Monthly Archives: January 2014

An Optimist’s Tale of Disaster or “Let Me Tell You About My Husband’s Heart-Attack.”

Less than 24 hours later, I found him face-down on the floor.

Less than 24 hours later, I found him face-down on the floor.

Until now, I’ve never written about my husband’s heart-attack. Until now, I’ve never even tried. As a writer, I know my words will be inadequate in describing the events and the emotions of that day and the days that followed.  But for some reason, I feel compelled to try to write about it today. Perhaps I feel inclined to share this very intimate slice of life because we are coming up on the fourth anniversary, and I have always promised myself that I would write about it, but I needed time. And now, I find that I go over the details in my mind like I am trying to hold onto them, afraid I will forget and lose the experience forever.

And wouldn’t it be good to lose such an experience? It certainly wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t like a graduation or a wedding where you stop and think, “I want to remember this feeling always.” Heart-attacks aren’t teary-eyed Hallmark moments. They aren’t tender or sweet. They are gritty. They are scary. They are think-fast-moments.

And for me, the story begins a day earlier than when the actual heart attack took place.

The first snowflakes fell on the windshield of our car as we left the parking lot of the skating rink, and I was, indeed, happy. And joyful. And peaceful. My husband was driving. I was in the passenger seat. Our two children in car seats behind us. We had been at the rink for a family outing with my mom-club. I didn’t skate. In fact, I had never ice-skated, and because I had given birth via c-section just three weeks earlier, I had decided not to try—not that day, anyway.  I had sat in the stands holding my well-bundled baby boy while my husband glided around the rink with our daughter.

A friend sat next to me. Her husband and her son were also on the ice, and she gushed over how precious my baby was and asked to hold him. “I want another one,” she said, “but my husband won’t hear of it. He says he’s too old, and I guess if I were his age, I’d feel the same way. He’s almost 46.”

“Is that so?” I said. “Age is an important consideration.”

I smiled to myself. I watched my dark-haired, slender husband as he moved gracefully over the ice. I knew that the other dads—and moms–would complain the next day about aches and pains, but my husband wouldn’t. He had them all fooled. At 50, he was easily the ‘old man’ on the ice, but no one could tell. In fact, if anyone thought about it, they would have assumed he was at least ten years younger than he actually age.

As for me, I was wearing jeans–not leggings, not yoga pants, not maternity pants. If you are a woman and you have had a baby, you understand the significance of that statement. You know that you have turned some magical post-partum corner when you can fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes. It doesn’t matter if it happens the day after you give birth or two years later. It’s a victory. You have proof that you are still you and that your life will settle into a new normalcy. You will adjust. You are adjusting.

Taking your newborn out into the world, a first public appearance is a milestone, too, and I experienced both that day. So, seeing those first snowflakes and knowing that they were the beginning of a storm did not rattle me. I was happy, joyful, peaceful.

By the time we arrived home, the snow was falling much harder. We filled our bathtubs with water in preparation of the storm. When we lose electricity, we also lose water—and heat and landline telephone. Yet, the filling of the bathtubs was really the only storm prep I remember doing. Perhaps we did more. Perhaps not.

I’m an optimist by nature and so I am always sure that nothing will be as bad as predicted—especially the weather. Sure, we would probably lose power, but only for a day or two. As for the snow, we live in Maryland, not Alaska or even New England or the Mid-West. When it snows in Maryland, the ground is only covered for a day or two. Truly cold weather, like truly hot weather, never lasts very long—not in Maryland.

But it snowed and snowed and snowed. By the time it stopped snowing, we had almost three feet of snow on the ground. And we were, as expected, without power. I put an extra blanket on our bed and the children slept with us. I still felt happy, joyful, peaceful–even when I could see my breath. I told my daughter to pretend that we were pioneers living in a log cabin. I told her that all the people I loved the most were warm and safe in our bed, and I thought about those first snowflakes hitting our windshield the day before.

Then, the house got colder and colder, and my husband said, “Let’s be realistic about this. Power probably won’t be restored for at least a week.”

“No way,” I argued. “A week? You can’t be serious.”

“Look outside. We have three feet of snow on the ground. You can’t even see our cars. You have to figure the entire region looks like this. They can’t restore power because they can’t get to the downed power-lines. We need to do something.”

In the background, we heard the low-pitched hum of our neighbor Mike’s generator. He wasn’t home, but he has one of those built-in systems. Whenever his power is out for more than 90 seconds, it cuts on. If he were home, we would wade through the waist-deep snow with three very long extension cords plugged into one another, knock on his door, and ask him if we could plug in. He would say, “Yes, of course.” After the storm, we would repay him with a bottle of brandy or a case of beer.

But he wasn’t home. Could we just assume he would say, “Yes” to our request and plug into an exterior socket? His house is a lot newer than ours, and so surely he has exterior sockets, right?

Then, my husband said that we had a small, gasoline-powered generator in our barn, and he would go get it. He fashioned a sled to transport the generator using some rope and hard plastic tub, and headed out our front door.

The barn, a 1700 square-foot, unfinished, wood-frame storage shed, lies no more than 70 feet south of our house, but the land between the house and the barn is heavily wooded and sharply sloped. He had cut a zig-zagging pathway from barn to house, but in the snow with heavily equipment in tow, it would be too difficult to maneuver. It made more sense to walk the 100 or so feet towards the street, then 70 or so gently sloping feet towards the barn drive and then follow the drive for another 100 or so feet.

None of this seemed too treacherous to me. He was just walking on our property, not terribly far at all. The snow was deep, but he would be okay. Again, that’s the optimist in me. I don’t believe anything bad will ever happen to anyone I love, despite the fact that I have been wrong about that quite a lot. This is a reoccurring theme in my life and one I frequently confuse with faith—if you follow my blog, look for it again because it bites me in the butt often.

And when I am not being an optimist, I am being a historian. I am convinced that nothing we face in our present-day lives is as difficult or as dangerous as the hardships our ancestors faced on a day-to-day basis. Whenever I have to do something I don’t want to do, I think, “Oh, for God’s sake! You are not being asked to dig your own well!” or “No electricity? Big deal! People survived for eons without artificial light. You can do it for a day or two.”

So, you can see why despite the seriousness of the situation, I wasn’t terrible concerned.

He was gone a long time–about an hour, I thought, but I wasn’t sure. I looked out the bedroom window on the second floor and saw him struggling against the deep snow as he made his way towards the house. He looked like a man walking against a strong tide. “Good God! That looks hard,” I thought. “It’s like he can hardly move.”

He looked up at me. He smiled. He waved. I assumed his struggle was all for show. He knew I was watching and he was playing with me. I smiled. I waved, and I went back to whatever I was doing.

