Saturday, July 21, 2012

May I have this dance?

I recently began exchanging emails with my big brother about our childhoods.  Apparently, we had different parents growing up.  Bill's parents were Bill & Mary Beth and my parents were Bill & Mary Beth.  I know what you're thinking.  Same people!  They may have been in the same bodies, but they were different people!  There were 4 children in my family.  Kristie, William III, Franklin and Heidi.  Kris & Billy were born in the late 40's and Frankie & I were born in the late 50's.  Which means that their parents were 10 years younger than our parents and 10 years can make a BIG difference!  
Our emails led to his recollection of a time back in the 50's when he and my sister would go to Athens from Columbus to visit my mother's parents, Pop & Nanny.  In his words he said,

"When we would visit Pop and Nanny's Pleasant Hill (Pleasanton) farm, Dad would often accelerate over the many hills until we were momentarily airborne! I know - doesn't sound like mundane Bill,  does it? Of course - responsibly -Mom would offer up some obligatory  complaint, but I bet she was having as much fun as we."
Now I can guarantee that Frank & I never saw our father ever do anything like that!  My father, at the time, also held a pilot's license and flew Kris & Billy to many places.  He quit flying because my mother didn't like it since she always got airsick, so Frankie & I didn't even know he had the license until we were grown.  My parents often left Kris & Billy with Pop & Nanny while they worked in Dayton.  This led to a very close relationship between the kids and grandparents.  Neither Frankie nor I were ever left in Athens while my parents worked.  In fact, after we were born my mother became a stay-at-home mom.  Frankie & I didn't know our grandparents especially since my grandmother died in 1961 when I was 3 and Frankie was 5.  However, Kristie was so close to Nanny she had an identity crisis when Nanny died.  She saw Nanny as more of a "Mother" figure than she did with our mom.  It took a decade for that rift to heal.  Bill remained close to my grandfather until Pop died in 1987.  In fact, Bill was an ordained minister at the time so he.officiated Pop's funeral.
Another memory Bill related to me was about his love of music.
"I think a strong reason for my interest in rock n roll goes back to the music they started exposing us to in the early fifties when we lived at Ruhl Avenue in the Colonial Williamsburg Apartments. I vividly recall Dad bringing home a 45rpm record with Elvis's "HoundDog" on one side and "Don't Be Cruel" on the other.  What punctuated that memory was then seeing Mom and Dad "Jitterbug" to it! Mom usually initiated their dancing, but Dad jumped right in - definitely felt like someone was in love!"
NEVER in my entire life did I ever see my parents dance!!  They were in their 20's when the first 2 kids were born.  They had more energy and time to devote to playing with Kris & Bill.  In hindsight I also see how the affection between my parents had cooled somewhat.  I knew they loved each other, but outward displays of it were not demonstrated in public. To this day  I've never seen my parents hold hands, let alone dance!   
My dad has always had a fascination with all planes regardless of whether they were big, little, commercial or military.  The mere sound of an engine overhead got my dad's attention quicker than just about anything.  Ruhl Avenue is in the flight path to Port Columbus, as well as, North American Aviation(now Rockwell).  My father worked at North American as an Aeronautical/ Aerospace Engineer.  His captivation was ingrained to his core.  He and my mom were also smokers in the early days.  I find that near impossible to imagine.  Bill told me during a recent visit about an incident that occurred that combined planes and cigarettes when he was a little boy.
"Dad was looking out the window in the kitchen door. He loved (as you can imagine) to catch a glimpse of any jet flying over. This was for two reasons: we were quite close to the airport, so they were usually low overhead; also, they were usually one of the planes he actually worked on (F-86, F-100-I am sure he was very proud of that!)  In addition, in those days they were allowed to go supersonic, which afforded us with the most delicious "sonic booms" when breaking the sound barrier (another reason I came to love Rock Music!)  But I digress....So, Dad is perusing yonder aircraft whilst puffing on his cigarette. The ashtray is behind him on our little dinette table. He absentmindedly, without taking his eyes off the skies, reaches back to crush said faggot out in the tray, unaware little hands had decided said receptacle was for closer examination. As he pressed the beast hard against the ashtray, he was reasonably unconscious of my wrist being betwixt cigarette and tray!!!What happened next is blurry, I recall great pain, screaming, startlement from him, hugs, tears, more hugs, probably ice (I'm not sure.)Well, I survived, my "tatooing." For many years I thought it resembled a 3-leaf clover. Now it is barely visible."
He showed me the scar when he was here.  This memory is as clear to him as if it happened yesterday.  This single incident traumatized my parents so much, they both quit smoking if not that day, soon after.  Cold turkey.  Neither Frank nor I even knew they smoked. Some years ago I saw a picture from the 50's that was taken at a nightclub or event my parents attended.  They were seated at a table with other people and everyone had a drink and a cigarette.  I remember staring at that picture and being mesmerized by the image.  My parents smoked?  And drank liquor?  It was unfathomable!
After Frank was born they moved to Bexley, an affluent suburb of Columbus.  I had prim and proper parents who didn't smoke, drink or dance.  I'm sure it was for appearance's sake.    Most things done in Bexley are and it changes people.  I'm sure it changed my parents greatly.  It's hard work keeping up with the Jones'!  I've often wondered how different it would have been had we lived somewhere other than Bexley.  Maybe I would have seen different parents who were easy-going, less concerned about what other people thought, spent more time enjoying their kids and............danced.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Melancholy Baby

