Friday, May 30, 2008
Every school we have attended, in every state, has hosted some version of field day. An excuse to ditch the classroom on a sunny spring day and maybe earn a blue ribbon or two. Every school handles it a little bit differently. We flew by the seat of our pants last year, our first year in this new school district, in this new state. This year it all made a little more sense.
Even though I worked last night and got home at 7:30 a.m., I set the alarm and was awake by noon, to be at Baby Boy's school on time. Today was the big day.
And it held much more meaning than it did last year, for several reasons.
Last year Baby Boy ran a casual race in September, with his little kindergarten class. He came in first, by a long shot. (taking into account that half the runners stopped mid way through the race to check out a cool butterfly that flitted across the track...)
So he cruised through the school year thinking he was the fastest kindergardener in school. And he jogged into field day very confident he would be clutching a blue ribbon on the bus ride home.
What he hadn't taken into account was that there were three other kindergarten classes. Once up against all the other kids in his grade, he discovered he was not the fastest after all. He was fifth fastest. Not a blue ribbon. In fact, no ribbon at all. And it haunted him.
So this year he had a new strategy. His oldest brother runs track on the high school team and is very serious about his sport. Baby Boy watched him carefully. He soaked up terms like PR (personal record) and walked around at all times knowing his current PR for the field day race. They had practice sessions throughout the year in P.E. class and Baby Boy dug deep to improve that PR so he could come home and give big brother the updates.
We counted down weeks, then days, until the big day. Today. Sleep was not a priority for this groggy mom...being there for field day was imperative.
The weather was perfect, the field was level and dry. And the first grade boys took their places on the starting line.
At the word "GO!" my little guy bolted. He strategically cut to the inside position, just like big brother did at track meets. He pushed with all he had. For three quarters of the race he was miles ahead of the pack. The flash in a light blue shirt.
Then some little wiry kid started to kick it up a notch. Around the last corner this kid found new energy and the gap between first and second grew smaller. I could hardly breathe as the two ran, neck and neck, to the finish line, snapping my digital camera right as they crossed the line. Photo finish. Tie for first.
But it was first. First place. And he shaved six seconds off his PR to boot. My boy was wiped out but thrilled.
It didn't hurt that later he was the only boy signed up for the vertical jump, so snagged the blue ribbon in that event too. (although a vertical jump of over 12 inches for a seven year old ain't bad, thinks his unbiased mother...)
Two blue ribbons in one day. My boy is still floating, three hours later.
And the whole thing mystifies me. I lost the ability to run about the time I started having memories. My left foot started to grow crooked and running became an embarrassing mix of hop and hobble. I hated the presidential physical fitness test. So much of it involved feet. And I suffered through it, trying not to draw attention to my inabilities.
It makes me stand even more in awe as I watch my boy accept his ribbons in the awards ceremony. His life is all about running and jumping and all the things I dreaded when I was the elementary school student.
My mommy heart swells with pride that Baby Boy was so dedicated to reach his goal. And it makes me want to weep with joy that he is strong and healthy enough to do it.
It wasn't such a bad place to be. Not paving the road but not stuck in baby position for life. By laying low and staying out of trouble I had much more freedom than the older sisters.I watched them navigate the jungles of junior high then adjusted my expectations accordingly. I let them figure out the whole college application thing then used their experience to breeze my way through the process my senior year.
Laying low in the middle worked for me.
Fast forward two decades. I go to work to find myself in a familiar place - right in the middle.
The residents I work with are in their late eighties, even high nineties. The decades they have navigated make me feel young indeed. Forty doesn't seem so old when I realize these people were fifty when I was born. It makes me feel like I have a heck of a lot of time left.
But I am also surrounded by twenty year olds - my coworkers. It is a common demographic in a residence for the elderly. Many of them are working on nursing degrees. Some are just bringing home paychecks until they figure out what they want to do for the next sixty years or so. But they are all young. Very young.
Young like having no memory of days without cell phones and Internet. Young like not being alive when Reagan was president. (while I stood in line in college to get a glimpse of the visiting president)
Things come up, stories are told, and sometimes they don't believe me. I have had a lot of life experiences since I was their age. And they can't comprehend it. They don't have any idea how much can happen in life in a short twenty years.
And it makes me feel ancient. In these moments I find myself seeking out conversations with the octogenarians around me. It puts things in perspective.
I'm still the middle child in my sibling group, but once we all passed our twenties it didn't really seem important anymore.
And I am definitely feeling the middle squeeze at work these days.
But it's not so bad.
Some day, some day that will come way too soon, I will be the frail old lady on the couch. And I will miss that special place, being stuck in the middle.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
For years I have reminded the kids that some day, when they are grown and have found gainful employment capable of supporting their own residence, they can come home to visit me and my sheep.
I have wanted kids (babies) since I was old enough to say the word. My favorite animal as a child was a monkey. A chimp, to be specific, because they looked like babies who never grew up. My dream came true in 1992, then again in '93, repeat in '96 and a last hurrah in the year 2000. I have been a nurturer all my life and a mom for over a decade and a half.
So when these kids fly my coop some day I am going to be hurting.
I decided the answer was a sheep.
A few years ago we lived in a sprawling valley between two mountain ranges in Utah. I passed several sheep farms every time I went to the grocery store. When I was a child we had a smattering of farm animals. The usual cow, horse, a pen full of pigs, chickens, even an occasional duck. We even had goats.
But we never had sheep. And they fascinate me.
They seem like a good sized farm animal - sturdy enough to not die off as often as our hamsters do and cute enough to be forgiven for any frustration they may bring.
It has been the family joke for years that mom would have her sheep some day. Some day when the kids were grown.
