From the Archive: Sunny & Fair and Overwhelm

*pop, in the last decade of his life

April 7, 2010 Sunny & Fair

Sunny and fair, yet windy as all get out, as I found out on my bike ride into town (approximately 2.5 miles, felt like 5 with the wind in my face) to see my dad (he needed milk – not for himself, but for his dog). He is enjoying sitting in the sun, it lolls him off into sleep, but his noontime dog walker is worried about him getting a sunburn. He and I both found that amusing as among all his other issues a sunburn would be nothing. Yesterday he did something he has not done before, he handed me a letter to read without even attempting it himself. In fact, I was on my way out the door after picking up his mail (also a new development) and he halted me with a “Hey! You there, read this” or it’s near equivalent. He struggles so with small print that seeing him last week with his face pressed into a magnifying glass, hands trembling, made me burst into tears. 
I am spending too much time with him, and not enough. I am hovering, micro-waving his lunch, delivered by a senior meals program, and cleaning his counters needlessly. I am afraid to leave him alone, but I must. I look forward to work, but when I am at work, I am preoccupied and exhausted, drained. And, he does not need me hovering although he hasn’t complained, yet! Is he weakening every day or is that just my melodramatic fear? Do I have six more months with him or six years or, dreadful to even think it, six weeks? On such a beautiful day death can’t be an option for this still funny as hell, sharp as a tack guy. Odd to think it was easier with my mother due to her dementia, because at the time, the last year she was at home and the first year she was in the nursing home, nothing was easy. And yet, it was easier because I still feel so much his child, wanting always to defer to his judgment, tip-toeing around the hard questions and decisions that must now be asked, looked at, discussed. I did make my brother come to the house this past weekend for a minor discussion of the hard stuff. It was pretty low key, yet useful. 
Oh dear, I am realizing too that this hits me where I live as well because when one’s parents are entirely gone, one’s own mortality is more real – closer, up front and center – ugly thing that it is. Ugly? Why? Who knows, and I am not in a mood to work it out. My dad and I agree that heaven and hell are here, right now, on this earth, not in some murky fantastical afterlife. Let him pass from it and from me with grace and dignity – but not yet, not yet.

April 10, 2010 Overwhelm

Yesterday I had a nice meltdown – not too long but long enough for me to cry buckets of tears and feel as though my innards were melting away. This was brought on by exhaustion and the pettiness (to my mind) of others. I knew I loved my long slow morning ritual – a pot of tea and bowl of banana and steel cut oats, journaling and a walk or run up gorgeous Dry Brook Rd. but now I know I not only love it, I need it, and, for the moment, it is gone, baby, gone. I am now getting up to walk and feed my dogs, ordering my dad’s breakfast, then driving into town to get it, and then I walk his dog. Then I go home, shower, make my lunch or plan dinner for us both, and get to work or to the school to do whatever I need for Carousel. My day (and stress level) was complicated yesterday by a call from the Principal of the school regarding the show: point one, kid A has an academic honors banquet an hour away two nights before showtime, and some possible inappropriate language that Kid B has to say in the show. Kid A, with his parent’s consent – he is playing the male lead in the show – has chosen not to attend the banquet. Teaching kids to make choices and deal with the consequences is part of what we’re supposed to be doing, right? His choice to skip the banquet for the show is a good choice as far as I am concerned (selfishly, I know) and the one I hoped he would make, but it was up to him and I told him so. The principal doesn’t understand why I can’t move the dress rehearsal (45 people involved) to another night or time. It’s not that I can’t (although it would be hugely inconvenient), practically impossible, but I won’t, not for any single kid no matter how large a role, or for any reason. And knowing he had his parents support for the choice he made, why would I? 
The other issue is that Kid B, a regular F-bomb dropper whose parents are divorced and whose dad (a man who left a wife and family in Ohio and then left kid Bs mom and his three siblings to marry a co-worker he’d been schtupping) has gone fundamentalist, Christian Fundamentalist (of course!), and now, Mr. F-bomb dropper does not want to use the word “slut” in describing another character. Okay I sympathize, let’s change it; I wish he had spoken to me about it first rather than having his (asshole) dad call the principal but there y’go. The fundamentalists run a school in Margaretville, a school that I suspect Kid B would be attending if he didn’t love sports so much, given he has played baseball, soccer and basketball in this his senior year. Since they can’t get him into their school, they will try to do whatever they can to influence him, and his (asshole) father in whatever way they can, including his experience in this sweet, wonderful show, my favorite of the Rogers and Hammerstein canon. The principal asked me to meet with her and the superintendent of the school to review the entire script (written in 1945), which I invitation I declined, saying instead that I would make a copy of the script for them both to review on their own time. I think they are making a mistake to, as I see it, give in to the pressure of this (asshole) person, his (asshole) church, and his fear-mongering ways which are being prompted by a very ambitious (asshole) pastor who is, in fact. doing everything he can to undermine our tiny rural public school. But that’s just my opinion (the fucking assholes). 
The good news is my dad is feeling better after doing nothing but resting for four days. Leaving his house Monday to see his GP exhausted him. In other good news, yay, one of my students will bring him his breakfast and walk his dog this Sunday so I can get some rest and enjoy a long slow morning. Simple pleasures are the best, and thank goodness for adolescents in need of pocket money!!

