At my age (66), permanence is not to be taken lightly. No one ever knows how long he or she has on this earth, and no one really knows if there is an afterlife of any sort. Whether we get to do life again, as with reincarnation; or we move on to a heaven where our spirits live on forever; or whether our life energy just dissipates into the universe–well, no one can be absolutely certain.
It makes me feel good when I encounter someone who is so certain of Heaven or reincarnation. But it also makes me wonder what makes someone good enough for Heaven, and how the universe or gods would judge me for a reincarnate life: have I been good enough toward others? would I come back to life as a person of higher stature, or as an amoeba? Further, I wonder if I have been as good as I could be, or if I have hurt too many people in life with my good intentions? Have I left anything behind for someone to remember me by in a positive way? Would I be missed? Would my loved ones be relieved with my parting?
Life–the one being lived–is the one thing that is not permanent, for sure. True, little in life or Nature is truly permanent. Even Earth will one day be overcome by universal forces and the lifespan of a star, our sun, follows rules of physics, even if we want to believe otherwise. And if Earth one the sun cease to exist, what happens to any spiritual essence we leave behind?
Earlier today, I blogged on permanence in the learning of a new art form, and the relationship of permanence to the learning process, especially of practice work. I don’t claim to be an artist or writer, but what will happen to anything I produce after I am gone? Although there is some perceived permanence to the Internet, how long will that exist? How long will any impression we make on the world be left, whether an impression of our growth or some final masterpiece we leave behind? How long is permanence?
I am so glad that I don’t dwell on such thoughts. For now, just doing what I can to be active, to be me, to maintain contact with my family and friends–for now, that’s enough. I am just glad to be alive, experience new things, and enjoy the moment. I have not always felt like this.
Try hard to enjoy the days that are left to you, no matter how old you are. None of us is permanent. Leave behind the best impression that you can on those proverbial sands of time.
Several hours after publishing this post, I came across this passage in Cat Deck the Halls, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
That was the way the world worked, …, in gigantic cycles of change.
But that would be centuries from now, … ; everything about the earth was ephemeral, each in its own time and cycle, nothing on this earth was meant to be forever.
Except … Our own spirits. Our spirits never die, they simply move on beyond earth’s cycles. [p. 16]
Elder-care is nothing like an eiderdown, or the care of an eiderdown. One is about people; the other is about bed covers made of feathers. No comparison.
How much do we know about elder care? If you have an individual of advanced age living with you, how aware are you of certain common diseases of elder persons? For example, do you know what the early signs are of diseases like congestive heart failure? Do you know how to recognize the beginning signs of a stroke? Are you watching your elderly home mate for signs of diseases of the elderly such as pneumonia? Or of undernourishment? Or of sleep disorders that can lead to other problems? Or do you assume that the elderly individual living in your home would tell you if he or she were ailing?
To be honest, although both my husband and I are over 65, we are still in reasonably good health. However, we watch each other fairly closely for symptoms of health problems. Right now, my only health concerns are cataracts which need to be removed, with the lenses replaced with appropriate lenses. I also suffer from chronic back pain from spinal stenosis. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with COPD, meaning that my breathing is not where it should be. I have noticed muscle weakness in my hands, meaning I need to keep “special” appliances in the house to help me open jars, cans, and even bottle tops. The latter is from surgery I had on my hand a few years ago that left my dominant hand weaker to perform the common tasks of twisting the caps off of bottles of water and mild, among other things. And I can’t carry much one-handed any more. Between arthritic spurs growing into and pressing on my spinal column, I tend to lose feeling in various pars of my body, causing little things like difficulty walking in a straight line, walking fully upright, carrying objects heavier than a few pounds, etc. The degeneration of the disks in my spine help cause the spurs to temporarily slow down the response of my hands, arms, and legs. But these are things I am aware of and am trying to do something about.
My husband suffers from problems of the urinary tract and–as one often hears on comedy shows–difficulty with urination. I have noticed over the past few years that he is walking much slower than he used to. He was never terribly coordinated, but now he has even more difficulty lifting or carrying items weighing over 20 pounds. His energy level for physical activity has never been high, so it is difficult to tell just how much his overall movements have slowed.
These types of things are fairly normal among the elderly, and don’t necessarily suggest health problems. Although I write about our own health concerns, I am also thinking about my mother’s recent death. She had been living with my sister and brother-in-law for at least 15 years. During the weeks–maybe months–before she died, she had started falling for no apparent reason. She had worked in a hospital for 20 years, and was well aware of the symptoms of congestive heart failure. I doubt that she ever told her daughter and son-in-law the symptoms, and maybe didn’t want to. Before my father died of a heart-related condition about 20 years ago, I heard the difficulty in his breathing months before he died. Because I lived 3000 miles away, I made it a point to take time off from work and fly out to see him, knowing it would probably be the last time I would see him alive, figuring the aneurism was letting him know to be prepared. My mother knew why I flew out and was angry with me, in part because she was in denial about his condition, and in part because I supported his decision to decline a possible life-saving surgery–I didn’t encourage it, nor did I want him to die; I simply respected his decision and tried to get Mom to back off. The problem with the potentially life-saving surgery was that (at that time) there was a huge risk that he would be left a paraplegic, a condition that he could not even begin to think about living with. He was a proud and active man. So when I heard in his breathing the signs of congestive heart failure, I needed to have closure with him. I flew out to spend time with him–primarily him–to say goodbye in person before I could not say goodbye at all.
