Monday, June 30, 2008

Unwanted bed partner

I keep telling everyone who will listen (and even those who wont, or can't) that I've been sleeping with a toad. I've even renamed my parents storage/utility room the "toad room." But while lookng for pictures for this post, I realized I've been wrong. I've been sleeping with a cricket frog.

Don't get me wrong. I love frogs, toads, salamanders, etc. I've spent hours listening to their calls, walking in the woods to identify them and am genuinely concerned for their health and welfare. I just don't want them in my bedroom, you know what I mean?

My father was taken to the hospital in an ambulance three days ago, after suffering a fall and being unable to get up. I don't think we'll ever get the whole story about it, my mother isn't very lucid. I'm not sure who called the ambulance, but am grateful to whomever did. I got a call from one of their neighbors as I was on my way out there for the day and have been here ever since. The hospital scene is grim, but improving slightly every day.

It helps to have a sense of humor. Fortunately, my sisters and I do. My brother - not so much. When we got to the house, I had Large with me. We put food in the fridge, mapquested where we thought we were going and, tried to lock the front door and went to the hospital. We got there at 1:30. Many things transpired and we came back to my parents house at 11 p.m. The front door was open.

My parents live on top of the tallest sand dune in their sparsely populated community of huge homes. The literally live in the wild. We've seen fox, unbelievable quantities of dragon flies, deer, raccoon, you name it. The front door was open, had been open for some time, inviting the wilderness in. The sheer volume of bugs swarming the house was astounding. Large and I put on Deep Woods Off just to sleep. He slept while my mom and I had a glass of wine.

I found some flying insect Raid, held my breath and sprayed. Instead of just killing brain cells, I decided to jump on the fireplace ledge, spray near the track lights that were attracting thousands of flies and mosquitoes and hop down again. It was the hopping down that did me in. I was tired after an emotionally exhausting day. I looked through my reading lens on my trifocal and misjudged the distance. Should have looked through the distance lens. Landed on my good foot and proceeded to sprain that ankle. Actually, I'm not sure what I did. Every toe is bruised from 1/2 an inch below the base to the second knuckle, the inside of the foot is bruised, particularly around the ankle. The outside of the foot has a dark purple bruise, there are a few bruises across the top of the ankle tendon and I have several on the leg. The whole foot has a purple-ish, greenish hue. It's very ugly.

And it hurt. So much that I threw up. I iced it until about 1 in the morning and went to bed, using my father's cane to get around. I got up at 1:30 to use the bathroom and saw this frog/toad hopping down the hallway carpet. I tried to catch him, but was not fast enough on one sprained and one previously broken ankle. My attempts to shoe him out the back door made him flop right into the room where we were sleeping and under the dresser. All night long I heard, or imagined I hear, flopping noises. At 3, I saw him flop across my mother's chinese carpet to the light of the computer. Or it could have been a second frog, or a third or a 20th. Who knows?

Irrationally terrified of this "toad", I didn't sleep well. Probably wouldn't have anyway, but the prospect of being flopped to death by a frantic frog was enough to kick the insomnia in. By the end of the night I heard, or imagined I heard, frogs all over the room. Except that I thought they were toads.

Now I have real guilt. I looked for it in the morning, as did Large. And then Mark and Medium looked when they got here to bring me clothes and pick up large. Cricket frogs are fairly rare, although probably not as rare here in the wilderness as they are in suburbia. And here I've been unable to rescue one when I had it in my sight.

At least it wasn't snake.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Normal Life

We went to the beach with friends yesterday and had a great time. This picture was taken at a different beach, with cousins, a couple of weeks ago. I don't want to mislead. It was cloudy and not very warm at first, my kind of beach weather. The beach is right in the city, so it has that hustle, bustle kind of feel to it and lots of traffic noise. It's not relaxing in the way the secluded, beyond-civilization dunes beaches are, but has its relaxing value as well.

NUG has a gathering of homeschoolers at this beach every Friday throughout beach season. This was the first time we've made it and we are glad we did. The kids got to play with friends, I got to hang out and chat with mine. Normal people, you know? Despite the occasional interruption of the cell phone, bringing me back to the crazy world of taking care of my parents, we were able to just be who we are. I felt a bit like a tourist visiting my own life, like I was seeing a little interlude of my community, my village.

