Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

Reverse Kidnap

Caregiving

Some days, being a HANC is so damned difficult I don’t know what to do. Other days I think my duties are ridiculously commonplace. I have been a housekeeper and activities director since my first son was born. I’m aware of nutritional needs and don’t mind being my mother’s companion. Still, when we abandoned our former lives to care for my mother, I faced other difficult choices.

fire! Fire!

The possibility of a serious burnout scares the hell out of me. I resent being the only one who empties my mother’s potty. Yet I’m infuriated when I recall the foul odor that prompted us to put our careers and lifestyle on hold.

Time

I want to be inspiring and motivational, but when I’m frazzled and weary, it’s difficult to remain upbeat. At night, I often collapse into bed, exhausted physically, still reviewing things undone. After an hour or so, disturbing dreams or body aches begin, or I am awakened to attend to her needs.

Wine

Taking adequate restorative breaks requires advance planning and coordination. Gone are my days of spontaneity. I no longer come home from a hard day at work and announce, “Dinner’s on your own,” as I trudge toward a hot bath with a glass of wine and a book. Because of my mother’s condition, structure and routine are essential for a peaceful life.

Pituful man

Recently, I held my first serious pity party. After all, who knows how long this could go on? My siblings are confounded I have taken on this role, and trust me, today I was doubting my own good sense. When I felt my pending calamity, I called on five members of my large support system. My husband, two of four brothers, one of three sisters and a nephew listened and gave me their sense of understanding. One had an undertone of, glad I’m not in your shoes, and one promised to give me some relief – tomorrow.

What's in his hand?

When I mentioned my rising frustration to my nephew, I didn’t think he paid particular attention, but later, his dad approached me as I pruned a blueberry bush. He said he wanted to trade what was in my hand for what was in his, and he held out the keys to his car and a little cash.

He said, “I have half a tank of gas. Take it as far as you can and get a drink on me.”

Hand off

I accepted his gesture and his keys. No planning. No discussion. No procrastination and no collapse!

Walk through sanctuary

I told my husband we’d been reverse-kidnapped and we took my camera for a sunset walk through a nearby wildlife sanctuary, though the wildest thing we saw were some human snowbirds. As the moon rose, we ate burgers at a local favorite and then went for those drinks.

rose

Since then, I have renewed my promise to walk more, garden more and make more time for myself. The roses don’t have a chance. I plan to smell each one of them this year!

Mommasez

One of the best things about caregiving, or being a HANC—in addition to knowing you are providing much-needed Housekeeping skills, directing some new Activities, providing healthy Nutritional options and being a Companion—is having the honor of hearing stories and historical remembrances.

Even more so, are short stand-alone sentences, or what I call Mommasez.

Traveling with mom

Because I now live with my mother and spend time with her, going to doctors’ appointments, to have her hair styled, to visit family and out for meals, we talk on our way to these places. Naturally, we also talk at home.

large man in small chairMommasez things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

“When I am on my deathbed and they hook me up to whatever it is they hook people up to before they die, make sure to pour one last cup of coffee in a bag. I want to die with coffee in my veins.”

laughing woman

Mommasez things that make me laugh.

“People say ‘I’m pretty sure.’ Have you ever heard anybody say they were ugly sure?”

bowls of grapes

Often, current events spark memories from her childhood. One such memory came after I brought her a large bowl of grapes harvested from the scuppernong vine in her back yard.

“When I was a child, every fall, there was a man who would stop our bus driver and tell him, ‘Bring the children back tomorrow for grapes.’ The next day, our mothers would give us paper bags, because we didn’t have plastic in those days. Sometimes, the paper bags would have a wax lining, but not usually. So, after school, the bus would stop at his house and all the children got off and picked all the grapes we could take home. Our mothers made jelly and it didn’t cost anything. Well, they had to buy sugar and jars, but that’s how we did it in those days. We all helped one another.”

Momma says things

Mommasez things that make me wonder.

“No, I do not want to visit my cousin in the hospital. They might lock the door and never let me out.”

Mommasez things that would have shocked me years ago, but I have learned she often wants to see if I will have a witty remark.

shower

“Ooh, this shower is better than sex,” makes me reply, “Obviously you truly have lost all your memories, or you always slept with the wrong men.”

