Calling in Sick

Sorry, everyone. I’m under the weather this week and unable to finish my post. I’ll be back next Monday. I hope you understand.

Maria


Dad’s New Email Number

Today would have been my mom’s birthday. She’s been gone three months now, and this is the first time I haven’t had to remember to get a gift or send a card or make a call. Getting used to her absence isn’t much of an adjustment for me. The Alzheimer’s took her away eight years ago, long before she died, and I haven’t lived less than three states away from her in 12 years. But to my dad, who cared for her at home every day, my mom’s death means a whole new life.

My father retired about 20 years ago, when I was in college. For the first 10 years of his retirement, my parents were able to enjoy some travel, but then my mom’s disease began to really take hold and she wouldn’t climb or descend stairs, and when she did, she’d get so worked up that she’d shriek incessantly at whoever attempted the coaxing. My father was still trying to hide her disease from everyone, so he found the whole process frustrating and embarrassing. They stopped going out unless absolutely necessary. As my mom’s disease progressed, my father’s retirement turned into an excruciatingly frustrating new career as her caregiver.

When we were at his house in New York for the funeral, my father told us he was going for a walk. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve gone for a walk?” he asked me. Since walking was one of two activities my father enjoyed, I was pleased that he was able to start doing it again. He likes swimming, too, but he won’t be able to do that until at least June.

After we left New York, my father struggled to adjust to his newfound freedom. I started getting phone calls:

“I’m going to get a computer. How do I sign up with AOL or NetZero?”
“Well, let me ask you, how do you connect to the internet?” I asked.
“I’ll use AOL,” he answered.
“Well here’s the thing: depending upon how you connect, you don’t need those guys anymore.”
“Well I want to use the phone, like I used to,” he said.
“Didn’t you tell me you had Comcast phone?”
“Well, yeah, I got that a few months ago.”
“Ok, well if you have Comcast phone, you can’t connect over the phone lines, because you do not have a regular phone line. You have to buy internet service from Comcast.”
“What is that, about 40 dollars a month?”
“That’s what we pay, yes.”
“That’s too expensive. I don’t want to pay more than 10 dollars a month!”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Dad.”
“I don’t need all of this fast stuff they have now. I just want to get on the internet a few hours a month,” he said.
“Ok, well, it doesn’t work the same way now. You don’t pay by the amount of time you spend on the web. It’s all unlimited.”
“Well, I don’t need that.”
“That’s just the way it works. Call Comcast and se if they’ll give you a deal. They always have deals,” I said.
“Yeah, but what is that, for a year?” he asked.
“Depends on the deal.”
“And then what does it go up to, about 40 dollars a month?”
“About. But you can always call and ask for another deal. Just call them,” I said.
“Well, we’ll see,” he said.

A week later, he called again.
“I was talking to your cousin Mark, and he thinks I should get an email number. A free one. I can use it at the libary. He said Hotmail or Yahoo. How do I do that?”
If Mark told you to get it, why are you asking me? “An email address?”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“Well, hmm, I would recommend Google. Matt has a Google email and he loves it,” I said.
“Goo-gle? How do you spell that?”
“G-o-o-g-l-e.”
“So how do I get there? I type in ‘http Google?’”
“Ok, ok, slow down. You go to the address bar at the top of the page, and type in www.google.com.”
“Http google dot com?”
“No. You don’t need the ‘http’ anymore. Just type in ‘www.google.com.’”
“W…w…w…dot…Google…dot…com,” he said, writing it down, “Ok.”
“Then when Google comes up, there will be links at the top of the page. Click ‘mail.’”
“Top…of…the…page…mail. Then what?”
“Find something that says ‘get gmail account’ or something like that. I don’t have gmail, so I’m not sure what it’ll say. It should walk you through it, though. If you have any trouble, ask the librarian. She should be able to help you.”
“What’s G-mail? I thought you said Google.”
“That’s what they call Google mail. Don’t worry. It should show you how to do it. If you can’t figure it out, ask the librarian.”
“When will they give me my password?”
“They won’t. You’ll make one up. It’ll tell you when it wants you to type in a password.”
“That’s James1234@.com, right?”
“No, that would be your email address, and it’ll be @gmail.com. Your password is something you make up that’s personal to you, like the dog’s name.”
“Oh.”
“Just ask the librarian if you have any trouble,” I urged.
“Ok, well, I’ll be talking to you.”
“Ok, bye.”

I didn’t anticipate my father’s renewed interest in the computer. I gave him my old one about 10 years ago. He tried to use it, but the instructional software he bought wouldn’t run with the inadequate memory. He used to call me for tech support at least twice a week. I am not qualified to give tech support so we’d both wind up angry and frustrated. Then he bought WebTV, but he never hooked it up and as my mother began to need more care, he said he didn’t have time for the internet anymore.

