Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yesterday I stopped with the kids to see my mother at the nursing home. Mom had been in bed for a nap. When I entered the wing, I didn't see any staff, and then an aide came out of a resident's room. This aide is someone my sister said, "I just don't feel right about her." I agree. One day I was in the day room, and a resident spit a mouthful of water on the floor. The aide walked over, looked at the mess, shrugged, and walked away. Because this was a slipping hazard, I asked, "Do you want me to stay here with the residents while you go get a towel to clean that up?"

"No, that's okay," she said, and walked away. I went to the director of nursing with my concern.

Yesterday, then, I was far from relieved to see that it was the same aide, obviously by herself. Which is like having no aide, in my opinion. The kids and I went into Mom's room to find her at the end of her bed, obviously agitated, and halfway out of bed, her feet on the floor. When you consider that Mom is not mobile anymore, it is pretty obvious that she had taken a while to get in that position, which means that no one had checked on her in a while. What, exactly, had the staff been doing instead of checking on my mother, who is at the far end of the hall. How hard is it to check on her every twenty to thirty minutes, especially if it is at the end of her nap time?:

I went back out and told the aide that Mom was halfway out of bed and agitated. She turned halfway away from me and rolled her eyes in obvious exasperation. I went out to the car and called my sister.

"You are remarkably calm," she said. "I would have been screaming."

After giving myself some time, I went back inside to talk to the nurse on duty, who signed an order to get Mom an alarm when she is in bed. I sat down with Mom, who was frustrated and non-verbal, shaking. I asked for an Ativan for her and then asked her if she was hungry. "No," she said at first. Then she said, "YES!" So I asked the nurse for something for mom to eat. I gave her a strawberry milkshake.

Then I went to the director of nursing. She didn't seem overly concerned, just saying that mom needed an alarm and verifying that an order was written.

So this morning, I called hospice and asked what I should do. They recommended that I talk to the administrator of the facility, and then they offered to send more volunteers to visit Mom, and of course to keep an eye on things.

The administrator listened carefully to what I said and took notes. She asked a few questions and said, "This will be taken care of RIGHT NOW." I frantically thought, "At least let me get out of the parking lot first."

I called my sister, who asked, "Is there a mushroom cloud coming from the facility?" She said, "I don't think I could be so calm." This surprised me, as she is the less volatile one. Then she said something which made me realize why we reacted the way we did. "I'm just so tired of this," she said, "and it colors everything." She is cranky, and I am numb.

When EG and I were cleaning the garage, he agreed that our reactions are affected by the long, hard time we have had. I told him about when I gave my mother a milkshake yesterday, and she choked quite thoroughly. I was bothered that part of me was scared for her, but part of me thought, "Oh, well. Maybe now this will be over."

This is no way to live. Mom would be the first to give up and leave us if she had any awareness of what is going on with her.

So my new year's wish is that those who are going through the same thing as we are find peace in their situations, however it comes to them.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The tree

Years ago, when we were small, my sister and I helped my father plant two maple trees in the front yard. They grew to be quite huge and beautiful. We each claimed a tree.

When it came time to put the cistern in, the hole was dug by "my" tree, disturbing the roots, and causing the tree to gradually deteriorate. We have been watching the tree, verbalizing that it is time to call an arborist, as some of the tree branches are dead.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, sixty-two degrees, and we enjoyed the unseasonably mild weather. This morning, I was awakened at six thirty by the wind. I came out to the kitchen, turned on the heat, and watched the outdoor temperature drop by four or five tenths of a degree at a time. Between seven and seven thirty, the thermometer dropped over fifteen degrees.

When EG got up at eight, he went out to get the paper and came in to tell me to look out the front window. There, perfectly upright, was a branch from my tree. The fine branches had obviously been entwined in the branches of the other tree, and when the base of the branch broke off, it embedded itself in the ground, leaving the branch upright. Luckily, nothing hit the house, and if the branch does fall all the way, it will not hit anything.

So now I am faced with reconciling myself with losing the tree, another memory from my childhood, another connection to my father. We still have my sister's tree--and I guess that is appropriate, as I am in the house making my own memories with my own children, but I still grieve for that once-glorious maple tree.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

But how much, baby, do we really need

Kiki asked for, and got, a Jonas Brothers CD for Christmas.

We have been inundated with Jonas Brothers trivia, Jonas Brothers music, and Jonas Brothers photos for two days now.

EG informed me, "It's just a phase."

No one knows this better than I do. I remember being enamored of the Monkees (does that date me, or what)--their TV show, their albums (oops, dating myself again), and their posters. I was charmed by Davy Jones, so cute, and with that dashing English accent. And the music? Wow.

Most of my infatuation with the Monkees died out, but I still enjoyed the music. Daydream Believer, despite its cryptic lyrics, has remained one song which can cheer me up no matter what, immediately transporting me back to our garage on a sweaty summer day, our maroon plastic record player blasting the lyrics over and over again, probably driving my poor parents to total distraction.

Cheer up, sleepy jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.
Cheer up, sleepy jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.

Imagine my consternation this morning when I read in the paper's annual review of notable deaths, that John Stewart, the writer of Daydream Believer, had died this year. I really felt old as the Jonas Brothers played and sang in the background, their prepubescent-sounding voices cheerful and sweet, transporting Kiki to that same dreamy place of simplicity and innocence I was so long ago.

Oh, and our good times starts and end
Without dollar one to spend.
But how much, baby, do we really need.

Simplicity, innocence, and dreams--what more can we ask for.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

My father loved Christmas, but he was such a perfectionist, the holiday could be excruciating to endure. Many holidays, we went to the movies to get away from my father's worry about things going wrong and my parents fighting. Plus, Dad got so excited about the gifts he gave us, he hinted for weeks about what they were, eventually giving away all his secrets. Christmas Day was always frenzied and hard.

When I had a family, I decided that, while the Christmases we had as children were abundant, they were stressful, and I wasn't willing to go through that any more. EG's Christmases were simply sad, as both his parents were depressed and preoccupied. Many times, the only gift he got was from his grandparents. When he got older, only his Jewish brother-in-law would remember him.

So, I aim for simplicity. And then, every year, I wait for the Christmas spirit. For me, the Christmas spirit is not the excitement of childhood, the ecstasy of the gift opening frenzy. It is something which I cannot define, and the Christmas spirit is elusive, being different each year. Like those in the manger, I wait for that moment that says Christmas.

Some years, I find the Christmas spirit is the peace I feel when watching Linus recite the simple scriptures in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Some years, I find it at the Children's Mass, watching six year old shepherds squirm and squint and discreetly wave at a beaming row of family members.

This year, because my mother is in hospice and could leave us at any time, I tried to plan for any contingencies. Finals ran right up to the holiday, and grades were due on the 24th, which is EG's birthday. I had the menu planned and non-perishables bought by Thanksgiving, and my presents bought and wrapped by the tenth. Around that time, I had taken the kids out to buy gifts for one another. Because they are gigging now, and getting tips, they have plenty of spending money, but they were still frugal and therefore were able to be generous with each other and us. I didn't know a lot of what they had purchased, as they shooed me off at the register and this week had a wrapping party with their dad. Because we were ready early. yesterday morning was spent cleaning and visiting my mom and buying a few last minute foodstuffs and the afternoon was spent at the church. No mayhem and frantic last minute preparations this year.

I waited for the Christmas spirit that moment which spoke to me. I was depressed at the office Christmas party. I found no pleasure in the lighting displays. I was irritated at the trite Christmas music I found on the radio. At Mass last night, I enjoyed the manger scene, smiled at the donkeys, and even listened to Kiki's solo, but still felt nothing other than calm. I was okay with that, as maybe calm was what I needed this year. However, I could have used just a little joy.

This morning, I watched the kids proudly give each other presents, thoroughly and generously wrapped with some red contact paper they found in Nita's closet ("we didn't know--it said 'covering' on it"), secured with yards of Scotch tape, labeled directly on the wrapping with smeared magic marker. Both the giver's and the receiver's faces glowed at the thrift store copy of The Time Machine, the hand-held Jeopardy! game, and the quacking duck key chain. The kids discovered the joy of giving, the traditional Christmas spirit. They were more interested in distributing their own gifts than they were in opening what they got.

As I sat here in our cluttered living room, watching Dirty Harry paw a label off his forehead and the kitten play with a bow, listening to the Jonas Brothers CD for the umpteenth time, I realized that in all the discarded wrapping paper and battery packages, my best gift was from my children—they had given me the Christmas spirit through their joy. A last minute gift this year, but one which I will gladly accept.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last week, I was watching an interview with Rick Warren, the pastor who wrote The Purpose Driven Life. He said, "All things happen for a reason. We may not know what the reason is, but all things happen for a reason."

Which leads me to suspect that Pastor Warren has never had anything bad happen to him, a thing so complex, a thing which caused intense suffering to someone he loved, a thing which could not possibly have a reason other than it happened.

Take, for example, my mother and father's progress through Alzheimer's dementia. Losing my dad to this disease was hard, but then going through it with my mother as well is cruel. Yes, we could say that we all have found a purpose in this experience--I volunteer with hospice and take the rabbit to visit those with dementia, and my sister and I have a much deeper understanding on how to talk to and reason with those with the disease, and especially on how to "go with the flow" with them. One grandchild will most likely spend her life working with those with mental illness, and another is interested in doing music therapy with those with brain disorders.

We have found purpose in what could have beaten us, and may still do so.

However, what possible reason could there be for my mother's suffering? What reason can we find in her constant state of confusion, as she mostly cannot remember where she is and why she is there? What purpose is there in her agitation and fear, so bad that she needs medication to keep the emotions under control? What good can we find in her not knowing those who were most close to her?