She and I both know she has had sex with a total of two men, each her husband; the second following a forty-year marriage to my father, more than twenty-five years after his death.

laughter

My goal is one belly laugh each day. Now that we’ve settled into our own rhythm, we sometimes achieve more than one good guffaw.

save the world

I have started to enjoy her simple needs without imposing my desires upon her. Relaxed in my instinct to take-over-the-reins-and-aright-the-world, I take pleasure in her happiness. I certainly share her frustrations.

parking permit

My mother is fiercely independent, even in a state of disability. Less than a decade ago, she maintained her own home and worked outside the home. Family members assisted with yard work under her supervision.

Sandberg's canes

She cooked, cleaned, handled her finances and was one of the healthiest people in the family. She recovered from her first serious fall well and managed with a cane.

Mommasez things that are profoundly sad, at times.

large family

“I can die now. I know I will never be this happy again,” she told me the night of her eightieth birthday, six years ago.

That was the first time in twelve years all eight of her children were together, most with our children and her great-grandchildren attending.

Walker

She fell again and broke much more than one bone, as in her first tumble. Still, her independent streak fights her limits. She uses a walker for every step she takes, yet there are times, she attempts chores by leaning on other things, some that are not sturdy or steady. When I offer to take over a task that seems too much for her, she scolds me.

“Let me do what I can, while I still can. Soon enough, you will have to do it all for me and you’ll wish I could do it, even if me have to fweep it twice.”

sweeper

“Fweep it twice,” is a reference to my youngest sister who longed to do anything she could to feel more grown up. When she was four years old, she started sweeping the kitchen and someone took the broom from her and told her she was too small to do a good job, as she had left some crumbs. My sister reclaimed the broom with the statement, “Me fweep it twice!”

Time is precious

Youngsters and oldsters need to feel useful and important. It’s the responsibility of those of us in the middle to help them in their quests. We, who are more experienced or healthier, may indeed do the job faster or better – but we can always sweep it twice. We must remember the important things are not the tasks we do for our loved ones, but the time we spend with them.

kitchen

Momma says she wants to be more helpful in the kitchen and I don’t mind. It’s my job to set her up for success and to enjoy the time we have together. If I’m lucky, I might even hear few more things Mommasez.

I am not a Nurse!

Uniforms and hats

I’ve worn some interesting hats over the years, but of all the hats I’ve worn, a nurse’s cap was never one.

             Ask my brothers and sisters and they will tell you that I am not a nurse. I’m the family erudite. As a child, I played school, not hospital. I pretended to be a teacher, not a nurse or a doctor.

            So, why did I volunteer to become a caregiver? Why am I my mother’s HANC?

Woman on scooter

She needed help with Housekeeping, because her limited mobility prevents her from doing all but basic cleaning and home maintenance. This same handicap, brought on by the fall that broke her hip and precipitated an entire shoulder replacement, controls the amount of Activities in which she can participate.

good food

Her dependency on a walker and her failing memory restrict her ability to prepare Nutritious meals. Although she has lived alone for nearly three decades, it was clear her limitations were preventing her from many social interactions; she needed Companionship.

            She needed a HANC, not a nurse.

woman on phone

Every day requires I employ my Housekeeping and Nutritionist skills, but the need for me to be her sole Companion changes if friends or family call or come to visit.

book

Her willingness to engage in activities other than watching television, crocheting or working word puzzles  is contingent on her energy levels. If her overall health declines, she needs a nurse, not a Companion or Activity director.

She’s had a few bouts of illness. Only one, so far, resulted in hospitalization. That’s when I realized I am not a nurse.

tray of medical items

Nurses run on schedules and panicked calls from patients. My shifts run twenty-four, not eight or even just sixteen hours. Some nurses taught me how to control her pain by adjusting her body and supporting it with pillows. Other nurses taught me the strength in a gentle touch and the power of a calm demeanor. Some taught me they care more for a patient prior to receiving discharge orders than they do for those eager to go home.

pain meds

One nurse displayed a preference for medication rather than providing attentive nursing care.

Unfortunately, I learned my mother respects a nurse’s authority more than her daughter’s opinion. Still, no matter how caring, compassionate and qualified a nurse can be, family is always better.

family photo

Even a family as goofy as mine!

Forced to Follow my Dream

Since becoming my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC), I face new challenges daily. In some ways, on some days, it’s as if I am responsible for an 85-year-old toddler. Without family intervention, her meals would be meager and lonely, her health declining rapidly.

man on motorcycle

Prior to moving, my sister, Jane, or my brother, Joe, cooked for her, but they weren’t able to be on hand daily to ensure she ate what was prepared. That’s my job, now.

