Caution: This is a High-Speed Thrill Ride

black and white roller coaster

Confinement hardly describes our 100-day shelter-in-place experience. Paul and I took regular outdoor walks. We made weekly trips to the recycling center, sometimes driving by The Korner’s take-out window for pizza. We used masks for monthly runs to Price Chopper and picked up prescriptions at Kinney Drugs drive-through. Zoom, FaceTime, and MessengerKids connected me with friends and the granddaughters. I appreciate the privilege to have had such an easy time. It was like riding a carousel, around and around, almost pleasant, but going nowhere.

 

In contrast, my emotions pitched high and low. Every time we neared the date for the border opening so we could reach our Canadian family, the date was pushed back. First May 21 to June 21 to July 21 to No Time Soon. Up and down, forward then backward, like a roller coaster. Reunion with American family is just as tentative. I cling to hope that I can attend my niece’s Pennsylvania wedding. My dad’s long-term-care facility remains in lockdown to keep him safe from the virus. A Findlan family fishing trip might go on without us.

 

I start planning 2021. The coaster clicks on the tracks ascending gradually. We will reschedule our Disney trip. I will take the train to New York City with the granddaughters. Visitors will come to our 1000 islands home. I make an itinerary for a Pennsylvania vacation. Without warning I hurl over the crest, then plummet downward. The velocity wrenches my neck. My stomach churns. Will we make it to next summer? Will I ever see my dad again? How does this end?

 

We get word that immediate family may enter Canada under restrictions. I head to the border. In summer, a line of 10-20 cars at customs is typical. Today I pull up behind one car and a Florida RV. Customs protocol is second nature. Windows down, sunglasses off, know my license number, hand over the passport opened to my picture. Today I wear a mask. Plus, I carry a letter providing my son’s address, phone number, and his permission to offer a place of quarantine. I have a picture of his permanent resident card on my phone, proof that he resides in Canada.

 

My on-line source painted a rosy picture of immediate families reuniting north of the border. Foreign nationals would be required to quarantine for 14 days. Nothing to it. But wait, that was simply the colorful façade of the funhouse. I bump through the doors where the unexpected waits to terrorize.

 

The scowling monster pops up first, a uniformed guard reluctant to hear my plea. I earnestly provide all the documentation. I tremble and perspire.

 

“Where are you going?” As if to imply his goal is to stop me.

 

“To my son’s in Gananoque.” Then I ramble about quarantine, how I live just a few miles away on Wellesley…

 

He interrupts, “Do you have your son’s birth certificate?”

 

“No, I don’t have that.” I am the child who is 48.5 inches tall standing against the attraction sign: You must be 49 inches to ride.

 

“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” he demands.

 

“You just have to take my word for it,” I sob. My voice quavers, “We are used to crossing several times a week and I haven’t seen my granddaughters since March 18 when the border closed.” He is certainly aware of those dates. Not to offend I add, “As you know.”

 

Perhaps my graying hair and teary eyes soften him. He returns my passport with a printed set of instructions and issues a severe scolding over the birth certificate. I barely hear his admonishments except the part about the $750,000 fine and four-year prison sentence. I am intimidated and elated all at once. I accelerate out of the dark and into the sunshine on Canadian soil.

 

For thirteen days I ride the Ferris wheel. At the top of every revolution I get a glimpse of the immediate future. We will move out of the basement apartment (wink, wink) and into the main house with Reed and the granddaughters. Family activities can resume outside. Reed will take us boating and tubing on the St. Lawrence. At the bottom of every rotation I wrestle with the fact that each time we go home and return, we face a repeat of the funhouse quarantine. I cancel my trip to Holly’s wedding.

 

Amusement park rides have always given me motion sickness. The thrills and chills of the pandemic can hardly be characterized as amusement. But the coronavirus experience, like a bizarre Stephen King carnival, incites adrenaline rush and fear with spins, drops, acceleration, and reverse motion. My equilibrium is skewed. This requires something stronger than Dramamine.

