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.


 

 





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