Chasing Happiness … and Finding Love

There are some things a mother will do for her teenage daughter that she wouldn’t do for anyone (or anything) else in the world. Sitting in the nosebleed section of the United Center in Chicago, waiting two hours for the Jonas Brothers to make an appearance onstage definitely ranks right up there. But while we were waiting (and throughout the concert) I found love. All around me, in different forms, I saw in other concertgoers expressions of love far more profound than I’d heard in any sermon or homily. It made me glad I was there.

It all started about an hour before the concert, when I spotted a gal in her late twenties (I’m guessing) frantically waving at a sixtyish (again, only guessing) woman slowly toiling up the nearly vertical incline of stairs. The older woman was shaking like a leaf, moving painfully from one step to the next as the usher waited patiently at the top to show her to her seat. “Here, Granny!” Ms. Twenty-Something called out. “I’m over here!” Seeing her grandmother’s plight, she got up and went to the older woman, grabbing the plastic bag and coat the woman had been carrying. It took another ten minutes to get her to the actual seat … which is exactly how long it took for the elder woman to have a full-on panic attack. Apparently she was afraid of heights, and this was too much for her. The trouble was, the only way was down. And that was unthinkable. The first aid staff came and tried to calm her down, but no dice. Before the first opening act made it to the stage, Granny and Granddaughter had left the building. VERY S-L-O-W-L-Y.

As Sarah sat, oblivious to what had just happened, I wondered at the love that grandmother must have had for her grown granddaughter, willing to face her greatest fear to spend time in the younger woman’s element. And I marveled at the love of the younger woman, who gave up the concert she most wanted to enjoy, for love of Granny.

The homily wasn’t over, though. A few moments after the two women left, the seats next to them were occupied by another pair, this time a Hispanic duo that must have been of legal drinking age, but looked younger. He wore double man buns on top of his head, with huge hoop earrings. She was a big girl, and had her hair piled in an updo, with earrings like his. Clearly there was no romantic interest between the two, yet just as clearly they were the best of friends: accepting, celebrating, just enjoying the fruit of friendship. As C.S. Lewis described this kind of friendship in The Four Loves, “Two creatures gazing together toward an object of mutual admiration.” At the first note, their excitement hit fevered pitch, as they held hands and jumped up and down, clearly glad to be alive, right there, in that moment.

But the best part of the homily came next, when a tall, lanky blond fellow and his date – a tiny little Latina spitfire – took the seats immediately in front of us. He was at least 6’6”, while she couldn’t have ridden most of the rides at Disneyland. She didn’t even come up to his shoulder. Then the headline finally arrived, and everyone stood up, screaming. (We had earplugs, thank God.) That’s when the real magic started. For as the first song started up, the girl raised her hands above her head and started jumping up and down, as though she was about to fly to the stage. He looked down, a bit mystified and with just a hint of a smile on his face. Clearly he was smitten. Next she started throwing her long, dark head of hair around, jumping like she had a spider in her pants. This time he took a step back, but his eyes never left her (I wondered if he was spotting her to be sure she didn’t tumble down the stairs.). He just stood, clearly entranced. Occasionally he’d look up at the stage when she pointed. But he couldn’t have cared less about the Jonas Brothers. His entertainment was standing right beside him.

This time, even Sarah noticed. “Wow. He really loves her, huh mom?” “Yes, I think he does.” “You think she knows?” “I hope so, honey. He seems like one of the good ones.” “Like Dad, you mean?” From the mouth of babes. “Yes, honey. Just like Dad.” My own husband wasn’t there, gazing down adoringly at me, of course. He was at home, watching my mother so I could take our daughter on this adventure. And he, my friends, is my Love Homily every day. Because “Happiness Begins” when yo u least expect it. And best of all when you’ve been sleeping beside it every night for twenty years.

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Dealing with Dementia: Don’t Forget Fun

potatoes fun knife fork

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For Labor Day, we were invited to some friends’ house for a barbecue — they are new friends from church, a young couple and their adorable ten-month-old. If those cherubic cheeks didn’t seal the deal, the fact that she asked me to make my potato salad and favorite frozen dessert gave me warm fuzzies. This kind of casual hospitality is wonderful because it (a) lets me contribute and (b) is so low-pressure: just sit out on the covered deck, sip wine and feast on burgers and sides … and if someone misbehaves, no one cares. They even invited the dogs to come and romp in their spacious back yard.

The best part was watching mom’s eyes light up as I sang silly songs to the baby … the same silly songs, I’m sure, that she once sang to me. “You look just like a grandma,” she said to me. And the thing was, I kind of reveled in it. My own teenagers sat with their faces in their phones, until Chris got bored and started playing with his dog … our eleven-year-old Aussie shepherd who chased a ball, pulled something, shrieked, and fell down.