Then Kylie fell into our life.
We were determined to get a dog once we got settled in New York. Or at least the kids were determined to get a dog. They won me to their side first and after much begging and pleading, finally hubby agreed.
Then we did research for weeks, scouring petfinder.com for the perfect animal for our family. And we ended up with Cody. AKA the dog from hell.
The only thing he had going for him was he was cute. And after peeing on the brand new carpet for the thirteenth time the cuteness factor wore off.
Then he started jumping our front fence and terrorizing the neighbors. He ran spastic circles through our living room when we were trying to watch a family movie. We had to buy a huge crate, which took up half the living room, because he couldn't be trusted alone at night.
So we bit the bullet and said enough is enough. This dog was not working for us. We broke the boy's hearts and took him back to the pound. (Daughter had grown weary of him from day one)
Hubby said he was done. No more dogs for now. Maybe later, when we'd recovered from the tornado named Cody and determined whether we'd ever have clean carpet in the living room again.
With heads hanging we escorted our failed attempt at pet ownership back in the creaky door that led to the kennels. We apologized to him for not being the right fit, hugged his soft neck, and turned to leave the shelter.
"You might want to see a dog we got in yesterday. She is the most polite dog we've ever seen."
We were not in the market for another dog. We said that, right? But polite? A polite dog? My curiosity got the best of me.
She was hiding under the desk in the tiny room they used for an office. They said she had been so scared back in the kennels, with all the noise and barking, that she shivered like she was going to freeze to death. Before dropping her off, her old owners had shaved all her hair. She resembled a huge scared rat with very sad eyes. But she was polite....the lady said she was polite. It was the main character trait I was looking for in an animal that might be coming to join our family.
I excused myself to the bathroom, knowing Hubby was the one who had to be won over. And my plan worked. By the time I got back he was crouched on the floor next to her, winning her over as quickly as she was returning the favor.
It was a hard sell for the boys. She was a POODLE for goodness sake. What self respecting boy owns a poodle?
She had been bred for seven years, then dropped off at the pound when her services were no longer necessary. She needed us and, by golly, we discovered we needed her.
She came home with us on Mother's Day weekend last year and is now a full fledged furry member of our family. I love sharing the house with another 'old woman with a bit too much junk in her trunk.' She's had lots of babies. I've had lots of babies. We understand each other.
And once her hair grew back in I realized it was not an accident that Kylie found our family. She is big. Her hair is matted with unruly curls. And she lets me nurture her when the kids are away. She's not just our family dog.
She is my practice sheep.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I love nostalgia. I am not really sure why. Years ago when I worked at a fabric store part-time they began making fabrics that replicated the feed sack prints from the 1930s. I fell in love so deeply that before the year ended I had collected dozens of scraps of 30s prints and made myself a quilt.
I love chenille and old fashioned looking kitchen appliances and fifty year old overly loved baby dolls and anything that looks like it is at least twenty years older than me. Finances and space requirements have kept me from having out of control collections littering my house. I admire from afar.
Maybe it's because it reminds me of simplicity. Things I remember seeing in my own childhood take me back to a place where I didn't know the meaning of the word mortgage and the price of fuel was not on my radar. Mom and Dad seemed to have things under control and my biggest decision of the day was choosing between the grilled cheese and the Sloppy Joe in the school cafeteria.
Being married to a man with a double degree in History and Antiquities (who knew there was such a degree?) makes me very aware of the realities of tales from the 'good ole days'. Times were simpler. There was no MTV. No cell phones. Little decent TV programming to suck you into the couch.
Heck, back in the really good ole days there were very few cars to take us shopping for things we didn't need and the farm life led families to pray together and stay together. It sounds so pure and good and desirable.
But history-wise hubby reminds me that the things that make me sane in my day to day life were also non existent. Let's make the short list - microwave, dishwasher, vacuum, washing machine, internet banking, tivo.....
Okay, that's the long list.
But it's a list I wouldn't want to live without.
Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I was thinking about the good ole days. My hair smelled of smoke and my body was weary from a full day of activity.
Early in the day yesterday we watched a van with Missouri license plates pull into our driveway. The doors opened and four people we love very much piled out.
Two of our very best friends from college, who made it very easy on us by marrying each other, stopped by for a visit on their way back from a trip to Massachusetts. This is one of those rare couples where both of us love both of them. No awkward 'putting up with the spouse' so you can see the person you do like. We adore both of these friends, and the two great kids they have produced.
So we spent the afternoon tromping through our woods, swinging from our tree swings, playing dodge ball in our front yard, and then playing charades around a huge glorious fire pit. (fueled by the scrap 2x4s from the basement gut....so there, evil Basement force.)
We stayed up way past bedtimes and as Baby boy fell asleep in my lap we tried to ignore the inevitable conclusion to a perfect day.
The van with familiar plates left our driveway just before midnight and we all collapsed into bed - smoky and content.
And it occurred to me that the numbers on the calendar pronouncing a new millennium in no way dictate that the good ole days are over. Its about friends, family, health, great sunny days, kids who mingle easily, good food, a day without work obligations.
Its about laying my head on the pillow at night smelling of campfire smoke and having a heart full of new memories to file away.
No chenille or tin toys or thirties prints quilts necessary.
These are the good ole days, my friend. These are the good ole days.
Monday, May 26, 2008
The dust has almost settled and the basement is gutted. The long and short of it is - we fought the basement and the basement won. Kind of.
Sure we tore all his sheetrock off his studs. Sure we cleaned out all the junk and filled a decent sized dumpster with building materials and broken things. Sure we now have a nice open space down there, with potential oozing out the corners. (mixed in with the moisture at times...)