But my family has been what it is now for a while - the older generation, middle and younger. For a long time the younger needed the most focus, babies in diapers, nursing, illnesses, etc. Now it's the older generation that needs focus. It wont be long now before Mark and I are the old folks and it will all change again. I guess getting a glimpse of one segment of my life helped me to appreciate the whole cycle.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Balancing Act

I must get better at handling the life balancing act. My kids are so very full of life and energy. My parents are losing life and energy visibly every single day. I am so used to putting my kids' needs first and now find myself switching the order of things.

Yesterday was raining and humid all day at the dunes. The kids had to stay inside in the playroom/bedroom downstairs. I was upstairs making soups for my father, helping him up and down, to and from the bathroom, running interference with my mother, fielding phone calls from everywhere. We had been there for four hours before I interacted with my children in any fashion other than feeding them lunch. This is not how we normally live and I feel just horrible about it. We brought the laptop for them to do their math and play games on now that my brother has set up a wireless Internet. The played games and did puzzles. They got along well for five long hours in one room.

On the other hand, I feel horrible about how my parents are living. Parkinson's means that it can take my father fifteen minutes to maneuver from behind the dining room table to use his walker to get to the bathroom and then walk back from the bathroom without his walker. It's unpredictable when or if his neurons will fire correctly to make him ambulatory. He is also unable to drink, so he's constantly dehydrated and constipated. This led my brother-in-law to prescribe a medication used prior to colonoscopies, so my father is on the toilet every 15 minutes. He's so tired, he falls asleep mid-sentence.

I look in my mother's eyes and have no idea what she is thinking, what she remembers, what she understands. She has relented the kitchen to me, allowing me to provide for at least my father's lunches. Dad needs high fat, high fiber and good protein in each of his meals, and he can only eat a very thick soup consistency or he'll aspirate. Bean soups are low fat. Cream soups are low fiber. All are high sodium. I'm going to shop and make homemade soups on Saturday, jello with Gatorade powder, bring him lots of desserts and stock her freezer. And then I have to hope she remembers that is where her meals are now instead of the Campbell's soup in the cupboard.

They have help a couple times a week getting Dad bathed and dressed. But every time we go there, it feels like we can't leave or they wont get by. It's always going to feel that way. My kids are suffering through it OK for now, but it's not been that long. I can't take them to the beach while I'm cooking or taking care of them, they are too young to go on their own. I wish we could afford to take a babysitter along to take them to the beach, but it's costing us $25 a trip in gas to get there as it is.

What a drag it is getting old. All my self-centered anguish over my kids and my finances vanish when I see my parents and watch their suffering.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catching up

We've been spending so much time at my parent's house this past week (has it really only been a week?), it's been very difficult to maintain the house. But, with a blitz on Saturday, we managed.

I'm so proud of what the kids did with the sun room, their tiny toy space, I took a picture. For the born-organized, this scene may be chaotic, but for me it brings peace. Very few toys on top of the bins, more inside, clear floor, clean windows. The nasty floor pillows got covered with leftover fabric from the basement that can be easily washed, the ugly, stained chair got tossed. I used my new steam cleaner on the floor and windows - I love that thing.

But all this travel means that the trunk stuff gets unloaded and dumped in the entrance willy-nilly and by the time we clean it up, it's time to go again. The sand is unbelievable, but we don't complain much about that because we are happy when we can make it to the beach there. My mom's shopping skills have deteriorated, so I end up taking all our food for each trip and then some for my Dad. That means coolers to empty and clean out, beach chairs, swim bags all pile up. Plus, Mom seems to be dumping stuff on me pretty regularly - a pile of magazines and catalogues dating from a few years ago that she felt I could use, wilted vegetables from her fridge, etc. I bring them home to throw them out or recycle them. There are really only so many battles one can fight in a day.

Today is a home day and I need to rev up the dehydrator for processing some strawberries from Costco, need to marinate some beef for jerky, do a whole house vacuum, do some shopping for Dad's food, get to my class at the gym, three loads of laundry, clean both bathrooms and make some minimal progress on Mark's socks. Tomorrow we'll be back at my parents, time can be so fleeting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Life's a beach

We've been spending a lot of time at my parent's house this week, they are in a weird downward spiral health and wellness-wise, which we are trying to correct. Although it has been a stressful week, we've made it to the beach twice and hope to do so again today.

