This weekend I am missing my high school reunion in Wabash, Indiana.  It would have been nice to go, but the cards just didn’t play out.  Reunions often remind me of a few lines from the movie The Big Chill.

“Wrong, a long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.”

That thought stayed with me.  For many years I pondered it.  My final conclusion, the lines do contain some truth, but the idea behind the lines, that we take nothing from those short friendships, is wrong.  I grew up in Wabash, a place I lived until I left for college.  My family, my friends, the circumstances of what took place while I lived there, that town formed the basis of who I am today.  True, I did only know some of those people a short time.  But, I believe even short meetings with a person serve a purpose.  We learn from each other, the learning experience can be good or it can be negative.  But, we still hopefully, learn from it.

As in my case I moved on.  The friends I knew in high school, I truly do not know anymore.  I do know their memories and the laughs and fun we had.  I do remember the angst of those teenage years.  All memories that contributed to the adult I grew into.

Life is a journey we travel.  I have journeyed far from my small town of birth.  I have traveled through college, and young adulthood; marriage, and babies that grew to toddlers, troublesome teenagers and finally amazing adults.  I have looked back on lessons I learned from my parents that took the years of my own children to realize.  I have made many friends and kept only a few for life.  Some people come into our lives for a short while and we should not regret when it is time to move from that friendship, its purpose being served.  Still, we can hold fast to the memories.

So, this weekend I will be thinking of my friends from my childhood and teen years.  I wish them all well.  I hope they have attained happiness and contentment in their lives, as I have.


Helping Yourself Help

I have been thinking lately about decisions I made for my mother.  During my day, I often run into people who are in some stage of being a caretaker for a parent.  Some are in the beginning stage of denial.  Some are in the panic stage of, what do I do now?  Others are in the end stage and either silently, or out loud, are praying for an easy death of their parent.  I recognize all of these stages, because, I experienced each one.

As I’ve said before, I don’t mind listening and giving advice when asked.  Sometimes the obvious is very clear to those looking in, but not clear at all when you are the participant.  Recently, I heard of a woman who was trying to work full-time and take care of her mother, who lives alone.  Not only does she live alone, but she cannot cook for herself, can’t get herself to the bathroom, can’t get herself dressed, the list continues.  Yet, this loving daughter is trying to figure out how to take care of her mother without bringing in extra help or removing her from her home.  As I write this, the situation sounds very obvious as to what needs to be done.  But, put yourself in that role and all kinds of emotional problems surface.  There are promises made: Mom, I won’t put you in a nursing home.  Of course I will always take care of you.  There are financial issues that come with many questions.  Can my parent pay for care?  What if my parent refuses to pay, but I need the help?  Can I take over financial control?

Personally, the most important conclusion I came to, after taking on the role of caretaker, and spending months becoming more and more stressed was to realize, I can’t do this on your own.  Struggling, without admitting you need help, leads to problems later.  I found, reaching out to others in the same situation helped me tremendously.  As I entered my caretaker role, there were others in the midst of it.  These people understood the ends and outs.  They were aware of doctors, facilities, and organizations that could help with guidance on what to do and what help was available.  They knew tricks on how to just get through the day.  For many women, and I say women because the caretaking generally falls to us, the decision to admit we need help can be covered with guilt.  But, guilt should not be involved.

As a caretaker, your first step is to take care of yourself.  If you fall ill or get hurt, then everyone is in trouble.  Bringing in help; taking hours, days, weekends off is not selfish, it is putting your role as caretaker first.  When you are rested then your patience comes easier.  The skills needed to handle your tasks flow smoothly.

The worst day of my life, and I can also say for my sister, was the day we took our mother to an Assisted Living Home for Dementia Patients.  Like many of her generation, Mom had a pre-conceived notion of a “nursing home”.  It took us hours to get her out of bed, dressed and into the car.  I still get emotional when I think of that day.  But, and this is huge, our mother grew to enjoy her new home.  She found she liked the independence of being out from under my control.  She made friends; the staff grew to love her.  As for our relationship, it returned to more of a mother-daughter one.  Since I was no longer trying to get her to take her medication, to bath, to eat, to go to sleep, to get out of bed, we could enjoy each other.  I took Mom out to lunch, we got her nails done.  She came to my house for holidays.  When she no longer felt comfortable doing those outings, we did puzzles and watched TV.

