Monday, May 22, 2017

Parenting: Advice Needed

One of the hardest questions I face right now, having a dad with dementia and two little kids, is how to help them maintain a relationship that doesn't negatively impact them or the other.

Here's what I mean: my kids want to spend time with their Grandpa, but sometimes Dad will say inappropriate things or change moods in a heartbeat. As an adult, it's extremely hard to not take personally what he says sometimes; imagine an 11 and 8 year old attempting to chalk it up to the disease, which they don't fully understand. 

And when the kids don't come, Dad notices, and it of course makes him sad. Then other days he'll say, no, don't bring them up because I don't know what I'll say. So he knows - which sometimes just makes him sadder.

I am trying my best to balance it, but I haven't figured out that perfect solution yet. They exchange cards and video messages, and we take them up in the early mornings when he's a bit less confused and agitated. And the kids seem okay now that he is stable in a nursing home instead of the constant roller coaster of home, hospital, nursing home, repeat. But it's difficult on everyone. The kids don't understand the dementia; they want their Grandpa back; the one who used to take them fishing and regale them with far-fetched stories (think the movie "Big Fish"). They already feel robbed, particularly my daughter, of not having met my mom.

And then there is me, hardly holding it together lately, because after 13 months of watching Mom battle brain cancer and ultimately lose (12 years ago this past week, actually), I'm now having to watch Dad slowly disappear and become a stranger while I try and provide him the best care possible. We've been going back and forth with the memory loss for a couple years now, and now we're at the dementia diagnosis, so needless to say it's been a long train ride of unfamiliar stops and reevaluating the route to take.

I think the biggest fear I have, as a parent, is what my kids are going to have to go through one day. Are they going to watch me wage a war against cancer? Or are they going to be helping me to eat dinner at 73 because I can't remember how to use a fork? Seems stupid to think about, I know, and my parents' illnesses do not mean I automatically will end up with the same fate - I get that. But I can't help but wonder and worry. I can't predict the future, so for now all I can do is make every minute I have with the people I love count. That's all any of us can do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

15 Years Ago, Watching ER

Fifteen years ago today, I sat with my mother on an ugly, blue floral-patterned couch and stared at a bulky television set and watched one of our favorite television shows to watch together: ER. (Previous favorites included Golden Girls and Sisters, of course).

That particular night, my favorite character was set to meet his demise. For two seasons, we'd watched him struggle with a brain cancer diagnosis. The stroke-like symptoms, the difficulty speaking, the seizures - each moment of his (television) pain broke our hearts a little more. And of course, in true television-viewer fashion, we were SURE that they could never kill off a character so beloved to the audience. But. They. Did. (Do you see where my concern over the fictitious life of Daryl Dixon is valid? No one is safe on TV.)

And in two of the saddest scenes (seriously, if you choose to click this link or click this link and watch, get your tissues ready), mom and I sobbed over his death. Like, legit sobbed. Part of it was the loss of a character on a show I loved, and part was because you can't help but imagine what life would be like if that happened to you or someone you know. We had already watched mom battle and defeat breast cancer. I distinctly remember saying to her that night, on that ugly couch, that I could not imagine how horrible life would be if that ever happened to her. That only made me cry harder.

Exactly 3 years and 8 days later, it did.

Ironic, a bit, that mom died during brain cancer awareness month. Really, she'd only been given a few months to a year after that initial brain cancer diagnosis in early April 2014, but she was always big in supporting breast cancer and the Relay for Life and all that. Part of me wonders if she held on as long as she did, and died when she did, to serve as a reminder to keep pushing on for a cure.

If you read my blog, you know all about my mom's story so I don't need to rehash it. But what I do want to say is this:

Life is short (Hello, cliche! Yes, I said it.) It really is. Mom didn't imagine going to bed on April 9 that on April 10, she'd be diagnosed with brain cancer. Life can change in an instant, just like that.

Every moment you spend not truly living is a moment wasted. Whether it's on fear or anger or jealousy or stewing or whatever it is, the clock keeps ticking and those are moments you will never have back. You have to learn to let go of that stuff and let it dissipate into nonexistence; when you can move forward with the good in life and let go of the bad (easier said than done sometimes), you won't be wasting those important moments anymore.

