Best Laid Plans

Just on the off chance that you are tone deaf to emotion and didn’t pick up on it in the last two posts, I’ve been kinda down of late. Monday was particularly bad. Tuesday wasn’t shaping up to be much better until I decided to throw caution (and responsibility) to the wind and leave work early to go run.

I was giddy with excitement as I walked to my car. I had great plans. I’d run outdoors for the first time in weeks. It was a beautiful day! And then I’d take a nice long shower before picking up the boys. Hal, from his friend’s house and Daryl, from basketball practice.

But plans – especially happy plans – almost never work out. Especially if you have kids. You never get to do what you want when you have kids.

Jane had left school early for a doctor’s appointment, which was not likely to interfere, I thought. How naive…

I finished my run to find Jane baking a cake (from scratch). The darling had decided to make a cake for the Angel Mom picking up Hal from school as a thank you. There was just one problem. She had forgotten to preheat the oven and now needed to leave before it was done.

“It’s just another 12 minutes, mom. Can you finish it? You just need to add cocoa and melt it all for the icing,” she said, gesturing to a saucepan already holding milk and butter. “Then once it’s all liquid, add the vanilla and half that bag of sugar.”

I was standing there bathed in sweat, looking forward to my shower, and was now, instead, going to stand in a hot kitchen.

“Ok,” I said.

“Thanks, Mommy!”

While I waited for the butter to melt, I checked my voicemail. Someone had called during my run. Turns out it was Daryl, who had had to borrow someone’s phone since his was sitting in a bag of rice at home.

“Mom. There’s no basketball practice.”

That was the entire message. And no way to call him back.

Now what?

I tried to hurry outside and wave Jane down but she didn’t see me. I called a friend but she had already picked up her son and was home.

Now what?

The cake still had 10 minutes to go. His message was a solid 15 minutes earlier. Nothing to it. He’d just have to wait until I was done icing the cake.

And I’d just have to wait on that shower too.

The best laid plans of mice and men, folks. Best laid plans.

This is our life. For now.

To say it’s been rough the last few weeks would be a major understatement. I just looked at the calendar and saw that it’s really only been 22 days since the chaos truly started. It feels like a lifetime.

We traveled back home 3 1/2 weeks ago for three reasons: participate in my husband’s grandfather’s memorial service, celebrate our children’s birthdays with my family, and visit my father-in-law. At that point, my father-in-law was living at home by himself.

The first blip of trouble came Saturday night when we were visiting with my husband’s family on his mom’s side after the service. His dad called. He was in severe pain. Off my husband went to help his dad. The level of medication hospice administered to get him back on track left him pretty out of it.

Really out of it.

As we built a ramp for his front porch on Monday, we came to a grim conclusion: he shouldn’t be left home alone to fend for himself. There was no chance that he could keep his mountain of medications straight. And so… my husband stayed and I drove the kids home, getting in after midnight.

That week was a blur of shifting responsibilities. My husband is a stay-at-home dad. To have him suddenly not around was more than just an inconvenience.  Jane had thankfully passed her driving test the previous week. Hal’s best friend’s mom agreed to pick him up from school as long as needed. Jane and her boyfriend, between the two of them, made sure Daryl made it home too.

And we just worked on surviving.

We returned to Oklahoma the next weekend, but had to wait until after halftime Friday night to leave, meaning once again I was driving hours after I would normally be asleep. But there was hope when we arrived. Poppy, as the children call him, was doing much better. Maybe Daddy could come home.

He gained some concessions from his dad – the most critical being that he would not drive. The truck was removed from the premises. Arrangements were made for a friend to come during the day. My husband would return on the weekends. We had a plan. My husband came home.

The plan lasted two days. Just enough time for him to keep his doctor’s appointment and vote early. By Wednesday afternoon, the friend was calling to say his dad was “not snapping out of it.” He shouldn’t spend the night without someone there.

My husband started packing. I left work to see him off. We hugged and hoped and wished each other well. And he was off. Again.

