Tag Archives: Family

The Highly Experimental Nature of Life: Polygamy, Yoga Pants & Money

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

Brady Williams and his Five Wives. If you are Mormon, please forgive me for watching this show. Or better yet, feel free to mention Southern Charm to me. It has that same cringe-worthy quality AND it takes place in my hometown.

So, have you seen this show My Five Wives? No? Let me fill you in. They were Fundamentalist Mormons, but then, they left their church, and so, now, they are just polygamists with no religious affiliation. One man. Five women. And their 24 children. One big happy household—only they don’t seem all that happy to me, but that’s beside the point.

I watched an entire season hoping they—the Williams Family–would reveal the reason they left their church. I wanted the dirt, but even in that end-of-season tell-all, they only touched on it—by their account, they are socially more progressive than their former church. That’s it. I find that a little anti-climactic—and pretty normal, don’t you?

People frequently leave the churches they grew up in because they discover the church is either too liberal or too conservative for their taste. It happens all the time. What’s interesting to me about this particular family is that they changed their collective mind—or collectively changed their minds—about their church, but now what? Where do they go from here? Can they end a 20 year marriage just because they are no longer a part of a church that condones and encourages polygamy? And what about all those kids? “Sorry, kids. You are only here because we used to believe that polygamy leads to Salvation and birth control leads to Hell. We’ve decided that ain’t true after all.” Actually, I’m sure they don’t feel that way. I’m sure they love all their children, and that’s what makes everything about their situation even harder.

The dilemma of the Williams family has me thinking a lot about the highly experimental nature of life. You try something, and if it works for you, you keep it. If not, you move on. Of course, this works better with experiments that require less of a commitment than five marriage and 24 children. I was thinking more along the lines of buying a different brand of dish soap because it is on sale. You try it and if you like it, it replaces your old brand. If you don’t like it, you just don’t buy it again.

I am currently engaged in some experiments that lie somewhere between polygamy and dish soap. Okay, everything—EVERYTHING—I might try is closer to dish soap than polygamy. Everything.

And I am sure the Williames didn’t think of polygamy as an experiment when they committed to it. Still, jumping from their situation to my own is simply how my mind works. I don’t really consider anyone’s religious beliefs to be an experiment—even if they are subject to change.

The first of my experiments involves work-out clothes and a theory. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of women wearing what I consider gym-clothes while running errands. Target. Grocery stores. Gas stations. Doctors’ offices. And maybe—just maybe—they are on their way to or from the gym, but I have a theory based on the appearance of these women. They all seem to have great posture—like they are standing up a little straighter and are more conscious of their movements. And they all seem a little more energetic than the general population. I think that wearing gym-clothes makes people feel healthier and so they behave healthier. I have no scientific proof to back that up—it’s just a general observation.

And it’s an interesting observation coming from me because it’s well documented that I hate exercise: Here. And here. And I have a tendency to compartmentalize my wardrobe. My going-out clothes are reserved for going out. My church clothes go to church only. And that black dress I wore to my mother-in-law’s funeral? It’s hanging in my closet and will likely remain there until I go to another funeral.

If you see me wearing sneakers, yoga pants, and a sports bra, I am exercising. Expect me to start running laps or break into an aerobics routine. I know. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, but that’s just me. Since forming this theory, however, I’ve spent entire days in my gym clothes, and I was right. I stood taller, moved faster, and ate less.

At one point, I thought I might want to wear nothing but gym clothes for an entire month, but vanity and fear of complacency got the best of me. I don’t have a lot of cute, trendy workout clothes. I have old cross-trainers that need replacing; faded, black yoga capris; and sports bras that I wear under t-shirts. I look a little sloppy in this outfit. Sure, I really did feel healthier and more athletic when wearing it—until I passed a mirror. Even if I had a lot of cute, new exercise clothes, I’m not sure that I will ever be the woman who can pull it off.

As for the fear of complacency, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty would wear off and eventually, I wouldn’t get that bounce from the clothes if I wore them every day. I’d do better to make a smaller commitment—maybe twice a week. Around the house.

