2:30 AM

“I’m not doing this on purpose, you know,” my father says to me.

It’s 2:30 AM. I’m pointing at his clock, the new one we got that tells the time and the time of day. Above the 2:30 AM the word “PREDAWN” appears.

My father presses his lips together and narrows his eyes. He looks like the emoji with horizontal lines for both eyes and mouth. Exasperated. Frustrated.

I’m not sure what that emoji is supposed to represent. I’m terrible at reading emojis. My children try to teach me.

“I can’t believe you used the eye-roll emoji,” one of them said to me after I, guess what, used the eye-roll emoji. I thought it was more of a shruggy-I-dunno face. But what do I know?

“You use that smiley-face?” another one asked once. I use the basic smiley — no teeth, no open mouth, just a little upward-curved line.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“I read that as a snarky-teenager-if-you-say-so face,” she said.

Sigh. I dunno.

But at 2:30 in the morning, I’m not thinking about emojis. I’m thinking about redirecting.

I have a baby monitor in my room so I can hear him when he gets up. He often gets up to use the bathroom and then goes back to bed uneventfully. And I go back to sleep, because I haven’t left the warmth of my bed.

Some nights, though, I don’t hear the squeak of the hospital bed as he climbs back in. Instead I hear running water in the bathroom and know he’s planning to shave. Or I hear the creak of dresser drawers being opened followed by the sound of the hanging drawer pull as it drops down and hits the brass plate. I know then that he’s getting dressed and that it’s time to redirect.

I climb out of bed, turn the monitor off, and head downstairs. The overhead light is on in his room, its bright rays extending under the door. Sometimes, when I open the door, I find him in the bathroom. Sometimes, he’s at his dresser. Sometimes, he’s just standing in the middle of his room, like he doesn’t know what to do next.

“I’m not doing this on purpose,” he says to me, and it breaks my heart. He knows that what he’s doing isn’t right, but he also doesn’t know what the right thing to do is.

“Look at the clock, Dad. It’s 2:30 AM. You’re supposed to be sleeping.”

“I know that,” he says.

“Can I help you get back into bed?” I ask.

“You want me to go back to bed?” he asks. What I’m saying connects, but it’s like using a corroded battery where the connection isn’t a connection because of yuck that’s in the way.

“Yes,” I reply. “You need to sleep.”

And by that I mean that I need to sleep.

But it’s too late for me.

I help him get back into bed, then go upstairs to my bed, turning the monitor back on before I climb in. The silence on the monitor tells me that he’s back to sleep. My husband’s deep breathing tells me that he’s sleeping, too.

It’s 3 AM now.

I stare at the ceiling for an hour, wishing sleep would return to me.

When it doesn’t, I climb out of bed to begin my day.

Burnt Steak and Key Lime Pie

Hutchmoot has been described more than once as a feast — and people are not talking about the food, although the food is amazing.

But each night our chef, John Cal, would introduce the evening meal with a story that related to the food. On the first night he talked about showing his father around New York City. For dinner each night as they ate at a nice restaurant his father would order the same thing — steak, burnt and grey. One night while dining out, he saw a plate pass by their table that looked amazing. Upon inquiry, he learned that it was cassoulet and decided to be adventurous and order it. When he asked about getting rice on the side and the waiter offered rice pilaf, John’s father got flustered and switched his order to steak, burnt and grey.

Thursday night menu at Hutchmoot.  Photo by Mark Geil

The Otesaga Hotel

In Cooperstown, fine dining at its finest takes place at the Otesaga. Years ago, when I was still in high school, my parents took our family there for Easter brunch, which was usually the best of the best, table after table of delicious food.  My youngest brother, after perusing all the food, sat down with a single piece of Key lime pie.

“There’s nothing good to eat,” he announced, which translated meant — I couldn’t recognize all the fruit in the fruit salad. I worried that they had added sour cream to the mashed potatoes. The seasonings looked weird on the vegetables. There were olives in the tossed salad.

All that food, and he ate Key lime pie. I think he ended up eating 4 or 5 pieces of it. That was his burnt steak, his comfort food that he knew he could trust and enjoy.

At Hutchmoot, I watched plates of cassoulet pass by in the form of conversations between people who hadn’t known each other until that day and they were saying to each other, “What! You, too?” The delight of finding new friends. The delight of meaningful conversation. The delight of laughing and crying together over joys and sorrows and longings.

At Hutchmoot this year I chose the familiar over the adventurous. I didn’t meet many new people. On Sunday, I sat at a Cracker Barrel (can you get any more predictable than that?) in Franklin and ate lunch with two dear Hutchmoot friends. I reveled in sinking roots a little bit deeper and strengthening already existing bonds rather than forming new ones.

I am John Cal’s father. Okay — not literally. Obviously, not literally.

But often I choose the familiar over the adventurous, especially days when I am weary.

I think sometimes that’s what we need.

I know sometimes that’s what I need.

Burnt steak and Key lime pie.

Already, though, the conversations have begun with new people. The conversations that happen over the internet from the comfort of my home, when I have time and place to relax into forming a new friendship.

I’m looking forward to the next Hutchmoot when the old and familiar may include some of them.

News Storms

“Are you feeling better?” my father asked me Monday morning.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He looked at me, perplexed. “You’ve been sick,” he said.

I laughed. “No, Dad, I’ve been in Nashville at that conference I go to every year.”

“When I didn’t see you,” he replied, “I thought you must be sick and in the hospital.”

His world consists of a failing mind and body. To explain my absence, he made up a story that fit his world.

While I was in Nashville, I didn’t read the news. Not a once. For four whole days.

No news may not be good news, but sometimes it’s just good.

Oh — I thought about it. People talked about it. The news felt like a rip current that threatened to pull us under and drown us in our differing opinions.

But at Hutchmoot, grace, tenderness, and humility surrounded us like a warm blanket. Our commonalities pulled us close and the day’s political controversies didn’t drive us apart. In fact, when, one evening at Hutchmoot, that rip current threatened in a particularly diabolical way, Andrew Peterson, our proprietor and host, showed us how to handle even the most treacherous waters — reaching out like the very best of lifeguards to pull us to safety.

The Brett Kavanaugh – Christine Blasey Ford controversy is mostly over, ending while I was away. It was an earthquake followed by a tsunami — and now America moves on – battered, skeptical, self-protective, and uglified by debris.

I couldn’t help thinking about how my father truly believed his own story of me being in the hospital. It fit his world.

And I daresay people who could insert themselves into Christine Blasey Ford’s story, who knew what it was to be sexually assaulted, found themselves making their story her story. Perhaps they remembered how they couldn’t tell anybody because of the shame they felt. Perhaps they remembered how they wanted to move far far away and start over in a new place without the reminders of that terrible act.

On the other side, people who had been falsely accused, who had been doing their best to do their best, working hard and keeping their nose clean for decades, who suddenly had been falsely blindsided by some incident from 30 years ago — perhaps they watched Brett Kavanaugh and asked themselves, how would I handle this? Perhaps, they told themselves, This is so unfair. Perhaps they know that they, too, would have gotten a little testy under that questioning.

But we don’t take the time to stand in someone else’s shoes. We put them in our story and force it into a narrative that may or may not be true. We make it make sense in a way that makes sense to us.

Like my father putting me in the hospital.

At Hutchmoot, I found a tranquil haven from the current current-news storm.

My October 2 Inktober attempt. “May you find serenity and tranquility in a world you may not always understand.” — Sandra Sturtz Hauss

Thinking ahead to the next storm and the next — because we seem to be in a political hurricane season in the US — I’m going to try to do more listening, less trying to inject my assumptions into the news stories. More trying to understand the fraught emotions on both sides, less knee-jerk judgmentalism. More compassion, more looking for common ground.

I would rather be a safe haven than a whitecap on this stormy sea.

 

Denying the Doughnut

Laurel started in the public school this year as a sophomore. Had I known that last year was to be my last year homeschooling, I may have grieved.

