Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent

Things are better. Circumstances haven't changed, but my approach and attitude have.


I am looking forward to Paris and excited to visit Europe for the first time. We'll be visiting not only France but Belgium and England as well.


We just booked our reservations for Greece and Italy for Nov 2009 and I'm pretty thrilled about that as well. I am so amazed at how far Jonathan has come in his enthusiasm for travel- this was my man who once said he saw no reason to ever leave North America.


This holiday season has been quite a whirlwind with travel, work, and social activities. I took some time to slow down last weekend and spent the whole day on Sat baking with my best friends. We made 11 different types of cookies/pies/breads and split the whole lot before heading home. I am blessed to have such wonderful friends who are so supportive.


I'll blog about the Vegas trip [including my review of Thunder down Under] when I return from Europe after the New Year.


And now, for the next two days, I will work on centering my thoughts on the reason for the season: Christ.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Caregiving


Early this morning I took my father to his cataracts surgery. And as we went over all the paperwork and preliminary procedures I had the same thoughts I always do when taking my parents to medical appointments:


Who is going to give care for Jon and I when we are older?


Who is going to take us to early morning appointments?


Who is going to make sure that we aren't left in emergency room hallways without a way to use the restroom (The doctors did this to my mother and if I wasn't there to advocate for her then what...) ?


Who is going to make sure that our multiple doctors don't prescribe meds that run counter to each other or interact in harmful ways (been done to my parents multiple times, but thankfully I noticed and corrected)?


Who is going to hold our hands when we have to go in for surgery?


Who is going to clean up our bathroom when we have a stomach flu and get sick everywhere?


Who is going to love us?


I see the future for us as elderly seniors and it scares me.


I was a paid caregiver once in my early 20s- for the mentally ill. It was difficult, emotionally draining work. I had to deal with disgusting bodily fluids. I had to dress and feed and bathe people. I had to manage meals schedules and budgets and a host of other normal life activities most people do for themselves. And I hated it. I hated the smells, the depressing helplessness, the forced observation of troubled minds and bodies degenerating each day. I wasn't very good at it either. (Part of the reason I think I would not have been a good mother.) I let the psychotic rantings of my patients get to me personally. In many ways I am now grateful for that experience as it has prepared me for helping my parents like nothing else could. But I am also filled with guilt because I disliked that work so much and found it so difficult. That I left that field of work and went into something that seemed to fit me better, that was easier. How can I hope to have someone take care of me when I am old and needy when I didn't even want to do it for others when paid to do so? I keep turning over my father's words from last night in my mind- "We took care of you when you were young, why can't you take better care of us?" This morning my mind has twisted that sentiment into: Obviously I don't deserve to have anyone take care of me or love me when I am old if I was not willing to take time out of my life to take care of and raise a child.


I pray for all of those who have no one to care for them. I pray that someone will have mercy on Jon and I and care for us when we are old even though we weren't willing to have children and care for them and even though I wasn't willing to keep caring for the needy when paid to do so.


I am so depressed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Power to Crush a Spirit

We all have the power to crush another's spirit with our words. Whether out of carelessness in not holding our tongue (I've been guilty of that) or out of deliberate and calculated maliciousness (yep, I've done that too), we have great power to inflict damage on others.


James 1:26, says If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.


Proverbs 13:3 says, "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.


1 Peter 1:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;


"Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalm 34:13)


Today my father vented his frustration and disappointment in my deficiencies as his daughter. "We took care of you when you were little, why can't you take care of us better now?" "I told everyone how you leave all the time to go on trips and aren't there when we need you. It's terrible. You work all the time too. You aren't taking care of us at all." "You are taking care of us worse now then when you ignored us when we lived in NM". And the words went on and on and on. It hurt so much, especially because I worry that there may be truth to it. I have been traveling a lot. And I am busy with work. But we see them every week, we take them to the doctors and shopping and we spend time with them. I don't know what to do to fix the situation.


I don't know what to do to make my father glad he had me.


I don't know what to do to prove to him I am good enough.


I don't know what to do not to be such a disappointment.


Same old story.

Travel and Other Thoughts

The days are moving at a fast clip lately and I feel like I'm just trying to hang on. There is so much to keep tabs on, so many things scheduled, so much to do. I have to keep remembering to breathe and focus on the quiet holiness of the season.


