Category Archives: communication

Venus on the Half Shell

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Venus on the Half Shell

I had a wonderful outing with Rob and Laura today. When I arrived Rob presented me with some spoon bread that he made special just for me. When a 95 year old man puts himself through the effort to cook for you, it’s very humbling. Honestly anytime anyone cooks for me I’m thrilled, this was just extra sweet. Spoon bread tastes like cornbread and I marvel at how someone who eats this stuff on the regular hasn’t succumbed to heart disease. It’s filled with the artery clogging goodness of butter, milk with more butter for good measure, eggs and cornmeal. It’s tasty and lethal to mere mortals like myself. I took a few bites, proclaimed it delicious and took it home to savor later. Seriously this dish should come with a defibrillator.

As we were driving to the grocery store we had our usual carefree chatter. I was discussing travel because I’m leaving for a cruise this weekend. We got on the topic of paintings and I mentioned my all time favorite was Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Rob mentioned that his mother used to refer to that painting as Venus on the Half Shell and in that moment I felt such regret for having never met the woman. Now whenever the question of which person, living or deceased, would you like most to converse with, my answer will be Rob’s mother. Raise your hand if you agree….that’s a lot of hands in my imagination.

When we got to the grocery store, Laura asked Rob if he wanted his walker. He hesitated a moment and then agreed. I got the shopping cart and gave it to Laura as Rob went on his merry way. Here’s the interesting bit…Rob agreed to that for Laura’s sake. Laura has been struggling more with mobility and refuses to upgrade to a walker from her cane. The grocery cart is basically a socially acceptable walker in Laura’s mind. Rob figured this out in seconds and I pretended not to notice.

As I was getting them tucked back into their home after our outing, Rob took a moment to look me in the eye and tell me how much he appreciates me and that I am like a third daughter to him. I assured him the affection was mutual. Then two minutes later I threatened to brawl with Laura if she didn’t surrender the grocery bag that was half her body weight. She gave me a steely gaze as I took the bag from her.

Me: Let me get that Laura, it’s really heavy.

Laura: Grabs bag with determined look.

Me: Seriously, I will fight you on this.

Laura: Steely gaze.

Me: (Struggles to take bag, maintains eye contact and smile the entire time) Thank you.

 

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The Customer Service Merry Go Round

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The Customer Service Merry Go Round

If you were a teen or young adult in North America in the 80s or 90s you may remember a clothing store called Merry Go Round. We used to call it the touchy-feely store because the staff would literally paw at you when you crossed the threshold. Kind of like the scene from Pretty Woman when the Mary’s fall over themselves to dress Julia Robert’s character.

Shopping Scene

To be clear, Merry Go Round wasn’t high end, it was middle of the road filled with trendy clothes. You didn’t go there to get a classic pencil skirt or linen anything, you went for Cavaricci style pants, polka dot dresses, acid washed anything and the occasional shiny strapless dress in electric blue. Once I got drafted by a fellow shopper to try on stuff that he wanted to buy for his girlfriend. You only say yes to that BS when you’re young. For twenty minutes I tried on clothes and sauntered out into the store for a personal fashion show. The sales staff should have split their commission with me that day.

Anyway, I had an experience today that reminded me of the touchy-feely store. I got my oil changed at one of those quick oil change places. I’d mention the name but then the Russian bots might figure out my real identity and I can’t have that.I’ll actually be in Russia this time next week (oops I may have said too much).

Anyhow, you pull into the bay and stay in your car as the service is performed. They were kind of slow so before I could blink I had three dudes surrounding my car. I might have been flattered with all of the attention if they weren’t pulling out filters from every crevice of the car, suggesting I replace a $4. part with their $46. identical part. At one point a guy was removing the glove box to check the cabin filter, it felt weird. I just wanted that 15 minutes to read a book. Um, thanks fellas, that’s a hard pass. Here’s my $25. coupon, skip the extras and let’s move along.

I did have a customer service experience that went better than expected. This morning I got an email from Hollister requesting feedback on an order that hasn’t arrived yet. This was particularly annoying because I just got notice that delivery will be delayed and the clothes won’t get here in time for our trip. I replied explaining my frustration, fulling expecting that email to die a lonely death in cyberspace. Much to my surprise, Tara from Customer Service offered to next day ship the order and said she would waive return shipping costs for the delinquent order. I passed though her willingness to assist shifted my experience from negative to positive. Amazing how simple it can be to make that switch.

 

Oh Fiddle!

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Oh Fiddle!

