Yuck

A few weeks ago I babysat my grandson and got to change his diaper.

When I first became the mother to a little boy, my mother had warned me to not leave a boy uncovered too long. Beware the fountain of youth. You know.

Even with that sage advice, my oldest son squirted me right in the face shortly after I brought him home from the hospital. I learned to get everything ready before the big reveal so I could be quick and cover it up in a jiffy if I needed.

With my grandson, I was prepared. I had my method down. Get the wipes ready. Unfold the new diaper. Take a deep breath, then take off the wet diaper.

Of course, he nailed me. In spite of. And laughing all the while.

I think this ritual of male creatures marking their territory starts very young.

PICT0853Cleaning bodily fluids is the yuck of motherhood.

Changing diapers.

Wiping noses.

Cleaning vomit.

Dressing battle wounds of wars fought with siblings or sidewalks.

It’s in those most intimate, personal, yucky moments that love takes root and grows.

My friend’s house became a crime scene when her husband was murdered there. A group of women went to the house and scrubbed the blood off the floor. Men patched the bullet holes in the wall. Cleaning the yuck became an act of love.

Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet on the night He was betrayed.

And Joseph of Arimathea wrapped His body — head bloody from the crown of thorns, hands and feet pierced by nails, his side opened with a spear — Joseph wrapped that bloody body in a linen cloth and laid him in a tomb.

The yuck of love.

In more ways than one.

Caring for aging parents is such a privilege. Laundering soiled garments, gently bathing fragile folds of flesh, cleaning unmentionables, because, you know, we are cultured and couth.

Those are the sacramental moments of life.

The farmers have been spreading the manure on the nearby fields this week. The aroma fills the air. Yuck.

But when the alfalfa grows, lush and green, nutrient rich because of the timely application of poo — we forget the yuck.

So it is with children.

And aging parents.

 

 

X

Χ 

marks the spot.

My mother would sometimes say, “That hits the spot.”

Hot soup on a cold day. Ice cold lemonade on a hot day. Lasagne with garlic bread and a fresh tossed salad on any day.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same spot.

The one marked by “X”.

The one identifying the location of the treasure, which, as it turns out, may be food.

Contentedness as seen in the perfect food for the day became more common with my mother’s Alzheimer’s.

Or maybe she was just more verbal about it.

So many things were confusing to her. The place. The year. The people around her.

Food, however, was and is universal.

And can be deeply satisfying.

Especially when it’s just what your body is craving.

Hence, the marmalade.

Bread and JamThe way my mother ate orange marmalade reminded me of Russell Hoban’s Francis in Bread and Jam for Francis.

“Well,” said Frances,
there are many different things to eat,
and they taste many different ways.
But when I have bread and jam,
I always know what I’m getting and I’m always pleased.”

When the world is crazy, go with the sure thing — marmalade.

It will hit the spot.

 

Windchimes

DSC05667“I wish your mother could see those windchimes,”
my father said,
looking at the green butterflies
and brass bells.

Their gentle tinkle
was beyond his hearing
like my mother was beyond …
I don’t know.

Beyond the day
when he could repay
for late nights
and house calls
and meetings
and reserve duty
and patients calling
and dinner waiting
and waiting
and waiting
for him to be home

She always had to share him
with the sick
the poor
the destitute

and with other physicians
and administrators
and nurses
and important folk
who received the same courtesy
as the unimportant

My mother may have felt
that she came last

So he bought the windchimes
last summer
and hung them
in the myrtle
where the gentlest breeze
could flutter through
and make
a plinkle-chinkle-tinkle
barely audible
wings brushing bells

My mother closed her eyes
from weariness
a few miles
and lifetimes
away

At the end
she had to know
that she was
always
first
as he spooned
the ice cream
into her mouth
and told her
that he loved her
time
and
again

the butterflies
could never speak
so clearly

Vulnerable

Jacob made the mistake of saying the words “crew cut” within hearing of the man with the clippers.

“Everybody has a bad haircut story,” I told him. “Now you have yours.”