So, while we struggle to handle her situation with grace and with understanding, I do not want to hear that she suffers for a reason. I want to find reason in her suffering.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A moment of brightness

Yesterday, I felt kind of droopy. Most likely, this was because I had eaten quite a bit of junk the day before and my body was paying me back. So, when EG and the kids went to play at the restaurant, I opted instead to peek in on my mother at the nursing home and then run to buy groceries for the next few days. Lately, my mother doesn't know us, is hardly verbal, and very slow in her thought processes, so I figured I'd be back home in an hour.

When I walked into the nursing home, my mother, to my surprise, called me by name and said, "I've been watching for you." I looked at the aide and raised my eyebrows. She said, "She has had an EXCELLENT day."

I called my sister and told her she might want to come and take advantage of this rare period of lucidity. Unfortunately, the down side to the situation was that my mother was confused, as she did not remember going to the nursing home. I told her, "You fell and hit your head, and the doctor wants you here where you can be watched." I didn't enlighten her that it was nearly three years ago. She didn't know for sure where she was, so I told her, "This is the place where you went for rehab when you broke a bone, and you said that if something happened to you again, you would choose this place." She worried about wearing out her welcome. I told her the insurance paid for it.

The hardest part was that she didn't remember my father had died. She asked about him, and I told her, "It is Saturday, and we had chili." (A family custom because Dad liked chili, but not the aftereffects he experienced during the work week.) She smiled. Then she said, "So he was pleased." I told her, "He is the same as he's been for quite a while. You know Dad."

One of the residents of the nursing home was going down the hall, and she said, "Is that your dad?"

"I hope not," I told her. She laughed. I asked her if she wanted Dad to come tonight, or would she prefer later, as she was getting tired. She said, "Maybe tomorrow."

She was getting worn out, so we requested that the aide put her to bed. I introduced her to the same aide she's had for her entire time in the nursing home, and the aide, who had been given a heads up about Mom worrying about her welcome, told her, "The girls have taken good care of you, but your doctor wants us to do it for now." Mom was okay with that.

We stayed until she was asleep, then we went out for a sandwich. I was gone much longer than I intended, but I didn't want to lose out on that precious time. It isn't often people get to spend time with a loved one who has left them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mama never said there'd be days like this

Today the contractor finished the basement--he did a beautiful job, and my basement, or at least half of it, is gorgeous. After coming home for a month to find him down there every day, I feel a sense of loss. Another twenty seven or twenty eight months, and my whole house would be gorgeous...

Anyway, today I left work and drove home to have a private viewing of the basement. Pete had left notes and odds and ends for the kids and EG, and gone quietly before I got there. My gift was that he cleaned up when he was done. I took a moment to bask and then drove to the corner to pick up Rocky just as the bus dropped him off. He greeted me with, "I wanted to walk home."

I replied, "Nice to see you, too. We need to go get the girls at choir practice."

"Oh, them," he said. Little did I realize how appropriate his attitude would be.

I walked in to choir practice, and Nita poked around getting her things. Finally, we went out to the car while Kiki's practice finished up, and I suggested to Nita that we practice her spelling words. She responded as if I had suggested that she shave her head and never eat candy again. Once I retrieved the spelling book from under the gas pedal where it landed when she sailed it at me, we reviewed the words. She did well after I told her that I would give Rocky a shot at anything she missed.

Kiki came out of practice twenty minutes late and handed me a permission slip for her to sing in church on Christmas Eve and Christmas--she evidently was going to be available for all sixteen Masses, on both days and in both locations. When I unwisely pointed this out to her, I was informed I was being mean.

Nita showed her the purchases she had made at the Santa's Shop at school. Kiki shrieked because Nita had bought a bunch of things which she would not immediately gift to Kiki. Incidentally, Nita had cleaned out her life's savings, and the moms who volunteered there had gladly helped her to do so. I was not happy and confiscated about seven dollars worth of merchandise to return for a refund.

It was loudly announced that I am a mean mom.

When we got home, Nita stated that she had no homework. I insisted on reviewing the assignment book anyway (to the accompanying tune of "Mean Mom"), only to discover that assignments had been put there but then erased by one of the eight scented erasers she had purchased earlier that day. I made her do the work anyway. You got it--it's because I am mean.

The girls then redirected their irritation to one another about the mood ring one of them was wearing. From what I understand, purple is the color of romance and orange means the wearer is unsettled. When Nita pointed out that Kiki's ring was both purple and orange and made an unkind suggestion as to why, Kiki smacked her and ran to her room sobbing. I guess she hates this house, hates all of us, and she wishes she could live somewhere else where there were no evil sisters and mean moms--oh, and dopey boys. Unfortunately, I was unable to observe what color the mood ring became when the wearer was in screaming teenage hysteria. However, I will pursue that. It might be helpful to predict oncoming storms.

I once again retreated to the basement for a quiet moment to find that Kiki's cat was down there, crying to go back up. However, Harry was delighted to see her every time she started up the stairs, a feeling she did not share, and therefore would go back down and go back under the work bench. She was convinced that she would never leave that basement again. I called Kiki down to get the cat, and Kiki sat in front of Amber's hiding place and did a monologue on the Jonas Brothers. After five minutes, the cat still hadn't come out. Not only that, I was ready to join her under there. When I remarked as such to Kiki, she flounced off in a huff and slammed her bedroom door because her MEAN mom made such a MEAN remark. The cat came out, rather wild-eyed, and I put her in her carrier and took her upstairs, where she went under Nita's bed.

She hasn't come out yet.

Nita, not to be outdone, misplaced her mood ring, a loss which caused a great deal of frenzy. Amidst the brouhaha, Nash decided that it was time for supper and proceeded to bark-bark-bark-bark. Penny asked to come out for some water, which she drank with great gusto. Rocky suggested that perhaps Penny had ingested the ring, a fact which Penny quickly dispelled when she obligingly threw up right in the middle of running down the hall. Bark-bark-bark-bark-bark, Nash yapped. Nita screamed that her life was over because she no longer had her mood ring (wonder what color it would have been at that point).

Kiki told her, "Oh, knock it off. It's just a mood ring." I suggested that Kiki give Nita her ring. Silly me. HERS wasn't JUST a mood ring, I guess. Kiki melted down; Nita, not to be outdone, ran to her room and slammed her door.

While the girls were partaking of a little "door closing practice," I rounded up the dogs and fed and crated them, mopped the floor, and then told everyone to wash their hands for supper. Nita, sobbing that I was so cruel I would not let her look for her ring but instead made her eat a healthy meal, discovered the ring on her chair.

"Oh," she said. I could have banged my head on the table.

As we began to eat, Kiki asked, "So, Mom, how was your day?"

Not so bad for a mean mom.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Victoria's No Longer a Secret

Last week, among all the other holiday catalogs, we received a book from Victoria's Secret, shiny and glossy and full of lots of voluputous females. I put the catalogs in a pile for recycling, which I take to the boy scout bin about every week or so.

On Thanksgiving, we put the kids to bed early. We have had the contractor here for a couple of weeks now, and he has been fiddling with the electricity. Since the job is not completely done, I have been paranoid about hot wires and the like. As I went down the hall, I noticed that I smelled something hot, like burning rubber.

I opened Rocky's door, and the smell was stronger in there. After sniffiing around for a few minutes like some over-zealous bloodhound, I determined that the burning smell was coming from Rocky's desk lamp, which he initially insisted had not been turned on. However, I resorted to my super powers and felt the lamp, which was hot, so Rocky finally admitted that he had, indeed, been using the light. I removed the lamp and further temptation and discovered a pink eraser stuffed up inside, near the bulb, and showing signs of being overheated.

The next day, I asked Rocky, "Just what were you doing in there last night when you should have been sleeping?"

He said, "I can't tell you at the table."


The girls cried in unison, "Eeeuuwww."

I turned to EG. "This one's yours," I said. He winced.

It turns out that the Victoria's Secret catalog never made it to the boy scouts recycling bin, but stayed here with this boy, who was scouting out the curvy females. EG appropriated the book.

Which, now that I think about it, still hasn't made it to the recycling stack...

Monday, November 24, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Ever since I had Kiki, I have suffered insomnia. I have always assumed that it was because of hormones, but now I wonder if it isn't because I became a mom, with all those fears and worries that accompany that job description.

Yesterday, we adopted a kitten. He is a lovely little boy, hand raised because he had no mother, wonderfully affectionate and sweet. Amber, the lone kitty in residence up to this point, was aggravated with Pancho's presence initially, so we put the new cat and his litter box in Nita's room for the night and shut the door.

Then I went to bed, and the games began. Amber fussed and yodeled because she knew the usurper was in the other bedroom and she had not finished having words with him. Pancho nannie-nannie-boo-booed at her under the door and partied on the hardwood floor, jumping on and off furniture, and perhaps doing some demolition projects, judging by the noise level. Dirty Harry had met the cat and approved of him, but he didn't get enough quality time and wasn't settling last night, so he itched and scratched at his allergies for hours. Penny whined and couldn't get comfortable, and Nash remained alert, making Chewbacca noises and sitting up, just in case that new cat had the audacity to try to come down to "his" room.

The rabbits, sensing the tension, weren't resting well, either. I dozed off eventually, only to jolt awake when one of the bunnies shrieked in his sleep. This, of course, set off a chain reaction of even more wakefulness, making it impossible for me to relax. Eventually, I got up and took a sleeping pill. When I got back to bed, EG commenced conducting music lessons in his sleep. So much for dropping off--I should have gotten a guitar and joined in.

The grandfather clock struck every fifteen minutes, reminding me on a regular basis that I was still quite awake and irritating me a little bit more each time I heard it. I did finally drop off after five o'clock, but the regular time for rising around here is ten to six, so there wasn't a lot of time for snoozing, no matter how efficient I might be.

Hopefully tonight will be better.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wandering mind

Just a few minutes ago, Rocky asked me, "Is Joe Biden Barack Obama's father?"

