This poem A Cup of Tea and a Book I posted in November was actually written in 2007. it described exactly how I felt at the time. And sometimes still do.
That was the year I realized there are some things you can't control. I used to be a highly organized individual. My calendar was marked clearly. I knew where everyone was supposed to be, what they needed to do, and orchestrated how it was all accomplished. It was not the year I had the worst problems with my oldest. Those were behind us. During that time I had soldiered on. Held my head up and looked people in the eye while trying not to let judgement get to me. Continued to carry on making sure the younger girls lives were as normal, fruitful, and fulfilling as any other child's despite the issues our family faced at the time. Supermom had been caught by surprise but fought valiantly to fix something that ultimately had to fix itself and at the same time help run the business, check homework, listen to cello practice, drive to gymnastics, balance the checkbook & a meal. And it had wore me out. But I moved forward still.
I met my husband when I was 19, married at 20, had my daughter at 21. We were married 7 months when I wound up pregnant and though we weren't planning on starting a family right away we were glad of it and took the job seriously and I was prepared to throw myself into this job. Which meant staying home with my child even though we would be poor as dirt. I like dirt.
During those years we shared a home with my husbands grandfather. It was a good arrangement for all of us. Relieving financial stress and giving him someone to help out with things he couldn't keep up with. We all lived together for several years including the years after he suffered a bad stroke and when he needed care, we provided it. So basically I spent my 20's taking care of a badly disabled elderly man and small children. I liked my little life. I didn't have the ambition of doing anything else. But at times it was very secluded. And I learned my strength by emptying urine bottles along with changing diapers. My biggest outing was usually when my husband would stay at home and I would go visit my parents.
When Biggest was six the Grandfather was no longer with us. My husband looked at me and said, "hey she is starting school, do you want to go back to work?" And I said "hey, let's have some more kids!" ; ). Not really...but sorta. During the following years I was busy with the kids schools and activities. Making sure they had every opportunity available to them and helping my husband start his business. We had several years of growth and stability building a normal life. I was Supermom, and when problems evolved as Biggest hit her teens I continued on even in the face of adversity.
I love being a mother. At this point in my life I can't think of any place I would rather be or wish that I would rather have fulfilled. I have fallen into my role: The Caregiver, which includes sometimes feeling like the Worry Warrior, or Keeper of the World. It comes so naturally to me now that I have to say This is what defines me.
But still..I remember when the younger girls were in preschool. I mentioned to the other moms that I couldn't wait till Littlest started 1st grade. All there with their firstborns, they looked at me like I was a black mark on motherhood. I laughed. But, I said, "I've been doing this for ten years." I haven't been alone since I was 19. My husband and I were married 12 years before we were able to take a trip with just the two of us. There were times on that trip I had to admit, I didn't miss anyone. Well, little twinges. But not much.
They were all in full time school for 2 years and I had a little more time for myself, before Biggest crashed and burned and I set my new freedom aside to begin Homeschooling. I had to learn Algebra all over again, Oh Joy!
In 2007 I thought I could catch my breath. The kids were finally old enough that I could leave them on their own and function without 6 legs. Biggest was doing well. Middlest was accepted into the high school she had been working toward for 4 years. Littlest had just come through a difficult period was coming out of her shell & seemed to be losing some of the sadness that had plagued her. Perhaps I could get off the hotwheels track I had been on for years from home, helping with office work, to school, to the grocery, bank, post office, sports and kids events every now and then and pick up a paintbrush or Go Do Something...of my own! The economy was causing stress in our business but we had dealt with that before.
After my father passed away my mom had gone to live with my sister who is single and doesn't have kids. At the time mom moved in she was still working part time and led an independent life. Later she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My sister was a police detective and as my moms disease progressed I took on some of the daytime duties of driving her to doctors & her volunteer work at a hospital. I can never express how much appreciation I feel for my sister for taking on the bulk of this job during those years. It is the hardest one in the world. My mom had progressed to the point where she needed to be in an adult day care during the day when my sister was injured at work. She was under financial stress as well as worrying about the future and trying to deal with Mom who was wavering between stage 2 & 3. She couldn't handle it anymore. Could I take this on? Why not, I was Supermom.
My husband was terrific and dealt with my mom beautifully. He really had a way with her and could playfully tease her into calming down. And the kids really did their best to be understanding. But, this was when my need to be organized and in control sent me over the edge. I loved my Mom so much and we had been very close and had really been friends. I missed that person but wanted to do all I could to make her happy and take good care of her. One of the issues we faced was that her mind was completely gone but she was still pretty healthy and extremely mobile. She could take the stairs faster than me. She had to be entertained and watched at all times.
I was running a race from 5:00 AM to 11:00 PM and usually up in the middle of the night. My Mom was always worried about her appearance & this hadn't changed yet so I helped her with her hair, makeup & clothes every morning while at the same time getting the kids together. Kept track of meds, meals, bathing, her bills, every aspect of her life. The girls specialized schools required parent participation and extra activities normal schools do not and also were located 30 & 45 minutes from our home. Their academic classes carried a large workload that I would oversee. The economy was taking a toll on our business and we were very stressed by this. I am the one my husband counts on to talk him through when he feels hopeless, so I suck my worry up and present the brighter possibilities. Keep the worry from becoming consuming.
