Category Archives: Relationships

Traditions…

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Traditions…

Every year sometime after November 1st,  I watch Home for the Holidays. It came out in 1995 and was directed by Jodie Foster. This movie hits all the feels for me. It is perfectly cast – the writing is authentic, funny and heartbreaking at times. It is my favorite movie of all time. I usually watch it alone because this blend of humor and poignancy isn’t a hit with all of the humans here.

I make time for it every year since I discovered it in 2000 when I found a used copy on VHS at a store on Hollywood Boulevard. That year my twin brother moved to California and was sad to be so far from home at the holidays. I was single and kid free at the time, so I scraped up the cash for a ticket to LA. We hung out for a few days until I left late on Christmas Eve.

My family likes to watch Trains, Planes and Automobiles. It’s on a repetitive loop between late October and Christmas. This is one we all belly laugh to even though we know it verbatim. My kids are finally old enough that I don’t have to mute the scene where Steve Martin loses his sh*t at the car rental counter. It’s amazing to see how much some things have changed (no laptops, cell phones or tablets) and how the important stuff remains (being kind, family, dealing with adversity).

 

Of course we got sucked into the Elf on the Shelf scam about 5 years ago. My kids were young enough when we started that they believed in it for the first year or two. I’d fall asleep and wake up in a panic when I’d remember that I forgot to move Flash. In my mind I call him Jumpin’ Jack Flash because I feel like less of a dork for buying into the whole ridiculous scheme (humor me). Now my youngest moves it around because I’m lazy and tired most nights. We aren’t ready to let it go completely, yet.

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We also adopt two children to buy gifts and clothes for during the holidays. We buy for one boy and one girl. I try to get kids the same age as my children. This one is sacred to me. The Christmas my brother and I were 7 years old, a Secret Santa made a delivery to our apartment.

I have never forgotten the kindness of that act and how happy it made me feel as a kid. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother and brother as we emptied the overflowing hefty garbage bag. It was full of gifts – Candy Land, toy trucks and gastronomical delicacies, like Peanut Butter and Fluff. It was truly magical and I want to sprinkle some of that around and teach my kids through actions, not just words.

As for hosting, I get all the holidays. It’s practical as we have the largest dinning room. I have also taken on the task of serving seven fishes on Christmas Eve. It is a nod to my mother-in-law who passed away when my children were young. I didn’t have strong roots or family traditions growing up and I welcome the opportunities to give that to my kids. What I really try to give them is memories. That is the point of this entire holiday thing – making memories with your family and friends. Something that will last beyond a turkey carcass and some crinkled, torn wrapping paper.

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Tell me some of your traditions….what do you love to do during the holiday madness?

 

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.

The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.

There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet  personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.

As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.

Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.

As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”

My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.

The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.

 

Of Course, Me too.

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Of Course, Me too.

“Me too” is trending on social media right now. It’s a way for people (mostly women but not exclusively) to identify that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point. At the risk of sounding trendy, this is a tinder box of triggers for a lot of us.

Where to start…..early y’all I grew up in the 70’s when women were definitely not seen as equals. I was a kid – probably 5 the first time someone tried to get fresh with me. We were visiting a friend of my mother. It was a family but the guy and his offspring were overly sexual. I remember seeing boob mugs and a novelty lady parts on the guys desk. His son, a few years older than me, kept trying to get me naked. I was 5 years old. I refused to get naked for him despite his relentless requests.

Fast forward to me at 7 years old, living in New Jersey. There was a teen boy that lived by my babysitter. He got me to make out with him in a fort. What teen wants to make out with a 7 year old? He was definitely a predator in training. I remember him telling me how we would get married when I was 16. Even at 7, I knew he was full of shit.

Leap to my teen years and I wasn’t making great life choices. I had a brief stint with drugs and alcohol which lasted about 18 months. It was the early 80s and there were times when I was stupid enough to hitch hike, sometimes alone. One time in particular, the driver took me to a remote location. I knew I was in trouble and my teen brain was in overdrive. I liked to think I was cool but I was very inexperienced and afraid. I talked my way out of an assault by making up a story about a boyfriend in South River that had ties to the mob. I rattled of names of guys and streets that were completely fabricated. The driver must have believed me because things didn’t escalate. That was a really close call.

