Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Moms and Dads and Caregiving

Her message said she needed a place for her mom.

I'd been there.  I'd felt that.  My friends had shown me the way.  When she called, I wasted no time; I called her right back.  Telephone tag and two hours later I was wandering my house... my yard.... my kitchen as she brought me back to the days before G'ma was settled.  I couldn't sit still. I needed to do something, anything, because to do nothing was untenable yet there was nothing I could do.

I listened to her talk.

Her mom needed..... her dad was..... and then there was her own family... and a relationship-by-marriage... and she was just so tired. Her own kid was finally getting settled.  She was in charge of so much, and so little all at the same time.

So, I listened to her talk.

Her parents are there and she is here.  Should they move, she wondered?  Would they agree to move, I wondered right back at her. 

She didn't say anything for a while.

Making decisions is where it all begins, and ends, and around which it all revolves. No one wants to talk about it. She was no exception.

I know what that feels like.  I resisted making decisions for G'ma; I allowed her, perhaps, more independence than her cognition warranted.  The woman got lost one block from her home.  She was delivered to the concierge in her apartment building by a lovely young policeman who offered to drive me to the address on the card Brother gave me.  To my mind, it was a simple case of "no harm, no foul."  She had shown excellent problem solving skills, waving down a police car and asking them to point her in the right direction. She knew she was in trouble and she knew how to find help.  There was no reason for her to live in a more restrictive environment.  She was fine.  I knew it.  I had to know it.  The alternative was too confusing, too jumbled, too sad.

Also, she had the best attitude. She wasn't afraid; why should she be? She spoke the language. She was vaguely offended by the question.  I respected her and left her living alone in an apartment with a refrigerator filled with styrofoam containers of left-overs which was cleaned out by my sister and then the cleaning lady once a week.

And don't get me started on how she mismanaged her pills.  The day she wondered why she was living in ice and snow when I was in the desert, deadheading snapdragons and wearing shorts, was the happiest moment of this part of my life.  She moved here eight months later.

I am blessed, and I know it.  I am the luckiest daughter in the world.  My mom raised a person in whom she can put her trust,  who will keep her safe, on whom she can call in an emergency.  She wonders where she is and why, but "whatever you say, sweetheart" is her default position.  She has forgotten many things; she has not forgotten that she raised competent children.

Before me, she had my sister.  There was a little more of two-way-caring there than there is here, but she was younger, then. I know I can call on her in a pinch.  She may not remember my name, but she knows she's supposed to care for me... and she does.  She was never a very  an emotional person; she accepts, but does not seek out, hugs. But when faced with a teary face, her arms are open and ready.

In the same way, I decide for her based on what I think she would want.  Of course, she's not the same Mommy I knew when I was ten, or twenty, or forty.  Her desires have changed, her outlook has tilted, she's a new and improved version of the woman who always knew the right thing to do - for herself and others.  All that is locked away.  She can barely remember the question, let alone form an answer.  Deciding where to live and how much care she needs are things that are now on my shoulders.  Carrying the load without feeling the burden is made simpler by her acceptance of the situation.  So many of my friends' parents argue and stall and engage in verbal combat; G'ma just smiles and agrees.

So, I listened as my friend talked about her mom's physical needs and her dad's stoicism and listened as the reality began to sink in.  Memory care, bathing assistance, medication supervision, activities, food, quality of life issues.... they were everywhere and irrelevant at the same time.  She needs to visit and consider and consult and, if she wants my company, she won't have to do it alone.

This is a piece of adulthood for which none of us is prepared.  There is no cure for what is really wrong - they are just too old.  Different pieces wear out at different rates of speed.  The losses are asymmetrical and annoying and frightening and then they become dangerous.  That's where she is right now, on the cusp,in danger of drowning in the emotions. 

"I don't know what they need," was the recurring theme of the conversation, and the answer was beyond my ken.  She'll have to explore and gather facts and rely on her instincts and judgment.  What they need is available in a dozen places in a dozen pieces; the harsh reality is that no place will be perfect. She has high expectations and a good heart, both of which will be tested over the next few months.

