Don’t Discount Childhood Baggage-Pack Carefully Thursday, Feb 1 2018 

Back in the days when the Hubs and I were assisting his Mother, I discounted the impact of having spent one’s childhood with the person you are assisting being your ‘authority figure’. While everyone has different types of childhoods, rarely does a child come through their childhood without some emotional baggage that carries over into their playing adult. The Hubs didn’t have much childhood baggage with his Mother (another story with his father, for another time), so we didn’t bump up against many historical emotional issues between him and his Mother while caring for her.   Since she was not my Mother, I carried even less emotional baggage into the situation, as my relationship issues with her started after I was an adult. (Let’s not pretend that all humans have perfect relationships with their parents or mother in law, shall we?) Don’t misunderstand, there was plenty of emotion, but it wasn’t tied to the four year old that resides within us.   You know that child. It’s the flare of anger or other emotion you feel at a basic level when triggered and your adult responses just aren’t available to that inner child.

My relationship with my Mom growing up was rockier than the Hubs with his Mother. While Mom had the best intentions of not allowing her upbringing to impact how she raised me and my brothers, it crept in. I was an only child for 5 years, so I got the brunt of the learning curve.   Before her illness was firmly in place, Mom often referred to me as her practice child and the joke was she improved her parenting skills with my younger brothers. The result of this situation, as my youngest brother and I have discussed, is that I was raised with a different set of the same parents than my brothers were.   And this created for me some emotional baggage that I carry around with me. Like a little emotional suitcase.

This suitcase is not in the forefront of my life and many of the things that I unpacked and allowed myself to react to as a younger person no longer have impact. I was able to let them go.   At times, I even thought I had lost the suitcase. I was wrong. I am finding out, as my Mom progresses down the dementia path and Dad becomes more physically and mentally disabled, that remnants of that childhood suitcase, now pretty tattered, remain deep within me. I feel its weight these days, as I am opening it more often than I should when dealing with my parents. Funny how that happens.

My parents are in their 80’s, live in their home and are basically home bound. It takes a creative balance and effort to keep their household running, their appointments kept, and their medications on schedule. Although I am the primary handler, and the first on the call list, I’ve started enlisting the help of my brothers and the Hubs. I cannot physically do all that is needed to assist my parents. I work a full time job, and live the farthest away from my parents. I’ve also discovered, that emotionally, I cannot always deal with them, as their actions or needs open my suitcase.   The Hubs has stated I am showing increased signs stress which probably adds new levels of packing in my emotional suitcase.

I wonder what baggage my kids carry around, and if they will unpack it when I need help in my old age. I wonder if I will ever be able to discard the suitcase I am shifting back and forth in my grip as I walk this path. I wonder why, when I created this suitcase, I didn’t put rollers on it, so it would be effortlessly dragged behind me or shoved aside.

I wonder what tomorrow holds.

Walking on the Moon Monday, Jul 21 2014 

The summer of 1969 was one of changes for me. My parents had, from my point of view, ruined my life. They had uprooted the family, and moved from Orange County California without previously having located a place to live or secured any means of support. So, we went to my Grandparents farm outside Westville Oklahoma. The Allied van that carried our belongings across country unloaded everything into the unused milk barn where all was to remain until we had another home. Our city toys, like skates, skateboards and bikes, went into storage too. There just wasn’t anyplace to use that type of thing on a dirt road farm in Oklahoma. Life in Oklahoma in 1969 was very, very different from life in southern California. Mom and Dad went to various towns within a day or two drive to check out jobs and the cost of living. My brothers (age 5 and 3) and I stayed with our Grandparents.

The only good thing about the summer was that one set of my cousins lived in a nearby town. Their Mom, my Aunt, was a school teacher, so she was off for the summer, and they visited often that summer. We, two 11 year old girls, one 12 year old boy and one 13 years old boy, had free run of the 200 acre farm which included a spring fed ice cold creek. We picked blackberries, played in the hay, swam in the creek, caught fireflies, and dodged June bugs.

Vintage TVOn Saturday evening June 20, 1969, we were playing outside in the dark, the best type of hide and seek ever, when the adults in charge called all of us inside. On a TV that barely had any reception on a good day (not at all like SoCal), we all watched as the first man walked on the moon. I don’t recall thinking it was some great moment in time. What I recall is a bunch of kids squirming around on the braided rug, picking at each other, waiting for whatever was on the TV to be over so we could finish playing outside. When enough time had passed that the adults felt we had absorbed the event, we were released into outside freedom once again.

