Inevitability…

Tuesday…when did the week decide to just stop?  For all intents and purposes, yes, the calendar says it is AND should be Tuesday, but I’m so ready for Friday morning it’s not even funny…

As I sit at home answering phones and processing information, everyone in our extended family is basically waiting for “the natural course of events.”  On the one hand, Dada’s father is not doing well, and “the natural course of events” has come up in every conversation Dada and his brothers have had with the doctors.  On the other hand, my father had a brief shining moment of apparent rallying recovery, and now has stalled and then slipped.  “The natural course of events” has been discussed on that front, too.

In Spanish we refer to this as “compás de espera;” I guess this is translated into the rhythm or beat of waiting.  I compare it to a low thrumming note that is the harbinger of others, the prelude that causes anticipation or, in this particular case, anxiety.  No one, other than J, has been getting enough sleep around here…either we’re tossing and turning, or we’re completely awake, or we’re awakened by the phone ringing in the middle of the night.

One of the best things about my relationship with Dada is that, after a long time knowing each other and being a couple, we can talk for hours on end without getting tired.  We don’t just talk about our household issues, the kids, our lives…we talk about anything and everything.  I’ve sat up in bed in the middle of the night and shaken him awake merely to ask “if Aquaman lives under water, and his home is that big bubble…how does he go to the bathroom????”  He has entered a room, plopped down on a chair and said “Monet’s Sunflowers…Van Gogh’s Sunflowers; they’re SUNFLOWERS…why do you like one better than the other?  What gives?”  We’ve discussed world affairs, the cluelessness of a Grammy for Best New Artist going to A Taste of Honey rather than Elvis Costello, our love of old maps, the pros and cons of progress, what contributed to his chicken-scratch handwriting and to my excruciatingly neat one, how Obi Wan Kenobi knows how to disable the Death Star’s tractor beam to allow the Millennium Falcon to escape, who is the best Dr. Who, the evolution of the Republican Party, the Johnstown Flood and the Galveston hurricane, and Napoleon’s entire military strategy at length…  That we suddenly find ourselves deeply entrenched in a culture of “the natural course of things” for every single conversation, punctuated here and there by “geez, I really miss you,” is a sign that the situation is a lot more serious than usual.

“Did you eat?,” “did you sleep?,” “how’s your dad?,” “what do the doctors say?,” “how’s everyone holding up?,” “how are YOU doing?”  All these things dominate our interactions over the phone.  We both wish that we could be with the other to help in this time of anxiety and concern.  The only place we can do that is at home, and -right now- Dada needs to be where he is, and I’m needed where I am.  This is the part of the marriage vows that no one mentions: sickness and health might not happen in the same place at the same time, and you’ll have to deal with that when it happens.

The first time I managed to get Dada to notice me, I was fifteen years old, weighed maybe a little over a hundred pounds, and had a lifetime ahead of me.  My notions of romantic love -beautiful though they were- didn’t really include the fact that we’d possibly experience individual loss that we’d have to see each other through.  We were old and mature enough when we said “I do” that we knew every bed of roses will have thorns and ladybugs and aphids unless it is massively tampered with…and we were ok with the bed of roses au naturel.

These past few weeks have gone a long way to remind us that we are heading in the same direction our parents have traveled.  We are no longer the kids that sat on a couch and realized they wanted to talk to each other about everything for a long, long time.  We’ve had to sit our own kids down to talk about the natural course of events, and we’ve had to explain that we are getting closer and closer to the time when this applies to us.

We live in a household where helping someone take a bath, have a shave, go to the bathroom, remember what day it is, remembering med-time is not a stretch at all.  That we live in that world all the time doesn’t mean that Dada has had an easy time of seeing his dad needing the kind of assistance that is par for the course with J.  The geographical distance allows for the illusion that the person we remember from the last visit is the one we will find when we go back.  Just like we sometimes don’t notice how slim J is in comparison with same time last year until something grabs our attention and helps us SEE, an encounter with an elderly parent that has begun a steady and relentless decline can be a sobering event.

