Category Archives: writing

The Dream

We agreed for a little girl to live with us while her parents sorted things.

Dad is in jail, mom was on drugs but is trying to get clean.

She is ten, with thick, frizzy brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Round, sweet face, eyes made owlish by thick glasses with dark purple frames.

She wears a purple puffy jacket, which should be my first clue it’s a dream.

Those went out of style decades ago. Then again, trends cycle. Maybe she’s ahead of the curve.

We meet at a small, family-owned restaurant with a store attached. Evidently this is where she has spent her after-school hours starting back in pre-school. Her babysitter used to work here but is long out of the picture.

“She was such a good little girl” that everyone else agreed to jointly keep an eye on her until her mother sent a ride home or wandered in to pick her up. Someone noticed she wasn’t growing much in kindergarten and they started providing after-school snacks and a hearty dinner. The undernourished waif grew into a hale and healthy ten year old.

The last few months, they’ve been giving her rides home at closing. A light was always on and she had a key, but finally the cook decided to walk her to the door and found mom sprawled on the floor in a drugged stupor.

She called the police, who called social services. Our small town had no other foster homes available. Since the cook claimed to be a distant cousin and had a clean record, they let the child stay with her for 48 hours while the social worker looked for a foster parent.

These people have been her family for six years. None of them are happy to learn I live clear across town.

“You have to bring her back to see us. Come for dinner at least once a week. On the house,” the owner cajoles.

The cook chimes in, “yes, please do,” in a tone I recognize as, “I’m asking nicely but you can expect a consequence if you don’t comply.”

The child has gone back to her small play area in the rear of the store to tidy up. I follow.

As I pack her things into a plastic green suitcase, the social worker calls my cell. Mom entered the rehab program. This may be a very temporary placement.

For their sake, I hope so, but I won’t mind if this sweet girl stays with us longer.

Suddenly I realize we never finalized sleeping arrangements. I guess we’ll put her in the guest room for now. I wonder if our two will be jealous she gets the big bed.

For that matter, how will they all get along? Will a new addition send them into a tail spin?

Should I put her in class with one of them or in one of the other 5th grade classes?

It’s getting late. I haven’t even thought about dinner. I tug her heavy case toward the door, starting to feel overwhelmed. Will she even like us?

I pause by the door, ready to call her name and realize I’ve forgotten it.

The cook gives me a piercing glare.

“What?” I say.

She replies, “nothing,” but I feel her eyes on my back as I turn.

I shake my head, stress washing over me.

What was I thinking, taking this on? I just started a new job. My kids may not respond well and I forgot to tell them about it. Hubby’s out of town for a week. Wait, who is with MY kids? I suddenly can’t remember.

The girl reappears, hugging the staff as she makes her way to me.

“I’m ready,” she tells me, pushing past through the wooden screen door to the country porch.

I follow, panic rising, and stop, face to face with a huge young buck. I eye his antlers, uneasy with the proximity, and glance around for the girl.

He snorts, demanding my attention, and stomps his hoof on the echoing porch floor boards. He touches his nose to mine, huge brown eyes glaring.

I wake, wild-eyed, stressed and panting, nose-to-wet-black-nose with my German Shepherd.

He needs to potty. He snorts and stomps his paw on the bed once more.

I shake my head and let him pull me out of bed.

Thank God, it was a dream.

Later that day, I pull up photo listings on adoptuskids.org, searching for a round, sweet face with owlish eyes.

#AmWriting

OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

It is so good to have a few moments to write.

Even better: hours.

I have hours. I’m away from the house. Cannot hear the dirty dishes in the sink nor the clothes to be folded calling my name. I have nothing but my laptop and am choosing to ignore my phone and social media.

BLISS.

If you are also a writer, you know what I mean.

And by writer, I don’t mean famous, or published, or even, “manuscript completed and rejected fiftyish times.”

Do keys tapping in a satisfying click-tick rhythm make your anxiety melt?

Words fascinate and enthrall you?

Sentences with perfect balance give you deep satisfaction?

Alliteration, onomatopoeia and entire-paragraphs-sans-adverbs bring you joy?

That’s what I mean.

Writer.

Hans Splinter

Photo by Hans Splinter

 

 

Goal 3

I really thought I’d be able to keep up with a goal of posting once a week. I even planned time tonight to sit down and write.

PLANNED.