Looking back, each day seemed endless at times.  But, now I know, making the most of what time is left, and providing the best care, is essential.   Even if it means letting that care come from someone else.  Asking for and excepting help are all part of a good caretakers role. In the end, the decision to let go of some of my control was the best one I made as a caretaker.

Step back, Let it Go

My impression of the animal known as the Badger is that they are small, fierce, strong, and determined.  Once they have latched onto their prey they do not let go.  My sisters and I often laugh about a trait we call “The Badger.”  We are referring to a quirk of our personalities, the one where we, like the Badger, lock onto a thought or task and become fixated.  This trait can be helpful, for example, if you need to finish a task.  I make lists.  I relish being able to take pen in hand and check off items on my list that I have accomplished. Once the list is completely checked off, I start a new one.   I struggle with my husband, who likes to start tasks but not always finish them, at least in a reasonable manner for me.  We have been working on remodeling our house.  This project, although quite large, is a year and a half in the making. We have very little left to accomplish. But, my husband has lost interest and moved on.   My list sits waiting for me to check it off.  It is covered in coffee stains and more than once I have had to search to find it under piles of papers on my desk.  The “Badger” has lost patience and won’t rest until our final paint stroke is finished, and the final nail is hammered.  Then, pen in hand the “Badger” will check off the last items on the list and it will be time to let go.   The problem is getting my husband to cooperate.

Being a “Badger” can have its drawbacks.  I can become fixated with something, and I am unable to let it go or move on, even though I have no control over the final outcome.  An example would be, trying to help a friend or one of my daughters.  They ask for advice, I give it. But, then I obsess over trying to help them come to their conclusion on my time frame, not on theirs.  The “Badger” wants to come to a quick decision, and then move forward.  But, sometimes these decisions can’t be resolved that easily.  I have to wait because time is needed to find a solution.  This is where I struggle to take a step backwards.  I tell myself walk away, you can’t control this.  Your job is done.  But, I continue to be gripped by the issue.  I worry that the decision they make will lead them down a path that I feel will be more difficult for them.   I want to be in control and walk them through to a happy, final conclusion.  Of course, that would make the decision mine, and it is not on my list to check off, it is on theirs.  So the “Badger” must let go, a difficult maneuver, one that I am still laboring to learn.

I am also working to let go of my mother.  She passed away last February of dementia.  It was a six year slide into nothing.  I know she is in a better place.  But, I miss her.  Not the woman she was at the end, but the woman she was before dementia.  Mom’s passing was a blessing.  Yet, I regret our family didn’t get to enjoy her more, and, that my children lost their grandmother.  Mom and I did not always have this amazingly strong bond, but we had established a loving relationship as I grew into an adult.  Sometimes, I long for advice.  I miss her matter of fact explanations of life.  I have found becoming the “adult” generation is difficult.   I realize this is a normal passage of life, but, the “Badger” in me wants more time to be able to check off of my list things I enjoyed with Mom.  I wanted more time together doing girl stuff.  More quiet talks. More discussions about politics and books.   More laughing at silly things.   I wanted more.  That is a list that the “Badger” had to bury.

This morning I was struggling with an issue that is not mine to make.  Consequently, I did what works for me.  I went to nature.  It was chilly, near 50 degrees, as I hopped on my bike and took a ride on a wooded bike path near my home.  The rush of the cool air produced goose bumps as I headed down my first hill.  My mind was screaming questions and answers to me.  As I rode, over hundreds of fallen acorns and the first leaves of fall, my brain began to quiet.  My thoughts began to untangle and resolve themselves into categories.  It was at the end of my ride that I let the “Badger” grab hold of issues I can check off my list and I forced the “Badger” to let go of all others.  I just hope I can keep the “Badger” in control, today.

