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.



2 thoughts on “Oh, Alice, Where Are You?

  1. linda wertan

    susan is there a financil leeway that you could maybe seek someone a few hours twice a week for example to help with your other needs and allow you some free time to treasure?sorry you are in a tough situation sweetheart.this too shall pass my pediatrician used to say to me when things were rough.hang in there and keep the faith.much love aunt linda


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