Although my mother did not appear to have problems with her breathing except for a cold that would not go away, and because she hid the falling from her family for quite some time, my sister did not get my mother in to see her doctor fast enough. Instead of insisting on an immediate appointment after my mother fell and could not feel her legs to get up, they settled for an appointment the following week. My mother was sent to the emergency room by her doctor immediately, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and a few non-specific infections, one of which was from a skin condition that would not heal under my mother’s own home remedies. Thus, within two weeks of admission to the hospital, my mother died in hospice care in a comfortable and painless state. Her body gave up, but more importantly, her spirit gave up. Perhaps that is why she never mentioned the frequency of her falls to the family.
My family is not at fault for not taking my mother to see a doctor earlier. They simply didn’t know any better. My mother was a relatively private person who mostly stayed in her room and took care of her ailments with home remedies. Also, because of extremely busy schedules, the family did not notice that she was failing as quickly as they would if they saw her more frequently as part of the regular family gathering. But the family has scattered all over the country, and only my busy sister and brother-in-law remain. On top of all this, my mother had kept forgetting to charge her phone, so I had been unable to reach her for well over a month. Maybe if I had heard her–maybe–I would have known she was ailing.
This is not the time or place to talk about a weird psychic connection I had with my mother, especially since I don’t really believe in them. But I had been frantic to get in touch with my mother during that entire time because I felt that she wasn’t doing well. My husband had just had emergency surgery, and I also wanted her to know that he had been hospitalized and, later, that he was recovering well. As is my sister’s habit, she sent all calls from me to voicemail and never responded in any case. It turned out that my brother-in-law got a new phone, so the calls to him on his old number were not getting through, either. I stopped writing emails and IMs to my sister for the same reason I stopped calling her some time ago. So it was not until a few days before she had her doctor’s appointment that I finally spoke to her on the phone. All she told me about was the falling; she never mentioned the other problems, although she was unusually quiet. For the first time in years, I was doing all the talking and she just said a few words. When I spoke to my husband about her falls later that night, he immediately suspected congestive heart failure (he teaches medical school students), and we were anxious to find out more about her condition as the days progressed. Not until a day or two after my mother’s hospitalization did I find out how ill she had actually become.
The problem was the lack of knowledge; the family could not understand the importance of the symptoms my mother was displaying (or, perhaps, hiding). If an elderly parent, relative, or friend is living with you, make certain that you read up to learn about signs indicating the individual is getting ill. Knowing the signs could improve the quality of life for the individual, and might extend or even save the person’s life.
A good place to learn about symptoms of diseases of the elderly and the signs that accompany the problems is webMD.com . There is an entire section devoted to the elderly, with many easy to understand articles on symptomology, general health, exercise and diet, and almost any other health topic you can think of related to the elderly and elder care. Our population of senior citizens–especially those living on their own–is growing rapidly. Even if you only visit an elderly relative or friend once or twice a month, know the signs of common diseases of the elderly, including things like what malnutrition or dehydration looks like. And of course things like pneumonia could look or sound quite different in an elderly person than in a younger one. Learn what you can so you can be more of a help to an elderly relative living with you or alone. The information you learn could save a life.
Maybe there actually is a relationship between the frailty of an elderly person (even if it is not apparent) and the delicate feathers of an eiderdown… .
Depression must have been following me around for a long time. I’m not sure when it caught up with me–I didn’t even know it had. It’s not like one day I woke up with Depression snoring next to me. There was no lightning bolt marking its sudden appearance. I wasn’t feeling particularly sad or seeing everything in black. I’m not sure if I was feeling hopeless or particularly morose. Days didn’t drag or fly by; they just blended into one another. I hadn’t been feeling particularly energetic, but I blamed the fatigue in part on the hot and humid tropical weather. When the pets napped during the mid-day heat, I often found myself joining them, even though the air conditioner kept me comfortable so I wasn’t being directly impacted by the weather. Arthritic back pain has been my steady companion, and I blamed most of the fatigue on the constant struggle with Pain. I miss being able to take my Naproxen to keep Pain at bay. It had worked really well for me, but it also was complicit in a near-fatal bleeding ulcer incident nearly a year ago, and I’ve had to stay away from it ever since. So I blamed my lack of awareness of Depression on Pain. Pain kept me distracted while Depression slowly permeated my body and my soul.
That I became aware of Depression’s presence was sudden. It was about two weeks after my last visit to my psychotherapist. I was thinking about how I don’t really like her, and that I don’t know why she insists on continuing to see me. The session wasn’t terribly productive, and I realized that her voice had taken on tones of dislike and condescension. She was telling me that I am a selfish bitch (not in those words) who turns away from any group or individual who doesn’t agree with me–that it’s my way or the highway. This took me by surprise. It had taken me most of my 65 years to work up the nerve to simply be able to say to myself, “This is not how I think or feel or see things. I can walk away from this.” I wasn’t feeling bad about this type of thinking and subsequent actions, and I didn’t understand what brought on this tirade from her. For the year or so that I’ve been seeing her–generally once a month, with a three or four month lag recently–we’ve discussed my issues with family and my husband. I rarely talked to her about my social life or activities. Yet she was talking as though we have known each other well for years and shared a circle of friends. The thought going through my mind was, “Is this professional behavior in a therapist?” In the US, I had never experienced this type of reaction from a professional therapist–some insurance plans won’t pay for antidepressants without a prescription from a psychiatrist. I started wondering whether she had been trained in The Netherlands or elsewhere, and if this was professional behavior there. Granted, the country of Sint Maarten is more like a mid-sized US town, with its population of roughly 45,000. Adding the 40,000 or so residents of the French side of the island, the whole island takes on the proportions of a small city, with each side having its own culture within the greater culture of the Caribbean. My next question to myself was, “Has she been talking to other people about me? If so, whom would we know in common?” And again, thoughts of professional behavior went through my mind. I had pretty much made up my mind that I would be cancelling my next appointment (coming up next week), but decided to let it stand and re-assess during or after.
