Caregiving is a nonstop rollercoaster ride

Suddenly my life was all about diapers, wipes, laundry, and sippy cups. I slept in spurts between cries from down the hall. I ate my meals on the run. Instead of showers, I dashed deodorant on my armpits and hoped it would keep me from stinking. I could not leave the house without finding someone to sit with the one for whom I was caring. My life back in Oregon faded into distant memory.

Had I acquired a baby? No, for most of April, I was in California helping my father, who went to bed on April 2 and has not gotten up on his own feet since then. After nine days of the most intimate caregiving at home, the pain in his legs and back got so bad I called 911. Since then, my father has moved back and forth between Kaiser Hospital and a skilled nursing facility, with me, and sometimes my brother, at his side, signing papers, interacting with doctors and nurses, and keeping track of his belongings. As if we were his parents.

It has been a rollercoaster ride, with brief ups and steep downs. Shooting pains sent Dad to bed. Then he had an inflamed gallbladder. Then the doctors were watching his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough that might turn into pneumonia. Suddenly doctors and social workers were pushing me to decide what to do if the worst happened. Resuscitate? Tube feeding? “Ask him,” I insisted, even though Dad’s mind drifted in and out.

He recovered enough to go back to the skilled nursing facility. I came home to Oregon, hoping things would calm down for a while. I wasn’t even all the way home before a nursing home employee called to say they were testing him for a virulent gastrointestinal infection. The next caller said the test was positive. At this moment, he is still in the hospital but might be discharged to the nursing home today.

My father is tough. Yesterday he turned 97 in the hospital. In the last decade, he has survived heart surgery, a broken hip, a shattered leg, and too many falls to count. Up until April 2, he was living alone in the home where we grew up, with a caregiver coming just a few hours a week. He moved around with a walker. Everything, from getting dressed to carrying a cup of coffee from the coffeepot to the table, was difficult, but he kept going. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen, or maybe we do know, but not when. I’m not going back yet, but I’m keeping my suitcase handy.

Many times I have wondered how God could thrust me into caregiving again after all I experienced with my late husband, but I also think maybe it was always his plan that instead of caring for babies I would care for the sick and dying in my family. It’s a hard job, perhaps the hardest. If I had been a mother, would I have been better prepared? At the least I would know how to feed someone without getting it all over his face, how to open the stupid plastic container of wet wipes, and how to clean his most personal parts. I could pick up a baby and carry him to the ER instead of calling 911. And yet I find I’m getting pretty good at this caregiving business. If I don’t know how to do it, I figure it out. Isn’t that what mothers do? Or so I hear.

It’s not the same, of course. With luck, a baby grows up and learns to care for himself. A baby does not have the language to complain and criticize. Nor is there so much history. This is the man from whose sperm I was created. Hour after hour, I sat with him in that same bedroom, studying the flowered wallpaper, the crucifix over his head, and my mother’s dresser with the same perfumes, pictures, and music box that were there when she died almost 17 years ago. I wanted to be the “good girl,” taking care of everything. But time and again, I failed. He was wet, hungry, in pain. The coffee was cold. Gritting my teeth, I did my best to take care of it, but there’s all this baggage. When he yelled, I was still the same scared kid I was long ago.

When Dad was in the mood, he talked about the ranch, WWII, his career as an electrician, and people who had died. He said he was not afraid of dying, that he looked forward to meeting my mother and the rest of the family in heaven. I treasured these talks, knowing how precious they were, knowing this might not happen again. We cried hard when I said goodbye last week.

So that’s where I have been. You can read more at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. I have never missed so many weeks of blog posts. I hope to get back on schedule now, but I make no promises. I may disappear again. Caregiving is 24/7, and Dad has no Internet connection, even though he lives in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Have you been in situations like this where you used your parenting energy in other ways? Please share in the comments.

God bless you all. Mother’s Day is coming. Prepare to duck and cover.

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Childless watching children open presents

Am I a spoiled brat or do I have a point? Read on and let me know.