I was relieved when he said he only wanted email. When he said he wanted to buy a computer, I had visions of censoring my blog in case he’d read it and object to my depiction of him. Anger is my father’s natural state. His tirades have done enough damage to my psyche that I would take a few posts down and scour the rest for his name rather than incur his wrath. But I have to thank my cousin Mark for his suggestion. If my father just uses the computer at the library for email, it’s unlikely he’ll ever find out about my blog, much less read it.

I am glad my father is moving on with his life. For someone who drives 30 in a 55, he’s moving pretty quickly. Just this week, he went out to dinner with a couple of neighbors, including the lesbian couple across the street (admirable for such a right-wing guy); he told me he was going to go down to the USS Intrepid Museum in the city; and he said he renewed his passport so he and Mark could take a trip to Argentina.

Most guys his age have been enjoying their retirement since they hung up their ties, but my father lost all that time taking care of my mother. I hope this part of his life makes up for that time. He made his choice when he refused to pay for a nursing home, but for 13 years, he couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I think it’s good for him that he’ll only use the internet at the library, and not just for my sake. I’d much rather he go out and experience the world firsthand. And I’m glad he’s not wasting any time.


Potty Training May Kill Me

I hate potty training. It’s been one week and I want to kill myself. I am slowly succeeding through my newfound alcoholism. I haven’t awakened in a gutter yet but it would be preferable to going through another potty training session.

I just read some articles on potty training. They call it “an exciting time” and tout “no more diapers.” Lies. Potty training sucks and I would gladly change Rose’s diapers until she goes to college in order to avoid the whole thing. But I’m making generalizations. Let me walk you through a typical potty session.

“I pee in the potty,” Rose says, running to the bathroom. She pulls down her pants, steps out of them, does the same with her pull-up diaper. She steps up on the stool in front of the toilet, turns around holding my hand and sits on the potty seat, too close to the front.

“Scootch back a little, Sweetie,” I say, as I physically direct her.

Scootched back, she looks between her legs and begins to pee. “Good job, Baby!” I say. She stands up.

“Ok, now wipe,” I say, handing her a few sheets of toilet paper. “Wipe front to back,” I say, demonstrating. She wipes back and forth, turns the paper over, wipes again. “Put it in the potty,” I say. With great relish, she does, then she flushes.

“I pee again,” she says, climbing back up on the stool.

“No, you’re done,” I say. “We pee once and we walk away.”

“I pee again,” she says.

“No sweetie. Just put your pull up on.”

“I pee again,” she says.

“Fine, pee again.” She pees a few drops.

“I wipe!”

“Ok,” I say, handing her the paper. She wipes and throws the paper in the toilet.

“Ok, flush,” I say.

“I pee again!”

“No, Sweetie, please just flush,” I plead.

She flushes and bows her head directly over the toilet to watch the paper go down. “Good job! Pick your head up, Honey, ” I say. Her head inches up. She tries to flush again. “It won’t work, Sweetie. It’s too soon,” I say. She tries again. “Put your pull-up on.”

“No!”

“Put your pull up on,” I say, more forcefully.

“No. I pee again.”

“Rose, we cannot spend all day in the bathroom. We pee; we wipe; we walk away. If we spent all day in the bathroom we’d never have time to play or eat or run or jump. Now…put…your…pull-up…on,” I say through gritted teeth.

“No!”

“Put your pull up on or you get a timeout.” You’re not supposed to say anything negative, but what am I supposed to do? She’s got to learn to get the pull-up on.

“I sit here,” she says, sitting on the stool and putting one foot into the pull-ups. I guide it and the other foot to their respective leg holes.

“Ok, Wash your hands.”

Rose moves the stool over to the sink. “Get the soap!” she says. I pump some on her hands. I turn the sink on and she rubs her hands, then puts them in the faucet’s flow and splashes water all over herself and the counter. I throw out her old diaper; turn the sink off.

“Ok, dry your hands,” I say, handing her the hand towel.

She yanks it off the towel rack, rubs her little hands on it.”Let me put it back,” I say.

“No! I put it back!” she says. She climbs off the stool, moves the stool three inches toward the towel rack, climbs back on and strains her body toward the towel rack, clutching the towel. The towel just touches the bottom of the rack. I grab the corner, pull it over, say “Pull,” and she pulls the wrong end of the towel. “No, Baby, this side,” I say, shaking it. She obliges, then attempts to jump off the plastic resin stool. “That’s not a good thing to jump off. It can kick back and you’ll fall on your face,” I say, grabbing her arms. She steps down and runs into the living room. I go to the bar and mix a drink.

