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Growing old gracefully and western civilization, or, do you have parents?

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Both my parents were dead by the time I was 29 years old.  My father had Alzheimer’s, and by the time I graduated from college to come out and help my mother take care of him, it was essentially to put him in a rest home.  He died there one week later.
My mother, due to the stress of taking care of him, contracted lymphoma and died four years later.  Her sister was in a rest home with MS, and we had been visiting her there for years.  With my parents gone it was left up to me.  She had a daughter who lived back east, but she had stopped visiting 5 years earlier.  It was just too painful.  I must admit that the visits came to be less and less frequent.  She was in a new full blown rest home, and she was actually one of the lucky ones.  The place reeked of urine and feces, people were literally moaning and screaming and wandering the halls, mostly in their wheelchairs.  It was a difficult place to visit, and I used to have a few pops before I went up every time.  I think when she passed it had been nine months since I had seen her the last time.
This is how we take care of our old and disabled.
My grandfather was in the VA, and when grandma was alive we visited him almost every afternoon.  We did see hundreds of people in the halls, but most never had any visitors.  We use to walk around award from bed to bed and make sure everybody in there had a little bit of attention and some human contact.  I think I was six years old then, and I still remember how bad it was.
This was all over 30 years ago.  I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when we baby boomers all start dropping like flies.  The lucky ones of us will just die, the unlucky ones will have to live through it.
We go our entire lives assuming that we deserved Health Care, and then somehow it will be provided for us.  Regardless of Obama Care and all of the best intentions, without a major revolution there simply is not going to be any way to pay for our Health Care.
It will literally take a village.  Without it we will be lucky to be given enough morphine to ease the pain as we are left in a corner in her wheelchair to quietly wait for death.
Aside from local governments, I have only encountered one group that is trying to do something about it:  The National Compassion Holiday Petition group http://nationalcompassionholiday.com/ led by Michael  Villalpando is that group.
If you have parents, know of anyone disabled, or plan to ever come incapacitated yourself, you might want to pay it forward and at least sign this guy’s petition. It’s free,  unless you feel called to contribute, and only takes a second.  Your old age Karma might just depend on it.
 

 

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The Last Time (grab a box of Kleenex)

 

 

by Devon Corneal

Tonight, Little Dude asked for a snuggle before bed. It was well past his bedtime and I was tired, cranky and had a stack of laundry to fold, a memo to write and a blog post to finish. I told him I’d snuggle for two minutes.

He crawled under his blanket, squirmed until he was comfortable and pushed me to the edge of the mattress. He offered me his favorite blankie to keep me warm. I put my arm around him and he was sound asleep before I had finished cataloguing the list of things I had to do before I could crawl into my own bed. I considered making a stealthy escape but stopped when he threw his arm around my neck while mumbling unintelligibly. A sleeping 4-year old’s arm has as much strength as a soggy piece of toast, but I didn’t move. Despite my earlier desire to leave, I stayed and pulled him toward me.

I had one of those rare blissful parenting moments when everything else fades away and you appreciate the simple physical presence of your child. I marveled at the amount of heat a small boy produces when he sleeps and the ease with which he leaves the world behind. I smelled his hair. The laundry could wait.

It hit me in the darkness of his cluttered room that these days are numbered. Some night in the future, Little Dude will ask me to snuggle with him before he falls asleep, and I will have no idea that it will be the last time. I won’t know to pay attention or to try to commit every minute to memory. Days or weeks or months later, I will try to recall when that last snuggle happened. I won’t be able to. I know I will ache to slide next to him on his narrow bed, listen to him breathe and wait for the moment when he surrenders to his dreams. All of the irritations, the inconveniences and the wishing for time alone will seem insignificant in comparison to the warmth and peace of his nighttime routine. I will regret the times I hurried through bedtime and left his room even though he asked me to stay “Just one more minute, Mommy.”

It will be too late.

I just now understand that in anticipating my son’s “firsts,” I’ve forgotten to appreciate what he’s left behind. The firsts are monumental, celebrated and captured on film. I reveled in Little Dude’s first steps, jotted down his first words and am prepared to save lost teeth. There isn’t a first I haven’t recorded in some way. I’ve paid less attention to his “lasts.” I’ve ignored the finality that comes with moving from one stage to another.

I don’t remember the last day that Little Dude’s eyes were blue before they turned green. I can’t recall the last time his hair was baby soft and curly, or the last time he crawled or took a real nap. I can’t pinpoint the last time we shared the peaceful quiet of a 3 a.m. feeding, or he squealed with joy to be riding his wooden rocking horse. There will be a hundred last times to come. And I won’t know they’ve passed until there is no hope of recapturing them. I know this because I don’t remember the last day he used a pacifier or waited for us to get him from his bed rather than clomping into our bedroom at some ungodly pre-dawn hour exuberant and ready to face the day as we struggle to open our eyes. I’ve forgotten when he stopped liking sweet potatoes or saying “Pick mine up!”

Not that there aren’t stages I’m happy are gone. I don’t miss teething, two-hour feedings, biting or needing to be carried everywhere. I’m neither Pollyanna nor a masochist. Babies are darling; I’m also glad I don’t have one anymore. Raising children isn’t all warm snuggles and charming memories. Parenting can be a long, hard slog.

But for today I’m focusing on the last times still to come, even though I won’t know that they’re the last chapters until long after they’ve gone. The last snuggle. The last time Little Dude asks me to bring him chocolate milk. The last time we play fire trucks. The last time he falls down and comes crying to me with his entire body shaking, tears streaming down his face, believing with childish certainty that a kiss from me will make his skinned knee better. The last time he asks to marry me. The last time he believes in my omniscience. The last time we color together at the kitchen table. I’m not naïve enough to believe that this moment of reflection will stop me from becoming irritated, impatient, frustrated, bored or upset tomorrow when my son whines, spills spaghetti sauce on the rug or throws a fit because I won’t let him stay up late. Maybe, though, I’ll temper my response if I can remember how fleeting this all is. That for every moment I’ve prayed would end, there is something I miss.