Time lapsed, but I don’t know how much. I went downstairs and found the front door open and my guy laying face-down on the floor. I ran to him. He was conscious. He said he was tired and he needed help. He wanted me to remove his boots. I rolled him over onto his back, and I removed his boots and the quilted coveralls he was wearing over jeans and a thermal t-shirt. He was drenched in sweat—not a little wet, but as if he had just stepped out of the shower.

I lifted him and helped him to the couch. “Do you want water? I can get you water.”

“No, I’m just tired. Let me take a nap.”

“Are you sure you don’t want water? You are white. Like a sheet of paper.”

White. Like a sheet of paper. My husband is part Latino and part Irish. He takes after the South American side of his family, and so, he is not “white.” He’s more of a golden color. In the dead of winter, his skin is the color of mine when I have a tan. When I said that he was white, he knew he was very sick. I didn’t.

“Call an ambulance,” he said.

Yes, how embarrassing. My husband was having a heart attack and I didn’t know it. He knew. Remember, I AM an optimist. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone I know–at least nothing so bad that it can’t be fixed with a glass of water. I know this about myself and in the past, I have worried that an emergency might happen and I might not recognize it, but because I am not a worrier, that thought has always been a fleeting one. Optimism, naivety, fool-hardiness, denial–whatever you want to call it–has helped me keep a cool head in some pretty dangerous situations. What other people perceive as bravery in me, I know is just my inability to believe that anything bad will happen.

Also, to be fair, the only other time I have ever witnessed a heart attack, the victim clutched his chest and fell to the ground in convulsions. It was what one sees in movies.

I grabbed my cell phone. No bars and a dying battery. I walked out the front door and towards the street where I could usually get a cell phone signal. The snow was so deep and I tried to walk just in the path my husband had cut on his attempt to retrieve the generator.

One bar. I hit 9-1-1. The dispatcher asked my location and then put me through to a second dispatcher.

“Fire. Ambulance. Or Police.”

“Ambulance.”

“I’m dispatching an ambulance to your location. Describe your emergency.”

I did. My husband was extremely tired, sweaty, and white after moving a generator.

“Is he conscious?”

“Yes.”

“Is he having difficulty breathing?”

“No.”

“Is he experiencing chest pains?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think so.” Um, or at least he hadn’t mentioned chest pains. Or difficulty breathing. And I couldn’t run into the house to ask because I would drop the call.

“Does he have a history of heart disease? High blood pressure? High cholesterol?”

No, no, and no.

“A family history of heart disease? High blood pressure? High cholesterol?”

Yes, yes, and yes.

“An EMS is on the way.”

And now, of course, there was another lapse in time. I cannot tell you how long it was before the paramedics arrived. As is always the case, once you’ve dialed 911, time moves differently. Two minutes feels like two hours. We live less than a mile from the volunteer fire department  that houses the EMS unit and yet, I was waiting and waiting, pacing the floor, checking on my husband, my sleeping baby, and my daughter who was quietly playing. I looked out the window. They used no sirens or maybe they did. I don’t remember, but then, they were the only vehicle on the road—besides the snow plow they were following. When I heard them coming, I ran out into the snow again to make sure they came to our house and not to our barn. That’s the thing about GPS. If you put in our address, it will take you not to our house, but to our barn. Remember that should you ever visit.

Upon seeing me, one paramedic got out with a snow shovel and began clearing the walkway. Two others loaded equipment onto their shoulders and began that journey from the road to my house. Their steps were high and heavy and I could tell that they were exerting so much extra force as they fought against the deep snow to make it to the house.

I led them into the living room. My husband was still on the couch and conscious. One paramedic began interviewing him about what had happened while he took his vitals. He shaved spots on his chest and attached wires. The other paramedic interviewed me in the next room. By now, I was holding my baby and my daughter had stopped playing to watch the excitement from a distance. I had told her that daddy was sick and some people were coming to help him. She didn’t seem frightened, but she was curious, and yet, taking the whole situation seriously enough to stay out of their way.

“What happened?” “How old is he?” “Describe his overall health.” “History of heart disease?” “What has he eaten today?” “Any allergies?”

Finally, one of them said, “Ma’am, your husband is showing signs of cardiac arrest. We need to get him to the hospital. Do you have any blankets we can wrap him in?”

I went to the cedar chest and pulled out two wool blankets and a pink and white Laura Ashley comforter I bought when I first graduated from college. Once they wrapped him, they put him on a stretcher. Around this time, the guy who had been clearing the walkway reached the house. The three paramedics—all strong, young men—carried my husband out the front door and down the path. They slipped in the snow. They lost their gripe. They dropped him twice. My husband is not a big man. He weighs about 150 lbs. These paramedics weren’t incompetent. They were doing the best they could under dire circumstances, but I wondered how they would have managed getting a larger person into their vehicle that day.

Before they left, one of the paramedics turned to me, and said, “We can get you and your children out of here, too, ma’am.”

That never occurred to me—that I could go with them. I stared at him blankly. What would I do with a baby and a toddler in a snowed-in hospital? “No,” I said. “We will be fine right here.” We will be fine right here? What the hell? Maybe I was being optimistic again. Maybe I thought the sun would suddenly come out and melt all the snow and power would be magically restored that very hour?

As the ambulance drove away slowly, it occurred to me that I was with two very young children in the aftermath of the worst snowstorm in recent history. My only link to the outside world was a cell phone with a dying battery and a weak signal. My car was under three feet of snow. I couldn’t go anywhere. Yet, I couldn’t stay at home. How would the hospital contact me? Certainly, I would be getting a call. He would be okay. It would be a false alarm and I would need to pick him up from the hospital, right? RIGHT?

Oh, I should have gone with the paramedics, but no sense second guessing myself.

And I was still recovering from a c-section. Yeah, that rule about not lifting anything heavier than the baby? Hmm, I had lifted a grown man to his feet and helped him onto the couch. I had run through waist-high snow to call 911. I had run through the snow again to flag down the EMS. Doctor’s orders don’t matter in an emergency. You do what you have to do. I’ve always known that.

I called my husband’s parents—it was the right thing to do. If my child is ever taken away in an ambulance, I want to be called. His mother answered the phone. “Mom, this is an emergency. Put Dad on the phone so that I only have to say this once.” She did. “Anthony has had a heart attack. They have taken him to the hospital. The children and I are at home, but I am going to the hospital. I will call you when I know more. Please, stay home. The beltway is closed and the roads are dangerous. Do you understand?” I am going to the hospital? No idea how I’m getting there, but no need to discuss that with them.

I called his sister. That, too, seemed like the right thing to do.  “We are coming to get you,” she said. “Unless you have a helicopter, that’s not possible,” I answered. “I will call you when I know more.”

I called Pastor Nicki. “Lift us in prayer. Have everyone lift us in prayer,” I said.

“I will find someone to come get you,” she said.