What made the whole thing ironic is that Jacob had just been to a conference from which he took away the importance of vulnerability.

“Failure is an event, not a person,” he told me, repeating a Zig Ziglar quote one of the speakers had used.

“Exactly,” I said, pointing to his head.

Every disaster, whether large or small, brings us to a crossroads. One path pretends the problem never happened and hides the challenge from all the other travelers. The other path is vulnerability and sharing the struggle.

My mother taught me the importance of vulnerability. I remember watching her after her breast cancer surgery. She had a full radical mastectomy back in the days when the plastic surgeons weren’t inserting inflatable boobs even before the radiation treatments.

Her prosthesis was external, a little mass of weighted jell that fit into her bra.

Which she got tired of and did without after some years.

My mother was not defined by her breasts.

Or her breast cancer.

She went to visit women who had had mastectomies before they left the hospital and faced the world.

“This does not define you,” she told them.

And she lived, a walking testament to life after breast cancer.

That open-ness, that vulnerability, helped me to start writing about her and her Alzheimer’s.

I think if she had fully understood, if her brain had not been fogged by dementia, she would freely given her blessing to the whole thing.

“Write about the incontinence,” she would have said. “Maybe it will help somebody else going through the same thing.”

She would laugh and say, “Write about that time when I tried to walk the two miles into town because no one would believe me that I needed to go to a meeting.” I walked with her, and Helen came to pick us up.

“Write about the funny things I said. And how you had to show me that underwear went on first, before the pants. Write about the marmalade.”

It’s not dishonoring to use tough situations so that others know they are not alone in what they are experiencing.

Quite the opposite.

It is most honoring.

I think she would be pleased.

Making the sandwich #1

Mom and her marmalade

Unsung and Under-appreciated

That morning, I had taken my father to a doctor’s appointment.

When we got back to the house, the answering machine was flashing. The message was from the nursing home. “Please call.”

My mother had had an incident. She was being taken to the emergency room.

In retrospect, that day was the beginning of the end.

After my mother passed away, my father wanted to unravel the incident. The information given us was vague. The diagnostician side of my father needed to categorize. The husband side needed to understand.

We walked down the long corridor to the nurses’ station on my mother’s unit. So many people offered their condolences. My mother would be missed.

The head nurse on the unit told us her story, but it was a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) who had been with my mother when it happened.

We tracked down the CNA.

CNAs are the unsung heroes of nursing homes. A good CNA is worth a thousand administrators. I was relieved to see that the CNA who had been caring for my mother that morning was one of the best.

I still remember the first time that I met her. I had come down to feed my mother while my father was away.

“Mom, you look really nice today,” I had commented. Her hair was brushed. Her shirt was a pretty one that fit well. Her glasses were around her neck on a chain.

“I got her dressed this morning,” chimed a voice from the other side of the dining room. A petite 50-ish woman was smiling at me, pleased that I had noticed.

“Thank you,” I told her.

Over the next several months, I recognized this CNA, not only when I ran into her in the dining area, but I could often tell when she had been the one to care for my mother. She always paid attention to the details.

This was the CNA who was with my mother when she had her “incident.”

the flowered shirt

the flowered shirt

“I had laid out her clothes for the day,” she told us, “the brown slacks and the flowered shirt.”

I knew the ones.

“I was rubbing lotion on her legs and feet. She always seemed to enjoy that,” she said.

Yes, I could picture the whole thing.

“Suddenly, she gasped and drew her arms up like this,” she said, demonstrating by clenching her fists and bringing them towards her chin.

“I summoned help immediately,” she said, “but your mom was unresponsive.”

“I’m so, so sorry for your loss,” she said multiple times.

And I know she meant it.

So many times I have looked back on that day and whispered a prayer of thanks that she was the one. My mother was in the best earthly hands while on her way into the best heavenly hands

Every time I hear about the proposed wage of $15/hour for fast food workers, I bristle inside.

CNAs don’t get paid that much.

And they don’t have time to lobby about it.

They are too busy taking care of our loved ones.