Our babysitter tells me I’m supposed to sit her on the potty every half hour. That would be impossible because each pee attempt takes forty minutes. I haven’t even mentioned pooping but I will summarize. Rose will tell me she has to poop; we’ll go to the potty; she’ll take down her pull up and the poop will already be there. She has gone a couple of times in the potty, the first in the standalone potty, and let me just say “Eeew.” That’s when I bought the potty seat for the toilet. Anyway we use wipes to wipe poop but she wants to do it herself. I think that’s a completely different level of wiping expertise so we’re not going there yet. I have no idea if I’ve gotten it all if she’s standing up so I try to take her to her changing table after a poop, wipe her and have her put her pull-up on. Then I go to the bar and mix a drink.

We cannot continue like this. I think we both know that. Rose’s psyche and my sobriety are at stake. My plan is to start a positive reinforcement schedule, offering a sticker if she gets up from the potty and puts her pull up on. If she tires of stickers, I’ll trade up to a toy. I’m prepared to upgrade her reward all the way to a pony, if necessary. I just read that the average time it takes to potty train a kid is eight months. If it takes that long, we’ll go back to Plan A – diapers until college. In the meantime, I’m stocking up on booze and locking up the sharp objects.


I’ve Got a Secret

“How do you get Rose to play by herself?”

I get that a lot. After “Parenting in Moderation” ran, I got it a lot more often. The post described my afternoons – sitting on the couch while Rose plays by herself – and how I don’t understand what the other moms do with their kids when they say they’re so busy.

It seems that their kids don’t play by themselves. Rose has entertained herself for so long that I have a hard time believing that other kid’s don’t. I do believe it, but even I have difficulty coping with Rose sometimes. If I had to engage Rose every minute of every day, I’d have lost it a long time ago. I worry that Rose is such an easy child, she’s ruined us for the next kid.

But in talking with other moms who want to know my secret, I discovered that I do, in fact, have a secret. I did raise her differently than the stay-at-home moms I know. Six weeks after Rose was born, I went back to work. I work at home, so I was able to keep Rose with me for the first seven months. When she was really little and slept all the time, I just worked and took diaper, bottle and burp breaks. When she began to stay awake longer, I’d sit on the floor with my laptop and she’d lie next to me in her baby gym and play with the toys above her head. That’s when the guilt set in. Thirty years from now, she’ll be in therapy because Mommy ignored her all the time, I’d fret. But I continued to work and I continued to “ignore” her until I was off the clock. I made sure she got my full attention after work.

When Rose was five months old, we visited my friend in Los Angeles. My friend marveled at how I could lay her down in her portable bed and walk away. I could always see her, but I didn’t feel the need to be right with her all the time. She told me that with her first son, she had stayed close to him all the time, but with her two younger sons, she eased off and the oldest son grew clingy while the others did not.

Hmm, maybe I’m on to something here, I thought. Could it be that “ignoring” your kid is actually good for her? Looking to assuage my guilt, I quickly embraced the theory and continued to “ignore” her as she grew. As she got more interactive, she became harder and harder to “ignore” during work, but I would buy new toys to keep her engaged and if they worked for 15 minutes at a time, they were a good purchase. By the time she was eight months old and no longer napping twice a day I knew I had to either quit my job or get some help. I hired a babysitter to care for her a few hours a day until her nap. The babysitter had a toddler several months older than Rose, and though the kid was mean to Rose sometimes, I think Rose welcomed the company.

We moved, got a new babysitter, and I still work part time. Rose plays with a bunch of kids at the sitter’s house, comes home, naps, and then plays by herself until dinner. I have made peace with her independence. I like it, to tell the truth. I did go through a guilt-wracked period in which I wondered whether I should play with her all the time. I was so worried I brought it up to our teacher at preschool. She asked, “Do you want Rose to be independent?” Of course I do. The teacher pointed out what a happy kid Rose was. If my “inattention” was hurting her, she’d let me know. She lets me know when she wants my attention and I oblige. What more did I need to know?

I guess what I needed to know is that even though she didn’t get the attention that stay-at-home moms can give their kids, she survived and even thrived. And even though I stumbled upon it, I found a way to raise an independent kid and to ease my parental workload at the same time. And all I needed was the reassurance that I was doing it right. Let’s just hope it works with the next kid.


Different Colored Glasses

For most of my life, I saw the world through a dark cloud. I saw the bad in everything and busied myself thinking of worst-case scenarios so I’d be prepared when they came true. They rarely did, but with my perpetually gloomy outlook, if I had won the lottery, I’d have complained about the taxes.