But within 24 hours of disturbing the beast we call Basement, he bit back.
The boys immediately recognized a great new scootering spot and spent all afternoon on Sunday going 'round and 'round, faster and faster, in their new wide open space.
Then Baby Boy got his finger caught on something unfriendly to digits and nearly tore it off. The good news is, he will get to keep it and still retain his right to flip off people who offend him in the future.
The bad news is he lost quite a bit of skin and a little bit of 'meat' and actually passed out, then threw up, as I changed his bandage this morning. He's doing fine now, all fixed up with a Q-tip split and about a pound of medical tape.
And since we didn't seem to get the message from Basement, the other two boys continued to mock his new nakedness and enjoy his flat scooter course.
Then Oldest Son's head became way too familiar with a post of some kind. The first hint I had of the injury was his friend coming into the kitchen inquiring about 'ice in a bag'....
I just had to ask, "for what?"
So now my oldest son and my youngest son have been duly warned by Basement and we are finally paying attention.
We have decided to let him rest in peace for a few days, then go down and see if he's forgiven yet.
I hate to break it to him, but we're in charge here. And some day he's going to make a lovely, lovely kid's play room. Whether he likes it or not.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
The dumspter arrived on Thursday. Big George sent the money and other people used it to take vacations or buy fun electronics for the house. (tempting, I must say). But we are the non traditionalists. We rented a dumpster.
When we moved into this house almost two years ago we inherited a large partially finished basement.
That leaked every time it rained.
A fact we only discovered AFTER we painted all the walls, installed carpet and fixed up a mighty lovely room for the Daughter down there. One evening everything is fine....school books were strewn across her newly carpeted floor, clean and dirty clothes kept the school books company. Practically everything she owned occupied some of the plush new square footage of her glamorous bedroom with a fireplace.
Then the snow melted and the rains began. All in one night.
And she woke up in a pond. With all her worldly possessions floating around her. Not good.
The next weekend we quickly put up new walls upstairs and created a new bedroom. All our kids now reside upstairs. The basement has been purely used for storage.
But we worried about it. Since every rain fall seems to send rain seeping in through the floors or the cracks around the fireplace, we worry. About mold.
And we sigh as we walk through the large spaces down there. All this square footage. More space to spread out. It was time to reclaim that space. (it can't hurt to add square footage in this real estate climate)
The walls that previous owners had erected didn't really work for us anyway so we decided to gut. We can make sure there is no mold hiding behind sheetrock, then do the necessary work to prevent that sneaky water from coming in again.
Which all leads to this day, demolition day.
My kids are familiar with demolition. We gutted and rebuilt half of the main floor in this house, creating a new kitchen, living room, dining room area. We spent eight months living in sheetrock dust and chaos. It was not fun.
But this time all the chaos is downstairs. Last night, after we'd worked for a few hours to get a kick start on the project, we all clunked back upstairs, to our CLEAN and (mostly) dust free living area.
Two small walls were taken down last night and I am thrilled with how much it opened up the space. I can't wait to see what todays efforts bring.
One daughter, three boys and one big daddy - all armed with hammers, crowbars and power saws. Let's see what kind of damage we can do.
Thanks for the money George. We're using it for garbage and couldn't be more thrilled.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I have plenty of those. Some good, some bad. Some make me feel really really young. Some make me feel impossibly old. Some bring smiles and some bring tears. A few bring forced back sobs.
When Kenny's song was a regular on the airwaves my Middle boy was about six. He had started first grade and was feeling pretty big about himself. As we were driving in the van one day, that song came on the radio.
My Middle boy stopped his chatter and got very quiet. He gazed out the window with that look on his face that said, 'thoughts in process.'
Finally, after the song ended, he came up for air and announced to me, "Mama....if I 'go back' I don't got far to go. I guess I'd have to 'go back' to pre-school!"
I wondered what songs took him 'back' to preschool days.
But in the same way there are words that take me back. Like when I am picking out salad dressings at the grocery store, and look past the Catalina version. I almost always chuckle to myself as my brother's face comes to mind. He and I always used to call it "Cantina" dressing and no one ever knew what we were talking about.
Then yesterday I heard the word 'lady' in a conversation behind me at the track meet. I don't even remember what lady they were talking about.
But suddenly I was back to a day, more than a decade ago, as we drove through town running errands. Daughter was maybe 5, her little brother would have been 4. And little brother had trouble saying his 'l's'.
So they were discussing, in their preschooler ways, the ins and outs of some show they had seen on PBS that morning. Brother was trying to talk about this one woman he had seen and his sister was just not getting it.
Finally he says, very exasperated, "You KNOW!...that yady wit da yong yong yegs!"
Even I had to do a mental double take to figure out what he was saying. Sister had no clue that he had even spoken English.
After repeating it several times, each time a bit more miffed, I helped him out.
"Sweetie, he is talking about the lady with the long long legs."
After giving him a look like he had suddenly grown a new nose, she calmly said, "Oh yeah...her."
There is rarely a day that hearing the word 'lady' doesn't bring those precious preschool words to my ears and a wistful smile to my face.
The joys of having little people riding in the backseat.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
So one of my favorite of Daughter's friends was over the other day. His name is Chris and my daughter often accuses me of loving him more than her. Of course I am not responsible for his well being twenty four hours a day, so I can afford to love him in an entirely different way than I do my own kiddos. He is a smart kid, a funny kid and always has a ready smile. I am sure my own children have these same qualities in their friends houses....and their friend's mom's get accused of loving my kids more than their own. It's just how it works with teenagers.
