Parenting

Things I Plan To Do When My Kids Are Adults

I’ve often told my kids I’m ‘keeping track’ of things over the years.

They don’t really ask what for.

They likely should. :0)

I have a plan. True, I have to wait MANY years still before I can put it into motion, but it will be worth it.

This is a list of things I’m going to do when my kids are adults.

  1. When at their house, I will wait until they go into the bathroom and close the door, and then start a conversation with them from the other side.
  2. When asked over for dinner, I’ll sit down, look at the food, and say ‘I don’t like this…can I have peanut butter instead?’
  3. When in a store, I’ll demand that they buy me something and if they don’t, I’ll tell them they suck.
  4. I’ll stay at their house overnight and come out of my room fifteen to twenty times to ask them vital, critically important questions, like ‘How far away is Detroit?’
  5. When they aren’t looking, I’m going to sneak into their cupboards and eat their food.
  6. Every time they think I’m leaving I’ll just go outside and come back in again and complain about having to go outside.
  7. If we are together in public and they see someone they know, I’ll keep saying, ‘CAN WE GO NOW? WE’VE BEEN HERE FIFTEEN HOURS! I’M BORED!’ while they talk to that person for ten seconds.
  8. When at their house I will randomly drop things on their floor and pretend they aren’t there/I don’t see them.
  9. I’ll burp…or fart….a lot….and laugh.
  10. When they introduce me to their friends, I’ll say ‘the darndest things’; like, ‘Is that a wig?’ or ‘You smell funny.’ to them. Everyone appreciates that kind of ‘unfiltered honesty’….don’t they?

 

Well, not really. I’m not REALLY going to do this stuff….

Except maybe #5……and #1……

Okay, I’m TOTALLY going to do #1….

I’ve earned it.

:0)kids-teamwork-taping-parents-to-wall-working-together-tape-as-revenge-digitally-manipulated-35266438

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Confessions

A Long, Slow Goodbye – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 16

I remember one of my uncles talking not very long ago about a relative who visited his mother every day in a nursing home when her memory began to fail and how the first time this relative walked into the room and his mother didn’t know who he was he visited for a while and then sat in his car and cried for an even longer while.

I visited my mother in Florida at the end of last week, prior to going to another part of the state for a family memorial service for my aunt’s husband. Mom knew I was coming and in truth we spoke the day before I flew out to see her as to what time I’d be arriving in the state and what time I’d likely be over to see her, and she wrote it down as we spoke. My flight was on time and I arrived even a few minutes ahead of schedule thanks to a favorable tail wind.

The nearby airport I’d landed at was uncrowded – my rental car had been obtained smoothly enough – and I was on the road very quickly. I wound up at Mom’s assisted living within the half hour window I’d given her, parked outside and went to her door, opening it (she likes it partially closed when she’s inside and fully closed when she leaves) and walking in to find her on her bed rather than in her recliner near the window as is the norm for when I visit.

She looked up at me – blankly, as if she was expecting me to announce that it was dinner-time, or medication-time, or there was an activity going on somewhere in the unit she lives in. She looked up at me as if I was a stranger. It only lasted for a few seconds before she smiled and said, ‘Hi Honey’, but I know that in those few seconds she was not aware of who I was.

We went to dinner that first night, where Mom relied on ‘my good judgment’ to help her order. In truth I think menus with a lot to offer are somewhat overwhelming for her these days. Nonetheless, I tend to know what she likes to eat, ordered it for her, and I even coerced our waitress to bring Mom’s dessert with a candle in it, even though her birthday isn’t until the 3rd of next month, whereas I won’t be able to celebrate it with her in person. She’ll be 85.

The conversation was light and happy – the dinner enjoyable enough. I held her hand – she held my hand – we talked, we laughed, we smiled – enjoying the kind of intimacy that only a parent and child can share – if they are fortunate – a kind that a child who is watching their parent become, in many ways, a child again learns to enjoy and savor. Mom is getting beyond the capacity to have serious, in-depth discussions all that much. She has her aches, her pains, her confusion – these things dominate her day to day conversation now. I do all I can to simply make her laugh through it as best I can. I listen, even when I’ve heard it all before. In her mind, she’s never said it. I nod in agreement when she gets things completely wrong. In her mind, she’s right. I say ‘I’m so happy to see you’ instead of ‘I’m so heartbroken to see this happening to you’. They’re both true. Only one is helpful – to either of us.

The next day, before I had to leave her and make my way to where the memorial service was, I took Mom to lunch. We went to an outdoor venue, at the edge of a river. Mom looked out over the water as we waited for our order, a wistful smile flirting with her lips, and then looked over at me seated next to her. She reached up onto the table and put her hand on top of mine and a full smile emerged.

‘How do you always pick such perfect places to take me?’

‘I imagine what will make you smile just like this – and then that’s what I choose.’

