Friday, April 27, 2012

Empty nest? Not this year!

One of the downsides to moving away from Conyers was leaving behind our son, Alex.  He had moved out of our home and into a house his friend owned.  He was very happy to be out on his own, working full-time and going to school part-time.  A year after my parents moved in, he lost his job. With no means of support to pay for his rent Alex was faced with having to move out.and he was very unhappy.  They say you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child which meant my emotions were toast!  I do not know how I knew what to do, but I went into some sort of survival mode for the sake of my child.  I called him and calmly told him that if he came home and transferred to Ga. State he could go to school full-time and obtain a Bachelor Degree in two years.  We did expect him to apply for financial aid, though, especially if he didn't work.  He was so torn up over losing his independence, but he knew he had little choice.  Of course it didn't help matters that his roommate always told him that moving back to his parents' place was a sign of weakness and failure.  Little did the roommate know but that this is such a huge trend these days that there is a term for it.  Boomerang kids.  Generation X.  Whether due to delayed maturity or economic stress, children of Generation X are failing to launch as early as the generations before them.  They also have returned after launching, coming home after hitting tough times with school, work or drug use.  Thankfully, we never had to face any type of drug use with either child.

So, back home he reluctantly came, along with a huge chip on his shoulder.  I understood that chip.  Once I left home for college, I would have been devastated to live with my parents again.  But Conyers was becoming a total hell-hole.  Crime seemed much more rampant than when we moved there in 1989.  I have likened the change in Conyers with a scene in the movie, "It's a wonderful life", where the character, George Bailey wishes he had never been born.  Clarence, his guardian angel, grants his wish and George runs away and ends up back to town.  Everything is different.  Bedford Falls was now Pottersville and  the contrast was stark.  Bedford Falls was a sweet, little, sleepy town that could be the model for a picture by Currier & Ives or Thomas Kinkade.  Everyone smiling, conversing with one another as they walked down the street or shopped   People being helpful and caring about each other, living the Golden Rule, so to speak.  In contrast, Pottersville was brash with neon lights everywhere, loud music, drunken men and slutty women in bars that lined the main street.  Unfriendly, angry people were snapping at each other like wolves fighting over a kill.  Total unrest in the streets, shops and homes.  People merely surviving life, not living it. That's Conyers today.  Something like survival after the apocalypse like in Mad Max.   Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but close enough.  And I wanted my child out of there!

We had room for him once we cleaned out the ersatz guest room.  We got some new things like bookshelves and new bed clothes to help soften the pain.  Our daughter, Taylor was here because she has felt too immature to leave home just yet.  Having both kids here with both parents made me realize that Steve and I would not be empty-nesters quite yet.  THAT was a hard pill to swallow and I had a chip on MY shoulder for awhile.  But I got a new perspective at some point about that.  My children were young adults and I was no longer going to be a Helicopter Parent (you know, hovering?).  They would be expected to contribute as members of the household, but their decisions had to be theirs and theirs alone.  Steve and I would be here to give advice if asked, but ultimately, we wanted to let them succeed or fail on their own terms.  I read something yesterday that took my breath away.  A quote from a father to his son, "If you haven't had failures in life, it's because you weren't trying hard enough."  Over the last few years Alex has realized that being here is not so bad, but most importantly, it's not forever.  He will graduate soon and so will Taylor.  Having them here is a blessing because I am finally able to be the parent to them I always wanted to be.  As a result of having 6 adults in the house I have become more patient, calmer and less screechy, according to the kids.  There are cultures that do not understand the concept of children leaving the nest.  Multi-generational homes are more the norm.  The prospect of that used to really scare and upset me to think of being a part of.  Now it's hard to imagine it not being this way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Miss Mary Beth

Soon after my parents moved to Atlanta, we began the task of finding doctors and setting up appointments for them to become acquainted.  We had a lot of good luck when it came to selecting a cardiologist, foot doctor, dermatologist and orthopedist.   Selecting an internist took a little more effort.