Misfits and Wacky Cake

Today marks day 75 of the shelter-in-place for us. I know that others are far more sequestered and for much longer. We have ventured out to the grocery store twice and to the drive-through pharmacy. Each of us has kept a medical appointment or visited a lab for a routine test. We are among the fortunate ones who have access to walking trails. But until we have the go-ahead to cross the Canadian Border to reunite with our son and granddaughters, we feel quarantined.

I’ve read that mood swings are normal in a situation like this. Some days I just wake up cranky. With the warmer weather I hear outboard motors on Lake-of-the-Isles. Our boat remains trapped in my son’s Canadian garage. I get ornery. Perhaps productivity could lift my spirits. Yes. Stain our decks. In normal circumstances, not my idea of entertainment. I call the local Sherwin Williams to arrange curbside pick-up. No semi-transparent base in stock. That sends me into a slump for two days. Just as quickly an unexpected call from a dear friend works like a winning scratch-off. I have the exuberance to take a walk.

 

One stable aspect of the confinement has been our food supply. Paul became the procurement tsar. Early March he stocked our freezer and pantry with meat and staples. To my great joy, he purchased two cases of wine and beer. Since then he’s ordered a powdered milk product as good as gold and bags of bite-sized candy bars. He opened accounts with Harry & David and Omaha Steaks. When we aren’t cooking steaks on the grill, we are roasting hot dogs over the weekly campfire. Our local orioles have never had it so good with a daily orange from Harry & David. I have used more flour and sugar for baked goods than any time in my forty-four-year marriage. For these 75 days we have relished delicious food and drink.

Paul got us a subscription to Misfits Market. Fresh produce, rejected because of its shape or size, will come to our door every two weeks. The first shipment arrived. Red-skin potatoes, green peppers, onions, and apples. For the first time I’ll cook an acorn squash. The best surprise, limes, for a vodka tonic. Oh yes, Paul had six-packs of tonic and Coke stashed in the garage as warm-weather mixers. The kale and mangos will challenge me. With Misfits Market you don’t make selections, you just take what comes and make the best of it. How apropos.

Today’s breaking news destroys all optimism. Amid the dysfunction of our country’s pandemic response, another disease that we never healed erupts. Racism. When I emerge from this cocoon I will participate in the human rights movement.

I go to my 1976 recipe box to find a restorative recipe because food really does comfort. There it is, Wacky Cake. A dear friend from my writers’ group passed away last year, but not before we had a chance to savor her recipe that calls for 6 heaping tablespoons of cocoa and a double-chocolate coffee frosting. A scratch cake, which I have never made. But I’m taking cues from the current situation. Now is the time to start from scratch and make something good.

The Vocabulary of Pandemiology

black-and-white-book-browse-dictionary-6997Who can argue that we are learning difficult lessons in this pandemic? I’ve always been an advocate for word consciousness, so the vocabulary lesson interests me. What we have learned in just two months’ time is astounding.

Consider this. Mastery of a new word takes more than a dozen meaningful repetitions. Children learn basic words through family and social interactions. More advanced vocabulary develops as children enter school and become active learners. The most difficult words to master and comprehend are those that come from sophisticated technical fields. Technical words that are content specific comprise the highest tier of word knowledge.

Yet, I think you’ll agree that many of us have acquired vocabulary in the fields of immunology, economics, and statistics. Just for the fun of it I decided to alphabetize technical vocabulary that has become quite familiar. For you educators, I’m sure you’ll recognize this as our unit word wall. Sure, some basic words I’ve known since childhood, but now they convey multiple new meanings.

Pandemiology: A to Z

A antibody, apex
B briefing
C cases, coordinate, correlate, curve
D data, deaths, distancing
E essential, epidemic
F facemasks, first-responders, flatten, furlough
G global, guidelines
H hoard, hospital beds, hotspots, hydroxychloroquine, hygiene
I immunity, infections, intubate, isolate
J
K key model
L labor-force, lock-down, loans
M mask
N n-95, new-normal, non-essential, novel
O open, outbreak
P pandemic, PPE, PPP, projection, protocol
Q quarantine
R rate, reagent, recovery, remdesivir, resources
S science, shelter, social-distance, spread, stimulus, supply-chain, surveillance, symptoms
T taskforce, telehealth, testing, tracing, trials
U unite, unemployment
V vaccine, ventilator, virus, vulnerable
W wave, W.H.O., workforce
X Xi Jinping
Y
Z zoom

Effective teachers design multiple opportunities for learners to interact with words. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have proven to be masters at vocabulary instruction. It’s clear that when we have numerous exposures to a word that conveys a vital message, we learn that word.

