The remedy

Hope is a funny thing. It can help you sleep, allow you to smile and laugh when you didn’t think you could, and can even push you out the door and get that bit of fresh air and exercise that you so desperately need.Hope

This has been a weekend filled with tears and stilted conversations and many, many spoken “I love you’s.” My family is scared and sad and feeling helpless and attempting to prepare for the worst….but have decided to say “Fuck this” and instead we’re hoping for the best.


My brother has been in the hospital for nearly a week. What we had hoped would be a 3-day stay with one cardiac procedure, has turned into a life or death situation that we were not expecting. My brother’s heart is an anomaly anyway, and we should have known it wanted to throw everyone a little surprise.

Through medicine, we hope the issue will be resolved and the original procedure can take place without a hitch and my big brother will be as well as he can be. This is the hope and the wish and the good thought and the prayer and the good vibe we are putting out into the universe. We expect it to be fulfilled.

So if you have control over these types of things, consider yourself put on notice.

Do NOT disappoint me.


Picture this

As I enter the yard, the lawn has been mowed and there are trimmed bushes in front of the house. When I walk into the small, but clean and organized home, there is no trace of dirt on the carpet or dust on the television. The kitchen floor is swept and Mom is at the counter whipping up a batch of cookies. Mom is a tall woman (5’9″ish), thin yet strong. It’s possible the house smells like cigarette smoke, but it probably also smells like chocolate and sugar and a hint of dish soap.

Now fast forward four years.

I walk into the yard with the overgrown bushes and am greeted with a trash bag on the walkway that has been ripped open by animals. When I enter the house, I see a rug coated in dirt and grass, and Mom, now 20 pounds lighter with the look of a frail wounded bird, is sitting in her favorite chair because her body doesn’t allow her to do much more. The kitchen floor is also dirty, and when I open the trash can to throw something away, tiny flies dart out at me as I try to slam the lid back down while covering my face. I can only smell cigarette smoke. Nothing more. Until I go into the spare room where the cat’s litter box is stored. There is no more clean litter and the box is filled with urine and feces. The cat has done the best he could with what he had.

I don’t cry. Not yet.

I sweep the kitchen floor and vacuum the rug while Mom tries on the clothes I bought her for her birthday. I scoop the cat box as best as I can and try to leave the little guy with something until I can get back during my lunch break with fresh litter. I talk to Mom for another minute before I have to leave for work. It’s obvious she’s in pain today. The dark half-moon smudges under her eyes tell me she’s hurting. She doesn’t complain, just states that she hurts. I give her a hug and tell her I’ll call her in a bit before I come back over in the afternoon. I take the trash out on my way to my car, and I have to hold my breath as I open the large trash can. It not only stinks, but maggots drip from inside the cover onto the garage floor. I stuff the bag in and try not to retch.

As I drive the 15 minutes to work, I take several deep breaths. When I get to work, I ask my boss to smell me because I think I smell like smoke and/or cat pee. She tells me I do smell like smoke….and then I cry. This wasn’t a “silent, tears streaming down your face” kind of cry. This was a blubbering, snot-inducing sob, while trying to tell my boss why I was so upset. Mom was actually doing pretty well that day. Her memory was decent and although she was hurting, she could still get up and walk around with her walker.

But…she wasn’t my mom anymore. I’ve known this for several years, but the great leap in those two images, the stark difference in “before” and “after” finally became real to me.  I know she is no longer the baking, clean-freak I grew up with (and became!) but is now an old woman who can no longer care for her home like she used to.

I am the person responsible for cleaning it now.

And I hate it.

But I think she hates it, too.

She always thanks me profusely whenever I go over and for some reason, I always feel a little guilty when she thanks me like that. Admittedly, if my visit is before work, I’m running around her house, cleaning up, not sitting down and chatting much, because I need to get to work (and typically this is after taking my son to school and running around my *own* house getting supper in the crock pot and doing laundry and who knows what else). I’m sure Mom can feel my tension but also understands my “I need to get his done” attitude, because that’s how she always was while I was growing up. I do know Mom appreciates my help, but I also know she’d give anything if she could do it on her own again.

