"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘aging’ Category

Tweaked Traditions

 

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A meal out with my grandparents.  We were at Howard Johnson’s or Sambo’s (I think Howard Johnson’s bought out the Sambo’s chain at some point, but the decor was the same for a while).  We used to go to those two places a lot.  When you would clean your plate,  you would reveal a little picture on the plate, because at that time I needed that kind of incentive to eat everything.  

My family has had certain routines and traditions that go as far back as I can remember, many that began well before I was born and continued long after I became an adult out on my own.  One was my mom getting her hair done every Saturday at the hairdresser (washed, put in rollers and heatset under the dryer for 45 minutes), followed by lunch out with my dad.  As a kid, I was surprised when I learned that other moms actually only went to the salon to get a haircut once in a while and did their own hair every day.  I’d seen my grandma get her hair done this way (pinning it up with little clips and tissues and not sleeping with a pillow during the week to keep it nice) and so I assumed that’s how grown-up ladies managed their hair.  I was greatly relieved to find out as I grew older that the practice was a little old-fashioned and unusual, and I didn’t have to keep up that tradition.  I don’t think I could sit still 45 minutes under a dryer every week, and I know I couldn’t give up my pillow so my hair would look pretty.

Still, there have been other little routines that I grew up with that I cherish, and as an adult, even miss from when I was a kid. Sunday morning was spent going to church, a practice normally preceded by my brother and I trying to find ways to dawdle long enough to be too late for service so we could get out of going.  But after church, well, that was another story.  The reward for going to church was getting to go out to lunch, which was certainly a treat.  We were allowed to drink soda and could order what we wanted to eat, as long as it wasn’t too expensive.

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Often, my grandparents would go out to lunch with us.  I can tell this is a post-church picture, because my dad is wearing a suit…a leisure suit, but a suit nonetheless.  Gotta love those.

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As I became an adult with my own family, we continued this habit of lunch out after church, oftentimes eating with Dad and Mom.  It was a time to connect with them, catch up on what was going on with everyone, and just be a family.  As it always does, over time this became less and less frequent as life got busier with kids’ activities and commitments.  After we started attending a different church, and my aging parents didn’t get out to church as often, those Sunday afternoons with my parents became a thing of the past.

It was such a gradual thing I think I hardly noticed until I realized the little family tradition had ended.  That season of life, for all of us, and a humble routine that I took for granted, had come to a close.

A few days before Halloween last year, my mom suffered another round of strokes that left her very weak and unable to swallow.  She stayed in the hospital until the beginning of December, when they discharged her into a skilled nursing center.  I felt very comfortable with the place we picked for Mom, as my daughter, Erin, and I have volunteered for the last few years helping with our church’s service held there once a month.  It was always clean, the staff friendly and caring towards the residents, and not too far from our house.  But, still, it was placing her in the care of strangers, away from the familiarity of home, family and her beloved dog.

The first few weeks at the nursing home were a new experience for all of us, having never navigated that particular system before.  Admitted under her health insurance plan, she was given daily physical and speech therapy (that worked on her swallowing ability) for about three weeks.  Unfortunately, the health insurance company decided that there was unlikely to be any more progress to be had, and said she was ready to go home, even though her sole nutrition was through a feeding tube, she was unable to dress herself, walk or get out of bed unassisted (thus, use the restroom by herself without major help).  My father’s health is less than ideal—he has mobility issues and cannot get around by himself, either, so sending her home was not an option for us.  We made the decision to keep her there at the home, as a resident versus in a rehabilitation setting.  Anyone who has ever had a loved one in a nursing home understands the range of emotions it brings to the family, as well as the patient.  No matter how much I realized that the level of care needed for Mom was beyond my family’s and my abilities, it felt like we had given up on her.