As I continued to ponder the strange session, I started thinking about my activities as symptoms and how likely it might be that Depression had caught up with me again. I started thinking about my life over the past year. I had taken a vacation from my husband and ended up overstaying my welcome with my children. I came home to discuss separation with my husband, but then bleeding ulcers almost killed me in the middle of the night–twice within two weeks–and how instrumental he had been in getting an ambulance here quickly. He visited me more in the hospital during my two five-day stays than he ever visited me during major surgeries back home when he worked a block or less away. Since he doesn’t drive, and since the hospital is almost on the other side of the island, that took a major effort on his part. Life on a small Caribbean island is vastly different than the conveniences associated with large urban areas in the US. He had to rely either on friends or on taxi services to visit me, since buses don’t run near enough to the hospital for easy access in the tropical heat, and visiting hours are extremely limited.
The night I returned from the hospital after my second stay, I noticed that one of our two cats was acting strangely listless. Over the next three and a half months, she spent more time at the veterinary clinic than at home, first for a pancreatic infection, and later for feline diabetes. The male cat missed her, and started to jump into the car whenever I had the tailgate open, possibly hoping she was in the car. He did that late one night when my husband was unloading the car from my earlier grocery trip. My husband doesn’t always notice things at the best of times, and I had forgotten to tell him of this cat’s new habit. I didn’t go anywhere the next day, and the car was sitting in the tropical winter sun all day, with me wondering why the cat hadn’t yeowled to come in. My hunt for the cat ended when I found him the following day, when I needed to run to the pharmacy. I would never have to hunt for him again.
A few weeks later, I began to notice that I was losing stamina instead of gaining it during my exercise sessions in the community pool. At first, I thought it was emotional stress from losing one cat and having an ill one. I drove to the doctor’s office to discuss the condition and was sent for a blood draw because the doctor thought I looked somewhat anemic. Because of local holidays, it would take longer to get results than usual, and we had been scheduled to visit a neighboring island for a conference my husband needed to attend. I was feeling weaker and weaker and tried to beg off, but my husband seemed more concerned about the fact that we had already paid for my fare and a rental car, and insisted that I would feel better from a change of scenery. By the time we returned, I was feeling much weaker and took the first opportunity possible to visit the doctor for bloodwork results. My blood count was so low that the doctor could not believe I drove to the office. I was not even allowed to drive the half kilometer home to pick up pajamas and other hospital stay essentials (locally, you provide your own pajamas, toothbrush, soap, towels, etc.) before I was whisked away to the hospital.
During the five days I spent at the local hospital, the staff doctors managed to scare me to death about the condition of my colon (since the ulcers had healed quite well, it had to be my colon, they reasoned), saying that I would need to have half of it removed and that I was taking a chance that I would bleed out from a burst sac in my colon at any time. I was not about to have surgery on the island, so we scheduled a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Florida for a consult and possible surgery. It turned out that my colon was fine and that my problem with anemia was because–after a total of eight units of blood transfused into me during my three island hospital stays–the hospital doctors had never thought about prescribing high dosage iron supplements. In essence, my body had shut down blood cell production after the two bleeding ulcer episodes, and that was the cause of the anemia, not internal bleeding from my colon. Much relieved, we returned to our island condo on Christmas Eve, with no pets to greet us and several days of no pet distractions. When I was finally able to bring home the dog and ailing cat, it was like celebrating Christmas a few days late.
Shortly after the New Year–on my birthday, in fact–I had to take the ailing cat back to the clinic, as she was refusing food and water, even from hand-feeding and forced hydration from an eyedropper. For the next nine days, the clinic tried to order various insulin types for her, trying anything to get her to come around. On the tenth day, I received a call from the veterinarian asking us to consider her suffering, as nothing was working on her. Before we were able to get there, and much to staff’s surprise, the cat had chosen her own time to die, and we said goodbye to her inert body. Both cats were just five years old when we lost them. I mentioned that we were interested in any stray or unwanted kittens that might be dropped off there. Surprisingly, we were able to adopt a kitten the same evening–not to replace the cats we lost, but because neither my husband nor I were ready to have a no-cat home–and we were hoping to distract the dog, who seemed depressed with both cats disappearing from home. The kitten was to be euthanized after closing, but my cat’s death allowed this kitten to retain her life. I suspect that the kitten was still alive just in case we were thinking of adopting a new one.