My next experiment is all about money. My husband and I have gone to an all-cash budget for the summer, but we used May as a test. Basically, I get a lump sum every two weeks and I divide it into envelopes—Groceries, Gas, Kids, Household Misc., Childcare, and Me. If I run out of cash in any one envelope, that’s just too bad. There’s no whipping out a credit card or going to an ATM. We just have to wait until the next payday.

I am surprised that I like this system, but I really, really do. Why?

  • We are talking about money for the first time. Here’s the thing I have noticed about couples—they either talk about money OR they don’t. They either fight about money OR they don’t. We were a don’t-talk-about-it and don’t-fight-about-it couple for the first eight years of our marriage. I think we both feared that talking about it would lead to fighting. Since starting our all-cash budget, we are talking AND keeping those conversations about money up-beat. It feels like we are a team and we are tackling the same problem, and since we are being pro-active, the general mood of the money-talks is hopeful and optimistic, not combative.

  • I have Me money. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve felt self-conscious about spending money on myself. I know that not every stay-at-home-mom feels that way and spouses are entitled to each other’s paychecks, but put yourself in my shoes. I was 40-years-old when my first child was born. I spent a lot of time in the work-force and I was used to having my own paycheck. I’m allowed to feel a little awkward about spending the money that doesn’t have my name on it.With the all-cash budget, I have an envelope with my name on it. So, if I want something for me, I go into the envelope and get the cash without thinking, “Oh, gee, I can’t spend money on myself.”

  • The all-cash system is a very visual way to teach kids about money. The other day, my daughter asked me to take her to get her hair cut because if she could get 1/32 of an inch trimmed from her hair weekly, she would. I pulled out the envelope marked Kids, showed her the contents, and said, “Okay, this is ALL the money you have until next month. If I take you to get your hair cut today, it will cost this much,” and I removed a $20 from the stack. “Do you still want a haircut?” And ta-da! The lightbulb went on! She understood that money is a finite resource.

  • This budget is experimental. We’ve committed to it through the summer. At the end of August, we will revise it as needed or move onto something else.And there will be revisions! I’ve already discovered some flaws in the plan. For example, I don’t have an envelope for gifts. We were invited to a birthday party, and I had this big internal debate about which envelope to use for purchasing a water-bazooka for the birthday boy. I made an unconventional choice—Groceries. Why? Because I had plenty of overage in that envelope and they would be feeding us at the party. So, we were exchanging a toy for food? No, not really, but the Kids envelope was getting kind of thin.

The third experiment is something I am still contemplating: A screen-less week. That’s right. No computer, no Internet, no television, no LeapPad for a full seven days. Will our family of four survive such a week?

I don’t watch much TV—only Downton Abbey and reality shows about polygamy—and so I would not go into television withdrawal. I’m not so sure that the rest of the family would fare so well. If I can get my husband to go along with this plan, he will likely do more reading. The children will likely do more home-demolition—‘cuz I don’t watch TV, but I do use it as a babysitter. Just ask me about the PBS morning line-up.

The Internet? Ew. That’s trickier.

I post on Facebook almost daily, and I have a group of friends from Baby Center.com. I chat more with them than I do with people I see in person. Still, I’m sure I could go a week or longer without that interaction. After all, I have given up social networks for Lent successfully.

No Internet at all, however? Geez. When is the last time I used a phone book to find a number or an address? Do I even know where my phonebook is? And e-mail! Mostly, my email in-box is filled with ads—everything from preservation organization memberships to Viagra—but sometimes, occasionally, someone sends me something worth reading or seeing, and just sometimes, those messages warrant a response. I guess the thing to do is to tell everyone I know that if they need to get in touch with me, they should pick up a phone and call. An out-going email message stating that I’m taking a little break from the screen is probably a good idea, too.

So, it’s do-able and it might be interesting to see what I learn about myself and my family. And really that’s what all this experimentation is about for me—learning.

Hmmm…it has nothing to do with polygamy after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Plan

"Life is a series of problems, and then we die." Oh, Violet Crawley! You are the smartest fictional character on television today!

“Life is a series of problems, and then we die.” Oh, Violet Crawley! You are the smartest fictional character on television today!

