Who mothers the mothers?
Who cares for the caregiver–
wipes her brow when she’s hot
cleans her up when she’s sick?
Who picks up the slack
when she’s exhausted
and would rather sleep
than run that errand,
or the vacuum?
Who hugs her
makes her appointments
and takes her to them?
Who takes care of the mothers?
Who sends her flowers,
who will plant them on her grave?
There will always be boulders in the road ahead. Sometimes we can get around them; sometimes they bring us to a screeching halt. Now and then we crash headlong into one and it knocks us flat.
My last post was about my “year in tight shoes.” I seemed think the worst was over and that I could relax a bit, coast, enjoy a glass of wine on the patio after harvesting goodies from the garden. Silly me.
The Universe has ways of reminding us not to get smug. This time it hit me upside the head with a 2×4. On March 29, my daughter’s house burned down. She lost nearly everything, including her home-based business. Humans and animals are all ok.
While I made several trips (a two-hour drive each way) to help her in whatever small ways I was able–cleaning soot off salvaged items, laundering other items (multiple washes to remove the smell), taking meals, providing a few hotel nights–we were dealing with our own mess at home–not catastrophic like my daughter’s, but exceedingly annoying.
We had had an infestation of small flies for weeks. One pest control “expert” decided to fog the house with what I later learned was Deltamithrin, or Delta dust–waterproof, mildly toxic, nearly impossible to remove. Every object in the house had to be cleaned, from bed linens, curtains, furniture and rugs, to counters, floors, cupboards, knickknacks. Every. Single. Item. The floors took five moppings–with industrial-strength vinegar–to finally remove the white residue. This cleanup took a week (with the help of our cleaning lady, for which the pest company’s insurance reimbursed us), so I went from wiping black soot off china and glass to wiping white powder off everything in our house. (Soon afterwards, the remaining guinea pig died, but I think it was loneliness. The animals were out of the house with us during the fogging.)
And–kicker!–we still have flies. We’ve had five visits from three different pest control companies, as well as three plumbing service calls to eliminate leaks and wet spots where flies might breed.
Our situation is only annoying, not tragic. My daughter will rebuild her life and her home, and it will be better. She is managing with as much grace and fortitude as a person could be expected to after so much loss.
And I continue to live under the illusion that once this phase of challenges, plus some ongoing tasks, are done, I can relax. The patio, the wine, the knitting, and the backlog of New Yorker magazines, await.
And the Universe will continue to place boulders in the road to remind me the path–mine or anyone’s–usually isn’t a stroll in the park.
I first thought we might ask our granddaughter to live with us when she was about seven, but it seemed impossible. Where would we house her in our condo? How would we travel? Would I keep up my volunteer activities? How would our marriage fare?
After she and her mom moved, not just to a small town, but 10 miles outside a small town, with its long drives and even longer bus ride to school (and sometimes she missed the bus and mom didn’t have a working vehicle); no close neighbors with kids; and a very white-bread conservative community ill-fitted to the funky creative family.
Living in a vibrant city with an excellent elementary school nearby, we decided to invited her to live with us–on a temporary, experimental basis.
Two-and-a-half years later it doesn’t seem temporary and we no longer live in the big city. But our new hometown, though small, has everything we need: good schools, beautiful geography, lots of culture, a church community we all like, and plenty of activities.
Not only has it not been impossible, it is our normal and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. As challenging as a (now) 11-year-old is, she is bright, talented and funny. And if we didn’t have her we would never have acquired our beautiful dog, Junior, who is my comfort buddy.
I had a few days of solitude over the holidays, unplanned, unexpected and totally delightful. No husband, child or dog. Just me and the guinea pigs. I can’t even relate what I did most of those days, except for lounging in bed after waking, drinking coffee in my silk robe, eating when and what I felt like, and taking long walks. Other than a grocery run, I didn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone for three days. I did a lot of reading. It was just what I needed.
On New Year’s Eve, everyone returned, and it was back to the noisy TV, insistent dog, meal prep and laundry. I was determined to maintain some of the self-care that had been so therapeutic, but often I can’t think a thought or type a sentence or read a story without an interruption. I try to be patient, try to meet their needs too, but it’s a difficult balance–self-care without being selfish!
Yes, I should delegate more, and I handed laundry off to my husband. Unfortunately it can take three days for a load of laundry to get done, which tries my patience and I end up
nagging reminding him repeatedly, “the washer’s done,” “your dryer is buzzing….”
Granddaughter is becoming much more self-reliant, fixing most of her own food and spending hours in her room drawing with her new tablet that shows the image on her laptop screen. We also collaborated on the decoration for a Little Free Library to be installed in front of our church, but I’m not terribly thrilled with how it came out, or how much of my effort it took.
When she was at her mom’s over the holidays Chloe texted me a picture of a puppy she wanted. I put my foot down and said absolutely not. But the other day I was cuddling Junior and thinking about how calming and therapeutic a dog can be (there is a lot of anxiety in this family), so I’ve laid out conditions that must be met before I will even consider a dog for her birthday in November:
- It will be her dog, meaning she walks it twice a day, feeds it when she’s at home, and manages all its care inasmuch as the school day allows. She also needs to help with Junior’s care.
