October, 2012

October, 2012
October 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Parents Are People....

I was watching an interview between Jonah Hill and Oprah Winfrey the other day and Jonah Hill was talking about his parents and how wonderful they were.  Then he made this statement-- "It was a long time before I realized that parents are people who just happened to have children." I have had that statement stuck in my head ever since.  

There is a lot of truth in that one little line.  It was only recently that I realized my Dad was just a man....not infallible as I thought for many years.  He had made mistakes just like any other parent.  Just like me.  

What makes a parent then, because honestly it would be quite enough to go through our lives and just deal with our own problems.  Taking on superhero status willingly seems plain crazy.  

One of the first things that came to mind as I was trying to answer this question in my own head was July 5th, 1989, 3 AM.  My water broke.  Now it isn't like I didn't know this was coming.  I had been waiting for it.  Waiting and it suddenly happening were two different realms of reality. Especially when you are twenty and completely alone.  Looking back on it, I must have been crazy. 

I lived by myself in a little apartment in the Shawneetown complex on the UK campus.  When my water broke, I didn't panic.  I called the doctor and he said to head to the hospital.  So, I picked up my suitcase and walked the short distance to Central Baptist Hospital.  I walked in the ER door and up to the desk.  The lady looked up at me and asked if she could help me.  Apparently from her position she couldn't see my extra large belly and the fact that I was abnormally calm for a woman "in labor" added to her confusion.  She stood up and looked at my stomach.  Then she called a guy over with a chair and he wheeled me up to the maternity ward and up to their desk.  Again, they asked if they could help me.  I told them my water had broken and that the doctor had told me to come on in to the hospital.  I thought my size kind of gave everything away, but apparently these people were going to need convincing.  I felt as though they didn't believe me.  I was asked if anyone was with me.  I answered no.  The nurse took me into a room and had me pee on a strip.  Only after she saw the strip did I start to feel like they really believed I was there to have a baby.  She handed me a gown.  The excitement was starting to set in.  In a few hours I would be a mother.  Then she asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks.  She asked if I was keeping "this baby" or giving it up for adoption.  I answered yes, I was keeping my baby.  

I know now all these years later, she didn't mean anything with that question.  I guess it is really odd to have a young pregnant woman show up alone to labor and delivery.  At the time though, it really rubbed me the wrong way.  In fact I spent the next 12 hours waiting for Ashley or Aaron (I didn't know yet) to arrive with her question swimming in my brain.  

What was I doing exactly?  I never one moment doubted I had made the right decision to have the baby, but did she ask me that question because I wasn't going to be a good mother?  Was I somehow not capable of what was before me and she knew that for sure?  What if I was making a mistake?  What if it turns out that I am a terrible mother?  How will I know what I am doing?

The truth is, even though the circumstances were different than those of most expectant parents, no one knows the answers to those questions until you live it. I was no different than anyone else.  I was, as Jonah Hill said, a person who happened to have a child.  A human being who would make plenty of mistakes.

So I am back to my original question.  What makes a parent?  If Jonah Hill's parents weren't superheros as he had thought when he was a child, what was it that made him gush about them now? Now that he knows they are mere mortals. 

I have at times wondered how I parented Ashley at all before the internet, when I couldn't find the answers to parenting dilemmas by using Google.  Must be something else guiding me, guiding all parents. Love of course is the easy answer.  There is nothing on earth that can ever compare to the truly undefinable love I feel for my children. I believe though that there is something even more complicated than love and there is one story about Benjamin that defines it for me.  

Ben was not quite two and doing a lot of the normal mischief that little boys do. One thing he hadn't tried yet was to open the doors to the house.  He hadn't shown one bit of interest in venturing outside.  Because of that we had made the mistake of not childproofing the front door.  I left Ben playing in the living room floor and went to finish up the dishes.  I probably wasn't out of his sight more than 10 minutes when I came back to find him gone.  We looked all over the house, but couldn't find him.  The front door was completely closed, but we went out and looked in the front and back yard.  Then we went through the house again.  Now I was scared.  I went back out the front door and yelled across the street to my neighbors that I couldn't find Ben.  We congregated on the front sidewalk momentarily.  We could go left or right. We all turned right and started to walk.  I stopped and told them I felt like I should go the other way.  They kept on in their direction and I turned to my left.  All I could think was that someone had kidnapped him.  The house next to mine had an alley that ran beside it and I took off down the alley.  I probably didn't get fifty steps down that alley when I saw him.  He was standing on the deck of our neighbors above ground pool looking down at the water.  

