Sunday, June 16, 2013

Precious Papa


When you hear the word Dad, every person has a different picture and perspective of what that three-letter word means to them. I am so very lucky that I have one of the best Dads in the world. Seriously. No doubt.

From the beginning, my Dad has been my world. He is the guy that I looked up to. He is smart, so smart. He is the kind of smart that I think, how did you know that? Or, how can that be so easy for him? I remember a fraternity brother telling me a story about my Dad. While he was attending the University of Virginia, it was a time when everyone had a paper due. All of his fraternity brothers were slaving away—researching, writing, typing, and literally sweating—trying to get their papers done. All the while, my dad is coming in and out of the house, casually doing whatever. They weren’t sure what he was doing. Finally, someone says, “Roger, you know we have a paper due, right? Why aren’t you working on it?” My dad turns around and says, while tapping the side of his head, “It’s all right here,” and walked out of the room. He was that kind of smart. To me, his daughter, he is the smartest man in the world.

My dad is really funny and creative. I sometimes felt like I had Bill Cosby for a dad. (That comment may date me.) He could always make me laugh. He would create characters and act them out. Mainly, they would show up at a time designed to embarrass my sister and me in front of our friends. As he broke into character, our friends would laugh and say, “Your Dad is so funny! He is so cool!” My sister and I, on the other hand, would roll our eyes and drag him out of Barnaby’s Pizza, red faced and whining, "Daaaaad!"  He would laugh and smile, knowing that it would happen again. He loved having fun with me, my sister, and our friends. He hung a swing and trapeze in our basement, set up a stereo system, and built a chalkboard for us to play school. He got us roller skates and bikes and basketball hoops and took us on hikes in the woods. He even filled up the back of his pickup truck with hay and took all the kids around the neighborhood for trick or treating (the houses were spaced far apart, so it was quite a hike for little kids to get around).

And let’s not forget the time that he insisted that we call him “Precious Papa.” He would not answer to anything else. Morgan and I would yell, “Dad!” with no response, likely snickering in his head until we moan, “Precious Papa” in our best annoyed child voices. He would tell jokes or talk in some funny voice, just to see you smile. And watch out, he would hide and jump out to scare you, just to see your shocked face. I learned that trick from the best. Just ask my husband and kids.

If you were to tell him he was handsome, he would laugh you off, but I think he is. He has also always had an eye for fashion. Whether it was bringing home a pretty red dress for my sister and me when we were little girls, or now sending me the latest trendy shoes, I know that I can trust that my Dad will buy me something that I like and will get compliments on.

He is a writer, and a great one at that. He writes poem after poem. Some fun and whimsical and loving that he has written for my sister and me over the years. My dad writes poems that are so deep and intrinsic, that I personally don’t always understand them. That doesn't matter though. I still read every single one that he sends my way. I file it away so that I can pull them up later and read them again. He has written song lyrics about pickup trucks and broken hearts that only need a country singer to write music to them. He has written children’s books. I pull out the printed out copies and read them to my children. They tell me what they think and how they imagine characters and scenes in their little heads. And he has edited almost every single thing that I have written in the past couple of years (except for this, of course).  No complaints, he just does it, and in rapid time, I must say. This guy is good at it.

His intellect combined with his humor and his fashion sense now brings me to his heart. I think he has one of the biggest ones out there. Sure, he will try and hide it with his “Bah Humbugs” at Christmas and his complaints about bad drivers, but we all have his number. My Dad has always, and I mean always, been there for me. He helped me through school when it seemed impossible. I still remember him saying that although he personally could not understand the struggles that I was encountering with my learning disability, he would do whatever he could to help me and make it easier on me. When times were tough, he was always there with a dollar, an ear, or a hug. No matter how big or small my need, I always knew he had my back. When I was younger, it was rides to and from people’s houses, money for pizza, or help with a school paper that I could not seem to make sense of. My dad also went to every single one of my high school basketball games, home and away. One team was a long three-and-a-half hour drive, one way. It didn't matter how much or how little I played, I knew that I could look up into the stands and see his proud, smiling face.

And it is not just his family, he is a giver when it comes to others as well. When the man who worked in his fraternity house in college was having health problems, my Dad was the first to step in. He made sure that all of the paperwork was filled out and sent in that the man's wife needed. And if anyone out there has ever had to deal with Medicaid paper work, you know it is a darn near impossible feat. But there he was, doing paperwork, visiting this man and having others help contribute to the costs. He wanted to make sure that he and his wife were taken care of. He was giving back to a man that had helped them and became an honorary fraternity brother. 

And my mom, his ex-wife, that I am always writing about, he has helped her as well. He sent us money to help with her expenses. She never knew this, but he wanted to do something. No one ever would have expected this kind of gesture. To him, it was a given.

My dad has always been so good to my children. They call him Papa (thank goodness he doesn't require the "Precious" part anymore). They love their Papa. They love to visit him and spend time with him. We all ride the free trolley around town and Papa points things out. Papa takes my son, Jake, to movies that I normally wouldn't. But, that is OK. It is what they do. He buys pretty dresses for Reese, my daughter, and watches her parades that she puts on the basement, just as her mom and aunt used to do 30 years ago. He marks their height on the wall to show them how much they've grown since he has last seen them. He takes us to the beach and braves the ocean waves, teaching them how to boogie board. He sends letters and jokes and funny videos for the kids to watch. He is their Papa, whom they love so.