Living with my parents have brought many new insights into their habits, personalities and beliefs.  Some discoveries were total surprises.  Some were mere confirmations of past suspicions.  For me to live with my parents meant facing a demon that has followed me for decades and in facing it I received the power to overcome it.

My father has a very low opinion of himself.  This has been clear since he spent time in the hospital in 2004.  I do not remember him being like this when I was growing up.  However in the hospital he was highly medicated and I guess less inhibited about hiding his emotions.  I would go to sit with him all day to keep him company.  I would cross-stitch "cardinals in snow" while we watched TV and talked.  We talked a LOT.  This may not seem unusual to most people, but until January 2004 I had never had a conversation with my father that lasted longer than 10 minutes.  I do not exaggerate.  Growing up I was painfully aware of my father's shyness.  He was a good father.  I saw him as a giant when I was little.  He could fix anything and was always there for me when I was scared or injured.  One particular memory I have occurred when I was 8.  He ran down a hill to scoop me up as I lay bleeding profusely from my bare foot after stepping on a large piece of glass.  I remember seeing the blood on his good pants and feeling bad about it.  He didn't care.  His greatest concern was about getting me to the hospital for stitches.  I always felt safe in my father's arms.   He had a quiet strength that came through despite his lack of conversation.   

At Kristie's 25th Jubilee-2001
So as I sat with him in the hospital I was quite surprised when he announced that he had not been a very good father.  I was flabbergasted.  All I could do was look dumbfounded.  Finally, I said, "Are you kidding me?  Daddy, I drove 600 miles to be here, Bill goes out of his way to come see you, Frank is flying in from    San Diego to be here and Kristie has received permission to leave her cloistered monastery to come here for the first time in 28 years!  Why in the world would they do that if you had not been a good father?"  In that moment the stilted relationship with my father disappeared and we began to talk about everything and anything.  It was the turning point I had wished for my entire life.  During that year I drove to Ohio alone 6 times.  My father and I spent countless hours together during his numerous hospital stays and rehab.  I knew it was probably due to the medications, so I accepted the gift knowing it could end.  I have fond memories from my time in Ohio.