- She must show more responsibility than she does now for cleaning, and keeping clean, her bathroom and bedroom. Consistently, over the long haul, not just a blitz cleaning now and then.
- She must keep up her school work and her attendance.
- She must maintain a generally helpful and cooperative attitude around the house.
- IF, and it’s a big if, we get another dog, it has to be a rescue dog, an adult under 30 pounds, and she wants a female so it’ll have to be spayed.
There are still the issues of vet bills, travel care, and what happens when she grows up and leaves home?
I’m still struggling with the balance and self-care, so is this nuts? For the record, I’m staying caught up on reading, having finished three books I started last year. I’m getting needed medical services for myself, now that the rest of the family’s medical needs are being met. I sing in two choirs, attend a weekly knitting group session, go to church every week and feel well-connected with our new community.
For the two-plus years we’ve had the granddaughter, it has been simply a loving duty. People sometimes call me a saint. My response is always that you do what you have to do.
But I grieved my retirement, the loss of freedom, lazy mornings sleeping in and drinking coffee in my silk robe.*
Between her 11th birthday, early in November, and Thanksgiving, we turned a corner, so subtly I didn’t realize it right away. It was getting not only easier, but actually fun.
It’s against my personal code to go shopping on Black Friday, but circumstances necessitated otherwise, and I found myself in the local craft store—even Walmart, for heaven’s sake!—over Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t hate it. C. loves to decorate and she goes nuts in the craft store, wanting the cute snowmen and gingerbread ladies, elves, tiny trees, and ornaments.
We laugh. She has inherited our family’s snarky, dry sense of humor, and she makes me laugh—a lot. Now when she asks, “Grandma, can we go to Hometown Crafts?” I’m ready to go. Living in a small town with a great craft and decor store a five-minute, no-traffic drive away, makes a huge difference. In Austin I wouldn’t think of venturing out on Black Friday.
But it’s not only shopping and decorating—that’s fun for almost everyone. Her whole personality has changed. She spends less time in her room, drawing and chatting with online friends. She plays with the dog, asks me to go for walks with her, and talks a blue streak while we’re walking. She does her homework without prompting, asking for help when needed. She gets herself up with no difficulty and arrives at school well before the bell. She’s making an effort to eat healthier.
Walking to school one recent day she wanted to talk about the Big Bang, and she didn’t mean the TV show. On the walks to and from school I try to just listen as she chatters about whatever is on her mind. She used to march on half a block ahead, me trailing behind.
Yes, she can still be tween moody, even downright mean. Yes, her room is messy, she “forgets” to put dishes in the dishwasher, and she doesn’t always come to dinner when she’s called. She’s 11!
It could be a chicken-or-egg question: has my new attitude affected hers, or has her new maturity made me feel better? I suspect it’s a little of both. I definitely think it’s her brain is maturing.
But I am finally at peace with my reality: not only is this life ok, it’s the life I should be living and I love it. My only sadness is that she still treats her Step-Grandfather (she emphasizes the “step”) like an obnoxious little brother. I wish she’d treat him more like a favorite big brother and appreciate all he does for her and what he, too, has given up.
A friend spent Friday night and most of Saturday with her last weekend, and all I heard was the sweet sound of girls giggling.
* I now have four silk robes. More on that to come.
It taunts me, hanging there on the hook next to the closet. I should put it away, but it’s pretty and, well, maybe someday….
When I retired and started blogging, I mentioned that the very best part of retirement was going to bed and getting up when I wanted. Staying up reading. Sleeping in as long as I felt like it. Sitting around in my silk robe, drinking coffee and reading the paper. At least it lasted a few years.
Now, with the child and the dog, I am up five days a week at 5:30 a.m., and sleep only a bit later on weekends because the dog needs to go out. He won’t go in the back yard. Husband offers to walk him on weekends, but he clatters about so much I usually get up.
But I look longingly at the silk robe. I got it from my daughter, who buys and sells items on eBay. It is colorful and sort-of Asian, and it just feels luxurious to sit on the patio and drink coffee in the morning.
I’m leaving it on the hook. Someday….*
P.S. I have no regrets. Without the granddaughter and the dog, my life would be easier, yes, but much less rich.
This is the hard part. After the stress and hard labor of moving, I did most of the unpacking and settling in by myself. My husband had a relapse of severe back pain that kept him in his zero-gravity chair much of the summer. I gardened and hauled dirt in Texas heat, managed pool care, kept up the household chores and errands, hung pictures, plus, the most difficult part: wrangling the 10-year-old granddaughter. (After treatment, husband is doing well.)
Parenting as a grandparent, at my age, is hard. It’s just hard. With a bright pre-pubescent tween with a lot of attitude, it’s even harder. There have been many times when I just thought, “I can’t do this.”