We All Need to Contribute

I watched parts of the Republican Convention, and I am watching the Democratic Convention this week.  As a woman, it seems to me; both parties are working hard to get my vote.  In my opinion, that is a good thing.  Women of this country have the capability to make change.  We are lucky to live in the United States where that statement can be true.  Yet, many times, as the caretakers of our families we get so caught up in managing our own concerns we forget to notice what is taking place in the country and world around us.  Many of the decisions that will be made in the coming years will affect how we live.   The decisions will also affect how our children will live.  Consequently, the women of this country need to stand up and take control of the political environment.  If the parties are going to work hard for our vote, then we need them to work for us.  The issues we find to be the most important, should become front and center in the political debate.  And, men should not be the only ones in that debate.

Many times when I talk with younger women, I hear an unrecognized understanding of how close they are to the change that has recently taken place for our gender.    20 and 30 something’s never lived in a time when Title 9 wasn’t there for them.  They don’t fully comprehend what a glass ceiling is.  The idea of deciding a major for college based on your interests is natural for them.  They did not need to take into account that there were careers not meant for a woman.    I am thankful our daughters can have these thoughts.  But, we must not let our hard won victories come undone by complacency.

Today, I am asking all women, young, middle-aged or old to take notice of what is going on in our country, politically.  Take a stand, voice your opinions; if not to neighbors and friends, then with support of the candidate of your choice.  Women are often the catalyst for growth in their families, take that initiative one step further and work for growth in our country.  Even if that means just voting.

The Ring Of Fire

I enjoy succumbing to the pull of a mountain lake.  This morning, Monday, of Labor Day weekend, I sit on a porch overlooking the Great Sacandaga Lake, in upstate, New York.  The air is cool and clear.  The view of the blue water, changing to grey as the clouds float in front of the sun, is lovely.  It is mid-morning and the boat motors sound like distant flies buzzing, as the crafts make their appearance on the lake.

Last night we celebrated the end of summer with the Ring of Fire.  A celebration started around 1990 by locals who, after cleaning the brush from their properties, decided to build huge bonfires.  The thought was to involve the community around the lake in camaraderie as neighbors were encouraged to join in and light the fires all at once.  The Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend was chosen as bonfire night.  The idea has blossomed and many families around the lake partake in this festival with cookouts and parties with friends and neighbors.

Sunday afternoon we took a tour of the lake by boat and checked out the many bonfires that were being assembled along the shoreline.  We soon discovered the competition was tough.  We headed back to the dock.  Once there, our team made the obligatory snacks and cocktails to come up with our plan of action.  The assorted debris and trimming were ready and waiting on the beach.  The men of the group assembled our bonfire, with the help of the young generation, the ones who grew up with this tradition.  Because we had seen the other bonfires, more debris was sought out and piled high onto our lake offering, which in the end allowed for much praise and feelings of a job well done from the assembly crew.  Now, we only had to wait until nightfall.

As we cooked and ate our end of the summer feast, steak, squash, corn, tomatoes, dusk began to fall and we watched as one by one bonfires began to illuminate the lake, some were as far as five miles away.  Then, fireworks began to display their colors.  An almost full, fiery, orange moon rose over the mountains, as if on cue.   A true celebration of summer and all of its glory was under way.

We quickly finished our feast and headed to the beach.  The fire was lit and slowly came to a roaring inferno with sparks flying high into the night sky.  The sight was beautiful and we celebrated with “”oooos and ahhhs,” our contribution to the festival.  Cameras were brought forth and pictures were taken to commemorate the evening.  We all knew however, pictures or not, we would not forget such a delightful night.   Soon, quiet descended on us as we watched the leaping flames slowly drop from the night sky into a intensely hot mound of burning logs and hot coals.   Chairs were assembled and we spent many hours sitting by our offering talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  This, I believe, was the original intent for the Ring of Fire.