Is it wrong?  Is it completely wrong to want to accept the most recent image in memory as the one we will keep?  The last time I saw my dad in the same room with us, he was arguing in favor of opening a bottle of wine at 10 a.m. because “that’s what his ancestors did in Italy.”  That’s the image I have superimposed on the one of him in the ICU with tubes and monitors, and the grimness of his decision to not be resuscitated the next time he has a crisis.  Dada now has a new slide in place of the one he had from two summers ago, and I can tell (because his voice, his speech patterns, and his tone are so well-known to me) that he can’t go back (hard as he may try) to the more vital, more energized, more youthful and alive slide of his dad…

As we come to terms with this, we see TGG coming to terms with two different passages: his grandfathers are all getting ready to exeunt, stage side to be determined, and his parents are moving up to a new level of aging.  Because he cannot travel again in a while, he sent a note to my father via his wife, so she can read it to him, and maybe understand what his grandson is saying.  I get hugged a lot lately.  I get hugged a lot guerrilla style.  I am in the middle of washing potatoes for dinner, and two arms who used to only be able to grip my legs in their embrace, engulf me and potatoes drop into the sink and I need to catch my breath.

It’s only Tuesday…time seems to have stopped.  It’s already Tuesday, and time is just flying by…  That is, after all, the natural course of events, isn’t it?

From bad to worse to middling to meh…

In Dada’s own words: “I thought 2013 had some pretty nasty qualities to it, but 2014 is kicking its ass…”

Once more we are reduced to three inhabitants for a short period of time, and J didn’t really let it sink in until dinnertime last night.  During the day on a Sunday, the argument can be made that Dada is getting some work done at the office, or that he and TGG went somewhere together.  By dinnertime (a sacrosanct time around these parts,) it’s obvious that one of us is gone from the table, and that’s that…  Even if TGG is not having dinner with us because he’s out on a date, with his friends, working, or whatever, there is a plate left out.  Last night the chicken parmesan was distributed among three plates, and three plates only.  It was seven P.M.

J started roll call right then and there.

He didn’t really stop calling roll until we finished our reading of Where The Wild Things Are.  It was 10:30 P.M.

During those three-and-a-half hours, we looked at the PECS board (where Dada’s smiling face is neatly laminated and firmly velcro-ed to Friday,) at the map (showing where we are and where HE is,) and at the Proloquo2Go.

This morning went better.  We looked at the board again, I reminded him that it is Monday, and then he counted the days between today and Dada’s face.  I admit I am missing Dada a much as J, and sleep has pretty much eluded me since last Saturday so this disruption in our usual general family routine isn’t helping.  Dada flies in on Thursday, but the drive from the airport will take long enough that J should be asleep when he arrives.  To stave off the anxiety of waiting for him on Thursday, I’ve made the executive decision of putting Dada’s PECS at the bottom of the board on Friday…

The phone continues to ring throughout the day with updates, questions, reminders…  I only truly jump if it’s after 11 P.M. or before 5 a.m.; calls during the day have become par for the course, but I won’t go so far as to say that I will miss them when they stop.  The new normal includes a constant ringing outside, as well as inside, my ears.

I grew up in the days when Caller ID was a pipe dream.  Answering machines were non-existent.  Call waiting?  HA!  If no one was home when someone called, the phone rang and rang, and they had to call again.  If you weren’t home and someone was there, you relied on checking the space next to the telephone to see if there were messages jotted down for you.  If someone called and you were on the line, they got a busy signal.  If you were out and about, and you needed to make a call, you had to dig for change and use a pay phone.  Now people look at you funny if you don’t have a cell phone, if you don’t have your voice mail set up, if you didn’t already KNOW it was them because you don’t have caller ID, or if they get a busy signal because you don’t have Call Waiting.

On Tuesday Dada and I had to rush to the store to get a cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone because our old pay-as-you-go cell phone has become obsolete enough that I couldn’t manage to get it to work with any pay-as-you-go company.  Of course, the frantic pace of travel preparations didn’t help.  We have had so many things going lately that I’ve determined some battles are just not worth fighting.  Before I resorted to losing my cool over an old cell phone, I decided to be mature and just go get another one…

TGG took ownership of activating and loading that phone, putting all the contact numbers and what not in there.  I had taken ownership of renting cars and such, and THAT went horribly awry through no fault of my own.  It seems that the more connected, and the simpler things are made by doing them online, the more glitches and unexpected mishaps come to pass.  Yesterday morning, bleary eyed and sleep deprived, I had to call TWO airport shuttle companies in quick succession.  The first botched my request to the point where they charged me for a ride from the wrong airport (oops!  We don’t have availability from the one you requested…so-rry!!!!!) and will refund the money in three to seven business days, and the second one solved my problem for half the price in half the time prompting a deluge of gratitude that might have included angels singing in heaven, happy tears, and a wish for eternal happiness and the big prize in the lottery.

