Club Sandwich Anyone?

My husband and I were in his mother’s room at the nursing home visiting with his father and the Director of a nursing agency that will provide home care for my mother-in-law when the call came in from the elementary school Principal. Seems the 8 year old got a bit carried away in art trying to recreate a Jackson Pollack masterpiece by shaking down some paints and making an enormous mess. That’s after he slammed down on a ketchup packet at lunch, which when released, found its way into the eye of a classmate…not his best day….As I stood there listening to the call, I just kept thinking, please, please don’t ask me to come and get him…I need to be with my hubby and his parents right now..

Our little grand guy is 8 years old, and my husband’s parents will both turn 95 this year so we we are most officially members of the club sandwich generation. A sandwich generation is defined as taking care of your parents and children at the same time, a club sandwich just means you’ve added an extra layer of another generation to the mix.

I am blessed to belong to a family where there is so much love and respect for my in-laws. Together they raised three sons, who produced 5 sons and they now they have 3 great grands, and thankfully 92 years after my mother-in-law was born, one of the great grands was a girl!  They will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary in June. They’ve had an amazing life together, in retirement they traveled throughout the USA in their Road trek and joined active travel groups to see sights around the world. They were always very active, hiking, birding, walking, volunteering, and making new friends along the way.

Currently they both reside in a local Continuing Care Retirement Community, with mom living in a nursing home and dad residing in an independent apartment. Our current plan is to spring mom from the nursing home and put her in her own place with a full time care taker.  It’s been quite an ordeal working through all the options, but in the end, she’ll gain back some of her independence which will in turn make her happy. Her wants are small, she wants the option of having a poached egg for breakfast, an occasional bowl of fresh steamed clams and sleeping in until she wakes on her own and not being aroused when it’s convenient for the staff. We hope by her 95th birthday in April, she’ll be all settled in her new place.

We have to look at this time in our life as our time to give back.  My husbands parents and my parents were the type of folks that always had time for their children and grandchildren. One thing my husband and I had in common walking into our second marriage was the incredible bond our children had with our parents. That’s the type of bond, the legacy we hope we leave with our children and grands.

In the meantime, we’ll find the joy in caring for the oldest and youngest members of our family, taking each day as it comes, the good and some…..well, let’s just say we’ve banned ketchup packets from the house!

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

It’s been a rough season of five losses within my extended circle of friends, two husbands of friends that passed in circumstances that were unexpected, another friend succumbing to cancer after several years of struggling, another one dying peacefully after enjoying a very long and full life and the one buried today was most likely making dinner a week ago, never in her wildest dreams thinking it would be her last day on earth.

As I sat through the funeral today, I couldn’t help but think are we ever ready for the end of our life? Will it be sudden, or will it be the result of an illness, or will we fall asleep when we’re 100 and never wake up?

We think we have forever to go through our to do lists, to make a will, to leave detailed instructions, buried or cremated, open or shut casket, what songs to play, what verses to be recited, what pictures to select, the list is endless and we go to all lengths to avoid the hard conversations with our loved ones hoping things will just work out on their own, because in the end, someone takes control and makes it all happen. And of course, that someone is the person who loves us the most, be it a spouse or a child, or a parent.

Funerals give us an opportunity to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, while we  think about the impact their life had on others, their accomplishments, how they loved and cherished their families. I think funerals also serve another purpose and that is to remind us each of our own mortality.

What changes would we make in our life if we knew that in the near future our life would come to an end? And I guess the bigger question would be, if we know what the changes would or should be, why are we so reluctant to make them now?

Have you heard about “Swedish Death Cleaning”? It’s a term for the cleaning and de- cluttering you do when you think your time is almost up. Getting rid of the stuff in your house that your kids don’t want, think fine china, your books, your antiques, your collection of…fill in the blank… the list is endless….The upside to this practice is that once the cleaning and de-cluttering is done, your life is more organized, which makes the running of your everyday life run more smoothly…..

Which brings us to where this all started, how do we prepare for our last day on earth? We can plan, and organize and clean and de-clutter but I think the most important thing we can do is live life to it’s fullest, enjoy the sunsets, the times with our friends and family and to always make sure our loved ones know just how much they mean to us and how much they are loved.