At Thanksgiving, we watched old home videos from the 80s, back when my niece and nephew were toddlers and my husband and my mother were both still alive. I braced myself, expecting a flood of tears, but mostly I was fascinated—and horrified–watching myself. I liked the 80s look with the big hair, big glasses and preppy vest outfits, but did I really talk like that? Do I still? Yikes.

It was hard seeing my very old father watch the younger version of himself. It was shocking to realize my parents were younger at that time than my brother and I are now. I watched my mother playing with my niece and wished that I had more time with her and that I had given her grandchildren. She loved little ones so much.

But most of the videos seemed to be of children unwrapping Christmas presents. I do not find this entertaining. I have been watching other people’s kids unwrap gifts all my life, starting with the early days when my parents, my brother and I spent Christmas Eve watching my cousins open their presents while we had to wait to open our own at home on Christmas morning after church. Sure, there would be one or two things for us, but mostly we sat and watched as they ripped the wrapping paper, tossed aside gifts they found boring, and screamed as they unwrapped the good stuff.

In later years, I have watched my friends’ children and my step-grandchildren open their presents. I find it hard to sit benevolently smiling, especially when they give nothing in return. Couldn’t they at least offer a crayoned card or a Popsicle-stick reindeer? Something cheesy from the dollar store, so they know they need to give as well as receive? Sigh. If you’re watching your own children or grandchildren unwrap the gifts you chose for them, it might be wonderful, but I’ll never know. Don’t rub it in by making me watch.

I know my brother and I were equally spoiled. Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents showered us with gifts. By the time all the packages were opened, you could barely walk through the living room for all the toys and wrapping paper. But these days, Santa is mighty stingy with me. The little girl in me feels deprived already. I don’t need to watch someone else’s kids opening one gift after another.

I know Christmas is not all about presents. It’s about the birth of Jesus. With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, I’ll be at church four days in a row, doing music for the regular weekend Masses and then for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to it. On Christmas Eve, I will enjoy the choir’s goofy gift exchange, then go home exhausted to my quiet house, my dog, and my tiny artificial Christmas tree. All good.

I know you’re not all Christian. Maybe you don’t exchange gifts at all. In that case, you probably can’t wait for the madness to be over. Me too. I love Dec. 26. I’m a big fan of ordinary days.

So there it is. Am I a rotten person? I hesitated to post this, but here it is.

I hope this time of year is good for you, however you celebrate it. Your presence is an ongoing gift to me.

My gift to you: my post at Unleashed in Oregon on why dogs are more fun than children.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Let us know in the comments how you’re doing.

 

Should she leave her childless marriage?

Dear readers,

In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:

“First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.”

In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.

So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay, say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?

Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.

Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.

So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?

***

My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

 

 

 

Should she stay with her boyfriend who doesn’t want kids?

In responding to a previous post, “They stayed in a childless marriage,” Maria commented:

I see most replies are from people who chose to stay in a marriage. I am not married yet but I love my boyfriend dearly. I know sometimes you’re biased by love but I genuinely think he’s perfect for me in every other aspect. He makes me feel happy, safe, understood, loved. He’s a very caring person and I have never felt like this about anyone. I feel it is very unlikely that I will find someone with as high a compatibility as I have with him. He says he’s unsure about having children because he feels he’s too old (38) and that it would be too great of a lifestyle change. Ultimately the financial burden that comes with children is also something he is concerned about even though he’s more than stable financially. He just wants to retire very comfortably and without much worries at an early age. He even told me that if he won the lottery, he would agree to have children. I am 31 and for most of my adult life, I have known that I wanted children so it breaks my heart to have found a wonderful man and for us not to agree on the one issue for which there is no compromise.

Is there anyone out there who wasn’t married but chose to stay with their significant other that can share their story?

I would like to hear those stories, too. This comment also raises two questions I’d like you to ponder with me.

