Mom Goes to Camp

20180621_124928-1.jpgMom is going to camp.

 

Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself to get through the emotional roller coaster of having her placed in assisted living – she’s going to an old folks camp to be with her friends.

 

So, why do I feel so sad?

 

I always thought that she’d die in her current abode with a heart attack – never imagined that she’d end up with stage 4 breast cancer and congestive heart failure – never in a million years.

 

She keeps going, my mom. She keeps putting on her lipstick and keeps ironing her clothes and combing her hair.

 

And every day she tells me, “I just don’t understand why I’m so darned lazy. I’m tired just getting out of bed in the morning. Doesn’t make any sense to me. I gotta keep eating to keep up my strength, but I’m too lazy to cook any more; just too darned lazy to cook any more,” she continues before telling me that she can’t talk any more.

 

My 89-year-old mom is going to an assisted living home and I feel guilty and sad and every emotion in between.

 

“She’ll be safe there and have activities and have friends to talk to when she’s lonely.”

 

Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself to ease my guilt.

 

“Change is good,” friends and family tell me.

 

“But Mom and I aren’t too keen on change,” I respond.

“She’ll be fine,” they insist. “She needs the extra help and she’s ready to go.”

 

And they’re right: she does need the help and she is ready to go.

 

So, I’ll put on my big girl pants and be grateful that she has loving, caring family members and friends to look after her and let her go off to the old folks camp and pray that God and the angels continue to watch over her.

 

In the meantime, I’m grateful for the continued thoughts and prayers as we stumble along living life in our shoes.

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We Both Lost

“It’s too hard here, “ she said while we paused momentarily from our morning walk. “It’s too hard here and I‘m moving to North Dakota to be with family,” she informed me and quickly changed the subject and asked how we were adjusting to the area.

 

The Princess and I met Marsha over the summer when we first moved to our new home. We thought that a water aerobics’ class would be just the thing for two, out-of-shape seniors and would give us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to some new people. So, we reluctantly squeezed into our undersized swimsuits and headed out to our community pool to meet some new folks.

 

And meet new folks we did. But whoever said water aerobics was easy on the body and good for what ails you never injured their sartorius muscle on their hip and walked around with a limp for two months!

 

Yep, I knew the moment I injured it. Lucky me. I take a water class for gentle exercise and injure myself.

 

Oh well…

 

But I digress.

 

Marsha was one of the lovely individuals that I met in the pool this summer, and I knew from the day I met her that she and I could be good friends over time. So, when I hurt my hip and had to stop class, I felt badly that I wouldn’t be able to develop a friendship with her. I had always hoped that I would run into her in our little community and was altogether delighted when we happened upon each other during a recent morning walk.

 

“Gosh,” I thought when spotting her walking on the other side of the street. “This is totally cool. I’ll get a chance to tell her why I stopped coming to class and maybe she and I can set up a time to have tea and chat.”

 

And then she told me that she was leaving town for two months and that when she came back, she was going to put her house on the market and was moving to North Dakota to be with family.

 

“It’s been hard living here by myself for the past few years. I lost my husband and in-laws all within a short period of time, and it’s just been hard on me living alone.”

 

Totally bummed out about her impending move and unaware that her husband had passed, I said, “ Oh my gosh, Marsha. I didn’t know your husband had died. When we chatted in the pool this summer, I assumed the activities that you were talking about with your husband were recent, and that he was still alive. I am so sorry.”

 

What she shared with me next, struck me as so forsaken. She informed me that, “Nobody wants to hear your sob story. I don’t want to be a downer in people’s life, so I just didn’t say anything to you.”

 

Hm…..

 

I still can’t get what she said out of my heart. Here’s this lovely, caring individual walking by my home for the past 4 months thinking of dropping by to say, “Hi”, but not doing so because she didn’t want to appear too pushy or forward; or better yet a downer if she shared a sad part of her life.

All I could say was that, “I wished she had dropped in. That she might have been treated to some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “

 

And then I asked her, “What’s the worst that could have happened if you knocked on my door? That I said that I had an appointment and couldn’t visit just then?”