Make room for daddy at the White House.

Kiki came home from school today and announced that she got the part of Fan, Scrooge's sister, in A Christmas Carol.

"She's dead," she added.

"So it's not a speaking part?" I asked.

"No, she talks."

And I thought Halloween was last month. Kind of a Tim Burton motif, perhaps?

Nita came in from outdoors and asked, "Is Jesus a bad word?"

I told her, "It depends on how you use it."

"Well, I fell down, and it just slipped out."

This didn't surprise me, as she is my strong-willed child, the one with the temper.

I looked at her.

She quickly informed me, "So to make up for it, I did ten Hail Marys, the Act of Contrition, the Apostle's Creed, and to make sure, The Pledge of Allegiance."

Covering both church and state, I guess.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Simple Gifts

I am one of those people who never can suggest what I want for Christmas.

I do have to say that my sister has always been very creative in her gift giving, but I know that I am difficult to buy for. I just don't care about stuff. I don't wear jewelry every day, I don't collect knicknacks, and I don't care about clothes beyond comfort and appropriateness. I have carried the same handbag for two years--it is a name brand, albeit not a designer bag, and I bought it at Goodwill for two bucks.

Anyway, my point is not to brag about how I am so saint-like in my simplicity, which would be the ONLY thing which would be remotely saint-like about me, but to reflect on something which happened last night.

The children take turns saying grace at dinner each night. Whenever it is Rocky's turn, he comes up with a version, thought up on the fly, which he delivers at warp speed:

D'Gahthankyouforthifooanthankyoufohthisbeaufulday. ..men.

Then he launches himself into his plate. By his own admission, he just wants to get the formalities over with so he can get to the food as quickly as possible. Never mind that the "beaufulday" has been cold, with rain and hail and sleet and a tornado which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage and several deaths. He just wants to get to the chow.

We have given him a printed prayer to use. He butchers it to the point of hilarity. "Which we are about to receive from your bounty" becomes "which we are about to receive wrapped in Bounty."

It does little to honor the solemnity of the occasion when the girls are falling out of their chairs in hysterics.

We have talked to him about keeping this simple, settling for something shorter from the heart, and asking him during other times of the day what he is thankful for. He can't answer that. We also talk about the option of asking for blessings for others who aren't as fortunate. Consequently, again to be efficient, I guess, he comes up with things like, "I am thankful that we don't live in an area where men come into our house with machine guns and kill us. And the rabbits." I guess these men are dog lovers. Or, "I am thankful that we don't have horrible diseases and we're not color blind." Or, my all-time favorite, "I am thankful that the pool didn't get destroyed by a hurricane today." (It was seventy five degrees, sunny and clear, we live in Ohio, and there were no hurricanes in the weather forecast anywhere.)

So I have been looking at prayers for little children. I am hoping that Rocky won't be forty and still reciting, "God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Amen." However, I did stress simplicity, and if that is the grace which is from his heart, then that is all I can ask.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And I Pay Money for This

We have carefully considered our options, and we will be putting Rocky into public school.

There were several things which convinced me. First, we spent all summer working with Rocky on academics, bringing him up to grade level on several subjects. This year, Rocky has asked his special ed teacher on several occasions to let him do the same math as the other kids in his class, but she has told him that he needs to do the same math as the other two boys in the "mobile unit". I don't understand the reasoning behind this, and when I was asked, I was told, "He needs to be with his class." Yes, and if he can do the work, why not challenge him by letting him be with most of the kids (aren't THEY the class?), not the kids who are delayed.

Second, the private school has informed me that it is my responsibility to get online every night and make sure he does the correct assignments. When I commented that part of his education was that he needed to write down the assignments and part of his educational plan was that the teachers were to check his assignment book, and that he needed to be accountable, Iso why did I need to get online to check them, I was told, "He may not have them down properly." I repeated that part of his educational plan stated that the teachers double check the assignments he wrote down. They told me they don't have time for that, so I was going to have to do so.

Oh-kay. So when I went online to check assignments, guess what--they weren't there. Guess Rocky isn't the only one who is not doing what he is supposed to.

However, the upshot was when one teacher decided it was her place to give me advice on parenting my child. She sat there and said, "Let me give you some advice. I have raised three kids to adulthood, and all turned out very well. What you have here is a child in puberty. Blah blah blah blah, be consistent, and don't let him get you upset."

I asked, "Have you read his history?" Oh, no, they didn't have access to that. The principal said it was part of his permanent record. At the time, I was trying to be nice, so I refrained from adding that it was all too easy to blame the mother for her poor parenting.

So let me say this now. To all you teachers out there: There are children in our society who have experienced unbelievable trauma. They have suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They have been neglected, starved, burned, molested, electrocuted, cut, beaten, and poisoned. Like prisoners of war, they have post-traumatic stress disorder, but to add to the horror of it all, these kids didn't suffer this torture from a perceived enemy, but at the hands of a birth parent, someone who violated the most sacred of responsibilities, the parental bond. And if the parent didn't actually do this, they sure didn't protect the child.

Then there are people out there who take in these children and take on their suffering. They attempt to lead normal lives while they, themselves, are abused by these children, who are now taking out their anger and lack of trust on the new parents. Rocky has healed from a lot of his trauma, but on this journey, we have had urination throughout the house, raging for hours and hours, fire setting, false allegations of abuse and neglect, constant battles for control and manipulation, stealing, constant lying, self-mutilation, abuse of animals, and threat of bodily harm to us and our other children. This behavior has been driven by fear and has created a vicious cycle--fear drives the behavior, which we need to address so we can get to the fears, but dealing with the behaviors leaves little time for the fears.

So, yes you have had problem children in the classroom, and you may have had a challenging child at home. Yes, your consistency and clarity about expectations probably did get results. However, they also caused more stress in the child once he or she got home, which makes homework that much harder. We don't tell you how to teach, so why do you think you can tell us how to parent?

So until you can tell me that "pushing your buttons" means that you have been awakened at night by a three year old holding your bread knife to your throat, or that you have to check your shoes for feces before putting them on, or that you frisk your child every hour for sharp objects which he can use to hurt himself or for matches because he set the house on fire not once, not twice, but four times, then don't deign to think that your banal parenting advice can help. Instead, sit down, put your santimonious attitudes about your superior knowledge of children aside, and for once, shut your mouth and open your mind to what you really can do to help a child.

Friday, October 31, 2008

That odd clunking sound in the dark part of the house

This morning I got to sleep in.

For those of you unfamiliar with our household, "sleep in" is a euphemism for "lie in bed and grind my teeth in irritation while everyone else makes too much noise for me to rest."

The worst culprit in the noise department is Rocky. We have taken to calling his shoes "tennis shoes," as there is no way that he would wear anything which could be classified as "sneakers." He can walk down the hall in sock feet and create enough noise to wake the dog; part of that may or may not be that Rocky also pinballs off walls, steps on whatever is in his way, and can trip over the design in the vinyl flooring. If that boy were in a coma, he could make enough noise, just by lying still and breathing, to rouse the others in the intensive care unit.

Perhaps I should hire him out.

Anyway, I am convinced Rocky's brain and his body have some form of disconnect which may or may not have something to do with puberty. He can go into his room to get his coat, a simple procedure for many of us. However, he will careen off his desk, knock books out of his bookcase, bash into the dresser, step into his wastebasket and hop around the room to remove it by shaking his leg, and walk heavily enough so the rest of us think he has the entire lineup for the Cleveland Browns in there wrestling wild boars. Twenty or thirty wild boars. With bad attitudes. Probably because we have watched too many horror movies, all of us are loathe to investigate these thuds and scuffles. So, after thirty seconds or so of these odd clunking noises, accompanied by falling items and repeated exclamations of pain, one of us will say, rather shrilly, "What are you DOING in there?"

To which he will reply, "Looking for my coat" in perfectly reasonable tones, as if everyone puts on outerwear with this much brouhaha.

After another minute or so, one of us will then shriek, "Can you do it QUIETLY?" The noise subsides somewhat, sounding like the boars might be winning enough to start enthusiastically rooting through his dirty clothes and debris under the bed. Eventually Rocky will reappear, coat on, looking remarkably unscathed after experiencing all that chaos and dumfounded at our aggravation.

You'd think we'd be immune by now, but somehow we repeatedly get sucked into this same discussion, playing the scenario over and over and over. It makes me think of those people in horror movies--you would think that, after years of watching poor unsuspecting boneheads go into the basement to investigate that scary noise, only to suffer an untimely demise, that people in horror movies would LEARN. I mean, my children have evolved to the point where they are afraid of the basement on general principles. However, history will repeat itself yet again in both the movies and in our lives.

What concerns me is that we are just now at the entry point of puberty. If this keeps up, we may all need protective gear or a group mental health plan by the time he gets into eighth grade.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Next exit, reality

On Friday or Saturday night, I will sometimes enjoy a glass of wine as I prepare and eat dinner.

Today, for a variety of reasons (work, conference call, errands, attempt to lose weight), I ate only 1/2 sandwich for lunch. That was at one o'clock. At seven, after putting supper in the oven, I realized that I had too much wine on an empty stomach, and I needed to eat. So now, I am sitting here in the kitchen, eating my supper before EG finishes work, hoping to head off inebriation before I veer off the road to reality.

Let me point out here that, when it comes to the road to reality, I am most of the time driving in the breakdown lane. Just today, these words came out of my mouth.

"Who's been playing with the Carpet Fresh?"

Of course, everyone replies, "Not me." I swear, if I have another child, I will name him Not Me so I have someone to blame things on.

But I digress from the Carpet Fresh episode.

I added, "Well, one of you has been in the Carpet Fresh. I can prove it because it got all over the toilet seat, and now I have Carpet Fresh IN A RING ALL OVER MY BOTTOM!"