As she continued to improve slowly, and was able to sit up for longer periods of time, we started bringing her down to the church service held in the main dining room on Sunday mornings.  The first time we took her was the morning of Christmas Eve.  Snow was falling like a scene straight from a movie, and as I listened to the message and watched the snowflakes fall gracefully through the large front windows of the facility, I took in the sight of all the residents in their wheelchairs.  Some were listening intently, others sleeping; my mom was sitting with my husband, Darrell, hunched over a songbook. I quietly sucked in my breath, and realized it was the first time that holiday season that it actually felt like Christmas.  It wasn’t the Christmases of my childhood, and my dad wasn’t there with us, but it felt like it would all be okay.  I felt peace.

Since then, we’ve started to take her to the service every Sunday that we can.  When I visit her during the week, she continues to tell me how much she got out of the service from the previous Sunday.  She’s been getting to know the people that help with the service, as well as the other residents.  She’s known around the facility as the Dog Lady.  I bought her a stuffed dog that looks like her dog at home, and even though she knows it’s not real, it keeps her company.  She says it makes her think of me, and she brings it with her wherever she goes.  During the week, several visitors bring their dogs with them, and they all know to take their canines to go visit Mom.  She will shower them with all the love and praises a little doggy could hope for.

More recently, my dad has been joining us on Sunday mornings.  He loves that we sing the old hymns he enjoys so much and he gets to take communion.  Dad and Mom hold hands during church, and share the songbook together.  There are times I see the two of them like that and my eyes fill with tears I can’t hide.  It is so precious to see a love that has endured.  I will put my arm around my mom and squeeze her thin, bony shoulder during the verses in the songs where I know where she gets emotional.  In that moment, we are a family.

Mom has been slowly weaned from the feeding tube, and we now have lunch in the dining room of the nursing home after church.  Darrell makes a point of going out to get us something from a local restaurant that we will all enjoy and brings it back for us to share a meal together.  Last week we had a video call with our son, Tyler, who is away at college, so he can say hello to his Grandpa and Grandma.  We laugh and catch up on all the things going on and just enjoy being together.

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After the church service before lunch.  Interesting to see we’re back to brightly-colored chairs and carpet.  All things old really are new again, I guess.

I wish I could tell you that we turned a corner and since we re-vitalized this family tradition all is happy and well, but of course, that isn’t true.  The reality of navigating the health issues of the elderly has many twists and concerns, and there are still good days and bad days.  These Sunday mornings often serve as a reminder of where all of us are in this journey of life.  Yet, somehow this comforting routine of church and lunch connects us in a way that no other gathering of our family does.  The familiarity of this simple custom, even under different circumstances with limitations, brings us immeasurable joy.

Some traditions go by the way of hair rollers and overly-long hair-drying sessions.  That’s not such a bad thing!  And sometimes a tradition just needs a tweak to make an old thing new all over again.  A family tradition that focuses on the family part, not all the details of the where and when, or practiced merely for the sake of tradition, is the one that will be remembered, cherished, and celebrated.  Even in the most unexpected places.

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The meals are simple, the ambiance is a little different, but the company can’t be beat.

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(One of the Reasons) I Miss 80s TV

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Recently, I’ve been re-watching an old favorite TV show of mine, Scarecrow and Mrs. King.  Anyone under age 40 probably doesn’t even remember it.  It was a spy-type of comedy that ran four seasons from 1983 to 1987 about an ordinary housewife, Amanda King, played by Kate Jackson (Sabrina of Charlie’s Angels for you 70s TV show fans) and Lee Stetson, aka Scarecrow, played by Bruce Boxleitner, a seasoned spy for “The Agency”.  Completely by accident, Amanda is recruited by Scarecrow to be a spy, albeit in a courier-type capacity at first.  Of course, eventually she becomes a key player in all types of Russian take-downs.  After all, who would believe an ordinary DC housewife would be a spy?

Can you begin to see what I miss?

The willing suspension of disbelief.

True confession:  I am not a big fan of Reality TV.  Sure, I watched American Idol (whatever happened to David Cook anyway?), love ghost hunting and true crime shows and all things HGTV, but the Writer’s Strike of 2007 ruined a lot of TV for us who didn’t mind believing premises that were, ahem, a little far-fetched.