And so would I.

Does that make me selfish or a bad daughter? Probably. But I have to be honest, at least with myself. B_wears_her_heart_on_her_sleeve_by_fangedfemut I also know I need to come to terms with all the changes. Over the past week I have had multiple emotional outbursts, some with tears and others in anger. No one has been immune–my family, my co-workers, my friends. I’ve either yelled at or cried on nearly everyone.  Wearing my heart on my sleeve is an understatement this week. I have felt just so….exposed, with every emotion I have felt being raw, painful.


I’m aware that the stress I have felt isn’t just from Mom’s situation but also from other health-related concerns within my family. Yet I have no control over those problems. I can only hope and send good thoughts and say encouraging words, but there’s nothing else I can do. But with my mom? I may not have control over the deterioration of her mind and body, but I can do little things like vacuum or sweep or bring her good food, and I need to take some consolation from those few things I *can* do. I need to give myself a break and not get angry or frustrated when I walk into her home and it’s not like it was a few years ago. This isn’t her fault and I need to stop acting like it is.

I need to remember that Mom is still my mom and just try to forget all the rest.

Sometimes it’s difficult to just “be”

Lately, there have been many moments when I realize that my son really “gets” me. He’s always been one to compliment me and call me beautiful, just like his father does. That’s one thing we try to do in this house is to boost each other up and not tear each other down. (Ok…that’s not really true. We tend to tease each other incessantly, but it’s done with love and if there’s ever any bad feelings, we stop.)

But it seems that just in the past few months, my son has realized a few things about his mother and felt the need to share his observations. “Mom, you seem to be particularly cranky. Did you go for a run today?” Or, “Hmmm….I think you need a treat. You should go buy an iced coffee.”

Then this afternoon, after having an unexpected house full of family and food and fun, I finally sat down beside my boy after everyone had left. My cold was making my head hurt and my eyes sting, but I needed to spend some time with my son. I watched him play a video game and we discussed which was easier while playing, being in first person or third.  As we talked, I started to lose my voice so he entertained me with making his character on Halo do wacky things. (I personally love it when these guys dance.) But after just a few minutes, he quit the game and left the room. I put my feet up and tried to read for a bit. No matter how bad I feel, I typically hate to lie down to nap or just rest. There isn’t enough time in the day to get done everything I want to do, as it is. Being sick doesn’t change that.

But as I tried to read with my eyes watering, my son came back into the room and said, “Here, Mom. Let me tape this to your forehead.” It was an “Out of Order” sign he had made for his computer so no one would touch it. As he placed the sign on my face he said, “There. Isn’t that better?” And as I closed my eyes and put my head back into my chair, it really *was* better. I needed a few minutes to just stop. No reading, no thinking, no doing.DSCN3175

Just being.

And it took an 8-year-old boy to teach me this.

By placing a sign on my forehead.

I’d say little nuggets of wisdom come from all people of all ages. We just need to take the time to listen.




Creating Dignity

“Can you tell me what happened? Can you tell me why you went to the hospital?” the doctor asked my mother.

Mom starts to turn to me to refresh her memory, to fill in the gaps, until the doctor firmly said, “No. I don’t want you to ask your daughter. I want YOU to tell me what happened.”

I was sitting beside my mother with my 8-year-old son on my lap. We were packed in a corner in the small doctor’s office. While I wrapped my arms around my son, I stared at the doctor and in my mind I kept willing my mother to remember. “You can do this, Mom!” I kept saying to myself. But when I glanced at my mother’s face, I could see the color rising in her cheeks. She was staring at the doctor, too, but just kept saying, “I don’t know. I…I don’t know.”

When Mom finally turned to me, I put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Remember, Mom? You were driving to Hartland and you started to shake?”

“Oh, YES!” my mother nearly shouted. I was nearly expecting her to raise her fist in triumph as she recalled her little escapade that ended with a trip to the emergency room. And as she was telling the story, my son whispered in my ear, “I didn’t know that’s what happened.” He looked scared. I nodded and held him tighter.