Looking back, I don’t know how my family managed to travel when I was younger.  Granted, it was not Pterodactyl Air, but it can’t have been easy to make all the arrangements necessary for hotels, visas, passports, plane tickets in the days of “we have to do this by phone.”  I used to love going to the travel agency, looking at the posters, having the plastic pouch handed over with plane tickets and such…  I remember the hassle of going to the bank to acquire traveler’s cheques…  I remember how important it all seemed, and how they’d give us pillows, magazines, playing cards, and so forth…  I remember that you got a meal, or a nice snack during shorter flights.  It was all so sophisticated, and it involved a bit of a promise of leisure, of suspended disbelief and the real world far, far away.

Travel these days is the complete opposite.  Your phone can ring right up until they tell you to put in Airplane Mode, and you’re getting absolutely nothing (not even leg room) from the airline.  Your plane tickets are printed at home; you get confirmation e-mails for everything, and no one looks like they might relax at any point during the flight, or when they arrive at their destination.

Yes, we miss Dada and we can’t wait ’til he’s home.  Yes, we are stressed out and anxious under the shiny layer of routine we are firmly adhered to, and we are -like the proverbial paddling ducks- keeping the efforts on the down low so the glide across the week looks seamless to the casual observer.  We know he’s not having fun, and we feel for him…there’s a lot of phone ringing going on everywhere these days…

And that’s Monday morning…

 

 

You know those spikes in activity????? Yeah, about that…

In this household, when poop hits the fan it’s not necessarily locally.  That is: crises taking place thousands of miles away tend to find their way to us, and we become some sort of mission control but not quite.  What we do doesn’t carry any strategic importance; we’re more of a clearinghouse for information.

I suppose this is because I come across as a very levelheaded person. For some reason people think I’m like Mr. Spock about pointy ears, which isn’t really a good look for me anyway. I thought structure is nothing like Zachary Quinto’s or Leonard Nimoy’s so I couldn’t quite pull those off. The reasonable attitude I tend to assume when disaster strikes makes people think that I can keep my cool when others don’t. Even though I feel like I should be panicking it doesn’t seem right to do so and I suck it up, and I keep going.

Summer seemed to be clipping along at a lovely pace, and then things started going wrong. Sometimes when we complain about things that are not going quite as we wanted we fail to realize that they can always be much much worse. With an unexpected trip scheduled for the beginning of July, in a planned one at the end of the month, anything cropping up in between would prove disruptive.

My father has had major medical emergency. Because my stepmother and I are very close and my stepsiblings trust me, I got the call and have to share that is the rest of a very dysfunctional family on Saturday night. In every household there is some situation that requires diplomacy, and I seem to excel at being the kind of suck-up back that juggles diplomacy like balls on fire.  Or maybe it’s just that I know I have to keep cool for J’s sake, that makes me the perfect recipient and conveyor of news, bad news.

So because of this reason I have been in contact with more relatives in one weekend and I have been in 20 years. My theme song should be” sit down you’re rocking the boat.” Somewhere along the way my feelings get lost in the shuffle. On Sunday morning I was so agitated by all the news I had given and received that a nice shot of orange-blossom water was needed. I remember many years ago, when emergencies catastrophes and chaos and find their way to my aunt’s front door, orange-blossom water would come out first, followed by scotch later.

It’s not easy to keep J calm in the middle of a flurry, nay a barrage, of phone calls. TGG was no picnic either. But day after day, parents all over the world keep cool heads for the sake of their children. I don’t think we’ve invented rocket science, but we definitely keep tweaking it.