I ventured inside the small ‘gift shop’ the restaurant has, looking for a t-shirt with the venue logo for both the boys, an easily transported gift from my trip. The gentleman who waited on me asked if I was from Florida or visiting. I answered, said where I was from, and he smiled saying, ‘I’m from New Hampshire originally’. He asked what had brought me to Florida, I pointed outside to my table and said, ‘Visiting with my mother, she’s in assisted living down here, doesn’t get out a lot.’

‘Dementia?’ he asked, assuming a familiarity that, per the look of caring on his face I didn’t see as an intrusion.

‘Yes.’ I replied.

‘Never easy.’ He said. ‘Especially when they forget who you are.’

‘I’m sure. But that’s okay. I remember who she is. My mother. She deserves to get out and smile.’

As we sat in Mom’s room, prior to my departure, she admitted to me that she hadn’t known, at first, who I was when I had walked through the door. That it had taken her a few seconds. I smiled, choked back my sadness, and said, ‘It must be the goatee – I didn’t have it the last time I was here.’ She nodded in agreement, but said nothing. I think we both knew I was full of shit. I don’t think either of us cared to admit it.

I fear that my visits with Mom will continue in this vein until she truly doesn’t remember who I am any longer. I fear it more so for her because the trust she has in me and comfort she takes from seeing me will no longer be there for her. I fear that everyone will be a stranger to her eventually, and the world will become a much more frightening place for a woman who never was very adept at giving up control.

It was nearly a year ago that she said the following to me:

‘I want you to know that no matter what else I forget…I will never forget you, my son. I promise.’

I said the following in response:

‘I know Mom, but just in case that does happen….I know if some day I’m no longer here,’ (I touched her head) ‘I know I will always be here.’ (I placed my hand over her heart).

I meant it then, and mean it now. Nothing about that has changed.

The only thing different is that now it would seem I have to ‘live it’ as well.

None of this is easy. As someone said to me recently, it’s like a long, slow goodbye.

I left her with a hug, a kiss, and a promise to see her as soon as I could, and to talk to her even sooner on the phone.

I got in my rental car, set my GPS, and pulled out of the parking lot.

And as I drove away – I began to cry.

 

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Miscellaneous

The Little Things You Do Together

Last night I worked on a project with my son that stirred up many memories for me.

Both the boys have joined Boy Scouts following the reversal of the organization’s position on gays in scouting. When told prior that while they could certainly join if they wished it meant that my husband and I would not be able to participate in it with them; they had opted out. These days both my husband and I are involved in their activities, albeit my position being one of a ‘behind the scenes’ nature while my husband is an active Den Leader for one of the boys.

The Pinewood Derby is an annual event for Scouts. They fashion a ‘race car’ out of a block of wood, attaching wheels, applying paint, and further decorating it to their liking. The cars are then pitted against others in a downhill race on a track. This event began back in 1953, and continues to this day.

The origin of the derby lies with a cub master named Don Murphy, a life-long model maker who, desiring to create a new father-son activity for scouts that were too young to participate in the Soapbox Derby and actually pilot a home-made car themselves. The derby has, for 63 years now, been a fun and safe project for dads and their scouting sons to engage in together.

Just last week I located a Pinewood Derby car that I had myself made when I was a Boy Scout some 40 years ago. I showed it to the boys as we each worked with one of them to make their own cars more aerodynamic and streamlined before they got painted. The boys came up with their own designs, stood safely by as we cut the blocks down for them to match the design, and then aided in sanding them to prep them for the next step.

All the while, working with the boys and in particular with my younger son, my mind wandered back to my own childhood and my own days in Scouting, and making a car to enter into the Pinewood Derby.

I recall the careful attention paid to design and detail in trying to come up with a car that might stand a chance of winning. I recall the thrill of anticipation waiting my turn to place my car on the wooden track and watch it travel downhill against another entry. I recall the roar of the crowd cheering on their preferred entrant as they surrounded the track and yelped and hollered their encouragement from the sidelines. I recall the disappointment when I didn’t win, despite my best efforts.

What I don’t recall, out of all the memories that I have of four decades ago – was my father working on the car with me.

I have only a handful of memories of doing things with my dad as a child. My dad was a man who liked to hunt and fish, and who enjoyed long, meandering drives along the back roads of Maine. Dad wasn’t a sportsman, nor a music enthusiast. He didn’t play chess, or garden (beyond a quickly aborted attempt to plant vegetables in our back yard one year). He didn’t have a ‘shop’ set up in the basement for woodworking or furniture upholstering. He ‘collected’ nothing but new friends on his CB radio on the basement where he’d spend hours alone in the orange glow of the analog dial, talking with faceless strangers. He didn’t build models or snap photographs, didn’t play cards or board games, and read nothing more than the daily newspaper.