“Tell me what you are going to do about it.” I used that phrase often when I was working in an office and people would frequently come to me to complain about a co-worker or a policy or a schedule change or anything else. It’s more pleasant than saying, “You’ve talked about the problem long enough, and frankly, it is boring me silly. Let’s talk about the solution so you will leave my office,” provided that I am using the right tone of voice, and it moves the discussion along to a more productive end.

I’m not being flip. The truth is—and you and I have both heard this a million times—life is less about what happens and more about how you choose to react. You’ve told me what has happened. Now, tell me how you responded—or how you will respond—because that is the solution. Be proactive.

The other truth is that most people who claim not to have the answers are really selling themselves short. Most of us have enough common sense to step back, look at a situation objectively and come up with a plan.

So, yes, you can imagine my own voice in my head growing louder and begging for resolution every time I think about my health. I’m concerned about my weight. And my blood pressure. And my stress level. And my attitude. I’ve aged a decade in the past two years, and I know it has impacted every aspect of my life. I’ve written about it. Here’s an example. And another one.

So, what am I going to do about it? How do I respond? How do I react? What’s my plan?

Of course, it has occurred to me that once my mother-in-law dies the stress that goes with taking care of her will go away. Even the doctor said it—if I suffer from depression, it’s situational. Yep, the situation changes for the better and the depression goes away. Bam! For better or for worse, however, I have no control over when she dies, and it’s too morbid for me to dwell on how my own happiness rests on someone else’s death.

Besides, to quote or misquote Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess, “Life is just a series of problems, and then we die.” I’m afraid it’s true. I can say my pitiful attitude and lack of self-care are linked to my mother-in-law’s lingering poor health and need for constant care, and when she dies, my lot will improve considerably, but in reality, life is never truly easy. Another set of challenges are always on the horizon.

As bleak as that may sound, it also means that life is a series of solutions and opportunities to grow, to learn, and to experience. Solve the problem at hand, and future solutions will come easier. I truly believe that.

So, what are my plans for better self-care and a healthier environment for me?

Exercise. Getting to a gym on a regular basis is not something that works for me right now. Here, you can read about it.

I read somewhere that 20 minutes of yoga greatly reduces hypertension. Don’t ask me to cite a source because I can’t. I love yoga and in the distant past, I took classes. Classes don’t really work for me right now, but I can take what I’ve learned from past classes and practice yoga at home.

And walking! I don’t especially like to walk, but it’s a form of exercise that is free and convenient. I can walk my daughter to and from the bus stop. That’s a little more than a fourth of a mile in each direction and it’s hilly. My son and I need to get back in the habit of picking up trash at our favorite park. That could be another mile—easily—and over changing terrain. Again, please don’t ask me to cite a source, but I heard somewhere that it’s better to walk on an uneven surface than a flat, predictable one. It’s not just a matter of the muscles we use, but how we use our brains. In short, a hike outdoors is always better than mall-walking. But, hey, if I lived closer to a mall, I’d say that’s a great foul-weather alternative.

Even gardening and home-repairs involve a certain amount of movement, lifting, and physical exertion. I’ve always been a little intimidated by both because I know just enough to know that I don’t know what I am doing, but I could learn. And baking…what a physical act it is to knead bread or roll it! And dancing! Don’t forget dancing even if it is just around the house!

I’m not a fan of the title, but I think French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano makes a good point. If you have the right kind of lifestyle, activity just happens, and every day is a work-out of some sort.  You just have to keep moving.

Eating. Okay, so you know I have tried fasting. If you don’t know, read this. I gave up on it too soon, but I’m open to trying it again.

Also, in my case, isn’t eating better just a matter of recognizing what I’m doing wrong and not doing it? I eat well. I love fruits and vegetable. I also have the tendency to overeat at meals and after meals. God forbid the leftover broccoli should go into the refrigerator and not my mouth—and the same is true of that last slice of pumpkin pie.

And then, there is the snacking I do between meals because I am bored or angry or procrastinating. Someone once suggested that I just not buy snack foods so that I won’t be tempted. I guess by snack foods, she meant a loaf of bread—because you see, for me, anything and everything edible is a potential snack. It doesn’t have to be chips, pretzels, or Goldfish crackers.

