Tag Archives: Family

The Two Women

The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.

The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.

Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.

The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.

Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.

“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.

“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.

It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.

The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.

Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.

Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.

At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

Advertisements

Saying ‘oui’ to Paris. Saying ‘yes’ to myself.

Call Verizon to add international package. Check.

Call the bank to authorize shopping charges. Check.

Check with airline for flight changes. Check.

Confirm hotel reservation. Check.

Holy cow. I’m actually going to do this. The day after tomorrow I’m getting on a plane to Paris. Without my husband and kids.

Please, God, don’t let this be a dream.

I have never done anything this self-indulgent before. I rarely do anything self-indulgent. My idea of a big treat is lunch with a friend squeezed between errands and carpool. So when this email came back in May, I didn’t even know how to respond.

 “If I bought a ticket would you be interested in going to France for a week in mid-October? A translator would be nice.”
 

“What a lovely idea…” was my immediate thought. But I decided not to say ‘no’ right away. To live the fantasy in my head for a day or two before I squashed it.

I pictured myself sitting in a café with a cup of coffee glass of wine and my camera. I practiced a few lines of my long-forgotten French to see if I could even pull off ordering a glass of wine. I mean, it’s been over 30 years since my summer in Quebec, so offering my services as a translator would really be a joke. But it was a lovely thought.

Thank you, Microsoft, for this royalty-free image. Next week I’ll have my own photos to share!

I hung on to it for a few days. And then, in a moment of uncertainty, I mentioned it to my family at the dinner table. It took my husband a moment to speak. He said, “Have you said ‘Yes’ yet?” And without overthinking it, I said, “No, but I think I will.”

And the planning began.

A few months passed, and (even though my plane ticket was proudly displayed on the refrigerator) I refused to allow myself to get excited about it. There are so many wildcards in my life right now, and I feared something would crash down and force me to cancel if I blabbed all over the internet months in advance. So I waited cautiously. Realistically. Hopefully.

And the Universe cooperated, as if to tell me that I was worth all of this. And now, here I am, ready to take off to Paris with my cousin on a Bucket List sort of adventure. To drink in (pun intended) all that Paris has to offer. Art, history, architecture, food, wine, music… all by myself. (Well, by myself meaning without my husband and kids.)

About a month ago I started talking about it. Making it feel real. Shopping for something chic to wear.

For the last week I’ve been mumbling to myself en francais, picking up travel bottles for shampoo, and sporting a grin that just won’t go away.

Today I’m making a list for Mr. Wonderful of carpool schedules and cross-country meets and sending emails to make sure every detail is taken care of.

Tomorrow I’ll pack the suitcase.

And the next day, I’ll get on a plane and fly across an ocean and arrive in a place I’ve been waiting my whole life to be.

And I’ll take pictures and drink wine and visit cathedrals. And I’ll thank my cousin a bazillion times for asking that question back in April.

And I’ll come home a better person for having said ‘yes’ to myself.

Life is Good Enough.

Good enough.

I used to hate those words. They always seemed like a cop-out.

Then I had three kids. And we bought an apartment building. And got a dog. And I started taking care of my in-laws. And I just couldn’t keep up with my old standards any more. I started to feel inadequate, and beating myself up regularly over the things I couldn’t get done.

But I found a solution. A way out of the self-imposed guilt. I’ve turned over a new leaf.

I’ve embraced mediocrity.

And now, good enough has become . . . Good Enough. Not just a measure of acceptance, but a whole new philosophy for life. A new mantra.

Here are a few excerpts from the Good Enough Manual:

Good Enough Laundry = clean (for the most part). The kid who hasn’t yet gone through puberty may occasionally wear shirts more than once. Folding is optional. And you already know how I feel about sorting socks.

No more shame!

Good Enough Dinner = everyone eats something. Most nights I provide the meal. Most nights we eat together. But if we can’t, we can’t. My children are now old enough to handle sharp knives and prepare food. They know the way to Subway. They won’t go hungry.

Good Enough Housekeeping = a reasonable standard of hygiene in the bathrooms and kitchen. Enough said.

Dusting is now optional.

Good Enough Landscaping = the weeds will die once we have a cold snap. Probably. If not, they’ll bloom in the spring and I’ll call it a garden.

I’m no longer envious of my friends with their picture-perfect homes and spotless cars. They can hop in with me and we can go to lunch. Or we can drive out to the lake and eat Cheerios off the back seat. It doesn’t matter to me.

This weekend we’re going to a cross-country meet in Baton Rouge. Instead of rushing home as soon as The Caboose crosses the finish line, we’re going to go visit The Trailblazer at LSU. We’re going to enjoy a little October weather and I’m not going to worry about housework.

When I get home I may print up some membership cards to the Good Enough Club. Who wants one?