 

 

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Labor Day Gift for Parents: Since the Apple Won’t Fall Very Far From It, Plant Your Tree Accordingly

Oh Lord, what have I done?  You have turned me into my father, and my children into me.  It says in the “Good Book” that the sins of the fathers will be vest unto the 3rd and 4th generation.  Does this mean that they have to go through EVERYTHING I did “growing up?”

I have two wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, rebellious, independent daughters that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  It hasn’t always been that way.  Believe it or not Daddy was not a perfect saint (nor was his father) and there might have been the occasional indiscretion during their collective childhood that might not have seemed politically correct.

Having been a professional photographer since high school (thanks Cindy) and also possessing a rather unique sense of humor (thanks Frank Zappa) there have been instances where my more devilish side took precedence over what my mother (and current wife) would have thought acceptable.  If your child is already hysterical and throwing an incredible hissy fit for not getting her way (down to the swimming pool fast enough) what harm could evolve from taking advantage of their relative lack of mobility (being 18 lbs at the time) and hanging them on the hotel coat rack – just for a quick photo?  Child Protection Service does have a statute of limitations, don’t they?

There  also might have been the occasional excuse to throw a giant party in the back yard, invite the whole neighborhood and entire Christmas list, buy a couple of kegs and have my buddies bring over a band or two and play music ‘till the cops come.  Thankfully it was usually an excusable occasion, like St. Patrick’s day in June, and usually a reasonable hour when they finally broke us up because the neighbors across the canyon (a mile and a half away) began complaining around 1:00AM.  It is always nice to have a few friends on the police force.  There is nothing quite as heartwarming as finding your three year old toddling across the living room floor (as the adults all migrated outside) helping mommy and daddy by draining the last inch of beer, mai-tai’s, and margaritas’ out of all of the cups lining the tables.  The next morning was not usually a good one for any of us.  Thanks again for that CPS reprieve.

Having had the neighborhood built-in pool, the trampoline, the pool table in the basement, etc.  My babies were raised in, shall we say, a convivial environment.  Don’t get me wrong, we went to Church at least once a week, were involved in worship ministries, field trips, the wife taught Sunday school, etc.  Just a couple of times a year we let our hair down, so to speak.  Having myself grown up in a similar environment there was no sense of hypocrisy at all.  My parents’ best friends were good old German Missouri Synod Lutherans, and every Sunday after church we’d get together with a few dozen folks, including the Pastor, for cocktails and a bar-b-que.

My wife and I were good enough parents in most ways;  helped with homework, softball games and sodas with the other kids parents in the parks on Sunday afternoons, lots of sleep over’s, and plenty of hours on weekend mornings watching Barney and Sesame street.  There were piano lessons, they both got there kiddy Black Belts in Karate, and we put them into a Spanish immersion school.  Our two little perfect babies really never gave us any trouble at all for so long.  Then there was High School.

I’m not saying either turned bad, or got into a real huge amount of trouble, but the attitudes changed.  As is the custom in California my wife decided that not all marriages were made in heaven, and that the grass was indeed far greener on the far side of the hill and we divorced when the girls were just entering High School.  Now I’m certainly not saying that I was any saint, and that she didn’t have a reason or two to want a change of scenery, just that the “better or worse thing” was something I took seriously.  Anyhow, timing being what it was we still tried our damndest to provide a stable environment for the kids.  I moved, and so that the kids didn’t have to move during high school we split the assets in a way that allowed them to keep the house that they grew up in.

Partly, I’m sure, blaming me for that and a few other faults, and partly that they just reached the age that I remember so well as spreading wings and a total disdain for authority, Daddy became persona-non-grata for each of them for a time.  Thank God it seemed to alternate years, and one of them was always being at least cordial.  Remembering my own high school and early college years, I think most of the time I came home it was to visit a girlfriend.  We didn’t hang out a ton, but that was just the way my parents were treated by then too.  We still had the annual waters ski trips to our secret lake, but instead of cousins and their mom’s family (we stayed friends, but that just got a bit weird for a while) the girls started bringing their friends, and boyfriends, and coming up in their own cars.

The eldest graduated Valedictorian in her high school, and is the case with so many second children; the younger had no interest in competing for grades.  She is just as smart and will do just as well in life, but the 4.3 thing just wasn’t in the cards at the time.  They also both took turns being the “wild child.”

After both threatening to spread their wings and go to school back east, the younger one ended up attending my alma mater of UCSB, and the eldest ended up at USD.  I guess dad brought them up to be California kids after all.

What brought this up is that currently they are both calling me, unsolicited, just to talk.  This is MAJOR and recent.  My older one had some boyfriend problems and needed a few extra daddy sessions, and my baby had some issues with attendance, but that has been resolved and she actually is going to summer school this year and is actually graduating a year early.  I am taking the long weekend and driving down with my new wife (both kids went to dads wedding two years ago) to see my baby in SB.  We spent the first week of the summer with the eldest at my new wife’s family reunion in Utah.  Great people, but the heat made that a huge sacrifice.  They have both turned out with wonderful aspects of their mother, and of me.  They are independent, directed, hard working, stubborn, loving, kind, bossy, empathetic, and giving young ladies and I could not be more proud.

The point is this:  for those of you with young ones, be patient.  They will hurt and destroy you, disrespect and loath you, scare the bejesus out of you, piss you off, and generally take you to the poor house.   If you’ve done a reasonable job of loving them and nurturing them, with the grace of God (and a little luck) they will turn out just fine.

 

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