“Caregiver” Redefined

I’ve thought of myself as a caregiver for years now.  I give lots of care to three beautiful, smart little girls. However, I realize now that parenting and caregiving are separate realms.  All the love and devotion I invest in my children I get back threefold. That’s just standard for a normal parent.  Your kids will always (at least at their young ages) run to see you with open arms yelling “mommy” with big, wide smiles and eyes glimmering like they’re lit from the inside…and all feels right with the world.

Caregiving for a loved one (especially one whom has dementia/regressing mental function) isn’t like that.

My grandfather has always been my patriarch and idol.  I don’t know how many evenings I sat listening and soaking up his advice and wisdom in my youth.  His words hovering in the back of my mind over so many decisions in my life. He was always there during difficult times assuredly telling me to “suck it up”, make a plan, and move forward. He’s always been a rock I could lean on reminding me that “life is good” (a normal end to most conversations) and to focus on the blessings.

On bad days now he doesn’t recognize me, but knows he should know me. On the worst days he doesn’t remember my father, hence my existence is wiped away as well.  On bad days he wakes up throughout the night confused, on the worst days he “wakes up” but is still in his dream-state and is riddled with anxiety/fear with no knowledge of reality.  His bathing and toiletry are no picnic for me, but I know that I must go into it laughing and smiling or my alpha male’s morose and apologetic attitude due to his need for assistance can quickly turn to a depressed state. His frailty may worry me, but it makes him disconsolate.  He feels as if is body is his foe not allowing him to do even the little daily tasks so many of us take for granted.

My two year old believes they are best friends, as if they share some unseen connection, and is always at his side. At a doctors office recently my grandfather says “J, be quiet already”, she just looks at him and says “No Papa” and starts laughing uncontrollably and she crawls up on his lap. Then he starts laughing uncontrollably, then I am, and the nurse joins in too. These good moments are unforgettable.

On his best days he’s still giving orders, asking questions, and making demands like the Plant Manager he was most of his life. We have coffee every morning and dinner together every night and chat about family, news, weather, finances, and everything in between.  Our conversations aren’t as deep or as filled with wisdom like those we had when we were both younger, but his good days still outnumber his bad days and I relish the time we have together after so many years living hours apart.

Starting this journey I didn’t know the heartache I’d experience when someone you love doesn’t recognize you, the pain it would cause me to feel his self-consciousness at needing help, or the frustration and many obstacles of dementia.  I didn’t realize the full-context of a caregiver nor the simple lessons I’d learn.

I’m happier (although more exhausted) than I have ever been.

My grandfather is teaching my little family to take things in stride, how to more fully appreciate simple things, and how to just live in the present. My life had been so much about the plan, the budget, things to get done, my career, etc. (all still important), but it’s just as paramount to focus on the day and not lose the moment.  Balance.

Thank you Grandpa. Life is good.

gpa and j

 

 

Update – Added to Our Household

Becoming a caregiver.

I’ve been out of touch for a while. My apologies. I’ve added a chapter to my story and I believe it’s an important one to share more frequently so you’ll be hearing more from our tribe.

My father was the full-time caregiver for my grandfather (his father).  After he passed and much deliberation, my grandfather decided he wanted me to take care of his affairs.  This was a huge task because my hands are quite full with my own nuclear family.  However, in the end it was what he was most comfortable with and made the most sense because his affairs were so closely entwined with my fathers and I was trying to close out his estate/businesses (still haven’t completed this almost two years later).  It’s amazing the work left behind from death.

Fast forward a year (and hopefully that explains my absence as well) and my grandfather was showing severe signs of dementia.  This summer, after many family and close family friends had multiple discussions, it was decided my grandfather would move to Texas and reside with me. My once 6’2″ alpha male grandfather was a mere 150 lbs and completely fragile when he arrived.

The last four months my three girls and I have been adjusting to life as caregivers.  When I initially made up my mind to do this I thought it would be like adding a child to the household. We’ve done that before…nothing out of the ordinary for us. Oh, how wrong I was!  However, it reminded me of something I say to expectant mothers, “you’ll never have a job so hard, but so rewarding”.  Becoming a Caregiver for a loved one is the same.

grandpa

The ONE thing I’m sure of in this adventure is that it was the right decision (despite the multitude of days I’ve collapsed with exhaustion on the bed thinking this is impossible).

Happy Thanksgiving to all! May you focus on all the ways you’re blessed and forget all the reasons you should be stressed.

Naturally Disasterous

I’ve had a rare “opportunity” this week. We survived the great flood of 2016.

To begin, I do not live in a flood zone.  Wednesday I left work as normal and the flash flood hit.   The street my little people were on had already begun flooding so I parked down the  road and waded my way through the knee-deep water and pouring rain to them.  I thought the worst was over when we got back to the car and then to my surprise we pull into our subdivision and it was flooding as well!!  I backed up and went through a back road and safely made it into our garage.  We’ve had a couple of flash floods, but it never made it into our neighborhood.  I guess since we’ve been getting so much rain, there was no where for it to go and so it just began rising…and rising…and rising.

By Saturday, the sun came out and it seemed like the water must go down!  To our frustration it went up.  By now it was up to our garages and front doors, and for a couple of neighbors it was in their homes.  The initial flooding hit so fast that we weren’t able to leave to get sandbags or supplies.  We definitely did not expect it to continuously rise.

flooded Meadow Hill.png

So you ask, what was the “opportunity”?  There are so many I don’t know where to begin.

I met neighbors and saw our neighborhood rally together.  They helped me lift my fridge and deep freeze to put pavers and wood underneath, they helped me move furniture to my second floor, we all used sand from the girls sandbox to make quick sandbags for our garages, we watched each others kids so others could meet family and friends for supplies, we shared food and groceries and stories, we let our kids play together, and so much more.  I loved WHERE we lived before the flood, but now I love my community of neighbors. I don’t have enough words for all the nice things I’d like say and the generosity, civility, and concern  we were shown. Especially after all the negative things you  hear people say and do now, it’s nice to know the good people are out there. I only wish I would have made more of an effort before the flood to get to know their stories. This was a lesson to me to label less and communicate more.

sandbags
sandbox + walmart sacks = diy sandbags

My “noisy motorcycle” neighbor (you know you have nicknames for your neighbors too) ended up being the one who saved us.  Her boyfriend knew some people and was able to get an industrial pump brought in to drain the water.  We all pitched in for gas for the machine, but without her we wouldn’t have had it and the county was unconcerned with helping us.  She got it Saturday and the water immediately started to recede. Then we had another flash flood and the water just went up to where it was previously.  I have no doubt in my mind that it would have been in my home, A/C, etc if it wasn’t for her.  I love my “noisy motorcycle” neighbor now.  We went to thank her and it turns out she’s actually very sweet.  She just has a noisy hobby that as an exhausted mom I found frustrating some late nights.  However, never again! 🙂

My “angry, crabby old guy” neighbor helped dig a trench to release some of the water too.  Then afterwards he walked about a mile and a half to get more supplies and brought the girls back chocolates as well. “Angry, crabby old guy” neighbor is actually a lonely empty nester.  It ends up it was just him and his daughter for a long time, but then she went away to college about a year and a half ago out-of-state. So now it’s just him and his garden. :\ I’ll probably be the “angry, crabby old girl” when my kids go off to college too.  We’ll be taking him cookies and such more often.

Also, I realized how lucky I am to work where I do.  I love my job truly, but occasionally I wonder if I couldn’t be doing more with my life and my degree.  However, throughout this ordeal my coworkers and boss were constantly checking on us and helping me weigh pros and cons (my first flood so it was nice to have some feedback).  They sent over pizzas, drinks and formula for me Saturday when the water was at my front door.  People I only see from 8-5 waded through 4 blocks of water to get to my house just to drop off supplies.  That says a lot about the people I work with and company I work for. I’m forever grateful just for the sheer thoughtfulness.

Lastly, my home is ridiculously clean.  After moving all our furniture upstairs we were at a wait-and-see point. This gave me time to clean under and around everything. lol. Forget spring cleaning — I’ve got a full-on summer shine!  I had to go through all the boxes in the garage to get them out of there when the water was leaking in (thankfully diapers came in handy for keeping the water at bay).  I moved into this house when I was 3 months pregnant and had horrible morning sickness.  To say it was an unorganized and unmotivated move would be an understatement.  I finally feel like we are “moved in”.  It just took a flood to do it!

diapers.png
Diapers — more than one use

I could be a negative Nancy and focus on the bad stuff.  My backyard still has standing, stinky water, the mosquitos are going to be INSANE now, I missed a couple days of work, and Milla missed her last day of PreK.  However, my family is safe, my home is intact, I made some amazing new friends, and we know there is a drainage problem that we can fix before any potential hurricanes. All-in-all, it was a blessing in disguise and Milla didn’t seem too upset about missing school with all her friends and a creek in the front yard. Kids have a way of creating fun where adults can only see predicaments. We could probably all learn a little something from that. 🙂

kids play.png

 

Shame On You!

Mom shaming: When you shame a mom on the Internet, at the school, at playdates, or anywhere for that matter. Anyone can be afflicted with this disease of the heart. It has been seen in mom’s and non-mom’s alike.