The morning after my parents arrived in Atlanta in 2009 I found my father in the kitchen crying.  I think waking up here was a bit disorienting.  He started talking about being worthless and wishing he was dead.  I stood there not knowing what to do.  I was 50 and I had never seen my father cry before!  I hugged him and told him it was going to be okay, that he was going to be okay.  I realized through the next 2 years that that scene had nothing to do with being disoriented.  My father would constantly put himself down, call himself stupid and a waste.  It was extremely difficult to hear because his words were the same words I heard in my own head about myself.  My father seemed angry and depressed about his loss of usefulness, but it was more than that.  He was melancholy.  In 2011 I realized that being melancholy was probably genetic and therefore the reason I felt the way I did.  After 2 years of caring for my parents it was difficult to fight the dark moods. Everything felt so hopeless and I felt like a trapped animal. I was disappointed in my life and the choices I had made.  It was like getting sucked into a vortex or falling down the rabbit hole as in "Alice in Wonderland".  I felt overwhelmed taking care of my parents.  It was much harder than I thought it would be.  As a result, I had alienated most of the people in my life.  Looking back on it I can't blame them for abandoning me.  No one wants to be around a gloomy person.  Being melancholy is hard work and I had had enough.   So I decided to fight it.  I forced myself to smile, laugh, act happy and pretend to enjoy things I did and people I met.  Pretty soon I realized I wasn't pretending anymore that I was truly happy, smiling because I meant it and getting joy from life itself.  Someone I recently met remarked I had a delightful joie de vivre.  I had to smile because just one year ago I wished I was dead.  People seem to like me now.  They respond positively to me anyway.  My brother Bill remarked the other day when he came to visit how surprised he was to find me being so happy and gregarious.  He expected to find me dour and down about taking care of our parents.  I think he might have dreaded the visit because of it.  He says that he, too, suffers from occasional melancholy.  Genes, gotta love 'em!

Don't misunderstand.  I still get melancholy once in a while, but I am able to hide it from most people..  I have also noticed a change in my father, as well.  I'm thinking that our moods fed on each other, but once I changed my behavior his moodiness seemed less frequent.  I haven't heard him disparage himself in awhile so I hope that means he believes it less.  I do regret not knowing I had the power within me to control the melancholy, but I have the rest of my life to make up for it.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Psyched

Trying to understand the psyche of an elderly person is nearly impossible in my experience.  Their ability to reason has taken a detour from it's normal route.  My parents have been here for a little over 3 years and we have had to weather all sorts of situations.  In a sense, we had to find a "rhythm" for being here all together.  Once we got into a groove, so to speak, we had less outbursts and more harmony.  Getting to that point was at times quite a struggle.  One of the struggles was over the issue of their safety.

Bill & Mary Beth still lived in my childhood home in Bexley, Ohio in 2008. I felt it was dangerous for them to remain there because it had 4 floors which meant 3 sets of stairs.  Their bedroom was on the 2nd floor, kitchen on the 1st floor and the washer & dryer was in the basement.  They would have to maneuver stairs at least once or twice a day and that was unacceptable to me.  Both of them have had balance issues starting 9 years ago when my father suddenly fell ill in the Winter 2003.   I drove to Ohio to help my mom while he was hospitalized in January 2004.  (I ended up traveling to Ohio 6 times that year!)  While he was in the hospital he became less and less mobile to the point that he could not walk at all.  The hospital staff was flummoxed.  No one could figure out what had caused it.  As a result, he was discharged to a rehab facility so that he could receive physical & occupational therapy several times a day.  It was during the rehab stay when he first started using a walker.  It was also the beginning of  his change in gait.  He resisted using the walker once he was able to stand without falling, but relented in using a cane after he fell several times.  Watching him go across a room was similar to watching a toddler learning to walk.  Very unsure, wobbly and unpredictable.  He would habitually leave the cane behind and attempt to cross the room by grabbing hold of anything within reach.  Unsecured bookshelves, floor lamps, end tables and china cabinets were some of the things he'd grab if he felt unsteady.  All the grabbing of air, stumbling through rooms and falling never seemed to be enough to convince my father to heed the doctors' orders about using walking aids, though.

My mother has had problems with balance as a result of her feet becoming more gnarled over the years. I find this incredible because she had foot surgery in the 70's.  I think her condition now is directly linked to the high heels she always wore after the surgeries.  When she walks she shuffles and as a result she can't move quickly.  In February 2012 she broke her shoulder outside her doctor's office.  I guess if you re going to fall the best place to do it is at the doctor's office!  She had received a walker in January, but she didn't want to use it outside the house.  She said it was because the doctor's office was cramped, but we knew she just didn't want people to see her using it.  So there she was with my dad walking out to the car.  My dad was using a cane.  It was like the blind leading the blind.  I had gone to get the car to pick them up at the curb, first mistake.  I  did not get out of the car when I pulled up, second mistake. I didn't insist on them walking to the ramp, third mistake.  She came over toward the car and stepped off the curb and kept going down, down against the open door and landed between the car and the door.  I watched in horror when she fell.  I swear it was in slow-motion.  My dad said without any affect, "oh, dear".  I'm not kidding.  His wife is lying on the asphalt and he says, "oh, dear" as an after thought, just in case I missed that my mother had taken a dive and lay on the ground!  The nurses and her doctor were there immediately.  I was actually quite calm.  I knew she was in good hands.  Plus, falling is pretty routine with my parents.  One or the other falls in any given month.  I learned while raising children that you temper your reactions to minimize the child's fear when something happens to them.  When you jump up and run to a fallen child it scares them more than if you wait to see if they are injured first, then go to them.  I follow the same guideline with my parents because they don't need some drama queen fussing about nothing.  She was loaded onto a gurney and as she was being rolled to the ambulance she looked unfazed still wearing her ever present sunglasses.  I remember thinking how even now she holds appearance as a priority!