Now, there's a non sequitur if I ever saw one. What me having Carpet Fresh in orbit around my rear end proves about my children being naughty is completely beyond me. However, my statement worked, as Nita said, "I might have ACCIDENTALLY spilled it." Unfortunately for her, the Carpet Fresh was in the bathroom cabinet, in an area which has no carpet within fifty feet. Accident my foot.

Which proves that my children are truly along for the ride as I tool off the road yet again. Not one of them was willing to contradict me for fear I would call them to investigate the situation, I guess.

Then again, maybe they're in the driver's seat.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I don't want to, but I will...

After putting it off for a long time, I have decided to go back and actually finish my Ph.D.

And I have enrolled, have started the financial aid process, and have committed to starting after the first of the year.

"Committed" being the operative word here.

With three kids, a full-time job, committee work, volunteering, and a house, I should feel overwhelmed. However, I do better when I am intellectually stimulated. Having said that, let me add that my house has been really clean only on several occasions: first, when Kiki was a newborn, and I took six months off work; second, when I have been on breaks from work; and third, when I have been taking classes on top of everything else.

When I am more relaxed, it seems that I have a "manana" attitude about things. I think, "Yeah, yeah, the floor should be mopped, I will do the laundry later, and I'll figure out what to do with those things some other time. " When I am busy, I think, "Better mop that floor now, since I'm here I'll throw in another load of laundry, and this junk is out of here--we won't need it." Plus, I double recipes just in case, and I multi-task when I am swamped.

The strange thing is that I appear to be wired this way--I feel energized and hopeful if my intellect is engaged.

Not that I am a type A personality, though. I do not like competing with others, and I don't get short-tempered. I just zoom through life. A friend once said that, at my funeral, the funeral home directors will be telling me, "Get in here and lie down--we have to put the lid on your coffin now."

So for the next two years, I will be happy. However, will my family be able to stand it?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The children's school practices "positive discipline." That means that the children who misbehave are given a reflection to write about their poor choices. The form will come home with a statement of behavior at the top, something like, "Took another child's food, chewed it, and put it back on the other child's tray." The reflection which the child must fill out consists of questions, something like, "What happened, who was involved, what did you do, what will you do differently?"

Rocky, who is not a yakker, has filling these forms down to an art form. Part of it is because he has had a tremendous amount of practice, I'm sure. If I don't interfere, the form will go back with these answers, "Ate Nick's food. Nick and me. Ate his food. Don't do it again."

There are two problems with this system. First, the faculty or staff person is supposed to discuss the issue and answers with the child. Notice the "supposed to"--that is because the form somehow vanishes between our kitchen and the school. This may be for the best, as discussing the issue with Rocky can be frustrating--as I can attest. Kind of like pounding myself between the eyes with a tack hammer--the only good that comes of it is that it feels better when I finally stop.

Take the example of Nick and his food. When I asked Rocky the particulars of this situation, he said, "Nick said I could." Then we have the old, old discussion of "If Nick said you could jump off the roof, would you do it?"

Rocky always looks amazed at what is the apparent lack of sense in this question. He replies, "No, because that would be stupid."

Okay...but are you supposed to eat another child's food? No. And what is with the putting the food back on his tray. "Well, those were the beans I didn't chew. I didn't like them."

Apparently, Nick didn't either.

The second issue we have with this type of situation specific discipline is that Rocky doesn't generalize the situation. To him, "Not do it again" means to not eat Nick's food again. This leaves us with plenty of wiggle room, as no mention is made of Dakota's chips or Israel's applesauce or Emma's crackers, or any edibles held by any of the 180 or so upper elementary kids in that lunchroom. Nor is there mention of doing other activities with people's food, such as using Jell-o blocks to construct cities with corn decorations or squeezing juice boxes to shoot fruit punch toward the girls' table. I have to make Rocky add caveats such as "I will not touch anyone else's food." Of course, Rocky will then come home with another reflection and tell me, "Nick's apple rolled away from him today, and I had to sit at the girls' table because I wouldn't pick it up for him, but you said to not touch anyone else's food. Ever."

Pass the tack hammer, please.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stick 'em Up

I have developed a six-shooter mentality.

We use a squirt bottle to correct the dogs and cat. What is amazing to me is that a one hundred plus pound dog, one who will attack the hose when it is operating at full force, will cower when spritzed. However, this works. So, when Dirty Harry raids the trash and is careening through the house with garbage, trailing coffee grounds, I can say, "Leave it!" and aim and fire, and the four-legged malfeasant surrenders immediately.

If only this worked with children. Today I had breakfast, deciding to indulge in a box of cereal which last week was "Special K with Red Berries." Today, it is Stale Special K with Missing Red Berries Because They Were Picked Out and Eaten by My Oldest When I Wasn't Home. When I confronted Kiki, she denied any involvement despite my waving the squirt bottle in her general direction and staring at her squinty-eyed and in my best intimidating manner.

Maybe if I had a silver star.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Good grief

This has been a hectic, wacky week.

Monday I did a vigil for hospice and got home about six to a totally messed up house and three kids who hadn't done their homework but who had eaten everything which was not covered with fur or marked "poison". On the way home, I stopped for chicken, and the young lady working the drive-thru opened the window and asked me, "Is it okay to have extra crispy breasts?" I couldn't answer that.

Tuesday I had to visit the facility where we are having graduation, then run out for dog food, then come home to cook supper, then take Rocky to boy scouts, then exercise, then run to the grocery store, then go back to pick Rocky up from scouts.

Wednesday, I decided to put macaroni and cheese in the crockpot, which would have worked out great except EG plugged in the toaster and not the crockpot. So I blithely attend a faculty meeting, run to get bread, go pick up one kid from choir, one from aftercare, and one from the principal's office, where she was summoned. Then we come home, where I find uncooked macaroni and cheese, which I prayerfully shove into a 450 degree oven. Then I go through backpacks, and find and sign a slip which was filled out on Rocky because he was using another kid's lunch to build cities on the cafeteria table. His reasoning: L said it was okay. Feed the kids, grab the rabbit, drop Kiki off at the library in the bigger city to wait for her girl scout meeting, and drive the rabbit and two younger kids to the library in our township for a Sit, Stay, Read program. The two younger kids, who know better, act as if they had been raised by wolves and go wild in the library. Nita decides she is going to backtalk me when I mention this to her when we are leaving, so I lean into the back of the van to grab her. She nimbly hops into the hatch, where she presses herself against the back window and screams hysterically, banging on the glass, and causing all the spectators at the ball game in the recreation complex adjoining the library to spectate me instead of the players. When we get home, she jumps from the car and runs away up the driveway.

I do not follow. In fact, I secretly wish she had done this at the library, where I could have driven off. Ooops. Silly me--so forgetful now that I'm nearing menopause.

Eventually, she returns, and I inform her through clenched teeth and with bugging eyes that it is time for bed. She evaluates her options and wisely goes. Leaving her with her dad, I go get Kiki from the library.

So when Kiki, who is sitting in the living room where there are three clocks, just asked me what time it was, I wasn't surprised. I simply said, "The same time it is in there."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

You may call me "Your Highness"

Last night Rocky was wandering aimlessly around the house and asked to go outside. Since our neighbor had a bunch of boys playing at her house, and since I knew they wouldn't think to invite Rocky, and since I knew he would stand there and stare and look pitiful, I said no.

Instead I offered to let him earn some extra money for his boy scout campout this weekend. The deal is that he pays for half the campout, and we pay for half the campout. Since he doesn't earn enough allowance-wise to pay for a campout, I offer him the opportunity to earn extra money by doing household chores.

Rocky said, "I don't feel like working right now."

Now, since I had worked yesterday after spending Thursday night with my mother, who had what was apparently a stroke, and was then in the middle of grading papers, cleaning the kitchen, making a grocery list, and cooking supper, I was, ahem, somewhat annoyed by this statement.

"Fine," I said. "I don't feel like cooking your supper." He retreated to his room.

Later I asked him about his statement, and he made matters worse by clarifying it by saying, "I think you should just pay for everything." Then he stepped in it. "And I am sorry we had to have this conversation."

He is lucky his head is attached.

So this morning, I wrote down my normal list of chores for Saturday. And I told Rocky, "I've been thinking about what you said. You're right...I will pay for the entire campout." He looked suspicious as well he should.

"However, you will spend the day with me, doing all these chores which I normally would have to do." And I didn't add, I will do some housework, but mostly I will sit and do the things I want to do for a change.

So, right now, I am on my computer, and the birds are singing outside, the girls are talking quietly in their rooms, and Rocky is gagging as he cleans the toilet. Music to my ears.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Here kitty, kitty

We have a kitten named Amber, who is about eight months old. She is a smaller cat, sweet, and not happy about Dirty Harry, so she lives upstairs in the girls' bedrooms and bathrooms. She will come downstairs, but Harry alerts to her, runs at her to say HI, and consequently chases her back upstairs. The dogs don't go upstairs, as they wear radio collars, and their wire boundary runs right across the front of the house, so they will get zapped if they try to get up to the girls' rooms. Most times.

Nash, our Lab/Dane?Boxer?Pitbull? mix, is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, he may qualify to be a spoon. Anyway, the cat has been with us for two months, and just on Sunday Nash noticed there was a cat in the house. I could just about hear Scooby-Doo and his "Whaaaah?" sound when Nash spotted the kitty. Then he apparently forgot about it.

Yesterday I was sorting laundry, and I heard a lot of barking and screaming. As this is somewhat the norm around here, I ignored it. Nita burst into the room and said, "Nashie is upstairs!"

"Where's the kitty?"

"He's got her!"

I flew up the stairs to discover a cat, one side covered in dog spit, hanging on Kiki's screens, hissing and spitting. The curtains were on the floor. Nash was trampolining on the bed, and the cat was swinging by three feet and swiping with the fourth, screeching and hissing like crazy.