I'm glad that I can be here for her.  "Been there.  Done that," feels pretty good right now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And Now, The Music

As those of you who were dry enough to be here yesterday know,
Miss Margo and I were listening to some pretty fine tunes on Sunday. 
 We heard eight acts in six hours
There was very little down-time between sets.
Encores were allowed but not encouraged.
The early acts were amazed to be awake; "I didn't know that there were two 10:30's in a single day."
There was lots of gospel and a maddening urge to get up and boogie.
The music touches something in my soul; G'ma loved Woody Guthrie and I'm wondering if it's genetic.
There were contest winners
 like Desert Heart, who won a spot on the bill by coming in first in the Friday Night Band Contest.
Two are married, all were smiling.
The music was fine.  Margo and I enjoyed their joy.
Mark Phillips (in black) & IIIrd Generation
 got the crowd up and dancing.
A classically trained musician does have a smoother sound than someone who learned at Granpa's knee.I'm not being snobby; I'm stating facts. 
Daniel Foulks began playing classical music at the age of 4; can you see how tenderly he holds the bow in my fuzzy picture?  
Ned Luberecki entertained us on the ride down on Sirius radio;
he said he was in Tucson, and he was.
The guy on the radio was taped; who knew?
The live one took pictures of the crowd before he joined the Night Drivers and Chris Jones.
Superstition Ridge put on faux rock 'n roll hats.
They should've stuck to Gene Autry remixes. 
 And then there was Sierra Hull, who just turned twenty-one.
She went to Berklee instead of touring right out of high school.
The polish shows (cf David Foulks above).
She is "playing with a point to prove" and whatever that means to her it translated to talent married with confidence and a palpable sense that what we were hearing was only a part of what lives inside her soul.
She was part of her instrument; her outside mirrored her insides.
There were beautiful instruments, like this very thin bass
 and this very very thin and narrow bass.
And then there were all those banjos.
Though I love the sound,  I find the banjo to be a very silly looking instrument.
It's just too small to make all that noise.
Margo drew this.
One minute there was an unadorned program.
Next, there was a bass.
Then, there was a woman.
I love talent.
The Sonoran Dogs
 had the crowd singing and laughing about going to "see Alice in Nogales" .. which had nothing to do with any medication (say it out loud if you must)... and which rhymed, to groans, with aurora borealis and callous and digitalis. 
They referenced Bela Flek and the Grateful Dead.
I was in heaven.
You really ought to think about coming out next year.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What Would Bluegrass Be....

without the banjo?  Margo and I looked and smiled and said "Country."  Then we laughed.

It was that kind of a day at the lovely outdoor AVA Ampthitheater next to the Pascua Yaqui's aptly named Casino del Sol.

Look at all that sunshine, denizens. 

Why in the world are you living along the Eastern seaboard?  Have you not checked The Weather Channel?  You won't be seeing skies like this in the forseeable future. 

Margo and I sat outside, in shorts, for six wonderful hours today.  I wish you all could have been there, too.  There were plenty of empty seats.

Sponsored by the Desert Bluegrass Association (which deserves the shout out for putting on such a wonderful show at such a reasonable price), we saw eight acts, most of them from the front row.

And then there was the festival food.