I bet if I didn’t overeat at meals or as I am cleaning up after a meal and cut out all the gratuitous snacking, I’d cut my caloric in-take in half. Seriously.

Internet usage. Recently, someone asked me if I thought I was addicted to the Internet. Hmmm…addicted? I don’t know that I would go that far. If I were addicted, I probably would have fought to keep that Smartphone and I don’t miss it one bit. When I’m up and moving and doing something productive, I don’t yearn for my computer. I don’t even think about it.

Still, I have days in which I can log some serious Internet time and those are never the days that end with me feeling happy or productive. Instead, I usually regret having spent so much time checking Facebook every five minutes or surf for political commentary that just pisses me off. Oh, and if I update my Facebook status or comment on a blog or an article, I will check again and again to see if anyone has responded—partly because I am bored and partly because I am craving conversation.

The thing is I know I need to limit my screen time. I know this is a downfall for me. So, the solution is to

commandeer the Nike slogan and Just Do It.

Sleep. I can’t control how much sleep I get per night. Almost every other night, I get a 2 am wake up of “I had a bad dream,” or “I need some water.” My son even climbs in my bed and tells me, “Mom, you need some snugglin’.” I never tell my kids that can’t sleep with me because I know the day is coming when they just won’t. Really, when is the last time YOU snuggled with your parents?

What I can control is how early I go to bed. I’m blessed with being a short-sleeper. I can get by okay on just five hours of sleep or less, but six–or even seven–hours of sleep is heavenly and leaves me feeling more capable of meeting the challenges of the day. Besides, if I am in bed by 10 pm, I will be awake and feeling good about it by 5 am—if not earlier.

This is the cool thing about being a short-sleeper: No matter how late I go to bed, I wake up early—without an alarm. I went to bed around midnight last night and woke at 4:30. I’ll probably want a nap in the afternoon, but for now, I’m good. I feel well-rested! Lucky me!

Water. I need to drink more. I know this.

I also know that one of my greatest challenges is that I want to see results immediately. I get discouraged easily. And that’s where prayer and meditation come in. I’m going to have to pray for the perseverance . Oh, God, please deliver me from the French toast my daughter didn’t eat and give me the strength to not only walk her to the bus stop, but the ability to run to the bus stop because You know we will be late.

All jesting aside, I am and will continue to pray about all this as spiritual growth is always a part of The Plan. Besides, making a plan is always the easy part for me. When it comes to implementing it, I need Divine Intervention. I know this.

 

 

 

 

“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

Maybe I can find a job modeling Halloween costumes. No, wait, these kids have that job and they are way cuter than I am. Rats.

Maybe I can find a job modeling Halloween costumes. No, wait, these kids have that job and they are way cuter than I am. Rats.

My daughter was two-years-old, and we were in the grocery store when I spotted a former colleague who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Despite his ailment, he recognized me when I waved to him and called his name. After we chatted for a minute, he turned his attention to my daughter. “What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?”

She paused and looked him over. Clearly, this bozo missed the obvious—that’s what she had to be thinking. “Bigger,” she said with the most dead-pan delivery.

I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. I was nine months pregnant and so it didn’t take that much to send me running to the nearest restroom. So, maybe it’s not as funny as I think.

Four years later, my daughter wants to be a teacher. Or a chef.  Or a paleontologist.  Her brother wants to be a farmer. He has a sanitized understanding of farming thanks to Fisher-Price’s Little People and Old MacDonald. He may change is mind once he figures out it isn’t all feeding animals and riding tractors.

Kids are like that. They change their minds frequently, and I think that’s okay. When I was working as a museum educator, I had a very enthusiastic student with a bright red hair and a country accent tell me, “Mrs. F, you done got me all confused. The Lord is a-callin’ me to preach, but you got me a-wantin’ to be an archaeologist.”

“Sweetheart, once you start working, you will probably be working for a long, long time. There’s no reason why you can’t do both,” I replied. I hope my answer was a-pleasin’ unto the Lord.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher, an archaeologist, a museum worker, and a writer. I’ve been blessed to dabble in all of those professions. In college, my career goal was to do public relations for a private non-profit. I did that, too–twice. I’ve also worked as a retail manager, cocktail waitress and a commercial crabber. So, you can see why I would say no one has to work at any one job for the rest of his or her life.