Without my support system, I might have burned out quickly. By far, my biggest supporters are my brothers and sisters. Each in his or her way has provided invaluable assistance. Some have taken us out to dinner.

family phot

Others have brought food or even tea parties to us. Some have helped with yard work. All have given words of gratitude and encouragement.

tea party

Jane offered to give my husband and me one weekend off each month.

I had no idea how important that would be, but Jane knew.

What a gift!

Gift with a bow

When we first moved in, I needed some time to unpack and assimilate.

boxes

We all needed to adjust to the new lifestyle. We were here three months before our first weekend away, which meant it was all the more important – but what a fiasco! We’d started planning a trip to a local resort town, but something didn’t feel right, so we decided my husband would follow his instincts and use “the force” to direct us on our spontaneous adventure.  My well-intentioned sister didn’t realize that my night-schedule husband wouldn’t wake at dawn, as hers would have. I knew this, so I promised her I’d call when we were leaving, but she came early. It all worked out well, but it seemed as if we were being rushed that day.

traffic jam

We drove an hour to North Charleston, where he surprised me by taking me to the Fire Museum, a wonderful visual tribute to firefighters all over the world.fire museum

That evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and sat outside our less-than-ideal hotel/motel room watching a feral cat colony. The next day, we drove to historic downtown Charleston and the Battery where we started making plans for a future trip.

customs house

A short drive to the Isle of Palms, where we toured the island and I took photos, took us past the Windjammer Beach Club and we modified our plans. My husband then drove us to Sullivan’s Island. He  stopped so I could take some photos of the historical monument that described an early battle during the Revolutionary War.

monument plaque

Then we saw him.

A young man was rising out of the water, a hose attached to a jet ski. He rode on a stream of water, hovering the inlet. It was the highlight of our day.

jetski rocket

I have wanted to travel, for as far back as I can remember.

Wait. That’s not accurate or truthful.

Bernie

My first memory is of my sister Bernadette “Bernie” and me making cucumber pies. I was five and she was almost four. We lived in the largest house I can remember for my family of ten, although at that time, the “babies” had not yet been born.

The house was situated on a corner at the intersection of two major thoroughfares. Long before interstate travel sped by on freeways created for the purpose, travelers used these small-town highways.

On one hot summer morning, our house roused to the sound of a collision and we knew a large truck had been involved. This one had been filled with cucumbers. Housewives and older children rushed to the intersection to help clean up the debris so traffic could resume as soon as possible. My mother pickled what she could and those too bruised or broken became playthings for Bernie and me for a day. We made the best-smelling mud pies in town.

reading

When I wasn’t making mud and cucumber pies, I was reading. I don’t recall a time in my life without books. Once I started school, I read even more. That’s when thoughts of travel first entered my mind. I longed to visit exotic places I’d read about and for many decades, I believed travel meant passports, airfare and foreign countries.

I’m reconsidering my perception.

passport

To be certain, I do own a passport. It’s in almost pristine condition, though it will soon be time to renew it. I have traveled outside of the United States, but barely.

cruise ships

Although I enjoyed it thoroughly, traveling on a cruise ship is an extremely limited sort of travel.

Hawaii hello

My husband and I have dreamed together of being able to spin a globe to stop it with a finger on “Where shall we go next?” knowing our dream is tied to our budget. Outside of a few cruises and some outings while visiting family, our travel has been limited – in location and ambiance.

As another month approaches, we are faced with a dilemma.

sign

  • Where should we go?
  • What will we do when we get there?
  • What kind of restaurants will we find?
  • Do we want to visit the typical tourist venues or go off that path?
  • How can we avoid another iffy hotel, when the online rating system is flawed?
  • Can we really afford to spend the night away each month?
  • Can we afford not to stay overnight?
  • How much can we, with our current jobs, afford to disconnect?

We think we have a solution.lottery

Scaling down our global travels dream (until we win the lottery), we’re going to put names of cities and towns in a hat or a box or a basket or maybe just stack them like playing cards.

hat and cane

Each month, we’ll draw out the name of that month’s destination for our weekend away.

There are no rules, but we do have some guidelines.