From the Archive: Flat Tires & Oy Vey

*TURKEY SOUP… below, the continuing saga of my caregiving days from the archive, because instead of writing yesterday, I made turkey soup and turkey salad, and dang they’re good… 

March 30, 2010 Flat Tires and Other Irritants 

Yes, it happened again, I got a flat. I have these swanky German tires and rims (is that what they’re called??) and a general ignorance of things car (I should be checking my tire pressure regularly – as if!!!) and so yes, once again I rode on a flat until even I had to acknowledge there was something wrong. As I was on my way to my FWB’s house this was not a tragic occurrence; he loves performing manly tasks and set to almost immediately. Was it wrong to have chortled, to myself, of course, when he was unable to get the danged tire off the car? Not at all……but when a nearby friend with a t-bar and breaker bar (previously unknown technical terms I picked up last night) came by and was also unable to get the tire off you could say I was hoist with my own chortle. Sigh.
Finally we surrendered and AAA was called. They sent a very nice gentleman from Hancock, N.Y., who arrived at approx. 11:30p.m. not surprising as Hancock is at least 50 miles away, and who was able to put the spare on and make me ready for my day today. Phew! I stood by looking decorative throughout, drinking my wine and mulling over my general good fortune and the ability to spare myself any hard work that might, horror of horrors, break one of my flashily painted nails. I’m going through a spring girlie-girl phase, and am enjoying it very much, thank you for asking. 
But darn it because of this I had to spend the morning, and a good chunk of cold hard cash, at a local tire service, a place chock full of manly men I honestly enjoy chatting up even in less than stellar circumstances. But, yeah, right, my a.m. routine got blown: writing, a long-ish slow breakfast, weights, walking or running a minimum of 35 minutes, and missing all that makes me a wee bit grouchy. And tomorrow in the early morning, take off time 8a.m., I must get my papa back to Albany Med where he will undergo more tests – stress and echo-cardiogram (did you know they can do stress tests with chemicals? I didn’t. Am I alone in being a bit creeped out by this?) – and so I think I will try to get out of bed by 5:30 and get my exercise and journal writing in so as to avoid more grouchiness. And my pot of tea, so necessary. 
My father seems to be making the necessary adjustments to using his oxygen. I’d like to credit myself for scaring the crap out of him by saying, “If you are not going to use the O2 and your nebulizer as instructed, we should get your affairs in order,” but I think being seriously short of breath on more than one occasion this week may have done the trick. We can only hope so. 
I’m feeling grouchy. Pout, pout, pout. And I’m hungry, waaaaaaaaa. Nothing edible is available in the rural hamlet I work in as the local librarian on Tuesdays, and unless I raid the larder in a local home or call and beg for grub from a very well-placed and generous feeling patron, which I just can’t do (it simply isn’t done!), I’m stuck. Arg. Flat tires stink. My next car is going to have the most boring tires and rims ever known to man!

March 31, 2010 Oy Vey!

