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Striking out (with Dad)

He didn’t hobble toward ball field number two; he shoved his walker with purpose. Even tilted, he looked pretty good; eyes alert, dress casual and passably clean, disposition aloof but present. After three weeks in New York and countless years fantasizing about it, he finally felt well enough to make one of my boys’ baseball games.

“You gotta swing when it’s 3 and 2, kid!” he yelled at some boy I didn’t know, garnering a dirty look from some boy’s father.

I grimaced. “Dad, maybe keep your enthusiasm for the members of our family, please.”

He smiled,” clearly amused by himself. “Yeah, that guy didn’t appreciate my comment.”

This was the best I had seen my father in a long time and I tried without much success to appreciate the moment.

These last weeks have been enormously stressful. Applications for disability, transportation services and a downstairs unit had to be filled out, the right doctors found, Medicaid benefits approved to secure home health aides, visiting nurses and blah blah blah. We stand at the foot of a mountain of paper work, details and calls not returned.

But by far the biggest challenge is him.

He accidentally flooded the woman’s apartment below him by letting his sink overrun. Then he accidentally did it again. He accidentally pulled the emergency cord in the bathroom. He was confrontational with the nurse practitioner who came to help set up his medications. He didn’t go down to let in another NP.

Never ending, exhausting conversations saturate every space between the dramas. Pep him up, talk him down, find reasons for him to live. Be the happy voice, the scolding voice, the voice of reason. Even thinking about it makes my throat constrict.

Yet right now, he seems okay – his glassy eyes light as he watches the game, my other boys shyly stand near him and engage, he abandons his walker to hold on to the fence.

“Nice catch!” He yells to my son then turns to me, “Do you see the way he throws? He’s got confidence.”

I nod, glad that after weeks passed out in his chair, he’s found his voice and it’s not angry or miserable. It’s cheering.

Maybe we’ve turned a corner. Maybe it’ll be alright.

I allow just the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule molecule of hope to slip in, although at this point I don’t know how it’s even possible. Hope is a sneaky bastard.

The next morning social services call. They had just seen my father and found him extremely agitated and hostile with pills scattered everywhere. They regret to inform me that “mobile crisis” has been alerted and are on the way.

Maybe this is where it ends. Maybe it’s for the best.

At least he made it to a game.

My happy cage

hopeless

Moving Dad

“This is a new life. I want it,” I say to my father who is racked with nerves. “Say it,” I insist.

“This is a new life. I want it,” he repeats dutifully, like a child.

It is the night before his big move from New Jersey to Long Island to be closer us. Even though he lobbied for this, stress emanates from him like the hairs on a caterpillar. He’s so charged, he’s electric.

My doorbell rings and rings and rings interrupting us. It is my husband and two younger boys coming home from the park. My youngest son pokes his big happy face in the side window. His smile is as wide and unrestrained as the curly hair bursting from the sides of the helmet covering his head. He has been practicing on his new roller skates. I open the door and put a finger to my lips. He nods in understanding still beaming, and awkwardly stomps and slides his way to me for a hug to keep from falling down while simultaneously lifting my spirits.

Weeks ago I asked my father to fill a single box with books or tapes that he felt he couldn’t live without, not an easy task for a hoarder.

“Can I have 3 boxes?” He bargained.

“Yes, but let’s start with 1.”

“How about five, can I have five boxes?”

“Probably, but let me see you fill one.”

Yet instead of filling even one box, he spent the weeks negotiating over how many boxes he could take, and then working on stuff to give away. Now the night of the move, he has not packed a single thing. It’s no skin off my nose. His place is a cluttered shit hole. The more stuff he takes, the faster this new place will become a cluttered shit hole.

“Dad, you don’t need those things anymore. Let’s start fresh.”

“But collecting these things is all I’ve accomplished. I know it’s small but it matters.”

He’s regretful, but thankfully still sounds rational and lucid.

“You’ll find new things that matter,” I say looking out the window where my middle son and husband catch the last bits of day tossing the ball back and forth to each other on my overgrown lawn.

“I need to find a purpose. I have no purpose.” He laments. “And I can’t fill these boxes. It’s too hard. It’s too painful.”

“I know,” I soothe, unsure where my new found zen is coming from. I’ve spent these weeks gaining weight, spouting grey and blooming cold sores as I called social services, doctors, and advocates for the elderly. We are blindly jumping ship which isn’t great when you haven’t secured your lifeboat.

“Don’t worry. I’ve bought you all new things. You’ll have everything you need.”

I walk past the computer room where my oldest practices his Haftarah for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. His sweet voice swells with such beauty and hope I could cry.

“This is a new life,” my father repeats the mantra, trying to muster some enthusiasm, “I want it.”