“That’s not possible,” I said.

I needed to find help. Mike wasn’t home, but maybe some other neighbors stayed. Maybe we weren’t the only ones foolish enough to think we could sit out such a storm at home. I wrapped my son in an extra blanket and put him back in his bassinet. I dressed myself in my husband’s quilted coveralls, the ones I had peeled from his body earlier. Even damp, they were surprisingly warm. I told my daughter that I was going to look for help. She was to stay in the house with her brother, but not to pick him up. I would be back soon.

Yes, I left a newborn in the care of a two-year-old, but what else could I possibly do? Strap them to my back?

Fortunately, I saw Tim from across the street right away. He was shoveling furiously. I yelled to him and waved my arms in the air. “Is everything okay?” he asked. “I saw the ambulance.”

“No, nothing is okay! Anthony had a heart attack! They’ve taken him to the hospital!” I yelled back.

“I’m shoveling to you!”

He cleared the snow from my car and told me that he thought the main roads were now clear—proof that he, too, is an optimist. He and his wife offered to watch my children while I went to the hospital. It was a generous offer, but no, I couldn’t leave them. I didn’t know when I would be returning.

Just then, Pastor Nicki’s husband arrived at my house. “I’ve come to get you. We have electricity at our house, and we are close to the hospital. We will babysit and I can drive you to and from the hospital as you need.”

Problem solved. Prayers answered. Amen.

I went inside. I packed quickly. It was getting dark. My daughter began to cry. “Hey, no crying right now. You can cry tomorrow, but right now, crying is not allowed.”

The roads were a miserable mess, but Dave was a skilled driver. First, we went to the hospital where I was told that I could not bring my children onto the intensive care unit where my husband was now staying. And so, Dave drove me to his house where I got the children settled in, and then, he drove me back to the hospital. I remember putting on earrings and tinted lip balm before going into husband’s hospital room. Earrings and tinted lip balm because I wanted to dress up some, look nice for my man. After all, I was still wearing the quilted coveralls and snow boots.

When I walked into his room, he was sitting up in bed, eating dinner and watching TV. Color had returned to his face and he looked healthy. In the time that it took me to get to the hospital, he had had surgery and recovered. “Time has gone by so quickly today, “ he said.

For me, it had not. For me, a lifetime had passed since that morning when he announced that he would get the generator from the barn. Time for me had been going very slowly, almost standing still.

He told me that his heart attack had actually taken place in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He told me that the ambulance had slid off the road twice en route. Once in the hospital, two stents were placed in his heart to open the valves. A third would be needed at a later date.

The hospital staff looked more worn and weary than my husband, the heart patient.  Some of them were working a second and third shift. They had been snowed-in while at work and their replacements had not been able to make it to the hospital. Yet, they were there, saving lives.

The cardiologist who had installed the stents asked to speak with me. He wanted to make sure that I understood the procedure and to answer any questions I had. He looked and sounded like the actor/comedian Ray Romano, but what I remember most is the story he told me.

He said that the hospital puts him up in a hotel whenever a major storm strikes, and he just sits

This is what all that snow looked like more than a week after it fell. The deer are there to provide scale. And they are really pretty.

This is what all that snow looked like more than a week after it fell. The deer are there to provide scale. And they are really pretty.

in the room reading, watching TV, and trying to sleep until he is needed. With this particular storm, he was a little depressed. “I resented being there. I wanted to be at home with my family like everybody else, and I was questioning whether I had chosen the right career path. I prayed to God to give me a sign that I was where I was supposed to be. Then, the phone rang. It was the hospital. They told me that a car was on the way. I was needed in surgery. I came in. I treated your husband, installed the stents, and he’s going to make it. My prayer was answered. I know I’m doing what I do for a reason.”

Problem solved. Prayer answered. Amen.

I still get teary-eyed when I think about his testimony, his incredible witness of an answered prayer, and the remarkable faith he showed in sharing it with me. When you share a story of prayer with a near-stranger, you never know how it will be received. You do it anyway because you believe.

The next few days are a bit of a blur. The children and I stayed with Pastor Nicki and Dave. They babysat, and he shuttled me to and from the hospital.

I called my in-laws again. I called my family. I called friends. Everyone with whom I spoke reacted the same way. Shock. “But he is so young.” “But he is so healthy.” I heard those two sentences a lot, and I had to agree. When a relatively young, thin, non-smoker has a heart attack, everyone is surprised. Everyone becomes aware that it could happen to them—or someone they love.

Power was restored the day my husband was released from the hospital. Once we were home, members of my club brought us food—every day for the next month. My neighbor shoveled our walkway. Anthony’s colleague brought a Bobcat to our house and removed all the snow from behind our cars. My friend and college roommate came from New Jersey and did the grocery shopping for me. Others babysat. Daily, we received phone calls and emails from friends all over the country telling us that they were thinking about us and praying for us. I had never before been the recipient of such an out-pouring of love and concern.

Four years later, I am still moved by those whose actions bolstered us. It’s overwhelming—and whenever anyone uses the word overwhelming, you know that they know their words are inadequate.  As I stated in the beginning, I don’t write well enough to do this feeling of sincere gratitude justice.

We were reminded of how blessed we were. The stories of people who were not as fortunate swirled around us. Remember that friend who held my son at the ice skating rink? Her brother-in-law had a heart attack, too. The paramedics could not get to him in time. He died. Everyone knew someone whose snow tale did not have a happy ending. How and why were we so blessed?

As for that third stent that would be needed at a later date, it was decided that it wasn’t necessary after all. Medication, monitoring, and minor life-style changes were prescribed in lieu of an additional procedure.

Four years later, it’s all so surreal. Did that happen? Really? I think about snowflakes hitting the windshield as we left the skating rink, and I feel happy, joyful, peaceful, and blessed.

Oh, Alice, Where Are You?

Oh, Alice! You can make pork chops and apples sauce for me any day.

Oh, Alice! You can make pork chops and apples sauce for me any day.

Quick review so that you will know where I am: When my mother-in-law came to live with us, we knew we would need to hire help. After a couple of bad experiences, we hired a wonderful woman who was a little like Spanish-speaking, non-live-in Alice from the Brady Bunch—she cooked, she cleaned, she babysat, she shopped, she did granny-care. Oh, wait, The Brady Bunch was cancelled before Mike and Carol had to move Mike’s mom into their groovy, split-level abode.

The only downside was that this wonderful woman was plagued with problems–transportation problems, child-care problems, and communication problems. We did our damnedest to correct those issues. When is the last time an employer bought a transmission for your car? Yeah, I’m serious. We did that.