Circumstances changed for the weekend, making it possible for me to visit him. The kids, on the other hand, had plans – and were wearing down from all the traveling. Next thing I knew, I was making intricate plans to get each kid from place to place in my absence. The Angel Mom who was picking Hal up from school each day said he could spend the weekend with them. Daryl had a slumber party to go to. Jane had a parade to march in.

I drove back to Oklahoma, not as late on the road as other trips, but still… I was making the trip. Again. It was a lifesaver for my husband, who was having trouble keeping his days straight. His dad basically slept the entire time I was there. He was extremely unstable, falling repeatedly, and he wasn’t very coherent when awake. He was in terrible shape and the hospice nurse was predicting not much time left.

But then they put him on all liquid medications the next week, due to his difficulty swallowing, increased some dosages, reduced others, and suddenly, he was stable again. He could walk without his walker. Walk without falling. Spend a decent amount of time awake. Be a little more understandable when he spoke.

Was this the “last hurrah” before the end? Or was this the start of something more long term? We didn’t know. And this – this is probably the hardest part. The not knowing. If you know, you can plan. If you don’t know, you just wait. And react. Everything is on hold. You can commit to nothing.

And so, even though it would make four weekends in a row for me, and the kids all wilted a bit when I told them, we decided to return the following weekend. What if it was the last opportunity?

This time, we had to attend a Destination Imagination training event Saturday morning first, so we didn’t make it in until Saturday evening. The change from the previous weekend was remarkable! He seemed to be doing so much better!

Sort of.

It’s like he’s nesting or something. He keeps wanting to rearrange things in the house. He wants me to look at stuff and decide what I want. But he gets distracted in a heartbeat. So he might run dishwater and then decide he wants to move a dresser and then as you unload things from the dresser, start going through a cabinet and then leave the cabinet open and announce that he’s going to lay down. The nap might last 10 minutes before he’s up again and starting a new task.

I began to understand why my husband was exhausted. It’s hard to keep up when someone isn’t making sense. We left less than 24 hours after we arrived and my worry over my husband skyrocketed.

There are good moments. They might occur at 3:00 in the morning, but there are moments that my husband will cherish. Time spent in conversation or just in the pleasant company of his father. The full and sincere hugs. The beatific smiles.

But there are bad moments too. Moments when his dad chafes under his loss of independence and dignity. When he decides he’ll drive and his son will have to call the police to stop him. When he decides he wants to cancel hospice because he doesn’t trust them. When his mind is messing with him.

All of this wears on my husband, who is now a full time caretaker and away from the people who give him strength and stability. And it wears on me, as I worry about him. I’ve been walking in a haze for awhile now. I haven’t been feeling much at all. Emotion, that is. The stress I’m feeling stronger than ever.

This is our life. For now.

A Tale to Remember

As we sat around the breakfast table, Poppy motioned to Hal to come sit in his lap.

“Tell me a story,” he said softly as the liquid Morphine began to kick in.

“I don’t know a story,” Hal attempted to demur.

After his initial attempts to not participate with “Once upon a time, the end” and his father’s admonitions that a story has a beginning, MIDDLE, and end, he offered up the following.

“Once upon a time, there was a booger and his mother died and he was very sad.”

I adopted a sad face while everyone around the table giggled nervously and Jane commented, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

“Ok, Jane. Now it’s your turn,” said Poppy.

“What?” she asked, confused by this break from how breakfast at Poppy’s would usually go. But these are not usual times for us. They are special and sad and stressful and precious end times.

“You take the story from here,” he said.

“Um, ok. So the booger lives in a nose and that’s organic so a new mother was grown out of the walls around it and they lived happily ever after.”

“Did you actually take Biology last year?” asked her dad.

“David,” said Poppy, impervious to the extraneous commentary surrounding the storytelling, “you pick it up now. It’s your turn.”

“Well, so Bob – that’s the booger’s name…”

“No!” cried Hal, now regretting that he hadn’t provided more details in his tale. “His name is Joe!”

“You didn’t name him,” admonished his dad. “You didn’t name him on your turn so David did.”

