Saturday, December 29, 2007

Betty and the Budweiser Brouhaha

I received an urgent phone call from an old friend, X. He's the widower of a woman I used to work with. I was always fond of their family and often visited X at his assisted living facility, and at the hospital when his COPD gave way to pneumonia.

On the phone, X asked if I could pick up something for him from the store. Sure, I was always happy to help. What did he want?

"I want a 12-pack of beer."

"Uhhhh....Are you sure it's OK for you to have beer? What about that thickener you have to add to all your beverages?"

"Oh- didn't I tell you? The doctor said that carbonated beverages are fine for me now."

"Even beer?"


"Did the doctor say the word 'beer'?"

"Yes, it's FINE!!!"

This is where the conflict started to set in. X's family thinks he's an alcoholic. When he first became ill a year ago and had to be taken to the hospital, he nearly died. I was told by the family that it was the alcohol which had brought him to such a physical state.

I knew that the family would not want X to have alcohol. I guess I am obligated to honor the family's wishes, not X's wishes. When an older adult reaches a state of health which requires long-term care, it appears that the person loses control of his life. The younger family member who has been given Power of Attorney is the one who takes over control of the older person's life.

X, mind you, is mentally sharp as a tack, and at age 74, is not exactly ancient. He has his own room in the assisted living facility. Three meals a day are served in the dining room, which is a huge benefit for this widower who doesn't know his way around the kitchen. I'm not sure why, but he doesn't seem to be allowed to drive.

His family, along with the pastor of his church, seem utterly convinced that X should not be allowed to have alcohol. If obesity was X's problem, would they be limiting his food, I wonder? If lack of exercise was X's problem, would they have him on a strict daily exercise regimen? Is it really right for human beings to control other human beings when they reach a certain age or level of vulnerability?

Would I want a family member controlling me if I were in X's situation? Hell, no! If I'm dying of some chronic condition and some doctor says I can't have ice cream, I hope my son will bring me the ice cream anyway- I've already told him that. Even if my ice cream intake is viewed as suicidal, bring it on. Whose business is it besides my own?

If X's intake of beer is viewed as suicidal by his controllers, well, so what? Each decision we make day in and day out is either life-giving (like exercising) or life-threatening (like drinking Coke). X's life choices are none of my business (and none of his family's business).

So I decided to deliver the beer to X. In the grocery store, as luck would have it, I ran into a friend. I was embarrassed about the tarnishing of my goody-two-shoes image as I struggled with the large, unwieldy package of beer at the checkout. Still unsure of my decision, I felt obligated to explain myself.

"Well, Betty, the assisted living facility is responsible if anything happens to X. You really should ask them if the beer's OK. You don't want to end up in trouble if something happens..."

Oh, boy. X's simple request was rapidly turning into a complex dilemma. But I had purchased the beer and was on my way to the assisted living place.

Imagine my surprise when the gentleman exiting as I entered the facility happened to be X's pastor, whom I recognised from a prior encounter! I tripped over the threshold, causing the beer box to rip its way out of its paper bag. His eyes bulged as he offered help and then started to recognise me. He gasped audibly.

" YOU'RE the 'important meeting' that X had to get rid of me for......Are you taking BEER to him?????"

Feigning ignorance, I looked at him with confusion. "Is he not supposed to have it? He assured me it was allowed...."

The all-knowing pastor shook his head. "He's tried to get me to bring booze, he's tried his family, now you.....he's alcoholic, and he lies to get the stuff. Go ask the staff here about it."

Feeling like a criminal, I looked around in the building for some authority figure to consult with, just because I'd been exposed and now felt that I needed their permission (if I could miraculously obtain it).

Finally I ran into an elderly resident doing her laps around the hallways. I asked her if anybody worked here on Saturday. She took me into the kitchen. I felt hopeful at the sight of these rather laid-back kitchen workers, and in fact the first one who answered my question said that residents are allowed to have beer in their fridges.

Then another one said, "Well, we'd better call the family to make sure there's no issue we don't know about..."

