Category Archives: midlife

It’s a Deathtrap

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It’s a Deathtrap

It’s been a rough few days. Late last week I had a physical and I walked out of there with the trifecta of future appointments – mammogram, treadmill stress test and a colonoscopy. I hit 50 hard last month and apparently 50 hits back. I also got some bad news about my cholesterol which is high and has to be monitored. I come from a family which has lots of heart disease. I left the doctors office in a mood that can be described as “we’re all going to die”.Then I went home and took care of people because that’s what moms do. Over the weekend I distracted myself by shopping for swimsuits online.

Getting packages in the mail usually comes with some level of anticipation, unless it’s swimwear then it’s dread. It started out innocently enough, I was preparing for a family trip and decided to get some swimwear. Now I wasn’t entirely naive about the process, I despise putting on a bathing suit. I hate it so much that I have avoided it all together for the past three years. My family is about to embark on a once in a lifetime trip and I refuse to let vanity and insecurity sideline me. I need to get over myself and squeeze into something that resembles swimwear, perhaps from the Amish line.

I did what modern women do and went shopping online. Let’s be honest for a minute, is there a fresher hell than trying on swimsuits in a department store dressing room?  No there isn’t (OK side burner war, childhood diseases, man buns, poorly dressed baby goats, misogamy, racism and all the crime in the world for a moment) bathing suit shopping is awful and is made worse by florescent lights and the knowledge that some store security guard is watching you. No thanks, I’ll pay for shipping on returns if I have to in order to avoid being burned into Edna’s memory of most ridiculous customers.

I was cautiously optimistic when I began. I wasn’t opting for the Brazilian thong with a bandeau top (wireless). Those days are behind me (*sniff*sniff*) I went straight to modest yet modern swim skirts and tankini tops. I was pleasantly surprised when I found a swim skirt I like and it actually looked kind of cute. I felt cautiously optimistic, thinking my biggest challenge was behind me (wink) and I went to search for a top.

I found the top from a different company. A plain, yet seemingly well designed tankini top in black, should work fine with the aforementioned cute skirt. I took it out of the bag, it doesn’t resemble a 15th century torture device, so I decided to try it on. OMFG this thing is the stuff of nightmares. During my first attempt I was spun into some weird web of clothing denial. I thought I must have done something wrong, this can’t be right. It was only half on, yet it took the skills of a disjointed acrobat to wiggle my way out of there.

I checked the size, listened for encroaching family members and dove in for round two. OH FFS are they kidding me? No, flippin’ way. I was determined and soldiered through and managed to get this tankini from hell on my body over most of the right parts. Thank G-d it didn’t look good, if it did I may have been tempted to keep it beyond all logic.

Fear started to creep in. You know how it is when you’re watching a scary movie and you hear those first high pitched piano notes…something awful is about to happen and you go into high alert. Is it hiding in the drapes, crouched down near the sofa, OMG he’s behind me, isn’t he!!! And I realize I need to get out of this despicable garment without destroying it. Fantasies of shredding it Hulk style were replaced by the need to develop an exit strategy.

I looked at myself in the full length mirror, took a deep breath and determined the best course of action. Getting this top over “the girls” was particularly challenging. I’m a C-cup so we aren’t talking porn star breasts or anything unusual. Visions of me twisting my upper body to release the twins seemed like a bad idea. I wondered how it was that Harry Houdini could escape shackles in a water tank under duress and I struggled to get out of a bathing suit. I opted for the top down method. I released myself from the straps and rolled it down to my waist and kept going until I was free. The entire task likely lasted under five minutes and felt like a lifetime. The search continues…

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What’s in Your Wheelhouse?

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What’s in Your Wheelhouse?

Seems like everyone has a wheelhouse these days, a metaphor to describe their specific skill set. I hear the term from friends that are still slugging it out in corporate America. I used to have a wheelhouse filled with current technical skills, boundless energy and a can-do attitude. That was fourteen and a half years ago before I was laid off from my Project Manager position at a software firm (The Office Space movie really resonated with me). Those attributes have been replaced with an intense hatred of middle school car line, juggling of my family’s emotional, social & physical needs, my imagination’s ability to go DEFCON 3 if I can’t reach my kids and an abundance of resting bitch face. I’m running out of ducks (psst…spellcheck is a stupid duck).

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Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_hermandesign2015′>hermandesign2015 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Here’s a not-so-secret-secret, I’m nearing the mid century mark (audible gasp, I know I can’t believe it either). So I suppose it’s natural to take a moment and reflect on some shit stuff. I did the math and in dog years I’m coming up on the big 3-5-0…no wonder I’m tired.

As I’m sitting here trying to flesh out this post, I’m listening to my husband teach our daughter Algebra. I’d rather eat a flaming sword while my fingernails are pulled off with rusty pliers. I stopped helping my kids with homework somewhere around 5th grade. If anyone asks my reasoning is to “facilitate independence”, I think they’re on to me though. The truth is I can’t do half of it without screaming or crying, if only on the inside.

