Connections

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Lola is 12-years old now, and that’s a difficult time in the life of every young girl.  Even Lola, who is amazingly intelligent and independent, is going through that awkward middle school stage of life.  She’s tall and thin, and her body has quickly become something that to her must seem quite unfamiliar.  I have spent the past couple of years equally worrying about how she is adjusting to a new school environment and being impressed with her “old soul” philosophical attitude about most of the challenges she has encountered.

I encouraged Lola to sign up for band this school year.  Unfortunately, she is not able to take both band and choir in this school district, and last year she opted for choir.  While she enjoyed it, I could see that musically, she wasn’t learning much.  She agreed to take band this year, but she was apprehensive about being a year behind the rest of the kids in her class.  I promised her that she would quickly catch up, and she has.

Lola met with her band teacher at the end of last school year to select an instrument.  Anyone who knows our family, or reads my blog, knows that music is a large part of our lives.  I was thrilled to see Lola testing instruments.  Though she asked me repeatedly to advise her on a choice, I kept my mouth shut.  This had to be her decision.  Learning an instrument can become one of the most rewarding things in life, but only if that is a personal choice.  It wasn’t a matter of expense as we own several trumpets, a trombone, two saxophones, three clarinets, and a drum set.  Even if she had selected an instrument that we didn’t own, I would have gladly added to our collection.  She chose the trumpet.  The other kids had all been waiting to hear what Lola chose, each wishing she would pick their instrument of choice. Her big brother Luke, the trumpet player, was thrilled.

If we still lived back home, I would have known any number of people who could teach Lola the trumpet, but we’re not back home.  We’re here, and I didn’t have a clue where to take Lola for lessons.  I looked online for the music center nearest our home and set up an appointment for a lesson.  Lola’s first lesson was several months ago, and I feel incredibly blessed that my random selection set in motion a wonderful chain of events.

Lola is shy, so shy that on the night of her first lesson she begged me not to make her go.  She had a tummy ache from worry, but I promised her that I would stay with her through the entire lesson.  Lola and I waited together for her teacher in the tiny studio lesson room.  When he opened the door, I was stunned.  He was a tiny man well over 70 years old, but his presence filled the room.  His hair was snow white, and his eyes sparkled.  I stared at him in amazement.  He reminded me of the man who introduced me to jazz, Bob DuBois, a trumpet player.  Bob died about a year ago, but the impact he had on so many jazz musician carries on.

Lola’s teacher’s name is Mike.  He has played with some of the greatest names in jazz.  He and I spent part of her first lesson talking about common likes and dislikes while Lola quickly relaxed.  Eventually, Mike turned his attention to Lola, and the lesson began.  Their connection was almost instantaneous.  They made each other smile, and I could see that she wanted learn as much as he wanted to teach.  He offered to take Lola’s trumpet home with him and give it a good cleaning and tune-up.  The next day, Lola and I went to his home, near our own, and her trumpet was shining like new.

That first lesson was months ago, and their friendship has blossomed.  Twice each week, 12-year-old Lola and 70-something Mike, spend an hour together.  Without fail, Lola comes away from each lesson with a smile on her face.  Her confidence in all areas of life has soared.  T and I secretly call Mike Lola’s trumpet therapist, because the change in our daughter has been so positive and dramatic.

Frequently, Mike sends me texts telling me how wonderful Lola is doing, how quickly she is learning.  Just tonight, Mike sent me this text.  “Pam, Lola is doing remarkable work.  I’m not sure if you have heard her lately, but her sound is superb and she is really really getting it.  She is easily my best student.”

Yes, I’m proud that Lola is a good student on the trumpet, but I am incredibly amazed to witness the special relationship that has developed between a young girl and an old trumpet player.  It is readily apparent that they both “needed” this relationship in their lives.  The rapport they have is heartwarming to witness.  I talked to Lola about it tonight, about just how special it is that she and Mike have found each other and this unique connection.  She said, “He’s one of my best friends.”  Wow!  I love this kind of thing.  When people step outside of their comfort zones, whether that be school, work, neighborhood, or even age group, all kinds of interesting people await.  Once again as a parent, I learn another lesson from my child.

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Baseball Memories

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When I was a little girl, my father gave me the most important gift, the gift of acceptance and unconditional love.