I try and explain to the kids that life is like a tree. Your path starts out like the roots, growing for nine months until your debut. From there, you set out on a path and while it might seem scary, you'll start taking many different routes in life. Some of them aren't great; we all make mistakes. That's when you find a new path and follow that one for awhile. You'll make new friends and lose some; some you'll find again. You'll love and lose and learn. Eventually, your history looks like a tree in winter - lots of branches going in all different directions but hopefully, you still find yourself growing and moving upwards towards a sky full of opportunity. And while the branches look sad and bare when it's coldest out - or when times are hard in life - even your mistakes turn into something beautiful down the road.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

They Grow So Fast

This morning, after my alarm had gone off, I laid in bed and checked out the “On This Day” feature of Facebook that shows you what you posted in the past for each day. Of course, there were plenty of pictures of the kiddos doing this or that. I happened upon a photo of my now-11 year old in kindergarten. I smiled at the cuteness and then bounced off to the next morning task without another thought.

Well, until I caught site of him all ready for school. He's so tall now, such a little man. When we first moved into this house and he first moved into that bedroom, he was tiny. Toddler-bed tiny. His room was filled with action figures and toy trucks. Now it's filled with Legos and sports posters.

This morning, he was bounding down the hallway with his backpack. I caught a glimpse of him as he rounded the corner, singing the lyrics to a Chance the Rapper song. A sweeping realization washed over me as I picked up on the subtle change in his voice: he’s not going to be a little boy for very long.

His regular voice doesn’t seem different to me, but I hear it every day and it probably won’t be as big a shock to me when it gets deeper because it will happen so gradually. But his singing voice; there was a deeper tone to it this morning. Yet another piece of proof that life travels far faster than we can ever imagine.

Just yesterday he was a baby, waking me up at 5 a.m. and only willing to go back to sleep in my arms as we sat on the couch and watched the morning news; now, I typically have to drag him out of bed in the morning.

Just yesterday he was two, picking up a baseball bat for the first time and using it like a golf club; now he made the travel team again and is playing on a bigger field.

Just yesterday he was five, frustrated that he couldn’t read a page in the book; now he’s writing full reports, song lyrics, and texting his buddies.

Just yesterday he was eight, scared to go into the pool because he couldn’t swim; now he’s swimming laps underwater and jumping in like he fears nothing.

“Mom,” he said, snapping me out of my little daydream. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I reply, trying to find something for breakfast in the cabinets. "Why?"

"You look like you're sad."

"Nope. Just thinking about how fast you grow up."

"I might grow up, but I'll always be your baby boy."

How very, very true.


 

 





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What Is Family?

I've always loved baseball. I played softball from a young age through my senior year of high school, and then on recreation leagues. So when my oldest wanted to play at three years old, I was excited. Oh, I have to admit, those first few years were not my favorite. The first few games were adorable - little, tiny boys and girls swinging a bat the same size as them, running the bases the wrong way. But they were soooooo long with no real action.

Then around eight years old, something changed. The kids had learned the necessary skills. They'd learned when to cover what bag, how to turn a double play, how to steal and slide into second. Games became exciting.

And that year, baseball became a family.

Tonight, that point is especially important to me because tonight, I have an 11-year-old upset because he and his friends are being picked on at school. (It happens at every school, I know. Our school is not a bad one, that's for sure. And it's only a couple kids - the vast majority of kids in class and at school he adores being around, especially his two best buddies.) 

I love my babies, but I know they're not perfect. His room is never really clean and he has missing assignments like they are going out of style, but the one thing my kid isn't is mean. In fact, what he's most upset about tonight isn't how he feels about being called names, but how much he dislikes anyone calling his friends names. We talked about true friends vs. just people in class, we talked about how you have to be kind to everyone but you don't have to like everyone. 

And then we talked about baseball.

This past weekend marked that glorious return to the field - not just for the players, but for the parents. It was the beginning of four month baseball family reunion, with parents trekking from car to bleachers. Our arms are loaded with bags filled with blankets, sweatshirts, Under Armour, sunglasses, sunscreen, snacks (okay, we forgot those, because we usually depend on Michelle for that!), seeds, gum, extra equipment, Gatorades, extra Gatorades, scorebooks, toys for siblings, and more. We talk like we just saw each other yesterday, and it feels like we're back among family.

