Tag Archives: family

A Big L On My Forehead

While the “L” on my forehead would normally mean “loser”, today it has a different meaning. It is the Roman numeral representing 50 which happens to be the birthday I’m celebrating today. Yep, it’s a landmark and I’m enjoying it – full confession, I LOVE all the “happy birthdays” I’m getting Facebook and LinkedIn, and the emails and texts from my brother, kids and other family members wishing me the same – beginning with some wonderfully thoughtful gifts from my (much) better half this morning and an edible basket she had delivered today at work.

I’m also very lucky in that I’m the son of a writer and as such I get my very own “origin story.” I haven’t asked her permission to share it, but I figure she sent it as a gift so I don’t really need to. Mom’s a helluva writer and this is something I’ll cherish forever.

It was Monday, still a bit warmer than is the norm in southern Germany in mid-September, but not so hot as it had been in August, when little droplets scurried down the sides of a belly that no longer fit inside the maternity blouses unless they were unbuttoned at the bottom.

This was day 21 – a full three weeks after the due date.  But then the due date was known to be less than dependable.  This child had been conceived after the last birth control pill and before the first menstrual cycle.  It was not supposed to happen that way, but if mothers have any sixth sense at all about such things, this mother had a pretty reliable read on what occurred.

They’d been in Garmisch, “skiing.”  When one owns no equipment and has no experience, one “rents” from the military.  In that, as in so many things, one size fits all – that is, all of the non-elite.  Boots came unstrapped, poles and skis were all the same no matter what height the supposed skiier.  He, of course, went right down the slope first time out.  She tried and fell, tried and fell, tried and fell.  Gave up.  There was no ski lift working, because there had been an avalanche.  The ski area is essentially a bowl on the top of the mountain, so they walked back, falling against the side of the mountain when they met anyone coming the other way.  One such traveler looked at her and said, “Ma’am, if you feel anything like you look, you should get back to the lodge NOW.”

A variety of effluents – tears, snot, saliva – created a small grotto on her face.  Her hands and feet had no feeling.  The thawing out that happened in the lodge was (though she had no way of knowing it) training for pain tolerance that would be needed in the Heidelberg hospital 10 months hence.  Later they got warm.  Nice and warm.

They determined she was, indeed, pregnant the same day that he had hernia surgery in Heidelberg.  He had no real reaction to the news, but then he’d been shaved (The hair on his chest looked like the tree line on a mountaintop.) and cut open.  Reason enough.

The months that followed were full of new experiences.  All pregnant women went to the clinic on Thursday.  The waiting room had all the appeal of a cattle barn – no mooing, but there could have been, given the size, shape and gender of those assembled.  

There was no obstetrician in evidence.  She never really knew what the specialties were of the three who saw her on any given Thursday.  About all she learned was the baby seemed normal, she should eat correctly and take vitamins, and if she allowed her weight gain to exceed 20 pounds she would be put in the hospital and fed whatever way was necessary to take it back down to below 20 pounds.  That meant each visit was preceded by a half-hour or so in the bathroom trying on all possible combinations of ugly tent-sized garments to see which was the lightest.  Pre-electronic scales, in that bathroom and at the clinic, praise be.

Even with the restricted weight gain, she had to master the art of waddling.  Somewhere there is a Super 8 tape that is embarrassing testimony to just how inept she was.  It’s a video taken from behind as she stumbled more than strolled through the gardens near Lake Constanz.

All in all, though having no baseline to which to compare her experience she didn’t know it, the pregnancy was uneventful, even comparatively comfortable.  No morning sickness, no swollen ankles.  The only real issues were that many body parts seem to have ballooned in the most graphic sense of the word.  The bra size went from 34 A to 36 C. (No complaints from the prospective paternal corner.) All 18.5 pounds stuck straight out front.

When the due date passed, and then a week elapsed, they literally spent one Sunday driving the back roads, looking for bumps.  The second week, he as building captain was supposed to paint the fence out front.  He had issues at work, so she painted – belly facing parallel, shoulders turned, white paint on her elbows.   Lots of energy.  “Maybe, oh maybe,” she thought, “this is what Aunt May called ‘lightening,’ that surge of energy just before labor.”

At the beginning of the third week, the Stars and Stripes carried a story of a woman who delivered a child without waking up from her afternoon nap.  She got calls and more calls.  “That’s how you should do it!”

Then on Sunday she began bleeding.  They went to the clinic, where the doc on call insisted he could not examine her because there were no grey ladies (volunteer nurses’ aides) available.  She insisted that the father would suffice.  It became clear, then, that the doc didn’t know what he was looking for.  He was an ophthalmologist.  He said he thought she had twins – he heard two heartbeats.  Back home they went.

Monday brought a bridge game, and at the table the first slight pains began. By the time the about-to-be dad got home from work, the pains had become regular.  He showered, and they left, leaving behind the grilled steaks that should have been dinner.  She rode the 30 kilometers to the hospital in an ambulance, while he followed in he car.  The two medics in the ambulance had no experience with monitoring expectant mothers or delivering babies.  They pleaded, “Why not lie down?  That way, maybe the pains won’t be coming faster.”

Less than nine hours later, a healthy baby with a deep, deep voice made his appearance.  Clearly, he had attended a lecture in preparation.  The rules he knew and followed were:

You eat regularly, every four hours.

Before the first month is out, you learn to skip that feeding in the middle of the night.

You can decide what you like to eat, within limits.  Carrots are great.  Spinach is not.

Pooping is a wonderful instrument of revenge.  She will put a “poop pad” on her lap, so the drama may be limited there.  He will not, so you can make a real mess.  (Big enough, as it turned out, that he threw away his slacks, lest the dry cleaner think the mess had been his.)

She really knows absolutely nothing about breast-feeding, so you can take charge.  Be careful, though, because someone has taught her to put a safety pin on the bra strap on the side she starts with, to make sure she starts on the other side the next time.  The pin can scratch your nose.

Laugh a lot.  Chortling is even better.

He made an “A.”  Then and forever after.

Kid Plus License Equals Sixty Percent Increase in Auto Insurance in NC

Our three kids – currently 22, 21 and 19 respectively – have been on our family auto policy for years so we’re accustomed to the added cost, but for those whose kids are just entering the world of driving the added insurance expense can come as a shock. The bad news is that in North Carolina the average increase is 60 percent, but the good news is that it’s not that bad when compared to other states:

North Carolina has the fourth lowest increase rate, following Hawaii at 17 percent, New York at 53 percent and Michigan at 57 percent.

By comparison, the national average is 80 percent, compared with 85 percent in 2013. The most expensive is New Hampshire at 115 percent.

Other bad news for parents of 16 year olds is that the average increase that first year of driving is 96 percent and it’s only at age 19 that it drops to 60 percent.

Married People Are Less Miserable

Apparently staying hitched is the recipe for less misery, if not happiness. From the Washington Post:

In a new working paper, Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John Helliwell show the effect of marriage on a lifetime of happiness. They find that married people are generally happier, and that the “happiness bonus” from marriage is strongest right in middle age — when you need it the most.

“One hypothesis that could explain why the U-shape in life satisfaction over age is deeper for the unmarried than the married is that the social support provided by a spouse helps ease the stresses of middle age,” they write.

This “social support,” as it turns out, is one of the lynchpins of marital happiness. It’s not simply enough to be married — it has to be a goodmarriage. The study finds that the happiness benefits of marriage are strongest among spouses who consider each other their best friends, and that this “best friend effect” is substantial. “The well-being benefits of marriage are on average about twice as large for those (about half of the sample) whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors conclude.

Well Duh

Sometimes you just have to be slapped upside the head to have some sense driven into you. I was catching up on some reading and came across this piece from Sasha Dichter and these words struck a chord with me:

In today’s world we all are continually experimenting with the lines between connection / productivity / responsiveness and distraction / rudeness.  Two colleagues of mine suggested the following four rules for managing incoming email and handheld devices, which I liked:

  1. Turn off desktop alerts of new emails coming in (the little box that pops up)  (in Outlook: File > Options > Mail > Message Arrival > Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert”)
  2. No reading email before breakfast
  3. No reading email while in transit
  4. No phone or email in the bedroom

My own scorecard is as follows:

  1. I turned of desktop alerts for new emails about a month ago and I love it.
  2. I almost never read email before breakfast and when I do it’s a sign that I’m under a crazy deadline or stressed for some other reason.
  3. Hmmm.  I made a rule a couple of years ago not to look at my phone while in elevators, and I’ve stuck to that (it had become a reflex), but I spend enough time in transit that I don’t know that I can commit to this one.
  4. I do have my phone in the bedroom but I can honestly say it’s 95% as a time-piece and alarm

In reality these four rules are a really low bar.  Increasingly I think we will all be playing with the limits and rules that work for us, and everyone’s line will be different.  What makes me nervous is when I get reflexive about checking.  That sort of unconscious behavior feels unproductive. (Emphasis mine)

My wife has flat out told me it annoys her how much I check my phone. At the table, when we go to bed, etc. and today when I was checking out at a store I realized I was checking my phone even before the clerk was saying thank you. In other words I'm being exceptionally rude to the people around me, and what bothers me most is I'm certain I'm missing signifcant chunks of conversation with my family. My kids are only a few years from flying the coop permanently – two of them are already in college – so this is just crazy behavior. Do I seriously want to waste the limited days they're still under my roof with my nose stuck in my phone? Obviously not.

For some reason it took reading a stranger's blog to bring me to that "Well, duh" conclusion. I plan on using some of his rules augmented with some of my own to do better.


Celebrating the Stages of Life

Next week my Grandmother, Lettie Fae Lowder – GG to her family – will turn 93, and as the saying goes, turning 93 beats the alternative despite all the challenges that come with each passing year. That saying doesn't begin to address the subleties of dealing with the changes that each stage of life brings, but my Aunt Debbie does a wonderful job of addressing those issues in a post on her blog about dealing with GG's increasing dementia and her move to a new wing at her retirement home that offers closer care:

The biggest difference for GG at this stage of  life is the power of imagination she substitutes for loss of vision and hearing, and what we usually refer to as “being in touch with reality.” I guess she’s getting bored with some of the stories we’ve all heard about a gazillion times, so she is gracious enough to create some new stories for our entertainment. If you’ve not yet heard of Pony Boy you really should spend a little time with GG. Pull up a rocker and ask a few questions and off you go to the barn and beyond…

She still remembers each of us, but many, many details are lost to her. The line between fact and fantasy is sometimes clear and sometimes thin….very thin. This is part of an aging process we are all experiencing. We’re just at a different place…for this moment. Mom’s life’s-work has changed from being a daughter to young wife and mother, to working woman, to grandmother…even great-great grandmother. It’s usually easier to see the meaning and purpose of our life during these earlier stages. And harder to understand the meaning and purpose of life in the latter stages.

One way I try to understand Mom’s purpose at this time is that of Preparation for Death…the process of dieing. And part of this process is leaving the care of this world and its inhabitants to others… after she takes her leave of us.  She asks constantly, “what are the children doing?”  She actually needs to know what we are doing so she can stop her doing.

Mom cannot see to read. She no longer has a telephone because her hearing and memory render a phone  fairly useless. When I heard she would now be living in a supervised (“locked”) environment, I panicked.  Her world had already seemed unjustly small. Now it seemed another door…a locked one…was closing.

I took a deep breath. The 2-hour drive from the farm gave me plenty of time to remember lots of times when Mom was young and strong and…well, greatly determined.  I walked into the lobby and where I would have turned left to go to her room, I walked straight to the locked doors and rang the door bell. A door opened.

Mom looked pretty content and believed she was living in Old Salem. (she loves Old Salem)  The staff is loving and fun. She always refers to me as the fun one…I want her to have lots of fun one’s. Because actually, I am not that much fun…she needs a lot more fun than I can conjure up! Her room is large and pretty and peaceful…and  near the staff”s laughter and loving oversight. I was scared to walk down that hall…into a new phase of life…but it wasn’t that hard. Mom is there….just not like she used to be. I am there…changed, for sure. And many others are willing to explore this time of life with us…thank you. We are all teachers and we are all learning. We all hope and we all know fear. We are not alone. Mom has a great capacity for the subtleties of life….don’t be afraid to speak of these things. And don’t be surprised if she is able to cut more quickly to the truth of the matter…thus unraveling our carefully formed beliefs about what is real.

What a beautiful way to look at GG's new adventure. I'm sure my Aunts, who have done a lot of heavy lifting with GG's care over the last few years, might have moments when it's hard to see things in such a light, but they've also done a great job of sharing the Adventures of GG and Pony Boy with the rest of us so I'm fairly confident they feel the same way. 

The wonders of family will never cease to amaze.

What Would Vacation Be Without a 5:00 a.m. Wake Up? or On Traveling With Teenagers

It's hard to complain about anything when you've been able to take a few days off and escape with the family to a semi-abandoned timeshare in the land of over-landscaped golf courses.  That said there's something very un-relaxing about spending those days ferrying around three teenagers who can't be bothered to see where they're going because they're sending text message number 8,423 of the day to their boyfriend, or playing game number 2,500 on their DS or simply going whatever place in their vacuous heads that teenagers go that gives them the glassy-eyed stare of a decade-long heroin addict.  Let's just say yesterday didn't provide a very Cleaver-like moment and I let the kids and everyone within a 20 mile radius know that I wasn't cool with it.

Let me be clear: I blew a gasket.  It wasn't an epic gasket-blowing, but it did involve threats of packing up and heading home a couple of days early.  It did include the time-tested "you have no clue how lucky you are that we're able to go on vacation" line that's been used by every parent for generations.  I even threw in the "you kids just don't appreciate what your Mom and I do for you" line.  I don't think the latter two statements had much of an effect, but I think the threat of a 7 hour drive with a pissed off Dad did have a sobering effect.  We ended up having a nice dinner.

And as always when I lose it I crashed early, had a fairly restless sleep and popped awake at some gawdawful early hour (5:00 a.m.).  At least I get to enjoy a quiet cup (or twelve) of coffee. 

Merry Christmas Eve everybody.  And yes, Mom, I do appreciate the irony of all this.

Truly Thankful

Well, this has been one of those weeks that bookmark a life.  Since I haven't asked for her permission to write about her medical condition let's just say my Mom had an episode on Tuesday and it landed her in the hospital and after they've done a bunch of diagnostic work on her followed by a fairly routine procedure it looks like she'll be home on Saturday not much worse for wear.  While it was scary, I think it's one of those life occurrences that is just scary enough to remind you of what's truly important.  It also reminds you that life doesn't care if it's Thanksgiving week when it throws you a curve ball, and even on Thanksgiving Day hospital food ain't very good.

Let me just say that although it was largely spent in a hospital room this Thanksgiving was one in which I truly felt thankful.  I'm thankful to have my Mom around, I'm thankful that she has her significant other Bert around, and I'm thankful that her doctors were as methodical and diligent as they were even though my Mom begged and pleaded for them to release her, even temporarily, for Thanksgiving day.  I'm very thankful for the friends and family that offered support and love and I hope we all get the chance to come together to be thankful together soon.

Finally I'm thankful for the hours that Mom and I got to really talk to each other this week without distraction. That's a rare occurrence these days and I'm just sorry it took a stay in the hospital to give us the opportunity.  Hopefully we won't need another one before we do it again.

Love you Mom.

P.S.  I think Mom is going to be very thankful for Medicare.