livingwithyourdad

Is better than living with your mom

Backdraft

Papa moved in with us in 2006. We made the decision to bring him here after a particularly cold winter.

Several reasons precipitated this decision, but topping the list was our awareness of the cost of heat as related to the limited income potential of the elderly.

Papa worked as a carpenter for over 40 years. He worked seven days a week, 365 days a year. If there was work, he went after it. Summer, winter, rain or shine, he was more faithful than a mailman. (You had to admire his work ethic even if you did get a bit steamed when he missed every major holiday, birthday and life event).

As a result of Papa’s life dedicated to physical labor, working often out in the elements, there are two things he hates. Walking and being cold.

Dad says, “People who walk can’t afford cars” and  “I’d rather be dead than cold.”

My parent’s house was kept at 80 degrees in the winter. I used to bring shorts when I slept over. It was kind of nice. But now we pay the heating bill.  Dad’s room brings to mind a sunny Miami beach day in July.

Fuel is expensive and I’m while I’ll never be mistaken for frugal, I do try to be practical.

Papa has the warmest room in the house. It’s a great room. Southern facing, ocean view, with three giant cast iron radiators, a mini fridge and a flat screen tv turned on 24 hours a day. Between the sun, the tv and the radiators- it’s quite toasty.

I love that Papa is comfortable in his dorm room. It makes me happy to bring him his meals on a tray and to pick them up on the floor outside his door when he’s finished. I’ve been serving my father on a tray since I was old enough to carry one. It’s part of the culture of our family. I begrudge him nothing. I do ask one small favor of him when it’s cold outside. Please keep your door open.

This is a 135 year old house and his room gets all the sun. I tell him “It can get pretty chilly in the hallway so please keep the door open. Share your heat. Share your sunlight.”

The conversation goes like this…

“Hey dad. Can you please keep your door open a bit. It’s dark in the hall and cold too.”

“Of course honey. You should put more radiators in the hallway”

“Dad, radiators don’t go in hallways. If you could just keep your door cracked the heat would move into the hall and warm it up.”

“Ok.”

Exit. Slam.

…………..

“Dad, would you please keep your door open a bit. It’s 100 degrees in here and the kids are freezing in their rooms.”

“They should have radiators like mine. It’s warm in here!”

“I know Pop but they don’t and I can’t change the heating system. If you could just share some of your heat with the second floor…”

“I don’t even turn the heat up for but a minute! It gets too hot! I have to shut it off!”

“Dad. There is a backdraft when I open your door. How about keeping your heat on and cracking your door so it can move into the hall?”

“Ok”

Exit. Slam.

……………………

Today…  door open to say good bye on my way out..  BAM! A wall of heat slams me in the face.

Ever open the oven to check dinner but forget to wait until the initial blast escapes? In this oven sits one 77 year old Frenchman in his recliner wearing nothing but a pair of shorts enjoying some morning tv.

“Have a great day Papa. I love you”

“bye honey!”

Slam.

Motivation

I never sit on the couch. I have to sit on my hands and bind my ankles in order to stay seated. It is my cross to bear. I’m busy by nature so when I do sit down I’m looking for peace and quiet and potentially a good cry over my show The Biggest Loser.

I like to invite Papa to join me when I watch TBL not only log in some family time together, but to show him how fitness could change his life. A stretch I know, but indulge me.

Watching tv with Dad always makes me look over my shoulder in case I’m on Candid Camera or being Punked. The comments are endless and put forth without a filter. I.e.”Is Beyonce colored?” (cringe)

His running stream of random thoughts makes it clear to me where my gift of gab comes from.
Do my friends wish I’d just shut up like I wish he would right now? If so, I will share a little secret. I keep a sticky note on my computer screen that reads, “shut up.” Take solace. I am self aware.

But back to the show. Clearly there is a level of motivation that can be achieved here on the couch as Dad and I enjoy our 90 calorie Fiber One brownies.

“What do these people have to run? 26.2?” yes Dad. “That’s tiring just to drive”

“How much is a gym membership?”

“I think I’ll start swimming and using the treadmill at the Y.”

“Do they have a sauna?”

“I’d like to swim. I could watch people swim.”

“Forty pounds would make all the difference. If I was 185 I’d feel great”

“I should hang out at the Y instead of the pub.”

So thank you Biggest Loser. While these thoughts will likely vanish as quickly as they arrived, they gave me a glimpse of what could be.

Gratitude

Thanksgiving reminds us to take a moment and consider all of the things we are thankful for. Like so many, I am thankful for my family. My friends. My job. My home.

I am thankful I had the opportunity to serve my country and was taught not only how to learn by example, but to lead by example. I am thankful I was afforded a quality education, that I have shelter, that my needs are met, that I am in a position to help meet the needs of others.

When I learned that my mother was dying I imagined that I would begin to feel that life was unfair. But I didn’t. While it might seem unfair that she didn’t get to see her grandchildren grow up, there are  many that don’t grow old enough to have children. It’s all about perspective.

Today is my thirty-eighth birthday. I share my birthday with my mother’s mother. Grandma turned ninety today. She will tell you that at ninety, while she has lost much in this world, she remains thankful that she still has all of her “mah-bles.” I am thankful to have a grandmother.

When you live with your seventy-seven year old father you learn to be thankful for things that people in other situations might not have on their gratitude list.

Some days I appreciate not stepping in pee on the bathroom floor. Every day I am grateful that the odds are I won’t go down like a free drink if I accidentally kick a matchbox car or miss a step on the stairs. I am grateful that I am the “second youngest broad in the house.”

When you live with an elderly person you learn to appreciate your youth. You learn to appreciate and respect your health. You learn to not complain about not quite turning forty when your roommate is staring down the barrel of eighty because, while he won’t, he will want to punch you.

Blue

It's like Who's on First? We all know the definition of insanity and sometimes, at moments like this one, I feel that I may go insane. 
But instead I will reach for brush and paint. Not a canvas, but a wall.

I love paint. House paint. One of my favorite things is paint, or actually color. There is nothing non-living that gives me greater pleasure than color. 
It has the ability to lift my spirits and correct my attitude like nothing else can. I don't know why but it's always been this way. 
When I was younger and felt sad, mad, or just needed a pick me up I would head to CVS and pick up a new shade of lipstick and a nail polish. This always did the trick. 
If you haven't tried it you should. My mother was upset one day so I put her in the car and took her to the pharmacy to give it a whirl. 

She looked at me sideways, this was a fix just for me it seemed, not for her, and steered me straight away from the door and into Brigham's for a hot fudge brownie sundae with extra fudge and extra walnuts. 
Comfort comes in many forms and this was hers. 

When I walk down the street and see a house I don't think, "That door would look better in green, but rather, "Wouldn't that house be happier if it had a granny smith apple green front door?" 
I can't help it. 

Six years ago we bought our home. It was a disaster plain and simple.
Over one hundred years of neglect and decay but I loved it and I wanted to rescue it. 
I looked at the cracked and crumbling walls and ceilings, bare bulbs hanging, squirrels running in and out of the broken plaster and felt an obligation to help. 

Papa was still living in Lawrence at the time he but reluctantly agreed to bring his crew down to help me restore the structure of the house. 
I had put my life on hold to care for my mother when they needed me and I was not above leveraging the money in my guilt bank.

I believe dad's exact words upon seeing the house were, "Dee Dee, I am 70 years old. It will take the rest of my life to fix this house."
My response was, "It may Dad, but I am only 30 so it won't take the rest of mine." And we were off.

Dad sat in a lawn chair barking orders while his loyal crew of French Canadians worked for weeks to reframe and side my house. 
Like any good cobbler's child, Papa was useless around our own home. His two favorite words have long been my two least favorite. 
They are Good and Enough - in combination.

Budget being an issue I had to choose a long lasting, low maintenance siding solution. 
We decided the best course of action was to cover the house in vinyl. As a side note, this house wasn't just covered in asbestos, 
it was clad in asbestos shingle that was won in a jelly bean counting contest at the Topsfield fair in the 1960s.

I wasn't thrilled to be putting vinyl on my house as I embrace change and love to have flexibility with color, but economy prevailed and it was the only option. 
I settled on Oxford Blue.

All the other houses on the street were white with the exception of one which belonged to my friend and neighbor, Big Al. 
Yellow has always been my favorite house color, but out of respect for someone I liked and who was here first, I moved on down the color wheel. 

Three sides of the house were to be done is standard vinyl with the front side covered in something they call "cedar impression." 
This means that from far away you can fool your neighbors into thinking you're house is clad in cedar. Sweet. 

So with three sides finished and only the front of the house remaining I am approached by my carpenter and asked to choose a color. "For what?" I ask. The house is blue. We're almost done.
Unfortunately no one had mentioned to me that this new material came in only two color options at the time. White and Cream. Dad pitched, what to me would turn out to be a total design fiasco, as "adding an accent color. It'll give it some interest." 

