I write—albeit I don’t always write well, but I write. When people tell me they don’t write, it’s almost like saying, “I don’t breathe,” because I think, “How is that possible?” Writing is that important to my well-being.
Typically, I go through a 70-page, spiral-bound, college-rule notebook every month, and I’ve done so for at least twenty-five years. I store them in sealed plastic crates in the barn.
And while my complete collection contains a scandal or two or eight, most of it is pretty dry stuff. I can imagine future historians using my journal to calculate how often laundry was done in the 21st century because so many pages read like a to-do list. “I need to do the laundry, but first I have to run to the grocery store.” Yeah, exciting stuff like that.
Of course, if I’m completely honest, I almost never read anything I write. I finish writing in a notebook and just stack it with others under my bed or in my closet until I have collected several volumes. Then, it’s time to archive them by dumping them with the rest. I really could not guess what percentage is mundane or entertaining.
This morning, however, I found a genuine use for September 2012. My husband and I were trying to figure out when we first hired help for my mother-in-law. We had two dates on file. I felt reasonably sure that I would have written about it, and since September 2012 was still handy, I took a look.
Yep, I found the start dates of our first two employees right away, but now that it was open and on my lap, I read it—or at least skimmed it—from cover-to-cover. September 2012 was a time of great change. Not only did we hire, but my mother-in-law moved in with us, and she did so at the end of the month. So, what I wrote was mostly anticipatory.
A few reoccurring themes within the month really struck me:
- Even though my mother-in-law had been staying with my sister-in-law, she was already a dominate figure in our lives. We had been dealing with her care, in one form or another, since March. I was already very tired before we unpacked her first bag.
- We started moving furniture out of her home in September, too, and I was only beginning to see what a huge job it would be to pack and store–and in some cases, dispose of—her stuff. I did not yet have an inkling that doing so would take over my life in the way that it has for months on end. I could not have known that ten months later, we’d still be working on it.
- Quickly, I went from excitement over hiring help to acknowledging that finding and keeping the right person would be a challenge. I had envisioned hiring someone like Alice from the Brady Bunch. She would cook, clean, sew, shop, babysit, and provide elder-care as needed while becoming a member of our family. Oh, wait, Mr. Brady’s mom never moved in with them. Nevermind. Things just haven’t worked out that way.
- I was incredibly optimistic about the quality of life my mother-in-law would enjoy. I knew it would be difficult, but still, I imagined she would be well enough to assume a social life and Alice, or whomever I hired, would dress her and drive her to her ladies’ club meetings and luncheons. She would just be another member of a very busy household.
- I over-estimated what I would be willing to do for her. I thought I would make her well-being a priority. I would get her to a physical therapist, I would help her exercise, I would read up on diabetic cooking, I would learn Spanish. As it turns out, I was pretty darn busy before she arrived. I was doing well just to raise two children, keep house, preside over a club, volunteer at church, and pick up occasional contract work. Gradually, I gave up a lot of what I was doing–for myself and for others, and having done so, I still haven’t accommodated her well, but I feel no guilt in admitting I do what I can. Period.
- I believed having her under my roof would make our family closer. I had imagined extended members of our family calling and visiting. That hasn’t happened either.
Yeah, I got all of that from reading one notebook. I should go back and just read what I wrote yesterday to see how it all compares, but right now, it would be too exhausting. A lot of energy goes into my writing. And a lot of energy is expended in reading it. At this moment, I can tell you just this much: Living with a person and living with a person with dementia are two very different experiences. I’ve learned that much.
Perhaps, when I am very, very old, I will read the entire body of my work. I’ll cringe over my grammar. I’ll wonder why I felt the need to write about laundry.