One Year Later

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend commented that she couldn’t figure out how I have time for everything I am juggling currently. From trying to keep up with my writing to spreading the word about the MAIA Impact School to keeping things together at work and at home, I am busy with a capital B. This got me thinking – where did the time and head space for all of this come from suddenly? Ostensibly all of my responsibilities are the same, so what changed?

I spent some time reflecting on this question and I’ve come up with a couple thoughts. One factor, surely, is that my kids are older. With greater self-sufficiency on their part, I have a longer leash. The time saved by them being able to apply their own sunscreen, tie their own shoes, or put on their own snowsuits is immeasurable. Well, okay, it’s probably 5 minutes each day, but those are some of the more tedious daily demands of motherhood so these milestones matter.

The term “labor of love” also keeps popping into my head. While all of my current endeavors involve work, time, and sacrifice, they also fill my cup. My life is purpose- and passion-filled, and that’s energizing. I used to have a real problem saying “no” so I devoted a lot of time and energy to activities and jobs that left me feeling depleted – or downright stupid and worthless. I am just slightly more strategic about how I spend my time these days. When time becomes a precious commodity, even the most self-sacrificial person learns to guard it more wisely. While I am still horrible at saying “no,” often lapsing into its almost worse cousin “maybe,” I do appear to finally be learning a modicum of boundary setting. Ahhh, your 40’s are good for something!

Fill Your Cup

All that is meaningful and certainly adds up. However, I also lost my aunt this year, the amazing Fancy Nancy, and that sent me into an emotional morasse for a bit. The start of this calendar year I found myself sluggishly crawling through the days after she passed away, trying to get my head around the idea that this woman who was my guiding light and kindred spirit was suddenly gone. I quite honestly still can’t believe it. But these days when I feel scared or uncertain or sad, I can hear her faint but clear voice whispering, “Go. Live!” I think that she has made me braver and more determined.

And then there’s the fact that we moved our mom into a memory care facility last June. As the anniversary of that absolutely gut-wrenching decision and day came and went, I  marveled at what a difference a year can make. I knew as my mom’s primary and long distance caregiver that I was working hard on her behalf, and I was aware that her well-being took up a huge amount of space in my life, but until she was settled into a care home I had no idea exactly how much.

Initially, the interventions necessary for my mom to maintain a mostly independent life were relatively minimal. Over time, as the course of her Alzheimers progressed, though, I spent more and more time triaging issues: making health care decisions, as well doctor and dentist appointments; ensuring communication about appointment outcomes and necessary follow up; staying on top of prescription medications; acting in an HR capacity hiring, replacing, and advising aides; organizing payroll and the weekly schedule; paying bills; sorting through clothes that no longer fit and paperwork that was piling up in her office; fielding calls from her aides and her friends with questions, observations, or concerns, and then doing the research to determine if what we were seeing was to be expected and what to do about it. That’s just a sample. Countless other little things would come up to turn an otherwise uneventful day into a fire drill.

For a while, it was all worth it. And then last spring after a visit to see her, I got the distinct sensation that we had reached the zone beyond the peak of the bell curve. My efforts to prop up my mom’s faux independence were less and less noticed by her and more and more consuming for me. I spent incredible amounts of time working on my mom’s behalf, but had almost no time to actually spend with her. After some intense reflection, I realized that if she had perspective on the situation, she wouldn’t want me to feel so sad and torn between my life with my young family and my responsibility for her life hundreds of miles away. And with that knowledge, I began to visit, and eventually chose, a care home for her.

I’ll tell you what. That process, culminating in leaving her for her first night there, was utter hell. I literally cried into my dinner of a bowl of ice cream accompanied by a glass of wine the day I moved her in. I then put myself to bed early, like an overtired, weepy child, both missing my mom as I grieved this moment in our lives and feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility for her happiness. Rationally, I know that’s crazy – you can’t make other people happy – but I still wish I could sometimes.

Heschel quote

So here we are one year later. She is in fact perfectly happy. I don’t know that she has had one unhappy day since she moved to memory care. Her life exists in this exact moment. There is no past to dwell on, no ruminating about the future. There is just right now for her, and she seems to be quite amused by it. She knows she is loved, by the staff at her home as well as her family, and I think that’s what she always wanted. She has always been guided by what is in her heart, and that emotional clarity remains.

For me, I am my mom’s daughter again, not her business – heck LIFE – manager. It is one of my greatest joys in this mostly horrible Alzheimer’s journey to have my mom close to me again. She doesn’t know my name, but she knows I am hers (maybe her sister, maybe a friend, but sometimes “her little girl”). She lights up when I walk into the room and trusts me absolutely. We go for walks, and we have lunch. Sometimes I just stop in for 15 minutes to check on her. She comforts me when I cry, not understanding at all that I cry for her, for who she was.