As a result of falling my mother received a wheelchair that my father now pushes.  It serves two purposes.  One good, one bad.  On the one hand my dad is forced to walk with assistance when pushing her around, but on the other hand she has become even less mobile than before she fell.  She already spent 80% of her time lying in bed because, as she puts it, "that's where I do all my stuff".  Just as we tried to get my father to use his cane or walker, we try without success to get through to my mother about spending so much time in the bed.  On occasion she will come out to the living room to watch TV.  She will always bring attention to us that she is doing so.  Just to prove we are wrong about her always being in the bed!  Sometimes she has him bring her in the wheelchair which isn't really the same as her walking.   They will both use walkers if my father is feeling particularly shaky.   They come into a room  hunched over their walkers as if in some sort of old people parade.  And just in case you didn't notice the sound and sight of it, one of them announces, "here comes the train!"   I don't dare say anything.  I WANT them to use the walkers!!  My dad finally understands his need to walk with assistance.  Now if I could just figure out a way to get Mary Beth out of that bed...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Time to make the donuts!!!

Do you remember the Dunkin' Donuts commercials in the 1980's that had Fred the Baker portrayed by actor Michael Vale.  In the opening shot he was enthusiastic and had a cheery "Time to make the donuts!" but then with the passage of time he became increasingly weary.  By the last shot, he was practically dragging himself out the door without changing out of his pajamas as he absentmindedly grabbed a coat saying. "time to make the donuts" in an almost inaudible tone that reflected an unenthusiastic attitude and weariness.  This phrase has permeated my life with gusto.

When my parents arrived here in 2009, I told them I would make their breakfast for them until they became acclimated to being here and accustomed to the layout of the kitchen.  They arrived on a Saturday, so I knew I would be rising early on Sunday morning.  I just didn't know HOW early!  As an earlier blog post mentioned, we chose this house because of the arrangements of the bedrooms.   Master on the main, in particular was important because I wanted them to have a large room with their own bath. My bedroom is directly beneath theirs in the daylight basement.  As long as I can remember my parents rise at a very early time.  Dark-thirty to be exact.  In real time on that first Sunday?  It was around 5:15am!!  Because they are above me I knew when they were awake.  Actually, as it turned out, just my dad.  I literally bolted up and RAN upstairs!  Yep, ran!  The last time I moved that fast out of a dead sleep there was a squalling baby involved.  My youngest is 25.  I think I pulled something as I sprinted up the stairs to the kitchen.  I cooked his breakfast for several weeks and then he took over. He cooked his own breakfast for about 4 months. One day my Mom approached me to say that she noticed that he was practically on his knees in front of the stove trying to cook breakfast.  I think he was relieved that I was taking over.

So the next day I got up at the usual ungodly hour to fix his breakfast.  I was happy to do it, but man, was it hard to be up that early!   (That's another thing.  I have NEVER used an alarm clock.  This is unbelievable seeing how I used to sleep until after 9am before they arrived!)  Steve & I would get up, stumble up the stairs and start breakfast without saying a word.  Getting up up like that gets old REALLY fast.  Each day became blurred into the next one to the point that I actually had to look at the kitchen calendar to see what day it was on some mornings.   It became so monotonous.  I don't when, but one morning I woke up and as I reached for my glasses I heard my husband say unenthusiastically somewhere in the darkness, "time to make the donuts!"   It didn't help, but it did bring a wry smile to my face.  We have continued to make breakfast together, but it's so routine we don't feel the fatigue and the early hour quite as much as before.  Every once in awhile after a particularly short night I will rise feeling extremely tired and in the darkness I hear in a sing-song lilt, "time to make the donuts!"  And everything is okay.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm Not Pig-Pen....Yet.

