July, 2013 Archives

Senior Senorita

July 29th, 2013

A teenager finds meaning in a retirement home.

Old people make my daughter cry.

I know that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true; I’ve seen it. The tears, though, are mostly tears of happiness. Again, I know that sounds strange.

This is going to take a bit of explaining. Taylor is 17-years-old and just a month away from being a senior in high school. But the seniors she adores are 60 years older than her. She gets such a positive charge from hanging out with them, listening to their stories, laughing or helping them out, that sometimes they bring tears to her eyes. It was only natural that she apply for a job in an old folks home.

She would correct me, probably even scold me for my poor word choice; it’s a Senior Living Community.

For the past four months, several days per week, she drives over and pulls the meal shift at a local retirement facility. It’s a four-hour gig and it fits her schedule perfectly. Well, she gets paid for four hours, anyway.

This part astounds me. This part I can’t even wrap my head around. She clocks out at 7:30 pm — punching her time card — then goes back in and visits with the residents! There is one woman in particular, “She’s my girl,” says Taylor. And they spend at least a half hour together every evening. Here’s a self portrait they took together the other day —–>

It’s that X-factor that makes her a gifted caregiver. That’s the type of thing that makes me think she should probably look into Gerontology or Geriatrics when she heads off to college. She can do anything she wants though, as far as I’m concerned. If she does pursue caregiving, she’s had a lot of training.

My mom is 80 and still lives in her own place. One of Taylor’s favorite things to do — as a teenager, remember — is to pick up her younger cousin and drive over to their grandma’s house to just hang out. Although to be fair, there’s usually food involved somehow.

Before she could even drive, though, she helped me when I first came home from the hospital. A normal young teen would probably not be too excited about helping flush her father’s IV line with hypodermic syringes. Taylor was fine with it; it didn’t freak her out at all. I think it even made her feel proud to help out.

But it was even further before that, way, way back when I got one of my earliest glimpses of how well she works with older people.

We went camping along Lake Michigan. Taylor was very young and as I was getting her and her sister’s breakfast of cold cereal and milk ready, I realized I couldn’t find her. I heard laughing nearby, and with just a little panic, jogged over to the campsite next to us. There was Taylor, sitting in a comfy camp chair, eating pancakes and bacon all the while entertaining our much older neighbors.

“She just came over to talk,” they said, “we asked her if she was hungry and she said ‘Sure’” they explained.

Like I said, food always seems to be involved.

This past week, one of her elder friends at the facility passed away. This time, Taylor’s tears weren’t of joy. It wasn’t unexpected, but we were wondering in the back of our minds what would happen once she had to deal with the omnipresent loss that’s inherently a part of senior living.

By all accounts, she dealt with it perfectly. She cried, talked to some of the residents, mourned the loss, then afterwards went out to a concert with her teen friends. Sort of the yin and yang way, circle of life stuff. Her approach was as well-rounded as anyone’s twice her age (or quintuple).

We’re going to stop worrying about her, at least in this facet of her life. She’s got this. She’s amazing.

The world’s her oyster … (again, with the food!)

Where’s Rodney?

July 15th, 2013

You come to a blog, looking for a guy and he sends you to another blog.

Dr. Baker sailed off into the sunset.

I know that sounds like the beginning (or end) of some pulp summer novel, but in this case it’s true. Dr. Wayne Baker is one of my colleagues here at Read The Spirit and he’s taking some time off to conquer the Great Lakes nautically. Captain Baker, I should call him.

So, like last year when I guest-blogged on his Our Values site, I’m taking this week to give you important, revelatory information.

For the next five days, I’m sharing my Five Guilty Pleasures. They make for silly, fun summer reading.


Monday’s installment can be found right here. Five Guilty Pleasures: Cold Coffees

Tuesday’s missive is here: Five Guilty Pleasures: Naps

Wednesday’s pleasure: Five Guilty Pleasures: Tigers Games

Feel around in the dark and see if you can find Thursday’s missive: Five Guilty Pleasures: Total Blackout

Don’t call me Ishmael. Here’s Friday’s: Five Guilty Pleasures: Writing Fiction

AND THIS JUST IN! All five of my guiltiest pleasures can now be found with this one, handy permalink.

What Should Have Happened

July 10th, 2013

Changing your future by re-imagining your past.

I was reminiscing with my friend — an old friend — from back when the 70s weren’t polyester nostalgic, but a flesh and blood, corduroy reality. We were kids back then, looking in amazement toward the fall when we would be juniors in high school. That summer night a zillion years ago, I hopped on my Schwinn 10-speed and rode back to my safe, secure home. She walked back into her hell at the house on the corner.

I didn’t know her uncle was a notorious sexual predator, even hitting her amongst his scores of victims. I didn’t know her father covered up for him for so long. I didn’t know about her mother’s insanity. My friend was beaten down, literally and figuratively. In the name of things supposedly holy, she was let down by her older sisters, kicked by her mother, all the while being ignored by her father, or worse.

As the unspeakable atrocities mounted, the years slowly passed. She fast-forwarded with me through some of the more mundane difficulties, pausing though, at the point when — upon the birth of her first lovely, amazing daughter — she received a fatherly phone call pressing her to have a nurse baptize her healthy child in case it suddenly died before a real sacrament could take place. Happy birthday, welcome to crazy town. Thanks grandpa!

I have to stop this story right here. Because that’s not exactly how our conversation progressed. Before I heard what she had to say about the birth, I interrupted her. “I don’t know what you’re going to tell me,” I said, “but from what I’ve been hearing so far, it’s not going to be pretty.”

And then I gave her an alternate narrative. “This is what should have happened when your first daughter was born.”

“Before you went into the hospital, your dad was at your place, massaging your shoulders and telling you stories about when you, yourself, were born. At the hospital he was waiting right outside of the delivery room, staying late into the night. The next morning he showed up with your favorite coffee (but decaffeinated, for now). He scooped up your bouncing bundle of joy and said, ‘Sweetheart, you get some sleep; I’ll just walk around cradling her in my supportive arms and look forever into her bright, incredible eyes.’“

She stared at me, my friend, after my fantasy description. Her eyes got teary and she hung her head. Obviously what I said didn’t occur in real life. But the simple power of What Should Have Happened somehow had the ability to clarify a little of the sadness. Perhaps more importantly, it gave her a sense of how much was missing and where she could start rebuilding.

Because that’s exactly what she’s doing these days. She’s rebuilding from the job she loved but that had an abusive boss. From the husband she married that abused by neglect. Through therapy, lots of therapy, and talking and thinking and processing and time, she is taking her life back. Her daughters are her world. They thrive and are thankfully shielded from most of their mother’s cruel past.

Back here in 2013, when we finished lunch, I hopped into my Prius and drove home. She went back to her safe home in the country. All isn’t rosy for her, not by any means. But the madness has stopped. It stopped with her. And she did it by shear will.

That’s what happened.