But of course I must and I can. Now that the granddaughter is in school, it’s easier, but it does mean early rising, packing lunch, making sure someone is home at 3 p.m., and dealing with the dreaded math homework in the evening.
We have horrible days and we have good days. She gets herself up and ready with no difficulty, her grades are good so far and she does her homework without argument. I walk her to and from school, which is a great opportunity for conversation. She has made some school friends and has done one sleepover, giving us a night out to see a play. It will continue to alternate between challenge and fun.
What gets me through (besides coffee in the morning and wine in the evening):
- I remind myself regularly: “It is a privilege and a joy to be able to do this.”
- My art, music, knitting, church and political events keep me occupied and help me make friends.
- I found a scrap of writing while we were moving that said: “Swimming is my exercise, my meditation, my relaxation and my serenity.” I float on my back and watch hummingbirds at the feeders. The pool and patio are also great for socializing with friends and neighbors.
- Being in a comfortable house in a peaceful, pleasant, safe neighborhood in a community we’re coming to love.
- Walking the dog.
But serious attitude work has helped the most. I am attempting mindfulness (imperfectly, of course) and meditation (not enough). I have reminders when self-pity kicks in:
- Keeping my head up. Sometimes I catch myself slumping and looking at the ground. Simply pulling my head up and seeing trees and blue sky will lift me out of a funk.
- Breathing. It’s obvious, but a stressed person doesn’t breathe well. Sometimes I’ll just stop and take a deep breath.
- Gratitude. I am so blessed–good health, a wonderful home, loving family around me (even if they often drive me crazy), the sweetest dog in the world,
enough of pretty much everything we need. I am reminded of a line from the movie “American Beauty,” “There is beauty everywhere.” I keep my eyes open for it, especially small things. A butterfly, a kid waving from a school bus, flowers on my windowsill, give me a lift.
- On the bathroom wall is a quote from the Buddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make peace with that and all will be well.”
- Mollie Player, in her blog, quoted something that (paraphrased) has become my mantra: “It’s all good, even the awful stuff, because it’s all part of the journey.” This one is not easy, but if you can really live it, it works. Grandkid being snotty, husband hurting, family worries, my own aches and pains–it’s all part of the journey.
What gets you through?
Moving is never pretty. This one was especially ugly. Short version: it was a comedy of a too-small truck, surly crew, items left behind, plumbing problems at both houses.
Then there’s the pool (a white elephant, an extra pet, another child?). It was sick, and it took many phone calls, waiting, draining, refilling to get it sparkling and inviting. We now have reliable service. Yard care is another matter, but I leave that to Gary.
One thing we’re finding in our new home town is how hard it is to get services. Businesses take days to return calls, if they do at all. It must be small-town standard time.
We still need the basics of everyday living. My mantra has been “EAT. SLEEP. BATHE.” As long as we can get food, have beds and have a bathroom, we’re fine. But being surrounded by boxes gets old, and we still have a lot of unpacking to do (art, books and knickknacks–unnecessary items you wonder why you have so many of).
These are of course so-called first-world problems, and we love it here. We have met neighbors while walking the dog; some have knocked on our door. One neighbor helped us hook up the washer, another has offered iris plants when she splits them. People everywhere give me tips on local shopping, swimming holes and other treasures.
Some of my Austin friends connected me to people they know here in Kerrville, so I already feel like we have friends here. One invited me to a Pink Power Democratic Women’s mixer, which I really enjoyed. On the next street we met a couple whose daughter goes to our UU church in Austin. They are into theater and we’ve already had them over for drinks.
The best thing is that, despite the slower and quieter pace, there is a wealth of things to do here. The beautiful Guadalupe River provides walks and swimming spots. There are several art venues and theater companies and a small UU congregation. I’m finding poets and knitters. When we can pull ourselves away from home, there’s a multitude of choices.
We have small mall, a large regional medical center, two H-E-B groceries, a Wal-Mart (to which I have made more visits in the last three weeks than my previous lifetime total–it’s five minutes away). If Wal-Mart or H-E-B doesn’t have it, Gibson‘s, a local hardware-hunting-fishing-dimestore-discount place probably does. And I won’t miss Michael’s, because Home Town Crafts has everything–it’s Michael’s, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s mashed together. There are Home Depot, Lowes, and local home and garden supply stores. About the only thing missing is a Target, which I can manage without.
Even though most of the art remains boxed, we have hung curtains in our bedrooms, acquired (and assembled) dining room and patio furniture, and have functioning spaces to eat, sleep and bathe.
My studio is the last thing to be unpacked and set up before we hang art. I want to get back to doing art, but I’m having trouble. I have broken it into stages: unpacking, sorting, organizing and putting away. I’m still in sorting phase, and it’s so overwhelming (why do I have so much STUFF?) that I have to break that up too.
We had to go to Austin last week to close on the condo, and we went to San Antonio yesterday. Each time I couldn’t wait to get back home. I’ve told my kids my next move will be to either the nursing home or the funeral home.
When we have our coffee on the patio in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening, or when I float in our private pool surrounded by pecan trees, I feel like we won the lottery.