It’s been a while since I posted about Rob & Laura, they’re doing fine. They’ve had lots of visits with their children. One daughter asked me to check on a cut that Rob mysteriously acquired last week. She really wants Rob to put a bandage on it. When I mentioned this to Rob he informed me that it had a bandage on it already, it’s called a scab. Alright then.

Last week Laura was a bit miffed about the laundromat. She muttered about getting there late and how bad it is if you don’t get there early. I took the bait and showed up 20 minutes earlier today to see if that would alleviate the problem. She was pleased that I was early then in her exuberance she forgot to bring the laundry detergent. That set us back a bit and I got concerned when I heard her say “oh fiddle” from the back seat. “Oh fiddle” is the 92 year old version of Code Red, I acted with extreme caution. If I heard “Fudge!” I would have considered turning around and calling it a day.

While Laura was doing laundry, Rob and I went to the grocery store. We only needed two things and I asked Rob if he wanted to use a cart or his cane, he went with the cane. As we were crossing the parking lot I stated “And they’re off!” in my most announcer like voice. Rob didn’t miss a beat and added “Like a herd of turtles!”

Upon entering the store we heard, “cleanup in produce”. We both chuckled at that because it happens 100% of the time and we go twice a week. Then we looked for Marty, the useless grocery store robot. As we were making our way toward the check out, Marty approached, it got a little weird. At one point Marty got stuck between an older man in a wheel chair and me. George was on my right, Marty on my left and the wheelchair guy was left of Marty.

I could tell Marty was confused as he went back and forth in incremental choppy movements because he didn’t have a clear path out. I was hoping the circumstances would cause Marty extreme frustration resulting in fried wires, a mechanical meltdown of some sort.  For a moment I imagined the encounter would render him incapable of fulfilling his duties (which seem to be limited to aggravating customers with a precision focus on geriatric clients), no such luck.

On the way out Rob commented that the cart with four wheels was easier to navigate than his cane. I remarked that he has a walker which also has 4 wheels and that got me some side eye. I replied with “oh fiddle”.

Because I Can

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Because I Can

I am quietly sitting in the main level bedroom of a nicely appointed house that dates back to the 1890’s. It’s insulated well enough that air conditioning isn’t required despite the high summer temperatures outside. The windows are open and I can hear the chatter of cows from the farm that borders the back yard. I can hear those same cows from my own home which is within walking distance. Here though, I get to eavesdrop on the more nuanced conversations, beyond the distressed mooing that occasionally travels to my patio. The cows are conversing in more hushed tones.

Each room in this house has been lovingly filled with precious items.  Long ago gifts, remembrances and highly sought after antique flea market finds that probably took months, perhaps years, to procure. The individual pieces are meaningful, eclectic and likely filled with sentimental value. A lot of love went into decorating this home and perhaps a twinge of obsession, the result is a timeless casual elegance.

The items themselves are a bit worn around the edges. Faded like the lingering scent of fabulous meal after the dinner dishes have been cleared. It seems more poignant with some of the newness ebbed away by time, longevity has it’s own allure which, something shiny and new can’t quite grasp.

After several minutes Thelma, jumps down from the bed and visits me at my corner chair. A petite orange tabby, she sniffs my feet for a few minutes. I attempt to pet her which yields a do not touch look so I stop myself and decide to ignore her. After a few minutes she bites my knee because that’s what cats do. My involuntary jolt sent her scampering away for the remainder of my visit. Her sister, Louise, is out in the yard somewhere planning her next kill or rolling in the grass, sunny side up. I won’t hear from her unless she wants to come in which, she will announce by jumping 4 feet up, onto the screened porch door. Thelma & Louise keep things interesting around here.

During the olfactory interrogation, I can hear the Serena Williams match on the TV in the kitchen. A man’s voice is giving an unofficial commentary of the match…”Oh no, Geezus!” and “Come on Serena!” are on a repetitive loop. I’m happy that he has a distraction even if the end result isn’t what he wanted. He is passionate about something separate from the care-giving which likely consumes him. In this small way he is reclaiming something important for himself and I wish more caregivers would do that.

Before he leaves for the gym he stops by the bedroom. He tells me that they just got back from vacationing at the beach where they got married decades ago. I wonder if his wife has any recollection of that now as she lay snoring, midday, in the bed they still share. He gives her a long, gentle, emotional hug as he prepares to leave and I try to become invisible in that moment.