As long as I've been alive I have been aware of the importance my mother puts on peoples' looks.  I was raised to believe that if I am not pretty, I am not worthy to walk the earth. (I'm sure this explains a lot about me, but I digress.)  Her opinion about anyone she has met or merely heard about, is put through the litmus test of "What do they look like?" or "They sure are funny-looking!"  As I have gotten older, grayer and fatter, this attitude unhinges me at the least provocation.  I would hate to be judged based on those things only!  Years ago, I was telling her about the husband of a friend who had just returned from a medical missions trip to a third world country and what a great thing he had done.  This man, a doctor,  had left the comfort of home to do something for free to help the less fortunate and all she wants to know is if he is good looking.  So when she asked me to find doctors for her and my dad, she chose them based on their online pictures, because if they are handsome, they must be really good doctors!  Everybody else passed the test in person until her first appointment with...Dr. Baby Teeth.  The man was quite handsome in his picture for the hospital staff.  Thick white hair, tall, a slight tan, nice skin and yes, good looking.  He swept  into the examining room with an air of authority.  Put out his hand to take my mother's hand...and smiled.  I swear to God, he had the tiniest teeth I've ever seen on an adult.  I knew instantly what my mom was thinking and purposely avoided eye contact with her.  At the same time, I was thinking how ironic the situation had become since he had won the beauty contest for Miss  Photogenic.  Needless to say, she did not want to use him.  We weren't out the door before she started talking about it.   Dr. Baby Teeth.  She still calls him that, three years later!  Thankfully, I got the name of another internist and his teeth are normal.

Another eccentricity of my mom's is her ability to pick and choose where and when to abide by the laws of etiquette.  Growing up my mom was a stickler for them.  We did not live in the richest part of town in Bexley, Ohio, but we were expected to have a certain amount of decorum, especially at the dinner table.  No original bottle or container was allowed.  Ketchup was poured into a separate dish and served with a spoon.  So was mustard, mayonnaise, crudites, butter and salad dressing.   No bottles or cans of pop.  No one was allowed to leave the table without asking permission.  Talking was allowed, but food was to be swallowed first.   And certainly no food allowed in the living room or bedroom unless one is sick.  The family ate together in the dining room at the same time and absolutely no eating in front of the television!   My mother called it "gracious living", so imagine my horror years later in seeing my mother, Miss Manners, take a half full cup of coffee and sling the contents under the table in a booth at a Bob Evans restaurant.  Droplets slapped against my bare leg before I knew what she was doing.  I looked down in time to see a dark stain on the carpet beneath my feet and quickly realized what she was doing.  "Mom, I can't believe you just did that!"   Now, this is the clincher.  She looked at me like I was the crazy one and said with a full mouth of food, "What?  I want a refill, it was cold."  All I could do was sit there like a fish caught on a hook with its mouth agape as tiny food particles rained down on me like confetti from her full mouth.  Until I finally got my breath and said out loud, "Well, so much for gracious living!"   She just looked at me and said, "Oh!  Phbbbt!"  I was glad she had at least swallowed by that point!

Since moving here I don't think my parents have eaten more than 20 meals at the dining room table.  They eat dinner at 4 PM not with us.  They eat watching television... in the bedroom... in the bed.  They eat crackers, chocolate, hot dogs with ketchup, spaghetti, tamales, you name it.  There are permanent stains on their sheets and comforter that look like a food massacre took place in the bedroom.  My father also likes to go to bed with pockets of candy and cookies, just in case he gets hungry while asleep.  They get smashed and rubbed onto the sheets, as well.   I have cleaned their bedroom carpet so many times with my "Little Green Machine" that the people who make the bottles of cleaner I use now live in mansions on Waikiki! 