I look around at the love that is here and think that if this doesn’t put joy in his heart nothing will.

“Good.” I confirm. “Because tomorrow it begins…”

Ready or not... Here he comes.

Ready or not… Here he comes.

The road I didn’t want to travel

I stand at a crossroad.

There is no surprise. For years I pretended not to see it, concentrating on my own road full of twists and turns, dips and potholes; distracted by precious cargo, flowers blooming along the path and long easy stretches walking in the sun.

But now a new direction looms before me. It is dark and unknown, filled with landmines and difficult terrain. In fact there’s a glaring neon sign screaming, “WRONG WAY!” Yet, here I go, right or wrong, ready or not.

LEAP!

Even though it’s cloudy and hard to see, I continue on, reckless and hopeless trying to find my way. The rain pours down and I am in uncharted territory, lost and scared. Oh my God, what was I thinking moving my father from NJ to NY?! I spent forever getting him set up with all those benefits and a home health aide who does all the stuff I don’t want to do!

But, at least he’s not two bridges away.

Oh my GOD he’s not two bridges away! He’s going to be right here!

Air. I need air! ARGH!!! Who put this walker in front of me! F%*#&!@!

Wait… that’s why we’re moving him. So he can be closer. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing.

There are just So. Many. Doctors.

Internist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, podiatrist, vascular, dermatologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, oncologist, pain management…

Who are just So. Done. With. Him. He needs new ones.

Oh jeez! I have to find new ones!

Tape, red and hot, strangling me. Can’t breathe.

No! I will fight my way through, battle social services, find a kind, reliable and capable new home health aide. I’ll get the benefits straightened out and, and, I won’t even look at the mountain in front of me. I’ll just keep climbing up up up.

Get him packed and moved. Buy a ton of new (nice) shit (that he will destroy). Organize everything. Make sure we find the right person to manage his meds.

Don’t think. One step at a time. Call electric, cable, phone, movers.

Social services. Advocates for the aging. Medicaid.

Things will get done. We have already made some progress.

The rain drizzles down but the storm cloud lifts just a little. Even though it is dark, the mood has lightened, brightening the landscape. I can still make out the blur of the neon sign flashing ominously in the haze but there’s no turning back now. For better or for worse we are on this new road.

Maybe, just maybe we are headed in the right direction.

I hope I’m wearing good shoes.

Gee, this road looks pretty. Lets go this way!

Gee, this road looks pretty. Lets go this way!

Guilt – Chocolate and Family

My husband must feel really guilty about not stopping to get me ice cream last night because now, driving back home after a week of vacation, three days in Washington DC, trekking our boys from monument to monument, in and out of museums where their glazed over eyes looked only to get back out to the sunshine to complain about walking from monument to monument, and then three days in Maryland for a two day baseball tournament in the cold and rain where we lost but went down fighting, he has just asked me, with no arm twisting or reasonably subtle hinting on my part, if I want to stop to visit my father.

Of course I don’t want to stop. We’ve been on the road for hours, but I know it would perk up his day, maybe his week. So I accept the bone my husband has just thrown me, because even though it doesn’t come with chocolate sprinkles, it was very sweet, and not an easy gesture for him.

Emerging from the car, we stretch out like newly popped corn then make our way to his apartment. My boys look at each other with crooked sideway smiles while we wait, listening to the clanking and shouting coming from the other side of the door to let us know that he’s having some troubles, that he can’t even manage to open the door without issue.

Finally, the lock turns and we stand face to face; the five of us looking in on a narrow, cluttered hallway with my father blocking the way, not really meeting our eye since he is hunched over his walker and turned away.

“Hi dad,” I mumble, wanting to kiss him hello but there is some kind of chocolate smudge around his mouth that makes me not want to. Thankfully, the children barrel in and divert his attention. I am saved.

“I have comics for you,” he says and awkwardly moves to follow them, but the wheel of his walker catches on one of the many stacks of books carpeting his floor and he almost pitches over.

“Dad!” I call out, even as he rights himself. As usual, I am tense being here, even more so, watching him maneuver in this unmanageable space. “You have too much stuff on the floor.”

“I know,” he says. “I fell again yesterday.” The ‘again’ hangs like bait but I grind my teeth together.

“Can I move them?” I ask, sucking in deep breaths.

“Hurt myself bad…” He mumbles, talking more to himself. “Not as bad as the other time…”

“Can I move them?” I ask again. This time he hears me and shakes his head.

“No. I’m working through them. They’re not done.”

I sigh but let it go. He’s been ‘working through’ his thousands of collected books and tapes for decades. It’s a tired, old argument.

“I have comic books,” He repeats and my oldest son, bless him, comes over and feigns interest, but unfortunately my father is too busy searching for approval, for something to offer, to notice.

I follow him as he hunts while my family huddles uncomfortably in between chairs, books and boxes, looking for somewhere to escape but there is nowhere to go.

“Dad,” I suggest, and will myself to infuse some warmth into my tone, “Why don’t we go down to the community room for more space.” I’m not sure if I succeeded.

“Okay,’ he agrees and before he can even swivel his walker around, my husband and children have bolted. I wait while he looks for his keys, muttering something about the lost comics. I don’t hurry him. It only stresses him and doesn’t make things go any faster. Finally, he finds them and I step into the hallway to push the elevator button while he locks up.

I watch him, fiddling with the keys, his elbows leaning heavily on the handles of his walker, and even though I know it’s him, I don’t recognize him. He is old at 71. He is unwell, both physically and mentally. He is struggling to hold on but keeps falling.

He wheels himself down toward me, his face lined but full with excess weight, his eyes a murky green, his body hunched and twisted. I am sad for him. So very sad. I might not even be able to wait until I’m alone to cry.

The elevator door opens.

I want to kiss him but I let the chocolate stop me.

Bittersweet

I wish things were this simple and sweet.

.

My Father, Son and Pokemon

“Please please pleeeeeease!” My youngest son begged; his small body rigid but his face stretched wide as his hope.

He was pining for an ultra-rare Mega Ex Charizard Pokemon card. He swore you couldn’t find them anywhere, unless of course you looked on Amazon and paid $50.

IMG_8911 (1)

Yup. Right here.

I gave him the noncommittal mom look. “We’ll see,” I hedged with a sideways smile; not quite giving away the prize but giving away enough to keep the dream alive. It’s hard to argue a 6 year-old’s most impassioned birthday request.

On the big day, the family gathered at our house. My father hadn’t made a birthday or holiday celebration in months. Despite having a door to door ride, despite the occasions being basically the only time he saw anyone besides his home health aide or a doctor, despite it being the one thing he looked forward to – on the day of the event his mental and physical health always seemed to stumble, sometimes literally. But today, even with the countless reasons he gave me over the phone why he shouldn’t and couldn’t attend, miraculously he was here.

He looked terrible; hunched so low it was painful to see; every step a struggle even with his walker. His hair was disheveled under a baseball cap. He had meant to shower he apologized, but his legs were bandaged due to severe edema and he had a hard enough time managing without the added complication.

“Hi,” I greeted with a quick kiss on the cheek. He was already turned away uncomfortable, looking for a distraction from the physical contact that made him emotional, and the house filled with laughing kids sneaking cookies and adults easily conversing, which made him feel even more alone. Usually he’d go missing, sneaking off to have a cigarette outside or fiddling alone with the books in my library, but today he made an effort not to run away and hide his discomfort on the shelves, instead hovering near me in the kitchen, engaging in small talk which he hated and joining the family for cake, which he loved.

When everyone departed and only my immediate family remained, I watched him, slowly and methodically move into a position near my boys, hoping for a meaningful interaction. I had seen the move many times and this under the radar approach generally yielded about a 15% success rate. It’s hard to catch shooting stars, especially when there are 12, 9 and a freshly minted 7 year-old with new toys.

Covertly I whispered in my father’s ear and slipped something into his hand. The next time my youngest bound past, he stopped him. “Hey kid, you want this?” He tossed the words out casually, a throwback to his former cool self.

My son stopped short and his face lit with glee. “The card!” He exclaimed and jumped up and down, threatening to knock my unsteady father over; but in truth nothing could knock him down because my father was lit as well. For that moment, a set of eyes looked at him with reverence and love. He was the most important person offering the most precious gift. He was a hero again, like the man he remembered; the one who was young and strong who could charm people with a smile.

I watched their interaction from the sidelines, trying not to cry. Given all his conditions, my father rarely sees my boys, much less experiences a real Grandpa moment.

That card was a gift to us all.

IMG_8748

Actual bonding occurring

Like Mother, Like Daughter

People tell me I look like my mother.

All. The. Time.

It’s actually a real compliment. My mom is a looker. Always has been. I (almost) never think about how she’s over 20 years older and instead focus on the fact that we are both small and fit with curly hair and an ever ready Colgate smile, compliments of the white strips she brings me on a regular basis.

Sometimes she also brings me a new shirt or pair of jeans that she recently purchased for herself. Since she buys nice stuff and it’s… um… free… it’s not a hard sell. So it’s not like I help matters. The only problem is when we show up at a family function in matching outfits which can be a little embarrassing, especially when one of the younger kids takes me by the hand and says, “Come here, grandma.”