A Moment of Pause

art city clock clock face

Catchwords

Occasionally a certain catchword comes to my attention. When it does, I hear it everywhere I go and on everything I watch. A while back the word legacy dominated discussion following the retirements of renown sports figures. Lots of speculation occurred as to what impact an individual would have on those who followed. Automobile manufacturers often utilize the trendy terms, as Subaru did naming one of its models, the one I bought, Legacy.

 

Next, the oft-repeated word was innovation. Hard to believe that just a few years ago we valued innovation and its companions, ingenuity and invention. President Obama referenced innovation throughout his presidency. Innovation soon faded.

 

We entered a phase in which we couldn’t abide by anything average. Conversations and discussions only revolved around events described as epic. Successful individuals in their respective fields became icons. Eventually, catchwords lose their effect and fall back into the vocabulary pool. My word alert went into hibernation mode for a long time.

Momentum

In February my sensors started to flash when the word momentum took over television. Starting with the Super Bowl I zeroed in on the word momentum. In talk of the National Basketball Association, on one ESPN show or another, momentum would be a factor in the discussion regarding playoff teams. Simultaneously, the country began to hold Democratic Primary Caucuses and Elections. I listened to quite a few political pundits and the word that crept up over and over was momentum. I watched as presidential candidate Vice President Joe Biden rode the wave of momentum.

 
I considered how I could use the physics of momentum in my life. I looked up the term and the definition that fit my need stated: Momentum refers to the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events. I considered how I might energize a driving force to achieve my goals and become my best self. I would set aside time, I would prioritize my tasks, and I would focus.

The Shift

I am aware of the almost inevitable circumstance, a shift in momentum. I have witnessed that shift in sports, in life, and in personal pursuits; the sudden reversal of fortune, when all the uncontrollable factors that work in one’s favor suddenly sway to the opponent. Momentum, then, is also measured in proportion to the force that can bring it to a halt. Momentum is the property of a moving body which determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force. In one month the deadly Covid-19 became the constant force, powerful enough to halt all forward progress of everything around the world. We have a seismic momentum shift.

 A Moment

Our governor has put our state on pause. What we now have is a moment of undetermined length. The moment belongs to each of us; in whatever way we are called to fill it. We fortunate ones follow stay-at-home directives or shelter-in-place in order to prevent spread of the highly infectious virus. Lonely and isolated from our loved ones, we accept the belief that our good health might reserve a bed or respirator for another.

 

Essential individuals continue to work, keeping all systems functioning, providing services and supplies. For those whose work has been halted, this is a distressing moment of financial hardship. What an agonizing moment this must be for the impoverished, those in abusive situations, and for women or men whose lifelines have dissolved while agencies meet critical needs related to the virus.

 

This is the moment Mr. Roger’s helpers rise to the occasion, neighbors who deliver meals, sew protective masks out of fabric scraps, or run errands for those who are house bound. This moment teaches patience and perseverance. Those whose work is caring for the sick have shifted into crisis response. They sacrifice their own health for the lives of their patients. Military terms suit this unprecedented catastrophe. Horrific casualties occur. This moment reveals the character of leaders. Heroes emerge.

 
In time forward motion will resume. We’ll reunite with our loved ones, attend weddings, rejoice in births, and sadly mourn deaths. Life will sweep us along. This moment of pause will be preserved in documentaries and individual accounts of courage.  Praise and blame will be assigned with much inaccuracy.

 
In the meantime, it’s our duty to get the best value we can from this unexpected pause. Even if all we do is utilize the moment to know ourselves and cherish the unexpected gift of time. Let’s maximize this moment with the driving force of positive energy. When life accelerates once again, the momentum will be epic

The Wormhole

The Purchase

I knew this was coming. Dire signs on wire posts rose above the snow along a commercial stretch of highway: The End of Windows 7. When my reliable laptop, Windows 7 version, failed me in 2016 during a writers’ event, I should have acted. The battery refused charging. I’ve relied on the power cord since then. Last month the warning popped up on my start-up screen: Support for your Windows 7 PC has come to an end. No security updates. No software updates. No tech support. Last week Staples Office Supply joined the alert: We will no long support Windows 7. Time was up.