Shortly after I was told I needed colon surgery, and feeling a little down, I began to read books that always made me feel good and made me laugh. During our two-week stay near the Mayo Clinic, I began to download all the books by my favorite author, Terry Pratchett. It had taken several years before the first volumes of his Discworld Series were available electronically. I decided I wanted to read all the books from the first to the last because they made me laugh (and more than half of my Pratchett library was in a storage facility in Glendale, California). In an effort to cheer myself up, I read all 40 books of the series in roughly six weeks. The day after I finished the most recent book, Terry Pratchett died, leaving me jarred from the coincidence. In the meanwhile, I made a new friend here in the community, and she pulled me out of a good deal of my funk. She had me going to the beach and helping her find things to stock her new store at the Jersey shore, and I was finding myself perking up quite a bit. When she returned to the US, I began to sink again, the only thing saving me was the drawing lessons I started taking, thanks in large part to my friend’s chatting up a gallery owner on the French side of the island. My instructor also got me interested in oil painting. In addition, I got involved with a business that forced me out of the house. So I had a few new activities to throw myself into so that I could avoid seeing Depression sneaking up on me.
That day when I was pondering my last therapy session made me realize that Depression had grabbed me in its clutches and wasn’t letting me go, accounting for my ups and (mostly) downs. Why hadn’t my therapist seen this, or why hadn’t she suggested the possibility that I might be depressed? My husband, who notices so little about me (think Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory), was preparing himself to broach the subject with me, but had some hesitations about how to begin. When I told him I thought I was depressed, he was relieved, and confessed that he thought so, too. So why did the therapist not notice two weeks earlier? It’s not like she didn’t know about all the events that had transpired over the past year. Why didn’t she see that many of my newer activities were an effort to pull myself out of a dark pit?
Fortunately, I am not a person who believes that there is ever a time when no hope exists. The idea of a purposeless life crosses my mind on occasion–like when Depression is stalking me–but I never really believe that things will never get better. I don’t always make lemonade when life sucks, but I tend to take a proactive approach to my existence. So…
The following day, I went to see my doctor. I told him I was pretty sure I am depressed. I explained my fatigue, my inability to motivate myself to perform even the easiest of tasks or my favorite activities, the hours of extra sleep, the restlessness, the inability to concentrate on anything. He agreed that I was probably depressed and prescribed some medication. In general, antidepressants take anywhere from two to four weeks before any improvement in mood or attitude is noticed. I’ve been on enough of them in my life to know. But when they kick in, the world takes on a whole new meaning. I’m almost three weeks into the antidepressants, and I’m feeling better every day.
Depression, you may take your sweet time taking over body and soul, but you’re not unbeatable. You are not a permanent fixture in my life. It may have taken me a while to notice that you have sneaked up on me again, taking the color from my world, and damping down the moments of joy that pass almost unnoticed because of your presence. Depression, you are being pushed out much more rapidly than you have entered, and I’m feeling good that I recognized you even when a psychiatrist did not. So yeah, maybe I do turn my back on situations that I deem immature or demoralizing or just plain stupid. But how is that bad? There are a lot of people I know who have some strange qualities–whether stranger than mine, I don’t know; I can’t judge–but it doesn’t mean I don’t like them despite their quirks. I don’t assess people on whether they agree with me or not, but on whether they are good-hearted and caring people. They can be self-centered, annoyingly upbeat, frustrating, flighty, overly single-minded, funny, klutzy, cute, ugly…but if they’re “good people,” I can usually set all those things aside and like them for who they are. Heaven only knows why some people continue to like me enough to call me Friend, even after they have gotten to know me and understand where I’m coming from. They don’t even have to understand me, as long as they still believe I’m good enough company to hang out with once in a while, or that my heart is in the right place. So yes, sometimes it takes a pill to help me see how many people make up my world. Sometimes, Depression, you can obscure the fact that I am not alone in this world. But you can never make my subconscious believe you because, deep inside, I know better.
Depression, you have been part of my recent life for too long, and you’ve made me blind to many of the little joys in life. It’s time to banish you. There may be a time when I’m off medication and life comes down on me again like a ton of bricks. At some point in the future, you may think you will win. But don’t delude yourself. Even if a therapist isn’t correctly analyzing me, I do a lot of my own self-assessment. I can turn and walk away from situations that will never change. Depression, you may get in and obfuscate, but you will never obliterate. Go away now. I’m turning away and leaving you behind.
For almost 2 months, I’ve been taking drawing lessons up in Grand Case on the French side of the island of St. Martin. Often, if I feel I have a reasonably successful drawing, or I’ve done something pretty neat (for me, not necessarily for the rest of the world), I post my accomplishment to Facebook as a sort of living portfolio. Last night, because I had gotten up very late in the morning and ended up staying up very late again, I decided I would try out some painting supplies that I thought were really neat. It was a set of three pre-“inked” watercolor brushes that contains the typical three sketching colors: black, gray, and sepia. I had used the company’s water-filled “travel” paint brushes a few times, and found that I really preferred them over regular watercolor brushes, which can be a bit clunky to take along in my purse. I’ve been using the water-filled brushes (when I remember I have them and have something interesting to pretend to paint) with a pocket-sized watercolor set of pan-style colors that came complete with its own attach-to-the-side paint mixing tray–and one of the brushes. That kit and a pad of watercolor postcards is what I take to the beach. When I saw the ink sketching kit, I thought it would be interesting to try. The set of brushes was inexpensive enough, so I added them to a recent Amazon order, and they arrived last week.
Well, you know how it is when you first get something new–you want to try it out (or on) as soon as possible. I was so busy during the week that I didn’t get a chance to even think about it until last night, while watching the same episode of Penny Dreadful for the third time or so. Being me, I knew I would ruin any attempt to use the inked brushes last night; on the other hand, there was no harm in sketching–in pencil–the basic subject I would work on in the morning. Well, the inked brushes clearly take a lot more time to get to know than the pre-filled water brushes. I didn’t wonder about tonal effects and how to get them, or whether I could handle the brushes without practice since I’ve been playing with the water brushes for a while.