Fortunately I stopped drinking and using drugs at the age of 15. I got sent to an adolescent rehab which was a fairly new concept in 1983. Ten months later, I was in a sexual relationship with the man who was previously my counselor in rehab. I have tried to convince myself that this was consensual. It was in some ways but it wasn’t a level playing field. He was 32, I was 16. If a 32 year old man shows any interest in my daughter when she is 16, there will be hell to pay.

When I started working, harassment was just another thing you had to deal with on the job. I was a cashier at a grocery store for several years in my late teens. One older man in the dairy department insisted on hugging all of the girls and then he would make comments about their breast size. I hated this and mentioned it to management. The hugging stopped but I was looked at as a trouble maker from that point on. “Oh, it’s no big deal, he’s just old and likes hugs” my co-workers would say. “Really” I would retort, “he just commented on your cup size.”

I worked for a large corporation in the early 90s. I was good at my job and got consistent promotions. I was there about 4 years when one of my former managers heard that I had ended a relationship. The next day a box from Victoria’s Secret was on my desk. It contained two camisole nightgowns with matching robes and two pairs of thigh high stockings. It cost a small fortune and instantly made me feel uncomfortable. This man was no longer my manager and we rarely spoke. And if that wasn’t enough, his wife worked for the same company. So I handled it in a way that would leave him some dignity. I thanked him for the gift and said “I’m sure you only meant this as a friendly gesture but it makes me uncomfortable”. I requested that he take it back, he refused and I let it drop. By this point, I had learned the importance of deescalation.

I remember going to a sober get together with male acquaintances that said they would not give me a ride home unless I blew them. I started walking and they eventually caught up with me to give me a ride but I didn’t feel safe. Even sober, I could not escape creeps. There was one man in particular that would go to the same weekly AA meeting as me, he harassed me every time he saw me. Every. Single. Time. The kicker was that he sponsored my sponsor’s husband. She had a fit when she witnessed his behavior one night. She had not idea he treated me that way. To me he was just another asshole that I tried to ignore. It didn’t even cross my mind to tell her about it.

I will say these things don’t happen with the frequency they once did. I’ve been married for 15 years and I am self-employed. I’d like to think the world is starting to change but it is more likely that I have aged out of the target zone. Now my focus is preparing my children for the situations they may encounter. Time to make “me too” the exception instead of the norm, it’s beyond time.

 

 

Breathing Room

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Breathing Room

I watched his breathing. At times it was barely perceptible other times it was labored, loud and had some shakiness to it. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t die during the three hours while I sat with him. It was my first time visiting, it got scheduled the way they usually do.

Initially the hospice coordinator sends out an email to see if any of the volunteers are available for a given case. She provides basic information; the day/time preferred, the town and a general synopsis of the situation. She’ll tell us if anyone else will be in the home or if there are pets and give an brief sentence about the condition of the patient. It’s almost always some form of cancer, the second runner up is COPD.

Usually the caregiver just needs to get out a few hours for work, doctor appointments or some other urgent matter. There have been several occasions where I relieved the caregiver so they could make funeral arrangements. That is such a sad and necessary outing. Once at a support meeting for hospice volunteers, a peer complained that the caregiver she relieved went out to play poker with friends. I don’t judge what the caregiver does with their time away. Providing care to someone who is terminally ill is difficult, if you want to take time off to play poker or have a beer, I am totally cool with that.

After the first email goes out, volunteers will alert the coordinator if they can take on the case. Once that is done a secure, private message is sent to the volunteer best suited for the task. This confidential message provides more in-depth information about the patient including the name and number of the main contact. Then the volunteer calls that person to schedule the visit.

My initial call for today’s visit happened two days ago. The wife needed about 3 hours to run some errands and I told her my available hours. Ginny sounded tense on the phone, I could hear the strain in her voice. You might think that’s the norm but oddly enough, it isn’t. Most of the families I have dealt with have a poise and calm that I can only attribute to denial, exhaustion or some zen like state that I have not yet obtained. Ginny was how I think I would sound if our roles were reversed. We agreed to the schedule and I told her that I would confirm the morning of my visit just to make sure we were still on. This is a sad and necessary precaution as you do not want to ring someone’s doorbell and find out that their beloved passed away the day before. It happens.