It felt like a betrayal to use my beloved laptop to browse new computers. I clicked on HP models, at least I wouldn’t change brands. A sky-blue notebook recommended for home use caught my eye. It comes with a one-year subscription to Office 360. What? I never needed a subscription before. Things have changed. This model, called a Stream, is driven by an Intel Celeron processor. Those are the only specs I needed since the novel I plan to write takes place on a stream and Celeron happens to be a main character. I click Buy.

The Learning Curve

In the 80s we bought our first computer, an Apple IIe. Since then I’ve navigated Apples, Macs and PCs in the classroom and at home. But nowadays, aside from e-mail and online shopping, my computer serves as my typewriter. Thanks to Miss Cardamone’s typing class I’m adept on the keyboard. Still, I’m an immigrant to technology. Changing anything in settings is beyond my wheelhouse. I’ve always ignored instructions to download, upload, run, or install. How in the world will I transfer fourteen years of data from my old device to the new? I grew anxious.

Once the computer arrived, I let it sit in the box for two weeks before I opened it. I dreaded the learning curve. My new Stream is sleek and attractive, colorful and sexy. It responds quickly and balances lightly on my lap. It supports all the latest crazes in gaming, social media, and entertainment, applications I’ll never utilize. For me it’s a make-over. I feel trendy. I arrow and click my way to a blank document on Word. I bravely start writing a scene for my novel. A few applications have changed but I’ll catch on.

The Anxiety

I felt melancholy about the old HP. It’s more like me, past its prime, slow to process, prone to aches and pains, yet fondly familiar. It holds pictures, essays, and poems that preserve a slice of my history, pieces that helped me make sense of life. I need those files for continuity. I’m told to transfer all the data with a wormhole connector. Both computers refuse to cooperate. Exasperated, I overreact. Near tears, I panic that my stories and pictures won’t be saved before Windows 7 disintegrates.

Here’s the real problem. My operating system, Cinda version 67, will soon be archaic. I haven’t quite figured out my own story. Gaps in my past must be filled before time runs out. To fully understand ourselves, we must understand our personal journey. Now, it’s my responsibility to pass on the wisdom and family history to my descendants. My stories might enlighten their journeys. Am I prepared? How much time do I have?

The Link

A week later I took both computers to Tech Tuesday at a local library. An expert helped me move documents and pictures to the new Stream. Plus, he assured me I could still download Windows 7 onto the old HP and install a new battery. My old computer will continue to function, as will I. It’s not the end of anything. I will become a wormhole, a link between generations.

“Sharing lives and stories is the essence of existence. It’s what makes life meaningful. It’s what connects us. It’s how we learn from one another,” (David A. Kendall, from his book When Descendants Become Ancestors, 2014).

 

Evador

January’s blog must be written today, the final day of the month. Deadlines motivate me. But my inclination to delay, detract, and stall is just as strong. That means I go to the fitness center first. Then I come home and make lunch. After that I am compelled to put on a load of wash. The fresh flowers in the vase must be trimmed and given fresh water. You can see why I chose “focus” as my word to live by in 2020.

Delay, Detract, Stall

Yesterday was a boon for avoidance. We arrived home following an overnight with the grand girls when a power outage occurred. I optimized the situation to avoid all the projects I am currently committed to. I could not paint because I had no way to heat the art studio. Writing was out because my thirteen-year-old computer has a dead battery and must always be connected to an electric power source. All nonsense. Instead I worked on the jigsaw puzzle. Here’s the most ludicrous…I sorted through the cards and clippings in my recipe box and discarded anything I had never made. I’ve been collecting recipes in that box since 1976 and never once sorted through them.

My next personal challenge still waits: publishing a book. I’ve already had five years retired from my former career.  For the first two years I employed a stunning series of major detractors: selling a house, relocating, getting established, and enjoying family. Next, I played a huge avoidance card. Instead of writing an actual book, I started a blog. I committed to it every week for a year. Major writing challenge averted. Still blogging and claiming elder parent issues I have procrastinated another year.