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They say (not sure who “they” are) with aging comes wisdom. Hmm, not sure about that one. I knew everything when I was 17, you couldn’t tell me otherwise. Now I hesitate a little more, consider the thoughts of others who may have a different point of view and sometimes I’m wrong. I try not to “jump to conclusions” (still with me Office Space fans) and I reserve the right to change my mind. Perhaps I’m maturing just a hair, must be the flair (sorry, apparently I have a theme now).

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I’ll tell you want else comes with this milestone birthday – yes and no. Yes to spending time, money and effort on the people, places and things that matter most. No to the activities that don’t bring joy or a sense of purpose. I recently resigned from a position on a non-profit. I’ll still help out, I just don’t want my name on the letterhead. My time suddenly seems more precious and I give careful consideration to how I spend it.

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What’s in your wheelhouse?

 

A Peek at Dementia

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A Peek at Dementia

Her mind is a jumble of thoughts that misfire and get hung up midway. She’ll start a task and forget what she was doing somewhere in the process. The other day I came in and she had all the ingredients spread out on the counter, she just didn’t have any idea how to put them together. She wanted to make a sandwich for her husband of 67 years. She’s probably made a thousand over the course of their marriage, this day the how-to’s of assembly escaped her.

She’s highly sensitive, aware of changes in the moods of those around her. Her feelings are easily hurt and she isn’t shy about expressing herself. I visit with her several times a week including one evening when the goal is to get her fed and dressed for bed. Getting dressed is a long process. It’s a series of repetitive steps that have to be done in a certain order. She can usually stay on task but there have been exceptions.

One day last week she insisted that she had to take her pants off over her sneakers. I had to explain why that would not work, she remained stubborn about it. Then it clicked for me, she must have been afraid of something. Fear is usually the root cause of her resistance. Earlier that week, her husband commented that he couldn’t tie her shoes any more, he was physically not able to do it. This is why she wanted to take her pants off over her sneakers, she was afraid of being shoe-less. Once I explained that I would put her sneakers back on, she complied.

She has dementia, a moderate case. The thing about dementia is that it only gets worse, never better. Sure there are days when she is more lucid but her baseline status will only descend from here. Any major change such as the death of her husband or a move at this stage will hasten the spiral and she’s one of the lucky ones.

Her family is engaged and loving. She sees a relative at least five times a week and speaks with them a minimum of three times a day for medication reminders. Companions like me visit her each weekday. She has a small army of compassionate caregivers and she still lives with her husband. There are millions of people facing this condition without these benefits, what will happen to them?

https://www.dementiasociety.org/

It’s estimated that 9 million Americans are living with some form of dementia. They don’t all have the financial and familial resources to remain safe and comfortable. Families are stretched thin trying to triage caregiving while managing their own lives including; children, careers, personal illnesses and a home.

https://www.alz.org/facts/

This situation will overwhelm our healthcare system within the next decade and beyond. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, effects one in nine people after age 65 and that rate increases with age. People 85 and older have somewhere between a 30 – 50% chance of acquiring some form of dementia. This condition is impacting more people as life expectancy increases.

What can you do to prepare for this? I suggest having direct conversations with aging loved ones while they are well. Discuss specifics of financial resources, care preferences and have an Advanced Medical Directive and a Will. All adults should have these preferences documented.

https://www.medicinenet.com/advance_medical_directives/article.htm#advance_medical_directive_facts

If someone has been diagnosed, you may want to tour some facilities that specialize or have a wing dedicated to memory care. If you have a male loved that will need these services, get them on a waiting list as soon as it is reasonable. Many facilities have beds that are assigned male or female. Since women tend to outlive men, they have historically had more beds available to them. It can take years for a male patient to get into his desired facility due to a lack of available beds.

Many people opt to care for loved ones at home due to financial, emotional or other reasons. It’s wonderful if you can find a caregiver within the family. At some point that person will need assistance as well. AARP has put together a thoughtful list of resources for caregivers.

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/local/info-2017/important-resources-for-caregivers.html

To all the caregivers reading this, you are not alone. Please take a moment for yourself to find support. When you need help, ask for it from those that can assist. That may be an individual, an agency or a non-profit organization. When you don’t need help, prepare for when you do, your work is so important. Self-care is not indulgent, it is a necessity.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_victor69′>victor69 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

Slow Your Roll

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Slow Your Roll

Some observations from a recent road trip returning from the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, Ohio to Bucks County, Pennsylvania…

We left at the crack of 8am, 7:45 to be precise. We both carried an enormous amount of luggage to the car. We are “one trip” gals. You know the type, 12 bags of groceries in the family vehicle and determined to lug it all in with one trip. The husband and kids scatter like roaches when the lights come on whenever it’s time to unload the car.

We’ve been training for this for years. Last week I got eight bags in the house in one swoop. I’m not talking about those plastic bags that you wear up your forearm like the worst bracelets ever invented. These were fully loaded paper in plastic bags filled to the tippy top. The task would have been simpler if only I had remembered my reusable bags. Those things rarely get a glimpse of the world beyond the juice stained, tissue infested floorboard of my car. Naturally, the groceries were bagged in the same order that they will be unpacked because I’m domestic and sh*t. Anyhow, the combined 432 pounds of books we acquired did not alter our “one trip” course. I suspect we resembled Sherpas at the base of Mt Everest but no one seemed to notice.