Margo was trying to be healthy; there are veggies under the salsa.
My Sonoran Hot Dog (no beans, please) made me very happy.
 The sugar coated mini donuts made me happier still.
 In my defense, I tried to order this  
 from these guys
 but there were problems with the grill and then there was the issue of the absence of egg whites.
I really wish I had been able to have the eggs; I might have gotten one of these hinged sporks.
It was an older crowd, and, from the conversations we overheard, most of them knew one another.
 Some of them gave themselves away; who else but a mother would video the entire set?
 This fellow was introduced as an artist's 97 year old grandfather.
 Age didn't keep them from dancin', though.
 which inspired these two  at the other side of the stage.
 This fan asked her to dance; they twirled and laughed and twirled some more.
My family will be glad to know that I resisted the urge to be the fifth person on the floor.
There are times when an achy hip saves me from humiliation; my skills are not such that they should be on display.  I danced at the kids' wedding; that's enough for me.
There were generic tourists
 and a fan who was missing the same game as Margo.
Of course, there were children of all ages.
including the dancing fan who is wearing pajama material, isn't he?
I represented the long lost and much lamented Mature Landscaping blog.
 It is Southern Arizona, so there was some of this
 and that
and then there was Keith
Everyone knew him.
Everyone stopped by to say "Hi"
He was greeted from the stage.
We have no idea who he is, but we liked his suspenders a lot.

We really did hear some fabulous music.
I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Ponder and Panda and Fandom

I've written about home teams before.  Moving as often as we have, the whole concept seems vaguely irrelevant.  I felt close to MJ's Bulls teams and Jim McMahon's Bears and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Cubbies, but considering any of them a home team... not so much.

It's World Series time and the San Francisco Giants are battling for the title. I lived there for 15 years. I watched Big Cuter buy every logoed 49'ers item for sale under the Super Bowl Items Here tent at the corner of the strip mall.  I never really cared that much.

Daddooooo took me to see Joe Namath's Jets in their championship year. We had a neighbor's season tickets, three rows up from the field.  I could see the frost on the helmets; I don't remember feeling cold, though.  There was a different kind of energy, a big, masculine, powerful pulsing of yells about things I didn't understand.  I can conjure it up even now.  The Jets were my dad's team.  He was a regular at their practice field, berating The Big Tuna and getting it right back from the man, himself, in spades. Those were my favorite phone calls, the ones that included "And then Parcells said to me...." I loved the Jets for the joy they brought my otherwise miserable father, but I never felt the love.

The Diamondbacks won a World Series, and I don't have a single item of clothing representing their success.  I have some UofA t-shirts, but that's because you have to wear the right color when you're sitting in the stands; there's a red section and a blue section and you want to show that you care. I can tell you the names of the coaches, but not a single player has entered my permanent memory banks.

Current Cornellians tell me that the stands at Schoelkopf Stadium are nearly empty, except for Homecoming Games.  When TBG and Ed Marinaro and I were students, there was nary an empty corner.  When games take four hours and feature sixteen minutes of football, it's no wonder the kids flee the field for the bars or their own big screen tvs.

Fantasy leagues promote interest in individual players, further diminishing hometown loyalties.  Peyton Manning may end his career in Denver, but he'll always be a Colt, just as Jerry Rice will always be a 49'er.  I'll always love the Cubs, the way my grandfather loved his Brooklyn Bums.

But tonight, watching a Thursday night football game (quarterbacked by Ponder) during the commercial breaks on the World Series (where Kung Fu Panda rules) and listening to my San Francisco based son display almost no interest in the baseball game being contested two miles from his I'm wondering if anybody really has a home team at all any more....

...anybody but somebody who's lived her whole life around Detroit and whose face was so full of delight every time her eyes fell on the headline sending her Tigers to the World Series. Your team is down 2-0,losing an offensive and a defensive battle, and, as a Cubbies fan, I can feel your pain.

Sometimes I don't mind not having a home team and being spared the pain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In the Gym

There were three of us, then four, then five fit, strong women with perfect form using the machines facing the mirrors.  There was no conversation, there was no hair flipping, there was no adjusting of clothing.  There was concentration and breathing and, lurking in the background, a shared sense of purpose. 

And then there were the men.  Clustered around the kick-back machine I use to strengthen my hamstrings and reawaken their connection to my glutes, five of them were discussing politics.  Actually, it was less of a discussion than it was pontification at a raised volume.  Over the D'Oyle Carte Opera's Pinafore on my iPod mini, over Buttercup bemoaning her fate, over the orchestra and the stomping of sailors on the foredeck, I was distracted by their laughter and their nonsense. 