When I was a young boy, I accompanied him, on occasion, to rivers and streams with a fishing pole, wanting to participate in something he enjoyed – wanting his attention and approval. Wanting his love. Wanting to somehow break into that odd, mysterious world that captivated him and drew him out into the woods time and time again, year after year, whether he came home empty-handed or not and find out what was so alluring to him about it, why it held such appeal.

I never did find that out.

I also never did find something, an activity or interest, that Dad and I shared. At a very young age I learned to love reading (and later writing) and could be found at any given moment with my nose in a book. That’s still the best place to look for me. As I approached my teens, I added singing and theater to my roster of interests, which continues to this day (albeit with an extended break from theater once kids came along). Even though I would, beyond the depletion of my interest in fishing (I never did go hunting with Dad), accompany Dad on his outings, my own fishing pole supplanted by a book or comic to read while Dad cast his baited line into the water. Sometimes we simply sat at water’s edge for a long while. Sometimes we sat in a boat of some sort, out on the water, nothing breaking the silence that seemed to envelop us, nor breaking the surface of the water itself. Drifting together; and yet drifting further apart.

For many years I resented this about my dad; that outside of a few unsuccessful fishing outings and his occasional appearances at events or ceremonies, I became an adult with a very meager assortment of memories to choose from of good times spent with my dad while growing up. For many years I blamed him for this. I took it as a sign that he wasn’t interested in making memories with me and spending time with me. And for a long time I hated him for it. I used to think it meant he didn’t ‘love’ me. But as I become more self-aware and more introspective, I wonder sometimes if he didn’t know how to love ‘me’ – the offbeat, quirky, alternative lifestyle book-worm son he simply didn’t know how to relate to. I can’t fault him for that. Some days I don’t know how the hell to deal with me, either.

Now, being a father myself, I often find myself in a position of my kids wanting my time and attention, even when it’s coming between me and a good book, or me and a nap, or me and a chore I need to finish or an errand I need to run. I try to balance simply dropping whatever I’m doing and doing what the kids want to do and trying to instill a little patience in them by saying ‘I have just two more pages in this chapter, and then I’m all yours’, and teaching them to take care of themselves as adults by saying , ‘I really need a quiet hour, let’s do this later on’. I recognize that one day not only will I wish they were around to ask me to do things together, but that they also will one day reflect upon the things we did together and (hopefully) recall them with more fondness and more frequency than I am able to do when thinking about my own experience. We go hiking, we watch television together, we read together, we sit and talk, we go outside and toss a ball – I won’t say it’s all the time, every single day, but I also would not refer to it as being ‘rare’. I can’t honestly say that I have any days that I cannot pull out even one good ‘moment’ that we shared together – be it as simple as a laugh or a ‘remember when you_____’ conversation together that makes us smile. I don’t have memories like that of my dad. And now that he’s gone, for nearly a year, I find myself only able to have memories of him.

Fortunately, before he died I had a decade of good, solid communication with him. He was a widower, residing in an assisted living facility after a stroke and the onset of dementia. I visited him as often as time and life with young children would allow. We’d sit either in his room or outside in the yard of the facility and simply talk to one another. I expressed many hurts from growing up, he expressed many regrets for things he did and didn’t do as my father. He told me that despite all of it, there was never a day that he didn’t love me, laying to rest something that had haunted me most of my days.

I was never so happy to be proven wrong.

In my bedroom there is a small box. It contains the few physical effects that Dad left behind. A pair of glasses in a fraying leather case, a comb, a pen, a small notebook where he recorded phone numbers of those he frequently called, a ruler he kept in a drawer near his bed. A small wooden ‘plaque’ that was made to honor his service in the army. I have photos of him set out, not that I think I’d ever forget his face. There are only a few photographs of us together. None of them show us at parks or concerts or sporting events. They are all just ‘photos’. Photos of a man and his son who took many, many years to figure out how to say ‘I love you’ to one another in a meaningful way. Photos of a man and his son who never had much in common other than their last name. Photos of a man and a son who rarely ever ‘shared’ experiences like working on a race car together in the basement after dinner, talking about what shape to cut it and what color to paint it and how cool it would be if the car won the race.

Last night as I worked on just such a car with my own son, I had pangs of regret that while I could make this memory with my child, my dad didn’t leave a similar one behind for me. I went to bed, a few hours later, tossing over days gone by in my head and all the things we ‘didn’t do together’. All the ball games and hot dogs and driving lessons and campfires that we didn’t share.

And while several of those ‘not to be’ experiences rolled out of my eyes and down my cheek last night before I went to sleep while thinking about my dad, missing him as I miss him each and every day now, I can still smile today with the realization I reached upon waking this morning and looking at his photograph – one taken less than a year before his death.

All in all, I know that before he died, my dad and I shared what is for me the most important experience with one another that we could.

Forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

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