This “disease” takes on many different sizes, shapes and forms. I hear more and more people with a lack of understanding or knowledge of other parents’ circumstances, choices or decisions regarding their kid(s) and it seems to be contagious. Instead of being supportive they assume they know and comment negatively. Most of the carriers of mom shaming don’t have the ability to empathize with challenges of other parents, but have no problem telling them how they’re wrong and how they should be doing it or should have done it better. Remember, hindsight is 20/20.

I read this article today and, yeah, the mom was obviously having a rough day.  It was Mother’s Day, her kids were too young to do anything for her, she was single, and she was reading all these wonderful things wonderful husbands were doing for their wonderful mommy wives and she was upset/frustrated or whatever.  Is what it is, but what really got me were the comments.  It wasn’t hang in there it’ll get better, or “Happy Mothers Day” I’m sure your kids appreciate you more than you know, etc.  No, a lot of them were: You need therapy.  Your kids should be taken from you.  What kind of mother are you?  You don’t love your kids and it’s obvious. Your kids are going to grow up with problems because they can tell you don’t like them. Etc.  It just went on and on. I truly couldn’t believe it.

I think I’m a top-notch mom (big grin on my face and happy dancing…okay, maybe not happy dancing but feeling pretty sure of myself as I say this…okay, maybe not sure of myself, but a little sure….), but I have had some bad days.  Here are some prime Mom Shaming opportunities.

  1. I’ve had to rush my daughter to the ER before.  —-  Milla drank the children’s Advil I left on the table while getting her some water. I was SURE  this was going to put her into a coma and they may need to pump her stomach. I measured it quickly and arrived at ER telling them she had 3-4 tablespoons and they laughed and said she’d sleep good after checking her out. :\   Still feel guilty about it though.
  2. I lost my daughter in a McDonald’s playhouse and called the police.  — I was sure some pedophile had stolen my beautiful, little princess and I had every episode of Law and Order SVU running through my mind.  Cici was hiding under the slide the whole time. I was up the playhouse, all around it, questioning parents and generally in a paranoid frenzy.  Cici thought it was hilarious.  We found her when she started uncontrollably giggling. Yep…I never went back to that McDonald’s.  I mean, how could they leave that space under the slide that she could fit in? lol. j/k.  My fault.  No more hide and seek with the kids.  They’re getting too good at it.
  3. My daughter has pooped in an aisle at Party City. — Yes, that’s right. Pooped. Full on blowout.  Cici was looking at Little Mermaid party gifts next to me when she tooted and I was like, “geez sister, peeyoo”.  However, when I looked at her she had deer and headlight eyes and then I saw it running out her pant leg. O.M.G. . Me scooping her up, “Me: Cici where is your PullUp? Cici: On Ellie (her baby doll) at home.”  Can you say MORTIFIED? Disgusted? Gagging?

I can only imagine what the other parents at the ER, McDonald’s, and Party City were thinking. AND, these are just three examples that immediately come to mind. This doesn’t include Milla’s corn starch snow angels in the kitchen, Cici’s injured mouse friend (EEK), or a multitude of others.  Kids are kids, parents are human.  Some of these things are ridiculously funny to look back on, some of them were learning opportunities for them (reviewing stranger danger and why not to hide from mommy) or for me (the lid on everything should always be on tight and up high even if they’re sick for their safety-Advil or my sanity-Cornstarch). Granted, there are exceptions to every rule and you can argue the gray areas.  But most of the stuff I hear isn’t gray area it’s just straight mean — so let’s review some basic human principles:

  1. No one is perfect. Not you, not her, not him, not the President, not anyone.
  2. Venting is a release of built up emotions. I might feel overwhelmed and say “I need a vacation”, but I personally can’t be away from my kids for much time before I’m calling/texting/ready to get back to them.
  3. Just because someone is having a bad day, doesn’t mean they’re a bad parent.
  4. Your way of parenting is not better than their way of parenting.  It’s just different.
  5. Being a parent has ups and downs.  Things will get better, then they might get worse, then better, rinse, repeat. So lend an ear, or a hand, and be supportive of others.

I realize it’s a day and age of reality TV: Kardashians, Dance Moms, Teen Moms, Real Housewives, etc.  It’s a digital age where we are fed the lives of others and expected to have an opinion on it.  However, try to realize being a parent isn’t a reality show.  Being a parent is caring for and loving a little person so much you would do anything for them. REAL parents are constantly trying to improve, do the best, and be the best for their little people.  This life is better than reality TV because it’s REAL–unedited, unreviewed, moment by moment living.  Embrace it, enjoy it, and learn from it because none of us are perfect and so many of us are truly, desperately trying our best.