About six weeks ago I was given custody of my grandson’s Betta while he and and his mother went to Texas to visit her family. I have worried and fretted over this fish for the past 42 days, bought him special water, kept a room extra warm for him, read up on why he might not be eating, talked to him at meal times, left detailed notes about his care when I left town… It was crazy. I was crazy.
My grandson’s parents assured me he wouldn’t be traumatized if his fish died, but I was obsessed with making sure this fish survived his time in my care.
Now this is particularly silly because we also have one of their dogs, a beloved and totally lovable Labrador Retriever who, to my knowledge, didn’t come from Labrador and doesn’t retrieve. He would be very much missed if anything happened to him, but I didn’t worry about him except in the normal way one worries about a dog in their care.
My husband calls the Betta -my anxiety fish, and I think he means that I am going to fret over this fish until he is returned to his own home, thankfully tomorrow. But I think it’s something deeper. With my life so full of things to cause worry, it’s easier to concentrate on the anxiety fish. Sick, elderly dad? Eighty-year-old uncle with pneumonia? Failed business and financial ruin? These things I can handle. But this fish…
Last night I dreamed that instead of the one fish I have been caring for, it turned out that there were three, and two of them were getting really hungry. As I was looking for their food, I kept finding tanks and tanks full of fish that I was supposed to be taking care of, each needing different food, and some of them were supposed to be fed to the others. One was supposed to be fed linen glitter, whatever that is, but I could only find regular glitter… It went on and on and on.
I think my mind has fixated on to this fish as a way of not getting overwhelmed by everything else. I can still do what I need to do, but I’m not focusing on the things I can’t do anything about.
The Bad A few years ago my dad was diagnosed with a rare blood condition called myelodysplastic syndrome. At the time the doctor didn’t think treatment was necessary so it sort of sat in the background, something to be aware of but not overly concerning. Last summer things started falling apart. Dad contracted pneumonia and they discovered he was also very anemic. He spent some time in the hospital, received blood transfusions along with his antibiotics, and was advised to contact his ‘cancer doctor’ as Dad calls him.
At the time, Dad was living alone with an assortment of cats and dogs; three of each. He lived in a nearby but we didn’t visit often because he preferred to visit us. He stopped in almost daily and had a standing invitation to dine with us, and in the months leading up to and immediately following his hospitalization we noticed he was visiting at meal time more and more often.
Dad lost his partner of two decades a few years ago, and my brother and his family had recently moved back to town. We chalked up his visits to missing Norma and wanting to catch up on lost time with my brother.
The Good After following up with his doctor, Dad started chemo in August. Toward the end of September my brother stopped in to visit and was concerned about how much Dad was deteriorating and the condition of the house. We went to do some emergency cleaning, and three days later Dad was installed in the guest room of our home. Dad is a gregarious person so we always worried about him living alone. With five other people in the house there is always someone to listen to his stories.
My business was already struggling. I may have been able to pull through without the distraction of caring for my dad, but I may not have. I will never know and honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I closed it up and filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Not ideal, but there it is.
We divided up the pets, my brother and sister-in-law initially taking the two young dachshunds (my daughter has since adopted one), and Norma’s son taking the ancient female cat. We brought home two cats (one stayed and one moved on), and my dad’s 16-year-old poodle, Jake.
Jake was like a creature from another planet. He was deaf and blind with bad knees and about three teeth. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth, and he hobbled around like a newborn lamb. He relied mostly on his sense of smell to guide him, and he had been ‘doing his business’ in the house for years. He quickly figured out there were rewards for ‘going’ outside, and within a few days he was pretty well house trained. He cried vociferously when Dad was gone. It sounded like a cat. He was a weird little dude and sometimes we enjoyed him, other times not so much.
More of the Bad Over this past weekend, Jake got sick. He was struggling to breathe and having lots of accidents. Somehow he survived the weekend, but Dad made the difficult decision to have him put down. I made the appointment for the afternoon to give Dad and the family time to say goodbye, and my son drove to the vet clinic as I held Jake in his favorite blanket and loved on him all the way there. He perked up as we drove past the Dairy Queen, and I will always regret that we didn’t stop for a final treat.
The euthanasia process was mercifully quick. I, his second favorite person in the world, was with him as he passed more or less peacefully on. I say more or less because he protested as the doctor shaved a patch on his foot and poked him with the needle. I know he didn’t know what was happening, but I’m sorry he felt pain and fear at the end. I felt like a traitor telling him everything would be alright.
More Good Dad always says he doesn’t watch much TV, but he absolutely loves the game shows, old movies, and documentaries about almost anything. Many time throughout the day he will call to me, “Mary, come look at this”. Despite much cajoling he almost never eats at the table with us, preferring to watch Jeopardy, although I suspect it’s mostly because he can feed the dogs without anyone fussing at him.
We have him set up for a weekly ‘bubble bath’ at the local nursing home, so he stays nice and clean without having to navigate a dangerous bath or shower. His lovely silver hair shines after his bath.
He’s getting three squarish meals a day and plenty of snacks. He has put on 25 pounds in the past five months and keeps telling everyone he’s getting fat, but he’s actually about in the middle of his recommended body weight range.
The Great Last night I sat with Dad and showed him some wonderful things on YouTube, like the video of Lukas Nelson singing his dad’s song,You Were Always On My Mind. His favorite song is Gentle on My Mind by Glen Campbell, but he had heard The Band Perry do their version and asked to see it. I don’t know where he ever heard of them, but watching it made him tear up. He also really like cat and dog videos – go figure. These things happen almost every day.
At Dad’s last visit to the doctor he was told that his prognosis was not good; he will probably live six months to two years. I got tearful. After the doctor left the room he chuckled and said, “I don’t have long to live? I didn’t see that coming!” This was one week before his 90th birthday.
Dad can be infuriating, selfish, and demanding. I think this is a more or less universal trait of Man, starting at birth and growing in intensity throughout life. But he is also kind, generous, and grateful. Caring for him has helped me and the rest of my family focus on what’s important. Would I like to write a blog post twice a week? Yes. Is it more important that easing my dad through his final days and doing what I can to alleviate his fears? No. It has helped me become more patient and to learn to ask for help. It have learned how generous and thoughtful my husband and children can be.
When my family decided on a simple Christmas, I imagined a quiet day of games and puzzles, snacks and naps. No big meal to prepare, no big mess to clear up later. Of course, reality rarely matches the imagination; with 11 adults, three small boys and five dogs in the house, the whole day was a bit more energetic than I had envisioned.
The lack of a formal schedule was amazing. The out-of-towners were able to wake up on their own and arrive refreshed and unhurried, we all enjoyed wonderfully long FaceTime calls with my Army Guy brother in Korea and my cousin and his family in Houston. I even got to go for a short walk with my dog with no guilt about leaving my guests.
But there were two things that were particularly meaningful to me: a lesson from my daughter on the art of using the planner she gave me for my birthday, and helping my cousin conquer her cookie Everest, the macaron, both of which were made possible by our relaxed agenda.
Susie has been an enthusiastic and prolific baker since she was a preteen. She and her best friend would spend long afternoons creating cakes and cookies, while simultaneously destroying her mother’s kitchen and grocery budget. She has kept it up as an adult, baking in her free time and always volunteering to bring desserts for family gatherings. Baking is her comfort and her guilty pleasure, and she can be pretty ambitious in her confectionery undertakings.
To me, baking is a pleasant chore. I tend to stick to the basics: biscuits, cornbread, brownies and a few simple cookie recipes, eschewing anything that requires ingredient or tools not available in any moderately well-stocked and well-equipped kitchen. My husband bakes and decorates the birthday cakes, and our pies often come from the freezer section of the local grocery store.
Back to the macarons. I had been following Susie’s saga with the fussy French confection on Facebook for a few days, but I did not realize that the struggle was actually a year long and that she had made four or five failed attempts at the little beasties. I didn’t understand her obsession, but I sympathized.
When I saw her on Christmas Eve, she was tired and emotional. We visited a bit about our mothers (both gone for some years now) and the holidays we spent together as children. We spoke about balancing family tradition with the needs and desires of the current generations. She also mentioned her disappointment with the cookies, and I asked her to bring the recipe and whatever special ingredients it required, and we would give them a try together.
She did, and in the early afternoon we cleared off space on the counter and went to work making the macarons, which it turns out are a meringue-based cookie often served sandwich-style, filled with buttercream or jam. The recipe she brought called for the creation of a ganache , which is one of those words I like to make fun of, often in conjunction with a phrase like, “The macarons and ganache marry beautifully to form a lovely, delicate dessert that melts in the mouth and sets off the silvery raspberry notes of the digestif.” My husband tells me that the Food Network is not meant to be a comedy channel, but I’m not convinced. (Mirepoix!)
We carefully followed each step of the recipe, including using kosher salt and the food processor; Susie had used table salt and skipped the food processor in her earlier attempts, thinking the ingredients were fine enough. We carefully whipped the egg whites to the proper stiffness, folded in the dry ingredients, piped the cookies onto cookie sheets, and let them sit for a bit before baking.
The cookies turned out beautifully. Susie had to improvise a piping bag because my kitchen isn’t so-equipped, so they weren’t exactly uniform in size, but they were well-formed and chewy with the characteristic ruffled edge and ‘foot’. The main thing is, Susie was happy with them. Delighted, even. If you’d like to give them a try, you’ll find the recipe here.
First, whether you’re baking cookies, knitting a cap, building a website, or trying to get your life back on track, it’s often best start at the beginning a proceed one step at a time. This may seem obvious, but I’ve often misread instructions or made incorrect assumptions resulting in costly mistakes.
It turns out that the problem with my cousin’s first attempts at macarons was probably simple physics. She assumed that it wouldn’t make any difference to substitute table salt for kosher salt, but the larger grain size results in about half the salt by weight than a similar measure of table salt. It’s all explained right here on the website of the network I disparaged in fun earlier. The food processor is need to reduce the size of the salt particles, if not the other ingredients. At least that’s my best guess.
Second, traditions are meant to serve us, not rule us. We have chosen to celebrate Christmas in an apparently much different fashion than our mothers, who celebrated in much the same way as their own mother. But we honor them by making an effort to be together, by loving one another more as sisters than cousins, by cherishing one another’s children and dreams, because in doing so we acknowledge the esteem in which our mothers held each other, and the value they placed in family. We have the recipes they loved and make them regularly, but they are not imperative for observing a holiday. I have shed any number of tears over an absent loved one, but never one over a missing Texas Fruit Salad.
Finally, when you set aside slavish adherence to family tradition or societal expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy what you love, and you create margin for pursuing dreams or being present for those you love. By skipping the big dinner and focusing on family, we don’t dilute our family tradition but distill it to its essence.
Grandma’s Texas Fruit Salad Recipe
2 21-oz. cans cherry pie filling 1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges 1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks 1 cup pecan halves, lightly chopped 1/2 cup flaked coconut 1 banana, peeled and sliced
Drain mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks; mix into cherry pie filling. Add pecans and coconut. Refrigerate for an hour or so, or overnight. Add bananas immediately before serving.
Honestly, it’s not that great, probably some Depression Era holdover that my family forgot to let go of. But Grandma would be pleased that I shared it, and it does make a nice change from pie.’?
What is it that’s important to you? How would you spend time saved if you weren’t doing what’s ‘expected’? Or do you prefer things to stay the same? (Because that’s OK, too!) Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please follow and share this blog with someone who might enjoy it.
There are so many blogs about raising children that Mommy Blogging is it’s own industry. I heard a podcast this week featuring a woman who writes a blog for people who want to start a mom blog. Seriously. And that tells you a little something about how seriously some people take this whole child-rearing business and how much insecurity there is about it.
Long before the advent of the parenting blog, Paul and I were well on our way to ruining our own children with non-organic food, backpacks, candy, cartoons, video games, toy guns, Barbie Dolls, and all manner of unhealthy food and politically incorrect toys and activities. We even spanked them occasionally, mostly for form’s sake and without enthusiasm, usually as a last resort. I don’t think it did any harm, but I can’t say it did much good.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you have raised a child or two to adulthood, have a crop that is about ready for harvest, or are at least curious about the process. Raising people is a huge investment of time and money, and people rarely discuss what to do with the produce.
More and more parents these days are choosing to keep their adult offspring at home. My husband and I keep 2/3 of the yield (two individuals) in the basement, and and 1/3 of the yield (one individual) is located off-site at a safe but convenient distance as a designated survivor.