We decided to just get up and go, hit the road early. No shower, no coffee, no breakfast, surely we will find something on the way. That was stupid. Our first round of disappointment was at an Ohio rest stop. We thought, “surely there will be coffee here”, nope. It was an impressive building from the outside looked like it had been built within this decade. Inside was a cavernous land of empty bathrooms, disappointment and broken coffee dreams. There were bathrooms and vending machines, that’s it. We hadn’t yet reached the – let’s see if there is vending machine coffee – phase of desperation so, we got back in the car, sans steamy nectar of the Gods.

I don’t know how many miles passed before we saw an exit sign that hinted at coffee. It felt like it took two days and we were still in Ohio. We decided to exit the highway and fetch a cup to go. I was drawn to the shiny building. It looked like a 50’s diner, a chrome and neon oasis, surely they will have coffee. They did indeed have coffee.

We waited anxiously at the cash register where we made and paid for our purchase. The place was a blur of breakfast activity, it was clear that we hit the rush hour. It’s fine we’ll just wait, how long could it be? After an eon our coffees arrived and then we were shooed to a side of the counter to deal with our coffee fixins. I can get by with no sugar, I can not adapt to no cream. Our request for cream was met with a handful of those little half and half cups. You know the ones, they have approximately three drops of some mysterious liquid that the lab has passed off as half and half (half and half of what exactly, I’m not sure).

So there we were at the counter, desperately opening the three drops full containers in a frenzy while being bumped into by waitresses hauling enormous breakfast trays. Those creamers require the dexterity of a skilled surgeon to open. It was not graceful or efficient but we persevered. It was clear that the five containers they gave us would not suffice, we needed more half and half. I spied a table with a little bowl overflowing with them. I was tempted to make a request but the occupants were deep in conversation and I didn’t want to disturb them. Eventually we flagged a waitress down and noticing our empties, she gave us a bucket full of creamers. We finally got out of there and it’s barely worth mentioning but…the coffee was not worth the wait.

We were back in the car with mediocre coffee in hand. It was another 40 minutes before we saw the green and white sign. We knew the coffee there would also be mediocre but it would be a level up from the swill we already purchased. This time we opted for the drive-thru. Since I don’t like the coffee at this particular chain, I usually get a chai tea latte. I was still somewhat under-caffeinated and glazed over from the hours of early morning driving and ordered a “chatte latte” which sadly, only exists in my sleepy-caffeine-deprived mind. My friend gave me a quizzical look and I corrected the order immediately. Then we went on a wild tangent and by the time I got to the window to pay for the order, I had laughter induced tears in my eyes. The young woman handing over the steaming beverages did not find us amusing. In her defense, if she had heard the fictitious story about the lumberjack and the negligee wearing giraffe, she may have at least smirked.

Back on the road and did I mention that I got a speeding ticket on our outbound journey? True story and dashboard Jesus was instrumental in negotiating a lesser fine (Thank You Jesus). Anyhow, that tempered my lead footed ways. My friend’s consistent “slow your roll” commentary also kept me in check. We kept driving, sharing bits and pieces of our lives with each other, some stories were a refresher on previous conversations. Other bits were long ago fragments of chapters in each of our stories that we simply hadn’t gotten to in past chats. Each story was told with frankness, without fear of judgement which truly defines this friendship. It is quite magical when that happens.

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I’m pretty sure this is the universal sign for “slow your roll”

In our last stop on our way home we filled up the gas tank and then opted to get a snack. We were six hours into the journey at this point and I stumbled upon the best snack food ever created. I sh*t you not. Werther’s Original Caramel Popcorn (Sea Salt & Pretzel) is a snack GAWD. I have been searching for this stuff ever since we returned. Local stores can’t keep it on the shelves. I may break down and buy it online because I can only find the plain caramel variety and that just isn’t getting the job done. If you want to follow me down this rabbit hole, check out the review I stumbled upon:

http://junkbanter.com/2016/09/20/review-werthers-original-caramel-popcorn-sea-salt-pretzel/

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99 varieties of caramel popcorn and Werther’s Original with Sea Salt & Pretzel ain’t one.

When we were an hour out from our destination I texted my husband, it went like this:

Me: I’ll be home around 5pm

Hubs: OK we have food.

My friend and I were both stumped by his text so we did what women do, we put it under the mental microscope for analysis. Did he think I would cook dinner? Is he saying don’t stop at the grocery store? He can’t possibly think I’ll cook dinner or food shop after a 10 hour drive…

The mystery was solved when I came home and saw that we did indeed have food. Turns out my father in law was in the mood to cook so there was a lasagna and stuffed eggplant for dinner. That was a nice surprise.

My advice for a successful road trip is simple:

  1. Pee before you leave
  2. Bring snacks
  3. Take Jesus with you
  4. A great friend makes the time and miles fly
  5. Slow your roll

 

 

Enough

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Enough

It’s amazing how your experiences can come back to tap you on the shoulder (or give an unexpected punch in the gut) decades later. When your life’s foundation is built on a fault line, you never know when the next big earthquake will make it crumble. Hell, sometimes the aftershocks can take it down. Too much stress and the sturdy, seemingly indestructible structure can be fallen by a minor tremor. You never know when it will hit. It’s been anticipated for years, you know it will be catastrophic, you just haven’t nailed down the timing. This is the result of a traumatic childhood, a foundation built on chaos.