Now for happier news: J’s new iPad arrived yesterday, and I put all his apps and music in it already. The crappy news is that the operating system looks different to him and he is not used to it yet. Dada inherited the old iPad, and did his best impression of a little kid on Christmas morning. It took me a while to teach him how to use all the bits and bobs in it, but I’m sure he will figure it out before leaving on his trip Sunday morning. The need for a camera has disappeared with the iPad, and as long as he has Wi-Fi he can message us.

J knows something has happened, and that there is an added layer of stress in our everyday life. While we can’t help him knowing about these things, we do our best to keep things balanced emotionally for him. Because it also helps me, we work on different things at different times of day. TGG still takes him the gym in the evenings, and I am happy to report that J is below the 245 pound mark. While flies may fall in the ointment, picking them out with tweezers is not that difficult. Granted, the ointment may have had a fly in it, but this can be overlooked -to a degree-if it’s good ointment. As far as I’m concerned, the benefits of this salve outweigh the presence of flies.

We have an abundance of squashes of all kinds; cucumbers are coming fast and furious now. The corn is getting plumper, and we will soon have potatoes to harvest. We have not been wanting for rain, and summer has been more gentle than other years. While our Roma tomatoes seem to be suffering from a catastrophic case of butt-rot (a condition not officially recognized by any college-educated farmer I know,) our cherry tomatoes are going to gangbusters. The herbs are doing great and we can’t complain about the spinach and Swiss chard. All in all, the garden has been a huge success, and it is helping with the stress that comes my way went poop hits the fan.

In other news, Miss Zelda and Miss Pipa are, for the time being and the foreseeable future, confined indoors. Saturday afternoon we witnessed rather friendly fox following Miss Zelda home. It seems unbelievable that a cat who fears birds wouldn’t be fazed when being chased home by a fox, but -Miss Zelda being the cat we all know and love in spite of her cluelessness- she kept turning back to see if her friend would come closer. The fox was bold, and we know she probably lives nearby so the felines will stay home until there are no more sightings of this new “friend.”

That is what I have been up to, and it sounds worse than it really is but then again it doesn’t. My father and I have not spoken in a long time; this is an unusual state of affairs for us, and I am riddled with guilt because the stubbornness I inherited from him has been such a prominent factor in our estrangement. He is conscious and improving, but taking into car consideration his age and the magnitude of the incident that befell him, only cautious optimism is prudent.

If I take a few days to come back and say anything else about our everyday life, please forgive me. Just when you think you can’t come up with any story to tell, Life starts throwing stories wrapped in rocks, and you get distracted from the narratives of the quotidian. This is all for now. Rest assured things are not boring around here, and sooner or later you will hear all about it.

 

Return to Pin-Up Central…

The first thing TGG noticed when he walked into J’s room were the pin-ups.  Girls, girls, girls everywhere.  The next thing he noticed was how very slowly, deliberately J was putting his clean clothes away while smiling from ear to ear.  “Do I even want to know where these came from?,” TGG asked.  “Barnes and Noble…clearance bin…J wanted them…,” I replied while searching the hallway closet for another tube of toothpaste.  “And the Disney Princesses?,” TGG asked, his head slightly tilted to the side as he looked at the pencil sketches on the poster we put next to Kate Upton’s Sports Illustrated cover from a couple of years ago.  “That he found at the crafts’ store; he likes it,” I said while trying to decide whether I wanted the one with baking soda, or the one that whitens teeth.  “I get it.  I totally get it,” TGG said to a smiling J, who stopped what he was doing to look at the women (animated and otherwise) on his wall.

“You’ve got Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop!,” I called out as I made my way to the bathroom.  “I KNOW!!!!!!!!,” TGG replied.  “I was simply admiring my younger brother’s more sophisticated taste…and his eclectic display of Disney Princesses and Swimsuit Issue girls. I admire his sense of balance!!!”

TGG must’ve lingered a little longer than J wanted because I heard a polite (and loud) BYE!, and the door closed quietly.  It wasn’t that, after waiting since Thursday morning, J wasn’t happy to see his brother, but the prolonged perusal of J’s gallery was not exactly to his liking.  Boundaries…TGG doesn’t mind J in his room, but likes his space to himself, and J, of course, is the same.