This is new, because most days are helter-skelter, what with the new job, the kids and the random acts of renovation.*

*In the last eight weeks, in addition to regular busy life, Hubby and I have repaired and painted walls and ceilings.

So tonight, I planned to take a break and write while Hubby was at a late meeting.

But then I thought, “if I get the bathroom painted, Hubby can install the new porcelain sculpture…” (yes, we’re replacing the toilet). So instead of writing, I listened to a great audio book and painted the potty.

This brings me to

Goal 3

for this year:

Finish the doggone house.

If you’ve followed the blog these past two years, you’ve seen the mess seven leaks can precipitate.

We are almost finished with final repairs (which we stubbornly insist on completing ourselves because, well, we are stubborn). This is the year we DO IT.

So I finished the bathroom in record time. I thought, “great, I still have time to write,” and simultaneously wondered, “what IS that ridiculous noise?”

It was the sound of our clothes washer NOT draining.

Determined to ensure this did not become leak #8, I drained it manually then cleaned out the pump filter.

Only took me an hour.

And now, I write. 

What goals have you set—or met—this week?

 

 

 

 

Goal 2

I ran through my follower list today and realized it’s been a while.

Goal 2: Read something on every follower’s blog by June. 

See you soon!

 

What’s your goal?

Not sure how to begin? Read my easy guide to goal setting.

A Page from Your Book

As a young girl, I heard an adult tell his friend, “I took a page from your book.” Avid reader and lover of all things in print, I misunderstood his statement. Annoyed that anyone would rip a page from a book, I determined not to lend my books to anyone without first ensuring they agreed to leave all pages intact.

Later, I learned this was simply a phrase meaning, “I did something you would do.” Reading other blogs, I often find my recent thoughts mirrored. I’m not sure if this is because we tend to gravitate to others similar to ourselves (in physical life and online) or simply coincidence, but I feel as though we are having a conversation. I thought something you would think. 

I’ve been thinking lately about what I’ll leave behind. How only a moment—just a breath—can take us from one reality to the next. What a sheer curtain hangs between now and forever. Seems like you’ve been thinking about the same.

Just so you know, I took a page from your blog.

 

When you don’t have an artifact which will save you in your afterlife, don’t give value to your artifacts in this world! – SP

 

You are not alive in memories
but that is the place I find you,
so I fan the small fire,
inhaling deeply,
remembering
today. – LL

-JRLZN

I don’t fear death anymore; I fear looking back on my time here on this earth and realising that I missed out on so many wonderful opportunities because of such a naïve notion of allowing apprehension of the inevitable to destroy the wonderful gift of life that I have been presented. I don’t want to grow old having squandered my time, or having lived an un-lived life.CN

 

Back in the Saddle

Hey, everyone!

I’ve missed you.

In September, I accepted a part-time job. In October, I agreed to work full time when my supervisor said those two little words I can never resist: process improvement. Almost nothing makes me happier than finding better ways to do…well, pretty much anything.

The downside is a sharp decline in free time and I’ve really missed writing.

Tonight I listened to a goal-setting webinar led by Michael Hyatt. I chuckled a little bit when he talked about his own goals. Maybe one of his goals for the year is to sell a lot of the “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever” program he offers at the end of the webinar.

Sales pitch aside, I learned (re-learned) a few things:

  • Goals must be written. 
    • I believe the statistic on the webinar was around 40% more likely. I found a couple articles with statistics up to 80%. The point isn’t really HOW much more likely we are to hit our goals, but that we ARE more likely to do so. Check out some of the articles on the Forbes site.
  • Goals must be measurable.
    • “I need to lose weight,” is not specific enough. “I want to permanently lose that stupid ten pounds I keep regaining,” is better.
    • Instead of “I want to be recognized at work,” a more measurable goal is, “I will meet or exceed my assigned metrics every week,” or “I will read three industry-related articles each week and discuss ways our team can utilize what I’ve learned to improve our processes.”
  • Goals must have a deadline or time frame.
    • Deadlines provide urgency. I’ve been “working” on updating spreadsheets for the past few weeks but never seemed to finish. Other  When the top brass informed us (yesterday at 6 am) that the analysts would pull a report for a presentation at 3 pm today, guess what I finished by 2:30.
    • Deadlines provide the ability to draft a timeline—and again, writing the goals improves our chances of finishing.
  • Goals must be realistic. 
    • “I will run a marathon next week.” Written, measurable, deadline. And crazy, unless you’re an avid runner. For most of us, “I will walk to the mailbox instead of driving to get the mail,” or, “I will stop circling the grocery parking lot to find a spot three spaces closer. Instead, I will park at the far end of the parking lot,” are realistic goals.