Still, stay-at-home-mom was never on my list of youthful career aspirations. In fact, I didn’t even want to be a mom. Then, I met my husband, fell in love, and he said, “Let’s make some babies,” and I said, “Okay,” ‘cuz people get crazy-drunk on love, don’t they? They do things they normally wouldn’t do. At least, that’s true of me.

I have no regrets, of course. My children are kind, funny, and smart…they are the type of people I would want to know even if they weren’t my children. As for the stay-at-home part of my parenting life, I’m not always so sure that it’s what I want. I’m always certain, however, that it’s what works for our family right now.

Yet, I really do want to go back to work. I miss having a paycheck and I’d like to use my God-given talents–and education and 20+ years of work experience–for something besides making soup and wiping butts. And I know I want interesting work—something fun. I don’t care if a job is great paying and offers an outstanding benefits package–if it’s boring, I’m not interested. That’s just me. I want a job that gives me something to talk about besides my family, what books I’ve read, and what I’ve heard on NPR.

I occasionally see a job opening that appeals to me, and sometimes, I even apply. As I do, I ask myself, “How would that work? Me with a full-time job?” I know other people do it. They manage to put in 40+ hours at the office every week and still shuttle kids to and from soccer practice and piano lessons, but how? I don’t know.

Just last week, my daughter’s Daisy Scout leader asked, “Is everyone okay with changing our meeting time from 6 pm to 5 pm?” I nodded. Yes, that works for me now, but would it work for me if I had a job? Or would I be telling my child, “Sorry, no Scouts for you?” That seems harsh.

And what about my mother-in-law? I won’t lie—my fantasy about working full-time involves finding a way to put her in a nursing home. Of course, if she is in a nursing home, maybe I won’t want to work full-time. Maybe I will enjoy being at home again if she isn’t here 24/7. You can see the conundrum that creates.

It’s all hypothetical anyway since no one has offered me a job. Why worry about a problem that doesn’t exist yet? Why not just trust that in the event that I do find a job, all these little details will be worked out?

Perhaps an even greater question is “Who will hire me?” I’m slowly—I want to emphasize how very, very slowly here— inching my way towards 50, and I haven’t had a real job in almost seven years. Yes, I’ve done contract work, but none in the past two years. I’ve been asked to serve on both a museum board and a historical society board, but have said no for fear that I could not follow through with those commitments. I was president of my mom-club for a year, but when my mother-in-law moved in with us, I didn’t serve a second term because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it to all the meetings. That was a smart move. My attendance has been spotty at best.

So, while I’ve kept busy, not much of what I have done has been résumé-worthy. And the few things worth mentioning in a job interview feel very incomplete to me.

I think that if I dwelled on these two questions—“How would that work?” and “Who will hire me?”—I’d probably get a little depressed.

Instead, I’m going to put my energy into a different question—What do I want to be/do? The need to take time off from paid, professional employment happens. This isn’t just about being a stay-at-home-mom—or a stay-at-home-dad. People get laid off. People get ill. People get burnt out. People have to care for sick or elderly relatives. People go in and out of retirement. There are a gazillion reasons one might reach a proverbial crossroad in life and be forced to reinvent oneself—or at the very least, reinvent one’s career.

When doing this kind of soul-searching the follow-up question to “What do I want to be?” is “What is possible?” Let’s be honest. I can say, “I want to be an astronaut,” but at my age and with my lack of a science background, I’m not going to be admitted into NASA’s training program. I need to scratch that option off the list.

And there is an even bigger question of “What would people be willing to pay me to do?” or “What skills do I have that are so valuable to others that they would pay me to use those skills?”

I don’t have any answers to those questions. None. Nada. Zilch. But I don’t feel discouraged. I believe I am at a place in my life in which I have the opportunity to explore and ponder and come up with some answers. And I know I have to be open-minded about this and consider career-paths that I may have ignored in the past. It’s not a bad feeling. Really.

So, what do I want to be when I grow up?

