Friday, September 27, 2013

Eulogy to the living

It's been one of those weeks that I just can't accomplish anything. I swear I have been working from sun-up to sun-down hauling kids to school, folding sheets, trying to get the diarrhea stains out of the carpet (Sukie), the poop out of a beloved flower girl dress (Gage), boiling pasta, covering sourdough with great swaths of peanut butter and folding underwear. Good heavens, the underwear. Where does all the underwear come from? I do NOT bathe my children this often. I folded at least thirty pairs this afternoon and they bathe no more than twice a week. And I do not remember to tell them to change their underwear between baths. I know it hasn't been fifteen weeks since I did laundry. I wish it had been fifteen weeks because then I would not have wasted so much of my life methodically spraying with Shout, soaking with OxiClean, rubbing with Fels-Naptha, daubing with bleach, and line drying. There is a character in the mediocre thrillers by Lee Child that is determined to travel through life so unencumbered that he throws away his clothing rather than launder it. He invariably restocks it at some army surplus store and must look for extra-large shirts because, of course, he is six foot five as any good hero should be. With the amount of overtime Dean works, I am considering taking up this practice. I realize it would be wiser to put it into retirement savings, but the temptation of just throwing away that striped shirt with the greasy feta stain fills me with optimism about life.

And I am low on optimism.

Molly started kindergarten three weeks ago.

She hates it. And I hate it. She just told me that she is trying really hard but she can't stop thinking about it.

Every day, she cries and tells me she doesn't want to go. I have to walk her into the classroom, with her clutching my hand and begging me not to go, and hand her off weeping while I beat a hasty exit at the recommendation of her teacher. Then I look back and see her little blond pony-tailed self, sitting quietly crying in her chair and want to scoop her up and run.

This does not seem right. If it's good for her then why does it make both of us weep? She already knows how to read. She makes friends. She speaks respectfully to adults. She colors in the lines, cuts a straight line, counts to a hundred then by 2s then by 5s, does addition and subtraction. She's done in my opinion. DONE.

Kindergarten is all day every day. She is five-years-old. It gets better most days, but I visited her for lunch one day and she sat and cried and clutched my arm and couldn't eat a bite because her stomach hurt. Her stomach was the one that was hurting but my stomach was the one on fire with a plan to escape.

She has made new friends now and that helps. When she comes flying out of school at the end of the day, she is dirty and stringy-haired and laughing and she just shoves her backpack at me and goes running away to keep playing with one of the many blue-eyed blond little girls that all look alike to me.

I always thought Frankie was the most like me, but Molly is following in the great tradition of psychosomatic symptoms of anxiety about going to school While my sister spent the first day at our elementary school meeting the adorable blond best friend she would keep through high school, I spent the first day of fifth grade at my new elementary school clinging and crying and waiting all day to get back to the safety of my home and a good book and a bowl of Cheerios. My dad always told me I was ninety percent Cheerios.

My dad hasn't said that in a long time.

I find myself saying things about my dad in the past tense.

Life has dealt our family a crappy hand these past few months. I know I'm supposed to look around at all the good things I have, and I see them. I see them all around. I just don't feel like focusing on them right now. I don't think being grateful and being sad are mutually exclusive. I've decided it's okay to delighted with something and feel wretched about another thing. Watching my dad descend into dementia and walking around looking like he's a hundred years old, wracked by pain, is gut-wrenching. I can count my blessings all day long, and I do, but every time he can't figure out the up and down motion of his lift chair I want to punch a hole in the wall.

The worst part is that I am getting used to him being gone.

Sometimes it hits me square in the face and I have to catch my breath that the man I used to turn to for the answers to all my questions is fading. When Dean and I first got married, we went to High Point, North Carolina, the furniture capital of the United States. I remember calling my dad and asking him if the bedroom set we were contemplating buying was a good deal. I waited with bated breath and trusted his advice, more than my new husband's, about solid wood construction before we went ahead and made and offer. A thousand dollars for a bed, two dressers and two nightstands. Every time I look at it I think about how tall and capable and knowledgeable he was and how I never looked at that furniture with regret.

If I needed help with a college paper, he was the person I asked to help make sense of Pragmatism. He was useless in chemistry, worse in physics. But we walked through Philosophy and Bioethics all semester long.

I got so lucky with my dad. Not many daughters can say that when their heart was broken by a college boyfriend that their dad curled up with them and let them cry. But mine did. He even helped me decide that marrying Dean was a good idea. Most dads would have cleared their throats and handed their phones over to their wives, but my dad knew that I would hear "for heaven's sakes, Saskia, I can't tell you whether to marry Dean any more than I can tell you if Hillary Clinton's favorite color is magenta." We were in D.C. at the time, Bill's clothes were under scrutiny. But my dad sat down and told me some things he thought were important for making a marriage last a long time and he didn't seem to think it was crazy that I, a white western educated woman in her twenties, would want to check in before I took the weight of that promise on my finger. Whether that story tells more about me or about him, I don't know. I just know that throughout my life, he's loved me and taken care of me. And it's becoming my turn to take care of him. It's a lot earlier than I though it would be. I thought my grandchildren would be here before I'd have to think about him being gone from Christmas photos.

Sometimes he makes it hard to be as gentle to him as you know he would be to you in the same circumstances. He is riddled with anxiety and asks the same questions over and over again which are never answered to his liking. The whole initial confusion about whether his most recent fracture was bad enough to warrant surgical intervention is still whirling in his mind, though since the fracture got worse, all the surgeons we have consulted have been on the same page: surgery at University of Michigan. My dad feels excluded from the decision and it is terrible to say that he is. Even getting a good history of where and how bad his pain is can be unreliable and my mom and I have to fight the temptation to stand behind him and make the coo-coo twirl near our ears.

It is a terrible thing to watch a mind change and diminish in front of your very eyes. I worked in a nursing home after college and the one thing everyone asked me was "Is it sad?" And it wasn't. It was the hardest physical labor I have ever done, it was relentless and required enormous reserves of kindness and patience, but it wasn't sad. It was funny. It was funny when the preacher's old wife snarled that we were all a bunch of "cabbage assholes." It was sweet when the old dancer from Spain did a little three step with one of the aides. It was funny when the old man with Parkinson's thought you were getting fresh with him when you were giving him a sponge bath. It was sweet when you lay next to an old woman, daughterless, and shared a chocolate together in her hospital bed.

It's only sad when you know who someone was before.

I'm working on finding the joy in who my dad is now. He is still the dad that greets me with "Well, hello, tiny farm. Aren't you looking pretty today." He is still the dad that likes to hear all the antics that the kids have been doing and whose face fills with incredible delight when he hears that the three reasons Susannah refused to sleep last night were 1) her nervousness (newuh-vuh-ness), 2) there was a "a little of chocolate" on her pillow and 3) the crown she made at BSF was a little ripp-ED. He likes when Frankie reads to him. He loves to have a good snack and a tall glass of ice water. He likes when my mom babies him, though he gives her a terrible time about everything. He likes to whisper to me that he worries about her, that it is hard to be taken care of when he is supposed to be taking care of her. He doesn't know that it has been years since he has been taking care of her, that she is a widow in nearly every way.

He is such a good and decent and wonderful man, a faithful husband, a loving father, possessed with a scholar's mind, teacher, preacher, poet, painter. He wrote letters to us in college from the viewpoint and under the nom de plume of the cat, called our babies "some nice kind of sacks of junks" and played the piano on our backs every time we practiced. That thumping on my shoulder blades helped me concentrate. I miss that. I miss that so much.

No comments: