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.

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.

 

 

Buried Gold

It’s been a rough few days… make that weeks.

My father has been struggling with anxiety. Anxiety and dementia go hand-in-hand. The world doesn’t make sense. Memories jumble around. People telescope in and out. Switchbacks define the landscape.

“DON’T GO THROUGH THAT DOOR!” he cries whenever I leave him alone in his room. Waylaying me with his hand on my arm, he looks over his glasses and says in a confidential tone, “There’s nothing out there. Nothing. You can’t go there.”

But I must and I do. His world may be confined to one room. Mine is not.

If I coax him out to the sun porch, I struggle to coax him back in.

He’s leery of entering the dining room. He forgets that he sits at the head of the table and takes my seat.

Which, of course, is fine. Just odd.

“When I was in World War II, I was stationed by the Red Sea. I buried a lot of gold there. We need to go back and get it,” he told me the other day. Except he was in high school during WWII and was never stationed by the Red Sea. He went there on holiday when he was stationed in Ethiopia in the early 60s, but not WWII.

He told someone today that gold was buried in the back yard. Here.

The only gold we have here are little bits of dental gold that the dentist gave me after she removed some of his teeth. It’s gross, probably not worth much, and certainly not buried. That sounds like a good idea though because I don’t know what else to do with it.

I’ve been so tired because I’m up multiple times during the night with him. He can’t sleep. He’s so anxious.

Last night I made a to-do list so I could make sure I got done what needed doing today. Phone calls, shopping, and mail.

Mary added the part about rainbow sprinkles. Rainbow sprinkles make things better.

Karl added the great mom part. The pat on the back meant a lot.

Sometimes life gives more gut punches than pats on the back.

My father didn’t get to sleep last night until 11 PM — which meant that I didn’t either. He woke me at 5:05 AM.

Through the monitor I heard, “Sally! SALLY!”

I ran downstairs, my heart pounding.

“I’m having terrible chest pain,” he said. I called the ambulance.

The paramedic asked him about the pain.

“10,” my father replied. “Crushing chest pain,” he added.

By the time he got to the Emergency Room, he was fine.

“He has dementia,” I told the ER doctor.

“I got that,” she said, smiling.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked my father.

“I like beer,” he said. It was 6:15 AM.

He hasn’t had a beer since he ordered a flight a couple of months ago at his favorite restaurant. He was baffled by the four little beers served on a board. “What do I do with this?” he asked.

“You taste them,” I said.

He gave them to Karl.

We were home from the ER shortly after 7 AM. God bless the ER doctor who didn’t do a full cardiac workup.

Sometimes gold is in rainbow sprinkles and kind words.

Sometimes it’s in the not following protocol and using common sense.

Sometimes it’s buried in the backyard but I’m not going to count on that today.

Why Norway

The place we used to stay in Myrtle Beach had no phones in the rooms. This was back in the 70s, when phones that fit in your pockets weren’t even a twinkle in a computer chip’s eye. Phones had dials and cords.

In those first few years in Myrtle Beach, if someone needed to reach my father at The Teakwood, they had to call the motel office. Someone from the office would find my father and he would have to go to the office to take the call or return the call. Things really advanced when they got a phone with a portable handset.

At the Teakwood

I asked my mother about the lack of phones. Somehow it made The Teakwood seem inferior to its phoned competitors.

“It helps Dad relax to get away from the telephone,” she said. I hadn’t thought about the tyranny of the telephone until that conversation.

I recently heard on a podcast that the presence of a phone at a meal — even if it’s facedown on the table — causes the conversation to be more shallow.

But this isn’t about phones.

It’s about why I went to Norway.

Last year I traveled to Europe for the first time since I was 5 years old. Twice.

The first trip was to take my father to Normandy, something he had longed to do for many years. I was excited for my father, but ambivalent for myself. I knew that I should be excited. I just couldn’t muster up the excitement on my own.

Then we went to Normandy and I loved it. I think I could live in Bayeux and be quite content there. The cathedral, the farmers’ market, the patisseries, the narrow streets, the old buildings — all of it lovely. I didn’t think anything could top Normandy.

Until Bosnia two months later. The land, the people, the hospitality. I came home from that trip quite full.

So when I was feeling depleted this year, and so many people kept reminding me that caregivers need to be sure to take care of themselves, I thought about what had pressed a reset button in my soul and given me rest and strength for the days ahead. Travel. Like the phoneless Teakwood did for my dad.

I applied and was accepted to a writer’s workshop with Ann Voskamp — but it was in the wilds of Alaska. When I realized how remote the workshop was, and how, if something happened at home, I would have a hard time making an emergency trip back, I asked to postpone my attendance for another year.

Then I considered a trip back to Bosnia, but nothing seem to fall into place with that.

Finally, I asked Karl — who had been saying that he wanted to travel — where he wanted to go.

“Norway,” he said.

So Karl, Mary, and I traveled to Norway. And Denmark. And Sweden.

If an emergency had come up, I was always near an airport.

Except for the day we kayaked in the fjords. But truthfully, that was the most renewing day of all.