I’m fairly certain my answer is not, “Bigger.”

Carpe Diem: Drink Champagne

Looking for a reason to pop open that dusty bottle of bubbly? Might I suggest Groundhog Day?

Looking for a reason to pop open that dusty bottle of bubbly? Might I suggest Groundhog Day?

Whenever I get an email notification that someone is following me on Pinterest, I feel that I should apologize to that person because I’m certainly not leading them anywhere. I created a Pinterest account months ago, and I haven’t been back to it since then. At least that was true until this morning.

I woke with an urge to “seize the day”—or more accurately, seize the season. It seemed to me that even if I try not to call it one, I do make a “Bucket List” for summer. If September rolls around and I haven’t gone to the beach or grilled an entire meal over charcoals, I’m disappointed. I feel like I’ve missed out on something really special. I haven’t made the most of the season. I haven’t seized anything.

What about winter? Real winter and not fa-la-la-la holiday winter in which activities and memories are dominated by Christmas? Shouldn’t winter get its own bucket list?

Off the top of my head, the only truly winter-time activities I could come up with were snow-dependent: Build a snowman, sledding, make snow-angels, have a snowball fight. Not that it is an issue for us this year, but what if you don’t get snow? Most of my family and friends live in the Deep South. They get snow once every five or six years–maybe. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we didn’t get any snow last year—nope, none at all that I remember. My point is that for a lot of us, snow isn’t a given.

So, I was browsing Pinterest looking at all thing wintery when my daughter noticed and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m trying to come up with a list of fun things to do that can only be done in the winter-time.”

“You could put cleaning on your list.”

Hmmm…cleaning is on list every day of the year, and when I am finished cleaning, there is always more cleaning to do. It’s never any fun. Clearly, she missed the point.

And I missed the point of Pinterest. It seems to me that it is just a search engine for very visual people, and my search for wintertime activities led me to pages and pages of cutesy paper-crafts. I “pinned” one because I could see it as being fun for the kids, easy for me, and something worth keeping versus tossing into my recycling bin. Still, I didn’t feel any closer to making a must-do seasonal list.

Then, I relaxed my expectation.  I concluded that I was over-thinking this, and I came up with the following list:

Wear sweaters. I have some great sweaters, but I almost never wear them because acrylic fleece has become my mom-uniform. Fleece is warm, light-weight, washable, and extremely inexpensive when you catch a Land’s End End-of-Season Clearance Sale—and I always do! I’m not going to give it up, but I am going to reach further into my closet a pull-out what is left of my dry-clean only wardrobe and wear it.

Accessorize. While I am looking through all the clothes that I don’t wear and those that I over-wear, I realized I have more than one pair of earrings, too. Besides, they say that if you are having a bad day, you should try wearing your best jewelry. Does anyone have a tiara I can borrow?

Feed the birds. I’m lucky. I live in a place with abundant bird-life. In fact, I never really noticed birds until I moved into this house, but they are all around us. Cardinals, Blue jays, goldfinches, scarlet tangiers, orioles, wrens, tufted titmice, chickadees, blue birds…and crows and vultures. While I won’t be intentionally hitting any deer or rodents to feed the vultures, I can spread some breadcrumbs and some seeds for the rest of them.

Drink champagne. One of the things we have in abundance thanks to cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house is bubbly. Lots of it. I think I’ll start looking for reasons to break it out. Groundhog Day? Seeing the bottom of my hamper? A really great Super Bowl commercial? Tuning into the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet instead of watching the Super Bowl commercials? Not having to shovel the walkway on a Tuesday? Yeah, life is full of champagne moments. We just have to seize them.

Take a walk through the woods on a truly cold day. Bundle up and go for a walk. Notice the stuff you don’t see in the summertime because of the heavy leaf-cover. Pay attention to the sounds. Everything looks and sounds different in the winter. I should look at them and hear them differently.

Make soup. To be fair, I make soup at least three times a week–year round–because that is pretty much all my mother-in-law eats for lunch and supper. Right now, I have chicken-vegetable bisque, spinach-tomato-chicken soup, split pea soup with ham, and pumpkin-sausage soup in my freezer. I’ll make some cauliflower-cheddar later today. But what if I made some soup that I like to eat? You know, something that hasn’t been milled in a blender?

