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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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Now, don’t get upset. I’m not calling you a lousy caregiver, but now that I’ve got your attention, what makes a good–or a lousy caregiver?

So how should we treat those who need a little extra care? How do we show them the respect they deserve? When we get tired, aggravated or frustrated, how do we act? Do we get snippy? Manipulate? Use the silent treatment? Do we bully them into doing what we want? What do we neglect to do when we’re tired? How do we solve conflicts? How do we self-correct?

A big issue for caregivers is separating the need for care from the actual relationship. Who wants to “taken” care of? No one wants to be pitied or felt like a cause.

We have so much to learn from each other. There’s a reason why we care for our mothers, fathers, sister, brothers, children, and close friends. When we come together at a point of need–we see the best–and worst in ourselves. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, but it’s not always easy! (that’s an understatement!)

When we care for our loved ones, we have to remember that caring isn’t just a list of chores or errands. Caring is about, well, caring. Showing that you care encompasses so much more–spiritually, emotionally, as well as physically.

So who’s a lousy caregiver?

A lousy caregiver chooses not to care. A lousy caregiver can live across the country and never call or come to visit–or they can sleep in the same bed with their spouse and never pay attention to what that person really needs. Most people who avoid caregiving are scared. They say they’re busy, not good at it, feel rejected…but in reality they’re mostly scared. Others, a few, cannot feel or empathize with others. They cannot give freely, make the necessary sacrifices, or understand it’s a priviledge to care for someone you love.

A lousy caregiver thinks it’s all about them. They have what I call “look at what has happened to me–syndrome.” They gripe and complain so much that they don’t think about what their other “person” has endured and survived. Their myopic view of the world does not allow them to see that the world is so much bigger–and more interesting and complex–than they are. They suck the air out of a room and the joy out of your heart–beware!

A lousy caregiver resents caregiving. All of us have those moments–when we wish life were different–we long for freedom, for time, for a five-minute break. That’s not the same. A truly resentful caregiver is bitter, consumed, and sadly, they won’t let go and allow that care person to find better care.

A lousy caregiver uses their care person. Some lousy caregiver are moochers. They move in, take over, and take liberties with the other person’s finances–in general–they’re users and probably always have been. They seem to find people to take advantage of.

A lousy caregiver is verbally manipulative and can even be physically abusive. It’s scary to think about, but they’re out there. They berate people, jerk them around, bully and trick them, and can even hit, slap, or neglect the very person they are to care for. If you know someone who abuses an elder, go to www.elderabuse.gov and find out how you can help and protect this person in need.

If you’re reading this post about caregiving, I doubt you’re a lousy caregiver. You may have lousy moments–we all do–but if you care enough to read a post about caregiving, you’re not the cold-hearted, abusive person I’m speaking of. 

What’s your idea of a “good” caregiver? What do you value?

The good ole’ golden rule teaches us so much. If you were bed-ridden, lost in the confusion of Alzheimer’s, nauseous from cancer, or couldn’t make it up a flight of steps without help, how would you want to be touched, talked to, and cared for?

All of us have lousy caregiving moments. That’s when we have to dig deep and remember in the deepest part of who we are: we’re caregiving because we really do care.

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Thanksgiving is the time of year we gather those we love under one roof. Pass the stuffing, hold the sarcastic remarks. If you’ve ever had your mother, your teenagers, and your toddlers all at one table, you know it can get dicey. No iPods at the table, yes you have to eat two bites of broccoli, and thank you, mother–I have gained a few pounds lately–glad you noticed and thought it worth commenting on!  Multigenerational households are petri dishes for family issues. The best way to combat the exhaustion and stress is with a splash of humor.

Your mother might not “get” the challenges of raising a teenager in today’s world of texting and Youtube. She might have a comment or two about your toddler pitching a fit at Target and even state emphatically that you and your siblings never acted out in public (although you distinctly remember a few incidents). You can either laugh it off and not let it get to you, or…take it personal. It’s best to act like a duck and let the water roll off your feathers.