Twelve years ago, with some chemical assistance, my perpetual frown turned itself upside down for good. I’m not a complete optimist now, but I maintain a positive attitude, look for the good in every outcome and practice gratitude on a daily basis. This might make a stronger person more tolerant of gloom and doom but not me. Through numerous opportunities I have learned that I can no longer tolerate the thinking that sustained me years ago.

And then there’s my husband. Matt sees the world through gray-colored glasses. He’s a worrier. Here’s one example: He’s a star at work. Everyone he works with loves him and vocally and frequently appreciates the work he does on a regular basis. Yet the slightest hiccup at the office renders him petrified at the prospect of sudden unemployment. I think it’s ridiculous but every time something like that happens, he sends me a spreadsheet detailing our fiscal plans should he lose his job in the next ten minutes.

A couple of months ago, we rushed Rose, our two-year-old, to the hospital. It was Sunday and she was vomiting a lot and her doctor didn’t return our calls, so to be safe, we took her to the emergency room. We spent most of the night at the hospital and by the time we left, she was almost perfect. Yesterday Matt showed me a picture of her sitting on the hospital bed and I joked that he took pictures everywhere. He said, “I thought she wasn’t going to make it.” Honestly. She was throwing up. Kids do that. The thought never crossed my mind that she had anything but a virus – possibly food poisoning. In my eyes, we took her in just to be safe. In his, we faced losing our little girl.

Because I know how much it hurts to have a negative outlook, I pretend to tolerate the worry. I love him. We’re married. I have to. But what he doesn’t know is that when he starts spouting off like Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore on a bad day, I switch my attention to the TV or a fascinating specimen of a hangnail on my pinky and wait for him to finish. When he’s through I try to make him see something positive. That’s my evil plan. Because I’m a woman and women strive to change their partners, I’ve taken on The Matt Project. I’ve got to believe there’s a vein of optimism in him somewhere, and if I tap it, nuggets of positive thinking will spill out. How can a middle class guy who reads the yacht classifieds not maintain a hint of optimism?

Matt tells me that he’s “wired” to worry. I hear “That’s just the way I am,” a lot. But you know what? I overcame the bad stuff and chemical assistance only gets you so far. Pharmaceuticals only give you the opportunity to see things differently. They can change the color of your glasses, but you still have to interpret what you see.

Worry focuses on outcomes. Positive thinking focuses on possibilities. The other day, while driving underneath a stack of highways in downtown Seattle, I thought, What would I do if I were here during an earthquake? I mentioned it to my husband, and the first thing he said was, “You can’t live like that,” thinking I’d avoid driving there from now on. He misunderstood. I was literally thinking about what I would DO in that situation. Would I slow down or stop and get out of the car? Would I gun the engine and get out as fast as I could? I was preparing for a positive outcome in my head. He thought I expected to get squashed. But that discussion cultivates some hope in me. If he believes that you can’t live your life avoiding the bad things, then maybe he can learn to live his life looking for the good ones.

Much as I try to ignore it, his tendency to worry has influenced me. I am now afraid of things I never feared before. Fire, for example. But it’s a positive thing, really. Because of him I unplug the coffee pot every day. Because of him I won’t leave the dryer on when I go out. Because of him, we have a fire extinguisher in our kitchen. That last one might be my contribution. I have been known to set the toaster oven on fire. And you know what? When the toaster oven was burning, he was calm and I completely panicked. He put on some oven mitts, carried the oven outside and directed me to hold the doors for him. Had he not told me to hold the doors, I’d have frozen to that spot in the kitchen and waited for the building to burn down. To this day, I am not allowed to have a toaster oven. When I want toast, I stick my bread onthe oven rack.

I think his worrying and my lack of worry create a balance that enhances our ability to survive. He says he prepares for the worst and is pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t happen. I don’t give the worst the time of day, so when it does happen, I’m completely unprepared. I need someone to work out the disaster scenarios and to keep a level head in a crisis. He needs someone to reassure him when his worry gets out of control.

Both approaches to life have some advantages. His prepares us for challenges. Mine helps us overcome those challenges. Without his preparation and resulting calm, our apartment would have burned down. Without my ability to adapt to life without a toaster oven, we’d never have enjoyed toast again. I still want to help him see the positives, but I can appreciate the value that his worry brings to our relationship. Maybe he’ll be able to see the shiny side of the coin more often. Maybe I’ll learn to react appropriately in a crisis. Whatever misfortune befalls us, we know that we can count on him to survive it and we can count on me to move beyond it.