Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Miracle grow.

Learning to garden stick plants in pots and keep them alive has been really good for me. I love the way it's transformed our yard and the responsibility of watering, pruning and chasing off squirrels has been a lot more fun than I ever would've thought.

The best part, though, is how much it's taught me about letting go.

See, I'm kind of a control freak. Not the hard core kind who wants to control the wind, moon and stars and is constantly banging my head against the wall because not everything bends to my will. I'm more of a twelve step control freak.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Yep, that's me. Basically - I choose my battles.

I stopped trying to control people years ago and have mostly accepted that, while the world may or may not care what I want, how I respond to what happens is always up to me. 

I can live with that. 

Especially because there are so many ways to flex my inner control freak. Like making dinner. Or writing! Pretty much anything that starts with an idea and ends with something tangible satisfies my need to take charge. It's probably a good part of the reason I like making so much.

No matter what it is I'm working on, it all falls into the same category: controlled. I don't throw things together; I curate. Outfits, interiors, meals, play lists, you name it. Even simple things that might look like happy accidents (or not so happy accidents...) probably took more than a little thought to get right. 

And once I do get something how I like it? I leave it exactly as-is FOREVER. Or at least until I hate it so much I need to scrap the whole thing and start over.

Re-doing my back patio was definitely no exception. I had to move each pot a couple dozen times to figure out where it belonged and spent hours hanging all the lights (cords are my nemesis...) and rearranging furniture. When everything was finally balanced and just right, I sat back to relax and enjoy my perfect new space.

Only, it didn't stay "perfect" for very long.

Because, in case you didn't know, plants are highly unpredictable. Especially when you don't know a whole lot about them. This dawned on me the second I declared my project "finished" and has only been confirmed about a thousand times since. 

Leaves change color. Flowers die and bloom and die again. Some plants triple in size after a big rain while others keel over. What you see today might never be the same again. 

When I first realized this I thought, "Welp. It's been fun. But I don't think this whole gardening thing is for me..." I mean, who wants to put in all that hard work for an end result that won't just sit there and behave?! If I wanted attitude, I'd try to control my children...

And that's exactly why my backyard is good for me. It's a constant exercise in letting go. In knowing I don't have control but doing it anyway. I wouldn't say I've embraced the idea of change just yet, but I'm willing to stick it out to see what happens. It's a process. A process that's already shown me that sometimes the unexpected can be beautiful. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to reality, more or less.

On our way home from Hawaii, we spent some time visiting family and friends in Reno (our hometown) and Tahoe (where my cousin has a house). It was hectic as usual with musical beds, packing and re-packing, but we made it work. I'm always glad we do.

Bill and I got to spend some time with his old bandmates/two of our best friends and I was lucky enough to get to hang out, groupie style, while they played music and messed around. It was kind of my favorite thing ever (even though I fell asleep on the floor and woke up at 3 am and none of them were wearing shirts...).

The day after Bill flew home, I woke up at FOUR IN THE MORNING to meet friends and take the boys to the Great Reno Balloon Races. It was hard to drag myself out of bed (yet surprisingly easy to get the boys going...) but I'm so glad I rallied. Nothing like watching a field of hot air balloons come alive around you after seeing dawn patrol AND the sunrise. Kind of an epic experience.

I was a little surprised to find out on this trip that I'm not completely useless as a caregiver. I hesitate to even use that word since I am in no way, shape or form doing what a real caregiver must do. I'm still on the sidelines, watching my dad care for my mom (who is worse all the time), wishing I could do more but not actually having any earthly idea what that means. He is handling the day-to-day, and while it's not exactly his Oscar-winning role (nurturing doesn't seem to come super naturally for him), he's doing far more than any of us could imagine.

Have you spent time with someone who has Alzheimer's? It sucks. I mean, really. It's nothing against my mom, it's just the disease. My mom is gone and what we're left with is a sack of symptoms. You might totally disagree or think I'm a mean and horrible person but that's fine. I'm just being honest about my experience.

I spent a few hours alone with her while my dad went to a doctor's appointment and it gave me a small taste for just how difficult it must be for him day in and day out EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. After five minutes of sitting alone with my mom having coffee (without conversation), I was racking my brain trying to come up with something else we could do.

She couldn't talk.

She didn't understand anything I said.

She wasn't hungry.

She wouldn't let me take off her chipped nail polish (from the manicure my dad gave her...).

Things that seemed to bring her a little joy six months ago (watching the kids play, soft toys, her pets...) don't seem to be working anymore. She just wandered around the house (which she only sometimes knows is hers) or stared off into space or shrugged her shoulders and sighed uncomfortably. I tried showing her pictures, talking to her, turning on music, taking her outside...but nothing seemed to help her engage.

I finally decided we should take the dog for a LONG walk (something she used to love) but she didn't even enjoy that. She was confused about what we were doing, where we were going, and if we'd ever get home. She didn't understand why we had to do any of it.

Part of me wanted to yell, "Do you have any better ideas?!" While the other part just wanted to tell her the truth: "Because if we walk for an hour it means we'll be one hour closer to bedtime. And, if you get some exercise you might actually sleep through the night instead of waking up every 30 minutes asking to go home..."