Change the subject or stand your ground, whichever the situation calls for. Remind yourself that you’re a “good enough” parent. You know how to prioritize and you give your heart and time to those you love. That’s good enough.

The only person who can give you that inner resolve to choose to not let your kids or your mom get to you–is you. For me, it took some alone time first thing in the morning and then a few times during the day. I’d sit in the car and give myself a pep talk. I’d walk back to my room to get something, look at myself in the mirror and give myself a smile. When one of those arrows struck me good and hard, I’d go cry, yell, or punch my pillow a couple of times. What was worse was when I didn’t take the high road and I was the one having to go and apologize. It comes with having too much to do and letting the pressure get to you.

Being mom to two generations–one on each side–is exhausting, frustrating, and at times you question yourself. It’s also rewarding. There’s something pretty cool about being the axis at the center of the wheel. Even though I got my fair share of scowls since I was caregiving and raising kids, (my mother had Alzheimer’s) at the same time. It felt like I was the bad guy all the time. I remember one day when I was arguing with my mom (who also had Parkinson’s) that she couldn’t drive in busy traffic, and then turning right around and giving my 15 year-old a driving lesson. We had plenty of tiffs, laughs and hugs, and that’s family life.  

So if you’re sitting down at Thanksgiving tomorrow, say a out loud thanks for being a multi-gen house. Grab hands, say a blessing, and pass the rolls. Your life may be really full and crazy right now, but you know,  that really is a good thing.

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This week, I found myself whapped back in a familiar role. Caregiving.

My daughter had a severe kidney infection. We spent 8 grueling hours in the emergency room and several nights in the hospital. She’s now home recovering. It was all so familiar. I felt a thousand memories bombard me–hospital food trays, nurses stations, pleading for pain medication, the night long interruptions and the numbness that takes over, the endless to-do list, don’t-forget-to-ask-the doctor list.

Nothing in me wanted to be doing this with my daughter. But nothing and no one could have dragged me away.

I was reminded just how much you want to care give.

How much it’s just plain ole’ love.

The new fancy name distances it a bit from the real life experience. Caregiving may refer to the duties, but the word, “family” reflects the love, commitment, and willingness that comes with it.

But I did observe a difference in myself. I did feel more empowered–by my previous caregiving experience with my mother who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I was aware when I was in caregiver-mode and when I was in mom-mode. I was aware of when she needed me to be which–mom or caregiver.

I could feel the pull–walking down the long corridors to the cafeteria, the walls, the floor hemming me in, blocking in the worry, projecting thoughts into the future. I found myslef looking out the window, across the parking lot at a senior community center  I often speak at–about caregiving–and there I was, reliving it all again.

My daughter will recover and have a rich and vibrant life–and I am reminded that while it might only be for a few days or weeks, caregiving is just part of loving somebody. It’s part of who we are.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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I have to admit that I didn’t attend a caregiver support group while I was caring for my mom.

I started full time caregiving back in 1998 and honestly, I didn’t even know caregiving support groups existed, and by the time I did, Iwas feeling so overwhlmed that if I had the opportunity to dress and leave the house (and leave my mother), I had decided that it wasn’t going to be to go and talk about my mother! Yeah, I’m stubborn.

It’s not that I didn’t need a support group. I’m sure my friends were sick of my griping and whining.

But honestly, what little energy and thought I had were used to continue to parent my children. In addition to my mom’s meds, physical therapy, and every day needs, I also had to think about SAT prep, teaching my youngest how to drive, helping another study for a big test, making sure they attended a youth group–and my spare time was spent driving them or making sure they got to their activities. And that’s the way it should be–that’s what being a sandwich generation parent is all about.

But now I know now that it would have benefited me greatly to attend a workshop, conference or support group–at least a couple of times a year.

Caregiver Support Groups Help By:

  • Giving you a safe place to vent
  • To know you’re not alone
  • To find out about your community’s resources
  • To make short and long term plans
  • Helping you understand what part of the journey you’re on
  • To give you validation and permission to feel all that you’re feeling

So yes, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do a bit of Internet browsing and find out what’s available for you–almost every city and county offers something–an Alzheimer’s Association meeting, an American Heart Association gathering, stroke group meeting or a hospice based workshop.