Raising kids is the most important work I’ve done and of course it’s the hardest. As a mother, I am all in with these children of mine. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now  and there are days when I still wish they came with a manual. I did not have a good childhood, I don’t come from good stock and I’ve been winging it the entire time. I’ve done pretty good so far. Both kids are on the honor roll, no one is in trouble with “the law” and they are generally good humans. That’s modest, they’re amazing humans, each in their own way. I’d love to parent brag here but I’ll respect their privacy instead.

There are times when I will reflect on what I was doing at their age, the contrast is startling. Sometimes I lose my patience over minor issues because I get stuck in the long ago realm of my youth and it decreases the length of my fuse. Most of the time I keep it together unless I sense entitlement and then I temporarily lose my cool. If I’ve gone too far, I apologize quickly and we move on.

There have been times when my husband and I disagree on things and he’ll inevitably say that I’m too sensitive. My usual course of action in a heated argument is to leave the room and cool off. I know all the rotten, hurtful things to say to someone to push them over the edge and I choose to disengage. I find it’s best for me to temporarily remove myself from the situation so things don’t spiral out of control. This is a point of frustration for him.

I laugh to myself a little when I hear myself described as too sensitive. I get upset if someone is harsh, I anticipate the feelings of other people and try not to step on them. Is this supposed to be an insult or an observation? The funny thing is I’m not overly sensitive in most areas of my life. There are times though when he’s right and I am too sensitive. The alternative for me is a complete shutdown, that’s the nuclear option.

There are days when it feels like my best efforts are not enough. I get up earlier than everyone in this house, I go to bed later, the hours in-between are primarily filled with doing things for them. Nothing exotic mind you, just the day to day work that no one appreciates until someone stops doing it. I spend the bulk of my hours shopping, cooking, running errands, doing laundry, driving kids and staying on top of the business of raising humans (the forms, the appointments, the scheduling, the shuttling, the social/emotional nuances). The invisible work of motherhood is my primary focus. I squeeze in my small business and writing on the side.

When someone complains that these best efforts of mine aren’t enough, I lose it. I’m so sick of the not enough message. Ladies we are bombarded with this message. Not pretty enough, skinny enough, young enough, smart enough, rich enough, sexy enough, good enough. Not good enough is constantly streaming like the news ticker on CNN or Fox – not good enough is messaged all day, every day. Well, I have had enough.

 

Making the Bed…..

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Making the Bed…..

As a midlifer, I have finally decided to start making the bed on a consistent,  nearly daily basis. Now I have shirked this responsibility for decades minus the rare occasion when guests were stopping by and even then, I was a keep visitors to the first floor kind of gal.

I’ve had some decent reasons for not making the bed mind you. One being, I’m not the last one in bed in the morning. The hubs sleeps later than me 99.9% of the time. I have a rule that states the person to stay in bed the longest has to make it. So I guess he hasn’t been making the bed for the past 20 years, tsk tsk. I should note that I haven’t clearly explained this rule more than 3 times so it may have slipped his mind.

The real reason for not making the bed, it’s simply not a priority. I don’t care if it’s unmade most of the time so why bother. I realize I may have wounded a few people with that last bit so let’s pause here for a deep breathe. OK, we all have different priorities so let’s just move along. So why on earth have I decided to make the bed now?

My husband commented about beds being made a few times this year. Honestly he’s probably mentioned it consistently over the past 20 years and I just slid it to the back burner of my brain. I mean, if he felt that strongly about it, nothing was stopping him from making it, right? So why now?

Why indeed? Well I guess after a couple of decades together you still need to find ways to surprise your partner. Trust me it gets tricky to keep things fresh. We still enjoy each other’s company (wink) so that isn’t the issue – I just wanted to find other ways to show him I still care. Making the bed is different for us, it takes just a sliver of effort and is something tangible.

So my new routine started about a month ago….it coincided with the purchase of some pillows and a new comforter. Perhaps the guilt of indulging on those items also propelled me. My good deed did not go unnoticed. After about 2 weeks my husband commented. He acknowledged that the bed was being made and that he liked it. Then he said I should vacuum more. This my friends, is why half of marriages end in divorce.

 

*Not our actual bed in the photo. Plucked from the web and to date, unable to identify the photographer for proper credit.

 

 

 

Alternate Universe

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Alternate Universe

I’ve managed to create this nice little alternate universe for myself via my blog. I have a handful of in the flesh friends that know about it, but not many. My blog followers, select few that you are, have come here like a gift from the blogosphere (that’s a legit word). I get a slight tingle when I see a new country highlighted in the WordPress stats. Today someone from Japan read one of my posts. No idea how or why they got here but isn’t that cool? I’m in Pennsylvania, typing away and someone in Japan just wandered in. It’s fascinating to me probably because at my age, I can still remember when none of this was possible.

For those of us over 30 (OK well over if you’re going to get particular about it) doesn’t it blow your mind how much technology has changed in the past 20 years. How much more will change in the next 20 years? I suspect we will have autonomous flying cars, artificial intelligence that can learn beyond human capability and a staggering unemployment issue and oh yes, Mars isn’t off the table – thanks Elon Musk.