One issue that is paramount in caregiving  is the physical and mental health of the caregivers.  Even before my parents moved here three years ago, people I met would tell me to be sure and take care of myself.   As far as the emotional stress from being a care-giver goes, I'm good.  I have a great husband who helps out when he can and a daughter who routinely keeps up with dishes, recycling and keeping surfaces germ-free with Lysol wipes.  An absolute must in this house!  None of us have been sick during this three year period.  Knock on wood.  I also started a blog after keeping journals for three years.  This has helped tremendously!  Quite cathartic!  I take several breaks during the year to visit friends when I can get away.

The physical aspect of taking care of myself is a different story.  Easier said than done. I have neglected myself to the point of distraction.  I walk around in yesterday's clothes, unwashed hair and old make-up.  I also tend to stay in pajama bottoms most of the time and I've become a bit of a slob   My daughter has found cheese and peanut butter in my hair.  I found a Cheeto in my bra once and I've had popcorn fall from several shirts when changing clothes.  I guess I'm part chipmunk.   I've looked in the mirror many times to see mascara smudged under my eyes or streaked over my temples.  Once when driving my parents to a doctor appointment I realized I was still wearing slippers!  I had to drop them off and drive 10 miles back to the house to get shoes. 

 I have also found all sorts of food stuffs under my nails.  I quit having mani-pedis when we moved here. That may have been a mistake.  I tend to treat my nails as though they are screwdrivers, pan scrapers or food testers.  When I had pretty nails they were pampered.   I stopped cutting my hair.  This wasn't my plan.  I just needed to find a place to go to in the new area.  I still haven't figured that out.  No time.  My hair has grown out in it's natural color and with gray streaks since I also stopped coloring it.  I pull it back constantly, but because I can never remember to carry scrunchies, I frequently have pens, pencils or shish kabob skewers stuck in ersatz buns.

As expected my mind has begun failing.  I walk out of a room to retrieve something from another room, but by the time I get to the second room I've already forgotten what I was going there for.  I forget entire thoughts when talking to someone and rarely ever remember what they were.   I even searched for almost 15 minutes once for my glasses...I was WEARING them!!!  I have left tasks half finished when I forget I was doing them in the first place, sort of like having selective ADD.  I'll go back into a room to find a deserted vacuum, iron, half folded laundry, abandoned projects or tools.  I have not only forgotten to take showers,  but I am notorious for putting off running to the bathroom.  I do, however, brush and floss my teeth daily and go to the dentist twice a year.  So I might look deranged, but I have a nice smile.

Ewe's not fat, Ewe's fluffy!
I have lousy eating habits.  I fix meals at least three to five times a day, yet I can get to the end of the day and realize I myself have had nothing but coffee and ice tea all day.   I often eat cereal or popcorn for dinner, just to get it out of the way.  In 2010, I went on Weight Watchers and lost 42 pounds.   I describe myself as fluffy.  Oh, I know I am at least 30 pounds overweight, but I like the term "fluffy" better.  It means I'm cuddly.   I have been lucky that the weight and eating habits have not led to health issues, however last month I started having loss of appetite which led to unexpected weight loss.  I have an endoscopic procedure in July to determine if it's related to stomach issues.  Since the appointment was made, though,  I seem to have found my appetite and the weight loss has stopped.  Go figure.

There are so many things to do for my parents. There's a lot to do all the time.  The list never gets finished.  Laundry, housekeeping, cooking, grocery shopping, prescriptions, doctor's appointments and trips to the Dairy Queen keep me very busy.  The reminders to care for myself did not fall on deaf ears, but I have my own errands, appointments, cooking, cleaning, etc. to do for myself and my family.  I need to pay attention to myself.   Like I am going to remember to do that!  But even if I'm not dressed well or have my wits about me, I think I'm hanging in there with the care-giving gig.  I can always take a shower  tomorrow!