I see the hospital bed close by and I wonder which one of the two beds she will pass in. Probably the hospital bed, it will likely happen before the unofficial end of summer. I push against the inclination to imagine a similar scenario in my own life as I silently ask God for another 20 (pretty please make that 30) years of health and happiness with my husband. I am momentarily engulfed in the absolute knowledge that this is all temporary. I’ve seen this situation play out about 100 different ways in the ten plus years that I have been a hospice volunteer. It’s usually some diabolical form of cancer with the wife caring for the husband or the daughter caring for a parent. It always leaves a print of sadness on my soul which gets absorbed and gently tucked away.

When I prepare to leave, I notice the fireplace in the bedroom has writing on the header. “Fairy Tales Really Do Come True…” is painted in pretty cursive. A swirl of emotions courses through me. I don’t believe in fairy tales, I had to rescue myself and yet, my life is blessed beyond anything I could have imagined as a child. For the thousandth time I question why I do this…why do I place myself in the center of someone else’s heartbreak. The answer is always the same, because I can and those that can, should.

 

So Far…

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So Far…

Relationships are slippery suckers aren’t they? Sometimes it’s hard to find the perfect grip to keep them from slipping away. Too much pressure, not enough, longevity comes from the ability to apply just the right amount of pressure, that and dumb luck.

A Facebook friend posted about her insecurity within her decades long marriage. She wondered why so many years and 3 kids in, why do these feelings still show up, when does the insecurity stop? My guess is (23 years in) that it doesn’t? Insecurity isn’t a constant companion in my marriage but that bitch does visit from time to time, completely uninvited.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the negative thoughts come from an accurate observed change in your spouse or the internal bad wiring most of us have to diagnosis and re-configure. We’ve been told that half of marriages end in divorce forever, that’s not entirely true. To get an actual percentage, you’d have to study a specific set of marriages over a lifetime to see how many dissolve.

If you’re curious, I found an interesting read on the topic. No proper notes of the specific studies or statistics touted, more of a compilation of weird divorce nuggets put together by a law firm (my guess is they specialize in divorce)Weird Divorce Stats

One statistic stated that the average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is 8 years. Seems to me that a lot of marriages end once the kids finish high school or after the wife turns 50 which often happen around the same time. Women file for divorce more frequently than men somewhere between 66 – 75%.

According to the weird list I linked above my marriage is doomed. We met in a bar (24% more likely to divorce), my parents divorced (50% increased risk of divorce), we have a daughter (and 5% to the doomed calculation)…Geezus we are already at 79% chance of implosion and I haven’t even gotten to our premarital sexual history and lack of strong religious background yet. Our calculated risk for divorce is somewhere around 200%…But wait, we live in Pennsylvania, are college educated and have children, phew, we might make it. Some of these stats are ridiculous in their specificity.

So what makes a marriage work? Obviously this varies by couple, there isn’t one universal magic formula. Personally, I’m just grateful that I still like my husband and it seems mutual at this point. We still “enjoy” each other’s company (wink) and we know when to give the other space. I try to find new ways to keep him happy…no not that, I’ve already done everything I’m willing to do there. Now I mulch or weed and make the bed, the real sexy stuff no one told you about in early ’80s Home Ec class. I try to take some of his burdens away and when I need help with something, I’m specific and neutral in my requests. That seems to be working so far.

Muber (Pronounced: Moo-Brrr)

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Muber (Pronounced: Moo-Brrr)

Last weekend I commented to another mom friend that I am in the “Muber” stage of parenting. I’m not necessarily to the go-to person in my kids lives unless they need a ride, also known as the teenage years. It’s not all terrible, sure the pay still sucks and they trash my car but sometimes I gain some insight.

It’s hard to know what your kids are up to all the time unless you are tracking them like the CIA.  We have limits on their phone use, protocols to prevent 24hr access. The goal is to protect them from predators and make sure they don’t stay up all night on Snapchat, freedom with boundaries. They need the space to make decisions, room for mistakes, it’s how we learn.

So when my kids want a ride somewhere, especially if they want me to drive their friends, I give an enthusiastic “YES!” It’s my only chance to observe how they interact in the “wild”. The bits and pieces of conversations I hear between friends in the car gives me some insight into their teen world that I might otherwise miss. So for now, we are in the Muber phase which, will soon transition into Holy-shit-teen-driving-car-insurance-is-expensiveAF phase. Be careful out there.