It was years before I realized what I had been forced to watch on the hot summer night in Oklahoma. And it was a truly great achievement. But what I really remember is one of the best hide and seek games ever was interrupted by a man walking on the moon.

Best Ride in Town Friday, Jun 13 2014 

Some memories stick out from my childhood so clearly that I wonder how that is possible after all this time. How can something that happened 45 years ago, and did not having a life changing impact on my life still be running around in my head? And why am I thinking about it now? So many questions, only one of which I can answer. I am thinking about Ft. Smith Arkansas, the smells of spring and riding a bike because my doctor told me to get exercise to ward of the increased levels of sugar and cholesterol in my body. Evidently, I have some borderline issues.

The year I was in 6th grade, my family moved to Ft. Smith Arkansas. Having spent the previous 6 years in Southern California, moving to a relatively small Arkansas town created culture shock for the adults in our tribe. Even back then Southern California (Orange County) was a hopping place with 24/7 availability and multiple non cable TV channels, which is how civilization was measured in the 1960’s. Ft. Smith Arkansas had one rabbit ear channel that combined the major networks (remember that?) and the sidewalks of downtown rolled up at 5pm. While my parents tried to adjust to this drastic difference in lifestyle, my brothers and I hardly noticed. I made friends at school and in the neighborhood. (My elementary school had a cafeteria inside, not just picnic benches!) Across the street from our rental house lived a family with three kids, including two girls, in 5th and 4th grade. The Culp sisters, Julie and Cindy. We started playing together, including riding our bikes (I had a big white Schwinn with pink pin striping) in big circles down our block, then down the alley behind their house and around again. (My house backed up to a field with grazing cattle even though it was the middle of town and did not have an alley.) The alley was dirt and had little hills that would create puddles after a rain, which in Ft Smith that year occurred frequently. We always rode those hills and through those puddles as fast as we could making mud streaks on the back of our clothes. White 1965 Schwinn

But that is not what this entry is about. Surprised? Mr. Culp was a hands on guy that ran/owned a go-cart raceway on the weekends. I don’t know if that was his full time job or just a weekend thing, but I went with the family from time to time and got to drive a go-cart. I recall liking it very much. But what I recall about hanging out with the Culp sisters the most was that Mr. Culp built, for his family’s enjoyment, a bicycle built for 5. He used parts of other bikes, and built this multi colored homemade bike that was completely wonderful. He was the leader, seat number one, with the three kids in the middle in order of age and Mrs. Culp at the back. But on many occasions, I filled in the trailing seat. On warm evenings or Sunday afternoons, 4 Culps and I would ride all over Ft Smith Arkansas on big one bicycle.

Mr. Culp had confidence and would locate streets with hills to race down while we all hooted and yelled, encouraging the fun. A bike of that size draws attention from everyone including, well, dogs. Besides people smiling, pointing and waving at us I recall more than once I had to raise my feet from the pedals to the handlebars of my section of the bike to keep from being nipped as a dog would chase the end of the homemade ride. Riding around on that bike is one of my best memories ever.

So why am I thinking about that now? I am wondering if I can talk my husband into a tandem bike. Exercise. Outdoors. I swear, it won’t matter if it is just the two of us, I will be 11, and riding with 4 others, if at all possible. It was the best ride in town.

Happy Birthday Dear Friend Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 

For many years now, I’ve spent March 18th reflecting on my life and how I live it. I tend to feel a little guilty that I have the opportunity when someone I care for deeply does not. March 18th is Larry Churchill’s birthday, and if he was with us today, he would be 57. He is forever handsome and young in the picture on his headstone and in my fond memories.

Larry and I met when I was 14 and he 15. I had just moved to his hometown and had started attending the same small church he attended. The youth of the church were mostly female and Larry was a sought after young man. I think, even without the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that more than a few of the girls had a crush on him. On this point, I admit nothing. Larry and I become friends. We came from completely different backgrounds and circumstances but we connected. I enjoyed his take on things, so different from my own. I enjoyed his unabashed screams as we plunged over the hill of the roller coaster. I enjoyed his acting as the lead in the annual school play. I enjoyed the time we spent together, whether in group form or one on one. We shared some secrets. I’d found someone special. Larry made an impression on me that impacted my life. He was a positive influence.

Larry Churchill 1974

Larry Churchill 1974

My family relocated (again) after two years in Larry’s hometown. Larry and I wrote letters (remember those?) and spoke on the phone through the rest of high school and college. I married and started my family. Larry moved across the country and started his adult life. Contact became less frequent. Over time, we lost touch. I missed his humor and our connection. I neglected an opportunity to reconnect. I thought there was more time. There was not.