I know you might not have fully accepted your role, your “name tag” as caregiver. That’s a big step. 

That means you’re at the top of a really big hill–and we all know where it’s headed. But I promise you’ll feel more relief in attending than you think.

Don’t Just Attend a Support Group–Also Consider:

  • Talking to someone while you’re there and even exchanging email addresses or phone numbers
  • Ask a question–chances are if you don’t know the answer, others don’t know it either–and would really appreciate your candor
  • Get info, lots of info–and follow up, make some calls or check out various groups on the web
  • Many home health organizations attend these workshops–you could find some great resources, so look around
  • Begin to take pride in your caregiver’s “badge of honor.” Get educated. Help others. Be okay that this is who you are and where you are–for now.

One last thing-

I hope you’ll step outside your comfort zone and sign up for yoga, take a computer course at the community college, get Rosetta Stone and learn a language.

I know, you’re exhausted. Overwhelmed. Too numb to live your pinky finger.

Don’t let caregiving shut your personal growth completely down. It doesn’t have to.

Carve out an hour a week for a class. Carve out 15 minutes a day to learn to knit or practice your Spanish verbs.

Learning and moving is absolutely vital to your body–and soul.

It even makes you a better caregiver.

Go on, type in caregiver support group, and the name of your city or area.

Find out what’s available.

Finding new friends and resources is a good a thing. 

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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Move over, Michelle Obama, cause Mama’s in the house.

That’s right, Michelle Obama’s mother is moving into the White House.

Marian Robinson quit her job 22 months ago to help care for the Obama girls while Michelle and Barack started campaigning. She’s now 71 and a retired secretary and she’s moving into the White House on a “trial basis” before giving up her home in Chicago. While the presidential campaign was underway, Ms. Robinson cooked the girl’s meals, shuffled them to their various activities, helped with homework and kissed them goodnight. That’s a big job, but it was for a big reason.

That’s something I admire–a family that figures out how to care for one another and when it’s the appropriate time to do so. I’m not too worried how she’ll be treated a few years from now when she needs elder-care or caregiving. She’s invested in her family, and love is almost always returned.

The White House will be full again, with a father, mother, two children, a grandmother, and a dog. I like the idea of those old rooms bustling with the sound of feet running up and down the halls, of a grandmother’s stern call to order and the yelp of a dog.

Multigenerational families aren’t new. People used to live together under one roof out of necessity–to run the farm, to continue the family business. In fact, it’s on the rise.

More than 3.6 million parents lived with adult children in 2007, according to census data. That number is up 67 percent from 2000. And in the new economic light, more and more families are choosing to “bunk up” to save on expenses, and as a necessity for those who have lost their jobs.

Somehow, we got away from that in my generation. We got independent, perhaps too independent thinking that money would be enough–or as my southern daddy would say, “We got too big for our britches.”

My adoptive mother grew up in a multigenerational house. She was surrounded by aunts and uncles (her mother was divorced and raising two children on her own in the 1910’s). My mother’s memories are good ones. A large table with lots of food and conversation. She said she felt as if she had many mothers, not just one–and it helped that her mother could work full time and her two children had someone at home.

Times haven’t changed that much. Marian Robinson is an example of millions of grandmother’s who are either raising or helping to raise grandchildren. We need each other. We need our mothers and fathers to be a part of their grandchidren’s lives. That’s how values and stories get passed down.

From all I’ve read, Marian Robinson is going to be a busy woman. She’s noted for her independence and will only stay if she’s needed. She may even purchase a home nearby just so she has some privacy and doesn’t have to deal with the day to day fuss life in politics entails. She’s no where near slowing down and has recentlycompeted in the Senior Games running the 50 and 100 yard dash. No matter where she chooses to sleep, she’ll be an active part of the Obama household and everyone will benefit from that.