Anyway, I digress. Chris was over the other day and just hanging around while Daughter fixed herself a snack. It was the point in my day where I add a sock to my artificial leg.
My leg fits very snugly, so that all the weight is distributed throughout my leg socket. If and when my stump starts to shrink through the day (or if I am exercising/sweating) it becomes uncomfortable. The answer is a long narrow sock. By taking off my leg, covering my stump with a thin cotton sock, then putting my leg back on, I can fill in the socket just enough so that the pain goes away. It's a handy trick and works great in warm months(wearing shorts) because I don't have to pull down my pants to do it.
I have known Chris for most of the 20 months we have lived in New York. But I don't think we have ever really talked about my artificial leg. Most of the kid's friends just notice it, maybe comment under their breath ("cool...") then move along. Sometimes they ask my kids questions when I am not around, and my kids have pretty accurate answers, being mini experts on this bionic leg thing.
But Chris was just there, a sitting duck for my latest leg discussion.
See, I love telling people about my leg. I chose this leg, and this life, and I love sharing it with people. But I am also aware that some people don't care. It's my thing and important to me, but I never want to torture anyone else if they don't care to know.
Chris, being a bright kid who loves knowing how the world works, and also a polite kid, who might not ask me things that he wonders about, just might be interested to know more about my fun plastic leg. (this was my rationalization for torturing him with my leg lecture.)
"Hey Chris, wanna see how I adjust my leg?" I figured that tease might just work to suck in a teen age boy. Mechanics and all that.
So for the next half hour, while Daughter ate her snack (rolled her eyes a few times...she's heard the leg talk way too many times..) then checked her email, Chris and I discussed.
And as I told him about my leg, how it works mechanically, what other options I had in hardware, and how critical my prosthetist is to my well being, it dawned on me that I need to start chatting with more bright teens.
Because you see, there is this great field of work out there called "Prosthetist". I have known great ones and I have known crappy ones and the world definitely needs more great ones.
My prosthetist has the ability to affect every minute of my day, every step of my life. When he does his job right, I walk through my days pain free. If he doesn't know what he's doing, I am back to counting my steps and hanging out on the couch.
But not just anyone can be a prosthetist. You have to be mechanically smart, almost to the point of geekhood. There is a LOT to know about prosthetics today. Great new advances. But they have to be understood to be able to make them work.
But that's only half the job. The other half is being a counselor and comforter. It is a very vulnerable thing, exposing a naked amputated stump to a stranger. You have to trust this person with your mobility and with your dignity. He or she has to understand you, your goals and the things that are important to your daily life.
And honestly, it is hard to find people who are a good mix of both. Engineer types are not generally the warm fuzzy comforting types.
So the two great prosthetists I have worked with personally (Hooray for Joe and Mike!) and the handful I have known online are a rare breed. And we need more of them.
Guys (and girls) who care about people, want the best for their patients, and have the brains to figure out the puzzle of which components available will work for each individual patient.
So I guess it's time to recruit. It is time to put the word "prosthetist" on the list of career choices for high school seniors. It's time to let those smart kids know that they can use those brains to help people walk. And run. And live productive days. It's a great career choice and we need smart people to choose it.
So I had my chat with Chris. He is going into medicine so even if I don't have him convinced by 2010, when he graduates high school, he will be one more person out there, spreading the word throughout his pre-med college friends. Don't forget one of the most important professions out there in medicine.
The one legged people need you.
First let me tell you a story from about a month ago. Middle boy crashed on his scooter and successfully kissed the pavement long enough to get a mighty fat lip. I oohed and ahhed and sympathized with him, assuring him that every day he woke up it would go down a little more in size. Day two came, then day three. Still a big fat lip. By the fourth day I realized this was the kind of time that health insurance came in handy. So I called to make him an appointment with kindly Dr. Karen.
As I was headed out the door with Middle boy I realized Baby boy was being left without a playmate. Daughter was home to watch him but he risked dying of boredom by the time I got back, so I convinced him to come along with me, 'for the ride.'
We had been squeezed into the office schedule (which I appreciated greatly) so I was very aware that we needed to be in and out. Take a peek at fat lip, give us a solution, and send us on our way.
Dr. Karen was her usual cheery self and after a quick peek at said lip, declared that we were dealing with something similar to a huge cold sore, a reaction to the trauma. She turned and asked my Middle boy, "So, what is your mom putting on it? Is she giving you tylenol?"
He looked at me blankly. "Nothing, and no...."
Let me defend myself. He wasn't really in 'pain', it was just bugging him, to have a big fat lip. So tylenol didnt seem to be an answer. And I know my kids...they dont like ointments or lotions of any kind. They would rather have all their skin flake off and have all their organs exposed to the elements than think about putting something 'Yukky! and Greasy!' on their skin. So I didn't even offer ointment.
(feeling a bit negligent, as a mother, at this point.)
Then, as Karen and I discussed treatment plan for Middle boy, Baby boy would not stop pulling on my shirt sleeve. This is not typical. He is the kind of kid who can sit for hours, waiting for me at medical visits. This is the kid who spent his full third year of life hanging out in the prosthetists office while I got my first leg made, then tweaked almost daily. His persistence in the shirt pulling told me he really had something to say.
When I finally leaned down to acknowledge him he whispered in my ear, "remember mama? you were going to have her look in my froat?"
He had been complaining for a few days of a sore throat but our family had been passing around a mild cold so I kept telling him it was 'only drainage' and sending him on his way. When I had insisted he come with me to the doc he had mumbled to himself, as he put his shoes on, 'maybe she'll look at my froat...' Of course I ignored that comment...we were, after all, going to the doc for Middle son.