I pulled the dog off the cat, and dragged him back a few feet. The kitty launched herself off the screen onto the dog's head (and my hands), spitting and clawing like crazy. I shut the dog out of the room, and Rocky hauled him back downstairs, where he dripped blood all over everything and everyone.

We put him in his crate and cleaned up the mess.

A few minutes later, after cranking up the range on the radio collar, I offered to let Nash go see the kitty. He excitedly agreed to a new adventure until he got zapped. Then I cleaned his shredded ears, turned the fence back down and said, "Want to go see the kitty?"

He said no, thanks, she activated a force field and, besides, she pulled a Freddy Krueger on him.

The kitty, on the other hand, is now ready to rumble.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Everyone knows it's windy...

Yesterday we got the remnants of Ike, which meant the wind blew and blew and blew all day, with major gusts. The pine cones came out of the trees, the apples fell to the ground, and Nature pruned many dead branches, not to mention removing many live trees and re-routing traffic through this afternoon.

The power outages were the big topic of conversation wherever I went today. I think I had the best story, as my sister, who works for the school system, called me at six o'clock this morning and said, "Do you have power?" When I told her I did, she said, "Will you watch TV to see if I have school?"

She did. When she hung up, she commented she didn't know what she was going to do about brushing her teeth, as they have a well and a pump. I wished her luck and yelled at the girls to turn out at least four of the lights which they had on upstairs.

Tonight I went to the county seat, and on the way back drove through the city next to our township. Several businesses had those signs which use the clear plastic letter-cards; you know, like the ones people rent to put in their front yards to advertise, "Lordy, lordy...honk for Nona, she's forty." Anyway, many of them were, well, shuffled. My favorite, in front of a restaurant, said, "then gree food" and on the next line, it added, "best wart."

I'll bet that really brought them in tonight.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A private memorial service

Today it is clear and sunny, and we finally put the hamster into the ground.

Friday, EG removed the little guy's body from the cage, wrapped it, and put it in a box on the porch. I realized, since the kids were going to be getting home before I was, I needed to tell them the hamster's body was removed, as they are good little Catholics and would have thought that "the stone has been rolled away and he arose!"

However, we had two days of rain of Biblical proportions, so the hamster was on the porch for a few days. My sister suggested that we put the hamster on a little funeral pyre, set him ablaze, and send his body down the stream which runs next to the house, much like what has been traditionally done on the Ganges river. I did entertain the thought for a moment--the amount of rain we had has caused the stream to have some exciting momentum, and I had a wonderful mental image of the blazing raft, complete with hamster, getting sucked into the culvert which runs under my neighbor's outbuilding. However, with my luck, the pyre would have caught on something beneath the floor, causing the barn to ignite and burst into flame itself.

I would have a hard time explaining that one.

So Alex is comfortably and safely buried in the front flower bed, deep enough to avoid being dug back up by the neighbor's cats, and later today we will cover him with a layer of mulch and some spring bulbs. We had a simple ceremony for Nita's sake; her simple elegy was, "You were a good hamster. See you in heaven." Alex would approve.

Friday, September 12, 2008

RIP Alex Trebek

For the last two days, our hamster, Alex Trebek, has been failing.

I fed him a bit of tomato yesterday afternoon, and he nibbled on it. Right before bed last night, I gave him a piece of orange, but he didn't eat it.

Dwarf hamsters live one to two years, and Alex was about a year and nine months. I hoped that he would go quickly and peacefully, and he appeared to do so, as I found him on the floor of his cage on his side this morning.

We didn't mention the demise to the children, but Nita asked if she could check on the hamster before school today. I told her we already had, hoping that would be the end of the discussion. But of course she asked how he was doing. I told her, "He didn't make it."

She said, "I'm not going to school" and started to cry. We convinced her that Alex, like the real Alex Trebek, would have wanted her to take every advantage of the education available to her. Unfortunately, she got seriously overwhelmed in math class and, as she put it, "really let go." Nothing like a little drama.

So, our "vermin with social status" has gone to the great beyond. We are not getting another hamster, as we have the three dogs, two rabbits, and a cat already; however, if a hamster somehow accidentally comes our way, we will most likely not turn him away.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Norm Wash

Recently, EG pointed out to me that "normal people don't have rabbits in the living room."

My response was, "And?" Yes, we have livestock cages stacked next to the TV, and yes, they shed, and yes, Bob doesn't like the pellets, so he flings them all over until he gets too hungry to ignore them any longer, and yes, we need plastic and newspaper for Willie's litter box accidents, but other than that, what is the point here?

Besides, we are not "normal people."

In fact, the only thing normal around here is an option on the dryer.

Even the dishwasher says, "NORM WASH" which makes me think we've gone into an episode of Cheers, one which would not air during primetime thankfully.

I find that "normal people" intimidate me. Case in point: I had Rocky at the doctor for one of our Gold Card Member visits, and we were discussing kids' rooms. I had always said that I didn't care what the kids' rooms were like, as long as they weren't verminous (which ended when the mouse invasion happened).

The doctor said his daughter thought that, as long as she could walk across her room without needing a tetanus shot, she felt the room was clean enough.

I didn't know what to say. Here I was picturing this nice, composed man in a calm, serene, and immaculate home (reason number one I wouldn't marry a doctor--there is no way I could maintain an immaculate, serene home--see above comment about rabbits). Could it be that his homelife wasn't normal? Was I measuring myself against an unrealistic expectation?

Which leads me to wonder...Is there anyone out there who is "normal?"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why Mothers Drink

The children get off the school bus at 2:35 p.m. and walk down the road to the house.

We then have the following routine:

-deposit backpacks and lunch boxes on counter in kitchen
-change into play clothes
-find school clothes for the next day
-assemble gym clothes if necessary
-get homework checked
-play time if applicable
-after-supper chores
-baths/pre-bedtime routine

This has been the same routine for five years now.

However, we lack the cooperation of all the participants. Rocky will sit and eat his snack, taking forever, and rubbing the pretzels or raisins or whatever in his fingers until I finally snap and take the food away until he moves on to the next item on the agenda.

Kiki will announce, "I have to write an essay" and then scream at me when I tell her two hours is too long for one paragraph, and she needs to do her chores and she is NOT DONE YET.

As for Nita, her routine consists of the following:

-put backpack and lunchbox in various places throughout the house
-change into playclothes
-gobble snack, leaving dip to eat with finger; cry when mom takes the bowl and puts it in the sink
-get sent back to room to get school clothes and gym clothes
-choose an item of clothing which is missing from the ensemble, and scream that she can't find it
-have a meltdown and sob because Mom is talking through clenched teeth
-start homework
-ask for help on every problem
-when Mom refuses to help until all the problems are attempted, throw pencil at Mom
-get sent to room for recovery time
-return to put homework papers in brother's backpack
-cry because today is the first day or Ramadan and we don't celebrate it
-scribble all over math workbook page because Mom marked an item wrong
-smack brother because he mentions this was not smart
-eat supper
-go to bed immediately
-get up, brush teeth
-get sent back to bed
-get up, complain of headache
-get sent back to bed, stomping feet
-get up, cry because the community drawing wasn't complete
-get sent back to bed
-cry for ten minutes because there is now a distinct probability of failing third grade and maybe even fourth grade
-get up, look at Mom, and decide the smartest thing to do is go back to bed

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Rain Cometh

Today we finally got rain, a weather event which made me happy.

First, we needed the rain. My backyard was full of large cracks where the ground had split from being so dry. Also, I bought some perennials this weekend and wanted a few wet days so I could put the plants in the ground.

Second, I like rain. Here in northeast Ohio, we have lots of cloudy weather--those of us who have been raised here are used to it. I particularly love a rainy night: I like sleeping to the sound of the water falling from the trees and on the roof, I like driving on the wet, shiny roads and hearing the sounds my tires make in the standing water.

And third, I am hoping the rain knocks some of the pollen out of the air so EG stops coughing from allergies so we can both sleep at night. Probably the most unromantic reason, but foremost in my mind.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taxi Driver

I teach adults, and my area of specialization is the developmental level.

Some of these are people who squeaked by in high school, some need some assistance in bringing their written language to a level which parallels their spoken language, and some just didn't take the placement test seriously.

Unfortunately, I find more and more that I am teaching basic employability skills along with the parts of speech, paragraphing, and essay format. I am talking about things like showing up, calling off if absent, being punctual, not answering a cell phone during class lectures, wearing pants belted somewhere that is closer to the waist than the knees, removing hats indoors, covering abundant cleavage and huge tattoos, not cussing, and getting along with people who are challenging (i.e., smacking those who annoy us is not an acceptable way to act). There are days where I need to remind myself about that last one.

When the students fight me on my expectations, I point out that, yes, I am a fifty year old white woman, but guess who is doing the hiring--fifty year old white women. I do refrain from adding, "Duh."

One thing which I am noticing recently is the under the breath editorializing, much like I get at home from my preteen. For example, I generally will schedule a test the last hour of class. Class policy is that tests are given only during the scheduled time, as we have found that students will regularly make appointments during class time, or they will come when it is convenient for them and expect to make up the test.

So, a student will come to me on test day and say, "Can I take my test now?"

I will say, "The test will be given from noon until one today."

The student will then say, "But I have an appointment."

I will repeat that the test will be given from twelve until one.

"But I have an appointment."

Uh-huh. And the test is from twelve until one.

The student will then return to his or her seat muttering under his or her breath. "This is murmurmurmur. I have an appointment, and murmurmurmur, and murmurmurmur treat us like adults."

Some people will also start to take the test and have to leave. "This murmurs me off. I don't have time to murmur the murmur. I should be able to finish the work. Murmurmurmur so unfair."