The reunion between brothers was, if you didn’t know J better, totally heartwarming.  To the outside, uninformed observer, J didn’t much care for TGG’s return; to us, who know him well, the sound of J’s voice asking TGG for the Bus Song, and the muffled singing that resulted from the hug TGG got when he sat next to his brother told us a whole other story.  J was happy; J felt the house was in balance again.

In the past, J has sat on top of TGG when TGG has returned home from something as brief as a sleepover at a friend’s house.  TGG’s senior trip to NYC was a test of our patience…and the neighbors’ patience…and his summer school teacher’s patience…  Five years later, J missed TGG, but he believed us when we told him he’d be back on Sunday, and he was willing to listen when we counted the days, and reminded him of how much time was left to TGG’s absence.

The weekend was entertaining for J.  We made sure he had plenty of things to do, and the weather helped quite a bit.  We went for walks in the evenings, and worked in the garden during the cooler hours of the day.  On Friday we took some poppers with us while we walked in the twilight, and J enjoyed throwing them on the gravel and hearing them snap.  When the whole box was spent, we came inside and ate vanilla ice cream, and J was happy listening to the woodpeckers as they got ready to turn in for the night.

Saturday morning was spent in town, and J did the usual rounds at the library, and then asked to go to the store to replenish his snack inventory.  Yesterday morning we went to the bookstore, then for a walk, then did laundry, and at 2 PM J asked for TGG.  SUNDAY, he said; BROTHER!  Yes, we told him…your brother is getting on his flight right now, and he will be home by 8 PM tonight.  We showed him the flight tracker on the airline’s website, and we put a timer for six hours, even though we hoped that TGG would be home by seven.  We accounted, of course, for traffic returning from the long holiday weekend, and we reminded J that he had to wait patiently.

TGG arrived at home earlier than we had hoped, and made his way to the basement to find his brother.   We sat on the couch quietly, wanting to savor the moment when J’s anxiety over his brother’s absence would dissipate.  It was a very satisfying moment, and J was excited about the t-shirt that TGG bought for him, and the treats his aunt and uncle sent for him.  Bouncing up the stairs, he led TGG to the schedule board to remove the TGG’s picture; then he bounced back down the stairs, grabbed a basket of laundry, and led his brother to his gallery of women…

I suppose, in a way, it was J saying “hey, I know you went to museums, the zoo, saw fireworks, watched soccer…but I did stuff, too!  I missed you!!!!!”  There was no sitting on TGG; there was no following him around.  There was no constant repetition of BROTHER.  There was just the certainty that his workout buddy, his next-door neighbor, the dude with the smaller car and the cooler attitude, the other young person in the household had finally returned.  Dinner was a happy affair, and when J was done, he casually walked by and softly clapped his brother on the shoulder.

Monday has progressed into the afternoon hours, and J hasn’t asked for his brother at all because he knows what the drill is: he’ll walk in shortly before 5, then they’ll go to the gym, and then the rest of the day will dissolve as usual.

Life is good.  J has learned what many of us don’t achieve until much later in life: patient anticipation.  What more can one ask for?  Really?

 

 

The long weekend made longer…

TGG is away for the weekend.  He left yesterday morning for work, and then drove to the airport in the afternoon to catch an early evening flight to Texas.  We expect him home sometime around 8 PM on Sunday.  J knows TGG is away, but this doesn’t mean he hasn’t asked for him almost constantly since 6 PM last night, right before we took him out to dinner.

Modern conveniences make it possible for TGG to call J iPad from his iPhone, and last night we experienced that moment when J sees his brother, live and in color, in an entirely different location.  To say that it was strange is an understatement.  We had to repeat where TGG is, what he is doing there and when he’ll be back more than several times before J finally petered out.

We petered out shortly after he did.  The day had been long for more reasons than one.  The day before a long weekend is always hectic at work, and J had endured a rather difficult morning on Wednesday so yesterday was a re-focusing day for him.

Wednesday was a day of overstimulation and reaction.  Right off the bat, J had to wait for the bus while a large cement idled in the driveway.  After fifteen minutes of this, the classmate that took to screaming on the way to school proved to be too much for J to bear.