The water is a cool 60-ish degrees. Not freezing on the feet, but certainly not welcoming to adults. My three and their two cousins were not put off by the cold and ran right in. They warmed up by rolling in the sand afterwards and then went back for more. Unfortunately, all this in and out of the water, coupled with quiet reflection, worrying and crying on my part, led to some mild sunburn. A serious failure to re-apply the sunscreen. Medium, the amphibian of the group, was the hardest hit. We may have to wear pants today.

The beach is a nice respite from the tensions in the house on top of the dune. Getting old is not for the weak, degenerative diseases are truly for the brave. Both parents are declining, but in different ways. While my brother-in-law, the ER doc, has been able to restore basic life functioning to my father, the future is bleak. It's a strange balance of youthful living and slow dying. I need to get better at handling it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Late Father's Day

I didn't write about my father on Father's Day because it was, well, a little crazy around here. First we were recovering from the dance recital, then we had the storm that dropped a huge limb from our tree nearly onto our neighbor's car. Then there was my Dad.

This is a picture of the first four directors of Argonne National Laboratory. My father was the third director, he's the third from the left. I love this picture because he looks so young, so engaged, so in his element.

Albert V. Crewe received his PhD in physics from the University of Liverpool in 1950. He was 23 years old. He was born into a rather poor family - his father was a mechanic and his mother was "in service," a maid or housekeeper for well off families. His parents divorced before he was a teenager and he went to university on scholarship. In my mind, his life has always answered the question of whether or not Einstein would have been a great scientist had he been born in a rice paddy.

Dad came to Chicago in 1955 for a project at the University of Chicago, stayed a bit longer than anticipated, was head of Argonne and Dean at U of C along the way. He invented the Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, which was able to "see" an individual atom. He proved atoms move and opened the doors for a whole lot more research in all sorts of fields. That stretches the limit of my technical knowledge of his accomplishments. I dreaded asking him for help with math or science homework growing up.

My dad was a strong man, and a big man. Not an athletic man, unless you count the two weeks or so a year he would spend at their place on Sanibel where he would play tennis and walk for hours on the beach every day. But he was capable of amazing feats. He built my sister a coral for a horse she brought home one weekend, digging post holes by hand. Then he built a barn for the horse. He liked to putter around the house, building things, fixing things, cutting down trees, etc. He took us sculpture more seriously about 20 years ago, carving beautiful shapes from alabaster and marble. One year the kids all pitched in to get him an engine hoist for his birthday so he could make really big pieces.

He liked parties. My parents held a big Boxing Day party every year until recently and Dad would always wear his red velvet smoking jacket, fill drinks too full, joke and laugh, tell stories until the wee hours. He also liked being with his children, especially as we got older. We regularly had dinner with the Oxford English Dictionary on the table, arguing over words, spelling and usage. Dad is a larger than life kind of guy.

Except now he's riddled with Parkinson's, having trouble with basic movements, can't eat solid foods, can't sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time and is whithering away before our eyes. On Father's Day he was severely dehydrated and needed many bags of IV fluid to recover. His mental functioning is not at all affected, but he has difficulty talking, difficulty holding a book, or pencil. The disease has even robbed his face of expression.

I try to keep in my mind the images of him as a healthy man - letting us hang on to his back as he swam long, slow laps in the pool or chopping wood for his fireplace. All those advances made in medical research and technology from his microscope and electron beam magnification aren't enough to find a cause, course of treatment or a cure for Parkinson's.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dancing in the rain

Here are our happy dancers after the big show this Saturday. Tired, a little sweaty and proud of themselves for giving it their all. It always amazes me, how the chaos of dress rehearsal turns into the beauty of their recital. Small forgot some of his steps and was a bit mesmerized by the lights, this being his first recital. Medium and Large, however, remembered their dances perfectly and even smiled!

At the dress rehearsal, I was sure Small wasn't going to go on the stage. He hated the cat ears, had to wear socks on his hands because of his eczema and generally was in super clingy mode. I reminded him, not so gently, that his Grandma and Aunt and Uncle were coming to the big show and they wanted to see him perform. He reluctantly went on stage, but didn't move unless prodded. By the time of his dance on Saturday, and especially by the time of the bows, he was in great form!

Our dance teacher is kind and wonderful. Her show is set up so the really little kids (like Small) are in one short show, the little kids have a slightly longer show, the middle sized kids (like Large and Medium) have a long show - three dances each, 1 1/2 hours in length - and then the advanced show is later. That way parents and grandparents don't have to sit through hours and hours of production. It meant going to the theater twice, but we had a nice long break in between. Small made friends with all the girls backstage for the later show and we got to watch Medium and Large on the video monitor.

All in all, it was a great day. We planned to go back for the advanced show, but the kids were all too tired. We visited with family and all had a good night's sleep.

Next morning a huge storm blew in. Huge. Dark, black, menacing clouds and much wind. It blew a rather large branch off our 80 foot maple in front, leaving it perilously dangling between our house and the one next door. Right over the neighbor's van. He was packing up to leave for vacation with his family. We called him to move the van, he parked it on the street and then came up on the porch to survey the damage to the tree. As we were chatting, the branch cracked in two and fell to the driveway. Right where his van had been.

When the rain lessened and the worst had blown over, friends and neighbors came by to help saw off branches, one with a chainsaw and ladder came over to take down another dangling branch, and a great pile was amassed on the parkway. A day later, the chainsaw friend returned and we sawed it into firewood. Except for the remaining sawdust, you'd never know anything happened. The village came buy and picked up the many branches and logs and trees thrust on the parkways, their trucks were laden with fresh limbs for making chips. It was an amazing event or nature and community and made us happy all over again for living in such a friendly place.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Little by little

Small slept last night! He's been so incredibly itchy, up scratching, crying, rubbing, getting more Zyrtec, more bandages. The poor kid. His poor parents! We are not at a good age to deal with sleep deprivation, there is a reason why it's a form of torture.

We had many days of hot, humid weather and rain. This picture was taken at our annual block party, which the kids loved almost because of the rain and the parents tolerated on front porches despite the rain. Small refuses to wear shorts, even on 90 degree days. The backs of his knees are in such a bad state, he wants them covered so it's not so easy to itch. And I imagine it feels better to have a covering than to have wounds exposed. So, I tried shopping for light weight pants like these seersucker ones. No luck. Shorts and jeans, fall stuff is coming into the stores. I ended up spending $20 on a pattern and fabric to make him four pairs of cute pants in lightweight cotton.

It would be great of Small's face could clear up for the big dance recital this weekend, but I'm not sure it will. All the harmless looking bumps on his arms have turned red and angry. His costume is now leggings and a t-shirt. All the girls will be in white tank leotards and he'll be in black. Very cute little kitties, if we can get the ears to stay on.

In anticipation of Grandma coming, we used the excuse to get the kids to clear out toys from the sun room and a little bit from their rooms. Three huge garbage bags of toys were donated to Goodwill yesterday. This airplane was donated to the top of Aphrodite's cage. She loves the thing, plays with it's wings using her beak to move it and enjoys sitting on it. She's also discovered the guinea pig upstairs and is trying to befriend her. For the first month, she confined herself to the living room. Now she regularly heads upstairs. We have to remember to turn off the ceiling fans in the morning. Yesterday she spent most of the morning with the kids in the sun room and tried to get the rabbits to notice her while they were on their exercise jaunt. The rabbits were far more interested in the crumbs around the dining room table to notice.

Aphrodite has taken her time to warm up to us, but will not occasionally willingly get on our fingers or heads. I think she was probably abused in her former home, she's a little skittish. Lovebirds can be fairly aggressive with other birds and there was an indication that she had pecked out some other birds. She likes being in the thick of things with us. I'm hoping she'll teach Small a thing or two about sleep. We cover her cage and she's almost completely quiet for 12 hours or so. We do hear her sometimes when Small is up and crying, maybe it's a comforting chirp or two.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Car Talk

So, all five of us are in the same vehicle last night, having dropped off the larger vehicle for some maintenance. The air conditioning is not working, despite having been recharged a few short weeks ago. And although the dishwasher is also broken - it won't open and has clean dishes inside - the a/c is more of an emergency.

I'm not very good at relating car conversations to Mark after the fact. They never turn out to be quite so funny or awe inspiring. But, I try. I was trying to relate a conversation about slugs and Medium's dissertation about it's male and female organs. One thing led to another on this short trip and this is what came from the back seat:

Medium: "Daddy, have you ever met a eunuch?"
Large: "Daddy, have you ever met a hermaphrodite?"
Small: "Daddy, have you ever met a dentist?"

Sometimes, there is just no response to these kinds of questions.

Friday, June 6, 2008


This picture reminds me of a series of really bad jokes we made in the tent on our camping trip. We were waiting out a rain shower and came up with a lot of jokes based on the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, which were abundant at the state park.

What do you call it when the preacher doesn't show up?

What's a charcoal in a church?

What do you call a minister who talks to much?

What do you call it when a mosquito lands on the preacher's arm?

A preacher with a cough?

You get the idea. During the stormy day, Small, started scratching like crazy. Humidity never helps him, always makes him worse. We've had several hot, humid days in a row now, starting right after our doctor's visit. Two nights of little sleep for Mark and I. Soothing Small, restraining him, re-wrapping him, administering more Zyrtec. I just checked the 10 day weather forecast and am completely depressed about our immediate future. Chance of strong storms every day for the next 10 days.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


First off, I am changing the kids' names for the blog to Small, Medium and Large. The nicknames, while real, seem a bit forced as the children get older and we use them rarely now.

I always look forward to camping wistfully, and look back on it the same way. I keep the memories of the bad stuff - the horrible loading of the car, fighting kids in the car, the torrential rain, the cold, etc. - in the back while all the good stuff stays front and center. My memory is kind to me sometimes.

Here is the view from our campsite. We didn't get our favorite site this year - some interloper was in there. We've had that site for three years running, so it felt like ours. This site was good, too. Private, although it hardly mattered as there was no one else crazy enough to be camping in such conditions and all the other families had to go back to school after Memorial Day. Our first day was warm and damp, but a cold front came through that night with a howling wind that changed everything. By cold front I mean 40 degrees, the kind where if you leave an arm out of the sleeping blanket to, say, snuggle with your four and a half year old to keep him warm, it goes beyond goose bumps. We survived it pretty happily, though my motherly brain had worries about Popsicle children.

We also had some glorious sunshine, although the temperature never reached 68 degrees, the magical beach opening number. We played out on the dock, went for a great bike ride, enjoyed our sunshine and relative warmth. We hiked even when it was cold and explored the untended woods. So much honeysuckle and buck thorn, very few good plants for Mark to marvel at. Much, much poison ivy. With all the rain, everything was lush and green.

It got cold again that night too, so we slept with our pjs under our clothes. Small (Little Man)thought that was hilarious and kept showing us his pjs under his clothes, except when I wanted to take a picture. We had a happy, magical time out there in the wilderness.

We roasted marshmallows before the sun went down on the coldest night so that we could be warm in the tent before the darkness hit. The last day it rained and we went to the great Discovery Museum in Rockford, where we got in on a discount with our Museum of Science and Industry membership. We spent a good part of the day there, came back to camp and had a soggy, standing dinner in the bug screen over the picnic table. Everyone was good natured about the rain, convinced it would blow over and we'd be find the next day. ("Is it still a glorious day, Mommy?")

I'm sure staying the the tent was not the best idea, but our options were limited. Spending a whole night in the bathroom did not seem feasible, especially as most of the kids were sleeping. Medium (Little Missy) has a real fear of storms and was not asleep, but everyone else managed to snore a bit. What started as just a whole lot of wet rain and instructions to keep things off the tent floor where it seeps in, turned into wave after wave of torrential rain with thunder and lightening. We had another one of those storms here last night, it felt much different in the tent.

To call packing up for our departure a challenge is an understatement. I got out of bed during a break in the pouring rain and hopefully put three logs in the fire grate to cheer us up. One of our great improvements this camping trip was the purchase of a cast iron dutch oven at Costco (I kept calling it the best $24 I had spent in a while). We had biscuits every morning but the last and cornbread one night. Fabulous! I thought some hot biscuits would get everyone going happily and we'd be whistling while we worked. The break in the rain didn't last as long as it took me to brush my teeth, but the little fire sputtered on. We ended up feeding the kids crackers and fruit crisps while we loaded the car.

We left Paradise and came home immediately to this: the big, big Pet Parade in La Grange. That, my friends, is an alpaca. There were two in the parade, they didn't look so happy to be there and I'm wondering who got their fleece. Very exciting. Probably the most exciting thing there for this parade grump, it's my least favorite event of the year. The alpacas and the Jesse White Tumblers made it worthwhile for me.

I'm already planning our next camping trip of the summer. Makes me happy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Yes, We Can

It's so exciting! Difficult days are ahead, fighting bigotry throughout the country. I'm hoping for a better future for my children. You are too.