Did they think that they were the only ones in the room?  Apparently so.

Their clothes were sweat drenched; they'd finished their racquetball game and were taking a breather before resuming the competition.  They are there every morning, six or so gentlemen of a certain age, bellies folding over the tops of their shorts, jowls jiggling, eyes dancing and smiles permanently plastered to their faces.  I've never seen one of them grumbly or out of sorts. 

They are loud and they are funny and they usually don't bother me at all.  This morning, recovering from air travel and time zone changes and missing my girl and her family more than I imagined possible, they were pissing me off.... big time.  Though the gym is female friendly for the most part, there's still a soupcon of the what are these girls doing in our manly man space aura that exists in every weight lifting paradise... except, perhaps, in Curves.  I can't tell you about that; I've never been.

I wonder what the serious guys think of these older, chatty men.  They are there. They are working hard.  They are consistent and they are purposeful and they are trying.  Oh, yes, they are trying.  Their games are hard fought and intense.  That's all wonderful.  It's their downtime that aggravated me today, that nudged me out of my inner space and into theirs.  When I'm focused, I like to be surrounded by similarly dedicated individuals. They were intruding. I was peeved.

I finished my pull ups and dips and hobbled over to them.  "Are you using this or just leaning?" I smiled and asked.  The heaviest one finished tying the shoe he had propped up on the arm rest I was about to use; I tried not to think about where that sole had been before it was pressed on the plastic that would support my skin once he made that last knot in the lace.  There was some good natured kidding about my walking stick and its ability to clear the area quickly if need be.  There was some discussion about bullets and recovery and toughness and blessings were sent my way.

I was bemused. So were they.

They didn't know what to make of me. I have good form.  My brow was glistening with perspiration.  My intensity was not in question. But I was small and grey and using a cane.  On some level, I required protection.  I could feel it in their eyes, in the change in their attitude when my back story was revealed, as they watched me adjust the settings.  Did I need help?  Would I be okay?  Was I safe?  Nothing was said yet everything was felt.

I liked it much more when there were three, then four, then five of us, fit strong women using the equipment over by the mirrors.  I am so tired of being the other.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Random Thoughts - The Travel Edition

Google Maps told me it would take 53 minutes from the kids' house to O'Hare. They weren't counting on the drizzle, I guess. Going uphill when the roads are slick seems to touch a slow down and take care button in certain drivers, which wouldn't bother me if they slowed down 5 or 10 miles per hour. Tooling along in the left lane at 30mph in a 55mph zone makes no sense to me.
And then there were the gawkers. A sedan rear-ended a sports car. The tow trucks and the police were on the scene. All the vehicles were on the shoulder, lights blinking. The officers were taking information as the mechanics were attaching hoists to undercarriages while the drivers were waving their arms and trying to stay dry. How do I know all of this? Because traffic slowed to a crawl, delaying progress for miles.

I zipped past as the road opened up in front of me, otherwise I'd have been able to tell you the make and model of the vehicles involved. I let the other cars dawdle and gape; I wanted to get to O'Hare.
I-pass is the Illinois Toll Road's E-Z pass system. If your vehicle is not equipped with such a device, as my rental was not, you exit and pay cash to the toll taker and then re-enter the highway. That way, there's no messing with the flow of the on-going traffic, which zips right through the extra-wide booths designed to calculate the toll and add it to your account. It's a perfectly lovely system, when there's a human inside the booth.  Unfortunately for me, my exit was un-staffed. It required $1.50 in coins, of which I had none.

Feeling naive and unprepared, I pouted and felt put-upon. But the lovely lady at Hertz told me how to pay it on-line without skipping a beat or judging me.

It seems I'm not the first to be flummoxed in this way. It was comforting to know that I was not alone.
The Hertz bus was huge and empty and we had to wait for more passengers before we could depart. The driver and I shared travel sagas and limping stories and the time went by quickly. Still, waiting for anything is not my preferred option; I found myself tapping my toes and drumming my fingernails.