While the meltdown was short-lived, it was a meltdown nonetheless.  I heard through the driver that regularly transports him during the regular school year, and I was ready to acknowledge the situation when J came home.  He seemed relieved to know that I understood what had happened once I recounted the whole cement-truck incident, and explained that a screaming classmate in a small space while the engine roared wasn’t necessarily something I’d react to gracefully.

We tried to prepare for TGG’s trip as much on the casual down-low as we could, but we didn’t exactly hide from J that TGG had plans.  In the morning, as agreed, TGG told J he was going to work, then to the airport, then to Texas, and “I will see you on Sunday.”  Of course, the boy who consistently forgets his colors would forget what TGG said almost immediately.

Our strategy has been simple.  We repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat where TGG is and when he’ll be back.  We’ve put TGG’s photo up on the PECS schedule for Sunday evening, and we are ready to take FaceTime calls from TGG in the evenings so J can see that his brother hasn’t completely disappeared.  Putting a pin on the map showing where TGG is and tying a thread from that pin to the pin that marks where we are has helped also.

Well…

5:30 a.m.

Somewhere under the many layers of my sleeping mind, I think I hear Captain Queeg’s steel ball bearings clicking.  The realization that what I hear in the darkened doorway is Slinky dawns on me…

J:  BROTHER???

US:  He’s in Texas. Back on Sunday. Go to bed.  (Muffled, of course, by pillows, blankets and sleepiness.)

J shuffles back to his room, and we see the light turn off.

5:32 a.m.

J:  BROTHER??? COFFEE???

US:  He’s in Texas; back on Sunday. (A quick round of ‘rock paper scissors lizard Spock.’  I lose.)

ME:  I’ll put a timer for the coffee.  (I stumble over a cat, trip over my own feet, almost walk into the door frame, drag my way to J’s bedroom.)

During the time it takes for the iPad to turn on (which is, by the way, a lot longer than one would hope at such an ungodly hour):

J:  BROTHER??? COFFEE??? BROTHER??? COFFEE???

ME:  We’ll have coffee on Sunday in Texas; your brother yeah yeah yeah…coffee…Texas…brother…Sunday…go back to bed.  ( I could have been more patient, but I forgot my glasses, was only illuminated by the iPad screen, and was trying to do Math to determine how long I should set the timer for…)

As I walk back to my room after closing J’s door:

J:  BROTHER??? COFFEE??? BROTHER??? COFFEE???

ME:  Sunday. Later. Sunday. Later.  

I close our bedroom door behind me, and walk towards the bed.  I realize J WILL open the door.  I turn back and lock it.  I know he can easily undo the lock with his nail, but I hope he will realize this is a “boundary.”  I try to find my spot in bed, but Dada seems to have expanded, and two cats are now curled up on my pillow.  My love for animals is less than I imagined.

We manage to doze off in spite of the increasing amount of light filtering through the curtains, and the state of alertness that comes with having been awakened by J at 5:30 on a morning when we hoped he would sleep in…)

6:25 a.m. (Through our closed bedroom door)

J:  COFFEE??? LATER.

He pauses.

J:  BROTHER??? SUNDAY!!!

He pauses again, and I realize this is most definitely NOT over, but my plan of sleeping until seven is toast.

J:  MOVIES????? MOVIES????? MOVIES?????

ME:  Yes, yes, yes, movies…get your movies…  (As I sit up I realize there is one cat on my ankles, and another on my abdomen.)

Dada has a look on his face that tells me “I’m trying to convince you that I am still asleep.”  I poke him gently on the ribs and say “you wanted children…I only gave them to you!”  He groans and opens one eye, smiling that dazzling smile I’m so madly in love with, and sits up in bed.

6:35 a.m.

I’ve found my glasses, removed the cats from the bed, pried Dada from under the blankets, and move towards the door hoping that I will make it down the stairs without a drop of caffeine in my system.  I open bedroom door and find that J has been patiently, and quietly, standing there waiting for me to come out.

J:  MOVIES???  MOVIES!!!  COFFEE???  COFFEE!!! BROTHER??? SUNDAY!!!! MOVIES??? MOVIES!!!

Swiftly, reassured that his day (and ours) is underway, J bounces down the hallway to his bedroom, dissolving into giggles all the way.

Hey, at least we got the BROTHER SUNDAY part down pat…