Bake. I don’t use my oven in the summertime. So, it’s now or never, right?

Donate winter stuff. I worked at a domestic violence shelter and volunteered at a homeless shelter, and so I know, people are generous in December. Donations pour in, and then come to a halt. From what I remember, our residents always needed warm socks, hats and gloves in the winter and these were things that were rarely donated. I won’t, however, rely on my experiences from eons ago. I’ll call the local shelter and ask them, what their greatest need is before I donate.

Force bulbs. Part décor and part science experiment. Fun for the whole family. Who doesn’t like daffodils?

Plan spring and summer activities. Warm weather will come. School will let out. Days will be long. While I am not advocating that anyone wish their life away, there is nothing wrong with looking into a pool membership right now.

That’s a pretty decent list. Nothing too difficult. Nothing over the top. Do-able. Meaningful. Comforting. Memory-making. And isn’t that seizing the season?

 

 

 

 

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.

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?”

 

 

 

 

 

Is elder-care the next “mommy-war” battle? I hope not, but if it is, I’m heavily armed.

As frequently as I threaten to beat people with shoes, I should wear something like these.

As frequently as I threaten to beat people with shoes, I should wear something like these.

A friend called and as we chatted, she asked me how my mother-in-law was doing. I thanked her for asking and tried to keep my answer brief.  After I had shared the quick highs and lows of our week, my friend said, “I couldn’t do it. If my mother-in-law needed any kind of help, I‘d tell her to look to someone else, at least while my children are still at home. The kids are my priority.”

I really didn’t dwell on those words at first. We went on to talk about other things like her holiday travel plans and the great Christmas tree farm my husband accidentally discovered. Had I really given it any thought at the time, I would have conceded that my friend really doesn’t know how she would react if her mother-in-law needed care because you can guess what you might do if placed in a situation, but trust me on this, you don’t know—not until you are there.

The following day, I ran into an acquaintance who had heard from a mutual friend that my mother-in-law is living with us, and she volunteered her own care-giving story. She took care of her father-in-law following a stroke. “Thank God my children were already grown. I would have never done it when they were younger. When they were growing up, they were my top priority.”

There’s that word again! Now, having been smacked with this priority banter twice in as many days, I am thinking about all the times in the past year and a half in which someone has told me that they couldn’t care for an elderly relative because their children are/were their priority. I know they are justifying their own decisions, but how can I not see this type of comment as a slap in the face? After all, my children are only six and three!

“Are you implying that my children are not my priority? That I am a crappy mother? That I love my children less than you love yours? Please, answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions and hold still while I take off my shoe and beat you with it.” Yes, that may be what I say the very next time this conversation happens. It’s my guess that Ms. My-Children-Are-My-Priority will do some serious back-peddling when she sees that shoe in my hand.

But, who are we kidding? In a confrontation with me, you are more likely to see a Lands End clog-style moccasin flying at you.

But, who are we kidding? In a confrontation with me, you are more likely to see a Lands End clog-style moccasin flying at you.

Because other women feel the need to volunteer what they would do and that my reaction is so visceral, I wonder if elder-care is the next great battle in the Mommy Wars. Maybe we are just waiting for Rikki Lake to make a movie about it or for Gisele Bundchen to call a press conference. Is how we care for our elderly the next great parenting debate?

If you are male or a child-free female, let me catch you up to speed on this Mommy Wars nonsense. Once a woman announces she is pregnant, almost every other mother gives her passionate, unsolicited advice. Her every decision is open to scrutiny and public debate. Lesser celebrities write books, make films, and comment ad nausea on how their way is the right way to birth and care for a child. It’s a career-booster for them. Their agents probably tell them, “Look, I can’t find you any work unless you publish a book on vegan diets for infants.” No real expertise is needed—kind of like me with this blog, but with name recognition.

For the most part, I’ve felt somewhat exempt from the Mommy Wars. I suspect it’s my age, but I would like to think it is my aura of confidence, that keeps most of my would-be critics and advisors from commenting. I don’t get much advice or snarkiness concerning my parenting skills–even when people witness my children chasing each other with scissors. I give even less.