What are we losing with all of this technological advancement? Do we have to lose something, is that required? I don’t know but I have observed a some things that concern me – instant gratification, loss of privacy and a lack of creativity and freedom.

I have two kids a tween and a teen. They have reasonable restrictions on device time. There are no devices allowed in their bedroom at night. For one kid it wouldn’t even be an issue as he doesn’t care at all. My daughter, on the other hand,would be up all night on Instagram, chatting with friends, making bad musically videos and would be busy not sleeping.

The ability to text, tweet, post and communicate instantaneously has helped to create a generation that expects instant gratification. Midlifers, remember when we would call our best friend in 5th grade on the corded phone on a table or attached to the wall? The phone was always located in some public space in your house and you had to push down on buttons or worse, stick your finger in the circle of the corresponding numbers to spin the phone wheel and call? And, gasp, sometimes no one answered or the phone was busy so you had to try to call them again later and move on with your 10 year old life. Kids don’t do that today. They rarely have to wait more than a few minutes to hear back from a friend and if they don’t hear back immediately, a bit of panic sets in. It’s kind of crazy.

I remember being bored plenty as a kid and I would go outside or write in a journal. We had to make up our own games to pass the time and if we were lucky we got some local kids to join in. We played spontaneously and we figured stuff out. You didn’t like everyone and everyone didn’t like you but you could usually make it work long enough for some variation of tag or cops and robbers. I don’t see that much where we live, sure it happens but it’s special when it does because it isn’t the norm. The usual here is organized activities and sports.

Kids aren’t off the leash much either these days. We need to know where they are all the time because there are bad people out there (and no sh*t, there really are bad people out there). Hell there are sneakers with tracking devices in them now….it’s kind of like Little Johnny is on house arrest or maybe block arrest. Their expectations for privacy are at the bare minimum. They don’t want you to walk in on them while they’re getting changed but most anticipate some level of monitoring of their electronic activities. Late 70’s and early 80’s kids wouldn’t stand for that. We kept our stuff private and if someone read our journal there was hell to pay. Our parents didn’t know where we were half the time and we couldn’t be tracked with a Find My Phone app. If they asked where we were we would either tell them or make up something that sounded reasonable. It was kind of awesome.

Here’s a little something to make you laugh, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

 

On the Road with Nannie….

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On the Road with Nannie….

I should have known better. Nearly 50 years old and I’ve known this woman my entire life how did I think it would go, really? What happened you asked….I took my mother on a road trip with my teenage son and tween daughter. Our travels included a  flight from Trenton, New Jersey to Chicago, where we spent a night. The next day we drove to Wisconsin to see a beloved family member perform at a dinner theater. Two nights in Wisconsin then we drove back to Chicago to fly back to New Jersey. My kids call my mother Nannie, I usually call her crazy (in my head, mostly).

The trouble started about 3 days before we left. I got a frantic call from my mother, her friend who was going to cat sit got herself into some trouble with the law. Yup, you read that right. My mother’s friend…we will call her Mandy has a mental disorder which makes ordinary tasks more challenging. She is a sweet person she just doesn’t have a solid grasp on financial matters. She got sucked into some predatory loan trap and ultimately wound up trying to cash a fraudulent check which may or may not get her into a heap of trouble. Anyhow, Mandy was going to cat sit for my mother while we were away but my mother fired her due to the aforementioned steamy shit pile.

Mom was nearly crying on the phone worried about her cat and who would take care of her while we were away. Don’t get me wrong I like animals. I house a dog, a gecko and a gold fish we got at a fair a year ago (that thing thrives on neglect and malnutrition only explanation for it’s longevity). I get it you need someone to feed the cat but we’ll only be gone for three days. Do you really cancel a trip that someone else paid for so you can see your granddaughter in a starring role because the “regular” cat sitter is unavailable? My husband over hearing this conversation, graciously volunteered to feed the cat. My mom was still shook up but was slightly relieved. She started to mention the litter box and I shushed her on that. The hubs changed his fair share of diapers but I knew the litter box was a deal breaker. She left him 6 paragraphs of handwritten instructions. He followed the important one, feed the cat.

A few days later we were on our way. Now I will admit it….I’m a part time control freak. I say part time because my personal desk is far too messy to be claimed by a full time control freak. That said I go into full on freak mode when it comes to being on time regarding air travel and such. I’m also out of practice being the alpha on these types of trips. My husband prefers to drive and I’ve gotten used to letting him take the reins on family adventures. I typically do 90% of the planning then he executes the transportation in all of it’s forms. This time it was all on me – kids, my senior mom and a shitty GPS.

I had the kids and our stuff packed and in the car, it was time to get Nannie. She lives 10 minutes away from us so that part is easy. She wasn’t ready on time, she never is, it gets padded into the schedule but still manages to piss me off. As I was sitting in my car waiting I realized that I did not have my passport. Which I wouldn’t need anyway except the rental car paperwork specified that two forms of photo ID were required so back to my house we went. With the Nannie waiting, going back to get my passport (which my husband accurately predicted I would not need……but the paperwork said…blah…blah) and going to the Trenton, New Jersey airport for the first time, we still arrived about an hour and 40 minutes before departure. This would not be a ridiculous buffer time if we were at a normal airport. This airport is tiny, about the size of an average size grocery store. In hindsight we could have gotten there 10 minutes before the flight and still been fine, live and learn.