In the end, she quit after my mother-in-law had two short hospital stays in which the diagnosis was advanced dementia that would only get worse with each health-related episode–a fall, a cold, an allergic reaction. That was in May. I regarded the timing of the resignation and the prognosis as a blessing. “Perhaps we need to hire someone with more of a personal health back-ground, someone medical,” I thought, and I called the county’s Department of Aging for referrals.

That’s how we found our current granny-care person.  She is responsible and punctual. She is friendly and she brings a certain amount of expertise to my mother-in-law’s care. After all, she has been taking care of old people for over twenty years. When my mother-in-law first started getting bed-sores, she suggested an over-the-counter lotion that turned out to be the same exact protocol our pharmacist and our doctor recommended. And that’s just one example of how we have benefited from having this woman care for my mother-in-law. She knows her stuff!

Now, you are caught up to speed.

So, what is my problem?

I’m not happy with our current care situation, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

You see, this responsible, punctual, friendly, experienced, professional care-giver is no Alice. She doesn’t cook, clean, shop, or keep an eye on my children. None of that is her job. She does nothing but care for my mother-in-law, and she does an excellent job of that—three days a week for six hours at a time–usually. And frankly, I’m not finding her services that helpful for me.

I’ll take that a step further and say that I find the current arrangement stressful for me.

On the days she comes, I feel this enormous amount of pressure to rush out the door just to get out of her way, and I feel a need to have her work-area somewhat clean.

Only recently did I decide that I could be at home and cleaning up the breakfast kitchen mess while the care-giver bathed my mother-in-law. We are out of each other’s way during that time. However, once her bath is done, being home feels awkward for me– like I am wasting money. It’s like having a babysitter when you are at home and the baby is asleep. Once the bath is over and the care-giver has taken my mother-in-law’s vitals, given her meds, and fed her breakfast, they are just sitting there. The care-giver reads the paper and my mother-in-law nods off.  Yep, I’m paying someone $15 an hour to read the paper.

If I’m not at home, I really don’t mind. I figure that if I went for the evening, I would hire a sitter to just sit while my children are asleep, and I wouldn’t expect the sitter to mop the floor or fold my laundry. Just having a responsible person in the house is worth every penny, right?

And, having granny-care those three days is the only thing that allows me to ever leave the house. Without her, how would I go grocery shopping or take my son to the occasional library story-time?

However, because the care-giver has to leave by 2:30–at the latest, I find myself rushing to get home or turning down the opportunity to participate in afternoon activities, like my son’s playgroup.

That’s the second part of my discontent: I know that for most people value flexibility in the workplace. I get that, and so, I have been very flexible with the care-giver’s hours. Now, instead of working when I need her, she works when she is available, and gradually, the hours shifted from 9 am to 4 pm, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to 8 am to 2 or 2:30 pm on whatever three days she isn’t working at her other job.

So, is having her here helpful? Sure! Enough to off-set the expense, the stress, the overall inconvenience? Um, not really…at least, that is what I am thinking at this moment.

You see, we have just finished a rather unusual week. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday and Wednesday were snow-days, and she was scheduled to have Thursday and Friday off. So, we had a full week with no granny-care, and while I didn’t relish taking care of my mother-in-law’s morning routine every day, it wasn’t any harder than doing it on those days in which I expect to.

And I left towels in the dryer. Overnight. And I didn’t wake up early to fold them. I know that seems like such a small luxury, but it is the very sort of thing we take for granted, and it’s that feeling of being at home in one’s own home. I’ve lost that. I want it back.

Yet, I am hesitant to just terminate the services of our care-giver because I know snow-days are a bit unusual. Sure, staying home with my mother-in-law wasn’t difficult, but then, I wasn’t going anywhere anyway. We were snowed in, and it was bitter cold. Furthermore, my mother-in-law has been out-of-it for more than a week. Basically, she eats, she sleeps, she poops. Caring for her hasn’t been that different from caring for a houseplant—a very heavy eating, sleeping, pooping houseplant. Tomorrow, however, she may be talkative. She may be lucid. She may be pissed off and demanding. And I may be willing to chew off my own arm to get away.

The truth is I miss my Alice! Having an all-purpose housekeeper was like dividing my work as a homemaker and stay-at-home-mom without feeling like my schedule was being dictated by someone else’s. I could fold clothes while she mopped the floor. I could help Bobby and Cindy rehearse for the school play while she spoon-fed Mr. Brady’s cranky mama.

Sadly, I’m not optimistic about getting that back. Hiring a domestic-worker who isn’t freaked out by the granny-care aspects of the job is, um, difficult. In my professional life, I have participated in many interview committees, and in my experience, when you are interviewing candidates to work in an office, three out of every five applicants is probably capable and qualified enough. Sadly, that hasn’t been my experience when it comes to finding someone to work in my home with my family.

I don’t know that I can count on being able to hire another Alice.

And I don’t look forward to telling our current care-giver that her services are no longer needed when they are needed, but just a little. In my mind, I have rehearsed a conversation in which I look for a compromise—a way to retain her services, but make them convenient for me and a workable solution for her—and I always sound awkward and unsure of what I am proposing. Um, probably because I AM unsure of what I want since Alice is out of the question.

More than once, it has occurred to me that if my mother-in-law were to just die, this particular problem would cease to exist. I could return to my less stressful, slack habit of leaving clothes in the dryer and have my life back without having to fire or hire anyone. Please, feel free to judge my callousness, but keep in mind that I have used my hands to pull poop from my mother-in-law’s butt more than once—that’s what “manually assisting with bowels” means. Unless you have donated a kidney to your mother-in-law, you aren’t going to win an In-Law of the Year competition against me.  Sorry.

So, that’s where I am. Contemplating care. ‘Cuz that is what I do every day. Or so it seems.

 

Romance and the Sandwich Generation

Awww. Look at that super cute couple! They have no idea what kind of crapola lies ahead and, therefore, they smile. (Yeah, that's my guy and me on our wedding day seven and a half short years ago.)

Awww. Look at that super cute couple! They have no idea what kind of crapola lies ahead and, therefore, they smile. (Yeah, that’s my guy and me on our wedding day seven and a half short years ago.)

Maybe you have already seen it. This piece by blogger Jarrid Wilson? Here’s the gist of it: He is married, but he is dating this wonderful woman. Oh, wait, the wonderful woman is his wife because courtship—the pursuing of your romantic partner—shouldn’t end when you get married.

Awwww. That is so sweet, and it is so true. I don’t know anyone who would disagree. If you do disagree, I hope you find that one other person on the planet who also disagrees and may you be very happy together. I think that most of us would say that a healthy, normal adult who feels loved and appreciated within a relationship will be more likely to stick it out during the hard times and less likely to look for romance, validation, and S-E-X on the sly. Am I right? Or am I right?

So, yeah, I think Mr. Wilson is spot-on. Kudos to him and everyone else out there who is dating their significant other after saying, “I do.”