You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take the New Yorker out of the girl, it seems.
Puddles pooling at the bottom of the curb cuts seem to defeat the entire purpose of the ramp, don't you think? I was glad for my cowboy boots; my Chucks would have been sodden by the time I got inside.
Security lines still make me nutty, even when the attendant directed me to a much shorter wait at the far end of the concourse. Certainly, the line was not as long. Equally as certain is the fact that I had to trek an extra quarter of a mile to save not so very many minutes at all.

I know she was trying to help; I wish she had recognized that pulling a suitcase, a purse, a coat and myself requires attention to distance as well as time.
It's always a toss-up: do I sit down and dine or grab a bagel and go? Poppy seeds in my teeth versus hot scrambled eggs and toast with jelly is a dilemma I am forced to resolve each and every time I travel in the morning. I had plenty of time, but not much of an appetite today, so I opted for cream cheese and a personal dental examination at the gate this time.

Now, two hours later, my tummy is wishing that I'd chosen a real meal.
I take advantage of my unstable gait and ask for pre-boarding these days. I have no interest in being bumped – intentionally or not – by the guy behind me on the jetway. No, I didn't need a wheelchair. I just needed more time and no distractions.

Wheeling my rolling suitcase down the jetway, negotiating over metal connecting panels every few yards, was challenge enough. I was delighted to have the path all to myself as I tried to avoid thinking about the reason I was so slow. I'm rarely angry about it anymore; traveling seems to open the box in which I have those thoughts securely stowed.
Securely stowed.... those are the words the flight attendant used to describe how we should place our bags in the overhead bins. Why would anyone stow it insecurely, I wonder?
There are half a dozen empty seats on the flight, and one of them is next to me. Having the use of both armrests makes a big difference as seat widths shrink and leg room vanishes. Watching the basketball-player-sized passenger behind me fold himself into a middle seat touched my heart..... but not enough to offer to trade places with him.

Am I selfish? Perhaps. I'm also old and broken... or so I tell myself to assuage my guilt.
The flight attendant and I had a lovely conversation about gun control and the lack of political will on the subject. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been after me to join their ranks; the craziness the issue raises keeps me publicly silent on the subject. I did, however, give him the name of my contact there. His ire was deep enough for the both of us.
I'm glad I'm out of touch and unable to listen to the talking heads dissecting last night's debate. The radio on the drive to the airport made me nutty enough, reminding me that foreign policy was not the issue with which most undecided voters were concerned. There's a comfort in the cocoon up here above the clouds. I wish I could take it with me when I deplane.
I'm sitting in the rear of the plane, across from the galley; soda was offered before the cart began its journey to the front of the aircraft. There's an advantage to sitting beside the trash cans, it seems.
I'm being ferried further and further from my girl and her boy and her dog and her life and I don't like it at all... not one little bit. True, TBG and G'ma await me in Tucson, but a big piece of my heart is still in the Midwest. Phone calls and emails and texts and tweets are all fine and wonderful but there's nothing like her arms around me, my nose in her hair, her murmuring “I love you, Mama” in my ear.

I don't think I'll be able to stay away for very long. No, I do not.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coming Home

The memories don't take long to come flooding back. Every corner pricks another part of my history, reminding me that once, a long, long time ago, I was young here.

There's no more free parking at the Lincoln Park Zoo; the city is charging to drive down the road on which we always used to find a spot. My parking karma never failed me on Cannon Drive; spaces would materialize before my eyes. Friends were amazed, perplexed, bemused. I knew that the city and I had a special relationship when it came to visiting the seals. I'd been a fan since I moved to the Midwest for graduate school. Impoverished, living on mac-and-cheese and spaghetti, the free zoo was a great escape from the problems I encountered in my social work world.