I took design advice of a man who wore clogs with a silk blouse and installed a colored water fountain on our front lawn.  

Tonight, six years after the fact, we are still discussing affordable options for replacing this blue siding. 
While it might go unnoticed by many and it might bother even less, for someone who gets excited when Rustoleum releases a new product, I experience a physical reaction every time I drive up. 
It's akin to going to an interview and realizing you're wearing navy pants with your black suit coat. It's a clear cut mistake and if you are anything like me, you will want to go home immediately and change.

At dinner tonight in an attempt to drum up a common conversational ground with Papa I say, "so Dad. I had an idea today. Instead of taking all the blue off three sides of the house, 
maybe we take the cream off the front and make the whole house blue." 

"The white is good."

"I know Pop, but it's more economical to try and correct this in the other direction. You know. Fix one side vs fixing three."

"Fix three what?"

"Three sides of the house."

"Why would you do that. It's good enough."

"I know it is Pop, but it bothers me and people comment on it."

"Tell them to go f themselves. It's your house"

"No Dad, I can't do that. And it's not for them, it's for me. Never mind. I'll just make it a blue house."

"Blue? Our house is blue?"

Pizza

Family vacation is officially over and I’m once again glued to my computer and  telephone, doing my best to juggle two kids, an aging parent,  a husband, while still preserving a life for myself. In a nutshell,  trying to fit it all in to have the “well balanced life” we all strive for. I like to think I’m good at this.  I am overwhelmed just like every working mother I know, but if I manage to keep all the balls in the air and not lose my balance I think I can call myself successful. So what if I ate a half pound of candycorn for lunch and had breakfast for dinner? While I may be suffering nutritionally it was only for one day (Ok, maybe two).  I can start over tomorrow. My work schedule is on track, my daughter’s homework is done and put away in her backpack and everyone is tucked in their respective beds pretending to sleep. (Yes, I can hear you. GET IN BED!)  I mark this a successful day.

I do however have a couple of shameful items I want to confess.

While I can do second grade math, I can not teach second grade math. Meaning, I know the answers, but I can’t tell a seven year old how to get to them. I graduated from a top woman’s college. I was in Military Intelligence. On paper I’m pretty smart. Yet I clearly have gaping holes in my education. I have always known this and have done my best to hide it and now a seven year old is setting up to potentially blow my cover.

One of last night’s examples; If you put three white kittens in a box and then add nine black kittens to the same box and someone wearing a blindfold comes along and reaches in and takes out one kitten, what is the likelihood said blind person will pull out a white kitten? While I know the answer is “unlikely” (it’s multiple choice) I can’t remember how to write the equation to illustrate this. What I want to say in this awkward period that includes me drawing a box complete with twelve kittens, is that blind people don’t care what color their kitten is. They are blind. But I know this isn’t the right answer. The day has come where I have to relearn all of the things I missed out on while passing notes in school.

Second item.

Yesterday my phone rang while I was at my desk. It was my father. He NEVER calls me.

“Hello? Papa? are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m good. I need you to come get me.”

Slight panic, “Ok. Where are you?”

“Nissan. My brakes are no good.  I drive with the records on so I couldn’t hear them grinding.”

Dad drives with Dolly Parton cranked so loud that I can hear every syllable of Jolene from the third floor of our house as he turns the corner.  Dad calls CDs records. The “records” are never changed. He’s got the Best of Dolly, Best of Kenny, Best of Bruce, Best of Linda, Best of the Eagles and a little Jason Mraz thrown in for when I borrow the car.

That was yesterday.

This afternoon I heard a horn honking in front of our house and looked out to see a Dodge pick up truck I didn’t recognize. I walked out onto the balcony in time to see dad leaving the house and getting in the truck. My father has a lot of people he calls friends but he doesn’t go out with them and  I haven’t seen him get in a car other than one of ours, let’s say, never.

I guessed it was part of Nissan’s service to pick up their customers. This is pretty common.

At dinner I said, “So Pop. Who gave you a ride to get your car this afternoon?”

“Oh. That was a friend from the restaurant.” Really?

“That’s nice. How did he know to come get you? (He doesn’t know his own phone number so dialing a friend is almost always out of the question)

“I have the card from the restaurant. I called and told him I needed a ride.”

“Wow. What was his name? Is it that carpenter you like?”