Although Mom’s was not a good story, I was so happy she could remember it. During those few moments when Mom looked so embarrassed and helpless, I would have done anything to make her feel good again, to not feel ashamed or scared.

I’ve thought a lot about that doctor’s visit today, wondering if when I take my son to school tomorrow, *he’ll* be the one who needs a little protecting. His tics have been quite calm over the past few days, but today as he talked about his upcoming first day of school and how excited he is, his tics started to increase. He’s been blowing on his hands a lot and raising his arms. I remember last year on the first day of school, I cried when I drove home after watching him tic like mad as we walked into the classroom. His teacher at least knew about the tics, but this year, we haven’t even met the teacher.  Fortunately most of his classmates seem to “get” my boy and don’t seem to care about the tics, but there’s always someone new to explain it to, or some little shit on the bus who is looking for a kid to pick on and ridicule for the school year.

As my son was getting ready for bed tonight, he was telling me about all the things he wants to tell people at school tomorrow, like about the Youtubers he thinks are cool and he wants to get his friends to subscribe to those Youtube channels. He wants to make a sign to have on the playground, telling people to come to him so he can tell them all about these great gamers. And as my boy told me all of this, I was cringing inside, just hoping that no one beats him up, and also hoping that he will find his tribe sooner rather than later. Most geeks I know didn’t find others like themselves until they were at least in high school. I want my son to find his people NOW. I want him to feel like he belongs with others that he is not related to. I want him to feel safe and happy, not ashamed or scared of who or what he is.

I want to make two of the people I love most in this world to feel good about themselves and to feel safe and happy. That is all I want to do.

It’s really not that much to ask, is it?






The changing definition of ME time

Typically, Sunday is MY day. It’s the one day I try not to leave my house except to go for my long run, and it’s the day that I do some housework but try to read a lot and play games with my boy or bake or do whatever the hell I want to do. It’s the day I try to care of myself so I’m prepared for the upcoming work week.

None of that happened this week (or last week). We had a few drama-filled days and hospital visits due to my mother’s health and by Friday night I just wanted to sleep for a very, very long time. But since yesterday was my 18th wedding anniversary and we had been planning to go to the coast and I really, really  needed a day away from here, I went. My brother was kind enough to do a “Mom visit” and convince her to sign an advance health care directive (success!), so I was able to have fun with my family and not worry about anything else.

And I think because of our little daytrip, this morning I was able to get my butt out of bed at a reasonable time and plan for the day. The first thing I needed to do? Look up all of my mother’s medications to find out what they’re for. I was shocked to discover she’s been taking three different blood pressure medications. Does she need to? Is she really supposed to? It’s something I’ll ask her doctor next week, but since she just got out of the hospital for what they *think* is strange effects on the body due to hypertension, then maybe she is supposed to? I have no friggin’ clue.

The next thing was making a trip to the drugstore to buy my mom a proper pill dispenser. Any idea how many of these things are out there? I didn’t either. So I bought several until we figure out what works best. Then it was off to Mom’s house.

You know, she was having a really good day. She’s weaker than she should be, but her mind was good. While we talked, I swept and mopped her kitchen and bathroom floors then made her some lunch. We didn’t talk about a lot, just chatted about her cat and a little about the news. Before I left, we made a list of things I would pick up that she needed and will deliver later this week.

I went to several stores to get the things Mom needed and groceries for my own home, then as I was leaving town, I stopped to get an iced coffee. Yet as I sat at the drive-through, I asked for an iced cappuccino instead (something I used to treat myself with when I was running nearly 20 miles a week) and when the lady asked if I would like whipped cream on it, I nearly swooned. Once I got my drink, I parked in a lot and sipped the delicious concoction and closed my eyes. I took one moment for myself. Just me. I thought about nothing, only how cold the drink was and how rich the cream tasted. And on the way home, this song played on the radio. I turned it up as loud as it would go, and sang my heart out.

“If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?”

Sometimes. Sometimes it really does.