Today, in the rain, I could only drive by and sigh. Paying $18 for a quick trip in to bark back at the pinipeds felt self-indulgent. Of course, the rain may have had something to do with it, too

Yes, it's raining. Not a Tucson deluge, with buckets upended in the heavens, dowsing the streets with the biggest drops ever. No, this is a Chicago rainstorm, constant, steady, and soft. Umbrellas offer ample protection to the moms with their strollers and toddlers with their yellow rubber boots. The wind hasn't picked up; it's not winter time. The temperature is in the high 60's and no one is rushing to get out of the storm. It's the kind of drippiness that makes the plants stand up and take notice.

I found a spot in my old neighborhood, on Roslyn, off Clark, just down the street from Basil Leaf where I'll be lunching with Sandra Lynne in an hour or so. Were it drier, I'd browse the little shops lining Clark Street. Instead, I'm cozy in the driver's seat, typing to you. The raindrops on the roof are keeping me company.

I came into town the way I used to come home from work, back when I commuted to the western suburbs every day. The street names came back to me without any effort. I knew how to take the right and the right and the left to get from the highway to Armitage. I forgot that Clifton was one way south, but that just gave me the chance to drive down Dickens and see the changes that time has wrought. I lived there before gentrification took hold; fancy-schmancy facades have replaced the wooden porches which overlooked the alleys. There are hardly any front stoops left; I suppose the well-to-do new owners don't have time to sit there and watch the world go by.

It was so different when I was a 20-something student, searching for a spot large enough to house my Bonneville. Then, the old Italian ladies perched in their lawn chairs would holler as I drove by – “That blue car will be leaving shortly, pull up and wait, honey.”

Our first apartment was a three flat. Mom lived on the first floor, Junior on the third, Young Jimmy in the basement, TBG and I in the middle. The steps they painted one Saturday morning are gone, replaced with three concrete blocks and a massive front door. The man working on the masonry wondered why I was looking so intently; I drove away before he could inquire.

After lunch, I headed to Oak Street.  Since the city removed the parking meters and put in Pay At The Box stations there is usually a space on the street, and this afternoon was no exception.  I strolled and drooled.
I wondered who would pay hundreds of dollars for a black leather jumpsuit in a six month size... and then stood, mesmerized, as the two silver haired gentlemen asked for it to be gift wrapped.  I saw jewels in the windows that stopped me in my tracks.  I admired leather handbags and 1000-thread-count sheets.  I was surrounded by luxury and sprinkling raindrops.  I couldn't stop smiling.

I drove downtown to pick up Little Cuter.
Chicago is vibrant and bustling and full of culture and shopping and friends. It's more expensive and more crowded than Tucson and it's not the place for us at this stage of life. But being here feels like coming home.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Visiting the Newlyweds

Detroit Metro to Midway is such a quick flight that the flight attendants barely have enough time to serve and collect the complimentary  beverages.  I left one adventure and began another before I had time to finish my Coke.

The newlyweds met me at the bottom of the escalator and enveloped me in hugs.

Did I mind going to the mall so that they could return some duplicate wedding gifts and spend some of the cash and gift cards they'd received? Not at all... so off we went to Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, where pillows were selected
and tested
before they took me to their new home.
They are delightfully house-proud.
The prior owners were full of loud parties and drunken teens.
The neighbors are delighted to have the kids instead.

Fall in the Midwest is much more colorful than that which arrives in the desert Southwest.  
These trees and bushes
 were at the end of the parking lot at Garden Ridge......
which was not the garden supply store we had supposed.
The lack of exterior greenery should have given us a clue, but in we went, anyway.

There were pinwheels
 and palm trees
and giant snowmen.
There were pink chairs
 and hassocks
 and furniture of all colors
and descriptions..... and some that were just indescribable.
 Yes, it's a chair.  
It also comes in leopard if zebra isn't your thing.
And then there was this:
He's a toilet paper holder.
We laughed all the way to the check out counter.

Bulbs were purchased
and planted
 as random roots were clipped
and stray marbles were recovered from the soil
It was a perfect afternoon.