To My Kids: Believe It Or Not, Yes, Daddy Can.

Family 2_0

Hello, Children!

As our fiscal year draws to a close, I’d like to take the opportunity to express my immense gratitude and appreciation for everything you do to make our family a happy and successful, if not necessarily profitable, organization.  The truth is that I love you like my own children, most likely because you actually are my own children.  I love you so much that it sometimes takes my breath away.  Like, you know how much I love cinnamon toast?  Well, that’s how much I love you.  Actually, way more than that, because if someone told me I had to give up either my kids or cinnamon toast, I’d say, I’m keeping my kids, thank you very much.  And now that I am writing this, I realize it doesn’t sound like such an awe-inspiring love.  “I’d pick you over toast.”  But you know what I mean.  Let’s move on from this before it gets any worse.

So, kids:  I am writing to you today because I believe that in order to achieve the greatest synergy within our enterprise, we need to ensure full utilization of all available resources.  With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to reacquaint you with one of our most valuable and yet least relied-upon team members:  I call him Jim.  You may know him as “Daddy.”

I say “reacquaint,” because I realize you’re already fairly familiar with Daddy, most notably in his role as Director of Telling People to Turn Off TVs and Chief Shower Coordinator, as well as in his occasional stint as Liaison to the Great Outdoors.  I know you’re also aware that when it comes to things like “swimming in a pool,” “being allowed to operate a gas-powered vehicle at the age of three,” and “putting up as many holiday decorations as we can fit on our property,” Daddy is by far the more fun parenting associate.  However, I’ve noticed lately that the two of you may not be encouraging Daddy to realize his full potential, and I think the time has come for a change.

A Sensible Equation.
A Sensible Equation.

Let’s recall, for a moment, a recent incident where I foolishly thought I could close the door to my room and get through a 30-minute workout video without anyone needing me.  First, one of you called me to ask a question, on the telephone.  From the living room.  Next, the other of you climbed two flights of stairs to say, “Mom!  I’m ready!  I know what I want for breakfast!”

This confused me, because it was Saturday morning, and I was pretty sure your father hadn’t gone anywhere.  “Wait a minute,” I said to you.  “Isn’t Daddy home?”

And your response, so precious and priceless:  “Yeah.  He’s home.  But, Daddy’s sitting.”

That’s right.

DADDY’S SITTING.

Let me ask you:  do you remember the last time someone said, “Oh, let’s not bother Mommy!  MOMMY’S SITTING!”

No.  No, you don’t, for the simple reason that those particular words have never been spoken.

The trouble here is that when we over-utilize one department, we create an imbalance of effort that I’m fairly certain our organization cannot sustain for the long term.  In other words, there are certain days – primarily Sunday through Saturday – where if the word “Mommy” is spoken one more time, I fear my response may border on the unreasonable.

So let’s talk about some of the ways in which we could make use of the Daddy Division a bit more effectively.  For example, did you know that Daddy is just as capable of opening a bottle of Gatorade as I am?  That’s right!  He’s actually better at it, come to think of it, due to his superior upper body strength.  For the same reason, he can also retrieve giant Rubbermaid containers full of Matchbox cars from the guest room closet, and move furniture when you have shoved a hockey stick too far under to reach.  Furthermore, he can throw actual high flies to you in the backyard, as opposed to the “lame pop-ups” that I’ve been accused of delivering.  I know that with Daddy, you might not get the snappy response time you’ve come to expect.  But I believe that working together, we can help him to greatly improve his service levels.

As a fun exercise, take a look at the following list of common household exclamations:

  • Mommy! I can’t find the right Lego Batman walkthrough!
  • Mommy, do you know where my blue Under Armour shirt is?
  • Mommy! Guess who my favorite 2013 All-Star players are!
  • Mommy, can I have a snack?
  • Mommy, how old do you think SpongeBob is?

Now, I’d like you to take each of these statements and repeat it out loud, replacing “Mommy” in each of them with “Daddy.”  Try it now.  I know it may feel unnatural and strange at first, but with practice, I know we can optimize our teamwork skills and thus bring our morale to new and greater heights.

A side note:  As the sole representative of the Mommy Department, I want to assure you that your contributions are greatly appreciated, even when those contributions make me feel like my head might explode.  Nothing in this communication is meant to imply that I don’t want to be bothered by you.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth, because I know these years are fleeting, and you won’t be six and seven forever.  I really do want to take it all in and appreciate every little thing that comes with having six- and seven-year-old boys.  It’s fun and funny and I love everything about it.  I do.