What I Learned about Life at Library Camp

This last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) for the 2nd time, but as a mentor this go round. In library land, we call NELLS, Library Camp. We meet at a gorgeous retreat center for five days and we have discussions about leadership and libraries while networking with our colleagues from 4 or 5 other states. There’s good food, great company and a smidge of a party atmosphere in the evening. (Had my first gin and tonic here!)

My experience this time around is very different than two years ago. It’s a little odd attending as a mentor just after being a “regular” participant. I’m still not sure my knowledge and experiences were sufficient enough for me to be a mentor, but I’m a damn good listener and superbly empathetic, so I think that was a good enough starting point. The experience was different because I didn’t concentrate on my own “thing” this time, but just tried to be there for others. Yet within the discussions and lectures, I found myself struggling with the same issue I have for the past few years–the home life/work life balance.

I got a very interesting viewpoint from someone I deeply respect and admire, but a view I didn’t want to hear or even consider. Making my library the first priority in my life is not something I want to do. Ever. I don’t want to be a librarian 24/7. True, I often post things on Facebook about libraries or suggest reading materials for my friends, but I am also a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a reader and a runner. I will always endeavor to be a better librarian. But in order to become even better, if my only choice is to give up more of the other parts of my life, I refuse to do that.

I started thinking about this issue and my continual frustration with it, and I tried to sort it out as I walked through the stone labyrinths that are at the retreat center where NELLS takes place. I kept following the path around and around and every once in a while I’d stop and look around me and would start to feel very anxious. “How in hell am I going to get out of this damn thing? Will I really find the end or have I seriously messed this up?” Then I’d take a deep breath, stop second-guessing myself and just focus on the path in front of me that I knew in my heart and my head was really the right one.

 I recently took a seminar on “managing my emotions.” It’s something I need to work on not only in my professional life but my personal life. We talked about a large variety of things at the workshop but it basically came down to this: You have a choice on how you react to situations. You might not feel like you do, but with practice, you have the tools to step back from any situation even for just one second to breathe and think. At that point you’re not reacting, but acting on the situation.

My anger has controlled me for most of my life. As a child, I didn’t know what to do with all the anger I had at my parents and at my situation, so I ate something every time a little flame of anger ignited inside of me until the fire was suffocated from all of that food and finally fat. As an adult I managed my anger by just letting it all out, yelling when I needed to and feeling free and light as I did so. Yet I now realize this just passed on all that aggression to others so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I’m now working on repairing those relationships.

The key thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks, is that ultimately, we all have a choice in what we do in and with our lives. There are always limitations, of course, whether it be financial, mental, social or emotional.  But within those boundaries you still have a choice to make your situation better. That might mean throwing yourself into your work and climbing that ladder up through management and beyond, or it might mean stepping off that ladder completely and going in a new direction. Or it may just mean you choose to be happy in the path you chose long ago and it’s ok not to go up or left or right. Others may try to persuade you into  doing something they think you should do or that it would be most rewarding for you to do so, but you’re the only one who really knows.


Stone labyrinth at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center. Photo borrowed from the Center’s FB page.

Trust me when I say that choosing what is right for ourselves can be the most difficult thing to do. We may never, in fact, choose that path. We may always pick the right thing for someone else or for our family or for our job. But someday, I hope you can make at least one decision that is exactly right for YOU.  Whether it’s the taking the job everyone wanted you to or going on the trip that everyone tells you not to take. If you know it’s the thing that would make you happy and just feels right for you, then do it. Don’t look around and start second-guessing yourself. Just focus, feel it, and follow that path.


Parenting Your Parent

My mother is strong-willed and fiercely independent. In other words, she is stubborn and won’t do a damn thing people tell her to do.

Mom has faced many health challenges in the last 20 years: Ramsey Hunt syndrome paralyzed part of her face permanently, fibromyalgia and arthritis bring her pain nearly 24/7, and osteoporosis has weakened her bones so much that she has broken both hips and an ankle in the past five years. Yet through all of this, she has typically found some semblance of a bright side or tokens of happiness that keep her going. Don’t get me wrong, she complains plenty, but she tries to find other things to discuss–my son, our cats, the weather, who showed up in the obituaries, etc.

