The life that is

I’m not sure any of us knew what to expect and really still don’t. It’s one of those day to day, some good, some bad, kind of situations. Dementia? Alzheimers? It doesn’t even matter anymore. This thing that has pillaged the small tribe that is our family is The Boss.

It is so much.

It is loss, tears, and attempts to remember. It is frustration, denial, acceptance, and anger. It is fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and exasperation. It is unfair.

Today my mom will spend her day with my dad. He’s there but she’s alone. She will wake early and climb out of the king size bed they shared for 45 years to go check on him in the living room where he now sleeps in the hospital bed hospice has provided. Her sleep wasn’t restful because she has to listen for him on the monitor on her nightstand in case he coughs or chokes. Sometimes she sleeps in a chair next to his bed if he’s anxious or afraid. His only comfort is her. She’ll check on him to see if he’s taken his oxygen off, which he usually has, and change the bedding he’s soiled. He’ll be happy to see her but won’t want to get out of bed yet. He likes to sleep late – he likes to sleep period! Several hours later she’ll get him up to move him to his chair which is only a few feet away, yet it is a monumental workout for both of them. As soon as he’s seated she brings him his protein shake. His morning routine no longer includes the newspaper or the crossword puzzle. Instead of staring at the paper, now he just stares.

As difficult and miserable as that all sounds, and it is, it is so much more.

It’s an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity for his famiy to tell him we love him as many times a day as it can be said. It’s an opportunity to shake the hand of the man who was your friend, your coach, your teacher, your mentor. To watch him smile that crooked grin.

It’s an opportunity to be the friend to him that you say you are. Besides family, few have actually shown up. But there have been a few former football players, a neighbor or two, the pastor and a couple of church members. While the food that’s dropped off is appreciated, you’re missing the bigger blessing by taking one minute to step in and speak to him.

It’s an opportunity to possibly catch a glimpse of the orneriness he still possesses. Recently, he looked at me and said he wanted to borrow $25. I gave him what I had and then asked him when he was going to repay the loan. He said, “I never said anything about paying you back.” Ha!

This devastating thing I refer to as The Boss has taken my big, strong, proud Dad and made him physically weak and dependent. Currently, 95% of the time he’s like a 3 year old. And it’s been fascinating getting to know what he was probably like 80 years ago. He laughs at the most inappropriate times, he doesn’t listen, and No is his favorite word.

Football seems to be the memory that he still holds on to. Perhaps because it’s so deeply embedded in his identity. Sadly, that too will be gone eventually.

Around 6 or 7 in the evening, he will ask to go to bed. My mom will try to convince him to stay up longer, but his favorite activity these days is sleeping. She will help him get out of his chair and walk him the few feet to his bed. She’ll cover him up and tuck him in and he may stay awake and watch a ballgame but usually he goes to sleep. And then my mom is alone again, left to spend another quiet evening at home. Tomorrow will be a repeat of today and yesterday and the day before.

The last time I was with him, he called me Pat, his sister’s name. He knew I was his daughter but had to be reminded of my name. At some point, and it’s already begun, my Dad will look at me and I will have no place in his mind anymore.

I can still hold my Dad’s hand, but I miss him everyday.

Clean Freak

I used to clean my house every day.  Seriously.  EVERY day.  I had a routine that included vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning the bathrooms.  I went through so much Windex my husband dubbed me the Windex Queen.  And it didn’t stop there.  My family had to endure countless times of searching for the glass they set down on the counter to refill because just as quickly as they set it down, I put it in the dishwasher.  On one occasion apparently my son fixed a bowl of cereal and when he turned his back to get a spoon, I dumped it in the sink and put the bowl away.  Truthfully, I never even knew I was doing it, it was just an automatic impulse.  My poor family – probably scarred them for life.

I LOVED to clean.  Not just clean, but organize.  I took great pride in the towels in the linen closet all lined up perfectly or the junk drawer being arranged by category.  Okay, I admit it, it is a little disturbing.

One of the best things about the chores of the day was the treasures I would find.  Laundry was the most financially rewarding.  Tom carried a money clip that he would often leave in his pocket and while it didn’t ever have anything larger than a few George’s, I stood fast in my belief of the motto “finders, keepers.”  A girl always needs a little cash for an emergency, albeit secret, chocolate craving, right?

Not all my cleaning discoveries were good ones.  When the kids were little, I learned the hard way that I needed to check their pockets before I washed.  It was during the early 90’s when some genius at Elmer’s decided glue should come in neon colors.  Stephen loved pockets and put his glue in a pair of white shorts.  (I know, why would I ever let a 5-year-old wear white?)  I spent the next year adjusting my shirts because they would get stuck to the hot pink splotches on my bra.

During that stage of life when the kids were little, I would find everything from Batman action figures, rocks, and Matchbox cars to crayons, pennies and Polly Pocket’s shoes in their pockets, their beds and what they thought were their hiding places.  One time I was cleaning and found a thimble in their secret playroom in the attic.  It wasn’t a real secret playroom – no Flowers in the Attic, I wasn’t that kind of mom, though a room with a lock was appealing at times (for me, for ME, not the kids!!) – but a playroom in the attic that could only be accessed from the secret door hidden inside Stephen’s closet.  Anyway, a THIMBLE.  I didn’t use them, but I had recently been to a fabric store with both of the kids.  Could it be that one of my kids had stolen the thimble?  And why?