When I got the call he had passed away, I was knocked off my feet. Literally, I had to sit down and catch my breath. I cannot explain or detail my feelings other than to say I felt a deep loss and physical hurt. In these days before online availability, my husband wrote and requested a copy of Larry’s obituary for me from the small town paper. I just couldn’t grasp the enormity of my friend‘s death. It was a sad time.

I think of him often. When certain songs play, when his home state is mentioned, when someone uses sarcasm is the funniest of ways, select movie quotes. Whenever I am in the vicinity of his hometown, I stop by and visit his grave-site. I am always overwhelmed by how sad I feel when I visit, knowing that he died too young, knowing that he was someone I loved and let slip away. Staying in touch would not have stopped his passing, but it would have enriched my life and hopefully his. I regret that in my youth I took what I had with my friend for granted. I’ve tried not to make that mistake again.

March 18th was a special day for him and for many years now, for me as well, to reflect and remember. Larry is not forgotten.

If he could see this, he’d make a joke. And Laugh.

Random Acts of Kindness Thursday, Mar 13 2014 

It had been a long day. Last Friday was full of multiple issues and I was tired, as I headed out into SXSW and spring break traffic to try to get home. Man, was that a mess! I arrived home (finally) to finish my light packing for the drive to East Texas for the weekend. The Hubs was already in East Texas, having driven over from a conference in Houston earlier in the day. I could picture him tapping his foot, waiting.

By the time I reached Bryan I was hungry, and decided to treat myself to fast food. (Yea me!) I used the drive thru of a burger place, placed my order and bopped to the itunes playing through by speakers while I waited. When I pulled up to pay, I was surprised to find out that the lady that had been in line in front of me had completed a ‘random act of kindness’ and paid for my meal. She had told the cashier that she liked to give back from time to time. It was a small gesture, but nice. After the day I had had, it struck me as just the right thing.

There is not a reason in the world that I cannot give back more than I do. The hubs and I, mostly during the holidays, but sometimes at other times, will pick out someone who has waited on us or performed a service and tip them a larger amount. And I’ve contributed to the person in front of me in line when they’ve fallen a bit short and were going to put something back. A few times, I’ve tipped a bartender more than the cost of the drink, stating ‘I’ve had a good day, you should too’. But I have not randomly purchased something as a random act of kindness before, and I like the idea. I felt good receiving it, and I’d like to pass that feeling along.

So nice lady in the drive thru in Bryan Texas last Friday night, you did more than buy me a burger and a drink. And that’s a good thing.

I Did Not Win the Mega Millions Lottery Wednesday, Dec 18 2013 

You heard it here first. Or maybe second because they announced where the winners live and I do not live in San Jose California or Atlanta Georgia and you knew I’m in Texas. I tried to win. Really. Well, what I mean is I bought a ticket or two, so that the dream could live for a day or two. And I did dream, mostly while driving on my long work compute, what it would be like to have that much money, or ‘enough’ money. I know money doesn’t solve problems but it would solve my lack of money problems. Money also doesn’t buy happiness. We’ve all heard that one. I’d like to give it a whirl myself, before making any snap decisions on its ability to make me happy. I bought my tickets early Saturday, just after the Friday night drawing that yielded no winner. I did not wait until the last minute. I had four days of hope that I could beat the odds and win. It was not to be.

In the meantime, my life continued as of nothing was pending. My grandson turned 6 and I survived his birthday party with all the other 5/6 year olds. Some Christmas items I ordered arrived. My hubs crunched the fender and removed the side mirror of his car by close encounter with a construction barrel in a construction zone, therefore damaging his pride more than the car. (Everything around this town seems to be under construction.) I talked my mom (over the phone) through changing the battery in her smoke detector. I am still working on getting the Christmas tree decorated. I work in little bursts and have the living room in complete disarray. Winning the lottery would not have changed any of this real life activity. Would today have been different? Yes. I think so. But how different, I will never know. I am like everyone else (except two people) in America today. Deep sigh. Life goes on. And even without winning the lottery, life is good.

Holiday Letter Thursday, Dec 5 2013 

What have I/we done all year? Something, hopefully, worthy of repeating to others. Each year, with our Christmas cards, (YES, we still mail them!) we send a short letter of what we’ve been up to during the year.  I know, I know, for some folks a letter like that means an exhaustive list of accomplishments (I won the Nobel Peace Prize and American Idol!), or line after line of expensive vacation details (the sheets were soooo soft, the beach was just for us!) or a page of the awards their super over achieving kids received (Lettering in all sports, plus a 10.0 grade point average, and still has time knit prize winning sweaters).  Our letters have never been like that and it is not because we don’t travel or our kids, when in school, didn’t get good grades.  That type of letter just doesn’t reflect us.  Heck, we used to joke that the letter would say just things like, yep, we are still married, for those of you that said it wouldn’t work out.