Because in the end, love is the only thing that really matters…

 

 

 

Let it Go

We managed a brief 48 hour Staycation thanks to the help of little man’s other set of grandparents who offered us a brief respite from full time parenting.

The day we dropped him off was a bit dreary, too cold and damp for a hike, so we decided to visit the city of Lowell where we both had some roots from way back when. Hubby and I both attended the same college in Lowell, although at different times. Hubby graduated in June, I started the following September and at the ripe old age of 19 instead of continuing with my studies and receiving letters after my name, I acquired the initials of Mrs. preceding my first husband’s name.

The second of our Staycation days, we embarked on a trip to the High Ledges to see some beautiful foliage in western Massachusetts. It’s a hike I first went on with my children and members of my church close to 30 years ago and the spectacular views of bright fall foliage from high atop a ledge overlooking the valley below, never cease to amaze me. As with any woodland walk in the fall, the ground is covered in a combination of pine needles and fallen leaves, still colorful. With the light filtering through the trees, it’s like a magic carpet.

It was nice to have a few days in our home of normal retirement life, I find it’s the little things I miss, like sleeping with all the lights out, not supervising homework and shower times and able to watch whatever we wanted on Netflix without worrying about the effects on little ears and eyes.  It felt good just to be a couple in our own place for a few short days.

In my life, there have been so many expectations of how the path should have gone versus the actual path, those pesky what-ifs. Beginning way back when I started college, I fully intended to graduate with honors and begin a music career, but life got in the way and instead I got a head start in the marriage and mommy race. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing because if I had, I wouldn’t have my daughters and I couldn’t imagine my life without my gang of girls.

The what ifs are the stuff that can make us crazy…what if I had done things differently as a parent, would I be raising another child in my retirement years? What if she had made different decisions, would she be with her son today? Every now and then I find myself wanting to wander into that crazy space if for just a moment.

As we walked through the woods this past weekend and enjoyed the trees in all their splendor, we accept that the foliage season is short but very special, and after the vibrancy of the color the leaves drop and fade. The trees let go of their leaves on the promise of new life to come.

I wonder why it can be hard for us sometimes to let go of what is or what was planned to make way for the new life that is yet to come? I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that we need to let go sometimes to make room for what’s to come. Seems like pretty good advice, after all, it does work well for the trees.

Happy Fall

 

The Great Upheaval

We just returned from a relaxing, enjoyable week in beautiful Nova Scotia. While there we had the opportunity to visit the Acadian Village in Lower West Pubnico, Nova Scotia. The village was a delightful living museum where we learned about the history and culture of the Acadian people and enjoyed Rappie Pie for lunch, a traditional Acadian food made of potatoes, picture the consistency of potato jello covered with molasses…needless to say we were full until wine and popcorn time at 5:00…

As we made our back to our little cottage we talked about Longfellow’s Poem, Evangeline and how even after 50+ years after reading it for the first time, we were both struck by the impact the poem made on both of us as middle school kids. I couldn’t get out of my head the profound sadness of the poem, how finding and being betrothed to your one true love, only to be pulled apart on your wedding day and then to spend the rest of your life looking for him only to find him on his deathbed…how tragic..and I apologize if you were never forced to read the poem in middle school and I just gave away the entire story line!

The history of the Acadian people is long and complicated, and somewhere along the way it resulted in the forced removal of 10,000 Acadians by the British. British soldiers rounded up the frightened villagers, burnt their homes and crops and put them on boats and scattered them far and wide, with some ending up in Louisiana and known as Cajuns. Many did not survive, as men, women and children drowned or succumbed to illness. In the end, this great upheaval was deemed inhumane, brought about by man’s greed, confusion, misunderstanding and fear. (https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-deportation-of-the-acadians-feature)

As we toured the bucolic historic reenactment of this perfect Acadian village and learned about the Great Upheaval, I couldn’t help to think about what’s happening right now in our country. Like with the Acadians, the history of the folks seeking asylum in our country is long and complicated. Our immigration process is badly broken, used as the proverbial can kicked down the road by both the D’s and the R’s until there’s no road left. The Acadians were placed in boats and sent away, our seekers are being placed in wire enclosures, cages, and forced to wait to learn of their ultimate status…..will history look back at this time and call our leaders inhumane? Will future Americans look back and wonder what they would have done if they had been alive during this crisis? Is the cause of our immigration debacle due to greed, confusion, misunderstanding and fear? History will be the ultimate judge.

