Archive | January, 2013

A Place for Daddy

31 Jan

I started shopping for an assisted living place for my Dad a few weeks ago. He’s been living with us for a little more than a year. The arrangement wasn’t planned.

A year after my mother died, my brother had moved north from Florida to live with my Dad. At first my Dad was fine. He could be left alone and he was still able to drive to the supermarket, my house and wherever else he wanted to go.

After a while, though, my brother started noticing strange behaviors. Dad once got up late on a Thursday night, got dressed and told my brother that he was going to church. He started getting lost from the lobby to his first floor apartment. When he sent thousands of dollars to a scam lottery in Australia based in  Jamaica, we knew he could no longer be left alone.

I was so happy not have to worry about him, to have my brother be my Dad’s companion. My brother had said that I was too stretched with responsibilities of my nuclear family to look after Dad, but after two years my brother moved back south and my Dad came here.

His memory has gotten worse,  even though like most people with dementia, he has moments of lucidity. He is still his same pleasant, peaceful self. He is physically in perfect health and doesn’t need any medication. He is strong, but he needs reminding for everything–what piece of clothing to put on where, what a toothbrush is for, that kind of thing.

It has taken me a while to come to the realization that he needs more attention, stimulation, company his own age, things that neither his home caregiver nor I can give him. My friends have been telling me practically from the beginning that taking my Dad in was too much for me to handle. They were right, but now that I’ve made the decision, I realize that I had to come to it on my own, in my own time.

When I started looking at places on-line, a service appeared that is like a concierge for adult living facilities. You tell them what you want and they make suggestions and appointments. Easy. My person’s name is Ruth and when she was setting up the appointments for me, I said, “it’s just like looking at schools, right?”
Ruth paused and said, “not exactly.”
A few days later I was having lunch with my friend Linda and told her what I’d decided to do. She offered to go with me.
“That’s sweet, but I don’t think I need that.”
She insisted that I did and insisted on going with me.

I don’t know what I would’ve done without her. She was literally there for me to lean on. It is so much more emotional than I expected and there is way too much information to absorb.

The places we looked at were really nice, one of them was like a nice hotel, where baking smells waft through the halls. The staff bakes everyday so that the smells trigger memories of happy times.

One of the places even boasted that many couples had formed there–12 of whom have even gotten married. These place are not depressing nursing homes that smell like urine; but still the idea of putting my Dad in a place weighed heavy on my heart along with the reality of where my Dad is in his life. It is still heartbreaking. Linda was there to support me, but also to ask smart questions and help me remember a lot of what had been said, what we saw.

I don’t know why I thought this would be like comparing middle schools, as I’d recently done, for my son.
One of the places I looked at had a nice single room with a view of a small park. I thought, I could be happy here.

Right now I’m figuring out costs, his benefits, moving him at the same time my husband and I are doing virtually the same thing for our daughter as she prepares to go away to college.

My Dad has been a steady presence in my life. Worked everyday for 35 years at General Motors from can’t see to can’t see. I never heard him complain and every two weeks he’d hand his paycheck over to my mother. They were a team.
After she died, I expected that he would go soon after. You read about that all the time in long term couples–their union had lasted almost 60 years.
He didn’t leave us physically, but…

So, he will be moving to his new place and my daughter will be leaving for hers. He’s at the end of his life, she’s beginning hers. I will be sad to see them both go and I’ll also be left with time to contemplate:
where’s the place for people in the middle of life, like me.