And yet, when I first read this piece, I felt sad—really, really SAD. I thought, “When is the last time my guy and I were in the same room together and not absolutely exhausted?” and I felt envious of every married couple capable of pulling off a date-night.

Please indulge my whining while I tell you that I find it pretty easy to get a sitter for my children. I know at least six reliable, responsible teenage girls whom I would trust to watch my children for an evening. Granny-care, however, is, um, a bit tougher to come by. My mother-in-law requires such intimate care that it can only be done by a close family member with a strong back or another adult—probably a health-care professional– who knows all about eldercare and isn’t squeamish. Have you ever brushed the teeth of a grown person who makes very little saliva and is probably going to fight you every step of the way? Yeah, I can’t see my 16-year-old neighbor doing that.

Even my grown-up friends who know what we are up against have made the generous offer of “If you have an emergency with your mother-in-law, I can watch your kids.” No one has ever volunteered that same service should it happen the other way around. One incredibly honest neighbor even said, “I can watch your kids. Your mother-in-law freaks me out a little.” Yeah, she freaks me out, too.

I do recall two times in the past year that my husband and I have gone out together—no kids, no granny. The first time, it was our anniversary and a friend volunteered to sit for us.

“Is she really comfortable watching your mom, too?”

“Sure.”

“And you realize that watching your mom for those hours requires no fewer than three lifts, toilet care, and brushing her teeth?”

“Okay. That’s not going to work.”

Yeah, I didn’t think so. It’s just that when you ask someone to do all that, you really are asking them to perform tasks that they didn’t even know existed. And what about his mom? Is she going to be comfortable with someone else undressing her? Eww.

We ended up arranging for our regular care-giver to stop by the house at 8 pm, take care of the night-time routine and put my mother-in-law to bed while our friend watched our kids. We paid the care-giver for an hour of work even though she was only at our house for 15 minutes, but still, it’s the services, not the time, that counts in this case.

The other time we went out, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law watched my mother-in-law and the children. They were visiting from out-of-town—really, out-of-the-country—and long before they arrived, they each promised—repeatedly–that when they visited, we would get a break. They would take care of Grandma, they would watch our children, and we could have a night all to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the only night that worked for them and for us was the night we all arrived back from a four-day family-reunion location-scouting expedition. So, we had spent the day on the road and we were already exhausted when they pushed us out the door. “No, you take this time for you! We insist. It’s the least we can do.”

Me: “So, what do you want to do?”

My guy: “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

We ended up going to a local brew-pub where we split the beer sampler. And then, we came home. I guess we could have hopped into the backseat like a couple of teenagers, but car seats were in the way, and that car-lovin’ isn’t as great as you remember it. Trust me on that.

So, that’s my gripe when I hear anyone talk about keeping the romance alive in a marriage and how important it is to make time for each other. I don’t disagree. I’m just saying it’s much easier for folks who have a parent or in-law who can watch the children versus the other way around. Seriously, when I walk out to the mailbox, I tell one of my kids to keep an eye on Grandma—just in case she slides out of her wheelchair.

The real question is what can be done about it.

I think that in my marriage, I’m lucky in that I really like my husband—and he likes me. I know some people view like as being less than love, but there are an awful lot of people in my life that I love, but I’m not willing to live with because I just don’t like them enough.

And when you like your significant other, it becomes less about the romance and more about the friendship.

Do I want the romance? Heck, yeah! And the white-hot nights of passion, too! But I like my guy enough to trust that we aren’t there—right now. We can’t depend on a dinner out, a weekend away, or a walk along a beach together because those things don’t happen often enough for us, and they probably won’t for some time. We just have to have faith that the friendship will sustain us until the day when children are grown and his mother is dead. Please, judge me on that last sentence—but only if you’ve changed a Depends today.

But I also think that we need more lingering kisses, more dancing barefoot in the kitchen, more snuggling on the couch, and more early morning coffee chats. These aren’t necessarily the things you do when you are dating, but they are the things you do when you are married—and really like each other.

(And sure, I love him, too, but I also like him–a lot.)

 

 

Get Out, Do Something, Go Somewhere

You can tell just by the expression on the back of her head that my mother-in-law is very excited to be in the Ancient Worlds gallery at The Walters.

You can tell just by the expression on the back of her head that my mother-in-law is very excited to be in the Ancient Worlds gallery at The Walters.

“What do you want to do today?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“I’m fine with whatever you choose.”

“No, you pick.”

Isn’t that the most inane conversation any of us ever has, especially when it exceeds those four lines? And yet, it denotes a certain amount of freedom because the people having it get to choose how they will spend their time. This is a recent development, this concept of leisure and choices. For most of human history, no one turned to another person and asked, “What do you want to do today?” because they both knew what they would be doing. They would be doing whatever was necessary to survive. It was pretty much the same as what they did yesterday, and in all likelihood, it was what they would be doing tomorrow.

My husband and I had this conversation over the weekend. He wasn’t working, and he was feeling much better after a brief illness. He wanted to get out, do something, go somewhere.

“It’s too bad we can’t…” he said as his voice trailed off and he glanced in direction of his mother’s bedroom.

“We can take her with us.”

“It’s cold.” Cold is always a concern when taking his mother anywhere. There is a reason old people move to Florida.

“So, we won’t do anything outdoors, but I agree. We need to get out.” Now, I was glancing, but in the direction of our children who were parked in front of the television.  I didn’t want the kids staring at a screen all day.

And so, we went from that huge, open-ended question of what to do with no limitations to “Where can we go that is indoors and family-friendly and inexpensive and relatively close by?” And this is how we ended up at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

I love, love, love The Walters, and so I am tempted to write something corny like “A bad day at The Walters is better than a good day anywhere else.” That says a lot. Once when my daughter was a toddler, I was walking with her through their Ancient Worlds exhibit when my right eye began itching and watering. I could barely keep it open. The diagnosis? Pink Eye! Full-blown conjunctivitis! And still, that museum is one of my favorite places to be. That’s love.

I fed and dressed children. He fed and dressed his mother. I packed a snack and double checked her bag. He put her in the car—a different kind of lifting since the car is higher than the wheelchair, and the toilet and her bed are not. I followed behind him with a small snack cooler, her pillows, her bag–because traveling with her is similar to traveling with a baby, and my mom-bag, which is really just an oversized purse that contains the usual purse stuff like my wallet, a cell phone, and lipstick and family stuff, like hand-wipes and Neosporin.  If you are wondering why you would need to take Neosporin to an art museum, God bless you! Your children aren’t as accident prone as mine.

Once we got everyone in the car and buckled in—and in my mother-in-law’s case, propped up on pillows—we were ready to go. Our vehicle seats seven, but in reality, when toting a wheelchair, two car-seats, and all the crap we take with us, it barely seats five. I am keenly aware of this because I am always seated on the same row as the two car-seats with a mini-cooler under my feet. Yeah, this is why relatively close was one of our requirements for a family outing. We will not be driving to Disney World any time soon.

