Monday, September 11, 2017

Blather and Blame

Blather and blame. You can't go on the internet, listen to the radio, or watch TV without drowning in blather and blame. Every side of every question and problem facing our country and world is blathering nonsense and nincompoopery or blaming everyone and everything, the more ludicrous and ridiculous the better, except oneself for the problems. It's become a torrential waterfall of gibberish that threatens to drown us in a whirlpool of obfuscation.

Stop, people, stop. Nobody and no side is winning any of the battles waging around us. At present, we are ALL losing and heading towards ignominious death, most of us without a clue there is a real battle  going on for the continuity of mankind because we drift through our days thinking only of the small picture of our individual lives. We ignore, or have forgotten, that we all share this earth together, and while dire consequences may happen more slowly to those with more wealth, no amount of money or earthly goods will ultimately protect any of us, so the wealthy should be leading the way instead of foot dragging, hopefully out of the goodness of their hearts, but if not that, then because they do not want to lose what they have, because lose it they will. Nature doesn't care about mankind; it does what it does--erupt, quake, burn, or flood--with no regard for us humans. Only mankind cares, if anything does, about mankind.

If we are to fix mankind, and that's very questionable at this point, we have to stop what we've been doing, take a good look at ourselves and our policies, and say out loud, all together, "We are the problem." Then, we have to admit that our policies to this point have not worked, put our egos and profits aside, and look for new, humanitarian, and, dare I suggest, scientific ways to solve our problems. We can have no hidden agendas, with our only goal being to find workable, sensible solutions. We have to think outside the box, which may be difficult as our education systems have not promoted this kind of thinking recently (if ever). We need to think imaginatively and critically if we want the world to continue existing, let alone to improve. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and change our future. And, just a suggestion, we might want to let the young people lead us on this because we elders overall, and, yes, there are exceptions, haven't done so well by the earth and mankind. We've forgotten and desperately need to relearn the things we teach our infants and toddlers about caring for one another and for the earth. Then, we will figure out how to fix the world.

You can poo-poo my words all you want, but that won't change the truth of them. Truth is not relative nor something to be manipulated. Truth can guide us and save us, and the only way to find truth is to get rid of the ubiquitous blather and blame.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Love Isn't Always Enough, But

Yesterday, I had to surrender my Kiri cat to the SPCA. It broke my heart because I loved her, and she was fond of me. Sadly, though, I could not give her the home she needed. She needed to get outdoors, which we could not let her do because we live near a highway. She was unhappy being in the house all day. So, because I love her, I had to give her up. I hope she will get a good home.

Giving up Kiri reminded me, once again, that the oft expressed belief that "love is all we need" just isn't true. Sometimes, many times, love isn't enough by itself.

I learned this lesson early when I loved my mom, but I could not keep her from suicide. I could not stop my dad from beating her (and me). I could not get my relatives to listen, let alone believe, what was going on in our house. I got my 7th grade teacher involved, but this was way before domestic abuse hotlines or safe havens, so all it accomplished were fresh beatings from my dad. My mom pleaded with me to stop trying to make things better. So I did. And then she took matters into her own hands when she was 39, and I was 18. I needed more than love to help my mom--I needed people to believe me and help too.

The dating years also provided a major lesson in "love is not enough." I have loved three men in my life--one man did not love me back, and all my love could not make him feel the same way towards me. I was slow to learn this. Another man loved me as much as I loved him, but we were both scared in different ways of the depth of our feelings, so we took turns (how my perhaps unreliable memory of more than forty years ago remembers) sabotaging our romantic relationship. We, or at least I, needed courage in addition to love. Thankfully, we salvaged and nourished a lifetime friendship. He went on to have a great marriage with another woman, and I went on to have a great marriage with Gordon. But I learned from these two experiences that love, by itself, was not enough.

Ah, Gordon, the third time is the charm, if ever there was a time that love should have been enough, our marriage was definitely that time, and we lived many years in bliss. However, as most of you know from my blog, Gordon developed  behavioral variant Frontotemporal Dementia, and love is not enough to deal with that disease. You need fortitude to do that, and fortitude is a day by day exercise in doing, in commitment, in stick-to-it-tiveness. And I needed the help of my children because it was more than I could do alone. It broke my heart to realize that even in the most loving of marriages, love is not always enough.