Three Supermarkets

29 Jan

I used to love to go food shopping with my mother, which is funny because I despise going now. Despise might be a tad too strong a word, but the way I feel about it now is a sharp contrast to how I did then. My mother Clara was a character and much loved by me. We were in love with each other and going to the supermarket was a wonderful excuse to just be with her. She was a busy woman. She had a job. She worked nights–11 till 7– as a nurse’s aide for 32 years at the same Catholic hospital. She was the Papa Doc president of the PTA at my brothers’ and my elementary school and followed us to our high school. She eventually became the county-wide PTA president–the second Black woman to do so. She was a Cub Scout leader and the president of our block club and my brothers and I had lunch prepared when we came home from school everyday for the midday meal and she had a two-course homemade dinner on the table everyday at 5. I can only imagine what she would’ve been running had she been born twenty years later.
Today I had to pick up a few things at ShopRite, then I needed to go to Whole Foods to get vitamins, organic Kombucha drink and raw honey. On my way home, I realized we didn’t have any Taco shells for dinner so I stopped at the A&P. On my way in, I flashed on those grocery shopping Fridays with my mom. She was an avid coupon clipper and knew what stores had which things on sale in any given week.
“ShopRite has rump roast for two dollars a pound this week…” She’d do some of the shopping there; then it was on to the A&P to pick up a bag of Macintosh apples (the only kind she’d used to make apple pie), then it was Pathmark for who knows what. Today, I found myself smiling as I went into the third store of the day. I miss her at the strangest times.
The other day my Dad, who lives with us and has dementia, called down to the basement for me. He called me Clara. In the almost four years since she died he has never called anybody Clara.
Every night I have to tuck him in, not because he’s feeble, he’s still as strong as the South Carolina farm boy he was, but because he can’t remember where his bedroom is or what to do to prepare for sleep. When I enter his room, there’s a picture of my mother, beaming in her white wedding dress which she bought for their 50th anniversary wedding. Most of the time I smile at her face, oftentimes it’s because of her get-up. She and my dad didn’t have a wedding when they were married almost 60 years ago and she’d always wanted one. True to my mother’s determined spirit she threw herself one, complete with  a brand new wedding dress, the church, my brother Larry walking her down the aisle to give her away, her sisters, daughters-in-law and me as bridesmaids; her grandchildren as various attendants.
I miss her as my mother, sometimes as a friend and many times I miss the unique character that she was. I’ve yet to meet anyone like her.

Are Girlfriends the New Husbands?

25 Jan

When I first heard about the article with the above title, which was recently published in Marie Claire magazine, I’d assumed it was about friendships between women of whom one or both were married. My friend D had mentioned it to me on our Sunday walk with the dogs after we’d meandered through the our local park, designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead (who’d also designed Central Park).
We talk about whatever is going on, has gone on, might go on in our lives. We talk about our kids–hers are recently out of college and one of mine is on her way, the other in middle school. We talk about our creative careers, we talk about movies, fashion, articles, whatever. Even in winter, after our walk, we’re often still chatting with the dogs flopped at our feet, tired and waiting for us to shut up.
We always feel better after just talking. As with most conversations between women, if there’s a problem, an issue we just need an airing, someone to listen, comment, but not give a here’s what you should do, although I have a two girlfriends who are free with the unsolicited.
When D and I were parting the other day she said: “I feel so much better, just talking.”
Then she said, it’s like girlfriends are the new husbands.
The comment stayed in my head all week and D sent me the link to the article, which apparently had caused something of a stir. After reading the article, it wasn’t what I’d expected. It was a let down. It was about the intensity of single women’s friendships (duh), but based on the title, I thought it was going to be about married women with good husbands, whom they like, as I do, but also have an intense intimacy with girlfriends. Most women, single and married, have strong women friendships.
I don’t often have the same flexibility to get together spontaneously with my married or single girlfriends, but I make time to hang for a walk, a lunch or dinner or drinks out or at home.
My husband and I are not that couple who feel we must do everything together. We both make time to see our friends (my daughter and I call Glenn, Cliff’s best friend, his girlfriend).
I can and do talk to Cliff about everything. My girlfriends think he and I have a really good marriage–otentimes I agree with them–but the point is that there’s nothing that replaces my girlfriends.
When my friend Eleanore’s Dad died, I traveled with her Washington, D.C. where she grew up. When we got there we stayed at her sister’s apartment, but we did the mourning sit (eating and receiving family and friends) at her Dad and stepmother’s home. I was telling E’s stepmother, who I’d never met, something and in passing mentioned my husband. She stopped me mid-sentence and said: “You got a husband?” She was incredulous about my presence and even asked me why I’d come. I’d told her that I had wanted to be there for Eleanore, who is one of my dearest friends. Stepmother was clearly confused and for the rest of the visit, looked at me cockeyed. I guess in her mind a married woman doesn’t have close girlfriends and certainly don’t leave home to travel with one. Before the weekend was out, she must’ve asked me twice more if I was actually married; maybe women of her generation didn’t–although my mom always clung to her six sisters and girlfriends.
Growing up as the youngest and only girl with three older brothers and my Dad, my mother and I were outnumbered and I always felt that way. Whenever  one of my brothers had a girlfriend, I’d glom on to her and pretend she was my sister.
Now that I have a few really close girlfriends, one of whom is that a sister I’d longed for, I feel complete in a way I never had growing up.
Are girlfriends the new husbands? No, but just like I can’t imagine my life without mine, I can’t and don’t want to imagine life without my girlfriends.