However, the question of whether it is possible to care for an older person and small children at the same time reminds me of the biggest Mommy Wars battle of all: Stay-At-Home-Moms versus the Employed. Perhaps it is because that word priorities gets thrown around a lot when women discuss this topic.

When I hear someone cite kids as a reason not to care for other family members, I am reminded of a stay-at-home-mom telling an employed mother, “I’d love to go back to work, but my children are my priority.” Ouch! You see, that statement may be what the speaker genuinely feels about herself, but it comes with bitter edge of judgment, too. Isn’t she really saying, “Because you work outside of the home, your children aren’t your priority?”

And believe me, the employed moms deliver their own brand of zingers. I’ve actually had someone say to me, “You are so lucky you don’t feel the need to work. I’ve always been the ambitious type. I could never just throw my education away by being a housewife.” Please note that I did not beat that witch with my shoe, but I probably should have.

As woman who left a career to stay home with her children, I’m well aware of the Mommy Wars, and I’ve made a point to not engage in them. I recognize that we all do what we believe is best for our families and no justification of personal choices is ever needed. I believe the reason so many women feel the need to weigh in negatively on the choices that other women make is that they feel insecure and are second-guessing their decisions.

The same is true of elder-care. A nursing home may be the answer for one family, but not for another–and the age of one’s children is just one factor in a sea of variables. Until you are right there and having to make a decision based on your very specific situation, don’t assume that you can’t or won’t be swayed to do something you previously thought beyond your abilities or not in line with your priorities.

Look around you and you will see we live in a world in which life has handed a lot of people situations they had not anticipated. Grandparents and (gasp) great-grandparents are raising children. Soldiers return from war without limbs. CEOs and laborers find themselves unexpectedly unemployed. Loved ones die suddenly and at any age.

The cold, hard fact is that regardless of what you say your priorities are and what you want your priorities to be, unfortunate life-events may have you dealing with more responsibility than you initially signed on for. When I look through my wedding album and see my beautiful mother-in-law so elegantly dressed, I know that on that day, I could not have foreseen that I would be brushing her teeth for her or giving her insulin shots eight years later.

The stuff that happens to us is usually not a choice. No one chose for my mother-in-law to fall and suddenly age more rapidly. And I certainly didn’t choose for this to happen while my children are still so young. Frequently, when I think about her care, I feel pretty damn choice-less. However, I am—we are—doing the best we can under the circumstances, and is her care a priority? Yep. It has to be because she is family and compassion is something we value.

Are my children any less of a priority? No. On those rare occasions when I do feel a little sorry for them, I remind myself that my kids won the parent-lottery. My husband and I attend to their needs.  We teach them right from wrong. We pray for them and with them. We expose them to new experiences in a big, exciting world. We nurture their interests. They are growing up healthy, happy, courageous, and grounded. That’s as good as it gets.

And if there is any benefit to being a child in our household, it is growing up knowing the world doesn’t revolve around them and they are called to be compassionate even when they don’t feel up to it.

Not too long ago, I heard a woman talking about what it was like to raise her children—one is healthy and the other has a disability that requires extra attention. She said that when she is worried that she is short-changing the healthy one, she reminds herself that he has the advantage of knowing first-hand what it’s like to live with someone who is a little different and demands more care. He’ll take what he learns at home and share it with the world. She even tells him, “Just think, you already know more about care-giving than most adults. You are a blessing because you can teach people about helping and about love!”

That blew me away. I thought, “That’s not entirely unlike our household, and I’m going to hold onto her words!” because again, here is a family taking what life has handed them—a child who has some greater challenges—and they are doing the best they can with what they have been given. God bless ‘em.

So, even if this questioning of priorities becomes the next Mommy Wars battle, I’ll probably sit this one out. I’ll keep my shoes on my feet, and just remind myself that other people’s choices aren’t a criticism of my own even when they may feel like it. We do the best we can with what we have been given.

(Disclaimer: To date, I have yet to hit anyone with a shoe. I think about it all the time. I just have yet to do it. Don’t be the first. Hmmm…that sounds more like a threat than a disclaimer.)