An hour later, we were outside The Walters. My husband parked the car while I escorted children and my mother-in-law into the museum. I removed and checked coats, and by the time I had accomplished that, he was with us. He pushed his mom. I took charge of children and while we started together and met up at various places, we weren’t together much.

Normally, my children are a joy to have in a museum. I say that without any sarcasm. Seriously. They are inquisitive and they like the intellectual stimulation of seeing and talking about objects that we don’t have in our home. I’ve been taking them both to museums, libraries, concerts, historic sites, festivals, you-name-it since they were born and I am always pleased and surprised how well behaved they are. On this day, however, they were normal kids (gasp). They complained that they were hungry even though they had eaten lunch before leaving and had had a snack in the car. They had more interest in the gift shop than the exhibits.

“Let’s see if we can find the mummy.”

“I’m hungry.”

“You know what they have here? Armor! The kind knights wore!”

“Can we go to the gift shop now?”

So, overall, I wouldn’t call this the best museum excursion ever. I didn’t really see my husband at all. My children were whiny. I was impatient with the whininess. Taking my mother-in-law with us required a lot of extra effort—dare I say more effort than most people would make.

Despite all this, the outing was worth it. We were exercising our freedom to get out, do something, go somewhere. It would be easy for us—people blessed with children and entrusted with the care of a parent—to just sit it out, stay home, go nowhere because honestly, it IS a lot of trouble.

When we returned home, I felt exhausted—I would have felt exhausted had we stayed home. But I also felt victorious because we didn’t let the challenge of having my mother-in-law with us keep us from enjoying a day at a museum.

As for the children, again, I can’t say their behavior was bad. It’s just that their behavior is normally better. Maybe it’s an age thing. They aren’t babies anymore. They notice things like cafes and gift shops. Maybe I need to rethink my strategy and take them to the café and gift shop first so that we can get that out of the way and truly enjoy the gallery. Besides, when it comes to a museum like The Walters, I really don’t mind spending a little money because admission is free, and because I have worked in museums most of my adult life, I know they need the revenue—so of course, you see the café and gift shop the moment you walk through the door.

We hope my mother-in-law got something out of it, too. Earlier, when we were making our plan for the day, one of the incentives we had to not spend the day just putzing around the house is that we think she must get bored. Perhaps that is projecting, but when caring for someone who so frequently falls silent, you do have to put yourself in their place and think, “What would I want? To stay home staring at the same four walls while everyone else in the house just goes about their business or would I want to get out, go somewhere, do something?”

 

 

 

 

 

Bus Rush

who would have imagined that riding a school bus would be the best part of anyone's day?

who would have imagined that riding a school bus would be the best part of anyone’s day?

At the start of the school year, our school system sent out repeated messages encouraging parents to utilize the services of the school buses. According to them, it saves parents and the schools time and money by making the start and finish of the school day easier for students and staff. I’m all about easy–especially if it saves time and money.

And so, I figured we would do just that. The decision to register my daughter as a bus rider, however, wasn’t without reservation. She’s in kindergarten. She’s fearless. She’s small for her age. I imagined her attracting all sorts of unwanted attention from bullies and her willingly taking them on as the bus driver looked the other way or joined in the harassment. You hear those horror stories, don’t you? A kid who is duct-taped to the seat by older kids? The child whose lunch money and sneakers are routinely stolen? The bus driver who breaks a child’s arm while forcefully “helping” him off the bus? Or worse?

I had to remind myself that these stories make it into the news because they are the exception to the rule and not the rule. Yes, what would the news be like if they reported on every child who made it to and from school safely—and for that matter, every plane that didn’t crash and every embassy that wasn’t bombed? More often than not, I’m reading about horrific events because they are BAD news. The normal stuff, the average stuff, the mundane, and the what-you-expect-to-happen never makes headlines.

And as it turned out, my daughter loves her bus commute and her bus driver and all the other students who ride the bus. In fact, if you ask her if she knows another student at her school, she will likely ask you, “Well, which bus does she ride? I’m on 104.” Yeah, not “Who’s her teacher?” or “What grade is she in?” The defining question is about which bus this other student rides. If this other kid is on 104, she knows her!

Frequently, when I ask her about the best part of her school day, she will tell me what happened on the bus. So, the bus has been a happy-good surprise!

And yet, we have the hardest time making it to the bus stop in the morning.

Since returning from a two week Christmas break and a snow day, we’ve managed to be at the bus stop in time for the morning commute only twice. All those other days, I’ve dropped her off at the school as a car-rider. And frankly, I prefer that she be a car-rider because it is less stressful for me.

You see, in order to catch the bus, we have to be at the stop at 8:25. To make it to the bus stop by that time, I have to yell, “Hurry, hurry! Get dressed! Get dressed! Eat your breakfast! Brush your teeth! Why aren’t you dressed yet? Put on your coat! I told you to brush your teeth!” It’s stressful, and it’s even more so on the days my mother-in-law’s care-giver comes because she arrives around 8 am, and I feel I should have the kitchen clean before we leave for the bus, AND I should have myself and my son dressed, fed and ready to leave for the day, too. Sometimes, I don’t even know where he and I are going, but I feel compelled to leave—otherwise it defeats some of the reason I pay the care-giver to be there.

The school is less than a mile from my house and the bus-stop is a little more than a fourth of a mile into that commute. So, if I have to get her to the bus stop—and we are almost always running late and so I drive her—I might as well keep driving her until we are at school. And yeah, I know—elsewhere, if you live this close to the school, you aren’t a bus-rider or a car-rider, you are a walker, but where we live, that would be dangerous as there are no sidewalks and people drive too fast down these winding country roads.

Besides, drop-off can happen any time between 8:45 and 8:59. That extra 20 to 34 minutes creates a much more relaxed atmosphere. In other words, I’m not yelling. I like me better when I am not yelling. Who wants to be the yelling mom?

Now, I know there are plenty of parents who manage to get their kids dressed, fed, and out the door a lot earlier than 8:25, and do so without yelling. If you are one of them, good for you. And no, I am not interested in your “Tips for an Easier Morning.” Honestly, every now and then, I foolishly read parenting blogs that offer advice and more often than not, I’m already doing all the things being recommended—like making lunches ahead of time, getting to bed early, and laying out clothes for the next day. Yeah, nothing original there and certainly nothing that doesn’t fall into the category of common sense. It’s kind of like the blogger who offers suggestions on saving money at the grocery store: 1) Shop sales. 2) Make a list. 3) Clip coupons, but only for the products you need… Really? You think you are saying anything that we aren’t already doing or have never heard before? Really?