Instead I just showed her the trees and talked about the dog and pointed out the houses where I used to babysit and where my best friend used to live and assured her that everything was going to be okay. "Don't worry, Mom. I know the way. We'll be there soon..." But when we got there, she was just as uneasy. Not asking for my dad like she sometimes does, just looking around and shrugging like, "Well, shit, this doesn't make sense either..."

Not long after we got home, my parents' neighbor came over to have a little pow wow with me (it takes a village...) which was such a blessing I kind of want to cry even thinking about it. She truly loves my parents and only wants what's best for them (both of them). She's a nurse and a caregiver and a straight shooter who sees far more first hand than my sister or I can from far away. We're so lucky to have her in our corner.

She talked to me about caregiving and about how when she had to take care of her dad, she had to go to therapy before she could allow herself to take charge. It's such a back-asswards situation, you know? Like parents and children switching roles. Where's the What to Expect book for aging parents?!

Anyway, she helped me understand that it's okay to have opinions and expectations and if I need to put my foot down now and then, it's actually OKAY. I'm not talking about coming in with a bulldozer and trying to take over (trust me). Just like, "Hey, Dad, if you could commit to going to a caregiver's support group once a week, that would really ease my mind." And then not taking no for an answer.

I really needed to hear it.

My dad got home when she was still at the house and we got to talking and found ourselves more or less on the same page. We decided to go check out a part time adult care program for my mom ("the club") so he could have a few hours to regroup each week and he agreed to follow up with the support group. It felt like a really big step but at a pace we were both comfortable with. I think we were ready for it to happen.

Which is sad in a way because it means that's how much the disease has progressed. We're not surprised, exactly - it's a progressive disease - just sad. It will only get worse. We all know this. Every week there is less and less to hold on to. I had to let go completely because she hasn't known me in a while. My mom is gone but my dad's wife is still around. A little bit. From time to time. I think he's beginning to accept that the parts that go are gone for good but it only makes him fight harder to keep what he has (which is really hard to watch). He's angry. And who can blame him, really? It's an awful disease.

Then... (like my leg warmers?!) And now! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Slept in. Missed yoga on the beach. Hung out in bed while the boys built couch forts, turned their bedroom into a restaurant, played with their stufties and just generally enjoyed some naked down time.

Made tacos for brunch and ate on the lanai. Watched the boys blow bubbles for each other. Played Frisbee on the lawn and picked a few different plumeria (white, pink and!?) to see which was our fave. It was unanimous: a three-way tie.

Got our stuff together and headed to the beach. Met some nice people from Vancouver, BC - retired teachers who got our little Finn IMMEDIATELY. Before I could even ask Finn again to take his milkshake cup to the cabana (his general rule is to start with a no) our new friend said, "I'm going to count to 100. I bet you can't put that cup away and get back here before I'm done. One, two..." I've never seen that kid move so fast (and he's a runner!).

Rented a SUP (stand up paddle) board and shocked the heck out of ourselves by getting up on the very first try. None of us ever fell and Liam and I even went all the way out to the Winona and touched the boat - Liam's goal from the second he stepped foot on the beach.

While Bill and Liam were paddling around, Finn swam - really swam! - to me in the ocean. He's been doing it in a pool for months but this was his first time believing he could do it in open water. After he touched my hands and popped his head out of the water a few times he yelled, "Hey Liam! Watch this!" Liam said, "Wow, Finn! Great job!" and Finn just about burst.

They get along fine at home but on vacation they're buddies. It might be my very favorite part.

Stopped at the pool on the way home (after saying hi to our sea turtle friends, of course) and watched the sun set from the deep end. Counted down like we usually do and when it disappeared Liam said, "Thank you, sun, for lighting our world and giving us this wonderful day."

"I love you, sun!" Finn yelled.

I think Bill cried a little.

Headed home and were greeted by a cute grey cat hanging out on our lanai. Feral cats are one of the many adorable wild animals here on the big island (kittens, mongoose, geckos...I mean, are they kidding with how perfect this place is?!) but this guy seemed anything but wild. We named him Friday and fed him some leftovers. The boys begged us to let them keep him. I went to change out of my swimsuit and Bill gave them the good news. They ran in to tell me. "Mama! Guess what?! We get to keep Friday! He's our OUTDOOR cat!!!"

My husband's a genius.

Rallied, said goodbye to the cat and headed to the Mauna Kea. It's the hotel down the road where Bill's family used to stay before their condo was built. He has a lot of childhood memories from that place. Most importantly - it's where he lost his blankie. The boys brought theirs in solidarity (well, Finn always brings his...) and they had a special moment at the last place Billy ever had blankie.

Tough day for Dada's emotions.

Walked down to the water to see if any manta rays had come for dinner (they eat plankton, plankton are attracted to light, the hotel shines a light, manta rays show up - it's kinda genius). Asked the marine biologist in the water all of our questions (about manta rays and the box jellies that also showed up) and stayed until the ray swam away and the diver had to get out (or keep getting stung).

Score one for world school!

Came home, got the boys to bed, and headed outside to look at the stars. (It's a like a planetarium here...the sky is our nightly entertainment.) Were pleasantly surprised when Friday showed up and jumped right up on Bill's lap. And when he went inside to refill our spritzers (best vacay drink - half boxed wine, half sparkly water!), the cat sat by the door waiting for him.

This place really feels like home.

Finally had to say goodnight to Friday (or whatever day it was...) - and our cat. Headed to bed, thankful for another great day.

It's been one hell of a vacation.