Hello again. Life is good, although I am still running an energy deficit from Monday into Tuesday’s tire debacle. I did, however, just notice that there is no school this Friday and that means no rehearsal for the play I am directing, which blessedly means no teenagers from 7:30 p.m. Thursday until 5:00p.m. Monday night: there is a God!! When I am running an energy deficit I find adolescents very trying. They are like blood sucking vampires and, regards anything but themselves and their high octane lives (and accompanying drama-rama), rather indifferent to the rest of the planet including their long-suffering director. 
Gosh, talking about a drama-rama and drama queens, I definitely sound like one…..when I am running a deficit of energy I tend toward the over-dramatic. At such times I also find it hard to deal with my sisters, especially when the sister in question is being hostile. This morning I drove my papa to Niskyuna (a ‘burb of Schenectady, N.Y.), my younger sister’s home, as he is having a stress test and echo-cardiogram this afternoon at Albany Med. He insisted on not taking his oxygen along and added that he was not to have any nebulizer treatments until after the testing. Okay, fine, it’s your life although yes, tbh, I did have some concerns about him corpsing up in the car on the way there…several times nudging him to make sure he was breathing, period, only to find he was merely sleeping…. 
Upon arrival I was met at the door by my most excellent younger sister who is a nurse and mother of four (or should I rather have said that she is a wife and mother of four who happens also to be a nurse…you decide…) There was a frisson of tension in the air (what TF did I do, I just fucking got here!?) and after making sure my dad was in the house I got ready to make my goodbyes, “You didn’t insist on his bringing his oxygen?!”, “No, I did not; I am not in the business of holding a gun to his head.” I could have added, and did when describing the scene to my brother, “Call me if he dies and I need to pick up the corpse but please don’t let it get cold or I won’t be able to get him in my car…”. I’m a sentimental fool, aren’t I? I love my dad and yes, my sister was right when she said his going without oxygen is not just an issue for him when he is in her company all day but, and, however as the child who has been taking care of my mother (now 2 years deceased) and father for the last decade, I find it hard to sympathize. She can, in other words, deal with it and as a trained professional, who better should a crisis arise – and I doubt it will. My father made a joke about how he had to give us something to worry about and sister said “I have plenty to worry about, thank you” to him and “just go” to me and so I did, I just went. I think one or more of her children might be giving her a cause to worry as children seem to do that. I wouldn’t know for sure, not having any for which I alternately give the deepest, most heartfelt thanks and otherwise, on very rare occasions, weep with a some regret. But still I felt guilty until I got almost out of Schoharie County on my way back home. 
Thank goodness for my bro who, champ that he is, said – when I told him dad refused to take his O2 and Peg was angry “How is that your problem?” Exactly. I love my brother. I love my sisters too, only – they require more work.

From the Archive: Small Steps & Smokey Treats

*A continuation of my dairies from the last months of my dad’s life, when I was doing all of the caregiving, as well as trying to love him, take care of myself – and let go. Thanks for reading. 

February 9, 2010 Small Steps

OMG I feel like a million buckeroos….. why? Well…..because. Because for the past month I have been making incremental progress in the areas I really, really, really need to make progress in, such as writing, and exercising hard every day, and blogging and being present and, and, and. And because I made soup Sunday and have been nurturing myself in all the ways I most need, one side effect of which is that the cold (yesterday it was windy as heck and freezing ’round here) hasn’t been affecting me as it can and usually does, making me tighten up, which in turn makes me feel crappy and colder (vicious circle type thing) and makes exercising and writing and happy-ing impossible. Not happening this year. Yippee. 
And my dad returned to bowling last night and … better yet, he bowled a 221. We had agreed he would call afterwards to let me know how he was as it was his first night back out on the town post-illness, and the glee in his voice over the high score, and his feeling well enough not only to do it, but to do it well, made me very, very happy. I did something brilliant today as well, simple and brilliant. My darling brother, the pharmacist, ordered and received a thingummy which measures the oxygen levels in the blood for my dad. When I went into the store to pick-up my paper he said to me ‘oh this is in, are you seeing dad today?’ Usually, almost always, I would have said oh yes of course and, most likely making myself late for work, I’d have dropped everything to stop in with said thingummy to see my dad. But today (for no specific reason, but for which I thank you mother-father God) I simply said, not going there, won’t see him today. My brother made no fuss and will drop it off later; he lives the equivalent of one city block away from my pop so it’s not a hardship but oh! How do you spell relief? Delegation. Brilliant and yes, I know, it’s so not a big deal, but yes, yes, yes, it is for me, for me, for me. 
When in the midst of my NYC actor days I had a date book in which I kept a list of things to accomplish every day: exercise, mail to 5 casting directors, drop a picture here, go to this or that audition, call or write so and so – etc., etc. I loved that because it kept me on task and I have resurrected the habit and hello!!! I love it again. 
I’ve also been thinking more about that former student of mine, a boy who cried on my couch the other night, telling me he is gay, coming out, preparing for telling his parental units. Of course, he knows I adore him, always will, but still, what courage he showed in opening up to me and how inspiring to me when I can be such a massive weeny about opening up when it really matters. Opening up almost always matters, but. Thrice bitten, five times as shy or something like that. Asking for what I want and need has always been excruciatingly hard. My student is, like me, a third child and we both saw enough of whatever from our older siblings to want so much to avoid all the pitfalls. In family systems psychology, they say the first child understands and lives out the explicit rules the second child understands the implicit rules and lives them out and the 3rd child sees the multiple triangulations he or she is born into and, seeing both the implicit and explicit rules, attempts another way – hah!! Often, we are stuck, knowing all the potential complications, we choose – nothing. Food for thought. Still, life is good!!!