No, I am certain that I am as prepared for the morning rush as a person can be, and if I really need to change the way I do anything, it’s the way I view the situation and how I react to being late. So, that’s what I am doing. I am adopting a more relaxed idea of what our mornings should be like. For example, it should be my ideal to make it to the bus stop by 8:25, but in the event we are running a little late, it’s okay–my daughter can be a car-rider instead of a bus-rider. If that’s a problem for the school, they need to send me a morning helper who can make my family breakfast while I am in the shower. Really, I’m very open to that!

And I need to stop caring about cleaning the kitchen before my mother-in-law’s care-giver arrives. You see, I think I need the breakfast dishes to be cleared from the table, rinsed, and in the dishwasher because I want her to have a clean working space. I hate walking into a mess and having to work around it, and so I assume other people do to. Actually, I’m pretty sure a messy work-place, especially when it’s not your mess, is something that bothers everyone to some degree, but that’s just too bad in this case. I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances and dare I say, I do much better than most people would! So, I’m going to cut myself some slack there.

Also, I am keeping in mind that the worst case scenario here is…my child is late to school and my kitchen is a mess and I feel like I am paying a care-giver for no real reason since our time in my home overlaps.  Hmmm…that’s it? When I think about it in those terms, gee, I just don’t see anything to yell about.

And for the record, we met the bus today–without any yelling. It felt good. I’m not used to that, but I would like to be.

Being Old

If you can still smile and laugh, you aren't old. You may be growing old, but you aren't being old.

If you can still smile and laugh, you aren’t old. You may be growing old, but you aren’t being old.

Growing old is hell. People say that a lot, but I don’t think that is true. Or at the very least, I don’t think that’s very clear. I think that when people say that, they mean being old is hell. Of course, I write that as the reluctant, accidental care-giver of a 90-year-old woman.

Maybe I am the one who is lacking clarity, so let me explain where I am coming from on all this.

We are born and we grow and grow and grow, and eventually, we reach a point where we start growing old. If we are lucky—or just smart—we keep growing even after we realize we are aging. For example, my fine vision is shot! Around the time you turn 40, people start warning you about how that will happen, and then it does! And if you are anything like me, you are caught by surprise no matter how many times others have warned you. So, you realize you aren’t as young as you once were, but you still try new things, you still learn, you still live and so, you are growing. That doesn’t sound like hell to me.

So, your back aches, your body makes creaking noises, you can’t eat anything spicy after 4 pm if you want to sleep at night, and all these things remind you that you aren’t 18, but you feel like you are 18 when you aren’t aching, creaking, or complaining of indigestion. You think you are 18 until you reach for your reading glasses or your doctor writes an order for a mammogram or a colonoscopy or some other test you would never have as a routine at 18. Yes, you believe you are 18 until you walk past a mirror and are reminded, “Oh, yeah.”

Then, I look at my mother-in-law. She isn’t growing old. She is old. A tooth broke off in her mouth and she swallowed it without knowing. Her body is permanently bent in a hunched-over seated position. She can’t stand by herself and walking is out of the question. She isn’t sure how long she has lived with us, but she knows she doesn’t like it. She forgets her husband is dead. She calls us all by names that belong to someone else. She can’t wipe her own bottom or brush her own teeth. She has stopped producing saliva, and so her diet is mostly limited to soup and soft, mashed fruit. I’m pretty sure she knows she’s not 18.

Tonight, after I spoon-fed her broccoli soup for supper, she mumbled to me—something incoherent. I asked her to repeat what she said because I wanted to respond appropriately, and she because frustrated, exasperated, angry. Her eyebrows were arched, and she shook the back of her hand at me. “You! You! You!” Yes, me, me, me…what did I do? Nothing, I’m sure.  She is angry at her condition–the condition of being old, and I am exhausted as the result of caring for someone who is old.

Yes, I know I sound melodramatic when I say that if I had to choose between living as she has for the past 21 months or dying today, I’d likely choose dying today. And yes, of course, I know I am saying that I would rather not see my children grow up than to be old. And, yes, it is sad when someone with young children dies. I’m sure they would miss me, but on the bright side, they would never have to care for me. Their spouses would never have to care for me. If they knew what I know, they would thank me for choosing to die young over being old. At least, that is how I feel at this moment.

Of course, we don’t get a choice—and perhaps that’s for the best. We all know people who are 90, even 100, and physically fit and mentally sharp. I think that if I could be guaranteed that I would never need someone else to take care of my physical needs and that if I could remain lucid and mentally capable, I would love to grow very, very old—because at that point, regardless of one’s chronological age, it’s still growing old, not being old. There’s still journey in those steps, not arrival.

Being old is hell. Growing old is just life.

 

My Life Without a Cell Phone

Remember this conveniently small piece of technology?

Remember this conveniently small piece of technology?

When I met my husband eight years ago, I did not have a cell-phone. I was probably the only person he knew without one and it freaked him out a little. “You travel to and from South Carolina by yourself without a phone? That’s dangerous! What if something happens? What if you have an emergency?”

“I’ll deal with it,” I said and I would go on to assure him that people survived thousands and thousands of years before cell phones.

My resistance to buying a phone and a plan was rooted in three things:

1)      Annoyance. I was already annoyed with how dependent people had become. No one ever had to use their own good judgment when making a decision. They could call whomever and that person would tell them what to do.

2)      Commitment. When cell towers started going up, preservationists were against them—and I was/am a preservationist. The towers were ugly. They contribute to blight. And when they were new, we hated them like we hated Walmart. Of course, by the time I was discussing this with my guy, I was the only preservationist I knew still fighting this fight, but everyone still hated Walmart.

3)      Cheapness. I was concerned that having a cell phone and a plan would eat into my Chinese take-out budget. God forbid.

My then-boyfriend/about-to-be-fiancé didn’t think any of this was a valid argument, and so he bought me my first little flip phone and put me on his cell phone plan. I let him. It felt good to have someone watching out for me.

And I was very happy for many years—on his plan and with my first little flip phone. The phone eventually died and I replaced it with my second little flip phone and continued to be a happy cell phone customer.

Then, crisis hit. My mother-in-law moved in with us and I hired a wonderful woman to assist in her care. Yeah, I know, whenever I write about a crisis, it begins with “my mother-in-law moved in with us…” but that is what this blog is about, folks—that sandwich generation thing and how it complicates my life on every level.

So, yes, I hired this wonderful woman, but she and I had a communication problem. She had a phone from Cricket and could only text, and on my phone, I only had voice—because I am always stubbornly behind when it comes to technology. And this probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal other than she also had transportation and child-care issues that frequently prevented her from being punctual and reliable. All of this may have been grounds to let her go and find someone else, but I liked this woman–she put up with my mother-in-law’s bad attitude, she spoke Spanish, and she worked hard. I wanted to make this employer/employee relationship work. Besides, having seen what I could afford in the way of domestic help during the interview process, I was desperate to make this work.