My mother packs a ridiculous amount of shit for three days. Sad part is she needs most of it for the various aches, pains and injuries she’s collected over 72 years. She had enough pills and supplements to supply a Walgreen’s. She also packed a heating pad type of device. It’s a tubular shape and has beads in it that you can heat in a microwave. This got my mom a pat down and a thorough bag search at both airports. After all that we still had an hour and a half to wait. Had a snack, checked my email and read a book, relaxing stuff. Nannie decides she has to use the bathroom the minute they start making the boarding announcement. By this time everyone in the tiny airport was standing up in predator mode ready to pounce when their row was called. Now, if my mother was the type to rush in and rush out that would be one thing but I have seen her go into a public restroom before and not come out for 20 minutes. Luckily she realized this would not work out and we boarded.

The flight was quick, a little bumpy but nothing like the horror stories I had heard from some friends regarding Frontier Airlines. We arrived on time and did the schlep through O’Hare to get to a taxi. The ride was slow but enjoyable, we had a charming driver from West Africa and the weather was pleasant, so far – so good. We checked into the hotel around 4pm. My mother immediately left the room for parts unknown despite my requests that we stay together. We found her about 10 minutes later in the lobby and we all ventured out together.

I read about architectural sight seeing tours on the Chicago River and thought it would be a good use of our limited time. It was a bit chilly walking toward the Navy Pier and I saw the ticket booth and mentioned the tour. Everyone was in except my mother, she declined. She did it once 13 years ago didn’t need to do it again. OK I got the tickets for the kids and I and decided we should eat right away as we had an hour and 10 minutes before the tour.

We went to a chain restaurant at the Navy Pier. My son made the unfortunate selection of pizza. I say this as someone from the NJ/NY area, our standards for pizza are different. He felt sick after one slice. Soldier through little man and I will feed you later, pinky promise. I asked my mom if she had her cell phone on her and she told me she left it home. She was under the impression it wouldn’t work in Chicago or Wisconsin. Um, OK. I paid for the meal, gave my mom an extra key card for the hotel room, said a silent prayer and hoped for the best. The hotel was a few blocks away and was in a straight line so I was somewhat confident she could make it back.

The kids and I had a great time on the tour. Chicago is such a unique city and the architecture is varied and interesting. The guide was great, he gave us tons of information and trivia about the area. We walked back toward the hotel as soon as the tour was over. Mom was sitting in the lobby. When I asked why she wasn’t in the room, she said her key card did not work, it required an “app”. I was baffled by this statement as I had used my key card to get in without incident. We went up to the room and gave hers a test drive and it worked. Not sure where the “app” reference came in or why the front desk couldn’t assist while we were out but we got back in.

My son still needed food so I was preparing to go out again. Nannie was already sprawled on the couch watching CNN and declared herself done for the night. She declined my offer to open up the sofa bed. My daughter also stayed back so it was just the two of us. My first priority was to walk to the Hyatt where I would get the rental car the next day. A gentleman at the Hyatt showed us a list of restaurants and we settled on Catch 35. We had an outrageously good meal there and enjoyed the evening lights of Chicago. We were back in the room by 9:30. Nannie was snoring on the couch with her glasses still on her face, fully dressed with CNN blaring. I gently removed her glasses, turned down the volume and turned off the lamp near her head. I left a hall light on so she could see where the bathroom was, shut the bedroom door and we all called it a night.

The next day I got the kids up for breakfast and let Nannie sleep in. Breakfast was lousy but at least there was coffee. I brought some back for Nannie. My son wanted to explore some more and I was game so out we went leaving Nannie and my daughter behind once again. We walked along the river and just enjoyed the views. We snaked our way back to the hotel taking a different route to see more sites and then it was time to pack.

We had an 11am check out time so I was ushering everyone in my group out at about 10:59. I asked my son to stay in the lobby with the bags and Nannie while my daughter and I went to get the car. We got to the Hertz counter and we were told the car would not be ready before our reserved time of noon, fair enough. My daughter and I walked back to the hotel lobby and found my son alone with everyone’s bags. Nannie decided she needed to get the New York Times. Not sure why, she doesn’t read it at home but the desire to get the newspaper propelled her out the door on a solo mission. She got back about 15 minutes later with a bump on her head. What happened mom? I asked. She apparently lost her balance on an uneven portion of sidewalk and was helped up by two strangers (thank you fine sirs). Do you need a doctor, Advil, ice? “No, I’m fine” was the reply I got. So we went to the Hyatt to get the car. It still wasn’t noon yet so we waited in the lobby. My mother went to use the bathroom and I followed after to see if she wanted to rethink the ice/Advil/doctor situation. She said she was OK just a little banged up.

With no immediate medical need I was back to focusing on getting the rental car which didn’t arrive until 12:30. I was just about to ask them to extend the return time when the car showed. I plugged in the GPS I took with me from home and it didn’t work. More likely I didn’t give it time to acclimate to the new location, it’s an older model. Luckily I had printed out directions (because I’m old) and off we went.