 

 

Boiling Frog Syndrome

I often use a metaphor to describe how we sometimes find ourselves in situations we didn’t see coming. It goes something like this:

If you put a frog in a pot of hot water it will jump out immediately, because it senses danger. But if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and heat it slowly, the frog will adapt to the changes. It will not perceive danger, and eventually it will cook to death.*

I fear I’ve become a victim of Boiling Frog Syndrome.

(Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee.)

I used to live a very organized, efficient life. I worked outside the home, worked inside the home, mothered three kids. As an Army wife, I often did it solo. I managed our rental properties, cared for my parents, volunteered at my kids’ schools, taught Catechism at my church. And all the while I managed to maintain a decent standard of hygiene in my home and a semi-active social life.

I’m not sure when the fire was turned on under me, but somewhere along the way that cool pot started heating up, and my surroundings became a threat to my survival.

At some point, having the right uniforms clean on school days became a challenge. (Enter Febreeze into my life.)

Homework became a lifestyle-altering component of my family’s schedule.

Carpool and lacrosse practice became the events that dictated the rest of the day.

I had to take an afternoon off of work to wait for the exterminator, the plumber, the AC guy.

Meals at home became grab and go events, not sit downs.

Taking my parents and in-laws to the doctor became a frequent activity.

I was overwhelmed by my routine day.

Lists didn’t help. I never could get the things on the list done by the time they were supposed to be done. The unchecked list became a reminder of my failure.

Requests for assistance didn’t help. I had created a system that only I knew, so asking for help meant doing it over when it wasn’t done right, and stopping to explain ‘what or how’ became as time-consuming as doing it myself. I had painted myself into a proverbial corner.

Years went by, and I couldn’t figure a way out. I reminded myself to be patient. “This, too, shall pass,” became my mantra. I watched as my friends went on weekend jaunts to Napa, while I tried to dig out of paperwork. I was jealous of those who went to the zoo when I could barely get to the grocery store. The lists grew longer and longer. But I couldn’t figure out how to change anything.

The events of the last year turned the fire up even hotter. And I started to feel the heat. Anxiety attacks, hives, a trip to the ER after passing out. My body was sending me clear signals, but I still couldn’t figure out how to reduce the flame beneath me. I knew I had to get out of the pot for my own survival, but I just couldn’t find the way out.

So I scoured the internet for some inspiration, and I stumbled on this blog.

The steps seemed simple enough, so I thought I’d give it a try to see how I could apply these business practices to my life.

7 Tips for Prioritizing Tasks Effectively

1. Respect Deadlines.

An absolute must. I was prone to putting off the things that stressed me the most, even if there was a cost. Practical translation: Laundry must be done. If I have to Febreeze a uniform so my son can wear it to school unwashed, I’ve failed. Monday morning, laundry must be caught up.

2. Set Milestone Deadlines.

Don’t complete one task at the expense of the others. If it all has to be done, set reasonable milestones and work toward them. Leaving a monumental task until the last minute will bite you in the ass every time. Practical translation: The insurance claim must be filed within two weeks. The apartment must be ready to show by the 20th.

3. Consider the Consequences.

There will be things that just can’t get done. Choose the ones you can let go, and then… let them go.  Practical translation: I won’t be making those spectacular Halloween decorations I saw on Pinterest. In fact, I’m may delete my Pinterest account. All it does is make me feel more inadequate.

4. Consider the Payment Terms.

Some commitments do pay rewards. Get them done. Practical translation: Get the apartment ready. Missing another month’s rent will set the cause back even further. Two teenage boys on the car insurance is no laughing matter.

5. Consider Time Required.

When facing two equally important tasks I’ve started using the low-hanging-fruit method. Practical translation: Choose the one I can get finished. The reward of checking something off that list will often give me the energy to tackle the next one. And then the next one.

6. Set Goals and Work Backwards.

Keep the big picture in mind. Prioritize the steps, keeping in mind that some are foundational for others. Doing things in the wrong order makes for extra work. Practical translation: Clean the kitchen before starting dinner. Put away laundry before packing for vacation.

7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal Projects.

Personal indulgences were always the first thing to be cut. But tasks that energize me – even if they take up valuable time – leave me better equipped to tackle the necessary things. Cutting these activities backfired on me in the long run because it left me feeling unfulfilled. Practical translation: Don’t eliminate the things that fulfill me. Spend time with friends. Exercise. Read. Dare I even say it… travel.

Now I’m not sure if using this method is going to solve my problem. But I am already gaining some sense of control over things, and I’m sure that will cool the water down a bit. I’m giving myself a month to knock out some big items and make decisions on how to work smarter on the small items. And I’m planning a trip. (A really big trip! Just for me! More on that later.)

Because I’ve already lost enough time sitting in this pot, waiting for the water to cool on its own.

* Before publishing I confirmed the accuracy of this anecdote with the trusted online source Wikipedia. According to Wiki, the frog will eventually realize its demise is near and jump out. But revealing this at the beginning of the post would have ruined the whole metaphor. Ignorance is bliss. 