“Ok, so Bob,” continued David, “went on a journey to find a new nose to live in.”

“Was he a on a ship? Is he a Nasal Officer?” asked my husband.

“His name should be Casileous!” said Daryl.

“So he’s a Roman Nasal Officer?”

Everyone laughed until Poppy told us it wasn’t our turn and to let David continue. Jane’s boyfriend of a year, gamely continued.

“He went looking for the biggest nose he could find…”

“And then he found Mount Rushmore!” said Jane.

“Yes, he got to Mount Rushmore and crawled inside and was so happy.”

“Crazy Horse would be better. I think his nose is bigger,” said my husband. “You know, he came across an Italian booger named Luigi – he was a loogie…”

“Ok, it’s not your turn son. Daryl, take over the story.”

“Well, Bob shot out of the nose on a big sneeze and landed in a trashcan in an alley. And this guy came by and his name was Barry.”

Everyone groaned as Daryl’s obsession with the Flash was woven into the story.

“But he’s a life-size booger!” complained Hal, increasingly agitated yet fascinated at the deviations from his original idea.

“It was a Titan’s nose that he blew out of and it was a really big trashcan,” clarified Daryl. “He began to crawl out of the trashcan…”

My husband began contributing to the point that his dad told him to pick up the story.

“Well, Robert Casileous Luigi the Third, a Roman Nasal Officer did not crawl out of the trash can. He ate it. In one big bite. And he took on all the qualities of the trash and he was big and strong and impervious to Barry’s powers so it didn’t matter how fast the man was.”

“I’m going to make an injection here,” Poppy said. “Tell us about the knife.”

I was confused because I had no recollection of a knife being mentioned at all. But my husband, having spent all week with his sometimes very loopy father, didn’t miss a beat.

“It was large and green with a wide handle…”

“And it was made of porcelain,” I added.

“Yes! So it could pass through security and you could take it wherever you wanted. He used the knife to begin peeling an apple.”

He tried to pass the story off but was reprimanded by his dad who sternly informed him that he didn’t get to choose the transitions and he should continue.

“Well, he peeled the apple and shared it with all the creatures in the alley. The Daryls and the Hals and everyone else were happy.”

“Ok, your turn,” my ailing father-in-law said to me.

“Bob left the dark shade of the alley and entered the bright sunshine. His gelatinous skin began to sparkle.”

“Because he’s a vampire?” everyone asked.

“Yes, Bob is a vampire booger. And as he traveled along in the sunshine, it was very, very hot and he began to melt.”

Suddenly, I was hit by spraying liquid. My father-in-law, sitting next to me and listening intently to the story, had found a melting booger vampire extremely funny. Caught off-guard, he had just sprayed his coffee across the table – just like you see in the movies. Everyone began laughing as we cleaned up the mess.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just in all the different ways I’ve heard of vampires dying, melting has never been one of them. I wasn’t expecting that. Go on.”

“As Bob melted, he began to run down the street.”

“You mean run? Like with legs?” asked my husband.

“Ok, he oozed. As Bob melted, he oozed down the street and as streets curve down toward the curbs, he oozed to the curb and…”

“Not all streets do that,” he said.

“Well this one does. He oozed to the curb and then dripped down into the sewer where…”

“He met Donatello!” said Daryl.

“Or Splinter and he began to learn,” someone added.

“He dripped down into the sewer,” I repeated. “and plopped onto a wise rat. And as the effects of the sun wore off. Bob solidified on the rat and became a rat-shaped booger…”

“Who knew Kung Fu,” finished my husband.

“But what happened to Splinter?” asked Jane.

“He became part of Bob the super booger,” I said.

“He was assimilated,” added my husband.

The story ended as my father-in-law stood and thanked us. Later, he told my husband how much he loves “your family” before telling me he needed his oxygen and we worked to get him into his hospital bed.