Well, the phone call didn't go well. X's daughter-in-law laid down the law- no booze for X. He might die from it, after all. And in the society we live in, I suppose I could be held resonsible for his death if it happened to occur after he enjoyed a cold one.

Well, I have to play by other people's rules in this case, but let it be known that my motto is this:


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 assessment

Letting the dog sleep in the basket full of warm laundry fresh out of the dryer is one of the most considerate things I've done all year, I thought to myself. Hmmmm....all year....what kind of year has it been, anyway?

A lot of the usual stress was alleviated by the fact that The Child's father has been out of the picture for 2007, with the exception of one supervised visit taking place in a facility set up for such purposes. That one session was cut short because the father openly defied the rules by bad-mouthing me to The Child and by discussing the court case with The Child. His behavior was so remarkably belligerent and offensive that the facility's manager refused to allow the father back for any subsequent sessions. Thus, except for my worrying about what might happen and when, it's been a year of unusual peace. Early in 2008, the case goes to trial. But that's a different year......

My belief is that every child benefits immeasurably from the influence of a reasonable father. I am my child's advocate.

Throughout this year, The Child and I have enjoyed perfect health (with a couple of insignificant glitches here and there) and my goal is to appreciate that. I wish everyone in my life had been so blessed; we lost The Child's first babysitter/nanny in March. Gloria, the smartest woman I've ever known, had had been my surrogate mother, and she had proudly referred to The Child as her grandson. What an honor. Now I feel as though I've lost two mothers....yet I was fortunate to have had two.

Another loss was that of my dear friend who used to stop by my house whenever he was on his way to the senior center next door. A retired chemist, he was one of the first people I'd met in this city. Like Gloria, he was one of the few people who really tried to make me and The Child feel like part of his family. I didn't usually think of him this way, but I guess it's obvious now that he was my surrogate father. I very much miss the fatherly advice he gave me- something I lacked from my biological father.

The amazing thing about both Harold and Gloria is that neither of them had any need for me. They each had several adult children of their own, and Harold was still very happily married. They were loving people who exemplified the belief in abundance.

I attended The Child's winter concert yesterday at his school. I was struck by one girl in the front row who smiled through the entire gig. How sad that she stood out as being "the ONE who smiled"! Many thoughts went through my mind as I focused on her. Was she a "people pleaser?" Was she mentally impaired? (Not my finest moment.) Was she born happy? I had been thinking a lot lately about the concept of innate tendencies and personalities and ways of being in the world.....(having a child brings up such questions)....did this girl realize what a gift she was offering to the people around her? My eyes filled with tears, and then focused on Jonah, the boy in my son's class whose father was killed last week in a horrific trucking accident. Jonah appeared to be one of the most joyous children on that stage. He literally danced his way from the chorus risers to his hand drum for the drumming group presentation. He told my son that day (yesterday) that it was the happiest day of his life. He was a demonstration of miraculous healing and resiliency, and of the power of music to soothe the soul.

2007 was the year that I took my house off the market in an apparent act of giving up on my dreams. I use the word "apparent" because I still have some degree of confusion over why I can't have what I want, which is a huge, beautiful restored Victorian house in the downtown neighborhood which I have obsessed over for years. In a twist of irony, The Child's school relocated this year to that very neighborhood. It's near torture for me to have to drive through my beloved neighborhood on a daily basis, yet it's also a pleasant treat, especially with the gorgeous Victorians all decked out for Christmas.

This past summer I had a reunion with my number one college professor. No wonder he was the perfect teacher, I thought. He has a certain way of being in this world- thoughtful, gentle, all-knowing, fatherly...he almost seems connected to a Higher Source. There were times when he looked as if he was channeling, seriously.