 

Most of that is old news. Michael said a few things I’d never really considered. 

Goals should be visible.

Post goals somewhere we’ll see them daily. Make a list or, like the picture here, find a creative reminder.

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Photo Credit: Marcia Furman

Goal lists should include no more than seven to ten items.

Bonus if we can pare it down to four or five. A goal list shouldn’t be twenty-five things because our brains can’t track that many items, even in writing.

Goals should be passion-driven. 

If a goal isn’t exciting, why is it on the list? I never before realized that goal-setting is different from “the list of things I need to accomplish around the house this year.” No one is passionate about painting the front porch steps (on the other hand, I take great delight in plastering sheet rock…but still, not a life goal).

Our goals should make us uncomfortable. Even afraid. 

If we’re comfortable, we won’t grow. We won’t take risks.

So.

I plan (IN WRITING) to spend time this week (TIME FRAME) thinking about goals for the upcoming year. I know, it’s a little earlier than the traditional “it’s a New Year; I must revamp my life,” but I invite you to join me.

Let’s choose four or five goals (MEASURABLE) fired by our greatest passions.

Goals that freak us out a little.  

Let’s talk about what we’ve accomplished this year and where we want to be next month.

I’ll start. 

Goal One: Even when working like mad at the job I love and working like crazy for the Hubby and kiddos I love, I will I WILL

I WILL

I will  (this is in writing) make time to post at least once a week (measurable and realistic) for the rest of the year (deadline).

Your turn! What’s your goal one? Comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

About the About Page

I updated the “About” page. Is this better, or worse?

(And yes, I found the Text Color button…to save your eyes, I tried not to get crazy.)

Trying to make the site more readable; I appreciate your feedback.*

*Like, seriously. If you hate the page, please tell me how to make it better.  🙂

 

Nutshell if you’re in a rush:

Hi, I’m Casey.

Hubby and I adopted two very traumatized kids through foster care. Our social worker called me hypervigilant (because I wanted her to do her job*) and now I write at Hypervigilant.org.

Resources for families of adopted children proved difficult to find; once we were right-side-up again, Hubby urged me to share our experiences. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Find HOPE here. And also lots of cyber-hugs. 

*No offense if you’re a good SW. I know good ones are out there and we appreciate all you do.

Details of our story if you have a minute:

Hubby and I adopted two wild hyenas and lived to tell about it (and so have they), and now I’m sharing the saga with you. I share personal experience and thoughts from adult adoptees (some of the best resources EVER for figuring out how to help kids). 

I started writing for anyone involved in adoption, but adoptive or not, consider yourself invited.

Stay a while; speak your mind. I love hearing your perspective. Some of the best parenting advice comes from people without kids, because their brains aren’t fried on square pants and the Lego movie theme song.

If you have no personal connection with adoption, but you read this blog and think “Geez, why doesn’t she just try _____,” please share suggestions. It takes a village to raise an idiot—I mean, child.

Similarly, it takes a blogging community to keep the child’s parents from singing EVERYTHING IS AWESOMMMMMMMMMMMME to the bank teller.

Everyone needs hope and the occasional laugh. I try to provide both by sharing the truth about adoption with an honest picture of our wins and mishaps. I also write a little fiction on the side. These are my favorites.

Alternately, you can read Adoption = for the same reason Hubby watches Cops: “Well, at least we’re not THAT crazy.”

Find hope here, whether you are in a beautiful moment of triumph, in the middle of ongoing battles, in the throes of a nervous breakdown or wishing you could just give those kids back to someone. Anyone.

(No, this does not make you a bad person. You WILL get through it. Please do not give your child to the grocery clerk with the kind eyes.)

I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to give you what I’ve got. If Hubby and I can endure HellonEarth and keep two kids alive (which is sometimes a bit harder than it sounds), so can you.

If you are in the circle of an adopted child or adoptive parent, sometimes you will feel like walking away. Please don’t. They need all the help they can get. You’ll see what I mean. There’s a LOT they aren’t telling, because they don’t want you to run away screaming.

