Back in early April, I had a few days of freedom before starting my new job. Yes, I admit that I took one of those days to sit on the couch and re-watch the Usual Suspects for the eight hundredth time. For another of those days, I put together what I thought had been a masterful plan to get my father out of his Framingham apartment and take him to Foxwoods.
My parents were once minor-league VIPs at Atlantic City mainstays Hilton and Caesar’s. On a Friday afternoon, their friendly “host” would call them, invite them to a show, offer them a free room and vouchers for expensive restaurants (where of course no one actually paid, thereby making the price a fiction), and plan to meet them for dinner. These 2 people became like surrogate children to them while my brother and I were off living our lives far away. Looking back on it now, I wonder if having this on-demand contact with someone who doted on them wasn’t a big part of what they were buying. Because, trust me, they were buying it. I finally saw their tax returns after my mother died and I know how much money disappeared into the slot machines along Atlantic Avenue.
In the summer of 2012, a year after I’d seen those 1040s and realized why my father’s savings weren’t what they might otherwise have been, I went to visit him in Lawrenceville. I had just sold off a business that had really been struggling after sticking with it longer than any reasonable person would (although remember, I am an entrepreneur). Which is to say, I was relieved, exhausted, proud, sad, and hopeful all at the same time. Even though I had railed against the casinos many times, my father suggested, and I agreed, that we should visit Revel, which had just opened up. Into the car we climbed and off we went.
Watching my otherwise frugal father stuff $100 bills into slot machines was quite a shock to the system. So was seeing his incontinence on such stark display; the less said about that, the better. On the other hand, something about the lure of the gaming floor re-energized him and set back the clock 20 years, especially for his walking. We had a great dinner together that was a prelude to some of the meals we have now. He was proud: in his element, still living in the house he was convinced he could take care of, and educating his son over french fries about the systems for how to beat the slot machines. Revel is gone now, as are many of Atlantic City’s casinos, victims in part of the demographic shift as my parents’ generation stopped visiting and younger gamblers never came to take their place.
So six months ago, sitting on the couch watching Kaiser Soze emerge from the police station and climb into Kobayashi’s BMW, I looked forward to our Foxwoods trip as an adventure and a chance for my father to reclaim how he felt that day. I also used it as a prop to get him to walk more and, most importantly, be ready for a long day where bathrooms would be inaccessible.
However, when I showed up to his place, he was totally unprepared. And when I say unprepared, I mean he’d had an accident and nothing to protect his jeans from the result of it. For some reason, when I suggested he change his pants, he refused, and did so as if the situation we now found ourselves in was my fault. Trying to deflect blame back to me, he blurted out “You didn’t send me an email telling me when you were coming.” HIs suggesting that I am irresponsible is a classic manuever I remember well from childhood, so when I showed him on his iPad exactly when I had sent it, I was overcome by a wave of fury unique to adults whose parents to try undercut them in the same way they did decades ago.
I demanded he put on clean pants. He refused and dug in. I calmed down somewhat and reasoned that the problem might be that it was too much work to change his pants, so I offered to help him. He still refused. So, rather than spend my day trying to argue with him further, I called off the trip, and left.
So here I am six months later. Things have improved to the point where now when I show up, he is never, ever unprepared. He makes a point of wearing not just underwear, but adult diapers that prevent the kind of unfortunate accidents that I saw that morning back in April. This might seem like a needlessly intimate detail to share on a blog, and maybe it is. My point is that this is his small way of showing respect, and I appreciate it so much. I know that getting older inevitably comes with the body’s decline, and acknowledging this is probably accompanied by a loss of dignity. I am not going through this to the level he is, although middle age is where it starts to kick in (see: nighttime bathroom trips). So for him to do that, week after week, is a small gesture that I think speaks volumes.
In recent days, I have started to think that maybe another try at Foxwoods would be a fun adventure for him, and a nice gesture from me. But then part of me feels like I don’t want to mess with a good thing. Maybe the pressure of such a long excursion was too much for him. Maybe visiting a casino in Connecticut is just not the same as weekend getaways to Atlantic City with his wife, and that changes the equation.
Mostly, maybe sometimes the anticipation of something can remain better than the actual something itself. This is my Foxwoods Dilemma.