But besides that momentary twist in the chest, it’s good, and we laugh about it. I mean really how lucky am I to have her genes and her jeans?!

Recently my mom, the most energetic person I know – the one with only two speeds – high octane or falling asleep while sitting up; the one who plays tennis before Zumba class and then follows it up with a body sculpting class and later hopes someone will want to join her for bike ride or a walk, and even later on, possibly go dancing – has been ever so slightly sidelined by a sore um thigh. (We don’t speak about any affliction that might indicate age or else I would have said arthritis in her hip.)

It has been extremely difficult for such an active (see: rigid) person to lessen her fitness load even slightly, so true to her generally bulldozing self, she charges on; limping through tennis games, letting an occasional ‘Ugh’ out in gym class and only allowing it to really aggravate her in the wee hours of the night when she should be sleeping.

As my step father is annoyingly fond of saying, “The apple don’t fall far from the tree” since I not only resemble my mom but, after a brief period in my younger life resenting the hell out of her, have adopted many of her healthy eating and exercise tendencies.

While I am a pretty low key exerciser, think, reading my book while peddling my elliptical, sometimes I take it up a notch like the class I tried the other day. It was kind of a circuit boot camp; you know, jump squat, sprint, push-ups, sprint, throw-up, sprint, running man, sprint, etc.

It was in the middle of the second circuit when I felt it, a twinge in my left thigh. It nagged at me for the rest of the class but I powered through, limping slightly to my car after it was over.

“Shit. Shit. Shit.”

I hated being sidelined. I hated feeling compromised. I hated feeling… old.

Later when my mother came over to babysit, I noticed we were wearing the same jeans and similar black boots. I told her she looked cute, she told me I looked cute and then we giggled like a pair of idiots. Matching idiots.  As we hobbled together toward the kitchen to share a veggie burger and sweet potato, it was with a new understanding. I realized I not only looked like her but slowly and steadily I was becoming her.

Years ago the idea of it would have horrified me. I was young and so sure of my individuality and youth. I didn’t fully realize that time mercilessly keeps moving and doesn’t stop for anyone. We all become our parents at some point.

Although it turns out my thigh injury was just a muscle pull not cough arth cough ritis cough, the real difference is negligible. For better or for worse, I am becoming my mother.

Just ask anyone.

photo 2

 

I Dream of Bikini  

I’m going to share an embarrassing superficial secret.

For years, decades really, I have wanted to wear a bikini. In my mind I saw the perfect one. It was always bubblegum pink with those 70’s strings hanging from the sides of the bottoms. I also imaged smooth, thin tanned legs that those sexy ties would be resting against, as well as the long lean torso showcased in the middle.

This would explain why besides the three times in my distant memory, I have never worn a bikini.  The fantasy is not the reality and for a long time I was the kind of girl who thought if you can’t do something right, don’t do it. I’m still sort of that kind of girl.

Thus, years of swim dresses and cover-ups ensued. I even successfully managed to go without wearing a bathing suit for an entire summer – twice.  Of course, all of this is unnecessary. I could certainly comfortably wear a swim suit, but that doesn’t mean that I am comfortable doing it. Also, since I dislike the water – both pool and ocean – turns out bathing suits are easier to avoid than you’d imagine.

I worked within these confines for basically my entire life, but the other day I was flipping through a bathing suit catalogue that somehow mistakenly wound up in my mailbox, and I came across a suit that almost fit my fantasy… as did the model wearing it. I lingered on the page; silently coveting and felt a shift within me.

I wanted that suit.

I couldn’t believe it. Now that I was over 40, had three children come out my pooched, overstretched stomach, I was going to cave? Was this some trick of middle age? I knew I couldn’t see distance well anymore, but could I no longer see myself clearly either? Did I really think I could get away with this?

Logically the answer was no, at least not in the way I’d like to, yet still I felt gripped by urgency. This was probably my last chance to wear something like this before middle age really set in around the middle.

I’m already done with having children. I’m done with going out late nights and dancing till dawn – okay, I don’t think I ever danced till dawn, but you know what I’m saying. I’ve got wrinkles and pains. I’m happy to be in bed by 10pm. I like hot water and lemon. I carry hard mints in a Ziplock bag. I’m – Aaaaccck – getting older.

I’ve noticed other emotional changes in myself as well, now that I’m further up the maturity chain. I’m a little more ready to take chances, a little less judgmental, more appreciative, less giving a shit. I’ve also gotten simultaneously more and less vain; which means, I notice many more things that bother me but I also don’t care as much.

Which brings me back to the bikini I’ve coveted but never owned much less worn; it was now or never. Without thinking any more, I added it to my cart and clicked purchase.

I don’t know if I’ll ever wear it, but lately I’m full of surprises.

bikini pic