It’s not that her value as a grandmother is in throwing in a load of laundry or chauffeuring the girls around, it’s that the children will be influenced by her wisdom and will have that sense of family and continuity that’s so important. It’s easy to caught up in the “doing” and not the “being.”  The most valuable gift our elders have to offer is simply who they are–a part of us. Their life, their experiences, their stories shape and define future generations.

I have seen families take advantage of their elders–used them as free babysitters–and that’s not healthy for anyone. Sometimes we have to say, “No, not tonight, I have plans.”

As my mother moved in with my husband, our daughters and myself, I knew I had to strike a balance. My mother had to fit into our home, and in return, I (we) needed to treat her with respect and privacy. These are the concerns multigenerational families face. You don’t know exactly what your issues are going to be until you’re there, all living together. One person becomes needy, another bossy–someone needs more privacy than another, and…somebody always gets jealous. It’s just human nature and no matter how old we are, we still get jealous or needy at times.

My mother was always a part of our lives, and I’m so grateful that even though she was an older grandmother (she was 74 when her first granddaughter was born), she got right to being an active grandmother. She used to come over and get our girls and take them for an overnight stay as soon as they were out of diapers. They remember going to eat breakfast at Shoney’s with my mom and how proud she was showing them off to anyone who walked by, and then going to K Mart to hold the dolls. She’d buy them something small and even though these times weren’t fancy, they were just enough to begin to build a relationship–and memories. Our daughters remember my mother’s songs, her prayers and Bible stories, her stories–and even her quirks, her humor, her fears–everything that made her a whole person. So when it came time for my mother to move in with us, they expected it. In many ways, she was already a part of our lives.

Just the other day, our 21 year old daughter said she was glad her grandmother lived with us. That’s saying a lot, because she was there through it all, the Alzheimer’s, the heart attacks, and the end of life. She’s now able to measure the whole of the experience and not just focus on a particularly dark time.

What I wish for the Obama’s is that everyone will be patient and understanding with one another during this time of change. My advice, if I may offer a little–be quick to forgive, laugh at your mistakes, value your togetherness, and respect each other’s differences.

Getting used to living together and under such scrutiny is bound to cause some nerves to be razzled. Just as with any family, it takes time to learn to live together. But it’s worth it. There are times when we need each other, and that’s the best definition of what makes a family that I can think of.

In the end, the Obama girls will be surrounded by family, by legacy, and by love.

I wish them (and all of us) the best.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Familly advisor at Caring.com

 

 

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New Year’s is a time of hope. Wipe the slate clean. Begin again.

I was on a walk the other day, thinking about resolutions. Thinking about the word, resolve.

To re-solve. To solve something again–that it was once solved. So a resolution is a re-solution.

That means that once upon a time it wasn’t a problem.

That’s true.

We weren’t always overweight. We didn’t always drink too much, smoke, spend to much, or see our loved one’s too little. 

So, a resolution is just getting back to that former state.

Think back, when was it that you weren’t overweight?

Perhaps your teens? Before kids? For some of us, we have to think back even younger.

But there was probably a time. You didn’t think about food all the time. You rode your bike. Played little league.

Your body remembers this. In sports, they call this muscle memory. If your body (or mind) has ever done it once, it remembers–and can do it again.

This works for more than just weight.

So I thought about it–I used to spend copious hours on my bike as a kid. I can bike now. I used  to sing for the heck of it. I can sing in my car. I used to draw. I think I’ll go outside and draw that live oak tree in my back yard.

Sometimes we make things so big and so hard. Simple pleasures are deeply satisfying.

We buy too much, eat too much, smoke and gossip because we’re trying to fill a hole.

 We have to (at least I know I have to, I have no right to speak for anyone else) learn how to be with ourselves–and be content. 

To be content is to have content. (Sorry, I’m a word-nerd)

To have content is to have substance–something meaningful that fills up space.
I love the word contentment. To be deep in joy–to belong–to not want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.