As the months progressed, everything began to slide downhill while I used all my Superpower strength up trying to hold it up. Middlest was failing ninth grade. She was throwing away an amazing opportunity and nothing I tried could make her see that. Littlest was just coming out of a difficult period where she had withdrawn and been depressed, these were some after effects from her sisters problems. She was just beginning to unfold and branch back out. Unfortunately my Mom had zeroed in on Littlest to harass. She was on her constantly and Littlest had retreated to spending nearly all her time on her swing. She wasn't even safe there. My mom would find her. She had retained her motherhood worry instinct and would constantly tell her she was swinging to high. She needs to stop that. She would come to me to try to make Littlest get off that swing before she got hurt. Littlest understood what was going on but it didn't make it any easier for her. And it didn't help that Middlest, who was actually being a real problem for me, could do no wrong in my Moms eyes (even though she didn't know who she was) and she would defend her whenever I needed to fuss at her for something.
I was in a hamster wheel with jet packs attached to it. I stressed over the girls school and emotional problems, money, making sure my mom was safe and happy & getting all the resources available to her. Adding support and keeping up with business, making sure the house was in order, appointments were kept, and everybody was well fed, washed and tucked in at night. Until sun downing started and I would get up a 2 AM to try to explain to mom that it wasn't time to "go" wherever she was going and she could put her pajama's back on and get some more sleep. Which usually led to anger because I was wrong and telling her what to do or tears because she was disappointed.
Alzheimer's is delicate. My mom retained the awareness of her authority as an adult while dealing with situations like a child. The wearing Depends at night talk was a regular occurrence. Because she "did not need these, what was wrong with me?" Oh my...delicacy. It's a seesaw you constantly have to balance.
This is my identity. I am the Caregiver. This is my Purpose. This is not only My Life.
This is what I have been given. I refused to not do it well.
Life hopped off the other end of my see-saw.
Everyone has their own level of ability to cope. For me I say there are two kinds of stress: Cookie Stress and Can't even eat cookies Stress. I really didn't have much appetite, but it kept me out of the junk. That's a good thing, right? As I was winging my way full speed through perfectionism and keeping it all together without dropping any threads I failed to notice I was going nuts. I am not a big person but was rather pleased when the extra weight I carried around my waist began to melt away. Why I haven't weighed 113 lbs. since I was...well 13 but this is healthier for my heart, right? I was just having a bad day when I accused my poor husband of being supportive of my mom coming to us so that he could keep me trapped in the house, while he did as the pleased.
They started to notice. My husband tried even harder to be of help. He began to urge me to relax a little. You can let some of this go. If the girls aren't keeping up in school that is their responsibility, they aren't little. If my mom wanted to wear the same outfit for 3 days and it wasn't soiled, so what. Quit hiding clothes and staging her closet so she always a fresh outfit. He started tempting me with pizza and brownies. Was he crazy?
This is my job, this is my purpose. Why else do I exist?
One day Biggest asked to see my stomach and told me I looked like a crackhead.
Not long after my sister looked at me and said I looked anorexic and she asked what was happening with Littlest. And then she took my mother back.
My mom was moving into the later stages, a swift decline and within a couple months of going back to my sister had degenerated to the point where a skilled nursing home was necessary. Later that year she passed away from complications of a physical illness.
And I, well, I Resigned my position as Supermom.
I had to admit that I could not do it all. I had to learn that it's ok to be a human myself. I went out and had some fun. I went surfing. I sat on the beach while dust bunnies partied under the beds. I painted my toenails and started working out. I had a mini at home honeymoon with my husband where we re-connected on a "we as a couple" level not just an "all of us level" which we had lost at some point without realizing it. Our marriage has never been better. I didn't check to make sure anyone finished homework. If they slacked in school I didn't beg teachers to help with this kid who wouldn't be bothered. I told Middlest enjoy summer school, I'm going to the beach. I realized I could point them in the right direction and give them resources and offer help when needed but if they didn't utilize these, I was not the one who failed. I made sure they knew their responsibilities and praised when they accomplished and restricted when they didn't. I avoided hovering to make things happen. I didn't join one committee. I helped with the business but didn't worry it to death when things didn't go well. What can you do? Nothing, just move on. I let my house get a little messy. I forgot to buy a new calendar. I said No.
I couldn't control everything and make it right. I had to learn to let go a little. I had a year of (sorta)being selfish, at least that's how it felt to me. And I loved it. For now I am satisfied with being Good Mom, at least my kids think so and that is what matters to me. They know I am there for them. I do my best but it's not always perfect. Oh well. My seesaw isn't always balanced but it stays in motion.
I do still look forward to my life being my own but...
I have to admit that my biggest fear of the future is a selfish one. I have never in my entire life not been responsible to or for someone else. I include my husband as part of myself, we still have never lived alone together and had the freedom to just up and do what we want and it will be a whole new experience. In my post previous to this one there is a song that I love and call my theme song. The Way. In four more years my responsibilities will mostly be reduced to what they were 24 years ago. I am really looking forward to it. But I have this fear hanging over my head. My siblings are older than me. Two are married. My sister is 13 years older than me and has no family of her own to turn to when she's older. My husbands parents are only a few years older than her. He does have siblings but I have to admit that my biggest fear is that just as soon as my responsibilities for caring for my kids are completed that I will be given a new assignment. My biggest fear is that I will never be in control of my own life without taking a back seat to my responsibilities to others.
But if that happens I know myself well. I love these people. And... I am not a Superhero but....
This is my Identity. I am the Caregiver. This is my Purpose. This is My Life.
This is what I have been Given. And I Try to do it well.
And hopefully I will be finished before I lose my mind. If I lose my husband first I am planning on packing up my books and my cats and disappearing up a mountain to become a crazy hermit lady. If my kids take care of me, Biggest would drive herself nuts trying to do everything perfectly. Middlest would forget to feed me and change my Depends, and Littlest would make me eat Sushi and experiment on me for her research on Dementia in her psychiatry practice.
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