  • No location should be more than a three to four-hour’s drive from home. This will ensure we can enjoy our destination as well as the journey to get there.
  • We’ll spend a little extra for nicer accommodations, even if we have to skimp on our main meal out.
  • Some months, we will pack a picnic basket, depending on our final destination.
  • Each location should have some draw: a museum, an aquarium, a historical monument, a botanical garden or some other special amusement.
  • We reserve the right to change our minds.

wine

Now, my task is to locate cities and towns that fit our criteria, set up the cards with options for entertainment and search out accommodations.

historic inn

If you have any suggestions for exciting destinations or locations within a few hours from the Charleston/Columbia South Carolina or the Savannah Georgia areas, I’d love to know about them. Please, leave me a comment with your suggestions.

Better you than me

busy as a bee

Being caregiver to an elderly loved one is similar to parenthood. The demands don’t end after an eight-hour shift. Downtime is minimal. Some days, no amount of expressed gratitude can compensate for the private sacrifices and personal exhaustion.

two bees

Married HANCs who choose to provide Housekeeping, direct Activities, prepare tasty, Nutritious meals and offer fulltime Companionship may find privacy especially precious. It’s vital to seize moments of intimacy and search for opportunities to be alone with your spouse while maintaining balance in your care-giving roles.

solo bee

Conversely, it is essential to find time to be alone, with friends and to seek personal activities that sustain and support emotional stability. This is particularly important for the solitary or single HANC.

bee duo

The role of companionship for yourself is no less important than providing healthy meals or stimulating activities and maintaining a well-kept home. Remember why you made the decision to become a HANC but don’t let the decision monopolize your life.

fuzzy bee

            From time to time, you will hear things that affirm your decision.

fat bee

A sister said, “Thanks so much for being there—1,000 times.”

Thistle flower with bee

When a friend learned of our move, he wrote in an email:

“I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I wish I could have been there for my father more than I was at the end.”

bee on flower

A business acquaintance told me, “You are doing a wonderful and selfless thing.”

Florida bee

A brother wrote, “Thank you again for your being there. I am so grateful to you for taking this leap in faith to move in with Momma.”

Marigold bee

A colleague wrote, “You have sacrificed a lot to be there for your mother.”

Pollen hunter

Yet one of the briefest and most profound statements came from my sister-in-law.

Better You Than Me!

The Little House in the Country

City HallI was thrilled when I first moved from my lifelong hometown, with a population of 5,360 – according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau – to Atlanta, with well more than 900 times that.

City scape view

At the time, I needed to be absorbed into the city’s anonymity, to feel the pulse of cultural diversity. Several years later, I downsized the city but upgraded my lifestyle.

House in the suburbs

We moved from a small two-bedroom apartment on a fourth-floor walk-up into a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. About one-fifth the size of Atlanta, this city was still fourteen times larger than where I returned to report for HANC duties. As a HANC I am my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Caregiver.

Chef

Much of what I’ve done has been typical for a homemaker or a HANC. Cooking, cleaning, stimulating conversation; memory work; driving to appointments, refilling prescriptions, answering the telephone and coordinating with family and friends who want to visit; these are all things that for more than a decade, I have resolutely eschewed.

Why am I now thinking of sewing myself an apron?

World Book encyclopedias

I have fought to be atypical in all my endeavors. I never thought I was superior, yet I felt somehow different from others. One sister has called me the family dictionary for ages. A friend told me my knowledge is encyclopedic. A co-worker nicknamed me the breathing style guide. An employer thought I had moved to South Carolina from Chicago or Manhattan, because of my demeanor and lack of strong southern dialect. No wonder I sought to escape my small town.

            Yet, here I am.

Award

Thomas Wolfe wrote,

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

    Yet, here I am.

I left my little house in the country for one of the largest cities in the U.S.A.

NAMPA AWARD   The whole enchilada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filtered by my environment, I’ve lived my dreams of writing and editing.I am pleased that I seem to have achieved some level of glory and fame. I have no desire to escape time or memory. In fact, my mother’s fading memory is one of the things I hope to help her preserve. As Alzheimer’s begins to scar the surface of her recollections, I went back home, to my family, but not to my childhood.

place setting

I miss the culinary delights that are typically found in large cities, the hidden spots frequented on rare and special occasions. I do miss my friends, the bonds forged while working on our individual novels and short stories or as we groused about deadlines or unmet expectations. I miss my infrequent lunch and after-hours buddies.