I was in the midst of those awkward middle school years.  I was trying so hard to be cool, to be like everyone else.  Above all, I wanted to fit in.  All my friends played softball, so of course, I signed up to be on a team, too.  I hated every single moment of it.  I was afraid of being hit by a ball.  I couldn’t catch, pitch, throw, or hit.  Yet I kept right on trying.  I went to each practice.  When I got home, my dad spent countless hours trying to teach me and trying to help me improve.  Nothing worked.  I didn’t improve no matter how hard I tried.  As hard as I was working to be better, my heart wasn’t in it.  I wanted to be reading a book, or playing the piano, or spending time with my pets.  The only things I liked about playing softball was sitting on the bench, visiting with my friends, and going to the concession stand after the game. Continue Reading »

How Do They See Me?

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Last spring, I took a day off work to volunteer in Lola’s class for Olympic Day. It was on one of the last days of school. There are games, races, and contests. Well before Lola was born, I spent about five years as PTA president planning Olympic Day events. I knew the drill, but Lola didn’t know that. She became obsessed with what I was going to wear to Olympic Day. For about a week, she quizzed me on what I thought I might wear, and then she would point out that whatever particular outfit I was wearing would be entirely inappropriate for Olympic Day. These conversations would typically occur when I walked in the door still wearing the clothes I had worn to the office that day. What? I shouldn’t wear a skirt and heals to Olympic Day? Day after day, I had a lot of fun teasing Lola. Finally the weekend came, and when I came downstairs wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, she said “There! Wear THAT to Olympic Day!” Continue Reading »

Tell Me A Little About This Karma Thing

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Without fail, whenever all four kids are home, we have a few Hallmark moments.  It’s wonderful to see them come together now as adults, to see that they have missed each other, and to listen to their conversations.  On the other hand, things eventually disintegrate, and the siblings revert back to competitive children vying for attention.  Those Hallmark moments often turn into something you might see on the Jerry Springer show.  It is exhausting to keep a lid on things and to monitor the situation. Continue Reading »

Touch Me, Please!

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I grew up as an only child, and we were not a touchy-feely family.  My mother rarely hugged me.  Dad was more affectionate, but not necessarily physically affectionate.  Dad used words and gave freely of his time.  He showered me with both praise and attention.  Long conversations and time spent asking about my day, and caring what I had to say, was how my dad showed his love.  I don’t remember ever seeing my parents hug, or kiss, or hold hands.  It just wasn’t part of my family’s repertoire.  When I met T, he wasn’t much of a hugger, either.  We didn’t hold hands a lot, and we certainly weren’t that couple that made people around them uncomfortable with public displays of affection.  The lack of physical affection didn’t bother me.  In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind. Continue Reading »

Life Raft

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Last night, T told me to get ready.  We were going out for dinner.  He said with a silly smile that  I needed some red meat.  Double entendra.  Em didn’t have plans, so the girls could stay home by themselves.  I agreed that it sounded like a good idea.  It had been a hard day.  I didn’t feel like cooking.  The girls seemed happy at the thought of having us out of the house for a while.  They were both occupied with their own things, and seemed to be looking forward to an evening of quiet….without Mom and Dad hanging around the house.  While I didn’t feel much like going out, the thought of a juicy steak at one of our favorite spots perked me up a little.

I had been a slob all day.  We were heading out for a late dinner by the time I got myself cleaned up and looking presentable.  It was nice, though, because the Saturday night rush had already passed by the time we got there.  We went to a local favorite.  It’s a cozy, intimate place, and has a beautiful evening view of the runway lights at our local (tiny) airport.  To top it all off, the food is always wonderful.  We enjoyed a cocktail and conversation while we waited for our food.  I could already see that this was a good idea as I began to feel myself begin to relax for the first time all day.  My friend T.  There he was across the table, always knowing what is best for me even before I know it myself.

As soon as my tension began to subside, deep, deep fatigue began to set in. The adrenaline had been replaced with exhaustion.  T asked where I wanted to go after dinner, but all I really wanted to do was to go home and go to bed.  He tried to entice me with a drive down by the river to look at Christmas lights.  Maybe we could stop for martinis?  “No, please.  All I want to do is go to bed.”  I can’t ever remember feeling so wilted.  We drove home after dinner, and I immediately got ready for bed.

He was there in bed with me, and I’m not sure where I was.  Yes, I was in bed, but I seemed to be floating.  I rolled over, laid my head on T’s chest, and hung on for dear life.  The headache was back, and I felt like I was swirling and spinning.  I was hot and cold at the same time.  I was sweating and shivering.  Images and emotions flashed at me in my half-sleep.  At some point, I fell asleep.