Being the detective that I was (it’s one of the many Mom hats we wear) as we put them to bed, Tom and I told a story about a very bad little boy who stole things.  I’ll admit, we both assumed that it was Stephen because, after all, he LOVED his pockets and putting things in them.

We had barely made it through the story when Courtney burst out “I did it!  I stole the cup!  It was for Polly Pocket!”

The following day we made a family trip to the fabric store and I made her return the thimble and confess to the store clerk.  Unfortunately, the clerk thought I was crazy for making her return a 99 cent thimble, but trust me, Courtney has strayed as far away as possible from anything remotely related to sewing!

Back to the topic of cleaning house, I would like to note that it has changed through the years.  When Stephen got his driver’s license and started carrying a wallet, I can tell you that his wallet was the cleanest wallet in town because I must have washed it once a week.

But now that Tom only uses a debit card, my cleaning days are less fruitful.  The kids are gone, so I think the most profitable day in laundry was the day I found 11 cents in the bottom of the washer.

I cleaned house Thursday.  Now I’ve gone from every day to once a month.  And only because the cat hair floating across the floors is overwhelming.  And I guess you could say my finds are, er, different.  This time I found 2 orange ear plugs beneath a sea of cat hair under the bed, next to a stale frosted mini-wheat.

Times have changed?  I guess this is what life looks like when your nest is no longer full of children and has been replaced by cats.  Welcome to my world.

Holy terror

Last year my daughter brought her kitten Lola to Tulsa to live with us.  Courtney was moving into a different apartment in New York City and she couldn’t have pets.  We agreed to kitten-sit until she graduates in May.

We have our own cat, Meow (I know it’s corny, but can your cat say her name when asked?)  And we’ve had several cats through the years, but none like Lola.  We had a cat that liked to sleep on the tires of the car, but needless to say, he didn’t live long.  We had a cat named Madison that Tom called Fattest One.  He was a great cat except he liked to jump in laps when you least expected it, causing more than one man’s voice to change an octave or two.

But we’ve never had a cat who gets on the dining room table. We’ve never had a cat who gets on the kitchen counters.  And we’ve never had a cat who just refuses to obey.  Until Lola.

Last night I measured out two tablespoons of cough medicine and set it on the kitchen counter to take before I went to bed.  I was watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills doing my devotions when I heard something fall.  I walked into the kitchen to find a sticky mess all over the floor, the cabinets and the wall. And Lola?  She was eating, pretending like she had no clue what had happened.  It took me almost 15 minutes to get the syrup off of everything.  Once it was clean, I walked into the living room only to discover that Lola had knocked over my glass of Crystal Lite.  Twelve ounces of raspberry lemonade spilled all over the living room rug.  As I was soaking up the lemonade, Lola jumped on the dining room table, knocked a folder containing pages and pages of Tom’s journal onto the floor, and then dashed into the kitchen to eat.  Again.

After a night of Lola’s antics, I decided I better go to bed before I put her in a box, taped it shut and mailed her to New York – via pony express.

I pity the mothers of toddlers.  Terrible two’s, three’s, four’s, and sixteen’s are exhausting. Who am I kidding?  It’s all exhausting.

The difference between kittens and toddlers?  Not much.  Except I can banish Lola to the basement with a bowl of food and water and get a good nights sleep.  Parents, on the other hand…well, isn’t that why God gave us grandparents?

I miss my kids

It was April the last time I saw my beautiful Courtney, and my Stephen is in Houston.  While I’ll get to see Courtney at Thanksgiving in New York, it will most likely be Christmas before I see my son.

I miss my kids.  And it’s my fault.

When I was raising my kids I used to tell them that after high school they could go anywhere.  That was the time for them to see the world – there’s more to this life than Oklahoma.  I love the Sooner state, but I wanted them to have a choice – to see what was out there and then make the choice as to where they wanted to live.  If all else failed, they could always come home.

I admit, I was trying a little reverse psychology, and it didn’t work.  I thought if I told them to go, they would choose to stay.  I was wrong.

And now, as the holidays approach, I start getting sad.

That’s to be expected.  But I’ve also reached a place in my life where my kids are happy and they don’t really need me as much as they used to.  Whereas before I would get at LEAST one call a day from Courtney and a call or two a week from Stephen, now I’m lucky if Stephen has time for me once a month and Courtney does good to have time for me once a week.

I understand that they are living the lives I raised them to live, but I didn’t know it would hurt so much.  I LIKE my kids, I LOVE my kids, and I MISS my kids.  I spent 25 years being their mom, and now, they don’t need me.

So I’m baking.  I’m sending them all the goodies that they can’t get anywhere else.  I’m tempting them, enticing them, bribing them – whatever it takes – to remind them that there’s no place like home.  Caramel popcorn, fudge, party mix and puppy chow – all their favorites.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.  I know they’re living the lives they were intended to live.  But I would suggest to other moms out there – make home the place that nothing can compete with.

Or, just drill it into their little minds that Mom always comes first.  Period.

Guilt works too.  That’s my next approach.

Stupid empty nest…