Avoid, Divert, Sidetrack

The Heart of Winter Art Show is one week away. I intended to have a winter-themed painting ready, but just did the preliminary sketch last week.  As expected I diverted my attention to the books to be discussed at book club.   Predictably, in the same time frame I felt the urge to research for the manuscript. All while I simultaneously searched for a January blog topic. Somehow in the muddle I did write a poem for the art show just to forestall painting.  I clearly recognize my weaknesses: avoid, divert, sidetrack. Why can’t I focus?

To avoid painting, I write. Or I paint to avoid writing.  Reading preempts a number of tasks, primarily cleaning and cooking.  If I’m frustrated with all of those, I prioritize time at the fitness center. Any combination of goal and detractor works. The cycle continues until at some point I cross an intersection when multiple projects come to completion. I’m just not always sure which success will happen and when.

Strange Physics

Here’s another observation. The more inspired the goals, the more challenging the diversions I create. My greatest personal aspiration to date was to earn a doctorate degree. When I reached the most difficult stage, the research and dissertation, I elected to train for a 5K race.  At fifty-years old I committed for the first time in my life to compete in an athletic event when I had the least amount of time. I never ran the race, but I did defend my dissertation. Some kind of strange physics occurs when I play the avoidance game.

The psychology of my behavior hasn’t crystallized. Perhaps I feel inadequate to my goals or have a fear of failure.  For me every endeavor requires a contender, an equally inspired challenger. Each ambition propels the other to completion. I’ve always agreed with the adage that our greatest weakness can be our greatest strength. Maybe I have found my super power. Alternate evasion propels me. I’m an evador.

Focus

Last Saturday, the Lunar New Year, I made a firm resolve to focus on writing.  Strangely, I’ve also felt an impulse to prepare for this summer’s Tibbetts Point race. Maybe something big is on the horizon or maybe I’ll try that scone recipe I found.

 

 

 

The Expected Life Experience

I’ve been reminded this month that if we are fortunate, day-to-day events follow a trajectory of highs and lows, moderate ascents and descents that we navigate with pleasure or annoyance accordingly. That’s how my December transpired. Good news and bad news.

Bad news. My dad had a fall and landed back in the hospital, followed by a stint in long-term care. We were warned once again that he can’t go home alone. This time we accepted that fact, but had no plan in place.

Good news. A local personal-care facility had one bed available exactly when we needed it for dad. It’s a homey place where he has independence. The coffee pot is on all day and three meals are served in a cheery dining room.

Bad news. We must now empty his apartment that remained furnished with all my parents’ antiques and collectibles, none of which had been touched since my mom’s death six years ago.

Good news. Every one of the grandchildren shows interest in taking the vintage furniture.  Plus, a local antique dealer will take all the collectibles to an early January auction.

Good news. My dad settled in his new residence in time for Tami and me to enjoy our sister-getaway to Waverly, New York.

Bad news. Tami, who traveled to Waverly with sister-Kim and my niece Stevie, had a flat tire after dark near Olean, N. Y.

Good news. The local Walmart stayed open just to fix the tire. I arrived at the B & B earlier and met my other niece, Holly. We sipped wine and had a great one-on-one visit in front of the fire.

Good news. The holidays arrived with moderate temperatures. Tami arranged for dad to attend numerous holiday events.

Bad news. My dad wants to know when he’ll be well enough to return to his apartment.

Good news. Paul and I spent a fun Christmas with Reed and his daughters in Canada.

Bad news. Freezing rain halted our travel back to the U. S. from Reed’s house.

Good news. We stayed over and spent extra time with the grand girls.

Bad news. When we headed home the wait at the border lasted forever.

Good news. I studied our passports and found meaningful quotations recorded there.

Bad news. The ice caused a power outage.

Good news. The wait at the border delayed us long enough that the power was restored when we arrived home.

As adults we learn to deal with disappointment, solve problems, and take comfort when unexpected good fortune arrives.  Analytics might reveal a median rendering of events and emotions. Highs and lows averaged as expected life experience.