I wonder just how many Evangeline’s and Gabriel’s are out there… now named Jose and Maria, betrothed and now separated by unspeakable violence and poverty, one coming to seek asylum here in the USA to carve a way to a better life, while the other waits, and waits never to see or hear from their loved one again. I fear we are so caught up on all the underlying issues we are forgetting these are real people, with real dreams and not just nameless pawns caught in our broken system.

Now off my soapbox….and looking forward to the next adventure..and my next history lesson. BTW, we also visited the home of Alfred Fuller, the original Fuller Brush Man…more about him later!

Our Summer Solstice

It’s the longest day of the year and we’re in a little cabin on a beautiful clear pond in the middle of no where New Hampshire. Members of our village have taken little man for three nights and we are beyond excited.

With less than a weeks notice we were able to book an idyllic 3 night stay in a very quaint cabin on a little pond. I booked the place on Home Away, and this time we really lucked out, from the sweet front screened in porch with rocking chairs from the 50’s to the massive stone fireplace, to the bedroom with views on all sides of the water, to the western water view sunsets, to the absolute quietness with the exception of an occasional bird cry, to the no cable, no internet, no cell service.

The moment we arrived we looked at one another and said, “I feel the stress lifting”…we were so chill we didn’t even venture out for dinner, we traded plans for a fancy meal for crackers, cheese, hummus and grapes accompanied by chilled wine with a water view and an occasional cry from a loon.

For the next 3 days we had a race to see who could be most relaxed, who could sleep in the latest, who could read the most pages…who could get up the earliest and take to the pond in a Kayak…yeah, that wasn’t me! I won the prize for most cups of morning coffee consumed in the rocking chair on the screened in porch overlooking the water.

As much as we love our crazy club sandwich lives between grand-kids, kids and aging parents, it’s so good to have the opportunity to escape for a few days with the only goal to be as chill as possible. I forgot just how good it felt to have a few days where we didn’t have to do anything or take care of anyone but ourselves, it seems like a lifetime ago that was our life.

But now it’s back to summer 101, with the color coded calendar. We’re packing for vacation, juggling rides to camps, moving elderly parents, getting in the appointments and before you know it, in just 9 very short weeks, it will be time to go back to school. And we all know what that means, Dunkin Donuts will bring back the Pumpkin Spice Coffee and the Halloween Candy will displace the school supplies.

It’s such a short, sweet season, and for now, I’ll look forward to campfires and lobsters in Maine, the warmth of the sun, vacations with the people we love, the fresh strawberries from the garden and the trips to Rota Springs for Ice Cream.

Enjoy your summer

 

Man Plans and God Laughs

My favorite Jewish friend recent shared this Yiddish saying of how we can carefully plan but life can often be unpredictable. There have been several times in my life where I plan for something and at the last minute, I stand by shaking my head just to watch my carefully laid plan unravel thread by thread…

For the last 10 years of my career, I planned for a carefree retirement with the right combination of being on track financially, physically and emotionally. I planned to maintain a regular exercise schedule, I planned to take on volunteer roles in my church and community. My husband and I planned to travel several times a year to locations I plotted out on Google maps. But God had other plans that now include permanent guardianship of my 7 year old grandson and with that, all my previously well laid plans have jumped out a window…

I recently joined a support group for grandparents who are retired and raising one or more of their grandchildren. As we went around the room introducing ourselves with only our first names, we shared a bit about the circumstances that landed us sitting together in a circle on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon instead of checking something off on a retirement bucket list

As I listened and on occasion cried, I found myself wondering about what all these people planned to be doing at this stage in their lives. Did they fund their 401k contributions each week hoping for exotic vacations? Did they dream of a second home in Arizona or maybe in Tuscany? Did they plan to buy a motor home and hit the road? Did they dream about sleepovers and vacations with all their grandchildren? Things I don’t think they wished for were to toilet train a three year old, or to teach a teen how to drive or to struggle with their own aging issues while parenting a grandchild with significant trauma related issues. Or dealing with the never ending drama with their own child who for whatever reason has horribly failed as a parent. Or a parents worst nightmare, taking custody of your grandchild because your child is deceased