  1. Is it truly different when you’re not married to the person? You don’t have legal ties, but so often, I hear from readers who are so in love and so sure that this person is “the one” that they can’t imagine leaving. Are the emotional connections more constricting than the so-called bonds of matrimony? Looking from the outside, we might say, “Hey, move on, Maria,” but should she? Can she? And will this issue ultimately keep them from getting married?
  2. What about the money part of it? We know that raising children is expensive. It often requires sacrifice and perhaps working at jobs you’d rather not have. Instead of taking a trip to Europe or enrolling in grad school, you’re paying for braces on your kids’ teeth. My father would say, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But he was born almost a hundred years ago and grew up in an era when everyone had children if they could. How many of you are hearing worries about money as part of the reason why your partners are reluctant to procreate? As Maria suggests, would it be different if they won the lottery and had lots of money? Short of winning the lottery, how can you ease these worries?

Maria isn’t the only one dealing with these issues. I welcome your input. Please comment.

***

My role as dog mom is getting intense. Next week, Annie will be having knee surgery. Read about it on my other blog, Unleashed in Oregon. I’m extremely worried about how I will manage her recovery by myself. The last time I went through this kind of surgery with a dog, my husband was here to help look after her and to lift her into the car when we needed to take her to the vet. Now it’s just me. What if I have to go out and she hurts herself? At this moment, although not having children has left a vast crater where family ought to be, I feel much worse about not having a partner. Something to ponder as you decide what to do with your life.

Thank you all for being here.

 

 

Pondering sons, aunts, and untold stories

How are you? I’m struggling a bit. So I offer a few random thoughts today.

1) Last week we were talking about workplace conflicts between moms and employees without children. (Why is it never about dads?) You might be interested in this article, “Four Things Your Childless Co-Workers Think About You as a Working Mom.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

2) Two of the three readings for this Sunday’s Mass in the Catholic Church are about widows whose apparently dead sons have been brought back to life, one by Elijah and one by Jesus. Religious considerations aside, in those days, when the husband died, the sons were expected to step in and take care of the widowed mothers for the rest of their lives. In fact, before Jesus died, he asked one of his friends to take care of Mary. I don’t have a son. My stepsons have stepped far, far away. While I’m a full-fledged adult and far from helpless, there are sure times when the idea that I could have had a son who cared about me and was available to help me just makes me want to sob because I’ll never have that. Know what I mean?

3) I’m an aunt, but I live far from my niece and nephew and don’t feel included in their lives. I don’t even know my late husband’s nieces and nephews. He didn’t know them either. We read a lot about how being an aunt can be almost as good as being a parent. Maybe in some families, but not in mine. Sure, we saw them at family gatherings and got presents from them. We were friendly enough, but extended hanging out or confiding in them? It didn’t happen. Are you close to your aunts? Or uncles? To your nieces and nephews?

4) I have just published new editions of one of my older books, Stories Grandma Never Told. The print version has a new cover, and the book is now available as a Kindle e-book for the first time. Read more about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. Working on this book again made me think about those stories Grandma never told. The book is oral history, with lots of Portuguese American women talking about immigration, education, work, family, ethnic traditions, and more. I never heard these stories from my own grandmother. She died before it occurred to me to ask. I frequently preach that we should not let our family stories die, that we should ask our elders to tell us what it was like when they were young because when they’re gone, who will be left to ask? I’m always coming up with questions I wish I could ask my mother, but she passed away 14 years ago. I grill my dad regularly.

But here’s the thing. For those of us who never have children, who will never be grandmas, who will we tell our stories to? Being a writer, I can share everything in my books, essays and poems, but what about people who are not writers? Where will their memories go? Suggestions? Maybe we could make a list of possible ways to leave something behind.

5) Enough depressing thoughts. Have any of you had trouble commenting here? What happens when you click “comment?” Are there too many steps to take to get in? Please me know. Sometimes I get emails (sufalick@gmail.com) from people who have trouble with the comment function, and I don’t know whether the problem is them or the settings. I don’t want anything to get in the way of our conversations. If you can’t get in, email me.

Keep reading and commenting. I’m so glad you’re here.

Childless at work: does it make a difference?