And so, I produced a total dud! Yes, I am an inexperienced artist. Yes, I have progressed from poor stick figure drawing to some decent sketches of stationary objects or photograph subjects. But that was with using graphite pencils and sticks, not watercolors–about which I know less than nothing. I wish I had taken a photo of the results using only the inked brushes–but I didn’t think about that. All I could think about was “saving” my dud–making it a little more presentable.
In the process of making it a bit less dud-ish, I used watercolor pencils (which I’ve been practicing with for a while) and even my little kit of watercolor pans. I started to “save” the work first with the watercolors, then remembered reading about how the watercolor pencils can really help define a piece. To my amazement, it was the pencils that saved the work from becoming a complete disaster that I didn’t want to tear up and start working on all over again. The result is the photo above–still no great work of art, but a definite improvement from where it started.
Then I posted it to my Facebook account with an explanation of it being a dud and that I just wanted to post something I wasn’t so proud of for a change. When I look back at some of my earlier “proud of” shares, I can see how much I’ve progressed. So I also know how bad this dud is in comparison to most of my shares. What surprised me was that I got 3 “likes” from the same people who always support my efforts and generally comment on my progress or something. This time, although I had asked for feedback on how to improve it, all I got from my fan base was the likes.
That made me wonder–are they liking the photo just to indicate that they saw it? are they liking it because they are trying to be supportive? are they liking it because of my self-criticism and agreeing with it? I will probably never know, but it makes me wonder if my friends think I’m fragile and can’t handle the truth, or if all they see is another attempt at something new and just want to show support, either without reading the comment, or just without giving their opinion?
Next I started to wonder about what I do. Like these three friends, I would undoubtedly “like” whatever they posted to indicate support. But I don’t know whether I, too, would not leave a comment. After thinking some more, I decided that I would leave something along the lines of “nice try with a new medium” or “nice first attempt,” or something equally as inane. Since these are friends I actually know and went to high school with years ago, and since they’ve seen the same cat in many positions as a drawn critter, maybe they just felt no comment was necessary and that just liking the photo indicated that they know I’m there and that I’m trying.
One of my friends has become a real outdoor photography fan–something I wanted to do since I was little, but couldn’t afford the supplies that went with my little Brownie camera from Kodak. That was back in the days when black and white film was inexpensive, but photo development and flash bulbs that burned your fingers if you tried to take a couple of shots relatively close together cost more than my family could afford. My father subtly suggested I turn to another hobby, as my mother was complaining about the cost–particularly of film development. Now, of course, the cost is in the DSLR equipment itself if you really want to learn about photography in all its aspects. But my friend was using his iPhone camera and went from typical snapshots to some really masterful pieces shot in and around Philadelphia and any trips he took with his son. Over the past two years, he has become quite good, even if most of the photos are either of his son or of woods or old historic buildings. We all “liked” his work, and some of us took time to comment on how much his son is growing or sharing reminiscences of past outings where we saw the same subjects. And, as I said, his photos really improved. The process was gradual, but he is learning to do magnificent things with his iPhone camera.
One of the problems with us Boomers is that we didn’t get the same kinds of opportunities many Gen-X-ers had in schools. In hour town, the schools were so overcrowded that the junior high was on “split sessions” (7th and 8th graders from 7:00AM to noon; 9th graders from noon to 5:00PM), and the high school was on some incredible schedule that you needed a slide rule to figure out when to be in school on what day. By the time my class reached high school, we entered into a brand new building that was big enough to accommodate us all at the same time. But in 7th and 8th grade, although we were lucky enough to have art classes at all, we were limited to 35-minute classes for one-quarter of the school year. And there is not much that can be accomplished in an art class in 35 minutes, especially when your teacher goes on to become one of the great sculptors in the art world for quite some time. So we didn’t even get the basics, and students whose parents could afford it sent their kids for private art lessons or private group classes. The rest of us were pretty clueless, except that our parents seemed to all agree that music needed to be part of our education, whether lessons given in school or those given privately. For college prep students, art wasn’t even an option as an elective in high school, although I can’t for the life of me remember why not. The school offered art classes, but seemed to reserve those for non-college-bound students. Instead, our electives tended to be things that would either help us succeed in college or that were musically or theatrically oriented–band, orchestra, drama. Some electives were preselected for certain students–the school newspaper, the yearbook committee. But I really don’t recall the physical arts as being part of our offerings.
And so I missed my chances at becoming a better drawer or photographer, as did many other Boomers who attended city schools. That is one of the main reasons so many of us, as we approach retirement or are in retirement (or are pretty much unemployed, like myself, with retirement looming before the year is out).
Personally, I think it is remarkable that people who have not seen each other in many years–especially those of us who live so far away from our home towns and no longer have family to stay with–are able to keep in touch and support each other’s efforts through social media and share the progress we are making on things we only dreamed of taking up in our youth. When we graduated from high school, computers were used only by the biggest businesses and institutions. Our high school had a computerized grading system, but I am certain that the computer was not “on site” and that information was sent out (probably to the school district offices or the state department of education) and reports were sent back. During my own teaching days, personal computers–nothing like what we have in our homes now–came out after I had already been teaching for more than 10 years. I took a teacher training class on a computer that was so slow that today’s kids would use it only as a door stop–except that it was too big and ugly and heavy to be aesthetic enough to please even the least aware young person. But I fell in love with the things, dropped out of teaching, and went into computers for a ten years, working on mainframes for large companies in the greater New York metropolitan area. By the time I was ready to learn to program personal-sized computers, I had remarried and moved across the country, where the whole world of computing was so different that I went back to teaching.
