I may be 46 years old, but this is still how I see myself with my dad.
He is strong, kind, handsome, patient (most of the time), intuitive, caring, the best direction-giver and “wicked smart” (per one of the cardiologists who used to work with dad when he was in pacemaker sales).
He is the perfect dad. He holds my hand whenever I need him (and that’s been a lot lately).
He also tells me he loves my writing and wants me to keep at it. And so, I write…
A little over a week ago, my dad called and asked if I could talk for two minutes. He led the conversation with discussions about the unemployment rate and all that was going on in Charlottesville.
Then, he paused and said, “Lizabeth, the third reason I called is…I think I’m dying.”
Now, anyone who knows my dad knows that he is the best story-teller, totally hilarious and tends to exaggerate from time to time. However, his tone of voice told me that this was not a joke. I shifted gears and tried to encourage him to seek medical attention. He declined because he did not want to go back to the hospital due to some negative experiences with previous hospitalizations.
Feeling completely helpless living so far away, I sought help from one of the helpers – my friend and a paramedic. Because of her advice, my dad changed his mind and his wife, Pam, was able to get him to the hospital for treatment.
This experience has been completely different for my dad.
He is at peace.
He is vulnerable.
He is in charge.
He is able to have his family around him 24/7. In fact, we had the biggest slumber party in his ICU room one night filled with side-splitting giggles, a few tears, loads of heated blankets and crappy coffee. I know he was filled with joy having all of us together. It was honestly one of the most special nights of my life – all of us coming together to be there for the man who is and was always there for us.
He is also becoming the mayor of this awesome hospital. The nursing staff, patient care technicians and room service staff know him, stopping him in the hallway to see how he’s feeling as he’s made his way to/from ICU and back again to a regular room. He is smiling at and charming everyone in this place. He is also having intelligent conversations with the physicians. They are speaking WITH him, not around him about his health care. He is being treated with dignity and respect. And he feels it.
The high-level quality of care that he has received has allowed him to become stable enough to go back to where he wants to be – HOME – on his terms. There, he will be with his team: his wife, kids, family and medical professionals who will keep him comfortable for the rest of his days.
Now, I know I spend a great deal of my life advocating “life is good” – but sometimes we have to have difficult conversations about death and dying.
We have had a couple of those conversations.
His response, “Lizabeth, you are learning something here.”
How do you have a good death?
The answer is probably different for everyone.
There is no one size fits all solution.
For me, my dad is serving as the ultimate role model.
she was a…pack your own lunch, make your own bed, do your own laundry, figure out your own dinner, earn your own money to buy your own clothes, get your own band-aid, i’m on the phone and cannot help you with your homework…mother.
as a result, i learned how to forge her signature by the time a reading log was required in the 2nd grade, knew how to cook ramen noodles and mac n cheese for dinner when i was eight, always made my bed first thing in the morning and started a lucrative babysitting business by the time i was in 5th grade.
i resented her mothering style and have over-corrected with my own children.
i am a…
…give her one more extra kiss before she goes upstairs to bed mother,
…cuddle with her on the rocker that she outgrew many years ago mother,
…keep him on my lap so i can smell the top of his head a little longer mother,
…make breakfast, lunch, dinner and beds every day mother,
…wash and fold all of their laundry mother,
…help them or enlist the help of someone with their homework mother,
…mediate sibling squabbles mother,
…facilitate friend play time and activities mother.
and, despite my best, while flawed, mothering efforts, my own children will most likely resent me and think i am ruining them too.
for all the time i was putting down, dismissing and complaining about my mom’s mothering style, i should have been grateful that she helped me evolve into the resilient, strong and self-sufficient person i am today.
maybe being conventional is overrated. i never, ever doubted that she loved me. and, i miss her.
my mom did the best she could do.
i am too.
The Weekly RAK-Up
#125. Gave flowers to our neighbor and her caretaker for Mother’s Day.
#124. Let someone ahead of me in traffic.
#123. Donated a couple of gently used toys to Good Will.