And I guess it’s because I love you so much that I want to give you this gift:  the gift of resourcefulness.  Because to me, resourcefulness is second only to a good attitude when it comes to living a happy and successful life.  We don’t need to know everything, or how to do all the things, or which remote to use to get to Netflix.  We don’t need to have all the answers – we only need to know how to get them.  And the smartest of us, the most successful of us, have more than one way of finding the things out.  Or finding the double A batteries.  None of us can rely on one source for everything.  Otherwise, do you really think they’d have bothered inventing Bing?  My point exactly.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate that I only want what’s best for our operation, for today, and as we look to the future.  And I think we’d all agree that it’s best if Mommy doesn’t accidentally become an arsonist, or other type of public menace.

Also, I love you.  Super much.

Hugs and kisses,

Heart_0Your Mommy

The Beauty of Alzheimer’s

10258505_10204051371713269_10503581429538989_o“Beautiful place,” said my father, looking around admiringly.  “Nice . . . very nice.  Beautiful place.”

“It sure is,” agreed the attendant behind the wheelchair.  Quite charitably, I might add, because this particular hallway of the local VA hospital was not what I or anyone else could realistically call “beautiful.”  The lobby, now, that was a different story – all glass and sunlight and super-modern check-in terminals.  The lobby was bright and if not beautiful, at least relatively appealing.  The lobby made you feel better about coming to a hospital, like it just might be a halfway pleasant experience.  As if only the best and most cutting-edge medical procedures would be offered here.  As if everyone, in the end, would come out alive.

My dad, on this day, would almost certainly come out alive, and thanks to his Alzheimer’s Disease, no worse for the wear.  The reason for this particular ER visit isn’t really important; suffice it to say that whatever it was, my dad had forgotten about it halfway between home and hospital.  Also, that through powers well beyond my control, I had arrived carrying a vial of his urine in my purse.  Which also isn’t really important, and yet I find myself trying to work it into conversations every chance I get.  Believe me when I tell you that I don’t get many.

So we’d arrived at the hospital via ambulance, they’d done the normal things, and now, we were on our way to get a CT scan of my dad’s bladder.  Or kidneys.  Or probably both.  It was a bit of a hike from the ER to the imaging department, so my dad had plenty of time to remark upon the beauty of his surroundings; at the moment said surroundings included worn tile floors and closed doors, some featuring skull-and-crossbones-style DANGER signs.  Scuffed white walls, a utilitarian brown handrail running the length.  Every fifty feet or so, you might come across a large framed photo of nature at close range:  blades of grass as tall as my hand, a butterfly the size of an average pigeon.  Maybe it was those photos that my dad found beautiful, and maybe they actually were.  To my eyes, they were little more than a try and fail to cheer the place up: fancy pillows thrown on a threadbare couch.  I guess it could have also been that my dad was simply being nice, but I doubted that.  His faculty for pretending had been among the first to go.

“How long you been working here?” he asked the attendant now.  We’d just turned our third corner or maybe our fourth, each hallway having been indistinguishable from the last.  I really hoped someone would be around to lead us out of here.

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“Long enough,” the attendant said with a chuckle.

My dad chuckled too.  “Long enough, huh?  That’s good.  Nice place, you got here.  Very nice.  Beautiful.”

“He has dementia,” I said, as if I needed to say anything at all.  It’s not like my dad had embarrassed himself, or said or done something inappropriate.  Still.  I don’t know.  I guess I felt like I needed to explain, to let him know that my normal dad would not remark so enthusiastically on the loveliness of this barren and institutional corridor.  My normal dad was like us, is what I really meant.  My normal dad knew better.

What I wanted, I know now, was to retrieve my dad’s dignity for him, since he couldn’t do it himself.  Like it was nothing more than a lost contact lens.  And failing that, I at least wanted people to know that he once had it.  Not that it was especially undignified to call a hallway ‘beautiful.’  And not that my dad was ever particularly dignified in the first place.  But I wanted people to know what he was really like.

Because this wasn’t it.

“Just shoot me,” my dad’s sister once said, in a conversation in which she worried she might end up like her older brother.  “Better yet, dress me up in a fur coat and send me out into the woods.  Let the bears get me.  Just do not let me live like that.  Whatever happens, my God, please don’t let me live like that.”