Traffic in Chicago can be somewhat spectacular. I’ve driven in NYC, Philadelphia, LA and DC so I’m no light weight. I can get my native Jersey Girl in gear behind the wheel when necessary and it was necessary. The sound effects coming out of my mother made it all the more entertaining – intermittent gasps, mild cursing and the virtual braking were a real time commentary on the ever changing traffic conditions. After about an hour the traffic eased up and the scenery shifted from city skyline to farms. We made a couple of stops and a failed detour attempt to find food in Madison, 4 hours later we arrived. My mother started reading each road sign we passed at one point and I didn’t think I was going to make it but I persevered.

The hotel was outdated in the common areas but in a charming old fashioned way. The room itself went from shabby chic to depressing pretty quick but hey it was only two nights. The accommodations included a private bedroom with a king size bed and a room with two queen beds and a tiny sad looking bathroom. I gave Nannie the private bedroom so she could listen to CNN without keeping the rest of us up. My son got his own bed and once again, I slept with my daughter who turns into a human starfish when she sleeps.

I called Peanut (the person we came to see perform) and was quickly out the door to pick her up. I then rounded up the rest of the crew and we went out to eat. The place had a fun atmosphere and we ate outside watching a family with 3 young girls all under the age of 4. The one girl lost 5 balloons in the time we were there, another one fell off a chair while the baby crawled on the table. I was frankly getting tired just watching them and twitched a little recalling the toddler years with my kids. Glad that phase is in the rear view mirror. It’s an adorable and absolutely exhausting phase.

During dinner my mom requested an update on her cat “Mademoiselle”. I texted my husband an quickly got a reply. As luck would have it, he was taking care of her the instant I texted. She looks happy to me (featured image). It put my mother at ease and I replied with a “You’re a saint honey.”

It was all going well and then out of the blue Nannie asks Peanut how much she weighs. I said mom you can’t do that, she’s an adult. You don’t just go up to other female adults and ask how much they weigh. She shrugged me off. Peanut evaded the question and we moved on. The thing is my mother has become obsessed with weight the past 5 years or so. This isn’t the first time she asked Peanut or me how much we weigh. It’s weird. She also weighs herself constantly and makes announcements – 107, 103, 106 “I really need to watch it don’t want to get fat again”. She was never that fat. I have gained some weight the past few years and she will make random insulting comments about how much I eat or how I shouldn’t wear stripes whilst gifting me with a striped shirt, I don’t get it. I exercise regularly and I am within the normal weight range, back off lady.

After dinner, Peanut, the kids and I decided to go to some outlets near our hotel. I asked mom if she wanted to go. She declined. The TV wasn’t working and she wanted to wait to get that resolved. I came back to the room to see if she was sure. Yup, going to wait here.  OK , we leave to go to the outlets. We wander around the outlets for an hour or so and whom do we happen to bump into, Nannie. Yup, the same woman who face planted in Chicago that very same morning decided to walk to the outlets in shoes that weren’t very comfortable. Nannie wanted to “look” at shoes, $40. and a Bass pair of walking shoes later, we were driving Peanut back to her place.

At 2am I awake to a very loud alarm clock playing a Kid Rock song…..”Gonna paint the town red and paint his wife white…” I half open one eye and see my mother walk out of her room where the alarm clock is blasting music and watch her casually saunter to the bathroom. I go into her room turn off the alarm clock and go back to bed. I mention this in the morning.  The kids heard it, Nannie did not. Sleepwalking?

The next day my mother is reviewing her clothing options and comments that “it looks like I slept in these”. She did in fact sleep in her clothes each night on the trip. She typically just falls asleep in the middle of some activity, usually watching TV and whatever she has on at the time is what she wakes up in. If she brought pajamas I never saw them. She took a shower that morning and the three of us listened to her curse a blue streak at the faucet which was not adjusting to her needs in a timely manner. This day we were scheduled to see Peanut perform so we were out the door around 11am.

The theater was really nice and we were all super excited to see the show. The show started at 1pm and we had lunch as part of the experience. At one point Nannie went to the bathroom and about 15 minutes later she could not find her purse. It’s about to be showtime and I am saying silent prayers that she doesn’t lose her mind at this point because I might lose my shit over the timing. I had my son check the car and my mom and I checked the bathroom. Fortunately a staff member found the purse and all was right in the world for the next 2 hours. That was a close call. The show was amazing and worth every blip encountered along the way.

After the show we walked around the town and took a short walk along the river. We had a nice dinner out and Peanut shared some Nannie stories of her own with my kids when Nannie was in the bathroom. Nannie has a long history of disappearing when caring for children, inappropriate comments, loud TVs and unsolicited political commentary. After dinner, we dropped Peanut off and wished her well. Then we hunkered down for our last night.

The control freak in me was up at the crack of dawn preparing to leave. I needed to get the rental car back by noon to avoid a surcharge. Since I didn’t know what the traffic situation would be I wanted 4 hours to get there, knowing we would make at least two stops on the way. We made it back with time to spare and had a solid 3 hours before our departing flight. Nannie was once again pulled aside by security for the heating pad contraband plus she just looks suspicious. It doesn’t help that’s she’s made bomb jokes in these situations.