Trolls

I have a little troll who likes to visit me;
The pleasure that he gets from it is more than I can see.
He crawls out nearly monthly, from underneath his rock,
And writes a little comment full of unkind ugly talk.

I’ve tried to just ignore him. I’ve notified police,
And pastors, friends, and family. I’ve asked that he just cease.
He changes names like t-shirts in an effort to conceal
His identity but there’s no doubt — this troll is very real..

Father Thomas, quite by accident, kicked a nest of trolls.
They railed at him (IN ALL CAPS) ne’er retreating to their holes.
They summoned other uglies, who joined the angry mob
In giving Father Thomas quite the hatchet job.

But Thomas preached forgiveness – and his words gave me a chill —
“Forgiveness,” he said wisely, “is an act of your own will.*
You may desire justice, but mercy may be better.
Dismiss the debt that’s owed you and forgive the debtor.”

I wanted to ask Thomas — “Does this apply to trolls
Who threaten and attack you and seem to have no souls?”
I knew what he would answer. At least, I had a guess —
Trolls are really humans. God does not love them less.

Created in God’s image. His breath, their breath — and more,
His mercy for their troll-ness, their awfulness He bore.
So daily now, I pray for him — this troll who visits me —
That from the hate which binds him he would some day be free.

*****

Father Thomas is Thomas McKenzie, an Anglican priest who blogs at thomasmckenzie.com. An audio of his sermon on forgiveness can be found here: Making Change, Part Five of Five

*What he actually said was, “This is just Christian ethical consideration for what you do in the event of trespass… Forgiveness relieves the tension in the ‘mercy versus justice’ option.”

Safe and Swim

Originally my plan was to write about “safe” for the letter S.

About a month ago, I overheard a conversation while waiting for my father. He was visiting friends and I was sitting in the front lobby of the nursing home after an unsuccessful attempt to visit Mary  Three octogenarianesses (octogenarianettes?) sat down opposite me.

Their conversation was at an octogenarian level, so I couldn’t help but overhear.

“I just need to feel SAFE,” one said. “That’s why I would come HERE.”

The last word of every sentence was the loudest, and I found it an interesting way to punctuate.

A different lady, the one they were visiting who was obviously a resident, said, “My children kept telling me that I couldn’t do this, that, or the other thing. After I fell…” Her voice trailed off and she spread her arms to highlight the wheelchair she was in.

The third woman said, “I just don’t have the pep to do everything at home any more.”

“When the house sells, I’m coming HERE,” said loud-final-word.

Resident lady said, “I should have come here when I was 70. Now I’m 87, going on 88.”

#3 said, “It’s at the point where I have to do something.”

Loud said, “SAFE. I just need to feel SAFE.”

But as my mind wandered over this “safe” conversation, I thought about Laurel’s water safety presentation that she’s working on, and I thought about how I missed swimming now that it’s over and the pool is closed, and I thought about how unsafe the water can be and water safety is so important and… you see the currents that my mind drifted along, like a lazy river ride that had no definite end.

So S is also for Swimming.

My parents made sure we all could swim — and I’m sure my love of the water began at a very early age.

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart

Mom and Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

Mom with Stewart, Donabeth, and Peter

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

The only picture I could find of me. What form!

I can remember being in the watch-me stage when I was about 5 at Mirror Lake at Fort Devens. My mom was sitting on the beach and I was in the shallow water, stretching my legs out behind and walking my hands along the bottom.

“Look, Mom! I’m swimming,” I called, but I’m sure I didn’t fool her for a moment.

I remember playing and playing in the water — and I think that may be why I’m a big proponent for kids playing in the water. Kids can learn so much through play.

The thing is, though, water is never really safe. Kids drown in small amounts of water. Elite-level swimmer Fran Crippen drowned in an open water race. Being around water requires vigilance.

Bodies of water are like Aslan — not safe.

But good.

Each time a swimmer slides into the water, he or she is baptized into a new way of moving and breathing.

I think that’s why I love it.

That’s why I go to the POOL.