 

According to GoalGuy.com, here are the top ten resolutions: (every site I researched had a similar list, so it’s pretty much a given)

 

Top Ten New Year Resolutions

 

                1. Lose Weight and Get in Better Physical Shape

2. Stick to a Budget

3. Debt Reduction

4. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

5. Find My Soul Mate

6. Quit Smoking

7. Find a Better Job

8. Learn Something New

9. Volunteer and Help Others

10. Get Organized

This list tells me we’re all pretty much alike. There’s things we need to stop doing–other things we need to start. Push and Pull.

 

So, just for fun, I propose a Top Ten Caregiver’s Resolution List:

1. Sleep. Sleep more. Sleep any where, any time, any how. Dream of uninterrupted sleep.

2. Not totally blow my top at any one–a nurse, my loved one, the pharmacist…this could be tough (especially when you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s)  

3. Not eat my way into oblivion–food is not my best friend (repeat 10 times a day)

4. Remember where I’m driving–zoning out is dangerous–I may need a loud buzzer horn or taser. Stess causes zoning out, I’m sure.

5. Walk every day. Even if it’s just to the mailbox. Walking is good. Sun is good. I need this.

6. Get out and meet people. Normal people not in the health care/elder care profession. There’s a great big world out there and I need to see it once in a while.

7. To actually want sex and intimacy and do something about it. Sex drive? Is that like, four wheel drive? Yes, i remember….vaguely.

8. To get dressed in something other than a jogging suit–something NOT with an elastic waistband. This relates to not eating a whole frozen pizza and walking to the mailbox, doesn’t it?

9. Do something for me, just me. People do that? Lunch with a friend, getting my nails done, putzing through an antique shop–caring for me is actually part of caregiving…who knew?

10. Ask for help. Pray, cry, meditate, journal, scream, go to a support group, go to church, ask for respite care, pay for care for an afternoon off, try adult day care for my loved one. Ask, ask, ask–caregiving is not a lone sport. It takes a village.

Bonus–

11. Not be afraid–of caregiving, cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, or death.

Fear is a big woolly monster trying to gobble up your precious days. Turn around and face  it–yell big and loud–“I’m not afriad. I can do this.”

12. Attitude of gratitude. Each night before I go to sleep, I ask myself, “what was the  best part of  the day? Usually, it’s a dragonfly who stopped right in front of me–or a neighbor who gives me a big smile when she sees me. It’s the small moments that stick. Being grateful in a time in your life when so much is beyond your control is a way of turning the tables in your favor. The more you’re grateful, the more you have to be grateful for–it’s like a fan that keeps expanding.

Just like the other list–things to stop doing, other things to start. Push. Pull.

New Years is a magical time. Resolutions represent hope. Hope for change. You already know how to do this. After all, it’s just a re-solution.

 

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother–available on Amazon

 

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Let’s face it–there’s just too much to do during the holiday season–and if you’re caregiving or a sandwich gen-er–you’re really feeling it by now. 

Sure, it’s all good–the tree, the gifts, the home baked cookies, the parties, the family gatherings, the lights…

Every one of those holiday components can be truly wonderful–the fresh smell of the tree, the wonder of what’s in that big, sparkly-wrapped box…

But then the proverbial “soup pot” boils over and the cookies burn, you don’t want to go to one more red-sweater party (or there are no parties and you feel empty), and the whipped cream on top of the hot chocolate–someone says/does something really ugly…I mean you feel like your head’s going to explode you’re so mad.

Not exactly what you had planned, huh?

It’s all too much.

If you want a good laugh, the Thanksgiving segment of Boston Legal will make you snicker (you can watch it online).

Around the holiday table is Denny Crane, (played by William Shatner) who has Alzheimer’s, so he”s always good for a few inappropriate remarks, Alan Shore, his best friend (played by James Spader--he could read to me alll night) decides to deliver a lawyerly rampage on American politics…and the other players all pitch in their own prejudices, stereotypes, and funny banter that will make you WISH your family was this witty in their all too familiar digs. 

It all winds up (after a really big fight) in the kitchen with Denny thoroughly confused. Christmas, time, memories, love–it’s all too much. The small moment winds up being a long hug between two old friends.