Not surprisingly, most people seem to agree with her.  Most people hope mightily that the reality of Alzheimer’s Disease will never become their own, and not without good cause.  I often wonder what it must be like for my father, living with a brain set on permanent auto-erase.  The older I get, the more my brain becomes the one aspect of my physical self which I can appreciate unconditionally.  How would it be, for example, if I could no longer read a book because I couldn’t remember what it said from one paragraph to the next?  How would it be to not be able to follow along with your favorite TV series or sports teams or, I don’t know, political figures?  To not even know you once had favorites?  My dad can’t look back with misty nostalgia on his wedding day, or the days he brought home my sister or me, or, for that matter, yesterday.  He no longer knows what he likes to eat.  Nor does he know not to walk into a restaurant in flannel pajamas.  And underneath it all there’s a nervousness, a sense of fearful desperation that comes through strongest when he’s confronted with something he’s not familiar with.  Which, these days, is almost everything.

Still, I’m not entirely sure I’d rather be sent into the woods in a bear costume.

Anyway.  By the time we were finally able to leave the hospital, my mother was a bundle of anxiety.  Tired from a long day of waiting.  Tired of being the only real adult in a household that used to include two.  Worrying who’d be able to take them back to the VA hospital to see the urologist, wondering if my dad would really be okay.

My father, on the other hand, did not appear to be worried about a thing.

On the way out of the hospital, he agreed with someone who guessed he’d been in Korea – he had not – and then waved and said very pleasant good-byes to everyone we passed, including doctors and nurses, patients in wheelchairs, sad spouses there to visit their own sick veterans.  Most said good-bye in return, a few did not.  Almost all looked confused.  None of it made any difference to my father, who rolled along in his wheelchair as if he was the parade, the rest of us merely spectators.

And now we were in the car, weaving our way through the back streets of Oakland, a Pittsburgh neighborhood that houses several hospitals and a few universities, Carnegie Mellon and Pitt among them.  “Nice neighborhood,” said my dad, glancing around as we waited at a red light.    “What do they call this place, anyway?  Was I ever here before?”

“It’s called Oakland,” I told him.  “I’m sure you were here sometime . . . probably a long time ago.”

“Boy, look at all those beautiful new houses, huh?  You see that, Maureen?  Look at that!  Man, beautiful.  Really nice.”

 

My mom, sitting in the back seat, did not seem impressed.  I glanced around myself, taking in the ramshackle brick buildings, most occupied by students, all with some less-than-beautiful defining characteristic.  A badly tie-dyed sheet covering a picture window, crushed beer cans overflowing a recycling container, a battered recliner in a front yard.  From one second-story window, I could see Ronald McDonald smiling out at me, though whether it was the man himself or just a life-sized cardboard cutout was difficult to determine.  Granted, the buildings were big old brownstone types which, with some landscaping and help from several renovation crews, could certainly be beautiful again.  As it stood, however, they were a bit past their prime.  To put it politely.

rock-island-123406_1280
No. This is not what we were looking at.

“When did they build all these homes, do you know?” he asked me.  “Man, these are beautiful new homes, huh?  Big.  I just wonder when they built all this.  It’s a beautiful display.”

Even though “display” sort of made sense here, I was pretty sure it wasn’t the word he was going for.  I let it go, as you tend to learn to do.  “Yeah, I don’t know how new it is,” I told him.  “But I guess . . . I mean, it’s nice.  Was nice.  Is nice.”

“Huh,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

The light we’d been waiting at turned green; we managed to advance maybe five or six car lengths before it was red again.  Now to my right was a front yard featuring a dirt-filled kiddie pool, clearly meant as a flower bed but whose contents had long since gone to seed.  There were cigarette butts scattered throughout the rest of the yard, and the house itself had a screen door that, in defiance of any and all laws of nature, appeared to be attached with nothing but duct tape.

“Look at that,” said my dad, clearly in awe.  “Beautiful!”

The light was still red.  I looked over at my dad.  He was smiling, or at least forming the lip configuration that passes for his smile these days.  His shirt was tucked in, his thinning hair neatly combed.  And he was sitting up very straight in his seat – actually, he was leaning forward a bit, apparently anxious to see what new beautiful thing might lay around the bend.

From the backseat, my mother sighed.  “I don’t know what he sees, anymore,” she said tiredly.

“It’s the houses, Maureen,” he told her.  “Can’t you see the houses?”

“Yeah.  I see the houses,” she said.

And then the light turned green, and we moved on, neither my mother nor I able to see what he saw.

And, most likely, hoping we never would.