Tag Archives: aging parents

Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #16

Such comfort from a front stoop in the snowy woods...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Having experienced much of this entry, I write in tears and thank Laurie Wajda for spreading her father’s light to those who read it here.  Thank you, and blessings to your family.  yrs. Laura

Community: Long Ago by Laurie Wajda

I love to read Laura Munson’s blog.  That’s not a plug, it’s true.  Reading her is like sitting with an old friend, chatting over a hot cup of cocoa. So when I read about her new contest, I was excited to hear from not only her, but others who would submit to her as well.  We’re all of the same breed, I think.  Reading the stories submitted is easy as a cool summer breeze.

I live in the sticks, as we call it.  In the middle of nowhere.  So when I heard the topic was “community” I thought—What would I do with that?—and had no intention of submitting this year.

I just sat back and waited for the others:  Waited to read about people who had others around them, with them, to lean on and comfort them if they so needed, teach them things…  I waited because I didn’t know what community was about, nor did I think I would find myself one any time soon.

And then I got the call.

My father has always been the strongest man I know.  (And, I may add, he’s made of pure love.)  I can’t remember a time he was ever sick—except that once when I was in fifth grade and he had a hernia operation, and had to sleep in the Lazy Boy for a week or so.  Since then, it’s been smooth sailing.  So, last week, when I was riding in the ambulance with him, and the paramedics asked about his medications and other ailments, I had nothing.  They just looked at me, as do the doctors now, like I have two heads.

You see, the paramedics and doctors, they look at him as an eighty-six year old man–one who is sick and frail and can’t get up to pee on his own.  They don’t see the man who was pushing his own lawnmower until it started to snow.  Or the guy who opens and closes his own in ground pool every year, and vacuums it all summer long.  They don’t see the man who served in WWII and then raised five children, helping them fight battles of their own all along the way.  No–they don’t see that at all.  But we do.  His family. His friends.  His community.

Turns out my father had a brain bleed, and has left us all bleeding from our very souls.

Bing.  Bing. Bing…  I sit and listen to the monitors and the buzzers, and the bells, and it’s hard to believe I’m sitting here at all.  We’ve met with doctors who first told us it was  caused by a cancer that has spread throughout his body, through his organs. Then they told us how his case is “puzzling,” that we still have hope because they might not be right at all… It might be an infection, or a blood disease, or benign…. And then he has a brain tumor… And each time they change their story and rip the rug from underneath us, we come together, closer, our little community, and we pray.

As I sit by his bedside, the emails and instant messages pour in on the technology we can all not live without.    Support.  Prayers.  Positive thoughts.  Daily, the texts roll in from old friends who heard, new friends who care, family I haven’t seen in years.  My nephew admits—he never knew he had such a support system behind him until he really needed it.  I concur. And now we know.

Right now, this is our community.  We are our community.  Family.  Friends. Neighbors.  People from Church.  People from Facebook, and Twitter, ones whom I have never laid eyes on are praying. We don’t all live in the same place–some from across the country or the globe.  But we all have the same goal, same thoughts, same prayers.  What brings us all together is love.

We pray for recovery, we pray they are wrong, we pray they will give us a definitive answer so we can fix it. We laugh because he keeps telling us he’s fine, we cry because we know he’s not, and then we pray, each of us in our own way, some more.  Our new little community, born of love.

Frequently in the last week I’ve asked myself–How do you go from sitting and laughing at dinner ten days ago to this?  How does this happen?  Tumultuous emotions. Rollercoaster rides.  Sleep deprivation.  Looking up on the way here the other day, I gave God the finger – how dare He?

And then later in a moment of my own solitude I apologized and asked for forgiveness, and serenity, and love.

My family, we’ve learned in the last ten days, not all things are fixable.  But as the days pass, we’ve learned to lean on each other a little bit more, to rely on each other’s strength that eminently came from our father, our grandpa, our friend.  We know that whatever hits us next, whatever bricks are thrown, we can face it together.

Our family has come together in a way I’ve never seen.  We are one. We have a bond that I’m sure was there but had never solidified.  My father is our core, our backbone.

Taking turns, I wait in the waiting room, waiting to see my daddy, listening to the buzzers and bells drifting in from other rooms: Rooms filled with others like my dad.  And I wonder if they are lucky as us?  Do they have the same support, strength, love, family, friends, neighbors?  Do they have communities behind them, wishing them well?   I hope so.  It would only seem fair.

And, being my father’s daughter, I can only pray they do.



Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts