Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings of an overstretched woman

My time lately has been so full of worry and action concerning the older people in my life, that I've been joyously reminded of the younger folk in jolts and starts. I'm constantly thinking, worrying. Should my father see a urologist/oncologist at a world class medical center in Chicago for his self-diagnosed prostate cancer, or wait for continued care when he moves to New Mexico at the end of November? Will my mother remember to pick up his prescriptions at Osco? Will she remember to eat lunch?

And then I'm thrust into my other life. The life of children, happily homeschooled children who can spend a Friday at Daley Plaza flying their Roots&Shoots peace dove, head to Millennium Park for a good soak at the Crown Fountain and generally have a wonderfully exhausting day. My other life, where if I forget to pay attention to my four and a half year old for a minute, another homeschooling Mom has my back. Where my kids can learn about all the countries in the world by watching a flag ceremony at noon on a school-day Friday and wonder at the enormity of it all. Where they can discuss peace and war one second, slide down a Picasso sculpture the next and be the only group represented with a kid-made peace dove - isn't she beautiful???

Then I go back to my worries, returning phone calls I would have been loathe to make in a previous era. Order my father's g-tube food, change an appointment, help my mother understand where things are in her own home. I got stung by a yellow jacket, as did Small, which rendered my right index finger useless for four days. That woke me to a different reality - a life without knitting.

While the finger was healing, I witnessed a ceremony for our fabulous girl scout troop. Something for which I have no responsibility other than dropping her off and schlepping other kids around to a boys club at the same time. Middle had missed the previous week where they troop decided what to do at the ceremony, yet performed beautifully when a piece of paper was thrust in her hands for her to read. 50 plus happy homeschooled children outside out a beautiful Tuesday morning. Celebrating their lives, building on one another's strengths, learning from their weaknesses.

And then one of the mom's cars got booted. Bam! Another reality check. I alternated between glee that it wasn't my car - I've had bad ticket luck in this particular location - and worry for my friend. Turned out to be an administrative error, but took hours to fix. There's nothing like a disabled vehicle to ruin the moment. I drove a child home for my friend and worried about both my initial reaction and her dismay. What does my joy over not being booted mean? Why was it such a happy thing to see my own vehicle missed - because I would have had no idea how to make it home? Or simply because it was something bad that wasn't happening to me.

When my parents move in a few months, all the daily worries and details will fall to my sister. Part of me should feel the relief I felt over the boot man not hitting my car - he hit the two behind me. But I don't. Control freak that I am, I'd rather have them next to me - surely I'm more nurturing, more capable, more willing to help. But it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. My parents need to be close to an offspring - closer than the hour and a half it took me to get there last week. They want to be in a natural setting, free of the unsightliness of neighbor's houses (since 1961 they have lived without this nuisance). They want to be near my doctor brother-in-law. They need to move off the too steep for an ambulance sand dune. They are moving away to die peacefully.

I could not do my care taking, not from near or afar as I soon will, if I were not homeschooling. We are planning a long car trip - full of interesting historic stops and educational moments to visit them. There are many ways to get to New Mexico from Chicago, we plan on taking every route possible over the next few years. In our already over 100,000 miles on the odometer cars. I'm grateful for my children grounding me, that I have the other end of the candle to care for as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The stuff we keep

I spent a couple more hours yesterday going through things from the basement. In particular, there was a full banker's box of my papers. It's funny what we keep at different times in our lives and what seems so easy to toss later. Sort of paring down our history as our lives become more interesting.

Here are a few things I kept:
  • a certificate stating I had crossed the international date line in 1970. It was given by Japan Air Lines, filled out in my father's hand.
  • my high school diploma and various awards.
  • my final divorce decree from my first marriage.
  • my first journal. It probably has only a few pages written on, but it has a lock and I couldn't read it.
  • Some loose class photos.

This was a giant box, full of performance appraisals from my first jobs, salary history, tons of paperwork from my first marriage. Yikes, what bad karma keeping all that stuff. I pared it down to one small stack, shredded some and put the rest in the recycling. Then I moved on to the next one.