I observe that some individuals traverse a course above the median, always appearing to thrive and enjoy thrill after thrill. Others I know appear to tread below the norm, facing more than their deserved share of struggles. Whether each life realizes a fair balance I cannot know.

As long as life’s graph peaks and dips within sensible parameters, people cope. What I can’t figure out is what happens when the life-line goes haywire, plunges to extreme depths, and people experience devastating loss. That has been the case for many. What long stretch of blessed events, good news, or future joy can ever bring a life back into balance?

I hope such sacrifice establishes a debt of joy owed these individuals beyond anything imagined. And that they might claim their happiness in due time rendering their expected life experience balanced at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude Ranking: Thanksgiving 2019

“It doesn’t take much to make me happy,” says my husband Paul.  So last year, as a Thanksgiving exercise, I identified a list of ten small comforting things to show that “it doesn’t take much to make me happy, either.” I elected to repeat that exercise this year. Most likely, I thought, I’ll find some of the very same items on my list. Maybe a few will have dropped, or raised, like the college football-team rankings.

Formerly Top Ten

I reviewed last year’s list. Wow, so trivial. Of course, that was my intention, to identify the smallest things that ease me through the daily routine.  It turns out that the items from 2018 lost their relevance this year. Here’s what I found.

The dust-buster (10) sits in a cupboard, uncharged, alongside the heating pad (9), which I’ve not been inclined to use yet.

Netflix (8) has lost its appeal. Once I finished West Wing, I waited the entire year for season 3 of The Crown, and binged that in one week.

Salted butter (7) is no longer a novelty.

Phone (6) conversations with my dad have ceased since he’s been ill.

Amazon surpassed USPS (5) in our mail-order life.

I can’t believe I even had pie crusts (4) on last year’s list. When or if this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will occur is still a question mark.

The one exception, heated car seats (3), claims a spot as part of a package this year.

I have not watched the NFL RedZone (2) even once and teams are jockeying for playoffs.

We’ve been using the Keurig daily, even more convenient than the coffee pot (1).

Current Most Valuable Ten

The year’s life events conspired to push last year’s trifling comforts off the page. Apparently, it takes a great deal to make me happy. This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for these ten major things.

10. My 2011 Subaru Outback. Chariot to everything on this list, odometer 180,000+ miles.

9. Michele Obama. Her story in her voice deepened my insights on humanity.

8. Price Chopper Market. A bright, convenient, abundant source of all food needs.

7. Macsherry Library. My access to live and printed cerebral nourishment.

6. Girlfriends, near and far, from past and present. A pool of strength for life’s challenges.

5. Poets & Writers, INK of Cape Vincent. Consistent source of metta and chi.

4. The open border between the United States and Canada. Our access to family.

3. My son and granddaughters. The key purpose for my decade of 60.

2. Tami. Sister, friend, and teammate in elder care.

1. Paul. My perennial partner and patron.

Think of this, I start every day with the number one major thing for which I am grateful.

 

Yes and No

Excuse, excuses.

I propose ridiculous rationales as to why we had the boat on the river only six times.

The grand-girls kept us busy.

Visitors came.

The water was high.

The water was rough.

The weather was too windy.

The temperature was too cold.

The grass needed mowed.

We had too many appointments.

I had to shop for groceries.

Even in October, we waited futilely for agreeable conditions. The timing never aligned with our schedules. So we pulled our boat out of the water, officially ending the Cygnet’s 2019 season. I contend we had reasons, not excuses, justifications if you will.

Don’t misunderstand; the St. Lawrence could not be more important in our lives. I’ve crossed it, gazed upon it, written about it, and felt its hypnotic spell every day. In fact, Paul has logged in about 300 hours fishing with our son, Reed, in his boat. The river is not the issue here. Neither is the Cygnet. Every time we cruised down the channel and around the islands, we agreed that having the Cygnet is priceless. We might tell ourselves that the issue is time, but that is false. We always find time for what we want the most. Have we really lost energy and motivation for boating? I vehemently opposed that argument when we bought the boat.