My gut instinct had told me to turn left instead of right.  That same gut instinct I know has guided a lot of my parenting.  It was definitely there with Ashley as we traveled together through those first nine years, just the two of us. Maybe instinct is what guides us all through the journey.  This doesn't mean that our instinct isn't wrong sometimes.  That we don't make mistakes, but I believe if we follow that instinct and give a lot of love even when it is difficult, we will raise a generation of people able to do the same for their own children someday. 

What I hope is that years from now if you ask my children what kind of parents they had, they will smile (maybe laugh) and say we were kind of crazy sometimes, but we always knew we were loved and that they were there for us even when we didn't want them to be.  Maybe they will tell stories about mistakes we made with an understanding that we were after all people who just happened to have children.  People just like them.  

Side note:

I asked Anna today as we were on the way home from her doctor in Lexington if she thought I ever made mistakes.  Didn't take her long to say "Yes!"  Uh-oh.  I asked her what she meant by that.  She went on to explain that sometimes I bought the wrong size jeans for them.  Ok.  This is good so far.  I told her that wasn't quite what I meant.  Did she know that sometimes I make mistakes as a human being.  "Yes....when you give me a time-out and I don't think I should have one.  That is a mistake."  I pushed a little more but she told me this conversation was kind of boring, leaned the seat back and fell asleep.  Well.....maybe 10 is too young to ponder the complexities of parents as people. That's ok.  I don't mind being a superhero for a few more years. 



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mothering My Mother

In August of 2010, Dad and I were leaving the hospital where we had been visiting my mother.  She had fallen several days before and broken her knee.  We both knew it was more than a broken knee.  She was about to be moved to the nursing home for extended stay rehab.  Although he didn't say it, Dad knew that Mom would probably not be coming back home ever again.  He cried every time he visited her. He cried each time on the way home, and I have no doubt there were many tears shed as he sat alone in his assisted living apartment. 

The day she was moved from the hospital to the nursing home he finally said the words he had been avoiding.  "Mom won't be coming home.  I won't be able to take care of her anymore."   He started to cry.  In that moment, I said the first of two statements that would forever change my entire family..."You know Dad, you can always come home with us."  He cried harder and then finally managed to say he needed to hear that.  

He came home about 3 weeks later and settled into the routine of life with my family. There were many visits back and forth to visit Mom in the nursing home.  These, as would be expected were difficult visits for Dad.  Difficult for me too, but mainly because I was the one who got the rundown about how she was behaving (not cooperating with therapy, not wanting to leave her room) and how they couldn't get her to eat.   I started to dread going to see her as much as he did, just for different reasons.

So it happened, as it is with my sometimes impulsive nature, I uttered the second statement that would once again change everything.  "Dad, I think we should bring Mom home."  

That was sixteen months ago. In the beginning I didn't know most days whether to laugh or cry.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do this.  During those first days and weeks, she screamed at me, was uncooperative, and hit me more than once.  I found myself thinking....elder abuse?  What about caregiver abuse?  Then it hit me...I am in charge here and I don't have to be treated this way.  So one night when she started to throw a glass at me, I took it abruptly from  her hand.  She reached out and hit me.  I tapped her back, not hard, but to make a point.  She hit me again.  I tapped her again.  She kicked me.  I lightly kicked her back.  Then I looked at her and asked her how long we were going to do this.  She looked at me like she had something good to say, but instead shook her head.  We haven't had a problem since. 

It is day in and day out the same routine....if we are lucky.  Change in routine usually means someone is sick.  I have said to friends that life here is like the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again.  They eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday.  They get up and go to bed at the same time each day.  Mom says the exact same thing to me every morning when she wakes up.  I have started to find myself dreading growing old.  I have never feared aging before, but now I do. 