But of course, you can’t just leave it like that–on a sweet note–no!

Just like at your house, (or mine)–someone has to take it too far and someone really does get their feelings hurt.

It happens. We’re human, and no one, no one can push that exact right button to make you go off than someone who shares your same DNA.

My other Christmas funny movie is the classic “Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase. We still kid about his aunt wrapping up the cat and trying to give it as a gift–and then she sings the National Anthem instead of offering a blessing. My mother actually did that once–so we all went with it–hands on our hearts and belted out our national pride.

All you can do is spike the egg nog and go with it. Christmas and the holidays can bring out the beast in all of us. But if we look really close and think small, we might find something of value

My only advice is survive. Any way you can. Just envision that Last of the Mohican’s guy about to jump into the waterfall and telling the love of his life. “No matter what, I will find you. Survive!” This is what I tell myself when I’m really stressed. (FYI guys, All and I do mean ALL girls love that scene).

Choose one thing–whether it’s riding around looking at lights or baking Italian wedding cookies from your great aunt Sophia’s recipe–pick one thing that means Christmas to you–and do it. Don’t get hung up on what doesn’t get done, and what gets screwed up.

The perfect Christmas/Chanukah/holiday is  really more than the human race is capable of.

Zero in on what is most sacred, most precious to  you. That’s all that matters.

One small thing. 

For me, it’s going to hear the Edward Water’s choir sing. They’re amazing, and sitting in a tiny chapel with warm wood walls and stained glass windows while 20+ college students belt out the Carols with soul and spice is the perfect way for me to celebrate the season. I attended last year, and tears streamed down my face–I clapped and sang and felt more in touch with the season that I had in years.

Each of us have to find our own way, what touches our heart and lifts our spirits.

If you’re caregiving, think really small. Hot tea and a cookie while sitting in front of a fire might be just right.

~Carol O’Dell, author of Motheirng Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com

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People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

I find it pretty amazing that this quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

He didn’t exactly have a cushy life.

His mother died when he was nine, and although his family could barely survive, young Lincoln gave up hunting after watching a turkey suffer after he shot the bird(the bird thing is a side note, but I found it interesting).

He didn’t just become president over night–he was a lawyer, then tried for congress (twice) but was defeated by Stephen Douglas–over the issue of abolition.

He married Mary Todd, and three of their four children would die before adulthood. This left Mary, who already suffered with depression, even more mentally unstable. As Abraham Lincoln’s life began to evolve more and more around politics, his marriage suffered.

President Lincoln was under great stress to try to hold our country together in perhaps its most challenging time. He did so, but with great personal sacrifice. He was assasinated when he as only 56 years old.

According to today’s standards of what qualifies as a “good life,” Abraham Lincoln’s journey would not be considered an easy one–then or now.

(Other great quotes by Lincoln )

And yet, we all owe him a great debt. He held America together and changed the course of  history. His words and example still inspire us today.

He doesn’t exactly seem like a person who would focus much on the meaning of happiness–but who better than someone who knew, but did not give into sadness/

Happiness is a lot about choice. It’s a state of mind and way of looking at things. It doesn’t change the facts. If your mom has Alzheimer’s, if your dad fell and broke his hip, that’s a fact–but how you deal with it–that’s up to you.

There were many times in Mr. Lincoln’s  life when I’m sure he had to choose to simply go on, breathe in and out, and keep on doing the task at hand.  Sometimes happy isn’t about being happy, but choosing not to be unhappy (aka miserable).  Caregivers know this well.

According to the Princeton online dictionary, happiness  means:

  • state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy
  • emotions experienced when in a state of well-being

Where did the word  “happy” come from?

It dates back to 1340, from the waord, “hap,” which was connected to chance or fortune.

(From  Etymology.com)
1340, “lucky,” from hap “chance, fortune” (see haphazard), sense of “very glad” first recorded c.1390. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Gk. to Ir., a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.” Used in World War II and after as a suffix (e.g. bomb-happy, flak-happy) expressing “dazed or frazzled from stress.” Happiness is first recorded 1530. Happy hour“early evening period of discount drinks and free hors-d’oeuvres at a bar” is first recorded 1961. Happy-go-lucky is from 1672. Happy as a clam (1636) was originally happy as a clam in the mud at high tide, when it can’t be dug up and eaten.

