Rooster Tails

Several years ago now, Little Miss Sweetness rode the smallest (12-inch) 2 wheel bike, still with training wheels. Due to the gentle slope of our street, she had controlled – assist one direction, and the hard, but not too hard, work of learning in the other.Three doors down, the neighbors had a large parking turnout, with a ‘dip.’ Occasionally, she’d hit the dip just right, and her bike would suspend on the front wheel and trainers, disengaging the rear wheel drive. The back tire would spin… We live in the Pacific NW, so ‘dip’ frequently equates with puddle, and Little Miss Sweetness’s spin would result in a high-flyin’ rooster tail. Spin, spin , spin and the water would fly. She would turn her head to watch, and giggle – such fun…

When I am spinning my wheels, at the pace it sometimes takes to let someone else grow, or ”do it myself”; or trying to be patient while ‘his’ attention is held elsewhere, or as any of a hundred other things seem to keep me from my agenda – when I am spinning, I do not giggle. I grumble, or fume (those are those silent, out-the-ear smoke signals), or complain. No giggle…For anyone. A few days ago, my husband told me I was unbearable. Spin… spin… spin…

Adult clients, with any of a variety of disabilities, can take  an hour, maybe two, just to get to the edge of the bed and get washed and dressed in the morning. And that doesn’t include breakfast. If you are that caregiver – spin…spin…spin. But that fiercely won, or preserved, independence is sometimes worth it. It’s a call based on what really matters, to that individual. In my experience, most individuals who grew up in the first half of the 1900s, ‘know’ you regularly need to help neighbors, rarely need a doctor, and when it comes to one’s own personal care, would rather do it themselves, or die trying. A lot of three year olds feel the same way, at least for the first 4 attempts. In a world of increasing tendency toward dependence and a sense of entitlement, we need to honor those attempts while they remain beneficial.

Two weeks ago, I took Little Miss Sweetness to a therapeutic horseback riding session. It was a busy day at BarB ranch, and they were short-handed, so in spite of my well-documented ineptitude with animals, I was allowed to lead a horse for the hour – a whole hour…I was ecstatic; not outwardly, but inwardly everything was agrin.  Would it not have startled the horses, I might have sung, or laughed out loud.  In reality,though, I was spinning… Before the lesson, I had planned to take a nap while I waited, because I was so weary. Usually I  watch, take pictures, coach a little from the sideline. But I was REJUVENATED! Giddy way out of proportion. Why???Because I love animals? Sorry. I think it was because I was given an opportunity to do something specific and finite that made a difference. I helped accomplish the program that day in a tight spot. The director was grateful. I heard one of the other moms whisper, “That’s one of the moms…” in a good way. I was the hero of the hour. Really? I just led Sinbad, the impeccably behaved horse.

So much of what we do as caregivers goes seemingly unacknowledged by anyone, or is feebly measured in its reappearing to be done again the next day, like laundry, and meal prep and baths and medisets. If you are a family caregiver, and you don’t occasionally  feel the frustration of this, I hope you will share your secrets of encouragement. I remember once long ago, down on all-fours scrubbing the bathtub. A weight descended as a small child (Laura, this was you) clambered aboard for a horsey-back ride. Suddenly bathroom cleaning – which does that reappearing thing –  was a wild-west adventure and we were off. Fast-forward eighteen years, and I am now awed at the riding ability… no, the stunning beauty of the women God has grown out of my wee charges. With tongue-in-cheek… at last, progress on the laundry pile. But what about when all that careful, loving attendance of another does not see progress, but instead serves accompaniment to their physical demise; such as occurs with aging, or terminal illness?   There is a beautiful melodious strain to those hours, a masterful gift created; but it seems exceedingly fragile in the unwrapping. The value or effectiveness of one’s tending cannot be measured in the spin. I’m sorry for this painful slowing – it hurts. And the gift…held only in your heart, may rarely be able to be shown to another. Cradle it whenever you need do so…

A few months ago, John Curley, former anchor of Evening Magazine, and a motivational speaker, challenged a group of caregivers, “The human brain is always looking for a problem to solve.” He encouraged us to give it a fresh one (as if caregiving doesn’t have brainteasers of it’s own). “Set a goal,” he said. “Make it outrageous, but do-able.” If your hours and energy are mostly garnered by your caregiving role, it might be time simple: try a new recipe, daily learn a new word – in a foreign language? Pray for 1 different friend per day. In the middle of our child-rearing years, my husband let me train for a marathon, while we continued running that ‘other’ marathon. It was a significant time committment on his part, but I must have been unbearable then, too, because there were times he told me plainly, “Go run.” The marathon mattered little to anyone but me, but it helped me to feel ‘undefeated’ and while I ran I prayed  for  persevering people, 26.5 and counting. When our kids were skiing, and learning to snowboard, I’d sneak up the mountain in ill-fitting boots, board in hand. I couldn’t get on and off the lift, but I could make it down the mountain. Oh, the exhilaration of  mountain air, cold exercise, and the thrill of learning one thing new. First time down, they had to wait for me, but I wasn’t sorry for one minute.

The point is, we long for forward progress, to cover new ground, to have our spent energy be measurable. At the sweet ripe age of 79, my mother started a nonprofit outreach to provide free clothing in a timely manner to those who need it. At age 81, she can walk maybe a 1/2 mile, but she is still running it. Why? Because, a confirmed homemaker, she’d rather sow while she spins. And every community outreach she does, has her equipping someone else to carry on. Little Miss  Sweetness on her bike was not merely spinning her wheels, but generating a full-fledged fountain, complete with rainbows.

I’ve written a few of the soul-saving adventures of my journey, But I’m not really very good at this in the day-to-day. The grumble is heard far too often. Speaking to myself, here’s the encouragement:

  •  Find one creative outlet, or disperse creative moments throughout your week.
  • Seize a wild adventure, whether it lasts a moment or a year, whether it be through a book or travel magazine, depending on your situation; or takes you OUTDOORS or to an art gallery
  • Climb over the pile of weariness to see or learn something new
  • Connect with others. Caregiving can be isolating. Allow our media-connected world to facilitate interactions with friends, provide you with prayer support and news of the outside world. But stay away from unnecessarily depressing and horrifying  shows and commentary. They will not lift your spirits
  • Give, even if it is only a few words, or pennies, or cookies…

And all the while, choose Godspeed on the spin…J

jlf 9/24/12

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