Or not.

Life is busy and full and rich and keeps moving along.

I wanted to take one of those “First Day of School” photos that I see people post. But “ain’t nobody got time for that” is an accurate double negative. Some people DO have time for that — just not me.

Anyway, Laurel was rather nervous about starting school, and, therefore, rather uncooperative about a First Day of School photo. This was all I got:

So we have a new normal and a new morning routine.

Every weekday morning I join the throngs of parents driving their child(ren) to school. I follow the precise hand gestures of the sometimes-meter-maid police officer as he directs car past the elementary school. I wait in the line of cars to reach the drop off spot at the high school.

After I drop Laurel off and I start driving home, I think about the bakery.

Seriously.

This is a true confession here.

I love Schneider’s Bakery in Cooperstown.

They have the best doughnuts in the history of doughnuts. Their old-fashioned doughnuts are my favorite.

So I drop Laurel off, and think about swinging past the bakery to buy a doughnut for myself.

Comfort food for my grief, you know.

Every day, though, I turn to head back home instead of going to the bakery.

It’s an empowering moment — knowing I could make an unhealthy choice, but am choosing to make a good one.

Last Friday, I made my healthy choice, patted myself on the back, and went home.

Two hours later I had a meeting to attend. When I walked in the office at the pool I saw a box from Schneider’s Bakery sitting on the desk.

“Would you like a doughnut?” one of the guys asked and opened the box to reveal its contents.

“No, thanks,” I said, and looked longingly in the box.

We had our meeting. An hour later, he opened the box again to offer doughnuts to us.

I could smell them. I looked. And looked.

Finally, I pulled one doughnut out of the box and broke it in half.

“When you break them in half, the calories fall out,” I told him.

He laughed.

I took a small bite of my half-doughnut.

It was so good. Not too sweet. Not too doughy. Crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Heaven in a doughnut.

I write all this to tell you two things:

One — Denying the doughnut at the beginning of the day is a great way to start. One good choice leads to another good choice and another good choice.

And, two — Eating a doughnut is not a terrible thing. It’s a thing to be savored and enjoyed. Just not every day.

 

God’s Handwriting

I knew the blue heron was there because I had seen it land, settling in the mid-pasture marshy land.

Can you find the heron?

Does this help?

How about this?

As the heron flew off, I did my best to capture him in a photograph. For a moment, he was easier to see.

Charles Kingsley said,

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God’s hand-writing — a way-side sacrament; welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower, and thank for it Him.”

He forgot “in every heron.”

Having a Hard Time

I thumbtacked this to my bedroom wall yesterday. These are words I need to remember.

The other day I waited at the deli counter. The woman ahead of me asked for something they were out of.

“What do you mean?” she screeched at the deli worker. “It’s in the ad! It’s on sale!”

“I’ll check the cooler again,” replied the deli lady, and she disappeared into the back.

The customer turned and said at me. “Is this when I’m allowed to start swearing?! Do you believe this place?!”

I shrugged meekly and thought about the quote. It sure looked like the customer was giving the deli worker a hard time, but, really, she was having a hard time herself. When deli meat becomes the make-or-break in a day, a person is having a pretty bad day.

My father spent Monday night in the hospital. When I walked in his room the next day, his room-mate said to me, “You must be Sally.”

“Yes,” I said, wondering how he knew.

“I’ve heard your name a few times,” he said. “At 1 AM. At 2 AM…”

When my father calls for me in the middle of the night, he’s not giving me a hard time. He’s having a hard time.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to the roommate.

The nurse came in to go over paperwork with the roommate. Honestly, I wasn’t intentionally listening, but only a curtain separated me from them.

Nurse: Who do you live with?

Roommate: I live alone.

Nurse: Do you have any family that lives near you?

Roommate: My kid lives about three hours away.

Nurse: Is he able to come help you when you go home?

Roommate: I ain’t spoke to him in two years.

Nurse: Is there anyone who can help you when you get home?

Roommate: My neighbor helps me if I ask.

Nurse: How many levels in your house?