I find that I am less tolerant of this behavior than I used to be. I find it passive aggressive and immature. Today was a bad day for the muttering and sputtering, and I suddenly flashed back to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who . . . do you think you're ...talking to? Oh, yeah. OK." Draws weapon.

So, rather than snap one day next week and end up on some ghastly news magazine show on some woman's network, I am going to have to address this with my students. Since I am modeling Appropriate Workplace Behavior, and since the only weapon I have is a Swingline Stapler, I need to do so in a manner which is professional and a good example to them. So, I will have to live the Taxi Driver scenario in my mind while smiling and pointing out that employers will not tolerate what I have tolerated this week. And then, with a little Travis Bickle edge, I will add that I won't be willing to entertain it anymore.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Last week, my sister and I discussed my mother's recent decline and decided it was time to call hospice. My mother's doctor signed the order, which was a bittersweet victory--we were right in judging it was time.

Since my father was diagnosed five years ago, we have gone through losing him to Alzheimer's, only to have Mom diagnosed right before his death with dementia as well. We are both so very tired--perhaps we are even numb. Going through this once is hard and unfair--going through it twice is beyond that.

My father was a smoker, so the inside windows of the family car were always filmy, making viewing the passing scenery a challenge. In the backseat, my sister and I were never 100 percent sure where we were once it got dark.

Now it is as if we are in the backseat of the car, Mom now behind the wheel. We are unable to see over the seat back ahead of us, nor are we able to see clearly out the side windows. We kind of know where we are going, as we have been here before. However, Mom has her signal on, has had in on for quite a while, and we aren't sure if we are exiting, or if it is a false alarm.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Since last evening, I am responsible for eight deaths, and I feel only slightly guilty.

We have been overrun by mice. I believe part of it is the construction at the corners, as about five acres of the rodents' natural habitat is now gone. However, part of it is the animal feed we have been keeping in the garage, and part is also the death of Fuzzy, our neighbor's cat, who was an excellent huntress although abundantly challenged in the intelligence department.

Anyway, yesterday morning, I set a trap in the garage and caught the mother mouse. When I got home from work, I found my youngest two standing in the driveway, staring at the back wall of the garage, where these darling tiny baby mice were running frantically around, looking for Mom. My stomach squinched up at the thought of what I'd done and at the panic those babies must have been feeling. I suppose I have been reading too much children's literature, which features mice and other vermin in charming illustrations.

Rocky said, "They're so CUTE...but think of the diseases." He had a point.

I determined the location of the nest and guiltily pulled it out of the garage, which displaced the babies even further. Then I set two mouse traps and closed the garage door. After a while, I heard that dreaded snap, and opened the door to find three small corpses. I donned latex gloves, and I pulled the bar off the trap after covering the bodies, shuddering as I released them into a plastic bag for disposal. Despite my guilt, I set the traps again, only to discover four dead this morning, three more babies and an adult.

Much to my horror, I have adopted a cold, calculating attitude about this situation. I gazed right at the fuzzy gray bodies and thought, "Good--fewer adults to invade us" as I threw the remains into the field for the fox and coyote. And I again reset the traps before going to work.

To make matters worse, I am stopping on the way home to buy yet more traps.

I guess this means war--Stuart Little had better watch out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Like fine wines

What is the fascination with Dancing with the Stars? Maybe I'm missing something here.

Okay, I'll grant anyone that Mario what's his name is NOT hard to look at (but he looks so young to me, although I suppose those abs and those dimples are a killer combination); however, why would I want to watch John Ratzenberger dance?

Of course, I am feeling my age. This past week, I went to the doctor, who refrained from mentioning that I was getting to be that age (he is close to it himself, so I would take it easier from him than from Doogie Howser), but he did suggest I go in for my 50,000 mile checkup.

This made me realize that I was no longer at the point in my life where I am susceptible to cuteness in men. I am more interested in men who have some miles on them, men who have lived enough to have that perception which comes from experience and living, to have wisdom about what is important, who know that sometimes the right thing to do is just to shut up and do nothing.

Does this mean that I would be more interested in spending time with John Ratzenberger than Mario? I don't know...I only know Mr. Ratzenberger as the annoying Cliff Klaben on "Cheers" and have never heard Mario open his mouth and utter a word (or perhaps I was distracted at the time and didn't realize he was talking).

There have always been men who have become more appealing as they aged--Sean Connery comes to mind. And there have been men, like Pierce Brosnan, who have been attractive at whatever they age they were, as they somehow evolved each level of attractiveness. However, as I age, too, I realize that no longer do I find the teenagers, the heart-throbs all that interesting.

And, somehow, that reassures me and saddens me at the same time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Thursday would have been my father's eightieth birthday.

I had two dogs scheduled for a vet visit, and my sister called to offer me help wrangling the Labradors. I wasn't going to take her up on her offer, but then I remembered the date, so I gratefully accepted.

Neither of us mentioned the anniversary that day.

However, the next day, I reminded her. "I know," she said.

She then shared with me that she is reminded of my father many times a day, as every time she looks down at her own hands, she sees my father's hands as well. "And I don't know what to do about it," she said.

"Get a tattoo," I suggested, joking, as I have never wanted anything decorative as permanent as a tattoo.

"What," she asked. "Like LOVE and HATE?"

"Or maybe SIT DOWN and SHUT UP," I suggested.

My family lives in the house I was raised in, and I have been hesitant to make changes. It almost seemed like I was eradicating my parents' memory.

However, I now know I need to make this house my own, not just by the repairs we do, but by the decorating. Never mind that the decor is not at all to my taste, it is not healthy to keep it a shrine to my parents. So this week, I will finish preparing the bathroom, and then I will paint it my beach-themed aqua and hang my shoreline prints on the wall. Then I will move to the hall, and tear down my mother's beloved wallpaper and use plain white paint, and then start on yet another room. Like my sister, I will always have some constant reminders of my parents, but I can change the form of some of them so the memories are truly mine.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I used to be funny.

I used to be able to tell a story, and people would be falling out of their chairs laughing.

Now, I don't have any interest in being funny. I feel more poignancy-inducing than hilarity-inducing.

Erma Bombeck once said, "Humorists can never start to take themselves seriously. It's literary suicide. "

I don't take myself seriously--seriously has been taking me.

However, dear Ms. Bombeck also said, "If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it."

And that is what my sister and I do. I am certain that people think we are horrible or heartless or even completely nuts, but we have faced so many heartbreaking things in the last five years, and we have laughed to stay sane.

Which leads me to people who have survived much, much worse than we have--Auschwitz, seeing their children die, war. I admire their resilience and their determination.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Update on the Dog

We finally got a call from the emergency vet--we could go pick up Dirty Harry.

When we got there, he appeared fine and was happy to see us. I went up to pay and was told the bill came to $987 dollars and some change.

Whaaatt? I was told about $600 dollars. I spoke to the vet, who slashed $100 off of the bill. She said she didn't know the antibiotics were so expensive. She said she didn't know we'd need all those x-rays, but we had only one more set when I got the estimate. She also told me that her total and the computer total were different and she didn't know why. The whole thing appeared to be horribly disorganized.

Needless to say, I am going to follow up on this bill.

EG is dreadfully unhappy about the bill; although we have the emergency funds to pay it, that is a lot of money for one day of hospitalization.

Before I left, I asked when to look for a bowel movement. I was told, "Soon" and informed that I should check it.

When we got the dog home, he immediately went to the bathroom, having a normal visit. The kids applauded him, and EG commented, "A nine hundred dollar bowel movement."

Is this where we say "priceless?"
Yesterday I spent a good deal of time at the emergency vet with Harry, one of the dogs. Harry can and does eat just about everything, but in this case he had eaten something which hadn't agreed with him, which generally means that it was a razor blade, drain cleaner, or an atomic weapon which has detonated.

However, in this case, it was apparently a ponytail holder.

This side trip to the vet meant that I lost ten hours of time I had set aside to do things around the house, like work in the flowerbeds or file papers or the like. There is so much that I don't get done around here--last year I neglected to mulch the rosebush, and this spring the poor thing was a bunch of dead twigs.

Of course, I felt guilty, but I didn't get to the removal of the rosebush. Last week I noticed that there were green branches in with the brown thorny ones. I decided to let it go a little longer.

This afternoon, while we were waiting for the call back from the vet to see if the dog will need surgery, we decided to let the kids swim in the pool. I looked over at the rosebush, and there were three blossoms.

This has been a rough summer--the kids are bored and challenging, I am never alone, and we have lots of stress and emotional issues to deal with, especially this week. I have always been pretty resilient, dealing with each additional stressor as it comes along, but this week sidelined me; my coping bucket is pretty much empty.

The rose reminded me of something which happened several years ago. We were at our old church, where we attended Mass on Saturday evening. A wedding had taken place earlier that day. Nita, who was about three then, found a rosebud in the pew and handed it to me; I put it in the hymnal rack. When Mass let out, I spoke to Betty, a lady who worked in the rectory, as she left.

Suddenly, something told me, "Give the rose to Betty."

I chased after her and handed her the rose, saying, "Will you please take this home and put it in some water?"

She mumbled some thanks and left.

A couple minutes later, there was a touch on my elbow.

"I want to explain my behavior," Betty said. "You see, my daughter's breast cancer is no longer in remission. And I have been praying the last couple of days for a sign that my daughter will be okay. I've been asking St. Theresa, the Little Flower, to send me a flower as a sign."

I looked down at the rose, which was trembling in her hand, and we both cried.

I'm not the kind of person who asks for signs, nor do I look for any special meaning in things. But this rose reminds me of so many things: first, things are tough right now, but not unbearable; second, there just might be hope when things look like there is none; and, third, we don't know the reasons for things which happen to us.

I am going to take a picture of this rose and leave it on my cell phone as a reminder to myself.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Restful weekend, anyone?