I’ve remained in education in one capacity or another ever since, but have only recently started taking up art forms. Even my drawing lessons were predicated on a theory about educating both sides of the brain, either for people recovering from stroke or the loss of a dominant writing hand, or for students with special needs who might benefit from learning to become ambidextrous.
But back to my original problem: Are my friends being supportive, or are they afraid to give their actual thoughts? I’ll never know, and wonder how much I care. Feedback of any kind is supportive, even if positive critique is even more important. I’m finding that as I develop my creative writing skills. Whether taking a course online or in a classroom, writing students are as reluctant to share positive or constructive criticism, too. It’s not like being with your best friend who tells you exactly what they feel and have no guilt about telling you the absolute truth. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started a small writers-in-training group, with the help of WordPress, for those of us who were feeling we were not getting the level of feedback we wanted from other participants. On the other hand, there were about 130 students enrolled in an intense one-month class of writing, and no one could get to reading more than five people’s submissions per day, with or without honest and constructive and positive feedback. Even in the small group, only two of the five or six participants are actually giving “real” feedback.
Should I expect more from my friends on Facebook than I get in the writing group? No. I should not. My friends want to be supportive, not critical, and–although I am much more likely to be the one to give a different opinion–I have tried to respond with either a “like” or a positive or otherwise very supportive comment. We are all flawed beings, no matter how wonderful we believe ourselves to be, and we each are involved in those things that are meaningful to us, whether we are doing a “great job” or a mediocre one. Each of us is living one day at a time, especially at our time of life. Why spoil things by being critical?
Happy Mothers Day to all who are mothers, step-mothers, mothers to furry or feathered “children,” surrogate or substitute mothers, caregivers, aunts, grandmothers–any woman who plays a nurturing role in the life of someone in need. You are my heroes.
Mothers Day has not been easy for me for several years. My daughter never called or sent a card or eCard in all the years she lived away from me. For whatever reason, she felt that it was my duty to call her on all holidays, and she never felt the necessity of calling or sending a card on my birthday or on Mothers Day. About two years ago, I felt it was no longer my responsibility to call my daughter on my day. I used to send her flowers for the sole reason that she was the original reason for my becoming a mother to begin with; then I sent her flowers because she was a mother herself. This year, I stopped.
For the past two or three years, my son has not bothered to call on any occasion, either. Whether it was because he was too busy with whatever was going on in his life, or because he had stopped caring, I don’t know. I understand why he would not call this year–his wife and I had somewhat of a falling out after I visited them last year, and she had offered to help me rebuild my professional web site. I think that she had erred and accidentally taken it down; then didn’t want to admit that she had done that and didn’t know how to fix it. Since she is a professional in the web building area, apparently, and had me purchase a new site for her to do her development work, it never dawned on me that she would ruin the existing site before building the new one on the “development” site. But that was an assumption I had made from the ten years I had spent as a programmer analyst on large main-frame computers for some pretty impressive East Coast-based companies. No site ever replaced whatever the executives were currently using until the new site was ready to deploy, with all possible known bugs shaken out. That’s not what young developers are doing, apparently. For them, the site gets taken down and then is replaced–when she gets around to it–with the improved version that is worked up on the development site. That she never told me about her mistake speaks volumes; that she decided to stop work on the site even after wrecking it speaks louder. It took me several months to discover that the site had been destroyed, but I was lucky enough to be able to have GoDaddy, where the site is housed, recover it. But that’s not what started the “fight” between us. It started with another habit young people have gotten into–not reading carefully. She thought I was insulting my son, whom I loved as much as life itself, when I was praising him. Only she never got to the next phrase in the sentence and went what used to called “ape-shit” on me on Facebook. And the tragedy is that, had she read to the end of the sentence, she would have known that I was complimenting my son, not tearing him down. For reasons I won’t go into, I know that she made my son stop following me on Facebook, not to take any of my phone calls to him, and–bottom line–caused an estrangement not only between her and me, but also between my son and me. The funny thing is that although he hadn’t called on my birthdays or Mothers Day for the past several years, he was at least returning my calls when I left him messages. So it was merely one small step to stop returning calls and ignoring texts and emails.
Although I continue to love my daughter very much, our estrangement began when she was either eleven or twelve. For the first time ever, I slapped her across the face for something really nasty that came out of her mouth. She slapped me back harder. I was completely flummoxed and unable to respond. This occurred at my parents’ house where we were living at the time. My mother, who was standing behind me at the time, was–for probably the first time in her life–stunned into silence. It was she who broke the silence among us by saying to me something along the lines of, “Aren’t you going to do anything about that?” It seems a bit strange to me that, although I can picture the exact scene perfectly as though it happened a moment ago–my son at the railing of the top step to the lower level of the “split level” staircase to my right, my mother behind me, my daughter one step above me on the rest of the staircase at the edge of the living room, with the kitchen doorway (no door, just a portion of wall delineating the it from the living room area); the walls a pale green that my mother was especially fond of even if it was too close to the institutional green of my elementary school and junior high, the thick dark green carpet of the living room and lower stairs, the wood of the stairs moving to the bedroom level–I cannot remember any of the words, not even the reason for the initial slap by me. My daughter has always had a mouth on her, so there was nothing unique about what she said that brought on my slap, or I would have remembered it, I’m sure. I remember my mother making a comment that I paraphrased above. I remember my son staring at the scene in total disbelief. I remember that my daughter had her eyes locked on me with a raging fire and the stubbornness that was worse than the combination of her father, me, and her brother all put together. I remember no longer being angry or hurt by her physical response. I also remember that this event marked the end of my relationship with my daughter. There was no guilt in her eyes or face. There was no sense that there was then or has since been any remorse for the action. I remember that my anger ceased, but the relationship of mother and daughter tore irreparably. And so, when she did not initiate calls on my birthday, Mothers Day, or any other holiday such as Christmas, it was no big surprise to me.