And so I went into Verzion and made changes to my plan. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what happened: I was desperate and ignorant and oh-so-trusting. The sales dude was slick. Verzion’s customer service was the WORST I had ever experienced. My dissatisfaction snowballed every time I had to make an adjustment to the plan. My husband—yeah, the guy who insisted I get a cell phone all those many years ago—terminated my plan, but only after I had entertained fantasies of blowing up the Verizon store. Don’t worry. In these fantasies, the long-suffering Verizon customers were not harmed, but the evil Verizon employees all sustained life-threatening injuries that brought about enlightenment, and they sought very different careers as they slowly and painfully recovered.

And so, I decided to go rogue, live off-the-grid, run wild.

Okay, really, I just decided that I would go without a cell phone for a little while, but for a lot of people, this choice is as unusual as turning Grizzly Adams because I was willingly going without what so many consider a necessity. I went back to my three part argument for being without a cell phone, and here is what I discovered:

The annoyance factor is greater than ever because people are even more dependent on their phones. When you don’t have a phone, you notice that you are surrounded by people who not only have them, but are using them–constantly. I’d be in the grocery store, look around, and see that I was the only person left on the entire planet who could buy breakfast cereal without calling someone to ask, “Is it the gluten-free I need?” or “Can I just get the store brand?  ‘Cuz it’s way cheaper.”

More dangerous than the super-stupid dependence fostered by cell phones is the neglect that occurs when so many sleep-deprived, bored parents have Smartphones. This is a true story: I was in a fast-food restaurant with one of those kiddie play-areas. Yes, I hang my head in shame as I type that, but it was a cold day and my son really needed to burn off some energy.

We were joined by a small girl who I would guess was about three. She came into the play area alone, but I had seen her arrive with a woman whom I assumed was her mother, but could have been an aunt or a sitter. The woman sat outside of the play-area staring at her phone. The girl had a toy with her—a floppy-eared plush elephant that she tossed up into the air until it landed on top of a play apparatus far beyond her reach. It was beyond my reach, too. I know because the little girl came to me for help.

“I can’t reach it,” I told her. “We need to find someone who works here and have them get a ladder.”

The little girl scurried off and returned with a woman with a nametag and a fast-food uniform. “Oh, I see,” said the woman. “I’ll get the manager.”

Then, the employee left the play area and returned with the manager. The manager assessed the situation, and she, too, left and returned with yet, another employee, a step-ladder, and a long pole. To the delight of the child, the team of three recovered the toy on their fourth or fifth try.

At some point, I stopped watching the play area ruckus and started watching the mom. I never saw her glance up from the screen to investigate the coming and going of her child and the three grown people retrieving the toy.

I’m not sharing this story to admonish the mother. God knows, I am the last person who should lecture anyone on Internet addictions. When I am at home, lack granny-care and can’t leave, I check my email and Facebook repeatedly. Sometimes, I have to put my laptop away just so I will be less tempted. In the months I had a Smartphone, I was always, always, ALWAYS tempted to check my email while sitting in the grocery store parking lot, while waiting for pre-school to let out, and while inching my way closer to the bank-teller’s drive-thru window.

I am sharing it because it isn’t rare. We’ve all seen people so tuned into a screen that they are oblivious to all that is happening around them. I find it odd that in a world in which helicopter parenting rules and people are super-paranoid about kidnappings, parents are as guilty as any other demographic of not being able to look away from the Smartphone. Apps, games, Internet access…it’s just too damn tempting for most of us!

And the texting! Oh, this is an area where people are even more annoyingly stupid. Laws have been passed and ad campaigns have been launched to warn people of the danger of texting while driving. Should that be necessary? I mean, who are these idiots who think, “I’ll just type a message on this tiny screen while operating a motor vehicle. Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe?” Apparently, it IS necessary because the idiots are plentiful—and they are all on the road texting and driving.

As for my commitment to preservation as a reason to abstain from cell phone usage, I don’t think it exists any longer. You just don’t hear much about it anymore. If anything, it’s now environmentalists who are concerned. Our wireless world is killing bees—or so I’ve been told. I’m very pro-bee and I really should investigate this claim further. If I still had a Smartphone, this is the very sort of topic I would google while waiting at the school bus stop.

And the money issue isn’t really a big deal anymore either. Phones and plans come in a range of prices. After a couple a months of being without a phone, I walked into Best Buy and walked out with a $7 phone and contract-free plan that costs all of $25 per month. I have to admit, I had no idea that such a thing existed until I read Gillian Flynn’s crime novel Gone Girl–apparently a cheap, contract-free cell phone is exactly what you need if you are cheating on your spouse or if you are framing your cheating spouse for murder.

So, yes, I have a cell phone again. A cheap one with a cheap plan. And it really is all I need. I used only 64 of my 250 minutes last month. I do miss using the GPS a little.

I figured I would include a picture of actor Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams. I'm concerned that he is now an obscure reference. He lived in the wild. That's what I was doing without a cell phone, right?

I figured I would include a picture of actor Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams. I’m concerned that he is now an obscure reference. He lived in the wild. That’s what I was doing without a cell phone, right?

As for those months I went without one, I felt free—Ha, ha! No one can get in touch with me. And I felt very irresponsible—oh, no one can get in touch with me–even in the event of an emergency. I was concerned that my daughter’s school would call. I worried that my son’s sitter would need to reach me. My mother-in-law’s care-giver…yes, what if people couldn’t reach me when they needed me? Then, I figured, they would call my husband. They all have his cell phone number, too, and shouldn’t he be able to handle an emergency involving our children or his mother?

As for the calls I would have made from the cell phone during that phone-free period, they were all about meeting people at various locations. I became aware that I frequently called my friends to say, “I’m here. Where are you?” and “I’m running late. Are you already there?” When I didn’t have a phone, I made more of a point to be punctual as a courtesy to them, and I exercised a lot of faith.

Worried me: What if I don’t see my friends when I get there?

Faith-filled me: Is that really a big deal? If you see ‘em, you see ‘em. If you don’t, you sit through the concert alone. You can do that because you are a big girl.

Worried me: Oh, you are right. I’ll leave now. You stay and enjoy the concert.

Faith-filled me: Thanks. See ya.

Curiously, I met a friend at Ikea the day after I got my new super-cheap cell phone. She called to tell me she was running late. She called to tell me she had arrived. When I lost her in the store, I called her—twice. So, it took no time for me to resume my old habits of cell phone dependency, but at least, I’m aware of it, and the awareness has led me to use my cell phone a lot less.

So, if you are considering taking a break from your cell phone, I do recommend it. It’s good just to see what you notice about yourself and others.