Adoption can feel very isolating. Almost like Witness Protection.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for hanging in with me. Tenacity is an excellent quality for dealing with adopted children. Also, you’ll need patience, empathy, and the ability to open a big ol’ can of whoop-a—oh, sorry…I mean…the ability to guide darling children through extremely difficult emotional ups and downs.

Actually, the can of whoop will likely be necessary for the social worker or other adult standing in the way of what your child needs. Keep it on hand.

Our kids will choose our nursing homes. I, for one, do not plan to end my days living in a storage unit with a bare bulb for heat. Especially now that we have to use those energy-efficient ones.

Let’s get this right.

Happy reading,

Casey

Casey Alexander writes and lives with her amazing, talented Hubby and two wonderful (and sometimes very weird) adopted children, along with three dogs and six outdoor cats. And also a hawk, who hangs around hoping to steal a cat (as the kids have grown too large). 

The Doll

Here’s the full first chapter.  I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance. 🙂  

Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality. 

 

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Photo Credit: Justin Lincoln

I am so tired of that woman. She will not leave me alone.

 

I just want to have peace and quiet, but no. It’s bad enough that Mom puts her nose in my school business, calling my teachers, showing up for lunch without warning, bribing my friends with cookies so they’ll like her. But that’s not enough meddling in my life. Nope. She also makes me do work. Like I’m her slave or something. If I forget, she follows me around and nags.

 

“Chores are your duty as a citizen of this great land we call our household,” she tells me.

 

Chores. Ha. More like doing her job for her. Parents are supposed to take care of the house. Moms do the inside, dads take care of the lawn and the cars and all that. Or they hire someone. None of my friends have “chores.” So much for my childhood.

 

“You’re lucky, Colleen,” mom says. “Not every kid learns life skills. When you graduate, you’ll be able to survive on your own. I know you don’t appreciate it all, but chores are good for your character. Be thankful. Your life, even when you think it’s horrible, is someone else’s fairytale.”

 

“Fairytale, ha. Emily and Madison don’t have to learn life skills,” I complain.

 

She laughs. Laughs. Like it’s no big deal.

 

“Well, when they pull their first all-pink load of laundry out of the dryer in college, they’ll wish they did. In the meantime, you still need to clean the downstairs bathroom. People are coming over in three days, and you’ve left it a mess. And then sort your laundry so we can start a load for you. I’m asking you to clean up after yourself. It’s not like you’re Cinderella.”

 

Pink clothes? What does that even mean? And no, I’m not Cinderella. If only. I’d ride off with that prince and live in style.

 

My thirteenth birthday party is Saturday. I will be a TEENager. Almost eighteen. In just five more summers, I can be outta here. A few weeks ago, I said this out loud. Stupid me. She laughed then, too.  

 

“Wait,” she said, doubled over and gasping for air, “you’re killing me. Do you remember how long it’s been since you were eight years old?”

 

I sniffed. “That’s forever ago.”

 

“Exactly,” she said. By this time she was cackling, that annoying snorty laugh she does when she thinks something is really, really funny. “You are not almost eighteen. Trust me, five years is a long time. By the time you hit eighteen, thirteen will feel like ‘forever ago,’ too.”

I’m counting the days, believe me. One thousand, eight hundred twenty-nine, to be exact. In case you’re checking my math, don’t forget leap year.

 

I head downstairs to my bathroom. It’s actually the guest bathroom, but last year I sort of claimed it. Mom said it was fine as long as I clean it. And I do. Most of the time.

 

My twin brother Kevin and I used to share a bathroom. He’s completely gross. Leaving him in his filth was one of the best hygiene decisions I’ve ever made, right up there with deciding to wear deodorant. So he has to clean the upstairs bathroom himself. Now, if we could just get him to shower. With soap. Mom said he’ll start when he finally discovers girls. Like that will happen. He’s got his head so far inside his science books, he’s lucky he remembers to eat.

 

I wipe the toothpaste dots off the mirror. Mom always checks. She says “no one wants to see that.” I rub the chrome until it sparkles, then flick the rag across the counter. If the chrome is shiny, no one notices the rest. After I pour blue stuff in the toilet bowl, I figure the bathroom is good enough. It’s not like party guests are going to use the tub.

My birthday is horrible.