I felt bad even asking, since we were already past our appointment slot time, but Dr. Karen quickly obliged and, after peering in his throat announced, "It is pretty red, Judy..."
"It's okay," I wisely replied, "Just tell him its drainage and we'll get out of your way...."
She smirked (I swear, she did) and said, "As a medical professional, I am pretty much obligated to swab it, looking that red..."
I thought to myself (didn't dare SAY it) "Oh, good grief...it's just drainage...he's only along for the ride.."
But sure enough, after the trauma of a first throat swab, my Baby boy came back up with a swab test positive for strep. Not just any strep. One of the worst they'd seen this season. Nice.
Negligent mom, round two!
So now fast forward to yesterday. Same Dr. Karen, same exam room. It's her last appointment for the day so we chat and laugh a minute before she turns to examine latest victim, Daughter. The cold that has circulated in our household landed firmly on my girl and has not let her go. For the past four days she has barely eaten food, her throat is so sore. I kept thinking it was again 'drainage' (my favorite diagnosis, can you tell?) but after she stopped taking in nourishment I started taking her seriously.
So here we were once again, our weekly trip to see Dr. Karen.
Karen asked Daughter to open wide and say ahhh, shined her flashlight in the cavern for a full one second, then jumped back and said, "Oh my GOSH! Have you seen inside this child's mouth?!"
Now honestly, it had never occurred to me that there might be something for me to see, so NO, I had never looked inside my daughter's mouth. I assumed there was some trick to figuring out sore throat pain and I have not been to medical school lately so I was not qualified to even try.
Turns out my daughter's right tonsil is so swollen and filled with puss you can practically see it with her mouth closed. Sure enough, when she opened her mouth, and I bothered to look inside, I could see the offending tonsil, as clear as the nose on my clueless face.
Dr. Karen didn't say a word about what a bad mom I am, not even looking inside a child's mouth when she has had throat pain for FOUR days...and I assume it had something to do with the plate of cookies we had brought in to thank her for another incident that recently went down in her office (another story for another day). So for now I am pretty sure the division of family services won't be on my doorstep today...
But then again it's still early.
Maybe I should make a plate of cookies for them, just in case.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Baby boy was getting ready to catch the school bus. The weather is cool again today so he was deciding which sweatshirt to wear over his long sleeved shirt.
Him: "I think I'll pick my Missouri one. I love Missouri."
Me: "It was a great place to live."
(He was born there but moved away before his second birthday and has visited only about three times since, although he does watch the news coming out of Missouri very closely.)
Him: "Yeah, 'cept the tornadoes."
Me: "Well, we survived them pretty well."
Him: "My first remembering started in Utah."
He then got this reflective look on his face and added, "Maybe God knew that I would love Utah. That's why he clicked on my brain there."
Personally, some days, I'm still waiting for God to click on my brain.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
There is really no name that fits them better. To me they are not customers or residents, or employers. They are not my grandmother or grandfather, not my great aunt or uncle. They are individuals I care for at work. They are elderly people I tuck into bed, keep in dry diapers and peek at through the night hours to make sure they are warm and safe.
Oh, and they all happen to have Alzheimers Disease.
Some are more deeply lost in the disease than others but all have been deemed vulnerable enough to require a living situation in full lock down. I pass through a coded door to enter their world and punch in a secret code to exit at the end of my shift. The hours in the middle are technically called ‘work’ but are rewarding enough that most days I don’t think about how the money that shows up in my account every two weeks is at all tied to this place.
I was not supposed to end up in this job category. My degree is in elementary education and all my vocational interest has been tied to caring for little people. Fifteen years at home, being a major life influence on my own offspring, kept me out of the classroom. But suddenly the oldest was starting high school and the youngest first grade. A move to New York brought us closer to east coast family but plucked us down into a much higher cost of living. The need for a supplemental income was hard to ignore.
Early on it was apparent the school district was off my list of possible employers. Part time work is scarce and snatched up by the mile long waiting list. So I searched for options.
Through the classifieds, through the internet, I cruised Craig’s list and job sites, hunting for the opportunity to make just a little extra money within hours that wouldn’t totally upset our balance at home.
I put in applications at the YMCA. Then I crossed the parking lot and applied at the town library. Both seemed good options. Both were places I visited often and both employed many part time workers. I loved to work out and loved to read. Surely those skills could earn me a place of employment.
But neither called.
One call did come. Not the call I was expecting. Just past the library and then past the shiny new YMCA, at the end of a short dead end road, is an assisted living facility. Just for kicks I saturated that cul-de-sac with applications and dropped one off at Golden Acres. With little to no experience with the elderly I wrote off that application almost as quickly as I submitted it. But it was the only one that called and it offered immediate employment. The budget was whining, so I bit.
At the intake interview I learned that the only openings were on the overnight shift. The bank account was on life support so I said okay. It’s only part time anyway, I assured myself. I could survive a few weeks until the day shifts opened up.
My first night I met Donna and Chris. She had been in elderly hospice care for twenty five years, he was a young mortuary science student, earning money for school and using the long quiet hours at night to study. They showed me around then made a prediction.
“You’ll stay on overnights. It’s the best shift there is. We have great people on overnights and the pace is much slower. You don’t want to move to days.”
By the fourth night I knew they were right. Aside from a few light jobs, like setting the table for breakfast and throwing in a few loads of laundry, my main job is watching over my mostly sleeping charges. I sit in a large, fully lit living room and watch TV. And read. And work on writing projects. And write letters to friends. And wait for my people to need me.
When they do, because of insomnia or worries that keep them up, I have time. Nothing but time.