I sat down this year to write the little letter and kinda drew a blank.  What have we done all year?  Worked.  Slept.  Worried.  None of that is anything but life and certainly not letter worthy.  Well, we are still married, so there is that.  Maybe it is time for THAT update.  Although it has only been 37 years, so it is possible it may not work out.  Bad if the haters won after all.

2013 was a year of working our butts off, trying to gain a better foot hold on if we might ever be able to retire sometime before we die.  We are lucky to both have good jobs, and some savings, but the last few years have not helped with any retirement plans.  So, how does one put that in a holiday update letter?

Maybe I should wait and bit and see how December goes……

Goodbye Daisy Monday, Nov 18 2013 

Over the years my hubs and I have loved many animals.  Most were rescue animals, strays and such that came into our lives when we were not necessarily looking for another pet.  Regardless of how they came to be with us, once we saw them, it was all over and we were theirs.  At the peak of the animal invasion, which was several years ago, we had five dogs and seven cats. Chaos runs toward normal.

Recently we lost a member of our family, a blue healer named Daisy.  She was a sweet natured, slightly overweight beauty that could growl like the meanest dog on earth if you came into the back yard without permission.  She was 13 years old and had been with us, after being rescued from the pound, for 10 years.  She could shake and sit on command and most of the time would take the treat from your fingers without a nip.  She loved to dig and boss the other dogs around. She is survived by Jasper, a shepherd mix roadside find, dumped as a puppy, now 5 and Sadie, a blind blond cocker spaniel, with ears that drag the ground and her water bowl, who is 8.

Daisy joined our family to be a buddy for Trudy ‘the Trude’, a beagle with many, many issues, who passed last year at age 13 after being with us for 10 years. Trudy was a rescue dog from the pound that was scheduled to be put down because of her anger management issues. She was a biter. We took a big chance on her and worked hard through most of her many issues over the years.  A smarter dog I’ve never encountered.  She could push open latched gates, open drawers, ring bells on door handles to let you know she needed to go out, sit, beg, roll over, lie down and various other actions on command, (sometimes all in a row without asking if she wanted something, which was pretty comical) and had mastered the treat on the nose trick. She was big with attitude and her face was very expressive. She never learned to trust in some areas, being pretty sure no matter what that every meal was her last.  And she snored, badly.

Daisy, Trudy and Jasper were the ‘big’ dogs at the height of the five dog household. There were also two ‘small’ dogs.  Zelda was a thick bodied white Chihuahua mix that was part of our family for 18 years, and was 19 when she passed. We were answering a newspaper ad for free puppies for a Chihuahua /cocker spaniel mix, when it turned out the mother of the puppies had been abandoned and the rescuer was just trying to find good homes for all of them.  Mommy Zelda, then named Popcorn, took a shine to us, and she was ours from minute one.  She was a piece of work, feisty, noisy and lovable.  No one had ever told her she was a small dog, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to bring it up. She knew when she’d done something wrong and had perfected the ‘woe is me’ look.   Last but certainly not least was Abby, a Chihuahua/terrier mix obtained through a rescue group to be Zelda’s playmate.  She was a thin legged brown haired joy (hair didn’t grown on her legs due to fire ant bites and her tail had been broken into a permanent ‘J’), that skipped so often with her hind legs (either one) people would think she was three legged.  Even into her advanced years (she lived to be 18), she raced around so fast she was a light brown blur as she whizzed by you with a toy in her mouth.  Sometimes she would drag her legs behind her all over the house, pulling herself along with her front legs, then jump up and race away to run circles around Zelda.  On walks, they shared a leash.  Chihuahua bobsled style.

The misfits we’ve loved and lost are in our pet cemetery and now Daisy has joined them.  Jasper is searching for her with Sadie trailing behind.  I know in time they will be ok and stop looking for her.  But we will miss her, just as we miss the rest of our furry family.

I’d Rather Be A Redneck Than…….Whatever You Are Thursday, Oct 17 2013 

I’ve been labeled!  And we all know that labeling people isn’t nice.  So why do people do it?  If one listens to TV commercials, it’s to separate the zombies from the rest of the living beings.  If one attended the wedding I attended last week, it’s about New Yorkers and Rednecks.