The following guest post is from my daughter Sophie – here’s how having a sandwiched parent looks from the vantage point of an 11 year old. What she doesn’t know (yet) is that she too is sandwiched between 2 phases and perched precariously between being a kid and adolesence. This is why she is old and wise enough to write a coherent post, and young and naive enough to write it about liking her parents. I am savoring it while I can. So here goes…
SOPHIE BIRO THE SUPERHERO HERE!!
Don’t worry, I didn’t hack into the blog. I had nothing to do during our writing time, so this was the best I could think of doing and my dad said I might as well. Thanks dad. Anyways, as much I like to go off and chit-chat about my life (I really do) I have to get down to business. So here it is: I like my parents. If I made a list of why it would be too long, so I’m just going to write about some of the key things.
1. They are good role models-
Though most parents try to set a good example for their kids, my parents don’t. They don’t have to try to (of at least I think they don’t). They just do their thing, but it always manages to get us inspired. From my mom working hard but always coming home and having a lot of energy to my dad being athletic, or even to the fact that they love to cook and stay healthy.
2. They do a good a job giving equal attention to everyone
Yes, they always give us the same amount of attention, but when we are with my Grandpa (or Apu, as I call him) sometimes my dad needs to pay attention to him, but right as that’s happening, my mom finds a cool game and we don’t even have a second to think about even getting jealous. It’s like they can read each other’s minds!!!
3. They are interested in the same things we are
Me and my dad could sit down and write for hours, or everyone could play cards, or we could all make a meal together, or we could all go to the gym or… (the list is endless). Though my parents have to work a lot, they always seem to find room for one of those things every single day (the list was cut short) no matter whether it takes hours or it’s just for ten minutes.
The last thing I have to say here (sorry, but my post has to end, I have a bedtime) is that below is a picture of me and my family. I’m the blonde one, that my sister is the one that looks like me, and if you can’t tell my mom and my dad apart… sorry. Bye… FOR NOW!
How’s that for a long break?
I haven’t written a post in almost 5 months, so maybe some explanation is necessary before just jumping back in. Really, 2 big things happened, and my guess is that these are the ones that usually confound previously dedicated bloggers. First, the main source of angst that was driving my blog — which was trying to juggle helping out my father with everything else I was juggling — really petered out. That is, my father is doing great and continues to do great. His C Diff is gone. He is settling well into his new place. The crush of trying to sell his house, figure out where the doctors are and whether or not we could trust them, deciphering the Kafka-esque mystery that is Medicare – all of that is done.
Part of what caused this is that I helped start a support group and the feedback I got from members who had been at the caregiver game longer than I had was “Give yourself a break.” Good advice unless you are trying to stay motivated to write a blog about how you can’t give yourself a break.
So, writing as self-therapy didn’t have the same pull.
The bigger issue, really, is that I started a job. I haven’t had a “real” job in a long time where I manage people, commute to an office, have a real manager, and have direct deposit. Direct deposit is sort of a shocking and wonderful concept actually. Anyway, I became CFO of a software company called ObserveIT back in April and it was quite an adjustment. More on that in other blog posts. Put simply: full-time employment is the enemy of hobbies.
I finally feel more settled at work, as defined by being highly committed and busy, but no longer scrambling. To clear out space for writing, I made a pact with one of my favorite scribes, my daughter Sophie. She and I have carved out a dedicated time slot weekly where we both write. In the realm of multitasking and great parenting, I also plan to use this time to indoctrinate her away from dance music into what I am going to call “writing music”. This is code for music to which it is my solemn responsibility to introduce her. Tonight we are listening to Dire Straits. Someone has to do it.
Which brings us back to the question of topic. I have felt less angst-ridden about my father recently so I am pretty sure I can’t sustain a blog about that. (Note: I hope I’m right!).
That said, I am still as sandwiched as ever. Meaning, I have plenty that to explore related to work/career, raising children, marriage, being neither young nor old, and to being in a weird place called “middle age”. Facebook recently has been just as much about friends who are fighting and beating cancer as it once was for baby or wedding pictures.
A friend mentioned to me that writing twice per week seemed an unsustainable pace. Maybe — although I loved it while I was doing it. So, I’ll start with my weekly time with Sophie and take it from there. I’m glad to be back.