Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day in the Life of a Teacher!

There is no such thing as a boring day working with teens.  The pace is frenetic.  The moods are mercurial. The net energy output can be exhausting. But 12 and 13 year olds come up with the funniest things that never fail to make me laugh.  Some examples of recent exchanges:
“I can’t find my assignment or my book.  My dad was Feng Shuing our house.  Again!”

With 2 days left to go in the quarter.  “How can I raise my grade?”  Teacher’s reply, “I’ll tell you how you can raise your grade.  Find a time machine and go back a couple of months and redo everything.”  Even student thought this was funny.

“If I get an A in your class, my mom promises me a hamster.” 

Day after day, after day, over and over and over again these questions are asked, usually by the same kids. “Can I go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, go to the office?”

“Did I miss anything when I was absent?” huh?

“I just want to let you know, I will not be here next Thursday. Will I miss anything?”

When asked why aren’t you starting your work? “I’ll do it with my tutor.”

When asked, why didn’t you do your homework? “I was too busy.”

When asked, what were you doing? “Playing computer games.” Nice.

And my personal favorite from a very bright 7th grader to a very bright and distinguished teacher (not me):

            “You have nothing to teach me!”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Egg Salad Sandwich

I don’t know when my husband began to make our daily lunches, but I do love it.    The sandwich reminded me of my dad and an incident that happened two years ago.

My father lied to me on the day he died. 

That day was cannibalized by chores. Chores, which I unenthusiastically ticked off one right after another. Chores, which included emptying the urinal, tending to his bills, running errands.  Chores requiring me to deal with the bureaucracy of the Vets, wasting precious time trying get someone, ANYONE please, to listen to me. And this was all before noon. Any caretaker understands the patience required to help a loved one who is ill.  I would not make a good nurse.

 I did feel useful cooking, however, although getting my dad to eat proved challenging, but I persisted.

This particular Thursday, I made my dad an egg salad sandwich for lunch.  Naturally, he wasn’t hungry and wouldn’t touch it.   I tried to coax him to eat, telling him I loaded it up with salt, but he couldn’t be bothered. Imagine feeding an ailing man with hypertension, salt! His standard response, “I’ll eat it later”.  My reply, “The eggs are fresh, dad.” Again he repeated for me to put it in the cooler by his bed and he would eat it along with the fruit platter for dinner. I continued with the chores.

That day it was my brother’s turn to stay with dad. So, I wrote a note to my brother instructing him what had been done and what still needed to be done including a directive on getting dad to eat the sandwich. I reluctantly left with the image of dad lying on his bed, egg salad sandwich an arms length away.  After a two-hour drive, I came home to a family who welcomed me home, concerned about grandpa.  I carried on at home, doing all the things moms do on any given day.

It is amazing to me that my dad mustered the strength to call me soon after I returned home, but I was thrilled and encouraged.  He asked about my drive, Gary, the girls.  I asked him if he ate the sandwich. Yes, the fruit and the sandwich was eaten, thank you very much. Good, I felt better and useful, end of subject.
Dad’s voice sounded pretty strong, better than when I left him hours earlier.  We talked for a few minutes more and ended that memorable conversation with an I love you. 

The next call came at two in the morning.  In a rare moment of tears and panic, my brother told me dad had just died and he didn’t know what to do.  After calming him down, I promised him to do nothing and I would be there in two hours.  I threw my luggage, still unpacked, back in the car and with the blessing of my family made the 2-hour trek back to my dads.

 It was now four in the morning and I had time in the car to revisit the events of the day: the urinal, Vets, progress with Meals on Wheels, the sound of dad’s voice when he told me he loved me.

 I was pleased to see dad’s house aglow with lights when I pulled into the parking slot in front of his house.  Entering his room, there he was peacefully positioned on his bed by my brother.  With candles lit and the house quiet, I noticed the cooler still within reach. This time near an arm that would never again reach out for it. I walked over to the cooler and lifted the lid.  There in all of its tasty, salty glory was the egg salad sandwich and the fruit platter.  At least dad didn’t lie to me about his love.  The egg salad was proof of that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A 24 Hour Visit!

The best part of my weekend was the walk.  It was her idea.  I hadn’t seen her in almost 2 months, 7 weeks longer than any other separation we had ever had.  It was worth the wait.

Our visit was easy, effortless as the conversation flowed from one topic to the next.  I was mostly listening, only occasionally interjecting a question or a comment.  What impressed me most was the ease at which she has made this transition.  I could tell that at times she is uncomfortable, but ok with that.  She expounded on her values, how she was raised and how grateful she is for her family.  Wow, to hear this and not wonder what the ulterior motive is was a first.

I soaked up every word because I knew the visit would be brief.  I heard about weather patterns, a child’s developing brain, World War II.  This is not the first daughter to enlighten me with her learning.  After the walk, dinner. I enjoyed preparing her favorite meal, pasta with fresh garden tomatoes. After dinner she had to study. Study?  Fantastic!  Just knowing she was tucked away in her bedroom reading delighted me. 

The next morning she was whisked off to the 49er game, her dad’s turn to enjoy her presence.  He too was intoxicated with happiness.  Not that we’ve been mourning the emptiness or change.  In fact, we’ve reveled in it.  Couldn’t be better in fact.  And here’s why, both our girls are happy.  They are productive.  They are independent.  And they are at the cusp of such potential. 

And so am I.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mothering Mothers

My mother has Alzheimer’s.  There, I said it.  Rarely do I state those words so directly.  It pains me to say it, but it feels good not to deny it.  I’ve been struggling with this for about 4 years now.  In the beginning there were only subtle clues to the interference in her brain.  She always seemed a tad overwhelmed.  She was making careless decisions about finances.  She was less confident.  And I ignored them, blaming it on her thyroid. 

Once diagnosed, true to my nature, I (and my family) took action.  She retired, moved, lost her drivers license all in a matter of months.  I began the laborious, but loving tasks of helping her set up her household, just as she did for me when I was a young adult.  We inventoried the grocery supply, we created a budget and took over the payment of her bills. Together, we practiced how to operate a new stove in her cottage. I employed family and friends to help with errands, shopping and doctors appointments. 

As the disease progressed, more hands on help became glaringly apparent.  She could no longer take the City bus.  The doctor office messages became more confusing to her. Once an outstanding cook, the complex task of reading a recipe proved too frustrating. Cooking morphed into heating food in the microwave minute by automatic minute.  For her, pushing the time button on the appliance followed by the five, zero, zero, start was just too difficult. 

But, oh the stories!  She remembered them well and delighted me and my girls in her typically understated description of her unusual childhood.  These stories I couldn’t get enough of.  It was not hard to coax her in a conversation of the past, as the conversation about a recent meal was long forgotten.  Her most favorite topic of conversation was her grandchildren, my daughters and nephews. She thinks they are all perfect as only a grandmother could.  Repeatedly she’ll ask, when will they be home next?  I ask that too. 

So this weekend, as we worked side by side in the garden, she delighted me in stories of her youth. We gossiped about the grandkids.  And she shed more light on her relationship with her own mom.  She made me laugh as I tried to fill in the gaps of the words she was trying to recall. Laugh at the absurdity of her mother’s lack of loving parenting. Smile at how she still loves her mom despite her mom’s coolness. Wonder at the care with which she still can muster up the wisdom to accept how things are in life and make peace with it, even though all the circuits aren’t firing properly.

As much as I think that I am mothering my mother, she has much to teach me.