How does it relate to caregiving?

Much of caregiving doesn’t fall under the category of “happy.” While parts might be necessary, needed, serve a purpose, and at times, appreciated–as a caregiver  I found that I had to fight or choose to be happy. Let me tell you, I know how it feels to push that rock up hill. There were some days when a Volkswagen Bug full of 50 clowns wouldn’t have gotten my mother to crack a smile! Caregiving taught me how little I could control, and writing Mothering Mother helped me to reflect on my journey.

I had to look for the good, the funny, the crazy and ironic. I had to let go, give up, give in, and simply trust. So much was so way beyond anything I could have prepared for that it was in away, left up to luck, to chance–to hope. And maybe that’s where the happy part comes in. When you can’t control it, you might as well choose to see the good, any good that comes your way.

The smallest of good/happy moments could make my day–a cardinal dipping past my window–I love how they fly–dip, dip, dip–their bright wings in defiance of a winter morning.

Bottom line, if Abe Lincoln can choose to be happy, then so can I.

Happy for no reason. Let luck and chance blow in like a surprising summer rain. Trust that it’s all meant for the good.

Right now, with all the economic challenges we face individually and collectively, I feel like I don’t have a choice–either crawl in the bed and pull up the covers (indefinitely), or keep an eye out for bright red birds and all the amazing small wonders that surround us.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Family Advisor at Caring.com

www.caroldodell.com

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You don’t have to like your mother to love her.

Jess is a friend of mine. She’s in her mid-thirties, and like most young women she’s had a couple of decades of feeling like she had nothing whatsoever in common with her mother. Now, within the past few months I’ve noticed she talks about her mom differently.

Jess’s mother is flying in for her wedding shower and they’re going shopping all day at the outlet mall while she’s in town. She calls her mom several times a week as she’s driving home from work–just to chat. This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

Why the change?

The mother-daughter bond is resilient.

It’s not a warm, cuddly blanket, but a sinuous cord that connects us. At times, it’s the jet fuel we need to grow up and move on with our lives. We “use” our mothers. We hate them in order to love ourselves. We swear we will never be anything like them. We despise them when we don’t want to admit we despise ourselves. We lash out in words and actions knowing it cuts like a serrated knife. We think it will always be like this–us, way over here–them, way over there.

The resiliency of the mother-daughter relationship that grows stronger over time isn’t a surprise. Pennsylvania State University conducted a study of midlife daughters and their elderly mothers. Researcher Karen Fingerman, Ph.D., found that “despite conflicts and complicated emotions, the mother-daughter bond is so strong that 80 percent to 90 percent of women at midlife report good relationships with their mothers—though they wish it were better.”

Whodathought? After all those years of bickering, name calling, not calling at all…that we actually love each other underneath all that bravado. And…we actually want a better relationship with our mother! I never throught that day would come for me, but it did.

Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future…. As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter.

~Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

We need something to propel us into our own lives and identities and we push off of our mothers like they’re a springboard–the laws of physics at work in relationships. Our “you weren’t there for me’s,” and “why are you always so controlling” can take years to leave our systems. We stew in our own toxic venom.

Were they bad mothers? Perhaps. At times. But that doesn’t diminish their power or our need to have them in our lives. Even if for a few, our mothers are object lessons, they are still in our lives for a purpose.

Eventually, most of us learn to make at least a measure of peace with mothers–and mothers with their daughters. It’s not a conscience thing. It’s not an “I should.” It just is. It’s biological.

Mothers and daughters can fight, argue, cry, blame, and complain–and their bond gets stronger. You don’t even know it’s happening–you think you’re a million miles away. We can even ignore our mothers and go on with our busy adult lives, and that bond is still there. Genetics is one powerful pull.