 

I knew this would be an awful day before I opened my eyes. Drops of rain splatter against my window as thunder crashes above. Kevin, always up “at the cracka,” according to my dad, is already adding his ridiculous noise to the cacophony. Apparently my parents gave him his big present early. Of all things, an electric guitar. My parents were thrilled when he started showing interest in music.


“Finally, we’ll hear something from Kevin other than science facts,” my dad winked at me yesterday from his perch on the edge of his favorite chair. Leaning over the Fender’s slick black and pearl body, he finished tuning the instrument and ran through a few chords. “Beautiful music will be a blessed change.”

 

Maybe, but this is not beautiful. Or music. It’s awful.

 

Wrapping a hypoallergenic, fiber-fill pillow around my head, I blunder out into the hall. The pillow stuffing shifts under my hands, soft and puffy. Still groggy, I try to keep it over my ears, skimming my shoulder along the wall for support. Mom appears, carrying a large gift bag.

 

“Happy Birthday, honey!” She crows. Yes, crows, like a rooster. It is way too early for this. I’m pretty sure it’s not even eight o’clock.

 

I narrowly avoid her kiss; it lands on my pillow.

“Can you do something about Kevin? I’m still trying to sleep!” I grit my teeth.

 

She laughs. Why does she always laugh at me? Like I’m trying to be funny. This is serious.

 

“Really, mom. It’s Saturday. It’s my birthday. I should be allowed to sleep in a little.” I pull the pillow tighter, trying to block the noise.

 

“It’s your birthday, Colleen. Plural. His too, you know. He can play if he wants.”

 

“It’s not playing. It’s noise,” I frown.

 

“Well, you remember what your teacher said after the Christmas program. ‘We’re supposed to make a joyful noise. Nobody said anything about talent.’ As long as he’s happy, and he’s making noise…” she trails off, looking at the hall clock.  “ And, hey, it’s already nine. You should be up anyway. I need your help.” She hefts the bag.

 

“Help? On my birthday?” I grimace. Can’t even catch a break on my birthday.

 

“Yes. If you’d cleaned the bathroom properly the other day, you could sleep longer. As it is, you gave it a lick and a promise instead of a good cleaning. So, now you have to clean a toilet on your special day. Seems unfair, I’m sure, but you did this to yourself.” She grins.

 

“I gave it a what?” I imagine licking the tub faucet.

 

“Never mind. Go.” She staggers down the hall under the weight of the bag and her enormous belly.
Yep, that’s right. She’s pregnant. Preggers. Bun in the oven. Having a baby. Knocked up. Mom, laughing again, asked me where I’d heard that last one. It’s so ridiculous, at their age.  I mean, seriously. She’s like, thirty-eight. And do you know what they had to do in order for her to get that way? So disgusting. I can’t even think about it.

 

 

The day she took me to find a dress for the eighth grade dance, she was all excited because she and dad went to the doctor that morning and they found out the baby is a girl. She couldn’t even concentrate on my dress. She said, “that’s great!” and, “beautiful!” every time I tried on something new, but I could tell she wasn’t even looking. Not really.

 

A little blue dress was already hanging in my changing room, the kind they’d never let me wear, so I tried it on for fun. It made me look older. I liked the way it stayed up without straps and barely skimmed my knee. I knew she wasn’t paying attention when I pranced out in front of the mirrors and she said, “wow, cute!”

 

I almost got away with it, but her eyes focused at the last minute and she said, “when you’re twenty-one, you can come back to get that one.”


Finally, she said, “come, on, just pick one already.”

 

She used to spend more time picking out my dress than I did.

 

Before the baby.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the baby department, looking at frilly baby clothes. Everything was impossibly fluffy and lacy and pink. She gave away all my baby stuff years ago, so we have to buy it all again. And, since baby things are expensive, Kevin and I will have to pick between two weeks of summer camp, instead of getting to attend both. This baby is already irritating. I’m just waiting for her to tell me I have to let it share my room.

 

I toss the pillow back on my bed and pull on my favorite jeans, the ones with colorful cheetah print on the side. By the time I pull a brush through my hair, Kevin has stopped his racket. Thank God. Hopefully this new interest will go the way of his pet hissing cockroach, last year’s birthday present.

 

Mom said it escaped. I’m pretty sure she flushed it.