Photo outing

I will have to find new photography field trippers and cultural outlets. Now, instead of one or two grandmothers, I am surrounded by them within my own family and it feels different. Good, but different.

house in the woods

I did not return to the Little House in the Country  as a child, seeking anything but peace of mind. For myself, primarily, as I ached every time I had to leave my mother, knowing her health declined daily. For my mother, secondarily, because in order for me to have peace of mind, I needed to provide her with a level of care and companionship that might ultimately improve her condition somewhat.

children in summer

I did not consider that I would provide peace of mind to my large family, but I have. Each one has conveyed in his or her own way how grateful they are to know that our mother is no longer alone.

I tend to act quickly to situations. I try to be prepared enough that I don’t overreact, but at times, I don’t work out all the scenarios. I had not considered how my transition to HANC-dom would impact others in the family. I just knew I had no option but to go home.

House in the country

My parents built The Little House in the Country and we moved into it when I was in the sixth grade. I was over-dramatic when I thought I would never see my best friends again. I thought I hated the new house and who could blame me?

two missing

I have four brothers and three sisters. The house had four tiny bedrooms. Now, it has two! The day we moved in, the house was “dried-in,” which means it had a sub-floor, four exterior walls, a roof and studs for interior walls. The electricity had been turned on and the plumbing was installed. There were no walls or doors inside the house. We had no privacy so my mother stapled sheets to the studs around the bathroom. Little by little, cardboard walls were also then stapled to the other rooms. As time and money allowed, sheet-rock was installed.

Worden parents

My mother told me she had moved frequently once she married my father and when they moved into the newly-built, but unfinished house, she told him,

“This is the last time I am moving. If you want to live somewhere else, you will have to do it without me. I am not leaving this house until I am dead.”

            She has “made do” with whatever she could and has improved The Little House in the Country as much as she has been able.

flowers

Now, it’s my turn. The city girl has come home to her roots and I rejoice when I find grubs or red wrigglers in my compost bin! A recent trip to buy a simple piece of hardware turned into a field trip for me, when I started setting potted plants and hanging baskets into the shopping cart. My urban-bred husband shook his head and waited.

outdoor flowers

I spent hours arranging and repotting dahlias and mums near the mailbox and I fretted over which soil to use for the rosemary and pepper.

rural house

I traded in my small country home for an equally small apartment in a thriving metropolis that was later traded for a spacious home in the suburbs and I pursued my career as city editor. Returning to my roots, I have swapped all I held dear for what is most precious to me. With that, came The Little House in the Country.

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Take a Break. It’s more Important than you Think.

Since becoming my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC) I face new challenges daily. In some ways, on some days, it’s as if I am responsible for an 85-year-old toddler. Without family intervention, her meals would be meager and lonely, her health dwindling rapidly.

woman in blue shirt wearing glasses

Joe plays guitar

 Prior to our moving in, my sister, Jane, or my brother, Joe, cooked for her, but they weren’t able to be on hand daily to ensure she ate what they prepared.

That’s my job, now.

When I told Jane of our decision to move in with Momma, she told me, “You have no idea what you are getting yourself into. It is much more work than you think it is and it’s not going to get easier.”

She was right. Being a HANC is a tremendous honor and an enormous responsibility.

Without my support system, I might have burned out quickly.

family

By far, my biggest supporters are my brothers and sisters. Each in his or her way has provided invaluable assistance. Some have taken us out to dinner.

tea party

Others have brought food or even tea parties to us. Some have helped with yard work.

All have given words of gratitude and encouragement.

Jane offered to give me and my husband one weekend off each month.

gift

What a gift!

I had no idea how important that would be, but Jane knew.

When we first moved in, I needed some time to unpack and assimilate. We all needed to adjust to the new lifestyle. We were here three months before our first weekend away, which meant it was all the more important.

We’d started planning a trip to Hilton Head, but something didn’t feel right about it, so we decided my husband would follow his instincts and use “the force” to direct us on our spontaneous adventure.

museum

We drove an hour to North Charleston, where he surprised me by taking me to the Fire Museum, a wonderful visual tribute to firefighters all over the world. That evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous meal and sat outside our less-than-ideal motel room watching a feral cat colony.

library

The next day, we drove to historic downtown Charleston where we started making plans for a return trip.

A short drive to the Isle of Palms, where we toured the island and I took photos, took us past the Windjammer Beach Club and we modified our plans. We then drove us to Sullivan’s Island.

signbattle sign

 

My husband stopped as soon as he saw  the historical monument depicting the Battle of Sullivan’s Island.

Then we saw him.

ski on air

A young man was rising out of the water, a hose attached to a jet ski. He rode on a stream of water, hovering over the inlet. We watched him until he stopped his water and air show.