Over then weekend (Dec 6th-7th), Jon and I drove to NYC with our good friends Dani and Clayton. It was Dani's 3rd trip into NYC and Clayton's first. On the schedule was a viewing of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, dinner at Paesano's in Little Italy, enjoying NYC from atop the Empire State building, taking in the sights at Rockerfeller Plaza and lunch at Stamatis in Astoria. We stayed at a cheap but decent hotel in Queens, right in Chinatown a few blow from the last stop on the 7 subway. Dani seemed to have a good time as usual, despite having to hobble around on a broken ankle with a boot and crutch, but Clayton seemed less than impressed (although he said he had a good time). I don't think he's the city type. Or maybe he's just not the WOW over the top enthusiastic type. Hard to tell. Dani's handicapped status proved to be useful- it pushed us to the front of the line at the Empire State building, saving us loads of time which otherwise would have been spent waiting in lines. The Rockettes were as amazing as always, as was the food at Paesano's. The owner/manager treats me so well these days as I've been bringing small tour groups to him for business repeatedly now.


On Sunday afternoon, Jon+Dani+Clayton drove back to VA and I hopped a plane from JFK to San Francisco. Why? It was my first mileage run (see flyertalk.com for details on mileage running) as I realized last month I'm only about 4k miles short to reach elite status with Delta. Elite status = upgrades to first class, preferred boarding, extra miles earned on trips, and other fun perks.


The flight out to San Francisco was a nightmare. We sat on the runway for an hour waiting for clearance to take off due to the high winds. That set us back an hour on our scheduled arrival into California of course (Originally 11pm, now midnight). Then the non-stop flight had to make an unscheduled landing in Kansas City to refuel because the headwinds were so bad it was draining more fuel than expected. That set us back another hour (now 1am expected arrival into SFO = 4am eastern/jenni time). Between Kansas City and SFO, 2 separate passengers had medical emergencies (passed out, stopped breathing, major problems kind of emergencies) and there was talk of detouring the plane for an emergency stop. Luckily there were 3 doctors traveling that night and they managed to get both patients stable whereas the plane could finish the flight to SFO, where the paramedics promptly came onboard while everyone had to stay seated. That set us back another half hour, but we were all happy to see the sick people were ok.


So by the time I get off the plane and out to the hotel shuttle area its 1:45am Pacific Time. (445am Jenni time!!!). I call the hotel for the shuttle and they advise me it is not a 24 hour shuttle; it stops at 1am. I cry and start yelling at the guy because I deliberately and specifically asked the hotel clerk when making the reservation earlier that day if they had a 24 hour shuttle to/from the airport as listed on their website and he confirmed they did. A very nice man in uniform (Air Force) took pity on me and paid the exorbitant cab fare for me to go the 1.5 miles to my hotel ($20). He said he'd want someone to help his wife if she were in my situation. Yay for unexpected angels.


I got to the hotel, checked in, complained to the manager about the shuttle problem, and went to sleep. Got up at 6am Pacific to work from the hotel (because it's expected that I be available for my team by 9am Eastern and I was officially working on Monday). Spent the morning working and at check-out time [11am Pacific] took the shuttle back to the airport. My plan was to head to the gate and continue work from there until my plane left at 11pm, taking lunch and dinner breaks. Only the printer at the hotel was broken so although I checked in I couldn't print my boarding pass and the airport kiosks don't let you print your pass until 6 hours before your flight. Gah! I trekked up to the Delta Crown room and pleaded my case- I only wanted to use their printer and promised to take no snacks, liquor, or other snazzy treats. The agent handling the desk was so kind and gave me a guest pass. I printed out my boarding pass and went to leave and he told me to relax, enjoy my stay and eat and drink whatever I wanted. I had 2 pretzels and then felt bad that I was using the service without being a paid member, and besides I was getting hungry for real food, so I headed to my gate, thanking the agent profusely on the way out for his kindness.


At the gate I settled in and alternated between working and napping until my plane was ready to board for the redeye flight back to VA. I slept on the flight as well as the subsequent one from ATL to IAD, but it's just not the same as being in your own bed. Once I got to DC I went to pick up my Dad to take him to a medical appointment and then I was off to work as usual in Rockville. It's been a long day and I'm so tired despite the fact its just past noon. No rest for the weary though- I've a lot of work to do today.