I know that I could never truly explain all my feelings I have for my Dad. I know I can’t recount all of the wonderful things that he has done for me over the years, for there are far too many. Despite the fact that most of my posts are about my journey with my mother, his love does not get lost. I am so very lucky to have been raised by a father that was always there for me. Raised by a man that loved and respected women and showed this to his daughters. I am lucky that I love talking with and spending time with my Dad, for I know this can be a rare trait. I know the stories of other Dads. Dads that were never around for their children. They didn't throw ball with them or help them with their spelling words. Dads that don’t show up when they said they would, or are full of broken promises. Not my Dad. Lucky me.

Happy Father’s Day to the best Dad a girl could have. I could never thank you enough for all that you have ever done for me. You helped raise me and continue to help guide me through my life. I love you, Precious Papa.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In A Child's Eyes

I have always said that although being the caregiver for my mom (who suffers from Alzheimer's) is hard beyond belief, I wouldn't have it any other way. My kids, Jake, 10, and Reese, 7, have had the opportunity to really know their grandma. They have experienced my mom, their grandma, at every stage of Alzheimer's disease.

Jake is an old soul. He is very intuitive when it comes to people's feelings. He is a caring, loving, and patient boy. He has always loved his grandma and cherished what he called their “special time” together. Sometimes he needed time with her without his precocious little sister clamoring for attention, and my mom understood that.

Mom has always loved to walk. In fact she is still somewhat obsessed with it. She walks every day, in the mornings with a friend and then constantly all day around the ward where she resides. When she lived on her own, she would take Jake for walks on the trail. They would fill his little backpack with water and snacks, and I would sometimes provide a disposable camera for him. He would see his grandma take pictures of flowers and he wanted to do the same thing. This became “their thing” to do.
She would have him spend the night, play trains with him, sing to him, and let him watch his favorite Thomas the Train or Little People videos. She was a calming and safe presence in his life. But what happens when the person you have known starts to change? It is hard enough for an adult, but how about a child? Just like his grandma, Jake has accepted her changes with grace.

There was a day when I was very upset about what was going on with Mom. I told them there would come a day when Grandma wouldn't remember who we are. Reese was so young, three at the time, that she just said, “Okay, Momma.” Jake, on the other hand, stopped playing his game, looked up and said, “Mom, we just have to enjoy each day that we have with her.” My son was right. That was five years ago, and we continue to take each day at a time.

As the years have passed and Mom has changed, both of my kids have accepted every single move and change that has developed. Although Jake sometimes says that he liked it better when we got to visit Grandma in her apartment, he still visits her in the locked down ward. Now, this place can be scary to a child. In fact, my nephew and niece are always very nervous to go visit their grandma when they are in town. It is like nothing one has ever experienced. Imagine going into a locked area filled with strangers. They are all doing something different-- from sleeping, to talking and yelling at things and at people who only exist in their minds. They are people who are stuck in another decade. Some talk and take care of dolls like they are real live babies. Others stare and don't speak, and still others lecture as if they are still teaching. Some try every door to see if they are open, or a few may offer you their walker. This could be overwhelming for anyone, much less a child. This has simply become normal to me and my children.

Despite all the “chaos,” Reese loves to go visit Grandma. She loves to talk to her and often says, “Grandma is funny.” Funny because what Grandma says, doesn't make sense. Reese doesn't care. She just wants to see her grandma, give her a hug and play with the baby dolls that are there. Reese has totally accepted her grandma for exactly who she is at every moment.

Reese, too, has fond memories of her grandma. Reese remembers Mom making tea parties for her. They would dress up in Mom's jewels and sit down to a fancy spread. Reese always would go to my mom's closet and try on every pair of her shoes, scattering them around and finally choosing a pair to wear around the house. Reese also remembers when my mom could no longer read and she would read to her grandma. There she was, a petite five-year-old sitting and reading to her grandma, 70 years old. Roles were reversed, but Reese was so proud of herself that none of that mattered. Some days they would draw pictures together and laugh at their attempts of drawing certain things. Good memories, just as they should be.
Mom understood Reese's passion and energy, just as she understood Jake's more reserved, cautious nature. She relished their snuggles and the sweet little voice whispering secrets in her ear, and she still does. She perks up when the kids come to visit. Although she has long forgotten their names, she remembers their faces and their sense of being. They hug her and talk to her and bring her treats that they know she will share with them. They walk with her and love coming to visit when it is activity time in the morning. They dance with her and make her smile and feel loved.

They have grandparents who go to their lacrosse and soccer games and visit their schools. They have a “Papa” who they visit in Virginia where they have adventures and memories of their own. They have cousins in North Carolina who they love as a brother and sister. The memories and experiences with my mom, their grandma, are much different. And although all of the experiences in their lives help to shape who they are as beings, I believe that the experiences with their grandma, an Alzheimer's victim, have made them much more compassionate, understanding, and accepting individuals.

They have learned to love a person for whom they are at the moment and to accept and love someone unconditionally. They learned that all people are different, but we are all human. We all have feelings and wants and needs. They have learned how having a grandma with Alzheimer's affects their own mother. They know how much I have to do for someone I love and that it is really hard and trying at times. They hug me when I cry, and they understand when I need a self-imposed timeout out to gather myself. Most of all, they see how I love my mom, no matter what.

These two little people have learned more about human compassion in their 10 and seven years then some learn in their entire lives. They bring joy to their grandmother, they bring their trusting souls to their cousins when they too come to visit their grandmother, they bring smiles to the other residents with their bubbly presence, and they bring love, understanding, patience and pride to their dear ole mom. I do my best to teach my children by example-- by how I live my life day in and day out. But what I found out is that I, too, learn from them and their examples of compassion, joy, and acceptance.