I tried to keep an eye on her as the four of us took turns watching our bags and wandering. She sauntered off a few times but always made it back. The real kick in the pants was after we landed in Trenton I could not find my car key. It’s gone somewhere in Chicago or Wisconsin or perhaps tucked away in Nannie’s bag somewhere accidentally on purpose. I still can’t find the damn thing, good thing the hubs had a spare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Other Mother

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My Other Mother

I recently had an experience where I caught a glimpse of my mother from an outsider’s perspective. It happens sometimes and it reminds me that my mother is a multi-dimensional person. Just like the rest of us…she isn’t all bad or all good, she’s a complicated mix. I have written quite a bit about the bad stuff – the drunk, raging, dysfunctional mother and now I want to share another side.

A few days ago, I had lunch with my “other mother” at a student dinning hall at the University of Pennsylvania. When she 40 she decided that she wanted to go to college and prove to everyone that she wasn’t stupid. She started local at a community college where she aced her way through two years and graduated with induction into Phi Theta Kappa.

Her grades and her personal narrative were so compelling that she got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Her initial thought was that she would complete her B.A. with a law degree as the ultimate goal and somewhere she switched to history and psychology. She did graduate from University of Pennsylvania and attended one year of graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.

We found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of her doctor appointments. I insisted on driving her because she is not a great driver and I thought public transportation would overwhelm her. So we were walking from the medical facility toward campus and she mentioned that she wished she could give “them” more money. I turned toward her and said “what” rather forcibly……WTF was strongly implied. In my mind the coffers of the ivies is always so damn full and my mother is broke. She lives in a house I bought but she still has utility bills. She is on Medicaid and has no discretionary income, zero. Then she went on to say how she learned so much about women and other cultures around the world during her education. How her time there was a bit Dickens….”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Clearly she just wanted to pay it forward to another woman that she will never meet and my tone softened.

I admit it, I am a hard ass around my mother. Impatient, suspicious, not trusting on any level, my armor is always up around her and I can be an obstinate jerk. I know this and I willed myself to be patient and oblige her wish for lunch on campus despite the growing list of sh*t I had to do that day. After all, I don’t know if she will get another chance to stroll down this particular neighborhood of memory lane and I didn’t want to begrudge her that request.

I could feel the pride of her accomplishment that hour. She went on about how this changed and that was the same. She wanted to eat in the hall of flags and peeked in on an event taking place in that room. That lunch she was reflecting on happy times and people that sadly have passed that helped her with that part of her journey.

During lunch I noticed that she was wearing her university ring. I got that ring for her as a graduation gift. I was in my early twenties, going to college and working two jobs to support myself. The money I used to pay for that ring was based on serious sweat equity and sacrifice. She told me that day it was the nicest gift anyone had every given her. I guess we both had something to be proud of that day.

I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

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I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

I opt out of some of social norms. I don’t wear jewelry. I mean nothing, no watch, rings, necklaces, hell my ears aren’t even pierced.  I didn’t want or get a huge diamond when we decided to get married. We have titanium wedding bands which we wore once at a family party after we eloped. It was a nod to my mother in law who was a stickler for tradition. It was hard enough for her to accept that we chose to get married on a beach in Mexico without any family or friends present. So we wore wedding bands for about 4 hours. I still consider eloping to be one of my top 3 best decisions.

My mother in law was old school Italian and I would have been steam rolled in the planning process. We weren’t into it and after being together for about 6 years we got pregnant. It wasn’t entirely accidental. I told my love that I was going off the pill after nearly two decades of being on it and within a year, boom. I don’t call it a shot gun wedding because I didn’t have a strong male figure in my life that would have pressured us into marriage. I was pretty chill about myself. I told him we didn’t need to get married, he saw things differently coming from a traditional Italian Catholic family. In retrospect, I’m glad we got married. There are times when things get sticky and that legal status makes you hesitate before you set that bridge on fire with a defiant one finger salute. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

So here we are twenty years, two kids and a large dog deep into it. We have the beautiful house and all the trappings of suburban bliss. I say that without snark, we are truly blessed. I had a birthday recently and I chuckle to myself when people ask what I got. Repeat this process for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…..all the days when Hallmark and mass marketing tell you it is urgent to give, give, give! The constant stream of ads for jewelry that tell us if he doesn’t spend two months salary on an engagement ring perhaps you should reconsider. And what Mother’s Day would be complete without a charm from Pandora…..oh pahleeze, just go away. Here’s the thing, I don’t collect shiny things. Sometimes I get a card or flowers, sometimes I don’t. If I feel like I need a card or flowers I’ll say “hon, I’d like a card and flowers” and they will appear. I learned a long time ago that people aren’t mind readers so if you want something specific you should get it yourself or leave detailed instructions. Oh and expectation is the root of all evil.

So when someone asks me what I got, here are my thoughts…..I got a man who is a great father. A true family man who does the right thing without being asked. Three days ago he was at my mother’s house taking a canopy off a retractable awning. He spent hours researching where to get the best replacement and then bought one after he had me pick the pattern. Better than a bracelet, way better.