’s, my MIL’s—is nasty. Never did I think I would be wiping another adult’s butt. I’m not a nurse. I never wanted a career in a care-giving field. In my ideal world, even babies are born potty-trained and no one is ever, EVER incontinent.

I feel badly for my MIL and any other adult who has to be accompanied into a restroom. As unpleasant as it is to wipe someone else’s butt, it’s got to be even worse to have someone else wipe yours.

And in truth, as much as everyone cringes and thinks, “I so could not change my mother-in-law’s diaper!” dealing with bodily functions isn’t the hard part of caring for another human being. Everyone poops—and pees, and bleeds, and sneezes, and salivates, and sweats, and cries, and vomits…In fact, if you aren’t oozing something right now, you might not be human.

The loss of freedom—mine and hers—that’s what is hard.

 

 

Please Don’t Say That or What I’m Thinking While You Are Talking

Okay, I’m going to do that very cliché blogger thing and make a list of things not to say to someone taking care of their elderly family member. Pitifully unoriginal? Yes. But on the other hand, if no one ever tells you, how are you going to know, right?

Please don’t say:

“Take care of yourself.” I hear this a lot from my many well-meaning friends and just about anyone who gets trapped in an elevator with me and gets stuck hearing my tale of woe. I appreciate the concern. I know that I can’t adequately take care of my children, MIL, or anyone else if I am neglecting myself for any length of time, but honestly, unless you are willing to back that piece of advice by logging a few hours of granny-care, don’t say it. Yes, I know I shouldn’t cancel my dentist appointment or postpone my mammogram, but the reality is, it’s hard to find someone who can watch MIL and the kids while I’m off taking care of myself.

“Just get someone to watch her.” Um, who? Again, unless you are willing and able to fill in for me for the day, resist the urge to make this suggestion. When I only had to find a babysitter for children, it was pretty easy. I could ask my 16-year-old neighbor or one of the teenagers from church who were always eager to make a little money. I just don’t see any of those kids being capable of handling MIL. She can be verbally abusive at times, she requires a certain level of medical care, and do you really see a high school student changing an adult diaper? How awkward for everyone involved.

“What about her daughter/son/brother/sister/friend? Don’t they help?” Okay, you are putting me in an awkward position. Chances are I genuinely love those relatives and if they have been truly neglectful, I feel hurt by their actions or lack of action. I’ve wrestled with resentment and anger, and I’ve gotten pretty good at forgiving. I’ve even come to understand that people have their reasons for keeping their distance. Besides, it’s never about what other people do. It is about what I choose to do.

“I’d just put my mother-in-law in a nursing home.” First of all, having a relative in a nursing home is no picnic, and I don’t envy any family that has had to go that route. If you think putting a person in a nursing home is an easy thing to do, I recommend you volunteer at one and see if you don’t have a change of heart. Secondly, whenever anyone says they would put their mother-in-law in a nursing home, I have one of two thoughts: “Let’s hope your son or daughter marries someone nicer than you,” and “Oh, I hope your kid doesn’t marry my kid.”

“My mom and dad say they want to go to a nursing home rather than have me take care of them.” No one wants to go to a nursing home. They may not want you to have to stop your life in order to care for them, but still, no one wants to go to a nursing home. If your parents say this, they are lying or maybe they are really saying, “I love you, but you are pretty incompetent. I’d rather trust a stranger with my care because you are just going to screw it up.”

“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take care of my mother-in-law the way you take care of yours.” Actually, you could. You may choose not to, but make no mistake, it is a choice. You may tell yourself you aren’t capable for a number of reasons, but it’s a choice. You may even blame your mother-in-law by saying you never got along or she’s just plain difficult, but again, it’s a choice.

“You are a saint” or even worse “You are perfect.” Ha! I’m neither. A saint wouldn’t bitch, whine, or complain like I do. A saint probably wouldn’t be sharing all this in a blog entry. I’m just an average person trying her darnedest to make the right choices in life. Daily, I fail miserably. And that’s okay.

Where Am I? How Did I Get Here? Why Am I Writing This?

Seven years ago, I was a 39-year-old bride-to-be. I had a great job. I lived in an apartment in the city. I was in love. Life was good and only getting better.

Within three years, I was pregnant with baby #2. I was a stay-at-home mom. I lived in an old farmhouse in the sticks. I joked that I would wake in the morning asking, “Where am I? How did this happen?” Life was still good—very good—but also very different.

By March 2012, I thought life had handed me all the crazy changes that it possibly could. I had birthed two children and I was absolutely, positively certain that no more babies would be coming my way. I had cared for my husband in the wake of a heart-attack and he seemed healthier than ever. I had lost all my baby-weight and then some. We were financially in sound shape despite the bad economy. Life was good—very good—and I was ready to get down to the business of living an easy, peaceful life.

Then, one afternoon, my father-in-law (FIL) called to tell us that my mother-in-law (MIL) had fallen. She was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital. The result was a massive brain injury—the kind you would expect to result from a motorcycle accident, not from a trip over a throw-rug. She spent two weeks in intensive care, two weeks in a head trauma unit, a month in rehab, and another month in the rehab wing of a nursing home. When she was discharged, it wasn’t because she was better, but because she wasn’t getting any better. “This is no longer a matter of medical care. This is the need for long-term nursing care.”

Just as she returned home, my father-in-law’s health failed. He died on July 6, 2012. MIL stayed with my sister-in-law and her family for two months before we brought her to live with us in September.

When people hear that we are a household with an age range that spans over eighty years, they call me a saint. They marvel at the fact that my disabled, diabetic, wheelchair-bound, dementia-suffering MIL lives with us. I’m not a saint. They say I am a part of the sandwich generation. I agree. I feel like a sticky, sweet substance squished between two slices of bread.

According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 8 Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are caring for an older family member.

Also, as an older mom, people are constantly telling me how it’s so common for women in their 40s to have babies these days.

Really? If these two things are true, it stands to reason that I would know a lot of people like me—those who are caring for the elderly while raising their minor children, but that’s simply not the case. I’m blessed with a lot of friends, and yet, I only know two other women in similar positions. One has three children and while her 90-year-old father-in-law lives in an assisted living facility, she and her husband are very involved in his care. The other is a single mom caring for a dependent parent who is fairly young, but suffers from multiple health issues.

I attend monthly support group meetings where I am by far the youngest person in the room. Everyone else is in their 60s and 70s. Their children are grown. In some cases, their grandchildren are grown. Even in a crowd where incontinence is discussed in the most casual manner, my situation is unfathomable.

So I am writing about it. Feel free to follow me. Will you learn anything valuable? Probably not. I am, however, blessed with a unique situation, an extraordinary family, and an opportunity for both emotional and spiritual growth. I promise not to whine too much, but I also promise to be very real about the challenges I face on a daily basis.