That was when life set in again. Mom urgently needed a rest room, Craig stood to leave because two hours was the most he could spare away from his desk right now (he’s been working nonstop for the last month), and Sarah launched into a never-ending monologue about her birth family, who she would be spending Christmas with this year.

Reluctantly I got up and started clearing the dishes. It was nice while it lasted.

We all got home and went to our respective quiet places … and the next thing I  knew, three hours had passed. I had NAPPED for THREE HOURS! Probably would have kept on napping, too, if my daughter’s tumbly hadn’t started rumbling. “What’s for dinner, mom?”  I was struck by the heaviness of the quiet. I could feel the stress closing in again, like a suffocating cloud.

Craig was still at his desk. Mom needed her meds and a bath, but she was still passed out on her bed, fully clothed, having been exhausted from our excursion. Chris was perched by the dog crate, plaintively wondering aloud if Maddy needed to go to the vet. (We spent three hours that night at the animal ER.) Sarah was alternately blasting her music and screaming at us to get dinner NOW.

I whipped up a sheet of Super Nachos, heated up some leftovers for mom’s dinner … and then I dug a Buster Bar out of the fridge (half a bar is my go-to indulgence), closed my eyes, and thought about the day. I could still see my mother’s happy smile and hear the infant’s delighted chortle as I blew a loud raspberry on her tummy. My tastebuds still danced from that glass of pino grigio, juicy burgers, and my friend’s delicious green bean almond salad. Tomorrow would come — the caregivers, the workday, the chauffeuring kids hither and yon. Yes, we were likely looking at thousands of dollars if the dog needs surgery.  But today … today we made a memory.

If you are a caregiver for an elderly loved one (or younger ones with special needs, or whatever your particular situation entails), it can be easy to get caught up on the frazzle dazzle. But try not to. Try to find one thing … anything, really, to enjoy. To remember and treasure as a memory. Those bright spots are golden when the rains come, as they inevitably do.

Moms are the heart of the home, the keeper of secrets and memories. If we find a reason for joy, the rest of the family tends to follow suit. And when we give in to the dark side, home becomes a dark place indeed. So … hold on to those wine-sipping, baby giggling memories. Find something to laugh about. It matters more than you know.

 

Life Behind the Wheel

night driveCall me crazy. Just don’t call me for carpool.

I’ve got two non-driving teenagers (well, one has driven long enough to wreck two cars), a frequent-flying husband, and a mother who believes with all certainty that a black-robed judge is going to show up at the door one day and “do away with me.” (Though what my good Christian mother could possibly have done to deserve this staggers the imagination.) In any event, until our Chiweenie successfully passes her driving test, it’s pretty much me driving everyone in the house where they need to go: work, therapy, doctor’s appointments, choir practices, grocery shopping … you name it, I’m driving there.

Now, some extremely devout and well-organized women I know use this time for prayer or some other high-minded pursuit. And yes, I occasionally flip on Catholic radio or plug in a little Matt Maher when I need a little faith-lift. The trouble is, no sooner do I get behind the wheel than my brain kicks into high gear and starts spitting out two dozen items for my to-do list that I am quite certain will be lost if I cannot write them down. Items for the shopping list. Phone calls that need to be made. Stops I need to make. These things whirl around and around my brain like it was Midnight in Menopauseville. You know what I mean.

And then there is the never-ending, nails-on-chalkboard prattle coming from my wide-eyed daughter, who seems to live for the moments she can make steam escape through my ears or yell at a pitch high and loud enough to unnerve livestock. “I can’t wait until I’m eighteen so I can get a tattoo … no, a piercing. No, both. And dye my hair black, like a Goth. And did you know that my boyfriend D____ (her current love interest) kissed me in the hallway? Well… he almost kissed me. Like, he looked like he was going to …”

Yes, I know she’s just looking for attention. Yes, I know this is what teenagers do. Yes, I’m sure I drove my mother crazy, too, and this is just God’s particular brand of cosmic justice. And so, I pay it forward the same way my mother did, with a benevolent mother’s curse: “One day may you be blessed with a child just like you.”

The thing is, she’s really not. And I know this because in her more lucid moments I see my mother look at my daughter when she’s raging against The Mom, and clearly she thinks she wandered into Comedy Land. Her eyes light up with barely suppressed humor as she watches her granddaughter spout off at me, and me trying to keep from blowing my ever-loving gourd. She doesn’t say anything. Certainly doesn’t try to take my side about ANYTHING. She just sits there and chuckles. Dammit.