 

“Big deal,” I continued. “We could have set up another time to chat and it would have been great.”

 

But she was afraid of rejection I’m sure and looking foolish maybe. I don’t know for sure.

 

I see so many missed opportunities for people to connect and share their lives, but too many individuals are afraid to take that step and put themselves out there because they’re afraid of rejection; afraid of being turned down.

 

“Your losses are a part of your life, Marsha; a part of you,” I continued. “It’s not a sob story to me, but a part of your life that would be important for me to know if it’s an important part of what makes you, you.”

 

“Gosh, I’m so sorry that you didn’t stop by; so sorry that you didn’t drop in, “ I told her and gave her my business card with my email and phone number.

 

“PLEASE, “ I asked of her. ”Do consider calling me. Please think about having tea with me before you leave.”

 

And she graciously smiled and we parted and went on our way.

 

I don’t know who I felt sorrier for that day – me for losing what I saw as a future good friend – or she for losing an opportunity of a solid friendship?

 

Guess it was a tie.

 

We both lost.

 

May the holiday season be filled with good food, much laughter and the company of loving family and friends! And I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

People Need Community

I never quite understood, until recently, what many of our friends and family members meant when they told us, “We may not have seen you a lot, but we always knew you were there.”

 

Over the years, the Princess and I developed a loving group of dedicated friends who shared many an adventure with us. We played bocce ball, held Christmas parties, played board games together, organized camping and hiking expeditions, took long beach walks and went on many a snow shoeing outing over the winters.

 

And in between time, we became family to a number of individuals and created quite a few traditions that people came to look forward to and are currently missing.

 

We, too, are missing those special connections and traditions from of our past. Some of our CA friends have told me that they are cruising by our former home and reminiscing of times gone by, and it saddens me to know that somehow our moving has left a hole in their heart; and that somehow they’re feeling less connected and less whole.

 

The fast pace of an ever growing Silicon Valley and the affluence and entitlement that was coming with it forced us to look at our life in what we once thought was Paradise and head out to new digs and fresh adventures and start some alternative traditions with a different group of people.

 

We have a special bond with our CA friends that was nourished with shared lasagna, garlic bread, numerous glasses of wine and a lot of laughter over the years.

 

People need community and a sense of belonging.

 

And eating good food and drinking fine wine while you’re doing this, was a definite bonus.

I get that.

 

In light of all the heartache going on in the world today, I think we need it now more than ever before.

 

In our own silly, innocent way, every time the Princess and I got people together, we were letting these individuals know that they were important. They mattered. We loved them and we cared.

 

So, let me state this very clearly: “ Relationships (both near and far, new and old) are damn important to the Princess and me. We value the laughter, the love and the steadfast support as we go forward in this new chapter of our life. And encourage each of you to write, call, and make plans to visit us and share in some lasagna, French bread and fine wine.”

 

And being the “Queen of Pot Lucks” and skinflint that I am, you’d best be bringing your own wine and bread. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be making the lasagna!

 

In the meantime, enjoy the remaining days of summer and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

Routine is Important: Just ask my Mother

As we age, we’re told to mix up our routine. Keep our brain challenged and break out of our day-to-day pattern. It’s healthy for us, or so we’re told.

And to some degree, I think there’s some merit to the medical studies that espouse such recommendations, but I think there’s also something to be said for sticking to a routine.

Routine is important. Just ask my mother. Disturb her before she has her first cup of coffee and visits the loo in the morning and she’s not a happy camper. God forbid, if you should bother her before her favorite television show, “The Price is Right”, is over. Not a pleasant experience to have with her.

Every morning, my cat and I dance. She whines. I feed her. She jumps up on my desk, starts chewing on my paper work and walking across my computer key board. Then she wants to go outside. Of course, she can’t simply walk out when I open my patio door. She has to walk around the perimeter of the living room first, then around the overstuffed lazy boy rocker and finally she’s ready to exit. I have to patiently wait while she does this little two-step of hers, and then I can close the door and go back to whatever I was doing.

