Balmy summer afternoons seem made for these quieter pursuits, a twist on the traditional siesta of the Latin world. I have strong memories of sharing the front porch with my grandmother on summer days, each of us with a glass of iced tea and a book, magazine, or crossword puzzle. I remember the feel of the condensation cooling my hand when I gripped my glass, and I remember the soft background noises that were ever present: cicadas, lawn sprinklers, small children playing, the occasional barking dog.
At six, eight, ten, thirteen, I was not afraid of storms, and even loved the electric crackle of lightning, and the distant (and not-so-distant) booming of thunder, which I imagined as a conversation among mythic figures, like the Greek gods and goddesses I read about in stories. As recently as 2019, I got excited when a storm bore my name, though of course I feel horrible about the damage caused by Hurricane Melissa, especially in the Carolinas.
Letter-writing is often considered a lost art, but it shouldn't be. Texting is great for immediate information or a quick thought. Email is fantastic for exchanging timely thoughts. Letters, handwritten or typed, sealed into envelopes, and sent by mail are textual portraits, freeze-frames of specific moments in time that capture thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams and put them all down on paper.
There is more than one right way. Sometimes we get stuck following a method or practice for doing something because "we've always done it that way." But sometimes trying a new way of doing something helps give us a new perspective and better results. In my case, I knew one way of turning my boat, which was to paddle only on the side opposite of the direction I wanted to go. What my teacher showed me, was that I could also turn the boat by pushing the paddle forward on the same side I wanted to go.
I move toward the deeper side, where there are lanes marked for lap-swimming. I’m not the world’s greatest athlete, but I learned to swim before I could walk, and while I’ll happily frolic when there are beach balls around, or body surf in the ocean, swimming laps is something that is as much exercise as meditation for me.
Still, as I try to be as ruthless as possible with deciding what to store until we find a new house, what to bring with us for the month or two we'll be staying with my mother, and what to sell or give away, what I remember is all the ways Mom helped Grandma find comfort and a sense of home in a house that wasn't hers, and I thought I'd share them here, because it's something many of us will experience as our own parents age.
As we engage in various situations in our home and work lives, there may be situations that occur that bring a sense of heaviness. Though our days as adults may not be filled with such simple moments, I wonder if we might be able to map out time to have similar ones? Whether it is the list of things that need to be done or the emotions that are circling us, clearing a path is important for our own energy and that of those we encounter.
A strong, loving woman that gave so much to life and others told me two days later that cancer returned with a vengeance, and she had less than six months to live.
What I've learned since then is that caregiving IS improv. Moods change, aging parents sometimes lose track of the here and now, young children resent it when they don't feel heard, and nobody likes hearing "no." Improv isn't a total cure-all, but its core is cooperation. Being a partner - a teammate - to the person you care for is infinitely preferable to being an authority figure or dictator, which is a role too many of us slip into.
Over the summer, we added Curves of Los Altos to our family of care partners. Since then, Mimi and Tracey have led our Caregivers' Walks and are hosting a thirty-minute at-home workout on November 2nd. More than just two women who are part of a nationwide franchise of woman-focused gyms, both are also caregivers. Here are their stories.