Make a Choice

My friend Edana recently observed, “Saying no to something means saying yes to something else.” Clearly, we have little control over many of life’s episodes, but our actions with regard to those events might be guided by yes and no decisions. Even when we choose to equivocate, we are saying no to our power of choice.  Really, I could ponder all the repercussions of every yes and no decision I’ve ever made.  I’ve done that before; haven’t we all? But that would be saying yes to the past and no to the future. See how it works?

Facing life through a series of yes and no choices could help me get the most value from each day. Okay, so if every day is filled with yes and no options, how to proceed?  So far I’ve done it like this. No, I don’t need an alarm; daybreak will wake me. Yes, I’ll drink coffee every morning for two hours.  Yes, it’s a beautiful day, I’ll take a walk.  All day rain? Yes, I’ll read my book. Those delightful experiences occur exactly because I say no to cleaning, laundry, yard work, and shopping. Granted, retirement provides much more flexibility than full-time employment.

Weigh the Options

As it turns out timing might be a factor. Over the summer I said yes to painting class when that Wednesday was the perfect boat-day.  Book Club meets Thursday evenings, which conflicts with the one evening we spend each week with the grand-girls. So, no-go to Book Club.  But yes to reading the books. It’s unwise to say no to dental or doctor appointments.  I can only procrastinate for so long regarding automobile inspection. But an absolute yes to the hair appointment.  Perhaps yes and no has its complexities, after all.

When I retired I made a chart of the people, endeavors, and goals I hoped to have in my life. Ideally, only choices related to that framework get a yes. The key is to always have meaningful options, right? I fool myself. I say yes to the easiest actions. So I have plenty of things I intend to do, but don’t.  I have not embarked on the larger objectives. After all these months of oil-painting classes, I’ve not begun a new painting in almost a year. And what about the book I imagined starting?  Saying yes to time-consuming commitments will require no to many more. I’ll know when I’m ready.

Prioritize

Setting priorities expedites choice. Summer is short.  In the future, the Cygnet gets precedence over year-round pastimes. And when I say no, the yes activity should be just as valuable, or more so. Next season the Cygnet will elicit a yes over grass-mowing and grocery shopping.

Situations shift, life evolves. Yes and no choices must reflect those changes. The key is to decide what really counts in life at every turn.  Disregard what others think, what the rules used to be, or what those voices in your head admonish you to do. Use the personal power of yes and no.

 

 

House Arrest

“Cinda!” a panic-stricken call emanated from the bathroom. I dashed to the doorway.

“What is it, Dad?”

“I’m deformed,” he moaned.

I’d seen the dark bluish ring forming under the thin skin around his right eye. Plus, fluid had settled into a bulging pocket.  All of that visible above the wad of gauze perched at an off-angle on his nose and secured with four strips of first-aid tape reaching the middle of both cheeks. He looked like an aged boxer after a fight.

“In a day or two the swelling and discoloring will fade,” I promised.

“I sure as hell hope so.”

None of us anticipated dad’s surgery to be so invasive. Following my dad’s annual dermatologist visit he was referred to a plastic surgeon for more aggressive skin-cancer treatment.  At first my sister said she could handle this, no need for me to travel from New York. I elected to come for the procedure, but more to handle the post-operative care. Thank goodness I did.

We had not left the apartment all day yesterday. Post-operative instructions appear so benign on paper.

Clean the incision area every 6 hours with soap and water. Blot the tape dry, but do not remove the beige tape.

My dad had three incisions. One on his arm, we virtually forgot about in a day or so; it was small and easy to care for.  The second, a four and one-half inch incision on his head that required 12-15 stitches, but I never got a count on them because the blood dried and scabbed so much. Every time I cleaned it I had to have an out-of-body experience so I wouldn’t swoon. My poor dad winced as soon as a cloth touched his sore, sensitive stitched scalp. I tried not to tear-up as he emitted painful little cries while I daubed. He had already experienced the “worst pain in his life” during the procedure. The third incision was on his nose. I would swear he was slashed in a knife fight. I couldn’t believe any cosmetic surgeon hacked like that.

His nose bled so much for 36 hours that the beige tape (not to be removed) came off within 12. It was all I could do to keep enough gauze plastered to his nose to absorb blood. No cleaning of that incision while I was there. He kept asking if we couldn’t put something a bit smaller over the nose wound, a clue he was plotting an outing to the Elks or winery. I could not let that happen. No way could we risk an infection.