Slowly I have come to know them, each in their own moments. We have none of the busyness of daytime to distract us. Unlike my daytime co-workers, I don’t have to make sure residents are shuttled to activities, or dressed and ready for a family member to take them to a doctor’s appointment. We have long minutes and long hours to talk and share life stories and discuss the fluffy dogs we watch on the re-run dog shows airing all night on Animal Planet.
The life details their dementia riddled minds can’t recall, I fill in by scanning their charts in the nurses station. I learn tidbits that come in handy in later conversations and help spark new stories.
“So, you have a son named Michael? Tell me about him.”
“You used to live in Baltimore. Did you love being near the ocean?”
As the stories spill out I become wrapped up in these people. They started as a name on a door and a specific basket of laundry and, bit by bit, moment by 2 a.m. moment, they became Marie, and Doc and sweet Jeanne.
The unexpected blessing has been knowing this new demographic. I am able to love them and accept them for who they are today. I have no experience of what they were like before this awful disease robbed them of critical brain pathways. I have none of the baggage their family brings along when they come to sit and hold hands and remind them over and over who they are and where they come from. I accept them in neutral and love them through the odd behaviors that Alzheimers can bring.
Maybe it is some kind of karmic payback for all the people who cared for my own grandmother as she lay in that faraway nursing home for so many years. My random cards and gifts were not the same comfort as the woman who rubbed her back every day and spoon fed her applesauce. Now, just maybe, I can be that same comfort to someone else’s grandmother, when they can’t seem to face another day of visiting the stranger in their grandmother’s body.
I am not sure exactly when it switched over in my mind. When Barbara stopped being just an old lady tucked in a bed and became a person I cared about individually. When I let myself start worrying about Mr. Grey when I was home and not due back in to work for days. But the transformation is now complete and I am in way too deep
Even when disruptions of the day interrupt my catch up sleep, I never dread going back into work. The kids are put to bed, a lunch bag packed and I leave the house at a quarter till eleven. I drive down empty streets, past the dark houses of neighbors. Sometimes the light of the full moon leads my way. But I’m not just going to work. I’m on a mission of sorts. I’m going to check on my people.
Somehow my son decided it was worth a try. Running five times around a track, hopping over huge beams, one of them next to a puddle of murky water that is three feet deep. And how is this fun and good for your health? I know for a fact that no mother invented this race. At least my son didn't slip and take the plunge totally under water, like one of the kids in the girl's race.
Like high schoolers don't have enough reasons to feel embarrassment and humiliation on a daily basis.
Indeed, there is a lot of weird, weird stuff out there in the world.
Even the teenager who swears he isn't capable of reading anything beyond schoolwork. This one will suck him in, I just know it.
Baby boy got a first peek at all the interesting photos of toilets from all reaches of the planet. One intrigued him more than the rest. Somehow it disappeared back into the city sidewalk when not in use.
We discussed the logistics of such a toilet, like how that worked with pipes and all. (do the 'results of your visit' also disappear underground?)
Finally Baby boy sighs and says, "I don't know mama....there's just a lot of weird stuff out there in the world."
Amen Baby boy, Amen.
Friday, May 16, 2008
I should have seen it coming. We were very familiar with speech therapists already. His older brother (Middle boy) has a metabolic disorder that left in its wake a pretty nasty case of low muscle tone. It showed up first in his shoulders, trunk and hips. Just when our great pediatric physical therapist was getting him back on track, we realized he was talking a lot...but not really saying anything.
The muscle weakness had settled in his jaw, lips and tongue too. So then we began our years of hanging out in speech therapist's offices.
By the time Baby boy was born his big brother was speaking well and on the fast track to normal speech.
I assumed I knew what to look for, in New Babys speech development, since Middle boy's speech therapist had become one of my best friends in MO. (we did spend a lot of time together...more than I spent with any 'regular' friends... and we were both passionate about my sweet boy... there's nothing more bonding than someone loving your kid almost as much as you do)
So when we made the big move to D.C. and Baby boy continued to be an easy going toddler, I was not concerned. I was watching for 'mushy speech' and I was not hearing it. I was watching for mispronounced words and I was not hearing any.
That was the problem. I wasn't hearing anything. My Baby was mute.
Not exactly mute. He made sounds. But nothing close to language.
It was when he had passed his second birthday and I realized he had never said the word 'NO!" that I became alarmed. What two year old (or eighteen month old, for that matter?) has not pounded his fist on the highchair tray and yelled NO! in the middle of dinner??
I should have noticed it earlier. But I was watching for zebras, and antelopes showed up. Plus we had just packed up our four young children, all born in MO, and moved them from the only city they had ever lived in, plunking them down in the middle of the metropolis of Washington D.C. (just months after 9/11, mind you)
There was a lot of unpacking and signing up for schools, and figuring out the metro lines stuff going on. The fact Baby boy was quiet was not noticed because he was...well...quiet. The squeaky wheel thing and all that.
So suddenly I noticed and found the box with the address book in it so I could call best friend speech therapist back in MO. She confirmed my concerns and advised I get on the case immediately.
So Baby boy began his own journey with speech therapists. But this time we were not working on blowing bubbles and cotton balls to get stronger lips. We were working on finding sounds to make into words.
We had been doing baby signs with him and they became his life saver. He could express, through basic signs, what he wanted. I was introduced to the amazing Signing Time videos, which were brand new, and became friends with their founder. They helped our whole family, including grandparents, understand how to communicate with Baby boy.
But part of the problem with having no speech as a one, then two, then three year old, is not being able to express how you feel. There were no constant questions through the grocery store, like his siblings had done. There was no discussing the best and favorite desires for Christmas that year. The basic needs were communicated but I missed knowing what my Baby was thinking.