But greater heartbreak, and the starkest realization that love is not enough, came with my middle son's schizophrenia. We parents who love our children more than ourselves will do anything to help them, anything.  And I did everything in my power, everything, never giving up until he was 18 years old and legally an adult, when I could do no more unless he wanted me to help, which he did not. For years, I believed that all the unconditional love that I and his brothers and his sister had given him, shown him, and poured into him for eighteen years would heal him, would clear his thinking, would comfort him, but no, love was not enough. We needed a cure, and, so far, there is none. The continual ache of missing my middle son never leaves my heart.

All of the above and more, such as not being allowed to take my grandpa home from the hospital, per his wishes, to die in his own home, have shown me that love by itself is not always enough, despite all the memes, greeting cards, and romantic movies that tell us it is. We often need other, often intangible, things too. 
But sometimes, miraculously, love is enough, like when our Jennie dog lived six years after the vet said she would die any day because her heart was severely damaged at birth. Every vet visit, he prepared the children and me for her imminent death, and every time I would tell the vet that our love for her would keep her alive. We loved and cared for Jennie with all our hearts--she was family. When she finally died, exactly the way the vet had predicted six years before, he was stunned she had lived so long. He and his fellow vets and staff (all of whom had seen her over the years) sent us a sympathy card that included a beautiful note about the power of our love for Jennie being instrumental in her living at all let alone six years.
Love is not always enough to fix everything, but love is the best part of ourselves that we have to offer others. So give love, give love, and then give more love we should and must because, while love is not always enough, sometimes love is just enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Gift from Gracie

When I chose to watch Gracie,  rather than continue teaching, I knew that my choice was the best gift I could give to Gracie because she spends her weekdays with someone who loves her and whom she loves, and this gives some peace of mind to my son and daughter-in-law while they are at work. At the time I made my choice, I thought I was giving Gracie (and her parents) a gift, but it turns out Gracie gives gifts to me too.

Charles Dickens begins his novel A Tale of Two Cities with these words, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...," and these words pretty much sum up the dichotomy of my life nowadays because I am a caregiver for my toddler granddaughter, Gracie, and for my elderly husband, Gordon, who has dementia, both of whom are in diapers.

Gracie wakes up full of joy each day. She laughs and talks to her stuffed animals. When you enter her room, she greets you with a delightful smile and makes you feel like the most special person in the world. While I change her diaper, she "talks" to me, giggles, plays peek-a-boo, and while helping me change her out of her jammies  and into her play clothes, bestows a surprise kiss when I least expect it. Days spent with Gracie are the "best of times" because they are full of fun, love, and wonder; days spent with Gracie are full of "hope" because she has "everything before" her. 

If caring for Gracie is the "best of times," caring for Gordon is definitely the "worst of times." Gordon awakens with groans and moans and swear words. His Frontotemporal Dementia, very different from Alzheimer's, makes him apathetic, indifferent, and lacking in empathy. He does not acknowledge us very often, and usually only in relation to a want of his. He wears diapers too, but he won't let anyone help him, so he changes it himself, getting poop all over the bathroom. Grant and I clean up these messes, Grant with a resigned sense of humor, and I with disgust, loathing, and gagging. 

I marvel at the difference I feel in dealing with one diaper versus another, and it boils down to love. I love Gracie with all my heart, but I no longer love my husband. This may sound shocking or wrong, but what is left to love after twenty years of dealing with his worsening dementia, twenty years of cruelty, indifference, apathy, and self-absorption, twenty years during which I lost my husband, the father of my children, my home, and my financial security, twenty years of facing an abyss of meaninglessness and despair?

Part of the joy of caring for Gracie is her open heart. This child accepts and loves her humans, no matter what form we come in, and she, to my amazement, cares for Gordon. It is a wonder, truly and deeply, that I have pondered for many months. The man barely notices her, does nothing to help her or keep her safe, does not hold her, but she notices him and does her best to get him to notice her. She waves at him, claps at him, toddles in front of him and stops to make him stop walking. She chatters at him. And when he occasionally says, "Gracie Marie" or claps with her, she beams like she's grabbed the gold ring. This leads to some amusing situations, like when she was clapping at him, and Gordon began to clap his pee jug (fortunately empty) that he carries about. I thought at that moment, "You can not make this stuff up."