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Having your parents living with you and your family can be very frustrating at times in ways that may surprise you.  For instance, both of my parents were always quite  fastidious and tidy people when I was growing up. Which was not unusual for that generation.  Even pictures of lower income families in the 30s, 40s and 50s showed people in their Sunday best at a ballgame or going to the movies. That was the way it was.  I never saw my father wear anything but business suits or business casual clothing.  He was well-groomed and slept in pajamas and always wore a robe over them.  It would be unthinkable for him to lounge around the house in boxer shorts or to go out in public without a shirt, even on the hottest day of the summer.  Have you ever seen  Mr.Cleaver in "Leave it to Beaver" when he mowed the lawn wearing long pants and a tie?  My dad did that!!!   Or he would wear khaki pants with a pull-over shirt tucked in neatly.  I never saw my father in a pair of shorts or athletic shoes until the late '70's.  And I have never seen him in a pair of blue jeans.  I grew up believing this man could walk on water, well, at least until I was a rebellious teenager!
My mother was also quite concerned about her appearance, except in her case it was because she cared about what other people thought and therefore would never be seen leaving the house imperfectly coiffed or sans make-up or (gasp) wearing pants!   My mother wore a skirt or dress every day.  With heals.  And usually pearls.  You know...June Cleaver?  (See, the thing about those old shows was that they weren't the exception, they were the rule.  But we laugh watching them thinking "what were the writers thinking?"  When, in fact, they were probably writing about themselves!)   I got my mom to put on some painters' pants once when we were in St. Augustine on vacation one year when I was a teenager.  She actually wore them outside!   I was thrilled on several levels.
One, she was in pants.
Two, she was in public.
Three, we were the same size!  (I mean, that was pretty cool!  I was a typical thin person in 1974 which meant she was, too and she had just turned 49 that year!)
And four, she was downright cute in those painters' pants and it was like passing a milestone.  I had visions of the two of us dressing alike and having people wondering who was the daughter and who was the mother?  And then... reality hit.  The next day she was back in her skirt for the remainder of the trip.  She remembers that day in pants as the day she lost her mind, or something like it.  She would say that pants were too confining and never considered wearing them again.

So after my parents moved in three years ago, we realized there was a new reality.of existence for them that we weren't aware of in terms of their habits.  When you go to visit someone or they come to visit you, time is usually short and therefore you don't notice little things that people do.  Once you marry or move in together or become roommates, little habits become more prominent and then frustrating and then, downright annoying. It quickly became apparent that sometime between my leaving home at 18 and moving my parents here 3 years ago, my parents have become, well, gross. They rarely shower when it used to be every day.  My mother brushes her teeth with water because according to her dentist in Ohio, it's the brushing that matters not the toothpaste!  Gross.  She also began the habit of using a bucket next to her bed for nighttime urinary eliminations.  Now, you might think, "oh, she had trouble walking to the bathroom".  No.   In the old house the bathroom was right next to her bedroom and the use of the bucket, I believe, began out of laziness sometime in the last 6 years.  When she moved here I admonished her about the "pee-bucket" habit and she scoffed and waved me off saying she wasn't doing that anymore.  I have come to realize in the last 3 years just how naive and gullible I can be.   I believed my mother when she said that the pee-bucket was gone. And then I found it.  I was in their bedroom vacuuming and I kept getting a whiff of something really unpleasant.  I thought it spelled like urine, but that didn't make sense because I was no where near the master bathroom   I opened a drawer in my mother's childhood antique desk and there was my mother's ceramic ice tea pitcher!  "Well, that makes no sense", I was thinking to myself as I picked it up just in time to see the yellow droplets inside and realizing that that was indeed where the smell was coming from!  To make matters worse, she had taken her brand-new bed jacket I had given to her and was using it as a decoy!  As if laying it on top of the pitcher would keep anyone from finding out her secret.  Gross and ewww!.  Another lovely habit of theirs was to use washcloths like sani-wipes instead of bathing and then lay them out on the towel rack to dry.  I walked into their bathroom one day and discovered the brown tinged rags all over the bathroom as well as, used underwear.  The smell just about made me pass out.  Double gross and double ewww!  So I had to come up with a system to accommodate their need to clean without creating a health hazard.  I set a bucket in the garden tub with bleach water and told them to put the cloths in it.  That way I could keep the bathroom from stinking and sanitize the cloths before washing.  The system has worked quite well with only one adjustment.  I had to place a plastic flower planter in the bucket so that when I need to empty it I won't have to touch the wet cloths or wear a hazmat suit just to retrieve them.  I just lift the planter out and allow it to drain then transfer the cloths to another bucket in order to wash them.
Another surprising habit  was their practice of using tainted tissues or handkerchiefs as a way to wipe up spills!  We also became aware of their lack of hand washing after using the toilet.  We realized that it meant we had no choice but to wipe down every surface they touch with Lysol wipes.  Tables, chairs, counter tops, cabinets, knobs, door handles, door knobs and banisters!  There are executives at Lysol who go on expensive vacations thanks to us!  We literally buy wipes by the case!  My daughter even uses them to wipe down the car if they had been in it!  Luckily,  none of us have been hospitalized with Ebola, e coli, or hepatitis!  There are days that I wonder who are these people?  And what have they done with the people who raised me to be conscientious about cleanliness?
But the answer to all this, I have come to learn, is that yes, these are the same people, but they forget things even things as simple as hand washing.  It isn't on purpose anymore than when a child forgets.  They aren't children, but unfortunately they behave that way.  For their own safety, caregivers must remind them, with love, to wash their hands.  You become the parent to elderly children and it is embarrassing, but to ignore these and other bad habits puts them and your family at risk.