Friday night, I found a mouse carcass in the trap in the basement. I did what any normal, red-blooded woman raised in the country would do--I screamed. I hate mice, not because I am afraid of them, but because they are nasty.

So I threw out the little corpse in the field for the coyotes or fox. I scrubbed and swept the basement while EG plugged their newly-discovered entrance hole and put brass mesh over the opening. We figured that should take care of things, at least temporarily, so I could relax for a while.

This was my restful Saturday morning. Harry got up at six with an upset stomach. At nine I took him out, and he was in obvious distress--he wouldn't walk.

I called the regular vet, who told me to take him to the emergency vet. On the way there, the work crews had the main road shut off, but I was first in line for a five to ten minute wait while cars came up from the center of town. I finally told the workers I was on my way to the emergency vet, and they stopped traffic so I could cross the road.

Got to the emergency vet. They rushed us in. They sedated him. They took X-rays at 100 dollars a pop and said he was full of fluid in his abdomen. They sedated him more and pumped his stomach.

They X-rayed him again. They said it looked like he had swallowed a spoon. I was to consider surgery (two to three thousand dollars) or them using a scope (five hundred dollars) to retrieve the spoon; if the scope didn't work, then we have to do the surgery. I call my regular vet, who is part-time retired but a fabulous surgeon. He would operate on Monday, but he recommended that I have the dog done where we are. I called EG, who carriesd on for five minutes but decided to have the surgery done.

Meanwhile Harry woke up from the anesthesia, bit the tube in half, threw up, and aspirated some of the fluids. The staff pulled the rest of the tube out of his stomach, and stuck him with some antibiotics so he wouldn't get pneumonia. They $$-rayed him yet again. Guess what--no spoon. So they examined his stomach contents and found a ponytail holder. I can see why they confused the two.

Surgery was put on hold. Dog appeared to feel better. They $$-rayed him one last time and found an unexplained mass in his stomach. It could be food or it could be some other kitchen utensil or the napkin he ate yesterday or grass or dog food--it's like a game show. They want to keep him overnight (more antibiotics and an IV) and X-ray yet again in the morning to determine if they need to operate.

I come home and find out at four thirty that the food I got for the party tonight and specifically told EG to not give the kids was consumed for lunch with EG's permission.

I may scream.

Honestly. I need to go back to work to get some rest.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One more step

Wednesday, my mother was experiencing shortness of breath. Her pulse oxygen was at 70 percent, and she was anxious. The nurse called my sister, who has medical power of attorney, and mentioned that the nursing home might want to send my mother to the hospital.

My sister discussed it with me, and we agreed that Mom should not be sent to the hospital. She got confused and agitated and combative the last few times we had her there. The most recent time, I got off the elevator to find my mother, in a wheelchair by the nurses' station, berating the nurses, doctors, and guests alike. I wanted to back right back on the elevator and slink away.

It is a hard thing to decide to let your mother receive comfort care only and die.

Mom did recover with the help of some medication. When I went to see her last night, she was confused and couldn't verbalize. I know she knew that she knew me, but she had no clue how she knew me.

It is a bad year for fleas, and I have been fighting them on the dogs. The mouse came back last night and crawled up under the siding of the house to hide.

In the middle of the night, I woke with a panic attack. My doctor told me it wasn't elevated blood pressure causing my symptoms, but something else.

My office mate said to me, tongue in cheek, "You need to get rid of some of those things causing that stress."

Oh, so I need to evict my tenant, quit my job, shave the dogs, burn down the house, divorce my husband, send the kids into foster care, and hurry my mother's demise? No, I need to adapt one more time. Yet again.

So here I go again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Progressive Dinner

It is dark today because it is storming.

Early this morning, I put a chicken in the crockpot and left it to cook all day.

Rocky just walked in and asked me if we were having anything with the chicken.

I asked him if I ever served a roast with nothing else, or steak with no side dishes, or baked fish on the plate by itself.

He said, "No. So, are we having anything with the chicken?"

Consequently, because of his concern and despite it being only four thirty, I sent his sister downstairs for some rice to serve with the chicken.

Rocky is happy now.

I finally realized that he has some basis for his concern. I do not cook by the clock. My mother used to time the meal so it was ready at six o'clock and on the table by 6:05 p.m. However, since EG works evenings, I am pretty relaxed about timing my meal. It could be served any time between five thirty and eight o'clock, depending on the day and what else is going on. The dogs, though, eat between six and six thirty each night, but they are more insistent and less inclined to snack.

Two weeks ago, I got the meat done, but the side dish was not ready by the time we had to leave for boy scouts. Rocky ate in installments that evening, kind of a progressive dinner but all at one house.

So, I guess Rocky has some basis for his concern because his mom is not motivated to see he gets a healthy, nutritious meal to fuel him through his boy scout meeting.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?

I remember my mom saying, "I'm not going to tell you again."

And she didn't. At least not in words.

However, she also didn't have Rocky as a child. I have told Rocky at least 962 times to not let the dogs lick him. I told him the dogs lick their own anatomy, that the dogs have germs, and that I don't want to reinforce that behavior in my dogs. I have also told him innumerable times that he should not sit below the dogs so their heads are above his, as the dogs view that as submissive behavior.

So, of course, at least five times a week, I walk in the living room to find Rocky on the floor, the dog above him, slurping his face.

Let me point out, too, that this is the same kid who won't use the same unused napkin his sister had next to her plate because it has germs.

The same thing with table manners. Rocky will pick up his sandwich, thumbs on top, elbows winging out to the side and causing the rest of us to bob and weave, and take a huge bite, causing food to fall out onto his plate, the table, or the floor. He picks up things like macaroni by using the points on the fork, going bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink-bink and then quickly transporting the laden fork to his mouth to catch as much as possible before it falls back off the fork. I have pointed out to him that he can do this maneuver slower and more quietly, but again, I must be lapsing into Tagalog or some other language he finds unfamiliar.

Plus, the kid eats like he's been lost in the wilderness for five days, and finally, finally he is getting something other than grubs and roots. I hesitate to put more food on his plate unless he has backed away and the fork is on the table.

I have come to the conclusion that this is a male thing. No offense to the men out there, but let's face it. Many times, I have asked EG, "Who did you ignore before you met me?" I will tell him something, and he will reply appropriately. A few hours later, he is in complete denial that the conversation ever took place.

Plus, I remember seeing Mel Gibson eating pie in a movie role (why can't I get into acting and get that kind of role--mine would most likely consist of me, a deranged person, and a power tool; but I digress). Anyway, the Melster devoured that pie, in huge chunks, leaning his arm on the table. I just know somewhere his mother was rolling her eyes and HOPING he was simply keeping in character but deep down convinced, despite her best efforts, he wasn't usually eating with his pinky extended, let alone knowing whether he should fold his napkin at the end of the meal.

So, to my future daughter-in-law: Don't blame me: I really did try.

Friday, July 18, 2008


When we moved in here, the neighbors were far from welcoming.

My one neighbor was really nosy and called me long distance at my old house, before we ever moved in, to express concerns she had about my children's behaviors, never mind the fact that her son shot my daughter in the eye with a rubber band gun. She told my kids they weren't allowed to play with her family because they were having "family time." When I was a kid, if someone's mom or dad was outside, they played with ALL the kids equally; they didn't send other kids home because of "spending time as a family."

It nearly broke my heart to watch my two youngest stand along the property line, hoping to be included when my neighbor's kids played with another neighbor's kids, and being ignored, or worse yet, told "no" when they asked if they could come over. When Rocky came home and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me that she won't let her kids play with me", I broke my rule about not badmouthing another adult around my children. I hurried to tell him it wasn't him. There was something wrong with the neighbor that she made us the usurpers, miscreants, lepers, unwelcome ones.

I strongly suspect the dislike, or perhaps lack of comfort, is because EG is Mexican and two of the kids are African American. I have always viewed this as a convenient excuse, but several comments the neighbor, who has told me she is a Christian, has made has made me aware that she is not the type of person who handles differences well because she has preconceived notions about people, which is sad.

What pretty much clinched it is she put her house up for sale three weeks after we moved in. Unfortunately, it didn't sell. Most likely, our kind brought the property values down.

Anyway, being realistic that the neighbors weren't going to include us for barbecues and bonfires and evenings on the deck, and certainly not welcome the kids into their yard or home, we bought our kids a pool. Not large, and certainly not roomy enough for all five of us at once. Each day, the kids will spend two or three hours in the water, making up games and splashing around and teaching themselves the physics of swimming. Plus, they sleep so well at night.

What is sad is that neighbor kids will come outside in their bathing suits, obviously hoping for an invitation. They are nice children, and certainly should not be punished for their mother's attitudes and abrasive personality, but I cannot bring myself to invite them. I don't want to hear the excuses, the criticisms, the probing questions which even the kids have learned to dodge. I don't want to have any phone calls after the fact, telling me who did what to whom and why this is a bad thing.

The last few days have been over 90 degrees, and I feel so sorry for those kids, who have been with their grandparents all day while their mother works. I know that they would find a dip in the pool refreshing and fun, and they also would welcome time with other kids. However, I am taking care of myself and my kids--I guess this is what neighbor thinks her motives are, too. So I wonder--am I any less a good person because of it?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Yesterday I spent the day at Boy Scout Camp.

Since the married couple who leads the troop had an emergency, the troop was two people short for checking in and getting set up. I volunteered to help out with paperwork and wherever else I was needed.

Eventually, I got appointed security detail. This consisted of sitting in a lawn chair and "watching" the campsite in case someone tried to steal something while the boys were tested for swimming levels and the acting leader registered. Then I would be forced to shout, preferably something official like, "Halt!" or "You there!" According the the person in charge, my presence would be a deterrent. I am not sure if that is a compliment or not.