One of the worst things about having a basement is that it's always available for storage. We have a horrible habit of putting things in the basement as a halfway point between wanting to keep it and wanting to toss it. Slowly, the basement fills until we are faced with a crisis of some kind or reach a breaking point with the clutter. We've just had a combination of the two and I'm on a mission. If it has no use or meaning to me, it's gone.

That International Date Line certificate has meaning to me now. As my father is nearing the end of his life, I find myself wanting to hold on to things that were his or that he gave to me. I remember that flight to Tokyo well. But I had always believed myself to be five years old on that trip, not six. I remember Dave and I racing up and down the airplane aisle, giggling, looking out windows. It was a 22 hour flight, a long time for a five and six year old to sit still. I remember a spiral staircase led upstairs to a place where people were drinking highballs and such. We went up and down that staircase a hundred times, I imagine. I remember a very large man choking on a breakfast sausage. I don't remember anyone scolding us or telling us not to do something. Sometimes my memory is kind to me.

My parents took kids aged 5, 6, 9 and 14 across the ocean for a month. I would be paralyzed with fear over the planning and execution of such a trip. It's hard to imagine them doing anything of the sort now, in their current condition.

That's why I kept the certificate. In another 10 years, it may go into the recycling bin as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Water, water everywhere

This was my backyard on Saturday afternoon. We don't normally have lake front property. It rose higher than this on Sunday, but by then my energy for taking pictures had waned. I took the picture to show my father and mother, whom we visited on Saturday. It was a crazy thing to do and we were lucky to get home. But my brother was in town and we had spent all morning wondering if we would get water in the basement.

We decided to wonder about it from afar. My brother lives in California and at best we only see him a few times a year. When my parents move in a few months, we will see him even less. My parents live on top of a sand dune and do not get water in their house. They are on the lake. Between the end of the sand dunes and the highway, there is a ecologically significant bog. This bog, normally a wet place, spilled over the road. We muddled through and had a good visit, watching the continual rain, visiting, laughing, planning our parents move, talking about their health, etc.

It was torrential rain on the way home. Most of Friday night and Saturday it rained non-stop. Thunder showers, they called it. Not violent storms, but a heck of a lot of rain. Saturday night it was raining hard, especially at 65 miles per hour. But we were lucky to get home. 80/94 was closed just east of my parents' exit and we were headed west. By Sunday it was closed further west and I could not get out there as planned. I had to reschedule my father's appointment with his neurologist.

Our basement had a little river running through it. Not a lot of water, just enough to be an annoyance and make us sweep it into the sump pit. We spent most of Saturday morning preparing for the flooding, picking up laundry, moving cardboard boxes and relocating important stuff to higher ground. Or so we thought. When the water came in, it was a steady stream, causing us to rediscover items that could be damaged. Eventually there was very little higher ground left.

Now, we had cats for the first 12 years we lived in this house. Three of them. Elderly cats the last five years of their lives. One of them never quite did his business in the litter box, although in his younger days, he was close. We haven't had water in our basement for 10 years. Which, sadly, means the floor hasn't been washed in 10 years. Oh my, this made for a smelly situation on Sunday. Lugging stuff, sweeping the water with a push broom, discarding wet stuff. We filled four garbage cans and had lots of recycling. Most of what we lost were items we should have thrown out ten years ago but didn't. Boxes and paper bags of books, 30 year old magazines, ancient financial records. Most of the garbage we tossed wasn't even wet, it was just garbage. I'm trying to look at it all as a further opportunity to declutter. Today I filled another giant bag of garbage and a banker's box of recycling.

Unfortunately, Large has a gastro-intestinal thing as a result of the basement cleaning. We weren't totally focused on washing hands, I guess. And he didn't. He's been not eating more than a couple slices of toast for two days now.

I now am instituting a firm no cardboard rule for the basement. If it's not in plastic, it can't go down. Appliance boxes can be kept for one year, the date on the outside of the box with the receipt attached. Otherwise there is no point to keeping them. I'm in full tossing mode. Look out. When we flood in another 10 years, we will have nothing to worry about.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I passed my blogaversary with no Internet access, which seems a little appropriate. I had a chance to reflect on how much I enjoy blogging and how much it has changed my life. Mark says I blog about the things that keep me up at night. And it's true I'm sleeping better. Blogging is good for the soul.