Suddenly I feel like that old battleax Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. So I tell myself it’s time for a Mommy Time Out, pour myself an Arnold Palmer, thank my children for “volunteering” to do dish duty, and turn on Jeopardy. Because I have yet to figure out how to deliver two children at opposite ends of town to start work precisely at 9:00 and still make it to the office dressed in something other than pajamas to meet my new boss. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to extricate the Judge from my mother’s cognitive processes. But by Jove, I’ll take “Weird Stuff Nobody Knows but an Editor” for $1000, Alex.

And how’s your week going?

If You Give a Mom a Cookie …

amazon-if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie(With a thankful nod to Laura Numeroff.)

If you give a mom a cookie, she will sit in a chair and try to eat it in peace.

As soon as she sits, she will look in the kitchen and see Ravenous Teen left the milk on the counter. Again. So she sets her cookie on the table and goes to the kitchen … Where for the next ten minutes she wipes counters, empties dishwasher, and puts dinner in the crock pot. And, yes, gets herself a glass of milk. With a shot of Bailey’s.

The scent of Bailey’s inexplicably reminds her that she left of load of laundry in the washer downstairs … yesterday. Hoping against hope that it has not turned, she goes downstairs to the laundry room and trips over eight piles of clothes that Messy Teen has transferred from the floor of his room to the floor of this one. Muttering darkly under her breath and rubbing her stubbed toe, she rotates the wash and calls Messy Teen to fold his own danged clothes and take them upstairs. Now it is his turn to mutter darkly under his breath. Mission accomplished.

Exiting the laundry room, her eye falls on her desk, the laptop hopefully poised for action. Sorry she left her cookie (and the Bailey’s milk) upstairs, she sits down and proceeds to grind out 27 email responses, 4 tip sheets, and a proposal review before her tummy rumbles so loudly it scares her. And she remembers she hasn’t had anything to eat today but a few cookie crumbs. And her granola bar stash was discovered by Ravenous Teen 2 last week, and she hasn’t had time to restock. So back upstairs she goes … in time to see her elderly mother’s daycare bus pull up to the drive. Rats. Rats. Rats.

Helping her mom inside, then to the bathroom and back to her chair for snack time, she narrowly escapes slugging her husband when he comes down and asks with great feeling, “What’s for lunch?” Desperately she looks around for a teen to take over sandwich making responsibilities, and sees that Sneaky Teens heard the sound of work and barricaded themselves in their rooms, playing music loud enough to shake the house and wake the dead. “Just a minute, dear.” And she spots a bit of reprieve on the table, which the dog appears to have nibbled around the edges. “Here … have a cookie.”

Thankfully, he did not get the Baileys.

#WomanSpeak… at the Dinner Table

IMG_2966Every night at dinnertime, it’s the same routine: Mom painstakingly circles the table, putting each place setting carefully in order. Cups and plates, silverware and napkins, condiments and trivets, each has a rightful place on the cloth. As dinner is called, she waits for my son to pull out her chair so she can settle in and wait to be served.

She doesn’t say much as the kids tease and squabble, and we parents ride herd, hoping to turn it into a meaningful connection rather than a free-for-all. She just smiles, sometimes knowingly and other times absently. When I bring out the squirt bottle and administer justice when things get too out of control, I sometimes hear a chuckle. And when she speaks, the whole table grows quiet, waiting to hear what she has to say.

Meals are such a microcosm of family life. My culinary skills were honed at an early age, and I learned to take pride in cooking for my family, expressing my love for them by creating beautiful family memories around the kitchen table. While most of the time I manage to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less, I enjoy cooking on weekends when I can slow down and put together something delicious, something a bit more memorable. Something that will be savored, and will inspire those I love to slow down, put away the electronics, and enjoy each other.

As time has passed, this particular expression of motherly love is too often downgraded to a chore to be resented and, when possible, delegated. But when this happens, something important is lost to the cultural zeitgeist, which demands that men and women be equal, dammit. Each chore split fifty-fifty because a man should be called upon to do anything a woman needs to do (and vice versa).

Me? I kind of miss the days when mothers understood the influence they wielded within the family. When adults understood (and taught to the next generation) that these gestures of love and respect matter, that they are the glue of family life. I confess I liked it when men and women both took pride in what they wore, how they carried themselves, how they spent their time; how they treated others in public and private meant something. There was a common moral code of conduct that was understood to be in the best interests of everyone. You held up your end, and focused more on your personal responsibilities than your personal rights.

Looking back, I appreciate the struggle my own parents endured to keep us going. Dad drove buses and served in the military, and commuted three hours each day to provide for his family, while my mother stayed home with us. They seldom had two extra pennies to rub together, but every last bill was paid in full. Eventually. Even if that meant eating a lot of soup and wearing only hand-me-downs. Mom made it work, though we didn’t realize how stressful it was at the time. It’s no wonder she had migraines.