Roommate: One. It’s an old huntin’ cabin.

Nurse: Do you have running water?

Roommate: Nope.

Nurse: What?! (long pause) You don’t have water?! What do you do?

Roommate: Buy it in town. My neighbor gets it for me.

Nurse: I’m surprised that you don’t have water. (another pause) No, I’m sorry. I’m not surprised. It’s fine.

I was busy helping my father and didn’t hear some of her questions. The next one I heard was –

Nurse: Do you have television?

Roommate: Nope.

Nurse: What do you do?!

Roommate: Whaddya mean, what do I do?

Nurse: For entertainment. In the evening.

Roommate: I have a big garden. There’s lots to do without a television.

I could hear her frustration and his annoyance.

I wanted to lean past the curtain and whisper to her — He’s not giving you a hard time. He’s having a hard time. He didn’t get much sleep last night and he’s about to go into surgery. He’s anxious and alone. Can you get him through the next few hours and then come back to this?

And I wanted to whisper to him — She’s not giving you a hard time. She’s having a hard time imagining your life which is so different from hers.

Taking a moment in the other person’s shoes can make a difference.

I now have a daily reminder to do that.

 

 

Guilty

When I first laid eyes on Joseph Zupnik three and a half years ago, he was late for the Family Council meeting at my mother’s nursing home, Focus Otsego.

“LATE!” I jotted into my little notebook. Not a good first impression.

He walked in the door and I barely noticed him. I thought he was a late-arriving family member, but he walked right over to the seat next to the administrator.

Joseph Zupnik was tall and thin, the kind of person who folds when he sits down and unfolds when he stands again. His pants were about an inch too short at the ankles and an inch too high at the waist. The muted tones of his plaid shirt were understated and unassuming, like he was. Quiet, mild, articulate. And young.

Almost immediately people started demanding answers from him about staff shortages and retention of the remaining staff. The rumor was that Focus cut salaries by 15% across the board when they took over. The fact was that staff had left in droves.

Joseph sat, calmly folded in his chair, legs folded as he crossed them at the knee, manicured hands folded across his knee, body folded somewhere between slouched and erect. He seemed so relaxed.

And he calmly fielded the questions and spoke of industry standards and union negotiations.

I wanted to say that no one cares about industry standards. These are our parents, not statistics.

Others spoke up though, and talked of how much better this place was than other ones.

And I wanted to say to them that I don’t want relatively good care for my mother. I want the best care.

He stayed with us for an hour and a half. Listening, responding, listening some more.

He knew his stuff. He fully understood the business end of this industry.

He was clinical and dispassionate — a walking statistics book.

Yesterday, Joseph Zupnik pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.

Seven other charges against him were dismissed.

His slap on the wrist includes community service. I’d like him to work as an aide in a nursing home for the same number of years he owned nursing homes.

And I’d like him to live on the same pay as the aides who had worked under him.

To me, that would be justice.

And mercy.

He would be a better man for it.


A little background and a final thought.

In the early 1970’s a new building combining the Otsego County Home and the Otsego County Infirmary was built down the road from where I grew up. It was renamed The Meadows, and I remember visiting there with my father when I was young. I believe he was the Medical Director.

When I took a year off from college in 1979, I worked as a nurse’s aide there. Everyone should work in a nursing home at some point to learn compassion (if that can be learned) and to experience how hard and thankless the work is.

Both of my grandmothers and one grandfather were residents at The Meadows.

My father-in-law was a resident of The Meadows when the new building, The Manor, was built. He was among the first crop of residents at The Manor.

My mother lived at The Manor. She was there when it changed hands.

When the county decided to sell, my father had been on the task force charged with finding a buyer.

We had ties to the Otsego County nursing home no matter what its name was.

In the end, the legislators voted to sell to the highest bidder instead of the most qualified purchaser. It was more of an “unloading” than understanding what an important part of this rural area that county facility served. They simply wanted to be rid of it. In my mind those legislators who voted to sell The Manor to Focus Corporation (and Joseph Zupnik) also bear some culpability.