March 28, 2010 Smokey Treats

Here’s the deal: I used to smoke, occasionally, and I know (we all know, right) that they are very, very addictive, an addiction I somehow skipped even while I enjoyed bumming a smokey treat once and a while. But. Watching my father struggle for every breath is just about killing me and any fun or glamour that ciggies ever had for me. I’m angry at my father, which I will have to work to let go of as I don’t know how much time, given the state of his health, I have left with him. I am angry because he tried and tried, and failed and failed more often, to quit smoking despite the very real and very obviously negative side effects. I am angry because I do not want to worry about him being unable to breathe and succumbing to heart failure every single waking moment and yet here I am doing just that. I love my dad and it is uncomfortable being angry with him, but there y’go. 
To breathe is to live and not to be able to – is simply unthinkable. The doctor, the new one, a pulmonologist, recommends he do O2 24/7 and he won’t; the doctor also recommended he use his nebulizer 4x per day and he wants to use it only when he is struggling for breath, maybe once or twice a day. ARRRRRRGGGHHH. As I said to him yesterday, it is now up to you whether you live or die and what is true is he is not sure what, if anything, he has to live for right now, as being in pain and struggling to breathe is not much in the way of quality of life. Except – he lives his dog. Still, my dad feels useless, the man who was always useful: doing, working, making – that man feels useless, a burden, and – he is alone. No one to care for, to do for, no one who needs him more than anyone else, other than his pup – who he can’t walk very far with, anymore. He is struggling with all of this, and this too is a kind of disease.
I must trust him to do what is best for himself; I must trust the process of life as a whole. I must let go of my anger at him and I must let go of him, period, and continue to live my life, which is rich and good. 
I hate cigarettes.

The First Time: Is That All There Is…

Thank you and major snaps to my first respondent, who sent the following, anonymously re: The First Time: 

My first time having sexual intercourse was a letdown. I remember lying there, in my boyfriend’s dorm bed during freshman year of college, thinking what a bore it was, wondering what all the fuss was about and that I’d stick with the oral or manual variety any day of the week. I felt kinda sad and somewhat puzzled, especially when oral sex was just so divine.

I felt like I missed out on so much because I didn’t understand how orgasm happened during intercourse and until I was in my forties, guys didn’t either.  I thought there was something wrong with me since I didn’t get it right.

I had one or two almost moments with women but it never got beyond the attraction phase.

*This response reminded me of the Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is. I suspect more women than not are underwhelmed initially by sex, but. 



Bookmobiles. Ever use one? I did, as a child, living on a farm 8 miles outside town and 12 miles from the nearest library, in the tiny hamlet of Arkville. Oh how I loved the scent of the thing, the sounds, the sight of other readers often lined up outside and on the retractible steps, parked on the edge of the firehall lot, filled with my favorite things: books. Heaven. I always came down those steps with my arms chock full, a pile of novels – no limits on check outs! – to devour over the next three weeks or a month (not sure how often it visited us, but I think it was monthly), a bounty that was pure wealth to me, absolute riches.


Long and narrow, I had no idea that, fast forward a few decades, I would myself be a librarian, but doesn’t it make sense? Book nerds all, although I also encountered some of the most controlling women ever, like ever And, some of the most intelligent, humorous, generous, and kind women I’d ever met. There were even a few library dudes. A very few, one of whom became a woman during my tenure as a librarian in rural upstate New York, a decade plus ago. Beth. Very sweet lady and very good at her job, which was assisting rural libraries into and safely through the late 20th into the 21st century of technology.

Reading was and is my refuge. I can still remember where and even how I was sitting on the couch, legs curled up beneath me, near a west facing window to catch the winter light, as I finished Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre. Mind officially blown, heart pounding. I had no idea books could do that, for although I had loved the Little House books, and related to the characters, this was on a whole other scale of emotion, connection, and internal combustion as not just my heart and mind were in tumult, my skin was on fire, my senses heightened – boom! Jane Eyre. What a different, fascinating, complex story, dark, mystical, scary, romantic but gasp aloud shocking (I was eleven, y’all), foreign and familiar – his wife is in the attic, and mad as a hatter? OMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG.

These photos are courtesy of the Library of Congress, and I thank them for the reminder, not that I’d forgotten, exactly. In the age long before the internet and even cable TV, which didn’t make it to the farm until after I graduated high school (we only got one channel, CBS, during my kid-hood and even then it was a tad slanted toward an older audience), books and more books by authors like Mary Stewart, Mary Roberts Rhinehart, Judith Rossner, John Fowles, William Styron, Richard Adams, Irving Stone, Leon Uris, Helen MacInnes, Daphne DuMaurier and more were my entertainment, my sustenance, my escape, my joy.

All libraries feel like home to me, but the history of books on wheels being taken throughout the U.S., including in horse and buggy, along with the charm and character inherent to the bookmobile is undeniable.