 

 

Winter View

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Winter View

I can just barely make out her house from the window above my kitchen sink. Once the trees fill out for spring, I may just see a splash of color or a bit of rooftop. It’s a beautiful house, old and charming, lovingly decorated with authentic treasures and keepsakes. It isn’t large or small and there is nothing cookie cutter about it. Little nooks and crannies are filled with art and memories, photos line the hall going up to the main level. The kitchen is open with modern appliances that somehow work in this older space. There is an air of authenticity about the place. Ginger and Amber are two tiger striped cats and they fit right in.

I went to visit my neighbor today. It was the first time I had ever been inside her house. Years ago my kids and I stood in her driveway getting bags and reflective vests for a neighborhood roadside cleanup. Neighborhood sounds misleading, these houses are all independent of each other in construction and in life. This area is upscale and spread out sadly, I can only name a handful of my neighbors and we’ve lived here for ten years. This is not unusual as most people have busy lives that are headed in different directions.

Today’s visit was as a hospice volunteer, I relieved the caregiver so she could go food shopping. I’ve often wondered what that particular house looked like on the inside and now I know. Once again, I am reminded a lot of people have something difficult going on in their lives right now. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a wounded ego, other times it is facing an imminent final goodbye. I’m not sure if I will see my neighbor again. I am sure that I will think of her whenever I drive by her house and I’ll be reminded of what is truly important.

 

Lie To Me

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Lie To Me

Yesterday I went to work for Rob & Laura, my nonagenarian clients. If you follow my blog you already know that I adore them and we have fun doing mundane errands. Yesterday did not disappoint. Laura was getting a hair cut at a nearby salon while Rob and I did some food shopping.

We were in the frozen food aisle at the intersection of peas and dried beef (in Pennsylvania you must be age 75 or greater to purchase dried beef) when we bumped into Marty. You might think, how lovely is Marty a personal friend, acquaintance or helpful employee? Those are all really good guesses so don’t berate yourself for being wrong. Nay, nay friends, Marty is a robot who wanders the grocery store scaring the sh*t out of small children, robophobics (robophobia is real, I Googled it) and customers with a touch of dementia.

In fairness to Rob, Marty showed up out of nowhere. Just appeared at the end of an aisle. Marty and Rob starred at each other for a solid two minutes. Rob watched in a trance as Marty did that awkward oh-shit-where-do-I-go-now robot dance. I’ve only ever seen it before when the Roomba ricochets down the hallway like some modern day version of pinball or drunk staggering down an alley after last call. The worst part is that Marty doesn’t seem overly useful. He’s supposed to clean up spills or something but he’s no Rosie from the Jetsons that’s for sure.

After the grocery store we collected Laura and made our way to Miracle Ear and then a meat store. Rob has a special fondness for the meat store and he purchased several items. When we got back to the house I noticed that the meat drawer in their fridge was overflowing. I date everything and I noticed somethings from mid February. I pointed this out to Laura who assured me that an exhaustive sniff test would be performed before they consumed anything. Then I emailed their adult children to alert them of the rotting meat in the fridge.

After my outing with Rob and Laura I went home. I got home early and offered to make lunch for my husband. I made him a sandwich, it was a fine sandwich by any standard. Later I asked him how he liked it and he replied with a “meh, needed more seasoning”. Then I threw a heavy object in his general direction. Through keen observation he was able to recognize that this response did not please me. Then he said (in a heavy Brooklyn accent) “whadda ya want me to lie?” To which I replied, “yes, yes I do….unless it is in regard to fidelity or finances, lie to me.”

The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

I Get To…

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I Get To…

Every so often the Gods of social media send a pearl of wisdom my way. This morning I was browsing Facebook when I saw a photo that caught my eye. The original post was from Kristen Hampton of WBTV Good News, it featured a handwritten sign which stated: I get to…

According to the original post, Kristen saw that note at a friend’s house. A friend who is currently undergoing chemo for what is described as an awful cancer. Kristen’s friend explained that “I get to” is a substitute for “I have to” and the simplicity and sheer gratitude of that suggestion is inspiring.

I get to is a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary. Whatever problems we have individually and collectively, it’s all so transient.  The kids we wait on will leave the nest (eventually), the aging parents we care for, they’ll also move on to a more permanent place, that boss you can’t stand likely won’t be in your life in five years and on it goes. The list of daily chores and obstacles can seem impossibly long and arduous. I get to is a beautiful, gentle reminder that this is all temporary, so enjoy the ride.

I get to recognizes that it is a gift to be able to tick off the list of things to do for ourselves and others. A reminder that we can control the narrative of our own inner voice.  It reminds us that we are fortunate to have the physical and mental capacity to do the things that need to be done. A suggestion that we have the ability to choose a more positive frame of mind, one grounded in gratitude.