There are days that I’d like to choke the little twit as she slowly prances by me and looks up as if to say, “Humans are so clueless.”

Maybe Boo’s trying to teach me patience, or maybe this little tango is something that keeps her safe and she depends on it. I don’t know. I’m no cat whisperer, and I certainly haven’t a clue as to what makes a cat tick.

I do know, though, there are days in my life when everything is crazy and life is one crisis after another. Having a routine and sticking to it keeps me secure: Taking daily walks. Going to exercise class on Wednesdays. Seeing my yoga buddies on Fridays. Reading a good book and falling asleep on a rainy afternoon with our other cat, Molly, spread-eagle on my belly. All routines I relish and enjoy.

And when the sump pump breaks, the IRS notifies me that I owe them $5,500, the inspector says my house has termites and my doctor tells me that I have pneumonia; I remember to get up, wash my face, put on a little lipstick and face the day, ‘cuz that’s what Mom taught me to do.

I’m not so much into the lipstick, like my Mom, but I definitely understand and appreciate the need for a consistent schedule to keep me going. There are days when I need the safety and comfort of knowing that I have certain things planned. So, when life comes along and messes with those plans, I still have the comfort of knowing that my daily regimen is still intact and it can be restarted with the dawning of a new day.

I keenly remembered how my special needs kids depended on a routine. They vociferously complained about it on a regular basis, but change it on them once in a blue moon, and they let you know they weren’t pleased. For many of them, their day to day home life was chaotic and their only source of reliability and sanity was my classroom and the safety of its expectations and schedule.

As I slowly age, I realize that I need to keep my mind challenged and continue to learn new skills and stretch my imagination, but I also realize that there are days that I need to feel stable and safe and having some structure and routine in my life is ok and actually beneficial to me in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally. So, I give myself permission to throw caution to the wind, and on those days I need to have a miniature snicker’s bar after I eat lunch, I go for it and sometimes even have two!

In the meantime, I need to feed Boo Boo, again, and wait at the patio door while she sashays around the border of our living room furniture. Have a great week, People, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes!

A Rainy Day Analogy

Northern CA. has been getting pounded with weather this past month, and if the truth be told, I’m one of those crazy individuals who actually likes the rain. I find it cleansing and sometimes a signal to slow down with the day-to-day busyness of life and curl up with a good book.

Slowing down and napping on a sunshiny day just doesn’t seem right. One time I actually told my Pastor that I couldn’t understand how people could in fact die on a sunlit day – that death seemed more appropriate for rainy, cloudy days – and that life and living seemed more suitable for sunny days. Needless to say, my Pastor was a little flummoxed with our conversation that day. She awkwardly changed positions on our couch many times, while she tried to explain to me just why I may not have a choice in the matter.

I respectfully listened and acknowledged her reasoning, but it’s been 8 years since we had that little chat, and I still think it’s unnatural to die on a cloud-less day. Just seems like an oxymoron of sorts to me, but what do I know? The Princess and I are moving to the state of Washington, soon.

I don’t think I’ll have that problem any more.

That’s what all my well-meaning friends and relatives keep telling us: We’re headed to the land of constant rain slickers and duck boots, and sunglasses are a thing of the past; or so we’ve been warned. Guess it’ll make my impending twilight years and eventual death easier to deal with, eh?

At least my rainy-day analogy says so.

And it’s not death that has me so concerned these days, as much as the concept of growing old while trying to maintain my dignity and independence.

As I write this, I’m struggling with the fact that my mom and loved ones are three thousand miles away from me trying hard to maintain some semblance of independence; some modicum of respect and autonomy. Each of them fighting hard not to be an imposition on their friends or relatives, and each of them realizing that Father Time is playing havoc with their bodies.