Then one day, after months and months of speech therapy, the language started to come. Slowly, slowly we built up words into sentences and Baby boy started to realize he could talk. He could ask questions and state his feelings. And it was fun to see what he had been carrying around inside that head all those quiet months.
One of my favorite moments came when he had become this tall, confident three year old. He sidled up to the counter and asked for a bowl of breakfast cereal. "Me want cee-yal, mama".
And as I poured out the frosted flakes and slopped on the milk my Baby boy looked up to me and said, oh so seriously, "Where we get dees bowls, mama?"
All those months of silence and my boy had been wondering where I'd gotten the bowls.
It makes me wonder what else he had been wondering, that he never got to ask.
I met with his school speech therapist today and he is right on track. He will still receive services through the summer and then into second grade, but most people who do not know him would ever notice anything abnormal about his speech. We feel blessed to have been able to shower him with the best specialists in every city we've lived in.
But there are days, if I let myself think about his early years, that I wonder about my boy. I wonder what treasures he was carrying around in that creative mind of his that he never had the chance to share. I'm sure there were more things he wondered and worried about but was not able to tell us.
But I'm glad he made peace finally, with where we got the bowls.
No more plastic bags overflowing from under my kitchen sink. (I swear they were reproducing)
But just yesterday, after the teenage bag boy loaded up my milk and bread into my save-the-world bags, I turned to finish paying for my transaction. The clerk handed me two long ribbons of receipts.
I swear, I bought no more than twelve items and yet my register tape was about six feet long. All the regular stuff, the things I bought listed efficiently, the date, store address, but then came miles and miles of surveys about service (just call this handy 800 number when you get home...) and coupons.
It is not the first time I have had receipt shock. And not just the kind of shock that comes from seeing what only twelve items can rob from my bank account. But shock that we are so obsessed and concerned about saving the earth by not using plastic bags, and recycling all our newspapers, and turning in our tin cans, yet no one has ever raised a fuss for the miles of register tape that leave the store and end up in home trash cans.
Isn't there a way to just print out the items I bought and then ask me if I wanted any coupons? Or maybe have a recycle bin near the door so I could rip off the part of the receipt I want to save and keep the rest out of the landfill?
It made me feel bad....that I had gotten points for bringing my own canvas bags, but then lost them again, for wasting paper I didn't even ask for.
I'm wondering if it is just our New York grocery stores or if others across the country do this also. Is it really worth wasting all that paper for the one person who might actually keep up with, then use the store coupon that hangs at the end of my receipt?
Someone needs to organize a 'save the receipt tree' campaign.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
We were driving along chatting, after having been in New York about a year. Curious as to how my Baby Boy was fitting in, I innocently asked, "So, how do you like New York?"
He turned to me and asked in a very concerned voice, "Why?"
(he's had too many chats about how it's time to move to a new place...)
Then last night Hubby took him to his elementary school teacher basketball game. He had a ball, hanging out with friends he has known for almost two years now. This morning we were discussing how fun it had been and he sighed and said wistfully, "It's good to know people."
I guess that phrase means something different to adults but to a seven year old it means security.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
My mom died thirteen and a half years ago. She went from country dancing three nights a week healthy to dead in a quick weekend. Strokes are swift and unforgiving. And suddenly I was motherless. A brand new mom myself, I was left without my template.
And so every May since then I have struggled. Struggled to see how this holiday is about me when in my own heart it is so much about her. Struggled to walk past the aisles of Memorial Day grave decorations, knowing I belonged in that section, not the one stocked with gift ideas for moms. And honestly, struggled to allow my kids to honor me the way they want to, because the grief of missing 'her' constantly threatened to bubble to the surface.
I heard a term recently that says it well. I find myself walking around fragile. Feeling like a pitcher so full of blessings yet so on the verge of bursting open from the tiny cracks inside that were put in place the day we put her in the ground.
It has gotten better as the years clip by. Some years are actually, really....dare I say it?...good. I spend time with these great kids of mine and realize with the fullness of my heart how blessed I truly am. I can see logically how I have become a better mother, having grown up with a wonderful example.
Last year was glorious. We spent the day in the woods behind our house. We hiked up trails and threw rocks in the creek. We had fallen log balancing contests (or technically, they had balancing contests...it is not one of my gifts with the one legged thing) and I took a zillion pictures that turned out great. Gorgeous sun shining through the new leaves of spring and filling us all up with peace and family contentment.
And this past Sunday was another home run. I spent the day with my four healthy babies and my patient, oh so patient hubby. We spent another day in the sun, exploring new places together and making new memories.
And my mom was there. In my heart. In my mind. And in the loving nature of every one of her beautiful grandchildren. Who inherited not only many of her looks, but her kind, kind spirit.
Happy Mothers Day Mom. I love you and I miss you but I am moving on. I hope you are proud.
Your third daughter, Judy
Monday, May 12, 2008
I made the whole journey through the grocery store without saying a word. You know, besides the 'no thanks' when the check out girl asked if I wanted cash back, and 'my own please' when the bagger asked which bags he should use.
Besides those five words, my vocal chords had been silent through the whole visit.
Sure I noticed every mommy with a baby in the cart. I always do. I love their round cheeks (the baby's, not the mom's.) I love seeing the variety of hair colors and body sizes they come in. I can almost physically sense the relief the mommies with sleeping babies feel as they have time to pick out the best deal on green beans or ham hocks. And I am always aware that my trip is much more efficient because there are no padded bottoms in the seat of my grocery cart. Only French bread and apples.