In the 80s, shows that featured a good guys vs. bad guys storyline were everywhere.  In the 80s, it was easy to feature the Russians as the bad guy in every spy flick.  It was the Cold War!  We did not have a bunch of Russians protesting outside of a studio somewhere saying they are being misrepresented in American TV.  And it made life simpler.  We had pay phones instead of cell phones, typewriters instead of computers and crazy notions about impropriety.  It was the day of the cowboy in the white hat versus the villain in the black hat.  As I write that I realize that now even having colored hats is politically incorrect.  If I’ve offended, I apologize.

I hate the PC movement.  It’s probably because I am not a hateful person—either that, or I’m just an idiot.  If I had to be honest, I’d say that there were always certain characteristics that, growing up, I associated with the bad guy.  (No offense to the PC crowd who thinks it could be a bad “girl”, which could very well have its own innuendo.)  The person who was a liar, spiteful, a thief or was anti-American was not to be trusted.  So many stories today feature the person who is a liar, but for good reason; the meanie who was just misunderstood; the thief who just needed a break; or anti-American…because, gosh, we can’t think that we are better than anybody else—Americans are such an arrogant bunch.  But when I watched a show where the criminal happened to be a certain ethnicity or race, I didn’t relate the bad guy in the show to anybody who fell into the same demographic.  Maybe because I saw the show as…fiction.  Corn was a vegetable and thrown on dinner plates as such.  Who wants a show about real life? (Corn is a starch, only broccoli is a healthy vegetable. Throw out the green beans-they aren’t going to add years to your life. Mom vacuums on Tuesdays.  Stop perpetuating untruths!)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate nuances in storytelling where characters are deeper than what they seem.  I like watching movies and shows that stretch what I think I know.  I just miss the simple bad guy vs. good guy premise.  Throw in a little sexual tension (NOT rolling around in the bed after knowing each other a whole two hours), mystery and some comedy and I’m sold.  I’m simple like that.  So yeah, I miss 80s TV.  Magnum PI. Simon and Simon. Cagney and Lacey. Moonlighting. The A Team.  Somehow they had a way of having horrendous crimes, but didn’t seem so dark.  They were okay with throwing us couch potatoes a taste of the darkness of human nature—murder, rape, revenge—but making it seem like it was just another day at the office for our heroes.

There are a few shows out that are a great throwback to those times.  I love the show Castle, which just ended last year.  Who wouldn’t want to believe that a fiction crime writer would be part of a New York homicide detective team?  His theories on cases alone were entertaining.  Or Bones, where a Forensic Anthropologist would be on the front lines chasing down bad guys?  Now that I think about it, I think that show ended, too.  But when I watch shows like that, I can see myself thrown into the action.  Can’t you?  It’s fun.

And why I like TV.

Like Walter Mitty, I could be the hero.  Me, ordinary City employee and Mom, Amy.  I could save the day.  Be the unassuming hero in my ordinary town.  It’s fiction.  I’m okay with it.  In fact, I embrace it!  I am free to not associate any of the bad guys in the script because the story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in the production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

I do miss my 80s TV.  Maybe it’s because I was just a kid, and things were simpler when I had that naiveté.    But it sure seemed like a lot more fun, and less of a statement.  So go check out shows from the 70s and 80s.  Relax, enjoy.  Don’t read into it too much.  You may find yourself slightly entertained.  And that, in today’s reality-heavy TV, is a gift within itself.  Enjoy.

 

A Poem 50 Years in the Making

My brother turned 50 in April, and I decided to write him a poem for part of his present.  Don’t worry—I got him some tacky 50th Birthday gifts, too, to go along with this cheesy little ditty.

 

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Kevin and I many moons ago. Judging by our faces, I’m guessing they might have startled us with a squeaky duck or something else equally ominous.