I called again this morning to make sure we were still on. Ginny sounded the same as the first call and I gently repeated the agreed upon times. When I got to the house, I greeted their neighbor in the driveway. She informed me that she would relieve me if Ginny ran late. Then I let myself in through the back kitchen door. I announced my arrival and Ginny welcomed me from a distant room. This is not uncommon as the tasks of terminal care can make it hard to leave the bedside. I made my way to the correct room and introduced myself.

The next 20 minutes was a series of harried movements and Ginny’s out loud mental check lists and a final dose of pain medication before she could leave. In these moments I witnessed a love that was so sweet it broke my heart. Ginny crawled into bed with Bill and explained where she was going, who I was, and that she would be back soon. It pained her to leave his side though I could tell she needed to leave for her own sake. Just a couple of hours to not be surrounded by the inevitable death of a man she has given the past 47 years to, the love of her life.

In a private moment in the kitchen, Ginny told me that she didn’t understand why he was holding on. I asked if he was waiting for a visitor to say good bye, a final conversation? She said she asked him but he didn’t confide in any such need. Sometimes the body lasts longer than you can possibly imagine, other times it expires in such a rapid decline even the most experienced hospice nurse doesn’t see it coming. Death is fickle and unpredictable even to the stewards who’ve witnessed it hundreds of times.

Ginny was finally able to pry herself away and I sat in the room with her love. Saying silent prayers, reading a book and keeping one eye on my bedridden friend. He was quiet until he needed to go to the bathroom. This was indicated with hand gestures and a reach for the portable urinal. A bit of panic always goes through me in these instances. My first concern is safety followed closely by privacy.

I’m not a nurse, nor do I play one on TV. I’ve been in the trenches and I can handle a mess. What I don’t want to do is accidentally cause someone with brittle bones to get a fracture by moving them the wrong way.  My Aunt had bone cancer and she broke both her legs trying to bathe herself, it was horrible. I think of her when I’m in these situations so I air on the cautious side.

We got through it without breaking anything and he fell back into a restless sleep. His agitation level at times made me wonder if he had just hours or days left. In the nearly 10 years I have been doing this I’ve seen many patients get into a state of agitation; flailing limbs, mumbling and a burst of energy followed by calm. This has happened in the last few days of life for many of the people I have visited as a hospice volunteer.

I’m not sure if Ginny will call me again to sit with her husband. If she does, I will make room for her and Bill. I will take the experience with me and think of them when I drive by their house. It’s something I do often when I drive past the houses where I have visited my hospice friends. Sometimes it’s a single encounter, other times I spend months visiting on a set schedule. Every experience is sacred and is something that becomes a part of me. The sad truth is, we are all going to die. The hospice patient just has a little advance notice.

 

 

That’s my business…

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That’s my business…

Today I met a client who used the word “fuck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I basically fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work – share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and I’ve been the jail break conspirator for nursing home residents. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day….even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy purpose in his stride and a wide smile planted on his face. One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked “festive”. He replied – “Did you say I look sexy?” to which I said “I sure did, John” with a wink. These are golden moments.

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are always medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long. I used to visit Eleanore, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants….how do you handle that you ask? I said “Eleanore, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed. I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work.

The saddest situation I have encountered was Ted, a man in his mid fifties with Early-onset Alzheimer’s. His wife worked full time and needed someone to check on him during the day, feed him lunch and tidy up. This man used to be an Engineer. He was well educated, had a brilliant career and then it all came crashing down way too soon. They had one kid in high school and another in college. His wife amazed me. She also had a puppy because you need that chaos as a distraction from the hard stuff. On the good days, I took Ted and the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We had to be careful of Ted wandering out of the house when no one was there. I suggested cameras and safety locks but he still managed to escape a few times. Eventually it was no longer safe for Ted to be home and he had to go into a memory care center. That one still haunts me.

One of my earliest and favorite clients recently passed away. Pam reached out to me because she was recovering from an injury and needed some help. She was young somewhere around 60 and had a little dog that needed to be walked twice a day along with other odds and ends like shopping, opening jars, rides to the doctor and anything else she needed. We became friends and the lines for work and friendship blurred. Trips to the doctor turned into social outings of movies, lunch and Marshall’s. We remained friends after my services were no longer needed and I was heartbroken when she died suddenly last June.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals as I do not do any advertising. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.