It was the highlight of our day.

Revived by his enthusiasm and athleticism, we returned home with great memories and hundreds of photos to share. We can relive the weekend with Momma, which should spark some stimulating conversations.

 

 

 

 

Majoring in Minor Meltdowns

The easiest hard decision my husband and I have ever made as a couple didn’t arrive after months of discussion or hours of debate. In twenty-five syllables, we made a life-changing choice.

Couyple dolphin

“Why don’t we move in with your mother and help her?”

“Are you serious?”

“Very serious.”

“Let’s do it.”

houses at night

We made our decision late one night, while visiting my mother. The next morning, we discussed it with her when she expressed anxiety at our pending departure.

            The real discussion started after we agreed to make the life-changing move.

Mary with Marie and Bob

The easy part is behind: us packing, sorting, giving away and moving, leaving dear friends, work acquaintances, making job adjustments, opening or moving accounts, deciding which possessions must come into the new home with us and which could be stored.

shoesThe second most difficult phase has taken longer to complete. Ever mindful that I am moving into my mother’s home and not into an empty apartment, I’ve cleaned years of grime and discarded broken items or things she does not use, like the nearly two dozen pairs of shoes that pinch her feet or the shoebox filled with custom orthotics that no longer serve her. We both laughed when I asked her what she wanted to do with several denture molds I found stashed in a dresser. My mother still has her natural teeth and she could not remember if the molds were for her mother or my father. They both passed away within nine days of each other.

Thirty years ago.

laptops

“I’ll never use that,” alternated with, “Put that away for now,” which became, “Do you think you can sell that on the computer?” as she kept company with me and watched me sort decades of her possessions.

basket shoes

Often, I found empty totes with piles of things nearby. Some days, she asked why I was moving certain things and she did not understand my need to wash dishes we had not used or to wipe inside and outside of cupboards.

Some days, our genetic disposition to lead, led us toward stubborn standoffs. We also both possess a need to be right, which suggests compromise often means acquiescence.

As the junior, I submit most often.

door

One area we disagree on is the need to keep her bedroom door closed in order to direct the airflow pattern properly. No amount of explanation has convinced her that her old air handler system wasn’t optimal.

            “I didn’t have any of these problems before you moved in.”

            She worries about the possible increase in her utility bill because we are using extra fans to move the air as well as an auxiliary window unit. She does not understand that the computers we require to maintain our jobs rely on a regulated, cooler temperature.

fan

We all suffered until, after several emergency service calls, we were able to convince her that buying a new unit now would prevent the need for an urgent install once winter arrives.

elder in scooter

“My blood is thin. I need it warm in here,” has been her mantra, but my husband  suggested we take her out into the sunshine on the days it’s not raining. She’s been enjoying her scooter outings that allow her to warm up and has not complained about the cold since we started.

She’s my mother. I’m from the South. I’m also her middle child, so I don’t sass or talk back. It’s difficult for me to argue with her, even when I know I’m right, so I try to avoid arguments and present topics as a matter of fact.

juice

As a result, she looks forward to drinking a glass of fresh juice every day, which is helping her nutritional needs.

tea party

She also showers more often and my coup has been setting the dinner table each night and having her eat at the table.

mug

For more than three years, she has been content to sit in her recliner for all of her meals, even if her meal was a cup of coffee and two cookies. She always insisted, when we were children, that we eat at the kitchen table. I don’t insist, but I gently encourage.

We’ve been living in her house since June. I’ve had a few minor meltdowns during that time.

            When she becomes adamant that I must leave things in place, as she has had them for years, I try to remember that this is her house, even though I also live here and she has said repeatedly, “We’ll make this work, no matter what it takes.” I strive to compromise, but there are times I need her to give as well as take.

            She says she understands the sacrifices we have made, but has also said,

“I don’t care. It’s mine and that’s how I want it.”

yard

To keep my minor meltdowns from causing major problems, I’ve developed a routine that takes me outdoors. The yard can always use some work, so as often as I can,  I go outside and melt away my stress.

Oops! My Domesticity is Showing.

domestiic oops

My what is showing?

When I left my hometown, I had a purpose. I had a plan. When I returned, nearly fifteen years later, my purpose had changed and my plan? Well, life has not gone according to my plan. Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who needs to follow a formula precisely.

chocolate cake

Looks better than it tastes

Ask those poor people who were unfortunate enough to taste my salty chocolate cakes. Yes, I said cakes, with a plural emphasis, because I don’t always immediately learn from my mistakes.

daek chocolate bar

Nothing but the best!