 

I know an old, old geezer

His birthdays more than mine by far

His foolish youth I still remember

And how he built me my first car

 

Now I can’t get sentimental

That just wouldn’t fly

Cuz my older brother’s

Just not that kind of guy (in public, anyway)

 

The Three Stooges still can make him laugh

As can Smoky and the Bandit

Buford T. Justice chasing that black Trans Am all around

The point?  I’ll just never understand it

 

But there are many things about him

No one really knows but me

Like when we were kids at Grandma’s

We each had claimed a maple tree

 

His grew up a little taller

Its branches higher up the trunk

While mine housed the homemade swing

Played on ‘til the sun had sunk

 

Like most older brothers

He liked to aggravate

From pulling off my Barbie’s heads

To stealing goodies off my plate

 

I never will forget the time

He wiped boogers on my wall

His made up lyrics of victory

Ensuring I would squall

 

But there were times aplenty

Partners in crime were we

Sneaking peeks at our Christmas gifts

Before they appeared under the tree

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Easter around 1974

 

Growing up I idolized this goof

Wanting to be just like him

I even tried standing up to pee

Much to my mom’s chagrin

 

The music in his teenage years

Influenced me as well

.38 Special, ELO and Billy Squier

And of course, “Highway to Hell”

 

He still likes his fancy cars

And watching Cardinals on TV

He likes drinking nasty Natural Light

And plates with roast turkey

 

I’m glad I have a brother

Who taught me to be tough

A guy who likes to share his beer

And on the outside seems quite gruff

 

But you see I know another side

As sentimental as can be

And I hope that turning 50

Is an awesome memory

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

 

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Kevin and his kids around 2001. I like this picture of him because it shows him smiling.

Life is Better When I’m Dirty

Life's a garden--dig it!  - Joe Dirt

Life’s a garden–dig it! – Joe Dirt

I glance at the reflection in the mirror and frown.   Hair escaping its ponytail—and not in the good way like it does in the movies—smeared eyeliner under the eyes from my earlier make up and a sweaty smudge of dirt across my cheek.  The woman in the mirror looking back at me looks old and tired.

The world has its natural beauties—those fortunate women who can get by with a touch of mascara and lip gloss.  And then there are women like me, a pretty outfit and an hour with some make up and styling tools and we can really glam it up when the occasion calls for it.

When it’s early in the morning and I’m going for a run or the gym, I’m lucky to even have on matching shoes if I don’t set them out the night before.  Of course it’s not until I get there (and of course the gym is full of wall to wall mirrors) that I see the extent of my messy appearance.  It’s not that I’m vain—it’s just a little disappointing when I realize I really do look my age and can’t pull off the I-didn’t-even-try-but-look-at-me look.

I’ll blame the movies and television for these high expectations of looking good no matter what the circumstances.  Remember Helen Hunt in the movie Twister?  They were in pounding rain storms and high winds—a tornado even—and she still had a clean white tank top on with her hair only mildly tousled.  Or in television shows when someone wakes up in the morning and they still have flawless skin, bright, lash-fringed eyes and only a stray hair out of place for effect.  No eye boogers or drool tracks at all unless they are supposed to be rousing from an all-night drinking session.  Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief we give to Hollywood!  Do you imagine the farmer’s daughter milking a cow at 4 in the morning completed her chores with her hair neatly braided?  Me neither.

I contemplate the notion of my aging appearance as I finish up the row I am digging out in the garden.  And later while I’m scrubbing the floor of the bathtub.  I’ve spent a lot of money these past few years on magic potions and creams to hide the sun damage spots on my cheeks and to prevent wrinkles.  But as much as I love getting dressed up and playing with make up, once I’ve gotten my hair and make up done and put on something nice, looking at me is about all I’m good for.

The truth is, life is better when I’m dirty.  When I haven’t taken the time to do hair and make up and put on halfway decent looking clothes, I don’t mind breaking a sweat or getting up to my elbows scrubbing toilet bowls.  Because when I’m streaked with dirt and grime, I’m not trying to please anyone.  Although it may involve cleaning or another chore I don’t particularly enjoy doing, the end result makes me happy—a well-kept yard, a clean house or a stronger body.  When I do put on that dress and spend an hour primping in the mirror, that person is a happy one from the inside out.

Standing back to admire my work, I catch a glimpse at the reflection in the window I’ve just cleaned. Sweat prominently streaks through the foundation I put on for work earlier and my shirt is covered in grime and dirt.  I take one more swipe at a missed smudge on the glass and smile.

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