The Accidental Housewife

22 Jan

Today I went to Costco, returned a sweater that I loved but had no business buying and went to the Apple store in a mall. Nothing makes me feel more like a suburban housewife than going to Costo and to the mall in the middle of the day.

As I re-enter my writing life, I still have some of the unpleasant patterns that I’d established when I was home full-time. As I write about in my book, Welcome to My Breakdown (still shopping for a publisher!), I had planned to be a stay-at-home mom for one year. After publishing and touring and publishing and touring with four novels, I finished my contract and was exhausted. I decided that I needed to stay home for a year with my son, who was four and had had nannies and Au pairs for those years. I thought (still do) that he needed my stamp on him. So, initially I figured I’d be with him for that last nursery school year and resume my very successful writing career when he entered kindergarten.
My plan was to find a lovely Mary Poppins or more accurately, a Mabel Perkins and I could happily go back to my career life as it used to be…well the first year was so good.  I felt he was really blossoming under the sun that I’d bathed him, give it another year, I’d thought. Well kindergarten turned to first grade then second and then third. By then, I’d found myself being swallowed up by domestic obligations and resentment swallowed with early afternoon cocktails.
Now my darling boy has just entered middle school–6th grade–and I’ve finally finished a book.
Now, I’m resuming my pre-accidental life. Before I offend all the stay-at-home moms, believe me when I say, I know it’s hard work to take care of a house and be everything, do everything, for your children. Some women have a beautiful temperament for the job, some don’t. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, I want to be there for my kids, but not 24/7. I need to work and have an outside life that doesn’t include my family. So there I said it.
Now, if I could just find some paper towels at my local store that I like as much as that Costco brand.

20 Jan

My wonderful intern, Gabby, set up this blog (and my website, updated Facebook page and my twitter). I resisted all of it. I’m not much of a blog reader and only regularly read two: my fabulous daughter’s–Bee Influence and my do-or-die girlfriend Eleanore’s Spinsterlicious.

I am easily overwhelmed by information and honestly have way too much going on (not that you don’t), to participate in all that is social media. But, Gabby and others, who are actively living in this part of the century, convinced me that I needed to catch up.
In addition to trying to sell my most recent book, Welcome to My Breakdown, I’m also raising two children, my daughter is 18 and my son is almost 12; taking care of my father, who has dementia and lives with us; going through the college application process with my daughter; searching for assisted living places for my dad; teaching creative writing at a college and keeping my 20-year marriage, house and blind dog all going. I’m not complaining, but I am explaining why I haven’t published a book in six years.

I’m changing that–I’m back in the game (happy Walter and McBride)? This time I’ve written a non-fiction book, a memoir of sorts.
I told you that in this blog I would write about things that I’ve read, heard, seen that inspire, anger, amuse me both as a writer and a human being.

This morning, Sunday, I do what I always do, read the Sunday New York Times, while having my coffee. This is my church. I pretty much read the same sections the same way, switching between the front section and the Style section. If I read Style first it’s usually because I’m feeling decadent or rushed. If I read the serious news first if I’m feeling clearer and languid. Today I read an article about how the Obamas have changed since first term. It quoted old friends, cabinet people, politicians. One said something about how they’re more comfortable dealing with the butlers and handlers–Duh. Then there was a delicious piece on the head of JCrew, Jenna Lyons, who is very cool and just the kind of quirky that I love. After a recent split from her husband she started a romantic relationship with a woman. I like her even more for having the courage to publicly, do her thing. Sexuality is fluid. Love isn’t always convenient nor does it neatly fit into box.
With my new book, I’m puttin a lot of my stuff out there. I’m on a journey–trying to live outside of boxes. I don’t want lines of which I have to stay inside, my suburban life withstanding.
The possibilities of what this book can open up, excite (and scare) me. I’m hoping you’ll come along with me feel more alive, enlightened or just some kind of way in the process.