** No frogs were harmed in the writing of this post.

—————————————————————————————

How do you manage tasks and stress? What organization methods help you function more efficiently? And have you ever actually seen a frog in a pot of water?

A study of cause and effect: If you give a boy a paintbrush

Image source: Microsoft.

Image source: Microsoft.

If you give a boy a paintbrush, he’ll want to help you paint.

If you agree to let him help, you’ll have to give him a bucket of paint.

If you give him a bucket of paint, he’ll spill some on the floor, and you’ll have to give him a rag to clean it up.

When he has a rag to clean up, he’ll make a bigger mess trying to wipe up the spill, and he’ll get paint all over himself.

When he gets paint all over himself, you’ll send him to the bathroom sink to clean himself up.

While cleaning himself up, he’ll splash paint-water all over the bathroom mirror, and you’ll give him paper towels and window cleaner to clean the mess.

After cleaning up the mirror mess, he’ll get water all over the floor.

When he gets water all over the floor, he’ll need more paper towels to clean it up.

After cleaning up the water on the floor, you’ll tell him to go chill out and listen to his iPod for a little while.

After listening to his iPod for a little while, he’ll get bored.

And when he’s bored, he’ll ask if he can help you paint.*

          * Inspired by actual events.

10 Celebrity Parents who are A Lot Like Me

1  –  Like Britney Spears, I practiced Attachment Parenting. I wanted my children close to me as often as possible. And with her busy partying performing schedule, Britney had to seize every moment she could to be close to her kids. Great job, Brit! I’m sure Dr. Sears would be proud!

2  –  Kate Gosslin took her kids camping. We used to go camping a couple of times a year when my boys were Cub Scouts. Although we did it without a film crew there to document the magic we have wonderful memories of those special family times. Just like her kids have of this moment:

 

3  –  Alicia Silverstone is concerned about her child’s nutrition. Like her, my son ate what I ate, but I had the messy job of cleaning the food processor after preparing his meals. Pre-chewing seems so much easier, and you can do it anywhere. Great tip, Alicia.

4  –  I put a great deal of effort into making holidays special for my kids. Especially Christmas. We always take a family photo to show how much the kids have grown in the last year. Nadya Suleman started this tradition with her octuplets, too. I’m sure when they’re teenagers they’ll look back at their first Christmas photo with mommy and smile.

Source: bossip.com

5  –  Then there’s January Jones. I, too, was concerned about my post-natal recovery. I took my over-the-counter vitamins, ate a healthy diet, and tried to get plenty of rest. I wasn’t as well-informed as January, though, and I let the medical staff at the hospital take my placenta away instead of having it dehydrated and made into capsules for me to swallow later. Although had I chosen to eat my placenta, I’m sure I would’ve prepared a big celebratory meal to enjoy.

Who’s old enough to remember the Placenta Helper skit on Saturday Night Live. Gilda Radner at her finest. But I digress…

6  –  On the concept of Emotional Intelligence, Alec Baldwin and I seem to be on the same wavelength. Helping children learn kindness and consideration sometimes means pointing out when their behavior isn’t appropriate. And with a young child it’s helpful to use a comparison the child can to relate to. So when Alec left his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, a voice message calling her a “thoughtless little pig,” I’m sure he meant it in a constructive way.

7  –  Were Joan Crawford alive today, I’m sure she’d be my Facebook friend, because we’d have so much to share with each other. I like to drink wine and keep my closets organized, and I get upset when my kids don’t eat their dinner (although I don’t serve liver).

This magnet appears on my fridge. For realz.

8  –  Then there’s Richard Heene, who (like me) works hard to infuse learning opportunities into everyday activities. He taught his son, Falcon (a.k.a. Balloon Boy) about aerospace principles, marketing, and the criminal justice system all in one lesson.

9  –  And Nicolas Cage, who (again, like me) wanted to give his son a legacy name. Each of my boys has a family name for either their first or middle name. Nic’s little dude is named Kal-El. (Superman’s Kryptonian name for those of you not into literary references.) Quite a legacy, dad.

10  –  And last (but never, never, least) is Woody Allen, who is so committed to maintaining strong ties with his grown children that he married his stepdaughter. (Although the term “stepdaughter” is used loosely. I would probably call her  his baby-mama’s adopted daughter.) Because once they grow up and start thinking about moving away, there are only so many things that’ll keep ‘em at home. He seems to have found one that works for him.

I’m sure you have a lot in common with celebrity parents, too.

Please, share your celebrity connection with the group!!

 http://www.northwestmommy.com/2012/monday-listicles-42

Full Time Daughter

My mother-in-law moved in with us.

If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along.  But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.

So here we are.

The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.

We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.

I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.

I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.

(Thanks, Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies, for the Karma Wheel.)

Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.

I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.

I was still waiting for her to love me back.

As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.

I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.

Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.

And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.

For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.

It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.

For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.

_____________________________________________________

This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.

http://yeahwrite.me/51-open/