When we were dating, I baked my husband a three-layer chocolate cake for his birthday. I had used the recipe on the back of the cocoa box so many times, I had it memorized and could practically prepare it blindfolded. I’d read that the addition of salt enhances the flavor of chocolate, so in addition to the typically delicious cake, I sprinkled in a few extra spoonfuls of salt to the icing. I added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred and repeated the process until I was certain I had the perfect enhancement. I was at a need-to-impress-him state in my life, so after forming the peaks on the frosting in a way that would make Martha Stuart want to arm wrestle Betty Crocker for my secret, I packed the cake carefully and drove 325 miles to his Florida home.

Central Florida Ocean

Not the sort of place you’d store your cake.

The cake smelled delicious and when I removed the cover, everyone in the house actually made an “ohh” or “mmm” sound. Big slices, unfortunately, were left on their plates after the first bite. My husband said it tasted like I had dumped it in the ocean.

pound cake recipe

Some recipes are more detailed than others.

 I waited many years before attempting to bake another cake, but this time, I followed a recipe precisely.

 

chocolate cake caramel icing

Never underestimate the power of following instructions.

The chocolate cake with caramelized sugar glaze was a hit, so with my confidence restored, I attempted another chocolate cake with chocolate icing, but did not try to enhance it with the addition of salt, yet this cake tasted worse than the first! Even I didn’t like it. I knew I’d lost my edge in the kitchen, but it didn’t matter.

desk edge

Editing happens here

I was a career woman, an editor, writer and photographer. I spent my weekdays in an office, working with an award-winning publisher and my weekends on outings with accomplished photographers or in my home office editing the works of novelists, memoirists, essayists, short story writers and poets. I didn’t need to bake and I didn’t need to cook. I didn’t even need to clean much.

what's for dinner

Nothing elaborate

My husband was content with quickly cooked meals from kits and the freezer. We lived our lives in such a way that I didn’t have to spend much time doing housework or yard work. We were living our plans and dreaming our dreams.

Mary is happy

Back in the carefree career days

I thought I was happy.

Scooter Pooting

Independently dependent

Then, we visited my mother and realized that although she could continue to live alone, her health would surely suffer and decline. We knew we couldn’t wait for someone else to step forward and help out more than they were. Each member of the family was doing his and her best to work around unique work situations and life schedules and no one was in a position to step into the role of full-time Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Companion (HANC).

It was time for me to fill that role.

bicycle

How hard can it be?

I wondered if being a homemaker would be like riding a bike. Would it come back to me?

cookbooks in order

What’s for dinner?

In another life that my current husband has never known, I took extreme pride in my home. I used a cookbook and canning jars and slow cookers.

place setting

Presentation is half the battle

 I set the table and I knew “what’s for dinner” if anyone asked. I focused on my family and not my career in those days, but I wasn’t happy.

unpacking

Unpacking is as difficult as moving.

For several months, I have focused on the transition from full-time editor to full-time HANC. In between editing assignments, I have unpacked and worked to de-clutter and organize my mother’s small home.

hairdresser

Granny’s getting her style updated.

  It seemed that if I wasn’t driving to appointments with her hairdresser, we were driving to a doctor or to pick up prescriptions. I’ve accepted that I will be responsible for ensuring she takes her many daily medications properly.

herbs

Traditional Chinese raw herbs

Her many trips to see many specialists and doctors grates my own personal preference to more natural healing, which does not include pharmaceuticals.

oreos and milk

Yummy, but not nutritious.

 I  grimaced at her predilection for cookies and ice cream.

wine glass of juice

You don’t have to drink wine to toast to your health.

I rejoiced silently when she requested fresh juice and my recent triumph came when she requested a second helping of chili after telling me she didn’t really like chili, “until tonight.” Oh, yes! I followed a recipe and did not add any extra salt.

manuscript

Pages from my novel.

I’m still writing. I went on a photo outing in mid-October. I still write for some of my established clients.

vacuum

Vacuum cleaner in the Carl and Lillian Sandburg home in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Oddly, I’m content to assist my mother, vacuum, make beds and find interesting meals to cook for my family.

paint

Awaking my sleeping artist

Is it possible that my domestic contentment will play a role in my artistic creativity at some point?

scarecrow in garden

Garden at Cannemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in NC.