I come face to face with the future on a daily basis. Scary stuff.  My Dad is 93 and he can't hear even with hearing aids.  He can't see due to macular degeneration.  Mom, in the late stages of dementia, no longer consistently knows who we are, or who Dad is, and except for feeding herself, is completely dependent on someone else to care for her.  She sleeps probably 18 out of 24 hours and Dad is not far behind with his sleep. 

I finally realized that the only way I was going to make it through caring for my parents without becoming depressed by the sadness of life's cycle, was to start finding the humor. It is laugh or lose my mind. Let me tell you, some funny stuff goes on here.  It is all about perspective. Now I realize that some reading this may find what I am about to say offensive.  For that I apologize.  I know how terrible dementia is.  I also see that in some ways it is an odd sort of gift.  She doesn't have to be aware of growing old the way that my dad does. She is unaware of time and age.  She doesn't really know that she can't walk anymore or care for herself.  She is stuck in happy times. She is not suffering.  Mom as she once was is already gone.  My job now, truthfully, is to see to it that she has a dignified death.  Laughing about it along the way is a great coping mechanism for all of us.  Like I said it is all about perspective...

Here are a few of our funny moments....

--The day we picked Mom up bring her home from the nursing home she ran down this list in her head of all of the stuff in her room that she needed to take with her.  I agreed with her and told her Jason was on his way to pick everything up and take it to the house.  She looked at Dad and said, "Well, they are just making out like bandits."  I think she thought we were stealing her stuff. 

--The other day, my Dad had been to a NARFE meeting at Mallard's.  When he came in, Mom and I were in the bathroom.  He came to the door to see where Mom was.  When she saw him, she said, "Oh good, my Daddy's home."  I said, "That isn't your Daddy Mom it's your husband."  He started laughing and said it was ok...he wasn't quite sure who he was either.  

--Several nights ago, as I was taking Mom to bed, she told me I was going the wrong way.  I asked her where she wanted me to go and she pointed toward the garage and said they had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor in there.  No Mom, you and Dad sleep in here.  She told me I didn't know what I was talking about but she said she would sleep in the bedroom...this time.  The next morning she told Dad she really liked that bed. That it was better than the mattress on the floor.  He looked at me, then at her and back at me.  I shrugged my shoulders.  He chuckled, reached over and rubbed her hand.  

--Mom asked me the other day when the renovations on our house would be done.  When were we moving was what she wanted to know.  I said I hadn't been doing in renovations that maybe she was thinking about the girl who takes care of her on my days off.  She said no, it was me.  I was moving.  I just kind of dropped it and went on.  That night after Brooke had given them their dinner she came up and said that Mama was asking her about renovations and when we would be moving.  Brooke told her we weren't moving, that we all lived in this house together.  Mom's response was to tell her to be sure and clean up our mess when we left. (I think she wants to get rid of us!!!)

--They were watching a UK ballgame and I happened to be downstairs folding laundry.  I heard Dad ask mom what it said on the bottom of the screen. (the ticker of announcements/news that runs across the bottom of the screen) She read it out loud to him.  Then after about thirty seconds, she read it again.  Then again and again.  By the time I came out of the laundry room she had read it about six times and Dad was sitting with his head in his hands.  I didn't say anything and headed up the stairs.  Half way up, I heard her reading it again.  

--I take Mom to the bathroom several times throughout the day.  Once I get her situated, I try to give her privacy, but remain close so I can make sure she doesn't try to get up on her own and fall.  I came into the room and asked if she was ready to get up.  She responded by saying, "No.  I was in full bloom when you walked into the room."  I am still trying to figure that one out.  

--I have to be careful at night when I go down to put Mom to bed.  She and Dad have usually been snacking throughout the evening, but Dad doesn't pay any attention to what Mom does with her wrappers or food portions that she doesn't eat.  The other night she reached out her hand and told me to throw that away.  It felt warm and mushy and I was afraid to look.  She had chewed all of the juice out of orange pieces and then spit the pulp out in her hand.  That was gross.  She also sits on unwrapped chocolate bars to save them for later.  Dementia and saving a candy bar for later don't go together very well.  

There have been many of these moments.  Moments where I have to stop myself from laughing out loud.  I can't predict how the next months or years are going to go even though I know how they will end. Between now and then I will find the funny moments and hang on tight.