Do not lift or bend over for 3 days following surgery.

My dad is a fuss budget. He frets and paces over every little thing.  That trait has only intensified. He walks to the recycling bin in his garage as soon as he has one plastic bottle or cardboard container. When the trash has one or two items he carries it out to the large can. He checks his calendar to confirm the day. He watches out the window for the mailman and the Meals-on-Wheels delivery. He repeats all of the aforementioned forgetting he’s already done that. He bends over to pick up any little piece of lint on the carpet. He is still six-feet tall, so just about every task besides walking requires him to bend over.

I follow him around the apartment attempting to halt those little jobs he has in his head. I keep reminding him, “No bending!”

“Oh Christ, I forgot.”

I put his shoes on an ottoman and show him how he can elevate his feet one at a time to tie them. But he still leans over to put on his socks. He bends down to reach for the Tide on a bottom shelf and I cry, “Don’t bend.”

“But I have things I need to get done around here,” he insists.

I feel I’ve been impatient and harsh. He truly has things to do. Since my mother’s death six years ago he has maintained an impeccable apartment. He does his own laundry, including bedding and towels every week without fail. Until recently, the creases in his pants outshone even those of a tailor. A dirty dish never rests in his sink.

“Tell me what needs done; I can do it just for today,” I say gently.

It is not unusual for some bleeding 24-48 hours. If the bleeding will not stop, apply firm pressure for 15 minutes. If the site continues to bleed go to an emergency room.

I finally convince him to sit down and we watch his now-favorite network, Hallmark. I can’t believe that people spend an entire morning  hot-gluing paint stirs to embroidery hoops, painting the resulting basket, then filling it with dog treats. Hallmark viewers haven’t had cosmetic surgery. Or maybe that’s exactly the way to escape uncomfortable reality.

I sneak glances at the nose gauze, judging when it is so saturated that I have to ask him to sit under the kitchen light so I can reapply. I dread when I have to tell him his nose is still bleeding.

“Jesus Christ, will it ever stop?” he pleads.

Hi friend Ginny calls to check on him, but I don’t let him up from the chair.  I fill her in. She says she’s been through a similar procedure. She’s sorry to tell me, but she had to have the procedure repeated when cancerous cells remained.  Oh dread. That’s information I won’t pass on.

I text my sister who reassures me that he could bleed for 48 hours. But there’s no way I am going to apply pressure on that sore nose for 15 minutes.  I know I made the right decision to avoid health care as a profession.

Shower as usual.

Dad now looks at his watch every five minutes. This is the time of the afternoon when he heads to the Elks Club. A Hallmark movie is now showing, another beautiful couple trying to save a winery by turning it into a wedding venue. The temperature in the apartment is 78 degrees, but dad is chilly. I suggest he take his shower. I remove the nose padding, hiding my squeamish shiver.  Perhaps the shower will cleanse the nose a bit since I couldn’t.

While he showers I study a newspaper clipping a friend dropped off last week. The date is 1952. The picture shows a dozen slim, handsome young men around age 21 or 22 heading to enlist in the Korean War. My dad, looking like a young Tyrone Power, holds an envelope of the men’s enlistment papers. He is described as the group leader. I am saddened by the contrast of that moment in time with today.

Out of the shower, my dad sits under the kitchen light as I apply the thinnest two-by-two pillow of gauze and use beige tape to anchor it. He dresses in a button-up shirt. I suggest I drive him to the Elks and leave him there long enough for two drinks. He can call me when he’s ready or his gauze needs changed and I will pick him up. I tape another pad to his head and he covers it with his Korean War Veteran cap. He’s already earned a purple heart. He’s a survivor.

The Elks buddies are happy to see him. Later someone drops off chili, too spicy for my dad, but I eat it. He has a reheated dinner from Meals-on-Wheels. When we wake up the next day, his nose has begun to scab and the bleeding subsides. I stay until mid-day and he’s ready for his afternoon Elks visit. Tami calls me later to say he’s been spotted heading to the winery.

He’s officially out of house arrest.

Plus, the follow-up visit to the doctor assured us, no more surgery.