I’ve seen it countless times–family members who have been hurt find a way to forgive. Daughters who are disgusted with their mother’s choices begin to understand why, and through their own poor choices, they offer a morsel of mercy.

Mothers who seemed hard, controlling, and fussy finally become real people to their daughters. Their daughters begin to realize the that their mothers have lives, dreams, and quiet heartbreaks no one knows about. Mothers loosen up over time and become somone their daughter confides in.

Again, why?

You can’t make peace with yourself, with who you are, with all that you’ve done that had made you ‘you,” until you can begin to accept your mother, your past. She is your key.

What the daughter does, the mother did.  ~Jewish Proverb

Our mothers, our daughters define us. We are who we are because of them–good or bad. We look into their faces and we see ourselves–past and future.

We forgive, tolerate, and accept things our mothers or daughters have done. We know them, bear their secrets, absorb their transgressions, and even speak our truths into their lives no matter how tough and gritty it is.

Caregiving comes into play in regard to the mother-daughter bond. When our loved ones need us–really need us–we come back. We help out. We lay down our grievances and rally to the cause. But it’s more than that–caregiving gives us a reason to make up, to let go, to “get over it.” As our mothers need us, we return and answer the call.

Whether our relationship is strained or easy, hostile or amiable, we need our mother if only in memory …
to conjugate our history, validate ourfemaleness and guide our way.

~ Victoria Secunda

Something happens when our mothers lives begin to grow smaller either physically, emotionally, or financially–a power shift occurs. We (the daughters) gain strength and power–and this time to “be on top,” allows us to feel less threatened–and when we’re not threatened–we can be generous with our love.

Eventually, the scales balance.

After years of our mother’s having dominance over our lives (the childhood years), we’ve built up resentment, and finally, as time rolls along, we come into our own, we tower above our mothers for a short time, and that isn’t as fun as it sounds. If we’re lucky, and our mothers live a little longer, we become equal bookends, each of us strong in the broken places and worthy of respect.

And then, just when we make peace, our mothers die. It surprises us. It shocks us. This is too soon, we cry.

We realize how ironically close we really were–all along–even when we thought we weren’t. We realize we loved them in a deep-bone way. We lose ourselves in grief. We just found ourselves in and through and mothers, and then they leave us. We feel abandoned, lost, maybe even angry.

Looking back, I realize I’ve lost two mothers four times.

My birth mother had schizophrenia and I was taken from her as an infant when the voices told her to hurt herself and her children. I lost her again when I was adopted at the age of four. I didn’t know it would be forever. I lost her again when I was 23, and found my birth family only for them to tell me that my mother was dead–she had died one year before I found them. I cried that day, that week, that year–I cried for the mother I would never know.

I lost my adoptive mother to Alzheimer’s before death took her. To look into the face of someone you know so well–someone who you’ve screamed at, cried and fought with, only to have a disease eat away at her brain like battery acid–and to know that she doesn’t know you, remember you, you hold no emotion, no connection. You might as well we a cardboard box. It ravages your soul and all you believe.

And then death came. In a way, a welcome relief to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s. I knew it would never give me my mother back.

Why now? Why do we lose our mothers just at the point when we can sit beside them and feel at ease, a give and take? Just when we can be ourselves in the presence of our most formidable foes, our most dependable ally, we lose them.

I have no answer for this. The only solace I can give you is that my mother’s life is now my example, her stories, her “ways” ripple through my own life. I don’t idolize her or think she was perfect. That would be an insult to such a great woman. I see her as complex and confounding as ever–but that’s what I like about her, about me.

In a bigger sense, I haven’t lost her, or lost me. We sit side-by-side. Equals. I hear her so much more clearly these days. I feel her respect. I listen.

And now, I have three grown daughters. The torch has been passed. They rail against me at times.

I let them. I know the journey they must take to get to their own place of acceptance and strength. I’ll be here. Waiting.

The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.  ~Johnnetta Betsch Cole

I’m Carol D. O’Dell, the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, available on Amazon. I explore the adult daughter-mother relatiohnsip in my book, and I hope you’ll check it out.

 

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