He’s sleeping now. I can see him from where I sit. The rest of the family is outside, sanding and painting the handrails for the ramp we built last week, while I try to capture the details of our morning before I lose them in my tired, stressed-out, only half-functioning brain. Then I’ll fold his laundry and dispose of the rice grits he prepared but then decided not to eat.

You see, Poppy is dying. His cancer has won the battle on how long he gets to live. Now we are fighting instead to spend as much time with him as we can. We are fighting the cancer and the pain it causes him. We are fighting the pain medications and the mental confusion they cause. We are fighting against our physical and emotional limitations. We are fighting to make what time we have left matter.

Life has become simple. Yet harder than any period we’ve gone through so far. What is important and what is not is obvious. New pastor at church? There will be time enough to get to know him later. The tiles falling apart in our hall bathroom? Everyone can shower in the master bath. A fence for the dog? She’ll just have to spend time in the crate when we aren’t home, which is increasingly often. Our flailing budget? My responsibilities at church? Bell choir? Destination Imagination? Even work?

Those things are all important. But they can all wait. We are dealing with bigger and harder things. Can Poppy be by himself or does my husband need to stay again – like he did last week? Can we keep him safe and comfortable if we are in the next state over? How long will we spend in this state of being? How long can we hold up?

{Note: I wrote this on Sunday, October 30th but didn’t get to finish it and was always too tired to revisit it until now. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t seem to erase. Of course, much has happened since then. Two weeks is a long time in the situation we find ourselves. Some of the questions I posed at the end of this post have been answered. Some still hang in the air. Maybe I’ll write more soon. Or maybe I’ll keep floating in an exhausted, tense haze.}

 

Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).

“What?”

“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”

{Silence.}

“Did he ask you to be quiet?”

“Yes.”

“And did you hear why?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t do it.”

“No.”

The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”

{Silence.}

“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.

Let Them Eat Cake… Or Not

Non-verbal communication is fraught with peril.

I arrived at work to find the place in quiet chaos Monday morning. The server migration that the system administrator had attempted on Sunday had not gone well. Rather than revert to the old one, he had stayed the night attempting to fix the problems.

He had not been successful by the time I arrived at 8:30 and I got an earful from my disgruntled engineers unable to make progress on their own tasks. After getting the state of things, I was standing in a hallway talking to some of them when Sam arrived at work.

Sam is very knowledgeable in all things sys-admin and is often pulled in to help when things go awry, as is Bob, one of the people I was talking to. When Sam came into view, Bob drew his hand across his neck in a slashing motion.

Sam stopped about 20 feet away and raised his eyebrows.

I widened my eyes and shook my head.

He gave us a questioning look and raised his hand, as if gesturing toward his cube.

I gave a thumbs-down.

Bob shook his head and mouthed Not Good.

I waved my arms in front of me.

Still a third person indicated the situation was not good.

Sam looked unhappy but shrugged and entered his cube.

When he exited to put his breakfast in the microwave, I approached and said, “Even though the server migration didn’t go well, I need you to stay focused on your project. We can’t afford for you to help out.”

“Ok,” he replied. “But what does that have to do with my cake?”

“What?” I asked.

“My cake. Why was my cake bad?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, I walked in and everyone started making all these gestures about something being bad so I held up the cake I was holding in my hand {which he had retrieved from the front sharing table} and everyone made more emphatic gestures. And I didn’t see how the cake could be that bad but figured if you guys felt that strongly about it, I’d just throw it away.”

“Wait. You were holding cake in your hand?”

“Yes and I threw it away.”

“But we were talking about the server migration!”

“I see that now.”

“The cake is wonderful!” said Bob.

“Well it’s in the trash can now and I don’t think they change the liners that often so I’m not going to retrieve it.”

“Oh man, we didn’t mean that!” one of us said as everyone dissolved into laughter. The laughter resumed when Sam returned to the table to find that all the cake was now gone.

Meanwhile, in a nearby cube, Dan glanced at his cake sitting next to him. He didn’t catch the whole conversation but heard that the cake was bad. He pondered for a moment. And then he broke off a small piece and tasted it. He shrugged. Tastes fine to me! he thought before quietly consuming the cake.