Around 2:30 a.m., I woke up.  I was tangled in the covers, and my hair felt damp and stringy.  I wanted to get out of bed.  I wanted to wander around the house.  I wanted to stand and look out of a window.  It was December 11.  I picked up my phone to confirm the date.  There it was, taunting me in the darkness, December 11.  I laid there, forcing myself to stay in bed when all I wanted to do was flee.  I’m not sure where I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to be there in the quiet darkness with my thoughts.  If I got up, though, it would be the actions of a crazy woman.  “Normal” people don’t wander around the house in the middle of the night.  I flung my leg across T and grabbed his arm.  Once again, I hung on until sleep came.

This morning when I woke up, it felt like I had won a battle.  I had been victorious.  I hadn’t cried.  I hadn’t wandered around the house thinking and thinking.  I had CHOSEN not to do the things that would feed the fires of grief.  Instead of floundering around in the water, I had held onto my life raft.

Today was another sad December 11th.  My mom has been moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing unit.  It’s depressing, even though the facility is nice.  She lays behind a curtain on her half of the room.  This is what her life has been reduced to, a room,  a bed behind a curtain.  As I watched her laying there, mumbling in and out of sleep, I wished for my dad once again. To see her like this would have made him so sad.  If Dad were alive, he would have been able to keep her at home. He would have been able to care for her in a way that I am not able.  My children, my job, my responsibilities have not allowed me to become the full-time caregiver my dad once had been for her.

I sat with her in the darkened room.  I wondered what her mind was thinking as she slept.  I hoped that the thoughts in her dreams were better than the reality of what her life has become.  I hoped that she was remembering the things that once made her life worth living.  We didn’t talk at all today.  She drifted in and out, and I sat in a chair…watching and thinking.  We had once been a little family, Mom and Dad, and me.  Those days have passed.  So many things have passed.   Too many.

I drove by the old house on my way home from the hospital.  I had to stop and go inside.  For just a moment, I stood there in what was once a living room.  Think of that word!  Living room.  It was once a place where people lived.  It had once been full of life, love, family, and conversation.  I gently touched the place where I had found my dad two years ago.  I touched that spot, but I remembered other times, happier times, and I was thankful that this is where he had taken his last breathe, in the living room, in a place he loved, in the comfort of his own home.

 

 

Missing Most of Me

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This weekend sucked.  Pure and simple, it was not good.  I won’t go into the minutia of all that is going on.  By this afternoon, I was counting the hours until Monday morning.  Work may be stressful, but it’s not thankless.  Often, work seems to be the only part of my life that I seem to do well.  It’s stressful, but most of the time, it is logical.  The rest of my life is like a roller coaster.  I feel like the ball inside of a pinball machine.  I am bouncing around all over the place.  When I land in one spot, I am flung across to the other side.

Added to the mix of a career, four kids, and a husband is my responsibility for my very ill mother.  I am all she has.  Please don’t ever be envious of anyone who is an only child.  I have yet to see ANY benefits to that situation.  I miss having siblings.  I always have, especially now.  My mom has end-stage kidney disease.  Since my father’s death, we have situated her in an assisted living facility, although she has been often in and out of the hospital for an endless variety of complications.  She was admitted to the hospital again last night/this morning.

The fact that the responsibility of my mother has 100% fallen to me has been fascinating.  Well, mostly it has been horrifying.  I haven’t lived in my parents’ home in almost 30 years, yet the moment my father died, I was “given” sole charge of my mother.  It has been hellish to navigate.  Hellish!  I won’t go into all of that right now, it has been almost two years of incidents.  Last night was another.  At almost 2:00 a.m., my phone rang.  My mom had been taken from her apartment, which is connected to the hospital, to the emergency room.  She was vomiting.  Sadly, this is not an unusual ocurance.  Of course, I would expect them to call me to let me know.  What I wasn’t expecting was for them to basically demand that I drive there immediately with a list of her meds.  WTH?  My mom takes over a dozen different medications on a daily basis.  I have arranged for them to be bubble packed.  She gets them each week.  There is a card with AM MEDS, one with PM MEDS, and another with BEDTIME MEDS.  The pharmacy she uses is IN THE FRICKEN HOSPITAL.  Her assisted living facility is ATTACHED to the same hospital.  I live of a hour hour’s drive away.  Plus, and most importantly , as I told the nurse who had awakened me, “I don’t have a list of her meds.”

“Well, you should,” was her answer.  Sure, yeah, I know.  There are a lot of things I “Should” do.  I will add this one to the list.  To think that I had been patting myself on the back for making all of the arrangements for her meds to be bubble-packed for her.  Frankly, I was pissed off.  It seems that no matter what I do, or how hard I try, there is always someone waiting around each corner to tell me that I hadn’t done something right.  I went back to sleep after being reassured that my mother was now resting comfortably.

A few short hours later  at 7:00 a.m., and I assume a bitchy-nurse shift change, I was once again awakened by a phone call.  “Yes, I am calling about your mother.  I need you to bring us a list of her meds.”  Jesus!  Wouldn’t you think that it would make more sense to call the pharmacy (located IN the hospital) or maybe even pick up the phone and call her doctor?  Yes, I did suggest these things.  Turns out the pharmacy is closed.  Closed?  Yes…closed, because it was Sunday.  As for the doctor, they didn’t want to call him.  He would be in later when he made his rounds.

When I made it to the hospital this morning, the first thing my mother said to me was, “Pam, they said you needed to bring a list of my meds.  Did you bring it?”

“Mom, I don’t have a list of your meds.  I didn’t know that I needed a list.  I thought the pharmacy and your doctor had a list.”

“Well,” she sniffed and said disapprovingly, “your Dad always kept a list of my meds.”  Too bad no one ever told me!

The rest of my day didn’t go much better.  I came home from the hospital to a messy kitchen and a yard that needed to be mowed.  T was grouchy, because he had wanted to spend the day painting the garage, not standing around a hospital with me.  There was so much that I needed to do, because company was coming for dinner.  Andrew had invited a girl over for dinner and to meet the family.  Others would be there, too.  That is just a normal Sunday in our home.

Dinner wasn’t the problem.  We were having a simple meal, just burgers on the grill.  The problem was, once again, trying to please everyone.  I don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it lately.  Instead of digging in and cleaning things up, I wandered back to the patio.  I sat there staring and trying to figure out why my life doesn’t seem to fit me very well sometimes.

T came back to find me and sat down to talk.  I looked at him, just looked at him.  Where was that guy I knew so long ago, the one I married?  I asked him that.  I looked at him “real hard” as he would say, and I said, “Hey….are you still in there?”  How in the hell did our lives get so unenjoyable?  Why are we responsible for so much and enjoy so little?  While he agreed with me, neither one of us really had an answer.

Our moment together on the patio didn’t last long.  Soon, we were joined by a kid or two.  We delegated the work.  The burgers went on the grill, corn on the cob was put on to boil,  a fire was built on the patio.  Other friends stopped by to visit.  We made s’mores.  We had a few drinks.  The mood lifted and lightened.  I felt peace for a few moments.  I felt love and friendship and caring.  It is hard work to keep the ship afloat.  All of these people relying on sameness, stability, security.  I’m not sure if they realize the hard work that goes into making our lives as a family simply a routine.

I need my dad.  I miss my dad.  What I miss most is the stability that he provided in my life.  He loved me.  He listened to me.  He understood me, and I trusted him.  Mostly, what I miss most is the unconditional love he gave me every moment of my life. There was never a moment when I didn’t feel it.  I feel it still.

I haven’t been to visit my dad’s grave since the day he was buried.  It’s time.  The grave stone is up, and I want to see that, too.  I need to be near my dad again and feel the strength  of his unconditional love once again .

My dad called the cemetery Sand Hill.  I’m not sure if he was the only one to use that name, but I doubt it.  The land is part of the old family farm.  My great, great grandpa donated a portion of his farm ground for a church and family burial grounds.  It’s a tiny cemetery with only a couple hundred graves.  I know, or know of, most of the people who are buried in that cemetery.  I walked on Sand Hill with my great-grandpa, my grandpa, my dad, and my kids.  Sand Hill has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and Sand Hill will be a part of me even when I am long gone from this world.

My babies and my brother are buried at Sand Hill.  T and I have our spots all reserved.  All we had to do was mark it on a map.  I have actually laid in the spot where I will be buried.  I still remember that sunny day.  I laid there laughing and rolled over in the grass, “Hey, look at me rolling in my grave!”  My dad was there that day, too, and I remember his smile.  Sand Hill is not a place of sadness.  It’s a place where I played as a child.  I took many walks with Great-Grandpa over from his big, stone farmhouse to Sand Hill while he told me stories of people long past.  Sand Hill is a place of love and family.  It is where my history rests, and where I will rest.

I have decided to make the trip to Sand Hill to visit my dad.  I’m going to go alone later this week.  There are so many things weighing heavily on my mind.  It would take me an hour to drive there from my home if I took the interstate, but I won’t.  Instead, I will meander over the two-lane country roads I know and love so well.  I will revisit the places that I hold dear in my heart, and I will remember.  No doubt, this won’t be an easy visit.  For sure, I will cry, but I will also talk.  I have so much to say to my dad, so much that has been stored up this past year and a half.