Changing winds

SeasonsDarlene realized things had changed when she was called into the lab room to see her father at 88 sitting on the examining table clad only in his underwear.

Merle was the most modest man she had ever known. She turned away from him to face the doctor, hoping he’d find his clothes while she heard the report.

“Your father has hardening of the arteries in his legs,” the doctor said. “That affects his walking, of course.”

They discussed the treatment plan and then Darlene checked on her dad out of the corner of her eye. He hadn’t moved.

“Uh, Dad, why don’t you get your pants on?”

He stared at the wall.

Darlene scanned the room and located his pile of clothes on a chair. She edged to the chair, still keeping her back on her father.

“Here, Dad.” She held out the jeans and shirt and, when he didn’t take them, laid them on the table behind him. “How about you put on your clothes? I can wait outside.”

“I can’t do it.”

Darlene felt her throat tighten. She had dressed her children just short of 10 million times when they were young. But never her father.

“You’ll have to help me.” He spoke softly, his voice hoarse.

So Darlene threaded his thin arms into the sleeves of his shirt and buttoned it. Then she pulled his jeans to his knees and helped him stand.

He gripped her shoulders while she finished with his pants.

“Thank you,” he said.

There might have been a tear in his eye. She couldn’t tell for sure.

But, for a reason she didn’t understand, she wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, Dad, you’re welcome.”

Merle had never been much of a hugger but he didn’t shrug off her arms. He patted her shoulder.

“Let’s go home,” Darlene said. But winds of change had already come.


That baby

Story_squareI was more puzzled than miffed when our teenage son pounded on our bedroom door at midnight accompanied by the sound of a wailing baby.

“He won’t stop crying,” he said in a tone that would have shoved the baby in my arms if only he could.

Our son had brought his baby home from school that day complete with a pastel diaper bag, bottle, diapers and toys.

We’d taken pictures and even named the little guy.

But only our son had the key.

This baby was a mechanical doll from his family living class and it was programmed to cry randomly. Only the caretaker with the key could try to address his needs.

Did it need a new diaper? A bottle? Burping?

The caretaker used a magnetic wrist band to access the baby’s data bank before offering solutions.

This all sounds a little crazy but not nearly as crazy as being awakened at midnight.

I have some experience with flesh-and-blood babies. I didn’t even have a key for this one.

We learned later that the mechanical baby needed to be reprogrammed but, at midnight, our son didn’t care.

So I got up and offered empty advice and he finally took the baby back to his room where it cried all night despite his best efforts.

He carried the wailing baby into school the next morning where the teacher reprogrammed it.

But he’d lost so much sleep that he slept through the normal cries the next night.

Our son is a terrific father today to three sweet little boys but he also carries the distinction of being the only student in his class to fail Parenting 101.

Narrow places

SeasonsWe talked about our planned trip to Europe this morning. My husband and I have saved and dreamed of a special anniversary adventure: three weeks somewhere in Europe.

“But what about your mother?” he asked.

And it struck me: I’m in a narrow place in life where concerns for parents, children and grandchildren all press against my plans. Could we be gone so long and so far away with loved ones in some sort of crisis?

It’s been two years since my mother’s stroke. Here’s some of what I wrote shortly after the stroke:

Chaos wrapped its stubborn tendrils around my ankles and brought me stumbling to my knees last week.

My mother, vibrant and energetic at 83, crashed to the floor with a stroke and now we wait. We sit beside her hospital bed, counting her breaths, charting every twitch  of her toes.

Hopeful. Fearful. Will she survive this attack on her brain and her body? How well can her body heal?

And what have we lost?

Chaos swirls like a dripping fog, drenching us with plans draining away.

Plans have drained away. But the chaos has sorted its way into a new routine. New life has replaced the pain and confusion. Mom is still with us.

I’ve grown. I’ve rearranged priorities. I’m more patient with the special needs of others.

I don’t know what that means about our anniversary trip but I do know that, in these narrow places, he and I adjust and we learn to love in fresh ways.

We’re richer for it.

A moving story

Story_squareThe best thing about moving with children is the stories that sprout.

Our move forced our kids to pack up their bedroom stuff. Not the furniture and not the clothes. But the toys and mementoes were their business.

Our 6-year-old son embraced the challenge. He dragged empty cardboard boxes into his room and managed to tape them closed himself. He wrote his name on the outside and added them to the mountain of boxes in the living room.

His system worked perfectly and his boxes were transferred to his bedroom in our new home.

I had noticed, a couple of weeks before, that he had gathered all the decorations from his sister’s birthday celebration and squirreled them away in his closet.

On moving day, when I wandered into his room with a knife to slice through the tape on his boxes, I discovered his happy little secret.

He’d filled his boxes with a cloud of inflated birthday balloons.balloons

The story has lasted a lot longer than the balloons.

That season

SeasonsWhen Erwin started using his checkbook as a calendar, his son knew it was time for a change.

Erwin had paid the bills all of his life, carefully recording business expenses in a faded green ledger book.

But one day he had to pay a bill and refused to write the check. “Not today,” he said. “It messes things up.”

He pulled his checkbook out of his shirt pocket, where he stored it every morning when he dressed, and pointed to the page where he had already written in dates.

Jim studied the checkbook. “I don’t understand this.”

Erwin shook his head. “It’s clear as can be. Right here.” He pointed to an entry. “See the date? That’s what I’m doing.”

Jim had trusted his father’s financial judgment forever but this was something new. He glanced at his mother, who shrugged, and he turned back to his father.

“Well, we need to pay this bill today, Dad. What should we do?”

Erwin pushed the checkbook back into his pocket. “We can’t.”

Jim knew the teenager who had just mowed their grass waited outside for his payment. He considered options and pulled out his wallet to pay the young man.

But the bigger issue remained. “Dad, could I look at your ledger book?”

The look revealed pages of numbers carefully written in but scattered across columns like autumn leaves, with no pattern. How would his father get his taxes done? Pay his bills?

What was past-due?

And Jim knew it was time. “Dad, we need to talk about your checkbook.”checkbook

Erwin’s eyebrows lifted. “Sure, if you want.”

As Jim asked questions, Erwin became more and more vague to answer. Finally, he pushed the checkbook to Jim.

“You take it. I can’t do it anymore.”

Jim ran his own business, interacted with his own family including young grandchildren, and tried to find time for an occasional golf game.

But he knew this had to be folded into his life.

It was that season for Jim.