Gracie's acknowledgement of Gordon is one of Gracie's gifts to me. Her open-heartedness re-kindles in me some of the light that's gone out of my world. During Gordon's twenty years and counting of dementia, I have frequently lost hope, joy, and faith, each day looking darker than the day before, with no light at the end of the tunnel, a seemingly endless "worst of times." Now, though, Gracie brings her light to my dark tunnel when her life intersects with mine. She doesn't take away the darkness of Gordon's dementia, but she brings the light of love and hope, and she brings a new way of seeing things, a way of laughing at the horror instead of being overwhelmed by it. She sees with fresh eyes what my tired eyes were no longer capable of seeing--that is, she sees Gordon's humanity, and she reminds me of this each time she beams her smile at him.

Take care,


Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Unexpected Room of My Own

"To contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books...and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream" so that "one sees more intensely afterwards," you need a room of your own, says Virginia Woolf in her gem of a book, A Room of One's Own. Then, "the world seems bared of its covering and [you will have] an intenser life."

Ah, a room of my own--a longing, a hope, a dream--now come true in my son Grant's garage.

When our rental lease was up, Grant attempted to buy the home from the landlord, who had promised to sell it to Grant. It had four bedrooms and a big backyard, exactly what we needed to provide a home for a happy, married couple, their baby, Grant's mother (me), Grant's demented father, two dogs, and two cats. However, the landlord refused to sell when the time came, so Grant went on a hunt for a home to buy, so as not to be at the mercy of the whims of another landlord. He found a fixer-upper, which he and Leanne believed would work, and they bought it. Alas, the house was a three bedroom house. What were we to do?  Where were we all to sleep?

After walking around and around the house, I suggested that I sleep in the attached garage, which had a door opening into it from the family room. It was really the only possible room for me in the house. Fortunately, though not insulated (which matters little to me, as I am always hot, so our mildly cool winters won't bother me), the garage is sheet-rocked. Grant set about turning the garage into my bedroom. He painted the walls a lovely turquoise and bought a new garage door to replace the old, buckling, drafty one. He bought sliding windows for light and air to replace the single pane glass; he bought a door with a window for light to replace the solid, side door with holes in it; he bought carpet to cover the concrete floor; and he put fine screens over the vents to reduce the visits of spiders. Grant and Gavin installed the windows and new door, and Gavin bought and installed overhead track lighting to light the room for me.

After the room was painted and carpeted, I put up fourteen bookcases and filled them with books. My bed and nightstands are in an alcove I created with some of my bookcases, so I get to sleep surrounded by books, which is a most comforting way to sleep. My two dressers, file cabinet, and metal closet organizer are strategically placed to make the garage look like a bedroom. My rocking chair is near the bed for rocking Gracie, and the kitty litter is in the corner by the outside door. There is no way to hide the questionable attractiveness of the old furnace and new water heater, but I turned that section of the garage into another alcove that discreetly houses my camp toilet for easy, middle-of-the-night peeing. 

Now, instead of a garage, you see a cozy bedroom, where our cat Oreo and dog Mollie nap on my bed or doze on the carpet in the patch of sunlight made from the window of the outside door. Books beckon from every wall, and my room emanates an air of tranquility and the heart-warming truth that I belong, that I am home; for, truly, a home, SO much more than merely a room to sleep in, is what Grant and Leanne are giving me in this garage room in their home.

But my garage bedroom is more than being part of a home; it is the room that Virginia Woolf says that we need--a room of my own. A room for me to read, to write, to think; a room to rejoice in or cry about life's "little pictures," while simultaneously pondering life's "big picture;" a room to escape from the abyss of dementia as well as the cries of a newborn baby to the delights of poetry, the insights of plays, and the adventures of a good novel. And it is a room for me to experience the cognitive dissonance of almost crushing despair when life gets to be too much, while, at the same time, being felicitously, thankfully, blissfully consumed by an unquenchable, lifelong curiosity that makes me want to live forever. 

Virginia Woolf says we need to "escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings, not always in their relation to each other, but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees, or whatever it may be in themselves...for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone, and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will live and write...poetry," and, I think Virginia Woolf would agree, bring into being any and all creative expressions.

So, now, at long last, I have a room of my own. In the past, whenever I contemplated a room of my own, I usually visualized a cabin in a wood or a cottage by a shore--very romantic notions, to be sure. But in the real world, a room of one's own is lovely wherever you have it. Mine happens to be, unexpectedly, in a garage, and I am most grateful.