Anyway, as part of the afternoon's festivities, I watched a man wearing a school bus yellow shirt and cowboy hat rake hay in a field at the bottom of a nearby hill. He had started earlier that day, and he worked steadily at spreading the drying grass.

Then a bunch of boys came back to the nearby campsite and changed into matching green troop tee shirts, and they joined the man, who put the hay into piles for the boys to carry to the far end of the field and place in a heap. Periodically, the boys would freeze, looking at the ground, animatedly talking, and would gather around and stare down, ambling slowly along. Then an argument would ensue, followed by one boy, obviously the winner in the selection pool, reaching down and tentatively snatching in the hay, jumping back every so often, and eventually coming up with the very tail end of a garter snake in his grasp, holding the serpent far away from his body.

The boys would all back away, forming a semi-circle and warily staring at the snake as if it would suddenly increase massively in size and writhe out of control and strike out at them. The snake handler would walk over to the woods and put the snake down as the other boys watched in rapt amazement. They all would rapidly backpedal away, just in case the garter snake was more miffed than he or she appeared. Once the snake was released, the boys would go back to the hay, and another few minutes later, someone else would find a snake. This went on for nearly three hours, during which the man in the school bus yellow shirt continued to rake the hay in a measured way, mostly ignoring the boys and snakes.

As the sun went down, our boys came back. The boys with the hay went to change for supper at the mess hall, and the man put his rake away and walked the other direction, still not in a hurry and apparently not tired out from his labor.

It drove home wondering so many things: Did the man tell the boys to be gentle with the snakes, or were the boys just naturally resprectful of nature? What was the deal with the hay? Why not simply rake it all down the field into a big pile? Who was this man in the yellow shirt and what was the importance of the hay?

I most likely will never know, but I did enjoy the glimpse into the lives of boys when they thought no adults were looking.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Motor Mouth

Kiki was prowling around last night at 9:30. Since she has gotten crabbier and crabbier as the week has progressed, I told her, “Turn your light out. You need to sleep.”

“I’m not tired,” she replied.

I repeated that she should turn her light out, and then added, “And I can hear you yawning, so I know you are tired.”

And like we have experienced so many times, Bad Sense ripped open the door to her mouth, yanked Good Sense out of the way, and hopped into the driver’s seat. Bad Sense caused her to call me a liar.

“Okay,” I told her. “One more word, and it is going to get ugly. You need to be quiet and do what you were told.”

Bad Sense, obviously at the encouragement of some ornery hormones cheering him on, showed off and stomped on the accelerator, and Kiki’s mouth skidded out of control. One minute later, she was sobbing incoherently at the injustice of it all—it had gotten ugly. She earned a day on Blackout and has spent all of today in her room. (Reading back over this, I realize that I wish someone would sentence me to a full day in MY room. Maybe I need to rethink this.)

It has been a remarkably peaceful day without her complaining and bossing. I am seriously considering installing a dumbwaiter and getting her a microwave and some frozen dinners, and letting her stay up there until she can be human or turns 30, whichever comes first. Or last.

Let’s think about this…our wealthier forefathers (most likely at the encouragement of foremothers) used to send their children to boarding schools. Those who were not financially well off got their kids jobs or sold them into apprenticeships. Okay, this sounds like the most profitable and least stressful approach, but we’d have to have a clause that there would be no returns. Kiki would rather spend twice as much energy complaining as she would working. Plus, once she opened that smart mouth of hers, and it yet again got away from her, those people would be bringing her back for a refund.

However…what I might be able to arrange is for them to SELL her back to me at a small loss on their part. Then I could stock up on some frozen dinners until the next sucker came along. Caveat emptor.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thriller in the White House

Rocky was sitting at the breakfast table, and he just now asked, “If Abraham Lincoln was the fifth president, why isn’t he on the nickel?”

As Kiki would say, “That was random.” We all stopped and stared at him.

One thing I have learned is that there is usually some convoluted logic to these thoughts he has, so I investigated further. It turns out that he thought that we should have presidents on money based on when they served. According to this theory, JFK should be on the thirty-five cent coin, not the fifty cent piece. Now that I think about it, with the dropping value of the dollar, this is not completely out of the realm of reality.

Anyway, we asked Rocky to list the presidents in order so that he could discover the flaw in his logic.

He began: George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Michael Jackson…

Whoa. Since it was pre-coffee, my mind wasn’t functioning fully yet, and history is not my strong suit, but even I caught that one. Now I am faced with visuals: moonwalking to the press conference, question and answer sessions punctuated with WOO!, and instead of Camp David, trips to Neverland.

A half hour later, we have finished the presidential clarification lecture, and we are moving on to adding and subtracting mixed numbers. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Right Stuff

This whole thing with the pet therapy has taken on a life of its own.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a local library—they were doing a program on Max the Bunny, and they wanted to know if Bob would come for the program. Of course he would—he loves kids, so as his social secretary and driver, I made the arrangements. Plus, the librarian was so charming and had such a delightful sense of humor, I wanted to meet her. She said she would send some paperwork.

A few days ago in the mail, Bob received what appears to be a contract, of all things. I need to fill it out and mail it back before his appearance.

And today, a lady is coming to interview Bob for a small local paper. She, too, has a wonderful sense of humor. Since it is an interview, I have the feeling I will be doing a lot of the talking. Now I have become Bob’s publicist.

We are having a tremendous amount of fun with this, but during it all, Bob is the one who has remained focused on what is really important—his visits. He would prefer a carrot over his picture being in the paper--he would most likely eat the paper without glancing at the picture. He couldn’t care less that we decorate his basket with garland or ribbon or lights. He just goes into the facility, sits in his basket with his feet tucked under him in what we call the “Bunny Meatloaf,” and moves his nose while he quietly bonds with whoever is with him. He is the one who is getting it right.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

There is a Maori proverb which says, "Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you." Maybe this is the reason I like early mornings.

Even as a teenager, I didn't sleep in. I believe the latest I have ever slept has been about 10:30, and this was after staying up until three or four in the morning.

Yesterday I didn't do too much: got a haircut, bought new curtains, washed some windows, emailed a new employee, sat by the pool while the kids swam, cooked supper, took Rocky to scouts, picked up a few groceries, did some laundry, visited my mom. So, today I woke up at four and got up at five. This gives me time alone, if you don't count the rabbit mooching a snack by standing on his hind legs and pitifully staring at me, nose weakly wiggling, and the dog who keeps sighing in exasperation because he thinks breakfast sounds like a plan and I obviously don't.

I am always amazed at the term "daybreak." Day doesn't break--it eases us back to consciousness and our lives, gently and almost imperceptably. It is as if anything less serene would scare us back into hibernation, much like Punxatawney Phil and his shadow. I like to be present when dawn brings us back from sleep--to experience a sweet, quiet transition back to the world.

It is just now getting light and the birds are waking, calling, and in a bit, I will go out on the porch and absorb some of the early part of the day. Then I will start in again with my life: investigating who took one battery out of my flashlight, wiping spills, feeding pets, doing laundry, running kids to music lessons, mediating arguments, preparing lesson plans, planning meals, paying bills, all the things which seem to suck the essence of ME out of myself. I will once again become Mom and Wife and Daughter and Employee. But right now, for just a few more minutes, I am alone with myself and the morning.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fun with chocolate chips

My mother has Alzheimer's, and recently I was visiting her when she experienced what I am sure was a stroke. However, the typical signs of stroke weren't reportable: sudden confusion (no, not sudden), weakness on one side (she had weakness left over from the polio she had as a child), severe head pain (she did have that).

Anyway, in the week since the incident I have noticed that she has lost a lot of her ability to communicate, to complete sentences, and she has been upset easily--increased rate of breathing and agitation. I had the chicken and egg dilemma--did the increased respirations cause the agitation, or did the agitation from not being able to talk cause the increased respirations? No one could tell me.

Lately, I have been trying to get to the nursing home for at least five meals a week. Mom needs to be fed and is on a pureed diet, which is not all that bad because of careful planning by the kitchen staff, but the aides and nurses have a tendency to mix everything together to help her eat more expediently. Imagine pureed kielbasa, mashed potatoes, and pureed carrots all stirred in a lump on your plate. Mom once said, "It looks like the cat was sick." That pretty well covers it.

Anyway, I like to be there at mealtime so I can see how well Mom is swallowing, how well she is eating, and what the nursing home is giving her. Sometimes I will ask for some of what the other residents are having--cream pie with graham cracker crust, for example. I am always told, "Now just don't let her have the crust--she might choke." I always nod and then mash the crust up into little bits and give it to her anyway. She has never had any difficulty whatsoever.

Yesterday, I was there for lunch: chili, cornbread, cucumber salad, and some form of dessert for the regular residents. Mom had pureed chili and some glossy brown lump that I could not identify. I tasted it. Not bad, but not good, the unfortunate color notwithstanding, and it was still not anything I could name. I asked the nurse. She tasted it and didn't know, either.

Mom ate a few bites of chili, two bites of the other brown stuff, and eyeballed her Jello with no enthusiasm whatsoever. Since I pretty much feel the same way about Jello, I went to the kitchen for something else to give her, and the staff gave me vanilla pudding, which is also used to administer her ground up pills. Yippee.

However, the lady from housekeeping came to the rescue. She brought in a bag of chocolate chip cookies, completely contraband, and slipped them to Mom. I took the cookies, put them in a bowl, crunched them up, dumped some milk over them, and fed them to Mom. She moaned in sheer joy. We both inhaled the aroma of the empty bag, and Mom laughed when I told her that it made me want to crawl right in there. When we finished and had scraped the bowl, Mom turned to me and said her first complete sentence of the day. "That was fun," she announced.

When I told my sister the story, I said, "'Fun' probably wasn't the word she wanted." My sister said, "No, but 'fun' works when it comes to eating chocolate chip cookies."