 

Pulling my hair into a ponytail, I head downstairs to scrub the toilet. Like a slave. On my birthday.

After she made me do everything three times, the bathroom finally met mom’s military inspection. Seriously, no one notices dust in the corners. Ridiculous waste of time. I got all sweaty scrubbing out the tub and had to take a shower, so all that work was for nothing. At least she didn’t make me clean it again.

 

Thirteen. I just can’t stop saying it. Thirteen. ThirTEEN. Finally a teenager.

 

The night before I turned five, I remember thinking I’d be able to reach the kitchen faucet in the morning. When I woke up, I ran to the sink, shocked to find the handle still several inches out of reach.

 

This time, I am a teenager. No question. Height is irrelevant; I am older. More mature. Almost eighteen. Almost out of here.

 

And then.

 

I can find my birth parents.

 

Kevin and I had other parents, but no one knows much about them except our mother was really young. “She loved you so much, she wanted you to have a family with parents who could take care of you.” That’s what they say to our faces. But once, years ago, I heard mom whispering to Aunt Melissa that the social worker said our grandmother forced our first mom to give us up. I think of my birth mother’s mom as a green-faced wicked witch, not a grandma.

 

I bet our mom was from a really rich family and the wicked grandmother just didn’t want to deal with the stigma of teenage pregnancy. We learned about stigma in my psychology elective class. It’s when people get treated differently because of something shameful they did.

 

So they dumped us into foster care for six months, and then Dad and Mom picked us up. A year later, we officially “belonged” to them. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what they did for us. But some days, I wish I knew about the family we were born into. And borne out of.
When I turn eighteen, I can see the files. And maybe, by that time, the wicked witch will be gone, and our birth mom will be happy to see us, and we’ll get to live like the modern-day royal family we were born to be.

 

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Photo Credit: Theresa Huse

 

Write to the Death

Finding time to write is not a problem for me.

Oh, wait.

I meant to post that on April 1…but didn’t have time.

***

Another blogger and I have been kicking around the idea of forcing ourselves to novel with a deadline.

I suggested we call next month Manic May (in which we write like mad) and proofread each other’s work in Judgmental June (because I couldn’t think of a better word starting with “J”).

Upon hearing my idea, Hubby said, “and then, Judgemental July because neither of you will finish writing in May, so you’ll have to push back proofreading.

Then will come Angsty August because you don’t like each other’s novels but don’t want to say so.

During Sad September, you’ll find your friendship ending over red pen.

You’ll try to salvage the project, if not your camaraderie, during Objective October.

Finally, in Nasty November: a fight to the death over grammar, stabbing each other with the Oxford comma.”

Geez. Maybe HE should write the novel.

 

Getting Old Sucks

My aunt handed me an article last week. Retirement homes have begun to provide classes in empathy for their employees.

Attendees wear glasses that mimic macular degeneration, shoe inserts to cause foot pain and earphones full of confusing audio input. They’re required to accomplish easy tasks that are immediately much less simple. Students suddenly understand why that “ornery old lady” is so sour; why the confused gentleman can’t seem to grasp reality. Many, including retirement home directors, were reduced to sobs.

Maybe it’s my writer’s imagination or the close connection I had with my grandparents, but I feel the frustration of my aging friends and relatives with acute clarity. The story of clear-eyed, strong, beautiful youth that lies behind behind every individual with delicate, papery skin and a vague expression has always caught my attention.

Years ago, I created a scrapbook for my grandmother, then nearing ninety. Frail in her wheelchair, she turned pages with shaking, blue-veined hands. Even earlier, in college, I’d introduced her to words like “hottie” and “foxy” when we looked through a box of photos from her Navy days. Now she leaned closer to peer at pictures. “I can’t tell who that one is,” she pointed.

I grinned. “Well, whoever she is, she’s one foxy lady!”

Smiling back, she announced, “Well, in that case, it must be me!”

When she left me for heaven, my heart broke. I’m blinking back tears as I write this. My one consolation is that she’s once again a foxy hottie, hanging out with her three best friends. (I think we’ll get to return to our favorite age in heaven. This is only my opinion. If you have been to heaven and found it’s not true, I don’t want to hear about it.)

But as I said, imagining how aging must feel, at the deepest level, has always been easy for me.

***

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Barely time to breathe.