A few years later, my second husband and I were married and, because my job seemed more portable at the time than his, my son and I moved to Northern California. Amy, thinking she was still in control with that two-year-old slap, thought she could force me to stay in New Jersey by refusing to come with us, and stating her desire to live with her father. She was thirteen at the time, so no judge in either state would have forced her to move with me. I didn’t have the money to go to court anyway, so I simply agreed. I didn’t put up an argument, but told her clearly that she was welcome to change her mind and come with us. Her response to my refusal to be blackmailed by her left her angrier still. During the entire interim period between slap and statement that she would move in with her father, not a single word of apology for slapping her mother ever came from her lips. Not a single action indicated any confusion or remorse. In fact, she had become so haughty about what she believed to be her upperhandedness probably caught her off guard when I simply wished her well in leaving the household.
My son knew how I felt. He missed his sister very much, and knew that I had been badly hurt by the incident two years earlier. At the age of 10, he had more compassion than most people his age, especially boys. I don’t know to this day which of us was hurt more by her decision. I believe he never talked to her about it, just as I had been unable to say a word. For the first time in my life, I had felt a depression that I knew would last for a very long time. And when we moved to California and I realized that my husband was married to his job and not to me or family, it just made things worse.
Perhaps that’s why my son has chosen to stop communicating with me. It may have been something that was coming anyway for many years. When I visited them last year–when they married each other for the second time–I rejoiced that he was happy. He was saddened by the fact that I was in the process of terminating the marriage in which he grew up, but offered me a place to live if I needed it. When I returned home to the island, my husband and I reconciled. He would never change–he would always be married to his job–but that was less of a problem for me when I came home.
After finally leaving my son’s home without information that I had been waiting for from my daughter, I spent about a week and a half with her until she basically threw me out. She made accusations that were untrue and based on her own biased perceptions; I found that I could not stay under her roof before my flight left in a few days. I was going to stay in a hotel, but my sister opened her home to me for those last few days.
That was another mistake. My sister is almost twelve years younger than I am, and my mother lives with them. I was surprised when I first saw my brother-in-law along for a few minutes that the first words out of his mouth was that my mother had no money. I don’t care about whether or not my mother has any money. I don’t care if she provided them with funds to purchase a house that they quickly found themselves unable to afford. I don’t are that it is my son-in-law who basically deals with my mother, and that my sister feels free to do perfectly well with as little interaction with her as possible. They were able to provide her with a home when she needed it, after selling her house, losing a great deal of her pension and house sale invested profits in the financial bubble that halved my IRA which never recovered. My mother and I were never as close as we should have been. When my sister was born, my mother literally pushed me away and “gave” me to my father as his responsibility so long as I did everything her way. My mother has been extremely depressed since I’ve known her. I remember the severe spanking I received when I was about seven or eight and “played” with her light green and dark green capsules from her doctor–what I much later learned was some sort of sedative that helped her get through her days and her life. So while my father, who worked the second shift and was only around on weekends, drank himself into stupors each weekend, my mother happily subsisted on pills that, when she stopped taking them after I graduated from college, made her into a character worse than Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, I went off and married the first person who showed me any kindness and love. My mother favored my sister but played the mother game of getting me to my high school All-County Orchestra recitals. She hated the idea of opening her home to me not once but twice after I divorced my first husband–in between, I bought a small house just outside of Trenton, New Jersey, which I found I could not continue to afford when the children’s father refused to reveal his true income in court and paid the absolute minimum for child support. It was my father who over-ruled her, especially the second time. He loved my sister very much–she was his daughter–but he didn’t know her as well as he knew me because my mother so jealously guarded her influence over my sister. I was forced to rent out the house and move back in with them, even when both children begged me not to because they feared my mother so much. And I was blind to her negativity toward both of them when I was at work. They never explained, just didn’t want to go back. Yet my daughter was already turning into the princess her paternal grandparents made her into. And she could not manipulate my mother the way she could her other grandmother.
It was years after I was married to Joe that my son, Josh, explained the situation with my mother to me. I was stunned. But no matter what, she was my mother, and I was raised by my father to love her above all other women. That their own marriage was tragic was something I had learned when I was very young–maybe five or six years old. It seems to me that Josh knew my marriage was in trouble long before my visit last summer. He knew it while he was too young to do anything about it, and, I think, ran away in his mind to a better place. I think he blamed the marriage problems on me–I had expectations of a partner that I still do not believe are unrealistic. But Joe, who ran away in his own mind at a very young age from his own family and didn’t even know his mother’s birthday when we married, would forever be like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, and I would forever be closer to the Bernadette character than to the Amy or Penny characters. Josh saw the negatives and had no control, but then neither did I, except to leave. And by the time that realization came to me, my father had died and I had no place to leave to.