So the lesson for today is this: Don’t attempt silent communication unless both parties know sign language… or you are an accomplished mime.

Oh, and trust but verify. Be like Dan, not Sam.

Or be like Sam… life is a lot funnier for the rest of us!

 

How Did You Know?

Returned home late from a meeting last night and the kids were already in bed. But just barely, so I headed in to say goodnight.

First stop was the boys’ room. As the door opened, I saw a flurry of movement in the top bunk that ended with Hal flopping onto his belly with his elbows out and his hands resting under his chin as he looked at me.

“Goodnight Hal Monkey Bear,” I said as I climbed enough rungs of the ladder to reach him. Instead of going straight for the hug, which he wasn’t leaning over for anyway, I stuck my hand under his pillow.

He made a desperate noise and attempted to press his full seven year old weight onto the pillow. He deflated a bit when I extracted the 3DS.

“You know this is supposed to be in the living room on the charging desk,” I said before turning to his brother, who freely sat up from his bed for a hug.

Outside of their room, I turned into their sister’s. It was dark and there was no glow of a phone. Yet as I approached her bed to say goodnight, I could see that she was still holding it.

“You need to go to sleep, sweetheart. Put your phone away.”

“I know. I usually slide it up here,” she said, moving her phone up to the corner of the bed and sounding disoriented. “I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. I was falling asleep.”

“If you continue to have fatigue problems, we may get you an alarm clock and have you put your phone out on the charging desk so you don’t talk to people too late into the night.”

“I don’t! I’m always too tired.”

About then, her phone buzzed.

“Sounds like you are actively in a conversation right now.”

“Well, I was but then I fell asleep.”

Mmm-hmmm…

I then returned to the living room, where you might think this story ends. But you’d be wrong. I have three children, remember?

“I think we need to check for electronics more closely,” I said to my husband as I showed him the 3DS.

“Is Daryl’s iPod over on the desk?” he asked.

“I see his red case and it looks like something is in it.”

“He got a new case. You better go check.”

So I walked over to the desk where they are supposed to store and charge their electronics and picked up the case. Turning it over, I saw that there was indeed an iPod in it. But it seemed strange that he hadn’t plugged it in to charge. The boy may be irresponsible and forgetful about many things but charging his iPod isn’t one of them. Even more baffling was that it wouldn’t even power on.

I mentioned these discoveries to my husband who then asked to see it. After a brief examination, he confirmed my suspicions. “Go get his iPod from him.”

So I re-entered the boys’ room. Daryl’s hand slid slowly toward his hip and he looked up at me calmly.

I held out my hand. “Give me your iPod.”

The calm facade broke, replaced with an embarrassed and surprised smile. As he handed it to me, he asked, “How did you know?!”

Oh, son… How did we know? Maybe it was the old case the day you got a new one. Or the fact that it didn’t power on. And wasn’t plugged in. And didn’t actually fit the case since it was an even older iPod that you stashed in your old case as a decoy. Or maybe it’s your age. And the evidence of your siblings.

We were young once too. And devious as well. We might not have had portable electronics, but that doesn’t mean we never tried to pull one over on our parents. You are getting better at it. Your deceit is well thought out and your tells are subtle and easy to miss. But this night, at least, we weren’t too tired to catch them.

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

Yesterday, I was responsible for opening the church so after my run and a quick shower, I left my family to their morning routine and headed to the church. When I returned, I found my boys lounging in the living room.

“Are you guys ready to go?”

“Yes.”

“Hal, did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes.”

This is a dubious claim when coming from him, one that always requires verification.

“Let me smell your breath.”

He let out an audible indicator of frustration as he hopped up, slammed down what he was holding, and began stomping right past me toward the bathroom.

He grumbled as he went, “No one ever believes me!!!”

“So did you brush your teeth?”

“NOOOOO!”

“You think that might be why we don’t believe you?”

“Ugggggghhhhh!”

This routine is a twice daily occurrence in one form or another. And he wonders why we don’t believe him.