As this is now my new reality, I’ve been looking at various articles published about grandparents as parents. There seems to be two faces of these grandparents, the outside face of hey, everything is great and I’m happy I could step up and help my grandchild and the real side that few people see, the, this is a nightmare that never ends, I’m depressed, I feel isolated, I’ve lost my identity….side. If I’m being honest, I have experienced both sides from time to time. The hardest part is when you have several other grandchildren who now don’t get Gramma alone…because Gramma needs to put the grandchild living with her the priority. He doesn’t have a mommy and daddy and that’s hard for the other kids to understand at times.

The small victories help keep me going, the successful IEP meetings, watching him make new friends, his being able to sleep through the night without every light on…and knowing that the structured schedule, stability and unconditional love is making a difference and will help him heal from the trauma he’s suffered.

I feel fortunate to live in a state where there is there a Commission on the Status of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and real live people who answer emails and return phone calls. And even an all day Grandparents Conference planned with guest speakers and resources and of course the support groups. I’m also fortunate to have strong family support, the most important being my husband who parents with me every single day.

Along this new journey I’ve met some wonderful people who when faced with heart wrenching situations have managed to bravely take on what was thrown their way. They are the helpers our much missed and beloved Mr Rogers talked about that I’ll seek out because even in the midst of their own challenges, they give back to others…always answering questions and giving advice to the folks who never planned to be in this situation.

I’ll continue to plan, as I’ve always been a planner….you can ask my kids about my obsession with color coding…and I’m hoping God doesn’t laugh…what are the odds?

My Disney World Adventure

Is it every parents and grandparents dream to take their children and subsequent grandchildren to visit a large mouse in Florida at least once in their lifetime? Judging from what I saw in Florida this past week, I believe this to be a true statement.

I took my kids twice, the first time was back in the mid 80’s when they were all little and again in the early 90’s, it was our last family trip before my oldest began college. Of course, those trips took place before the age of electronics, we had to navigate the park with a paper map, this was long before the magical Disney app with the interactive maps and up to date wait times. We still managed to have make some great family memories and it was nice that I was able to return with one of my children and my two youngest grandsons in tow.

I lost count of the number of groups I saw in the magic kingdom wearing matching t-shirts, everything from the ordinary Family 2019 trip, to Birthday kid and I’m with Birthday kid, and I’m birthday kids brother/sister/aunt/uncle…to the Cheerleading groups, the youth groups, the middle school music groups and on and on…the best one I saw was the Thing One and Thing two shirts on a group of about 20, it was a large family and grandpa was in a wheelchair being pushed around by one of his many grandchildren.

I also saw a few moms in wheelchairs with bandannas to cover their bald heads…I can only imagine how emotional on so many levels a visit to this special place meant to them and their young families.

I do believe that the Magic Kingdom is one the happiest places on earth. So it’s raining, let’s have a rain parade, it’s no big deal, everything’s ok….continuous parades and happy music..screaming kids, it’s ok..you’re at the Magic Kingdom.

I am amazed at the unbelievable coordination at every single level to make the visit as enjoyable as possible, from the easy entry, to how skillfully the lines are arranged so standing on your feet in 89 degree heat doesn’t seem so unbearable. The occasional fans, the interactive activities for the kids, each designed with the intent to make the experience pleasurable. The wristbands should be mandatory for every theme park, they truly are like Magic.

For a long time I had a wish to bring all our six kids and grandkids together for a trip to Disneyworld, maybe I just wanted to be part of the group with the t-shirts….we tried several times but we could never manage to come up with a date that would work for everyone…go figure

What I’ve learned as I’ve aged is that you can plan to your hearts content but sometimes your well intentioned plan and reality get together behind your back and make their own plan…and in this case it couldn’t have worked out any better for me.

So I’m chillin in my golden years…not getting too worked up if things don’t go as I’ve planned because my unplanned stuff has been pretty amazing, so reality and well intentioned plans can have at it anytime as far as I’m concerned, I’m always up for a good surprise or two.