Our mom always wanted us to be fulfilled and happy, and whatever our passions were became hers. She championed our efforts and was our biggest fan – always. One year later, I have achieved more balance and found greater purpose. One year later, I spend less time applying sunscreen to others, and more time with my mom. While I am still my mom’s biggest advocate and primary caregiver, it’s not all-consuming. This unexpected time in my life and space in my mind have allowed in more joy and light. If my mom could understand, I can visualize the smile that would break across her face and how her chest would swell in satisfaction. I am doing the best I can with the cards I’ve been dealt, and playing them to the best of my ability. Just like she and her sister taught me. Go! Live!

What if I fall quote

 

An Ode to Moms Everywhere

“I See You”

I see you, mom, in pajamas at school drop off. You who could care less about your appearance because the fact that the kids actually made it to school on time is such an accomplishment it hardly matters. Today. This time.

I see you, mom, who can’t say no to volunteering, who says no one else steps up so you have to do it, who feels like life turned into one long tumble in the washing machine, dizzying and cold.

I see you, mom, with your junk drawer completely overflowing with accumulated, well, junk. Like bumper stickers that aren’t car worthy and old iPhone chargers and receipts and spare keys to neighbor’s homes, if only you could remember whose they were.

I see you, mom, who got lost along the way and doesn’t recognize much of who you are anymore, spending all your time in the service of others, so much so that you couldn’t say what stirs your soul if you were asked and you fall into bed so dead tired you don’t have time to think about it. Anyway, no one’s asking.

I see you, mom, with the nice pump on one foot and the mismatched flat on the other. Some days the best you can manage is to show up.

I see you, mom, with spit up dried into your new, dry-clean only blouse. There is officially no dignified way to exit the house when you have a baby.

I see you, mom, on a frenzied mission, scrolling through websites for quick healthy meals for dinner tonight. Guess what? They don’t exist. Especially if it’s 4:30pm and you still have the commute home and day care pick up and you haven’t gone to the grocery store in days. Because, seriously, who has the time? What dimension of hell is this that kids need to be fed three times a day anyway???

I see you, mom, racing away from gas pump with the nozzle still in your car.

I see you, mom, who is starving for intellectual inspiration and adult conversation, but can’t figure out how to balance even part-time work with all the other stuff that needs to get done for the family.

I see you, mom, head throbbing, feverish, body aching while ringing way too loudly in your ears are the repeated and urgent words, “Mooooommmmm, I don’t feel well.”

I see you, mom, at Starbucks, who absolutely knows that this latte is going to be the highlight of your day.

I see you, mom, who tries to do it all, chaperone and sell Girl Scout cookies and make healthy, homemade meals and sign the kids up for all their activities and then actually execute on getting them there. Did I mention the full-time job?

Or the:

Birthday party planning

Dishes

Laundry

House cleaning

Haircuts

Lunch boxes

Homework

Bedtime routine

Sleepless nights

Doctors appointments

Play dates

Sick days

SNOW days

School supplies

Sports equipment

New clothes

New shoes, ideally well before you are leaving for the piano recital and realize that the dress shoes don’t fit. Either kid.

I see you, mom, who is buried under never-ending piles of laundry and groceries to buy and bills to pay and birthday presents to buy and holiday meals to make.

Did someone say decorations? Yeah, I see you, mom, whose holiday lights are still on the tree. In May. Way to plan ahead for next year.

I see you, mom, who wonders why it is that the kids have to be reminded to wash their hands, pack their school bags, unpack their lunches, clean their rooms, practice their instruments…EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. How many years have we been doing this?

I see you, mom, who feels like the trip leader of life, like you are everyone’s guide on this journey and they can’t seem to function without asking you how to do it first. And then they ignore you and do it their own way anyway.

I see you, mom, who is taking care of your mom, and missing her wise counsel and yummy cooking and mom advice. You, who are flooded with memories of the incredibly capable woman she was, and can’t reconcile them with the woman she is now, who barely knows you let alone remembers your birthday or a recipe.

I see you, mom, who lost your mom far too young. And, you, whose mom is alive and helpful and wonderful and still bugs the heck out of you sometimes.

I see the whisper of tears in your eyes that you quickly brush away, when some days it just feels like too much. Strong shoulders, but human shoulders. Vulnerable and tired and overwhelmed by the pace and the volume and the sensation that you are not terribly in control.

I see you, I see you every day, and I know.

I understand. And I am here acknowledging all the little things that just don’t get done without you.

In Solidarity.

Happy Mother’s Day.

In gratitude for moms everywhere and for my village.

It’s a good time to put your own oxygen mask on. This is another writer’s take on why:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/put_your_own_oxygen_mask_on_first

make-sure-your-own-mask-is-secure-before-assisting-others-unintentionally-profound-quotes