Hubby’s dad went to the doctor for what he thought might be pneumonia. He’s had recurring bronchitis and is in his 80’s, so possible pneumonia seemed a logical conclusion to his respiratory symptoms.

He ended up in the hospital with exploratory heart surgery. That shortness of breath? Not the lungs.

He was—and is—experiencing Atrial Fibrillation (also known as AFib) but didn’t realize it. Now familiar with the symptoms, it’s apparent to all of us that he’s had it for some time. His heart is enlarged and operating at 35%.

Heart exploration showed no blockage, which was the first assumed culprit. The cardiologist fitted him with a vest full of sensors to gather data for two weeks, trying to ascertain the cause. The vest, which doubles as a defibrillator, can also shock his heart if necessary.

My friend’s mom had an implanted defibrillator. It shocked her heart just as she turned off a light at church; she assumed an electrical malfunction and called out for someone to come check the switch. One of the other attendees suspected the real issue and brought a chair for her to sit down; while he helped her, the defibrillator went off again and gave him a bit of a jolt.

Maybe I should advise Dad’s girlfriend not to hold his hand…

***

Dad’s doing unbelievably well, considering he’s more or less stuck in the house for two weeks. He can go out, but lugging the bulky battery pack for the vest is a pain.

Aside from Dad, Hubby is having the hardest time with the situation, as the roles of his life are rocked with swift, unanticipated and sudden reversal.

We have black and white photos of this man receiving military awards, towering over the higher-ranking officials. Fond family lore honors this tank commander who could barely fit in the hatch. This weekend, I found a picture of him leaning against a tank, casual. He might as well have been hanging out by an SUV.

In college, his larger-than-life presence on the football field drew interest from professional football teams. He played pro ball for a season, then decided to join the military. He continued to play for the Army and moved up the ranks, stationed in in Japan and Iran. One of my favorite pictures shows him crammed into a Jeep next to a Korean official, looking more like John Wayne than John Wayne.

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John Wayne  Credit: Kate Gabrielle

 

Back in the States, he taught logistics to a new crop of fresh-faced recruits.

The Pentagon called. Come to Washington.

By this time married with four kids*, he decided instead to retire from the military. He started a second career, managing for a large corporation. On weekends, he loaded and drove a horse rig to competitions for my mother in law, who trained award-winning horses (and riders). His own horse was so large it could step over the stall door.

In his spare time, he learned enough blacksmithing to shoe skittish horses (harder than it sounds). He was a handyman and an artist, fixing, creating and building.

Popular among military and civilians alike, he and my mother-in-law hosted parties and an annual Father’s Day crab feast for their many friends. With the arrival of grandchildren, he became the beloved Papa.

After the death of my mother in law, he has continued to be the beacon holding our family together, drawing everyone home for holidays. A few years ago, he found happiness again with the widowed mother of one of our friends.

Through his example, he taught my husband to provide, to put family first, to work hard, to survive heartbreak, to excel. To be a man.

I owe at least part of my happiness to this giant man with the even bigger heart.

***

We watch with pathos. I pray that he’ll rebound, like my grandfather, who overcame similar issues and lived another twenty years. My hope is tempered by the reality and gravity of his condition.

This weekend, Hubby and some of our wonderful friends built a ramp on the front of Dad’s house. Twice. After walking on the recommended grade, Hubby realized it would still be too steep for Dad to navigate comfortably, so he took it apart and adjusted everything.

This is the man I love: willing to spend six extra hours on a project to make sure it’s just right. Another man with a giant heart. 

I watched as Dad hobbled to the top of the ramp, nodding his approval. Emotions crossed his face. I wondered if he was remembering, as I was, the man he’s been.

The football legend, dwarfing the other players as he strode across a stadium field.

The tremendous leader respected by both allies and enemies in war.

The esteemed teacher and no-nonsense manager.

The great friend to so many.

The father.

Papa.

Some of these things, he still is. But I imagined, as he scanned the ramp, how he might feel. How he might be remembering. How he might wish for the return of years past.

Maybe not.

Perhaps I’m kidding myself. To think I can imagine how it could feel to once have been able to do all the incredible things he’s done.

To think I know what it means, this ramp, to someone who is the definition of a man.

***

*He is also an adoptive father; Hubby’s oldest sister is adopted. Their great relationship is one of the reasons Hubby and I wanted to adopt. 

 

 

 

 

 

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