When planning your children’s education, it is important to consider their interests and aptitude, but also to take into account the family’s long term needs. Our children each hold at least one post-secondary degree, and two of them hold two or more degrees or certificates. Our off-site DS has been gaining skills in veterinary medicine and pet care, as well as floor installation, welding and assembly work. The youngest has been honing his virtual first-person urban combat skills for years, has experience as a tutor, furniture assembler, and bookkeeper. Our firstborn has worked in management, cooking, sales, and mechanics. When combined with the skills and experience my husband and I have accumulated over the years, we feel the family is well-positioned to survive an apocalyptic disaster.
I’m kidding, of course. It’s completely true minus the calculation and paranoia. Our oldest and youngest live at home, and we love it that way. Some parents bemoan the kids who won’t leave; we installed high speed Internet service to lure them back.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. Parenting my adult children is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have to stand by and watch while they make decisions, and sometimes mistakes, that affect some of my favorite people in the world. Sometimes I’m consulted, sometimes I’m not, but I no longer get to call the shots. All illusions of control have been removed.
When the kids first went to college and later their first jobs, I worried and my husband practically stalked them by monitoring their checking accounts. In the first few years there was a bootleg tattoo, a boyfriend procured from the Internet and kept past the return date, a bruised heart or two…
There were more tattoos. I don’t have anything against tattoos, but sometimes it’s hard to see my beautiful child cover her body with artwork that she may not want to wear for as many years as I pray for her to live. But in this I am not consulted, much less a decider. And that’s all right, I have my own body to decorate or pollute, or not.
Later there was one seriously broken heart, two college dropouts, an unplanned pregnancy, an adoption, a frightening car wreck. Another wrecked car; not our kid, but her car.
The thing about painful experiences is that they can be excellent teachers to willing learners. My children are good learners. They are more cautious and less manic than I am, and they have taken life’s lessons thus far to heart. I’m very proud of them.
You don’t quit being a mom or dad when your kid turns 18 or gets married or graduates college. But at some point along the way you quit being responsible for them and start becoming a trusted resource, and a friend. And one day you realize that your kid knows something you don’t know, or has a skill you don’t have, and is fun to talk to. And they become a trusted resource in their turn. We can love without controlling, have boundaries without building walls.
And if you’re blessed with kids who are emotionally intelligent and generous, and if you’re wise enough to be vulnerable with them, perhaps the day will come when you will have the privilege of having your child tell you something real about yourself. Maybe it will be painful, but actionable. But maybe it will be encouraging or consoling. Or just true. After all, who knows you better?
Do you have parents or grown children? I’d love to hear your stories your questions! Comment below and please ‘follow’ if you found this fun or helpful.
I didn’t sleep well last night. It wasn’t my usual insomnia, but several hours of nightmares fueled by this week’s binge of Homecoming on Amazon. I got up well before sunrise feeling distinctly unrefreshed, had some coffee and went to my office to work until I heard the guys start moving around, at which time I went to scare up some breakfast.
I don’t know why, but I feel I should explain that I did not jump up and make breakfast because I am the only woman in the house and it’s my job. I currently live with my husband, two grown sons, an uncle, and my dad, and we mostly share cooking and cleaning duties; not evenly, but fairly and according to ability and interest. I will post more about that later. The thing is, I was awake, they were waking up, and I felt like cooking them breakfast.
Also, I had a “great” idea for an omelet. We had some pickled eggs left over from the Thanksgiving relish tray, and I thought it would be kind of cool to make a pickled egg-filled omelet. Doesn’t that sound great? It doesn’t to me because I hate eggs, but I thought it at least sounded interesting, and maybe a bit meta.
I whipped up a couple of eggs with a tablespoon or so of milk and poured it in a pan of hot olive oil. I chopped up a pickled egg, a bit of pickled pepper, added a bit of pickle juice… So far, so good. Right? Right??
My youngest and the most ardent fan of my cooking grabbed a fork and yelled, “Dad, are you gonna come try the vomit omelet?” He took a bite, and then another. And accepted my offer to make him a plate of scrambled eggs sans pickles.
My husband choked down the omelet. I don’t know whether it is because he hates to waste food or because he wants ammunition, but I’m certain it’s not because he fancied a pickle omelet.
My takeaways are twofold. 1) I should not try to invent new recipes when I am not well-rested, and 2) If there is not a recipe for something on the Internet by now, there’s probably a good reason.