 

 

 

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

 

 

 

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 Mother Made Me…

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My Mother Made Me…

Why do we demonize mothers? OK you may be thinking I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop, she’s come off the rails, PMS…? All valid things to ponder but stay with me a bit…it’s a thought that has occurred to me on more than one occasion, maybe you have noticed it too?

We expect so much from mothers. Thank you Captain Obvious for stating that…..I know (insert eye roll) but think about it in your own life. OK, I’ll start since I’m the first one reading this…and perhaps the only one.

I had a fairly crappy childhood with divorced parents. As kids we lived with our mother (for the most part) and our father paid child support (except when he didn’t,  which was often). He pretty much abandoned us except for the bi-annual court ordered payments when he would be forced to write a check. My mother kept a roof over our heads (with some lapses) until my twin brother and I turned 15 and the shit storm went nuclear. Fast forward 30+ years later and which parent aggravates me the most…..mom.

I see myself in her and her in me. Usually the parts I don’t like, have her fingerprints all over them. The negativity, the feeling of being easily overwhelmed, the victim mentality, the flakiness. Sometimes I see these flaws in discreet slivers….sometimes they are wrapped in neon signs holding a bullhorn announcing themselves to the world at high volume. I don’t ever think of my father when a character defect pops up and I am just itching to identify the source so I can destroy it so it never comes back again. PS – they always come back again, like garden weeds and stray cats that you accidentally fed on purpose.

So why do I do this? Why blame my mother when my father was not even around. Maybe that’s it….perhaps his absence gives him a free pass? Well damn that seems woefully unfair. But I have to be honest at this age, I’m too tired to build a relationship with the guy just so I can hate him. Meh, I don’t have the energy and he’s kind of a jerk.

Or is that society has brain washed me and you and all the woodland creatures into thinking that moms must be perfect and if they are not they must be hated? What the hell – why would anyone want that job asked the mom of two?

So here’s my suggestion…let’s be nicer to our moms. Let’s try to remember that they are mere mortals that make mistakes. Some mistakes may have been bigger and more catastrophic but would you let your dad off the hook for a similar issue? Would you forgive a friend if they stumbled along a similar broken path sometimes grabbing at the wrong branch for balance? And let’s be real honest, I don’t want my kids to hate me so maybe I’m just hoping for some good karma. Good luck to all the moms out there.

 

 

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.

Gasping for Air

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Gasping for Air

What does a writer do when they feel too vulnerable to write? It’s OK I’ll just wait over here until the universe can send me an answer….still waiting……….waiting some more. Well the universe doesn’t seem to be getting back to me so I guess I’ll have to take the steering wheel, again.

I feel like the world has gone fahking mad. How did we get here? The terrorists attacks, the society of rage that seems to be festering all around us……Donald Trump. It feels like one big WTF moment that has gone viral well beyond it’s 15 minutes of fame. So there’s that.

On a personal level I have been watching my kids struggle with tween/teen issues. I feel like my heart resides outside my body in two distinct and always moving places…..and it can be assaulted at any time, unprovoked. I guess that’s how it is when you have kids, forever vulnerable. I don’t think this is a phase we will transition through….sure the teen years will pass, but I will always be vulnerable to their pain, assuming I’m aware of it.

My kids tell me a lot, maybe too much. I’d rather know what’s going on, at least for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that in the future. My husband thinks I coddle. I disagree. I think I have created a mostly safe place for our children to come to when they need to talk. I say mostly safe because sometimes I suck at this parenting thing. Catch me at 11pm on any given night and I am not at my best and neither are they. Yet that seems to be the time when they want to get close and tell me their fears, their sadness, their pain and of course their joys and dreams as well. It’s a mixed bag but lately the mix is leaning heavy on fears and sadness and it’s weighing us all down.

Raising humans is hard. I mean think about it you are shaping a person into their pre-adult self….enormous fahking responsibility. And I know this…..I’ve been doing the parent thing for over 13 years now…it’s just sometimes that weight just smacks you in the face when you were taking a moment to look the other way. Blind sided, unprepared caught unaware, gasping for air. That’s how it feels right now.