Remember before Mother’s Day when I wrote about Megan Krause’s book Meternity and the idea of childless workers deserving something like maternity leave? That discussion got a little derailed by Mother’s Day—and I’m so glad you all are commenting and encouraging each other, but now that the Mother’s Day madness is over for this year, let’s revisit childlessness in the workplace. Check out this follow-up article, “The Motherhood Divide in the Workplace—It’s Not as Big as You Think.”

Writer Georgene Huang, a new mom, suggests that parents and non-parents want the same things from work. Mostly they want flexible hours so they can attend to other things that are important in their lives besides work. Children are certainly a major concern, but we all have other responsibilities for which we need time, things that we can’t manage on the weekend or the few hours between work and sleep on weekdays.

For me, it was my writing and my music. Sometimes I brought my guitar to work and dashed out for an hour to perform. I know, everybody isn’t trying to do several careers at once like me, but when are we supposed to go to the dentist or the doctor or the DMV? What are we supposed to do if a plumber is coming to our house to fix our broken pipes? What if our parents, our spouses, our siblings or our friends need care during an illness or injury? What if the dog has to go to the vet?

Kids take a lot of time—and you know who was meeting with my stepson’s teachers when he was living with us? Right, me, the childless stepmom. What I’m saying is we all have stuff, and employers ought to give us time to deal with it. Obviously some occupations are more flexible than others. Somebody has to be there doing the job, but those jobs that expect you to work 80 hours a week or you’re not a team player, are not being fair to their employees, whether they have kids or not.

Tell us about your experiences. Have you felt discrimination at work as a person without kids? Have the parents dumped their work on you because they had to tend to their offspring? Do you resent your co-workers with kids? Are any of you employers with moms or dads on the staff who need extra time off? What’s a fair way to handle this?

If you still want to talk about Mother’s Day, backtrack to the Mother’s Day posts and comment there. We need to talk about it all. Thank you so much for being here and for the kind words many of you have offered me for my efforts. You all help me so much.

If you want to know what else is going on with me, check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog. This week, I talk about my brief experience with hearing aids.

Did you survive the Mother’s Day mania?

Mother’s Day is over. Thank God. With no kids and no mom, I hate that day. This year, I had my meltdown on the two days before. I was too depressed to do anything. At church Saturday night, I played terribly and felt like the whole church was looking at me sitting up front at the piano when our new pastor asked all the moms to stand for a blessing. Afterward, I parked my car at a spot overlooking the ocean and cried. Then I went to dinner alone in a restaurant full of families. The young waiter kept calling me “ma’am.”

Making matters worse, my sister-in-law and niece were hosting a baby shower for my nephew’s wife, who is pregnant with her third daughter. I probably couldn’t have gone, but it would have been nice to be invited. Endless Facebook posts about that, topped off with a picture of my brother’s family—seven people with kids and grandkids—did me in. There’s only one person in my family photo.

I did better on the actual Mother’s Day. I got the day off from church and mostly avoided the media and other people. I played the piano, did online puzzles, read, watched videos and took the dog for a long walk. Later, I went out to jam with musician friends. Renae, our hostess, greeted me with “Happy Mother’s Day if it’s appropriate.” “It’s not,” I said. She grinned. “Me either.” We had a great jam. (You can read about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.)

Over the weekend, several people tried to wish me happy dog-mom day, but it’s not the same, as some of you have already commented. I adore my dog, but she’s not going to give me a family photo like my brother’s. And all those sympathetic posts addressed to those of us who are missing our mothers or feeling bad because we don’t have kids were posted with good intentions, but they made me cry.

On Monday, I thought it was over, but now everyone had to post photos from their happy Mother’s Day celebrations. Moms and kids all over the Internet. I’m happy for all of them, but they’ll have to forgive me if I had to stop looking.

How did you do? Did you spend the day weeping, cursing, calm, or stuffing down your feelings? Did you manage to escape the mother mania? Tell us about it. It helps to let it out.

Guys, your turn is next month. Father’s Day. Sigh.

Happy . . . Wednesday!