 Perhaps my muse has been hiding in the garden, all along. I still have plans and dreams and yet, I find an amusing peacefulness when someone compliments a simple bowl of chili.

 

Hit the wall, but don’t let it hit back

It’s not uncommon for a HANC to hit an emotional wall at some point. Keeping a tidy house, directing activities, planning nutritious meals and providing fulltime companionship will take its toll. Wall with flowers

Doing all this while maintaining a career and relationships can add to the stress level of even the most well-balanced person, but to attempt the feat while caring for a beloved pet that becomes ill, relocating your entire household and “coming home” after nearly a decade-and-a-half away can prove exhausting.

wall corner pin and tan

If you don’t rest and take care of yourself, your body will give out in any number of ways and you will be forced to take a break. Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental state unless you want to suffer the consequences of fatigue, colds, headaches or other maladies.

small bricks

  • No move ever goes exactly as planned or expected, even when you have options for contingencies. Unexpected problems will emerge, such as the old air handler that fails to perform during unseasonably hot weather or the elevated utility bill resulting from the faulty appliance. Cars break down, oven doors fall off, pests invade, rain seems never-ending; yet you are the one who must hold things together for everyone else.
  • Expecting the unexpected can help HANCs cope with computers that fail or cell phones that break. Accepting Murphy’s Law makes it easier to cope and respond appropriately when things go wrong. Then the family has a sense of calm cohesiveness.
  • Problems arise when HANCs expect too much from themselves and are less forgiving of their own mistakes than they are of others. With so many responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember to take time for yourself, time to play, relax, to do nothing. Don’t be too stubborn to listen to the advice you give others.
  • Realize that the housekeeping aspect of your new job does not require miraculous transformation of a marginally kept house into a magazine cover shot. Take care of the necessary daily chores and reserve some of the deeper cleaning for another time, after you have settled in fully.
  • Perhaps the most important part of being a HANC is the activities director portion, but this does not mean you must plan every waking moment of each day. Some days, it means making no plans at all, but being open to what the day brings. If the weather changes, be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, an activities director needs only to provide simple conversation and gentle reminders about recent events. Too many changes and too much commotion can be overly stimulating and frightening. A good HANC knows where to draw the line between keeping busy and being a busybody.
  • Learn as quickly as possible how much activity the person in your care can handle at a given time and don’t push beyond that limit. A walk outdoors might be all you can handle one day, but the next day, a drive or shopping trip could provide interaction or the chance to meet old friends. Don’t rush and don’t put your desire to fill the needs of being a HANC before his or her need to do whatever is important at that moment.
  • If the person in your care has memory issues, don’t let your personal frustration drive you to impatience. Allow time and encourage memories by urging conversations with friends and relatives. Give hints and recollection prompts and know that the other person is more annoyed than you at the declining memory.

wall and pipes and sky

Can you tell Fran about what we did yesterday?” might be too generic. Try, instead, “Will you tell Fran what you thought about the farmers’ market?”

Don’t quibble over details, but help with dates and time management.

“Remember, we went to see Sally after you had your haircut. Yesterday was the day we went to the museum.”

reflection of wall

The activities you engage in are to help deter boredom and keep the mind of your loved one stimulated, not for your own entertainment. This can be difficult to remember at times. It can be harder to implement when you are also trying to maintain a healthy balance. If you feel you are close to hitting an emotional wall or at your physical limit, take a moment to collect yourself. A few minutes alone in the shower or a short walk outside might be all you need. Put some space between you and whatever is frustrating you. If your loved one is too demanding, make a promise to yourself to take a break as soon the current crisis has passed.  Keep your promise.

sunset wall

  • By providing a healthy diet for the person in your care, you are also ensuring your own nutritional needs are met. Just be certain your specific dietary needs don’t clash with medical needs. Don’t force anyone to adhere to your menu preferences. Introduce new foods gradually. Make suggestions, not requirements. Don’t preach about snacking, but make healthy choices readily available and be sure to set a good example with how you eat. Keep a water bottle handy, especially when leaving home. Don’t forget to drink water, yourself.
  • Companionship could well be the second most important facet in any HANCs position or life. By growing in communion with the one in your care, you may not add years to a life, but you will certainly add life to those years.

road walls

Knowing your job as a HANC means you understand the obligations, but does not lessen the responsibility to take care of yourself.

fence wall post

Enjoy the journey and stay off that wall.

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