#122. Assisted with a school project.
#121. Helped a girl who was left alone in movie theater (brother was working/taking tickets and babysitting at the same time).
#120. Sent a birthday card to a boy whose family requested them.
A few days ago, the kids and I took a walk along the lake. We were about one block away from the apartment when Brian started complaining, “Mom, my nose is running. Can we go back now?” I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.
When we reached the next block he said, “Mom, I’m really tired, my feet hurt and my nose is running.” Once again, I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.
By the time we reached the third block, he whined, “Mom, I’m reeeaaallly cold and my nose is still running!” I gritted my teeth, told him he’d be fine and said emphatically, “Would you please just keep walking!”
Growing more and more irritable, I thought I knew I should have just gone on this walk alone.
Luckily, all of our moods lifted when we turned the corner and started walking toward the sunny trail that runs between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. We were all distracted and happy by the sights, sounds and smells of springtime in Chicago. The water was a beautiful shade of blue, a nice contrast to the grass, which borders the path and was finally turning green after a long winter. Some of the trees were just starting to bud and there were tons of birds chirping and flying from one tree to the next. There were cyclists, runners and mothers pushing baby strollers buzzing by us. The kids quickly learned the importance of “On your left!” as we made our way further along the trail. Despite the cooler temperatures and a brisk lake breeze, there was a young couple having a picnic at a little table in the middle of the green space between the path and the lake. In addition to the singing and tweeting birds overhead and the relaxing sound of the waves in the background, the LSD (Lake Shore Drive) traffic was whirring by on our right, as it always does morning, noon and night.
In a singsong voice, I exclaimed, “Aaahhh, I love the smell of spring! Can you guys smell the fresh air, the lake?!” I took a deep breath and turned around to look at the kids who were now lined up behind me like three cute little ducklings.
Emma and Kate shrugged their fleece-covered shoulders and mumbled something that sounded like “yes”. When I looked over at Brian for a response, he pouted, “I can’t smell anything.”
I looked a little more closely at him. Whoa…he wasn’t kidding earlier when he said that his nose was running. At this point, he had snot running down the front of his nose all the way down passed his mouth to his chin. It was disgusting. I tried to play it cool because I know how sensitive he is about anything gross anywhere near his body, but I’ve never had a very good poker face.
In an effort to avoid a meltdown, I frantically searched my jacket pockets for a tissue, but only had the arm of one of his Teen Titans Go! figures and a NoochieRAKs card. I asked his sisters if they had any tissues in their pockets, but other than a few Jolly Rancher wrappers, their pockets were empty. I then started searching the ground for a tissue, a piece of paper or even a leaf…nothing. So, I told him to do exactly what I’ve told him NOT to do in the past when he has a runny nose, “Use your sleeve.”
“But, Mom! I don’t wanna…” he started whining through the glob of snot.
Before he could overthink it, I quickly grabbed his arm and wiped his nose with the back of his fleece jacket. I will not go into any additional gory details, but I will say that even for this veteran babysitter, former pre-school teacher and mom to three – I almost started gagging. As I anticipated, he started throwing a fit, then his sisters were laughing and screaming and I was looking around helplessly for something else to clean up his face and jacket.
At that point, I decided to cut our walk short and turned around on the path. We carefully navigated our way through the cyclists, strollers and runners like a game of Frogger to get to the other side.
Brian was trailing behind whimpering about his nose and jacket. I knew it was going to be a long walk back to the apartment.
I continued to search the ground for any object that would help our cause and noticed that the couple who was sitting at the little table along the trail was still there and called over to them to see if they had a napkin or Kleenex. She started looking through the Whole Foods bag, he started searching his backpack. Neither of them found one, but then the guy stood up, held up a blue bandana and said, “How about this?”
“Oh, that’s okay.” I said. To which he replied, “It’s clean, here take it.” I explained, “Well, it’s for his nose and I don’t want to get it all dirty and gross…”
He insisted, “Here, you can have it. I have two more in my pocket.”
In my brain, I quickly surveyed the situation…the guy seems normal enough, he did say it’s clean and considering that I was willing to wipe my son’s face with a piece of garbage or a leaf, it does seem like the better alternative. Also, he’s offering to help us and it’s important to accept help sometimes. For me, the hardest part of the #365 kindness project is when people say they don’t need my help or won’t accept a gift from me. It actually feels really crummy.
So, I gratefully accepted the blue bandana from him. It was the same exact style I wore in my hair during high school, the same exact style my father-in-law would pull out of his blazer pocket to aggressively blow his nose, and now I just realized, it’s the same exact style that Noochie’s Dad, Pete, was recently wearing at the Bruce Springsteen concert.
Brian allowed me to gently wipe his nose and we thanked the couple again.
I decided that it was still in our best interest to go back to the apartment and just chill out. While we were walking, I asked the kids, “Wasn’t that so thoughtful of that stranger to give us his handkerchief?” The girls mumbled what sounded like “yes” and Brian asked, “What’s a handkerchief, Mom?”
I told him, among other things, it’s a simple act of kindness.
#105. Cleaned up paper towels that were all over the floor at Subway/rest stop.
#104. Helped lady who was cleaning up garbage at a rest stop.
#103. Gave a nice tip to server at the Cubs game who after she looked at my ID said, “You don’t have any wrinkles or gray hair for 45!” (the sunglasses glasses and baseball cap helped hide them). :0)
#102. Gave money to a homeless man outside Walgreens.
#101. Held the elevator door for someone loading a bunch of construction materials.
#100. Sent a Facebook message to my teachers who have made an impact on my life.
I’m what some people would call, a bit of a yeller.
I yell at my kids to pick up their socks off the sofa. I yell at the dog to get off the sofa. I yell, “What are the cushions doing off the sofa and on the floor?!” I yell that it’s time for “BREAKFAST!” “LUNCH!” and “DIN-NER!” I yell that we’re going to be late for school. I yell that it’s time to be quiet, and I yell that it’s time for bed.
Okay, I’ll be honest, I yell A LOT.
Sometimes I worry what the mailman thinks of me, but mostly I think he gets it.
In my defense, I grew up in a family of yellers. This was how our household functioned. There was always some (self-induced) chaos around us, we were always running late, there were always too many kids in the house, and messes that I, as the oldest, always felt obligated to clean up. My siblings also responded to my yelling, although I’ll admit, maybe it wasn’t the response I was hoping for…sometimes they yelled back…sometimes they slammed a door in my face…sometimes there was a sibling slam-down. But, like I said, at least there was a response.
Despite my best efforts, all the best-selling parenting books, and behavioral modification or “star” charts, I continue to yell at my own children. I’ve realized over the years that it’s a hard habit to break.
So, earlier this week, I decided to try a different approach.
Two of our children started wrestling and typically, I would yell, “Go to the basement!”, “Knock it off!” or “Someone’s gonna get hurt!”. This time, as one of my acts of kindness, I remained silent (which, by the way, was REALLY hard for me).
I also discreetly snapped a few photos, which highlight what happened next:
While I wanted to yell, “SEE, I told you someone would get hurt!”, I continued to keep my mouth shut. I also stopped snapping pictures and quietly observed what happened next…the fighting stopped and Kate checked, really checked, to see if Brian was okay. She comforted her little brother and they decided together to do something else.
An unexpected act of kindness for all of us.
Maybe this kindness project can teach this old yeller some new tricks. :o)
#91. Wrote three letters for TWNMLL | The World Needs More Love Letters (moreloveletters.com)
#90. Picked up a loaf of bread that had fallen off the shelf and was just sitting in the middle of the aisle.
#89. Donated to a fund for the Nauti Dolphin delivery man who is going through cancer treatment.
#88. Donated to Amanda Lynn Williams Endowment Fund (McHenry County College).
#87. Gave a little extra tip to the man who delivered our Chinese food.
#86. Stayed out of sibling squabble. (RAK of the Week).