The other side  of this is how they let themselves "go" in terms of dressing.  My father puts on an outfit and stays in it until the next shower, which is usually 2-3 times a month.  He sleeps in an outfit, too.  Even his jacket or tweed coat. The only other way he changes sooner is when he has bowel accidents, but that's another story!   My mother lives in her nightgown most days, but when she does dress in street clothes, she'll put on a short sleeve top with her khaki skirt, any time of the year!. She complains about being cold all the time.  I'd tell her to put on something warmer like leg warmers and sweaters, but she would refuse.  She won't wear pants because she says they are too restrictive, but earlier this year I actually got her into a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt!  They are baggy which I think is why she acquiesced to putting them on.  Of course it took a lot of cajoling to get her in them, but once she got them on and felt warm, she was sold.  Being warm is a paramount issue to someone their age.  So being warm always trumps fashion!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My new life begins with Bill & Mary

The morning after my parents' arrival to Atlanta began with turmoil.  My father awoke and was disoriented by his new surroundings.  Since our bedroom is directly below my parents' bedroom, I heard the footfalls around 5:15 AM and immediately ran upstairs to the kitchen.  My dad was standing in the foyer crying like a child about not wanting to be here and saying he was worthless.  This was devastating to me for several reasons.  My father was the type of man who remained calm through most situations during his life.  He could get riled about politics on occasion, but he was raised to be a gentleman in Memphis, Tennessee during the 20's and 30's and his Southern approach to life, I suspect, was sometimes interpreted as shyness or meekness. But he had a quiet strength that was strangely reassuring to his children as they grew.   He was also raised to be a typical man, not showing emotion when upset or hurt.  So when I discovered my 85 year old father weeping in my house that morning, I was crushed to think I had done something wrong to hurt this gentle man.  That bringing him here to live was not what he wanted.  What I realized was that the man standing before me was NOT the man who raised me.  I would soon learn that the aging process changes more than one's appearance.  Eccentricities aside, I would find myself in a battle of wills that I never expected.  I have compared it to being in a house with grown toddlers who constantly test their boundaries and push the limits of gravity and physics on a daily basis.

 My father was my hero when I was growing up and as he stood before me in pain I didn't know what to do, so I hugged him and told him it would be alright.  That he would be okay.  And at that moment I became the mother to the weeping child and my first thought was , "What the hell have I done?"  I had no idea how much that phrase would permeate my life in the next 3 years.

My father's disoriented state only happened twice the week they arrived, but thankfully not again.  Many changes because of the move were actually welcome and helped ease the transition.  One was the computer my husband set up for my dad. He was used to a dial up connection and felt constantly frustrated by it's limitations.  Years before we had switched to DSL which is much faster, as well as, having the ability to use the telephone while using the computer.  My father was in computer heaven.  Another change was the presence of Buffy, our orange cat.  My father always loved having cats when I was growing up and missed them.  Buffy warmed up to my parents slowly, but once she did, it was in a big way!  Rarely a day goes by that she isn't laying across my dad's lap or stretched out down the length of my mom's legs while she lounged in bed.  A third welcome change was the deck outside our kitchen.  My father has literally spent hours sitting out there in the sunshine watching chipmunks, squirrels, lizards and hummingbirds.  A fourth plus for him to be here was male companionship on a daily basis.  My dad only socialized with husbands of my mother's friends when I grew up.  He didn't play or follow sports, golf or play bridge.  Any male conversation was limited to co-workers or church goers.  So having Steve to talk to was a big deal to him, I think, since it has been years since he had been to work or church.  He has never said how he felt about moving and I have never asked him if it was against his will.  I am afraid of what the answer would be.

My mother never had any trouble adjusting to life in the South, but that doesn't surprise me.  Mary Beth thrives on being Scarlett.  My mother lives to be perfect and to live in a perfect world.  She will flee any situation that she deems unpleasant and will stop any conversation that even hints at being unpleasant.  She simply does not want to be reminded of the world outside of the one she lives in.  Many times she will be reminded of a continuing news story from the day before that is tragic or gruesome and her response is one of, " Why are they still talking about that, it's unpleasant!" You know, like Scarlett said, "I will think about that tomorrow!"  Her preferred view of the world is Polly-Anna-ish, to say the least and the family is well aware of her ability to re-write history to accommodate her Polly-Anna world.  For instance, when someone gets sick her usual approach is to ask them the next day if they were feeling better and then before getting a response, following up the question with a statement that "You feel all better now, don't you?"  She simply can't handle bad news.  At any given moment I almost expect her to say, "Gee whiz, let's put on a show!"  I'm used to that, though, she's always been one to thrive in the spotlight.  I can remember growing up and hearing her sigh and say, "Wouldn't you just love to be famous?"  And then she'd launch into some dialogue from somewhere.  Years later when I saw Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" I understood the character completely.  Hell, I grew up with her!  The one positive from that all that optimism is that as a child I always felt I had a personal cheerleader in my corner and it was re-assuring to know that what ever happened to me, I would find solace at home.  So goes life with Bill & Mary.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Preparing for life with Bill & Mary

Me & Buffy
This is the first day of my blog about my experience with my life with elderly parents living in my home.  My journey began in 2009 and continues to surprise me on a daily basis.  It is NOT what I expected when I agreed to have them sell their home in Ohio and move to Atlanta.  When I would think of them being here, my thoughts were filled with lunches out with Mom, shopping at Macy's, taking them to the neighborhood pool and to the library.  I was excited for my parents to be here with their grandchildren and the prospect of having a three generational household.  My husband was equally excited because he always enjoyed my parents company. What we got was quite different from our expectations.

In June of 2007, my husband, Steve and I decided to put our home in Conyers up for sale and move to another area of Atlanta since both of our children had graduated from high school and we no longer needed to stay in the county.  My son, Alex, was working in Conyers and commuting to school and decided to move out to live with a friend.  My daughter, Taylor, was also commuting to school, but she was moving with us.  We began our quest within a small radius and eventually ended up in North Atlanta.  In November, my father was ill and my mother called to ask if I would come help her in Ohio while he was in the hospital.  I stayed until the end of December.  During that time, my mother hinted at the idea of them moving to live with us.  I was fine with it and knew Steve would be, as well.  In February of 2008, she called to say they were putting the Bexley house for sale in preparation of coming to Atlanta.  Steve and I had yet to find a suitable house and realized that we would no longer look for our "dream" home.  We were looking for a house to accommodate my parents and our family.  We found the house on Easter Day and within weeks we had an offer accepted and a contract on our old house.  By June we were moved and thus began the waiting game for when my parents would be here.  The decision to sell might have been easy for my parents, but getting their house on the market?  Not an simple task.

My mother has never been one to do things the conventional way.  For instance, cooking.  You know how meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs to help bind the meat?  Well, my mom would do that, but she wouldn't bother using crumbs.  Nope, she'd just tear up bread slices and stick them into the mixture.  What was left was something that resembled one of those spiked mines in the ocean during World War II!  A big hunk of meat with these pieces of browned (or burned) bread chunks sticking out of it.  The spaghetti she made was weird, too.  She would just throw the pasta in the water without oil and we would have to literally tear it apart after cooking or cut it like it was a pasta "roast" with a can of tomato sauce poured on it like gravy.  The piece de resistance had to be her Tuna Noodle Casserole.  She'd get the ingredients mixed okay, but then she'd throw potato chips in it without crushing them!  Eating that shit was dangerous!  At any moment, you could bite down and instead of chewing casserole, you'd get a shard of potato chip stuck deep into the roof of your mouth.  I'd end up with so many cuts by the time dinner was over that to this day all you have to do is mention Tuna Noodle Casserole and the roof of my mouth begins to bleed as if I had stigmata!
Her approach to getting their house on the market was a bit like her approach to cooking. .She was not going to held to a customary way of doing it.  Her view of how things should be done was her guide, whether it was the most efficient or expedient way was irrelevant.  In the process of doing this she managed to get rid of virtually ALL the pictures of her 4 children, but kept worthless knick-knacks.  How little I knew about her many eccentricities, but would soon learn!  Anyway, I kept telling her to get the house on the market as soon as possible, but there is no budging Mary Beth.  So we waited and waited and waited.  When it was finally done, it was June and we waited another 10 months before it was sold and they were finally here.  We had no idea just how changed life would be once they were finally here.