My son was completely surprised when Joe and I reconciled when I returned home to the island. Maybe that was part of the reason he stopped all communication. Or maybe he simply believed what his wife had said and decided to distance himself completely. The fact is, I don’t know, will never know, and no longer care what the difficulties are with my children. I have tried to reach out to both of them many times, and finally gave up. My New Year’s resolution was to stop caring. This was after four months of severe illness that neither my children nor my sister cared about. That all of them call themselves very Christian or very devout in their Christian faiths has made me realize just how few real people in this world live with a sense of morality that deserves to call themselves followers of Christ or Gandhi or Confucius or any other person who embraced people for who they are and not for what they could give them. The ability to quote the Bible or the Koran or whatever religious books are holy to one’s faith does not make a person good, bad, or indifferent. It is how one lives one’s life that matters. I have many friends who feel the way I feel, both back in the States and here on the island. I love them more than I can express. They can give me nothing but a shoulder or a reminder of my own way in the world. But they are there for me in ways that my family can never be.
So my children ignore their own mother on Mothers Day. They do the same on my birthday, at Christmas and New Year’s, and at any other family time. I have one granddaughter who has not excommunicated me from her Facebook friends list, but probably should, as that final argument with my daughter involved her in ways that were not meant to be. My daughter is an angry woman. My son is gone for reasons unknown. It no longer matters to me, as I continue my life in a manner than is best for me. Although my husband–who cannot be bothered to wear his hearing aids at home–and is very opinionated on far too many things argues with me over every little detail of our lives together, I’ve grown to understand a lot about him over the years. He does not understand why the pets protect me and not him, hang out around me when I am home more than with him, actually come when I call–even the cat!–and retire with me when I begin to fall asleep, or stay downstairs with me during my sleepless nights instead of going up to the bedroom with him. He doesn’t understand why I am much more tolerant of island life than he can possibly be–yes, I would love for life here to be more as it is back home, but this is a different culture and requires a different level of understanding than he can manage. But he also does not understand how he is directly responsible for many of my ailments, that my right thumb has weakened my hand because he was responsible for tearing my tendon, that I cannot find work because I was unable to find any with the doctoral degree that he forced upon me because he would not “allow” me to live away from him for two years to get the degree that would have guaranteed me work no matter where I moved…
On this Mothers Day, I can claim an independence that my husband has balked at for the past year. I have learned to completely ignore him when he has his hissy fits and have learned to either out-wait his adult versions of sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming, “La la la la la. I can’t hear you!” I don’t care enough about his behaviors to pay him much heed. I merely wait for him to become silent and tell him how his behavior is childish. He argues but I stop listening–without putting my fingers in my ears literally or figuratively. I manage whatever money I can to the best of my ability, to take back what he owes me and to save for the future.
On this Mothers Day, I also claim my independence from children who prefer their father to me, and that’s OK. They complain bitterly to me about their step-mother, but it is their father–who has more financial resources and living accommodations to share with them than I can hope to have in this marriage–to whom they turn for everything they need that is beyond their means or when they are at the end of their ropes. It is unfortunate that the grandchildren have been lost to me, too. But that’s the way my children operate. I at least get photographs of my son’s natural sons from their mother, so I can keep up with what they are doing. On occasion, my daughter’s elder daughter “allows” a post to come my way on Facebook, and she is growing into a fine young woman. But as of today–more like as of last summer–communication with grandchildren has also come to an end, for the most part. I spent the past year reconciling myself to this situation and can honestly say that I’m OK with all of it. I have learned to breathe. I have learned to do those things that I find beneficial to me. I have started writing more, taking drawing lessons, involving myself in a business that I probably won’t do well in but that should provide me with enough business sense to try something new. I take the time to see friends on the island. I take time to call people I haven’t seen for a while, or at least communicate with them privately through Messenger or private chats on Facebook. I am not completely alone. And if I die before my children talk to me, it is not I who will care. I have made efforts at reconciliation between last summer and this past week, all of which have been rebuffed. I won’t be the one wishing when I am in my sixties that I could talk to my mother, because I did so earlier today and do so at least once a month, despite the fact that she has hurt me in ways that my children will never begin to understand. She is still my mother, and no matter what she has done or not done for me in the past, she gave me life and deserves my respect and gratitude for at least that. When she finally dies, I will not be wishing I had had one final opportunity to tell her I love her for what she was capable of giving. I took the time to visit my father months before he died because he had a condition that would take him any time without warning. We said our good-byes at the time, and I had closure. My monthly call to my mother–who will probably outlive me anyway–allows me to have that same sense of closure. My children won’t have that, and I do not envy them.
In two hours, we are meeting two other women at a local restaurant to celebrate Mothers Day. Today does not go uncelebrated by me. I will soon pick up the telephone and all my sister-in-law, who, although younger than her brother, has taken on the role of his mother. I will wish her a happy Mothers Day for that and for the gift of her daughter, my niece, who was raised to respect her absent-minded uncle and crazy aunt, as well as her various paternal relatives. I’ve sent personal Mothers Day greetings to women who are mothers, and who are my friends. I have a few more to send out, but not many. I can get all that done before our outing at a restaurant next door at the casino. Island life. I celebrate it as much as I celebrate today…
Happy Mothers Day to all the loving women in my life.