Another anniversary today. September 11th.

Yesterday the kids and I took a hike in one of our favorite forest preserves. As we were heading down the wide main path, Large and Medium started talking about 9-11. They had watched a Brain Pop about it. They have no memories, which is to be expected because they had just turned two and three. All my anxiety over warping them by having the TV on, showing the planes crash in over and over again was for nothing. They don't remember how distraught and depressed I became, how I put them in a morning out program at a nearby church. I told them how they witnessed it on TV and how concerned I was about it.

They asked what we did that day. We bought shoes. It's what we were planning to do. The shoe store was right along the train line in a neighboring town. It's not there anymore, but they had a horse carousel for the kids to ride and you could look out the windows to see the trains. The trains that day were full of folks coming home from work downtown. The city was evacuating, sure that another plan was heading for the Sears Tower. The people were jammed like sardines, the doors opened and they all piled off, dazed. It was 11 o'clock in the morning, a bright and beautiful day. Train after train came in as we tried on shoes. Light up or not? Ties or Velcro? Mundane decisions made impossible.

It amazed me to realize on our hike yesterday that my children are learning about 9-11 as history. In an unschooly way, they learned it on their own by clicking what interested them on Brain Pop. And, typical for the unschooly way, they remembered everything about that segment. It sparked them to ask questions because they knew they were alive but didn't remember it. I'm so relieved I climbed out of my depression that time and reversed my decision to put them in school!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old does not equal Stupid

I have been shocked and appalled by the treatment my father has received from his local medical team, but have needed to calm down a bit before writing about it. The medical professionals in Valparaiso, Indiana seem to believe that all old people have some form of mental impairment. It wont be long before my peers are the old folks in this country and we really need to do something about this prevailing attitude.

It ranges from doctors who assume my father is deaf and demented and don't speak to him, to nurses who pat his shoulder like a toddler and say "there, there," to candy-stripers who insist he is confused and doesn't know where he is going. Everyone calls him Albert or, even worse, Al, when his entire adult life (since he got his PhD at the age of 22) he has been called Dr. Crewe.

I've taken to interrupting his local neurologist by stating "My father is not deaf and he has no cognitive impairment." What I really want to say is "My father is smarter now than you could ever hope to have been. Without his pioneering work in the field of electron microscopy, the entire field of medical imaging would not have been possible and you would not have a career."

At the large medical centers where he and my mother both still receive treatment - the University of Chicago Hospitals and Rush - they are treated with utmost respect. No infantalizing, no sweet talking, no first names. There is no underlying assumption that they have diminished mental capacity. Even my mother, who has dementia, is treated as an adult. Many Parkinson's' patients do eventually develop dementia, probably most of them, but it is not right to assume a patient is demented before treating them.

Our children are our future, and they are learning so much from our interactions with the medical team and with our parents. They understand that Granddad may not be able to speak well enough some days to hear him or may not be able to walk on his own, but know that he is a wise, functioning person. They understand that Grandma's brain functions differently from their own, but that with a little help she can be a whole person. They learned this weekend from their Great Uncle Bill, who turned 95, that their grandparents will continue to decline, but will also continue to have a quality of life and love for their family.

Unfortunately, my parents live in a place were the Beverly Hillbillies are practicing medicine. One doctor impressed my sister and I by stating he had performed 10,000 g-tube placement surgeries. My father did the math and felt he was a quack. Of course, it turned out my father was right - the doctor tried to have him undergo an entire new procedure to replace a 50 cent part that had warn out. The infectious disease doctor never asked about my father's prostate while diagnosing a frequent urination problem. The neurologist refused to contact one of the leading Parkinson's' experts in the country, my father's doctor at Rush, to discuss medicine dosage, so my father and I came up with his medication plan on our own. The list goes on and on.

I saw a t-shirt that says "I haven't always been old, but I have never been stupid." My father would never wear it, but I might just be forced to use that line one day.