Baseball is four months where we get to watch our boys find success and grow from failure; where they pick each other up on the bad plays and celebrate the good ones. Four months where they help take care of their field, talk to each other about the latest Cubs game or video game or snack at the concession stand, and horse around. It doesn't matter if you're tall or short, if you wear glasses, how tan your skin is, if you have orange shoes or like to read Harry Potter. Everyone is just a baseball player, no other tags or names needed. It's four months where I never have to see my kid come home sad because someone has picked on him. He never leaves that field - or another player's home - with anything but smiles and great stories of the shenanigans they had.

And so last night, we talked about baseball. We talked about true friends, we talked about who you surround yourself with and how you react to people. We talked about how even though baseball friends change teams, it's just like baseball season - you might not see someone all the time, but, once you do see them, it's like you saw them yesterday. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trying Not to Forget

Vascular dementia. We finally have a name for it. The monster slowly stealing Dad''s memory away.

It started small. Little lapses in short term memory. And about two years later, I'm sitting in the nursing home with dad watching him use a fork to push all the food off his plate because it's a bad day and he can't remember how to eat. He'll get it, eventually, but with a little help. 

This man - the big, strong 6' 4" Superman who could fix anything - now alla me for the sixth time in an hour where my kids are. And I find myself happy, because tonight, he remembers his grandkids. Sometimes he gets confused and he doesn't realize it's me until halfway through our visit when he says, "Allie, when did you get here?" 

I hate that dementia has done this to him. I hate that he forgets how to do things he's done his whole life. I hate that it took him a while at his neuro appointment to comprehend how to fold a piece of paper in half. And I hate that he is now dependent on others and has lost not only pieces of his freedom, but also parts of his dignity.

Tonight is one of those nights when I'm searching for some inspiration.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No Time For Looking Back

Sitting with Dad in the nursing home yesterday, I had one of those moments where I just looked at him and my heart ached. Despite the stroke he's doing pretty well, thankfully, and we still have the opportunity to make some more memories. However, I couldn't help but think about all the opportunities I haven't made time for over the past year, five years, ten years. Though to be fair, I think no matter how much time you spend with the people you love, it's never enough.

Of course, I had lots of thoughts on my mind as I struggled to fall asleep last night. Luckily, I'd had a nice convo via text message with an old friend (old as in high school, not old as in old. We're not old. Nope.). We don't talk often enough but he always manages to cheer me up when I need it.

And any time I speak with a high school buddy, I can't help but think about Katie and of course all the opportunities we missed to make memories before she died. In her case, it wasn't a matter of enough time (although, passing away at 33 is far too early), but rather priorities; and that's what I regret the most - that I didn't make our friendship a priority. I figured we were in our early 30s and had lots of time to catch up after having drifted apart because of work and life.

I really miss having her here, and I wish I would have told her that a long time ago. I hope that everyone has a friend like Katie. Someone who will eat an entire bag of cheesy popcorn and watch Dumb and Dumber with you over and over. Someone who goes on a date with a strange individual so that you can go on a date with his cute friend. Someone who answers the phone no matter what time, because she is always there for you no questions asked.

I think about her all the time. Her smile, her laugh, her insane ideas. They all remind me that life is too short even if we live to be one-hundred years old. So take the time to tell people how you feel; what they meant to you; what you wish for them. Pen a note, type an email, drop a Facebook message - whether you spoke to them yesterday or ten years ago. Take the time to say what you need to say, because if you ever lose the opportunity, it will weigh on your heart forever.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Love? Parenting? Crafting? Past Lessons Learned?

I'm working on some blog posts, but to be honest, time is pretty limited between work, kids, their activities, and caring for my dad. So while my brain is at a loss for new material, I'd love some thoughts on what you'd like to see more of. It may help me spur some creativity, and it's anonymous! :) Just fill out the survey below!


What topics would you like to see more of?

Parenting
Love and Relationships
Lessons Learned
Crafting
Authors/Stories
Other
Please Specify:
QuizMaker

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