My beloved spouse and I recently traveled with friends to an event out of state…that event being a destination wedding. (Lord, help us)  We, along with a small group of friends, stood for the groom’s family.   We had a wonderful time, in general.  Only one thing marred it.  Being labeled and the trappings of such labeling.

The ‘other’ side of this equation, a.k.a the bride’s side, was mostly from New York (not the city).  Prior to meeting any of this ‘other’ group, I had no preconceived notion, or predetermined issue with how they might think or act based on anything and certainly not on where they might reside.  They were just people going to a wedding, just like us.  They weren’t lucky enough to be from Texas, live in Texas or even get to visit Texas, but that was entirely their problem.  It’s a wedding, so let’s all be happy, right?

It was readily apparent from minute one (that’s a New York Minute) that the New Yorkers, before meeting us or speaking to us, thought that we were a bunch of hillbilly rednecks that did not warrant even the slightest instant of civil politeness.  They were flat out rude.  Repeatedly.

I do not for a second want to imply there is a thing wrong with being a Redneck.  Some of my best friends are Rednecks.  Hard working, deeply honest, loving Rednecks.  And not one of them would hastily assume that just because one might be from New York, one might be a rude jerk.  It could be proven fast enough, but they’d never assume it.

But here we were, with the label of Redneck pasted on us, sneered our direction, and used in a clearly derogatory manner, merely because we were different from them. Yes, some in our group wore cowboy boots as appropriate footwear (dress boots, polished and all), but not a one of us rode a horse anywhere (or even own one for that matter) and we all made sure we’d combed the hay from our hair and the dirt from under our nails before slicking and gussying ourselves all up for the big hoedown. Shucks and golly gee MeMa, we didn’t even use the cement pond to bathe.

After this experience, I wonder, are all New Yorkers over tanned, uncouth, snotty jerks that drink like fish and smell like cigarettes?  And is this every day behavior or saved for special occasions, say like weddings? I will never have the answer to my questions, as my one experience with them has now come and gone.  But I will say that I now understand why people from the south, and not just Texas, talk about Yankees being rude.  This group did nothing to dis-spell the stereo type. Quite the opposite, they embodied the stereo type.  It may amuse them to know that the metro area Deep in the Heart of Texas, where our contingent resides, is 6 times bigger than where they reside, is home to several world renowned music venues and museums, and has much worse traffic.

So label me if you must, because I’d rather be a Redneck, if that group will have me, than a rude New Yorker.

I am the Sandwich Friday, Oct 4 2013 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich_generation

The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Carol Abaya categorized the different scenarios involved in being a part of the sandwich generation.

  • Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
  • Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
  • Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care. [1]

Merriam-Webster officially added the term to its dictionary in July 2006.

The term “sandwich generation” was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981. [2]

~~~~~~~

My eldest son, mid 30’s and his son, 5, moved out of our home this last weekend.  They have been living with us for almost 2 years.  The joy of having that level of access to my grandson was tempered by being his parent much of the time, versus just being able to be his “Granny”.  My husband and I often had a differing opinions on how things involving our grown child and his child should be treated within our home, adding an additional level of stress to the situation.  But we made it though that phase of the sandwich, and looked forward to having our home and our time delegated back to ‘us’.  We joked about relearning how to have a two person conversation, how to cook a two person meal, about cooking meals we liked vs those the picky 5 yr old would eat, how we’d spent time ..just the two of us…..and so on.   It is a nice dream.  The financial side of the situation is ongoing, but that is another topic.

So, on day two of our ‘freedom’, when my parents called, upset and needing my help, I should not have been surprised.  We didn’t even get a week of ‘just us’ before other responsibilities pressed us back into service.  My parents are aging, not in the best of health, and are quick to call on me, rather than either of my brothers, when they want or need something.  There is a thin line between want and need.  I think they call me because 1) I am female and they are of that generation that believes that caregivers are female, 2) I am the oldest 3) I’ve been down this road before with  my mother in law and 4) I find a way to do what they want if I can.

My husband and I have been ‘the sandwich’ for so many years now, providing care for members of his family and mine, that I do not recall a time when we were not taking care of an aunt/parent/grandparent/sibling and a child at the same time.  It started in our 20’s and we are in our mid 50’s now.  We were the sandwich before there was a sandwich.  We’ve been able to regroup in the small gaps between, but each round it gets harder and harder to reconnect and adjust.   Since we only get one round on this planet, I’d like to assert, we’ve done our time caring for others and we need a break.  But reality is, that is not going to happen.  Buck up, Ms. Sandwich.  This one is a toasty footlong with extra cheese.

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