Aside from the busy work and travel schedule, there are bills to pay and associated budgeting to catch up on, things to clean and tidy at home, Christmas decorations to put up (including the tree), a Soroptimist meeting on Thurs to prepare for, surgery and follow up appts to take my Dad to tomorrow and Thursday, emails to answer, ParJen Consulting clients to bill, and husbands and doggies to cuddle and love. And there is God to be worshipped and focused on which cannot be pushed to the end of the list. And of course there is the trip to Las Vegas on Friday to pack for.


I like having a busy filled life, but it will be nice to slow down after the holidays.

Thanksgiving 2008

Jon and I spent Thanksgiving in the Chicago area visiting family. Jon's brother lives is Des Plaines with his wife and their son. It was almost 7 years since our last visit and for many of those years we'd been wanting to go back for another Thanksgiving (if for no other reason then Jon's brother is the turkey MASTER, making the best turkey I've ever had). The family moved there after college and has remained there ever since. In fact, of all the Parks offspring, they are the only ones that have lived in the same area of the country since getting married. (Meanwhile, we have not lived in one city for more than seven years. Having a home now should alter that and allow us to really settle into our community for a long time. )


It was a very relaxing vacation. I know for many of you visiting your relatives never seems like much of a vacation (more like a chore), but we had a great time. Our entire trip involved a series of delights - shopping, eating delicious food and sleeping, repeated again and again over a span of 4 days. There was a little cooking dabbled in there on everyone's part (I made Turkey with a thyme infused reduction over waffles for dinner one night using the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and it seemed to go over well) and some recreational activity (movie watching- go see Bolt, it's amazing!) also. At one point Jon was carted off to help a friend/neighbor install an ice skating rink. I'm guessing he is one of the favorite dad's among the kids in the neighborhood. Who ever heard of having your own personal ice rink as a kid? Very cool.


As for the eating, we sampled Chicago deep dish pizza as well as some famous Chicago dogs. The hot dogs were so good I was left craving them even after we returned to Virginia. As a special treat, my sister-in-law planned an outing for her and I to the Terragusto Café in Chicago. It's a cozy Italian restaurant that's leans to the casual in terms of décor in contrast to the upscale menu choices. We enjoyed the Chef's tasting menu, which gave us a taste of several dishes from the café's menu (which changes monthly). I shouldn't just say "a taste" as the portions were extremely generous. My favorites were the tagliatelle alla bolognese tartufato (classic thin ribbon pasta in a creamy four meat tomato sauce, parmigiano-reggiano & a touch of white truffle) and the capellacci di zucca alla modena ("pope's hats" stuffed with roasted fall squashes & parmigiano in a sage-brown butter sauce with amaretti crumbles). Next time you pass through the Chicago area, you'll definitely want to stop for dinner at Terragusto. (the address is : 1851 W. Addison St. Chicago, IL 60613)


Other noteworthy highlights of the vacation included another demonstration of my propensity to injure myself (I slipped and fell on a staircase which left me whimpering and slow to walk the next few days), a new trip idea (antiquing in New England late this spring with my sister-in-law), and lots of quality time with our nephew.


The only unhappy incident related to our trip was the nightmare of getting home via plane out of O'Hare. Much to our surprise, we found out the night before we were scheduled to return that our flight had been cancelled and USAirways/United and stuck us in the system on a flight from NYC to SFO as a placeholder since all ORD to WAS flights were booked full. It took 3+ frustrating hours on the phone with USAirways and United to find a flight back to WAS leaving on Mon Dec 1st, as we had originally planned. And those three hours involved pleading, sweet-talking, snappy acronyms, long periods on hold, hang-ups, and eventually crying. Next day we went to the airport to catch our flight (we were being routed from ORD to an airport in South Carolina and then on to IAD) and found it was delayed. As we waited, the airline kept pushing back our flight again and again and again. Originally scheduled to leave at 1:55pm, we did not get out of ORD until 4:30pm. We were pretty frustrated as we knew our flight out of South Carolina was the last one of the day meaning we'd probably have to spend the night in SoCar. Luckily, the flight from there was ALSO delayed (originally supposed to leave t 6:30pm but didn't get off the ground until 10pm) so we were able to get home. I am *never* flying USAirways or United again though. The last time I flew with them was about 4 years ago and it was to get to a conference in NY that began on a Friday. They delayed our flight so long I missed the entire first evening of the conference. And no compensation was offered. Worst. Airline. Ever.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Difficult

It's no secret that I've always adored my father.


I looked up to him, I respected his opinion, I continuously sought his approval, and I longed to be like him - intelligent, educated, cultured. During my childhood, whenever my mother went into one of her rages (screaming obscenities, throwing things, crying) I would turn to my father in fear, who would reassure me that my mother was simply crazy and displaying an irrational psychotic reaction likely due to her pent up rage and sadness at being abused so often by so many prior to her life with him. He would say this in a cold and clinical manner directly in front of her, which would fuel her rage further. He treated me as though we were equals; both doctors manning the asylum. It was definitely inappropriate and dysfunctional to speak about my mother in this way to a child, but I think it was his attempt to lessen the scarring of the verbal abuse pouring out of my mother's mouth.


As a child, when I asked my father why he didn't leave my mother he told me he was trapped because he had made the mistake of leaving a woman before and the courts always give custody to the mother. He said he would never abandon a child again. (It wasn't until I was older that I learned from my half-siblings the details of his selfish abandonment of them and the true cost to their well being). So in this way I grew up feeling as if it were my fault he was forced to endure my mother. (Of course after I became an adult he never left her). While I suspect other kids dreamed about innocent childhood wishes regarding toys and special privileges, I often dreamt of my mother's untimely death due to car accident or illness which would free us. In my scenario my father would then remarry my best friend's mom and we'd be sisters. Just as often as I'd envision these ideas, the guilt would well up inside of me and I'd hate myself for thinking such things.


Despite my growth into adulthood, I continued to wrestle with my feelings of anger and guilt toward my mother. I had many long conversations with her and came to understand the horrific experiences she lived through that shaped her world and encouraged her behavior. This only increased my guilt when the familiar untimely death wishes cropped up from time to time (usually when she was hurling obscenities my way). I solved the problem the only way I knew how- I moved far from home and rarely visited. But I always missed my father. Despite his hurtful comments (that I never measured up to my potential, that he regrets having all of his children because we were a waste of his time and money) I never grew angry at my father in the way my fury simmered against my mother. Even now, understanding that his love-deprived childhood (raised by uncaring nannies while his parents travelled the world and ignored him) is no excuse for his selfish and destructive criticism I can't muster anger. I just simply love him and still seek his approval.


Now that my parents are elderly and have moved here so that I may care for them, the dynamic has changed little. I still adore my father, whose mind is slowly slipping from him as his sentences repeat, his criticisms become rare, and his expressions of love and need for reassurance are frequent. My mother is just as difficult as she ever was. Loud, constantly negative and angry at the world, and very sickly (mostly due to her own poor stewardship of her body), it wears me down. It makes me angry.


Today she was rushed to the hospital with extremely poor vitals- out of control blood sugar, high blood pressure, and constant vomiting. I left work early and rushed to the hospital. When I arrived the nurse was reminding her that her lifetime of poor eating (completely ignoring the diabetic diet for example) was a big factor in her frequent illness. I felt a twinge of fear thinking of my own poor eating habits and anger at her selfishness in eating whatever she felt like instead of what's best for her. I vowed silently again right there in the E.R. to exercise more and watch my nutrition. I would not be like her. I would not!


Then I went downstairs to the hospital café and ate two candy bars. And I cried for both of us.


A few hours and endless tests later it turns out the culprit behind her vitals was her disregard for following her medicine regime in the face of a stomach flu. She simply stopped taking ALL of her meds (insulin, blood pressure meds, heart meds, etc) cold turkey Monday morning because her stomach hurt and she was tired of vomiting whenever she ate or drank anything. No call to the doctor for guidance (nor to me), no thought to the consequences, nothing. I was furious when I heard the news and though I tried to hide it I'm sure she could see it in my eyes. My patience wears so thin with her and I feel so guilty over that. Seems I've inherited my father's selfishness. She made a self-pitying comment about how hard it would be on Dad if she died in the hospital and how hard it would be on us to take care of Dad alone. Really Mom? Because I think it would be a piece of cake to take care of Dad compared to you. While she threw her tantrum in the hospital yelling at the nurses who didn't bring her a blanket fast enough, throwing her plastic spoon on the floor because she wanted to go home all I could think of was how if she hates life so much and can find no joy here maybe she could just quietly die and make it easier for all of us. And then horrified at my own evil I squashed those thoughts down deep and replaced them with equal parts guilt and self-loathing.


I am so weary. What can God teach me from these times with my mother? How can I move beyond my own selfishness and anger? How can I be the kind of daughter that truly loves her mother and honors her as God commanded?