Take care,

Kate, aka Kathy, aka Kathleen

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grammy is a Slayer of Rattlesnakes

Dear Munchkins, 
Did you know that your grammy is a slayer of rattlesnakes? Who'd have thought it? But a slayer of rattlesnakes is what I became because once you hold your newborn babes in your arms, you know you will do anything and everything to protect them. When I was having my children, your dads, we lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains on 55 acres, and it was very hot each summer, which meant that from April through October, we ran into many unwelcome rattlesnakes on our property.
What did I know about rattlesnakes before I moved onto our mountain? Almost nothing. I knew they were poisonous and that it was wise to stay away from them, but I had been raised on Disney movies, and I thought all animals were my friends, or could be if I treated them with kindness and respect. I didn't believe in killing any animal.
Alas, Disney does not prepare you for nature "red in tooth and claw."
My first introduction to a rattlesnake was from a distance. I was hugely pregnant with Amy, and it was SO hot that I had stripped down to my panties only. I was watching Gordon clear brush from around the house with a scythe. He pulled back a piece of wood, and out leapt a rattlesnake. I had no idea until that moment that a snake could leap, though I suppose a more accurate word would be spring. Well, it was one angry snake, and it went after Gordon with a vengeance. Gordon was running down the driveway pursued by this snake. When he got to a level spot, he swung his scythe wildly about, trying to fling the snake aside so that he could kill it. It was truly an epic battle. While I watched, I wondered if I was to be a widow before my Amy Angel was born. Finally, Gordon prevailed.

The next summer, I had my first interaction with a rattlesnake. I was carrying Amy across the deck to put her down for a nap when one of our cats acted peculiarly, so peculiarly that I stepped towards it, which made all the difference. When I stepped, I felt movement next to my shoe, looked down, and saw a rattlesnake coiling and rattling. I jumped back, horrified to know that if I had not stepped toward the cat, I would have stepped on the snake and been bitten. For years after, I only wore cowboy boots when outside.

Over the years, we had many near misses with rattlesnakes. We learned they could climb the steps to our deck because we saw one do it. We lost a cat to a rattlesnake, and a dog almost died, but she was a smart dog and stayed still for two weeks, while we gave her water. She lost all her fur, but she lived.

Then, one day, Hugh Evan ran up to tell me there was a rattlesnake on a hay bale. He had been jumping on the hay stacks when the snake started rattling. Gordon was at work, and I didn't dare leave that snake in the barn because the kids played in the barn. Amy stayed in the house to watch Hugh and Grant, who were quite young, and Gavin, who was six or seven, went with me. The rattlesnake was still on the bale of hay and rattling like mad. I had no moment to be afraid for myself. I picked up a pitchfork and pushed down hard, pinning the snake to the hay bale. I had to stand really close, but the pitchfork held him closer to his head, so while he could rattle furiously, he could not strike. Gavin got the only weapon at hand, which was a hoe. I made Gavin stay safely back, and, while pinning the snake with my left hand, with my right hand, I hacked and hacked at that rattlesnake until I got its head off, which I buried deep in the ground so that the dogs could not dig it up and be poisoned. Gavin and I tossed the carcass into the chicken coop because chickens think fresh rattlesnake is a tasty treat.

By the time we got back up to the house, we were late to meet Gordon for lunch, so the kids and I hopped into the van and headed down the mountain. When you have four young children, you don't have much time to think about yourself, so it was quite some time until it hit me that I had actually killed a rattlesnake to protect my children. Wow. I was quite proud of myself.

Only one other time did I kill rattlesnakes and that was when a neighbor called me and asked me to do it. Her toddler had started to walk barefoot out of the house, but the wire doormat seemed to be wiggling, so she picked up her son, slammed the door, and called me. I came to her place armed with a shovel because I don't use guns, and discovered several baby rattlesnakes tangled in her wire mat. I chopped up as many as I could, but one got away into the brush. I had warned our neighbor not to let her children go barefoot outside, but she thought I was exaggerating and being dramatic. After that day, her children wore shoes outside. 

Our family has many more rattlesnake stories, but no others where I slayed one. When I think back on these adventures of rattlesnake slaying, I recall Dallben's words in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, "For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are." Faced with protecting my children and a neighbor's children from poisonous rattlesnakes, I was able to harness my terror of the snakes, and become more than what I was before I had children, which is, bottom line, a mom who does anything and everything to keep her children safe.

Love you, Munchkins,

Grammy, aka Kate