In 1983, in response to her 55-year-old mother’s need for extended care after she suffered a devastating stroke, Keren Brown Wilson built her first assisted living house in the state of Oregon. What she and her husband envisioned when they built Park Place was an assisted living center that provided assistance, while at the same time giving the residents a sense of independence and privacy. She wanted the elderly to feel the sense of being home and not imprisoned or institutionalized, and by many accounts she succeeded.

The problem, as I see it, resulted when she wanted to reach more elderly and went to Wall Street for capital to build more places. Her company went public and their original concept of assisted living got watered-down. She went to Congress and spoke across the country trying to enlist the help necessary to sustain her original ideology, but was hit head-on with the medical and legal road-blocks of the ever-elusive concept of the “continuum of care” ideology.

And sadly, the idea of assisted living, as she defined it, all but died.

As I sit here today in the heart of Silicon Valley and think about how advanced we are in so many areas of society, I can’t help but see the paradox: is our technological evolution creating a people bereft of compassion and humanness, and do we need to seriously re-examine what is important to us as a civilization?

I don’t know about you, but when it’s time for me to hang up my saddle before I ride in my last rodeo, I want to know that I’m going to be assisted by people who care about me. I need to know that I’m not just a chore. It’s important that I am seen for who I am: a loving, kind woman who gave to her family and society and now requires a little assistance in return.

Dr. Wilson continues to advocate for hard-to-serve elders both in the United States and in Central America. I pray that her efforts are soon legitimized and honored by those in power. We seriously need to change our view on aging and what it means to “grow old”.

Until next time, be kind to one another, and I’ll catch you the next go-round, looking at life from my shoes.

 

 

 

People Wanna Know if I Write Fiction

Now that I’m retired, people want to know what I do with all of my spare time. Many are pleasantly surprised that I don’t have a problem filling up my day with meaningful activities.

Between breaks with some heavy-duty storms that Northern CA was pounded with last week, I was bent over on my arthritic knees; looking head first, into a 4-foot hole, with my arse saluting my unsuspecting neighbors. I was trying to figure out why our back-yard sump pump wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do – sump water away from our home and into the streets.  I had difficulty assessing the situation because of all the standing water in the hole and decided to try using a portable pump to help me.

Un-hun.

I got my garden hoses attached to the pump and lowered it into the hole, when it started to rain.

Again, I was bent over with my larger – than – life buttocks shooting straight up into the air, when I suddenly felt water trickling down my hiney.

“No biggey,” I thought to myself. “My socks are totally wet and I need to change them anyways. Not a problem in changing a wet pair of undies, right?”

So, into the house I traipsed, grabbed a new pair of drawers, changed my underwear and socks, and headed for the loo before leaving to my exercise class. I opened the bathroom door, and Molly – the cat that I have the door closed for because she likes to piddle on bathroom rugs –  sashayed pass me.

“Cazzo (Ot-so!),” I said out loud, as I slid into the cat pee.

“I must have accidentally locked her in there when I left this morning for my walk,” I said to myself, while shaking my head in disgust.

“Shoot!”

All right, this was also no big deal. I have many pairs of socks. I changed into pair number 3 and out the door I headed for my morning A.P.E. class at the Senior Center.

Yep.

My Subaru decided that it did not want to start.

Dead battery.

O.K.

No big deal. I had a camper van that wasn’t used in a dog’s age and needed to be run. It was sitting under an ash tree for the past umpteen storms and unbeknownst to me had accumulated all kinds of goodies on the cowl of my van’s hood.

As I began to drive to class, it started misting, and I unwittingly turned on my wipers. Suddenly, my windshield – that was kissed ever so lightly by the morning’s mist – was now an impenetrable lens of mud and muck.

As I drove down Virginia Avenue, blind as a bat, I looked up to the heavens and shouted, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Ya wanna give me a break today?” As if on cue, the heavens promptly opened up and it began pouring – really pouring –  enough so that it cleaned the gunk off of my windshield.

Yep.

The Big Guy came through for me once again.

I got to the Center, pulled into the parking lot, made an abrupt stop and got slapped in the back of my neck with water that apparently had accumulated under the canvas of my pop-up roof.