But things are starting to change. My siblings and I believe that the early stage of dementia has begun and although we’ve all been in some state of denial, we know that all of our lives will be affected. So many things need to happen for Mom’s safety and her state of mind, yet Mom is the one who still has the power to say “No, I won’t do it,” or “Yes, ok, let’s do this.” Can you guess which answer she’s chosen?

We had a mini health crisis at her home recently, resulting in the calling of an ambulance. They checked her out and although she *really* needed to go to the hospital, she refused to go. My son and I stayed at her house for a while afterwards. I cleaned up the house a bit, made her bed, made dinner, and just chatted. Like nothing had ever happened. Living in a state of denial is something that my family and I are really good at. I was raised in that state, escaped for a bit, but can easily move back into it. I want the bubble I live in to remain clear and comfy and undisturbed. I hate drama and messes and uncertainty. But when your mom isn’t feeling well and she won’t get help and she could die because of that lack of help? It keeps me in this permanent sense of uncertainty and fear and helplessness. And I fucking hate it.

About three years ago is when I officially became my mother’s parent. Apparently Mom had several mini strokes and ended up driving to my home in the middle of a snowstorm while wearing summer clothing. She thought she worked at a local convenience store and told me about the people she worked with and so on. It was scary and I didn’t do the right thing. I at least convinced her to stay at my home, but I never called an ambulance. The next morning when she was my mother again, she refused to go to the ER, but did ask me to lead her home. Now, you must realize that where I live is where my mother was born (literally) and grew up, and the house she lives in now she has lived in for 30 years. But her brain was still feeling fuzzy enough that she wasn’t sure she knew her way back home. And that’s when I knew things had permanently changed between us. I cried a lot during that time, mourning the loss of someone I could always rely on.

Mom will always be my mother. I am so grateful for the fact that I still have her (and my dad) in my life. I realize how fortunate I am. And my respect for Mom will never waver. I am, in fact, very much like her. I’ve tried to be independent, I’m stubborn, too, and I can swear as well as she can. (Mom is a former prison worker so she can curse a blue streak!) But so many of the little things I would ask her for, I need to do myself now. And if I can’t, I need to ask someone else. Like make raisin-filled gluten-free cookies. I still can’t do this, but need to figure out how. I can ask Mom, and she’ll help as much as she can, but typically the answer will be, “Let’s do that later.” This is Mom-speak for “I have to figure it out first, so you don’t realize I don’t know how to any longer.” I know she hides things from me because she doesn’t want me to know how weak or tired or sick she is. Not because I’ll worry (although I will), but because she’s afraid her independence will be taken from her. (Kind of like a kid hiding the broken vase under the couch so she can still go out Saturday night.) And I get it. I honestly do. I said as much to her, but also told her that I don’t want to find her dead in her home, when she could have been saved by getting help before things got too bad. She said she understands, but I think her fear of losing her independence is greater than her fear of death.

So now I call her nearly every day, check on her at home, take her to doctors’ appointments when needed and bug her about calling for her test results. My siblings do a lot of these things, too, but since I work less than 15 minutes away from Mom’s house, it’s often easier for me to do this stuff. But now that I’m about to go away for a week, I feel that bit of “parenting worry” I get when I leave my kid for any extended bit of time. Yet the worry I feel is not for him, but for my mom. I’ve even contacted my sibs to remind them I’m going away and to call Mom more and find out what her doctor said and maybe vacuum for her if you get the chance. (Thankfully they know what a control freak I am so they don’t seem offended.) I know I’m doing the exact thing with Mom as I do with my boy. I make sure they have what they need and “Are you sure?” and “Do you know how to do that?” But with Mom, it feels much more critical. Like if I screw up, she’ll die.

This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, but if I was completely honest, it’s also a responsibility I do not want to have. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m trying to figure out what’s best, but I also feel stretched to the max. I have a hard time parenting an 8-year-old boy, so trying to parent a 68-year-old woman seems like an impossibility.