But when I got to my van and realized I had navigated the whole store and hardly uttered a word, I was just a bit sad.
In so many past years and so many hundreds of shopping trips I was in constant conversation.
"Here we are, pumpkin. Let's get you hooked in the seat. Okay, here we go. Let's go look at the bananas first. See these bananas? They are really yellow, aren't they? How many should we get today?...."
And on and on it went. Through the whole grocery store. Past the old ladies who stopped us and cooed, asking questions about ages and siblings. Past the lobster tank where it was basic store requirements to stop and tap the glass. Past the bakery where smiling ladies in funny hats freely handed out cookie samples.
Even moments when my darling fell asleep, it was never a guarantee of quiet. It was a borrowed quiet. Ready to be broken at any minute. I rarely made it through three aisles before little feet started to twitch and tiny fists rubbed squinty eyes back awake. And the dialog began again.
How quickly those chatty grocery store years flew by. Even with a preschooler, going to the grocery store was so much more than a trip to buy food. There were shapes and colors to talk about. There were holiday decorations to ooh and ahh over. There were new cracker and cereal shapes to discuss. It was never just about the items in the cart.
But now they are all gone. Off in school, becoming brilliant minds and caring friends. They are studying other languages and learning how bees make that honey we put on our toast. And mommy is on her own.
Left to bring home the bacon in silence.
I miss our chats, my sweet babies. I miss your precious little voices.
Now put down that remote and come help me haul in these groceries.
Middle Son and I were discussing a conversation that took place at school. Someone said something not so nice about my boy. My son casually replied, "But it didn't matter, mom. The kid that was being mean was just a tissue in a trash bin."
I have to admit I sat there with a dopey look on my face, feeling just a little more than 'out of it' with the new kid lingo. Then I realized this was a phrase my own son had created.
He saw my confusion and said, "You know...it doesn't really matter...his opinion matters less to me than a tissue in a trash bin."
I have to say my mommy heart swelled about three sizes in pride in that moment. For my son's ability to stand up to bullies and his ability to manipulate our English language.
Rock on my Middle Boy.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
I have toyed with starting a blog for a long time now. Several years ago I was captivated by the book called "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life." I loved the idea of having a place to document the random, but interesting thoughts, that zip through my mind in a given week. I started my own encyclopedia in a file on my computer and add to it when something strikes me just right. The latest entry was about my confusion over tube socks. Why on earth does every sock company package their product in resealable ziplock bags? Do other people ration their use of new socks? Am I supposed to be only using one set then sealing the bag back up to keep the other ones fresh? I feel so defiant when I rip past the zippered top and dump all twelve socks into the drawer at once. Should I be keeping my eye out for the sock police?
Anyway, just a snippet into my simplistic inquiring mind.
I have many other topics I could post on. A run down of the talent pool that I have to pick from. First there is hubby, the love of my life who drives me crazy but also keeps me sane. Then come the teenagers - Daughter, who just turned driving age but because of New York laws is not yet allowed to drive (thank heaven), Big boy, my oldest son who is just barely 13 months younger than his sister.
Next in line is Middle Boy, the one who brings laughter to our house and is still a delightful pre-teen at 11. Last up - Baby Boy, who is seven and a half but loves to play along with mommy when we pretend he is still three.
Several life experiences will taint my postings also. We spent the first three years of our marriage in NH, the next nine in MO, one in D.C., three in Utah, and so far two in upstate NY. Does that add up to 18? I'm not so good with math. Especially in the midst of several cross country moves, hauling along four kids(we decided to bring them all), a cat and a rabbit.
I have an education degree but since Daughter was born have been home keeping the peace. Hubby and I agreed before the wedding ceremony that we would do whatever it took for me to be home when our kids were young. Peace and Daily Joy were more important than material things or vacations. It has meant decades of rice and beans, handmedown clothes and ten year old vehicles but for some reason all of our memories default to piggie pile wrestling matches in the middle of the living room floor, making and wearing birthday crowns through the grocery stores on their special days, and homemade holiday cards loaded with glitter. No regrets.
Since moving to NY and being blasted immediately by the unbelievable cost of living I have taken on part time work. Baby is in first grade now so my school time hours are open and for the past nine months I have been blessed to work with a special group of Alzheimers patients. They have given me so much more than I have ever given them. More on them in future posts, I am sure.
And one big yet not so big aspect of my life...I am the proud owner of an artificial leg. No, not an artifact I bought at a yard sale that sits in the closet. The kind that slips onto my body in the morning and powers me through my crazy days. I say I am a one legged mom but in reality I am a one footed mom, hence the blog's name. I have one and three quarters legs. My prosthetic comes up and wraps over my knee so most people assume the whole lower half of my limb is missing. In reality I have *just* lost a foot. In fact, in the amputee community I am barely considered an amputee at all...losing just a foot hardly counts to true above the knee folks and those missing both feet. I am thankful, for sure.
To keep me centered and sane through life's adventures I have become a writer. Until last week I was not published but kept plugging away for my own sake. In my debut as a 'real' writer an essay I wrote a decade ago has been published in a mothering anthology called "The Mothering Heights Manual for Mothering." It was published by my wonderful blogging friend Christine Fugate at Motheringheights, net. I was honored to be included with many other wonderful essays describing the ups and downs of this crazy title. Check it out (meaning buy it, not visit the local library...) soon.
So now I will wrap it up and call it a post. Hopefully I have followed all the rules and the minute I hit that magic orange button that says "publish post" it will not get lost in cyber space. I dont think I could come up with anything important to say if I have to start this deal over. Plus I really don't have time to re-do it. It is time for my mid morning Dr. Pepper.