Time passed, and once more Mom and I are under the same roof. I feel certain that she doesn’t completely understand some of the choices I’ve made, particularly regarding our work/life balance. I’ve made very different choices than she did … and those choices, like hers, deeply affected our own children in ways we couldn’t fully appreciate at that time. As I’ve often said to my kids, “You can choose your actions, but not always the consequences.” That truism has reverberated in my head quite often lately.

As women, we speak as eloquently through our choices and actions as wives, mothers, and women, as we do through our words. What we say and do, perhaps especially when it comes to those thankless tasks no one notices, matters. God created both fathers and mothers, and yet they are not interchangeable. What we put on the table — and say at the table — speaks volumes to those we love. With every gesture, every sigh, every directive, we are shaping not just our own family, but that of generations to come.

Because we are not raising victims. We are raising hopes.

How a Caregiver Spells “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

generationsThis week I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how family roles and dynamics change — and don’t change all that much — once dementia enters the picture. Navigating those changes takes a lot of energy, willpower, and … well, sensitivity. And to be honest, that last one does not come easy to me. I’m the kind of person who can organize and execute (pardon the word) complex events and projects. When it hits the fan, I can come up with a Plan B, C, and D quickly and without a lot of fuss.

But as I was reminded earlier this week, people are not projects or events. And they don’t always fit neatly into our plans — and have some pretty big feelings when you try to impose that plan upon them. When my husband and I decided to take mom out of the home she’d been living in and bring her to live with us, our entire family breathed a collective sigh of relief. Yes, it meant getting used to the cold, and not seeing her old church friends every week. And it meant going from the quiet, controlled environment of a memory care facility to the boisterous and often chaotic one here. But she seemed happy. “She is always smiling in the pictures you post on Facebook,” Dad commented.

It turns out, however, that our lawyer was right when he advised us, “Your relationship may change once you stop being the ‘rescuer’ who takes her out of the facility for the day and become her fulltime caregiver. She may turn on you … It’s not easy to grow old and lose your independence, even when decisions are being made for you by someone who loves you dearly.”

And he was right. This week I also discovered that other family relationships can be affected by the new arrangement as well. Hurts and regrets from the past, feelings from the present, and fears about the future can make for some uncomfortable and even painful interactions, no matter how much two people love each other. And when that happens, preserving the relationship means showing a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

  • Recognize that there may be underlying feelings, issues, and concerns that must be acknowledged on both sides.
  • Encourage the other person to tell you, privately and confidentially, what they are seeing, feeling, and observing. Hear them out, even if you don’t agree with everything being said.
  • Seek outside assistance and perspective from those who are familiar with your particular situation. Sometimes having additional information can help.
  • Positivity can be a gift when a relationship is struggling. Remind the other person of what she does well, and how she contributes to your life.
  • Email is generally not the best way to resolve conflicts. It reduces the ability to offer empathy, eye contact, and elicit human contact.
  • Compassion is as much about what you don’t say as what you DO say. Sometimes the most compassionate response is … silence.
  • Touch. I once heard it said there are three parts to every good apology … the words (“I’m sorry”), the acknowledgment (“I should have… shouldn’t have … please forgive me.”), and the touch (hand on shoulder, handshake, or even simple eye contact with a smile). That personal connection can be so important when someone is feeling sad, lonely, or upset.

What are some other ways you’ve found effective in showing those you love (particularly those with dementia) respect?

Daycare Dilemma

woman  Sneaky Pete is on the warpath again. At least, I think that’s the source of my mother’s tears this afternoon when she came home from daycare.  “They took a vote,” she said plaintively. “They told me I drool too much to stay there, and they voted 100% that I had to go.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that one of the other clients had said something nasty. Eldercare, I’ve found, can be a lot like going back to middle school: there are rich kids and drones, physically fit and couch potatoes. Above all, there are mean girls whose sense of social propriety has gone the way of nighttime continence.

“Who was it that said these things to you?” her afternoon aide inquired gently. “If we know who it is, we can do something about it.” Mom shook her head stubbornly. She did not want us to fight her battles. She just wanted a safe place to cry.

After a hearty dinner and a soothing bath, it was time for our nightly tuck in. Tonight’s psalm in Jesus Calling was especially sweet: “In peace will I lie down and fall asleep. For you, O Lord, make me secure” (Psalm 4:8).

Growing old is not for the faint of heart. It must be tough, losing control of functions that you once took for granted … even the ability to eat a bit of food or sing without drooling. Or have a clear sense of self, without being tormented by the never-ending accusations of Sneaky Pete. Lord, help me to remember this when I am tempted to lose patience. Help me to show love, to give her reassurance, so that she might find the strength to endure.