This past year I have tried to operate from appreciation mode. I have been more aware of the gifts some people offer, such as smiles, surrogate parenting, gentleness, joy. So it seems that my main theme for this past year has been to examine our various ways of being in this world. We're each born with certain tendencies, for sure, but we have options, too, especially once we hit adulthood. I wonder how I present myself to the world....maybe that will be the theme of 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

doggone park

Most people think that the idea of living on a park is rather appealing. I did, and that's why I kept driving up and down the row of houses on this park, waiting for one to go up for sale. I thought only of all the greenspace outside my front door, totally taken care of by city employees. Could there be a downside?

Well, yes: loose dogs. This city is one of the few left on the planet which lacks leash laws. There is one oft-neglected and little-known law which states that "off-leash dogs must be under the control of their owners at all times." Yeah, right.

It is only in the delusional minds of their owners that the dogs frequenting this park are under control. When I first moved here, I was shocked to discover that dog owners not only let their dogs race through the park unattended, they also thought nothing of allowing their dogs onto my property where they often terrorized my 4 year old son.

At the entrances to the park there are signs beseeching dog owners to clean up after their pets. Right! Once the animals are set loose, they take off like bats out of hell, so that even if their owners did intend to clean up after them, it would be impossible. The dogs are rarely within 50 yards of their owners. (I've seen dog owners just stand in the parking lot while their dogs take off on an adventure, unattended.)

During my first year living here, I yelled at several of these dog owners, many of whom were serial offenders. I told them that they were being inconsiderate of other people, including those who kept their dogs on leashes (who constantly had to fight off the loose dogs). I also mentioned that they were breaking the law by failing (miserably) to control their dogs.

It didn't take me long to see that I was wasting my breath. The dog owners simply blew me off, sometimes in very obnoxious ways. Fighting against them just raised my blood pressure. It didn't change the behavior of the dogs or their owners.

This is the entrance into the park from my property. That's my Chihuahua entering the park. I walk my dog on a leash out of respect for others. I'm able to pick up my dog's droppings because I'm right there at the other end of the leash. My house has no fenced yard, so I have to walk the dog several times a day. It would be nice if I didn't have to worry about the loose dogs- sometimes I get lucky, and other times I see the dogs coming, and I scurry back into the house, having learned not to fight. I choose flight over fight.

The other day, however, I was rushing the dog outdoors right before leaving for work when two of the most enormous dogs I've ever seen suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I heard the sounds of dogs growling and snarling, and I was so surprised by the whole thing that I don't even know if the noise was coming from my dog or the others. After being stunned silent for a few moments, I yelled out to the 2 dog owners 50 yards away, "COME ON!!!! YOU"RE NOT BEING FAIR TO OTHER PEOPLE!!!"

They looked at me as if I were from Mars and the man bellowed, "WHATS YER PROBLEM, LADY?"




"GO AHEAD! CALL THE POLICE!" they hollered as they walked away rapidly.

"YOU'RE COWARDS!" (OK, this was not my finest moment, but I resort to name-calling only in hopeless situations.)

Readers, I ask you: is it me, or are such dog owners out of line?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

rendezvous with the neighbors

It was just the female neighbors, actually. We were to meet last night for a candle exchange Christmas party. I own one of 20 houses on the park. My house, on one end of the row of 20, is the smallest; the party was held on the other end, at the largest. Its living room had the square footage of my entire house, and easily seated 20 women.

I tried to act nonchalant, but the idea of socializing amongst neighbors is unnerving to me. The question is, do I fit in? A counselor I was seeing a few years ago suggested that I was seeking somewhere to belong, and heaven knows I have put a tremendous amount of time into assessing which neighborhood I really wanted to live (belong) in.

This neighborhood comprises retirees to a large extent. There's a simple reason for that: the houses were built in the late 1950's/early 1960's, and these people bought the houses to raise their families in. They've stayed, enjoying the park location, and now they're in their 70's, 80's and 90's. My particular house has experienced more turnover- I'm its 4th owner, I think.

This neighborhood differs from the upstate NY neighborhood I grew up in. This one is more affluent and conservative. Everybody here understands the rules and abides by them, thank you very much. It's a rather uptight-looking place, with well-manicured lawns and not a wayward leaf in sight (heaven forbid).

Where I grew up it was more relaxed, more diverse. There were varied ethnic backgrounds, and the cooking smells emanating from each house reflected that. People sat outside on their front porches, unafraid to be seen idle, blatantly watching their neighbors. My best friend and I would run to the seedy bar a few blocks away to beseech her Polish father to come home. There was a bachelor, pipe-smoking Floyd, who didn't drive or speak to anyone, and a widow, Mrs. Sweet, who, true to her name, passed out candy to neighborhood children. The older couple in the house across the street never came out of the house for any reason, and we never knew how they obtained food. The Wilsons stood out because they grew tulips- few in this working class neighborhood could afford to bother with flowers. The Jaworskis were unkempt, their house neglected, abandoned cars cluttering their yard. There were real characters living on my street.
No wonder I crave the diverse, high energy downtown neighborhood which I'm always talking about moving to. It reminds me of my roots. I'm homesick.

The neighborhood I now live in is milktoast, devoid of color or personality. The party was somewhat dull, as expected given the neighjborhood we live in. I did connect with 5 or 6 women, and enjoyed that. To that extent, I did fit in. I did not find it necessary to be uptight or judgemental during the party; therefore, I was not self-conscious. For me, this is progress.
Although I live near these women, we live in a suburban type area, much to my dismay, so we rarely, if ever, interact. We all go directly into our houses from our cars via attached garages. There are no sidewalks here- walking is discouraged and dangerous. Odd as it seems, I did not even recognize most of these neighbors at the party, and I've lived here 7 years! Although the question of fitting in is always in the back of my mind, if only subconsciuosly, I was not really sure that this was the group I wanted to fit with. I see myself as being more free spirited and colorful.
One older woman who'd had one glass too many of the red wine was treating me like a daughter, beckoning me over to sit next to her (she orchestrated a complete overhaul of the seating arrangement to pull this off) and then she rested her hand on my leg as she held court. She was the most lively of the bunch, I'd say, as I recall the way she kept bursting into gales of laughter for no known reason.

Before the candle exchange began, one woman suddenly popped out of her chair with shocking enthusiasm, waving a clipboard above her head, shouting, "LADIES!!! LADIES!!!!! May I have your attention PLEASE!!!!"

It turned out that she'd had a brainstorm and wanted to start a neighborhood euchre group. All my life I have hated cards, probably because my parents belonged to a card club and I dreaded their raucous parties at our house. Anyway, she passed around the clipboard for people to sign up. I passed. Hmmmm...maybe I don't belong.....

Finally we got down to the point of the evening: the candle exchange. We were supposed to be able to "steal" a candle someone else had chosen if we liked it, but we were all too wimpy to steal, being representatives of this righteous neighborhood. It turned out that I happened to choose the candle brought by the overly friendly wine drinker who had demanded that I sit with her. (She was thrilled that I was her candle's recipient.)As you can see, it is a cinnamon colored/sented candle inside a silver and gold box wrapped with a red bow. At first glance, I determined that it was not my cup of tea, and I'd re-gift it. (I am a product of the above-described upstate NY neighborhood.) After I got home, however, I thought maybe I'd keep it as a souvenir of my "fitting-in fest."

Did I fit in? Well, I didn't stand out. That's a start.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

return of the inevitable

Although snow blankets the rose garden outside of my house, it's not totally convincing, as you can see from the triumphant green of the rose bushes rising above the snow. (Roses are not evergreen!) This year, the roses have faded relunctantly, and they still haven't let go completely.

The dark spots on the land are not signs of unattended dogs- they're leaves which weren't ready to fall when the raking humans thought they should. Snowfall is not usually peppered with leaves, which I interpret as another sign of this garden's reluctance to let go.

The rose garden may not seem ready for dormancy, but the Chihuahua sure is looking a bit drowsy. All that shivering uses up a lot of energy, as does walking on 3 legs to protect the 4th from that nasty cold wet stuff.

The warmer temperature today creates the effect of a spring thaw- last night's snowman has already bit the dust. The garden appears to be getting its way.