At that point, I looked up to the skies, told God that he had a great sense of humor, but that he needed to find another muse for his merriment.

And People want to know if I write fiction?

No, People, this is my boring, retired life. Who needs fiction when you’re living life in my shoes?

Stay well, and I’ll catch ya next adventure.

A Time of Thanks

Dusting never came natural to me. Mom tried teaching me the finer nuances of the activity, but I wasn’t a very adept student and continue to have difficulty with the skill to this day.

My paternal grandmother never liked dusting, either. I think my dusting aversion was acquired genetically, or at least that’s what I told my mother. I can remember writing out my name with a smiley face in the dust on Grandma Hattie’s end tables a number of times when I went up to Caroga Lake to visit her. The funny thing, though, I really didn’t care one way or another about her dusty furniture. I just remembered the blue enamel turkey roaster that she kept loaded with popcorn on her kitchen cupboard, and how you never went hungry in between meal times at Grandma’s house because you always had access to popcorn and butterscotch candies. A candy, mind you, that I learned to hate after choking on a piece, one afternoon when I was 7 years old. Guess I laughed and swallowed at the same time and got the stupid thing lodged in my throat. It stayed there for most of the day, despite numerous glasses of water and attempts to force it down by having me eat bread. To this day, I avoid butterscotch candies like the plague and find my throat contracting every time I see them on the store shelf.

Grandma Hattie wasn’t a wealthy woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She lived in a tiny home with one bedroom and a bathroom that was later converted into a bedroom to accommodate my older cousin, Kip. And when Kip grew up and moved out, we kids slept in it for sleep-overs and felt pretty darn special.

Yep. Had a cozy bed and warm, comfy blankets strewn all over the lumpy mattress, and I felt like a princess in that room with a toilet in it. Sounds a little weird to have a bedroom in a bathroom, but I haven’t really moved up in society all that much, lately. My bathroom is still a stone’s throw away from my bed. Only now-a-days, it’s called a master suite with an adjoining bathroom. And my old body is grateful for a bed that isn’t lumpy these days, but I miss the quiet and the calmness I felt in Grandma’s country home on those winter, Adirondack nights; nights when the snow quietly accumulated, and my sleep was momentarily interrupted by the clanging of the tire chains on the town’s snow plows, as they whizzed-by, scraping it from the packed roadway.

My Grandmother never dressed in the latest fashions, and certainly didn’t have the money to spend on things other than the bare essentials, but she certainly made me and my siblings feel loved and wanted. Every summer, she’d load up her old, beat-up baby buggy with the youngest of the brood, pack our lunches and make sure we each had a beach towel and a swim suit and off to the lake we’d head – big kids holding onto the hands of the little kids and some of us littler kids holding onto the side bars of the baby carriage – brothers, sisters, cousins, alike. And off we went with Grandma for an afternoon of swimming; an afternoon of being a kid.

I remember the smell of the freshly tarred road that we walked on and the laughter and teasing and how patient Grandma was as we peppered her with questions:

“Why’s the road stink so, Grandma?” I’d ask as we walked and our sneakers stuck to the road. “It’s sticky and stinks; not like our roads at home,” I continued. “Why are country roads stinky and rocky and city roads smooth?”

“It makes my feet hot, Grandma,” my cousin chimed in. “Can’t wait ‘till we get swimming, Grandma,” he’d add on. “Are we almost there, Grandma?”

She’d smile and nod and acknowledge each one of us, and down to the lake we’d waddle, baby carriage, kids and all. And today when our local freeways are jammed and the news is overwhelming, I think back on those moments and think back to those times; when the roadways were stinky and my sneakers were hot, and I smile with the warm memories of a less hectic time and remember my Grandmother and am thankful she cared.

Those were good days; days of innocence – days few in number – but days remembered and treasured.

May this season of thanks be one that is joyful, and may you be blessed with the memories of days past when your sneakers were sticky and your grandma was kind, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.