“No. It’s the kid.”

“What kid?”

“The kid that delivers the pizza.”

“Dad. You called the pizza delivery guy for a ride to the garage?”

“Of course I did. He’s got a nice new truck.”

I would be lying if I said I have never called for a pizza to be delivered to my house after last call and then waited outside to offer the driver carrying my pizza an extra ten bucks to drive me home with it, but I have never used them for a cab service mid afternoon.

“Dad, I would have brought you.”

“It’s Ok Dee. You were busy. You can’t do it all.”

While there is a lesson to be learned here, I’m sure of it, I still feel like a heel. A heel that can’t do simple math.

My family tree is full of nuts

My ten year wedding anniversary is this Friday.

Even though we were living in Newport at the time, my bridal shower was held in Methuen.

My mother, a woman who would drive to NYC for lunch or to buy a new pair of shoes, thought that having my shower or, God forbid, the actual wedding, in Rhode Island would not only be inconvenient, but totally undoable for our family.  So for that and a variety of other reasons, we stayed local.

At my bridal shower my aunt gave me a little pillow that read “My family tree is full of nuts.”

I thought of the appropriateness of this gift last night after a trip back to the Merrimack Valley. I went home to visit my mother’s mom, my 89 year old grandmother. I consider myself very fortunate (to use one of her favorite words- pronounced “fawh- tunate”)  to still have a grandmother. Growing up we lived next door to each other and she and my aunt were our family. We never had any close cousins or a grandfather. It was just me and my sister, mom, dad, gram and our aunt, who we looked up to more like an older sister, due to our closeness in age and our envy of her super sweet burgundy leather clogs.

Sure, we had a couple of second cousins but with grandma being a Jehovah’s Witness and us being Christian, there were never family celebrations around the holidays. Add to that the 30-40 year age gap and we weren’t a close knit group.

Our family has always had lots of personality. There was our anorexic cousin affectionately nicknamed “Chubby.” And of course her brother, who long ago determining that it was too expensive to operate a vehicle, has been walking the ten plus miles to work for over 40 years. (true confession- the Methuen walker is a blood relation)

This is not only economical, but last year afforded him the opportunity to pick up a frozen duck roadside, to be plucked, stewed and eaten, making the walk to work not just cost effective in terms of fuel, but a clear savings in the grocery department as well. (true story)

So last night after several cups of tea, when I headed to the ladies room before my long trip home, it really shouldn’t have surprised me when my aunt casually mentioned that she had spray painted the toilet. Pardon me?

The seat was showing some signs of wear and tear so she decided to refurbish it with some fresh paint. Economical. But in high gloss chocolate brown? The over spray on the tank is a bit unnerving, but it does serve to refresh the worn seat and can be considered quite practical from a cleaning perspective.

I decided to use another bathroom where I could see a little better what I was getting into. Here I found a bookcase stacked with several dozen jars of homemade salsa. Makes sense. Looking to store some canned goods? What better cool, dry place than your master bath?

I guess if you view these things through the same lens you would view someone picking up, preparing and eating roadkill, they seem quite normal.

However now ten years out of the nest, from my new vantage point across state lines, these behaviors are starting to look a little odd.

A day like any other

We’ve been home now for almost a month and I haven’t seen my father since we moved back in. He went back into his room, turned on the television and shut the door. The End.

Well, not quite the end. I do have to go downstairs from my office 3 to 4 times each day to fix his television. I hear loud cursing, the usual French Canadian onslaught of anti-Christian profanity followed by the white noise of a television that’s lost it’s cable connection. I go down, turn it back on, ask if he needs anything else and get out as quickly as possible.

The ever present smell of fried food absorbed from hours spent at his favorite pizza place, combined with Old Spice and canned sardines/mussels/oysters- whatever the ocean caught delicacy of the day is- exacerbated by this week’s heat and humidity… suffice it to say it’s too much for this wolverine nose.

Every night we have the same conversation.

“Dad. Please take a shower”

“I just took one”

“When?”

“Monday”

“Dad, it’s Thursday”

“I’m not dirty”

“Dad. You stink. It’s time”

“Tabernak, ostie,  sacrament, mozusse…mon crisse” … (at which point my husband exits his hiding place in the shrubs where he’s been listening through the window, laughing, waiting for this conversation to end).

Today again…

“Dad, take a shower”

“I just took one”

“When?”

“Monday”

“Dad, it is Monday. That was seven days ago”

“Oh. Ok”

I try to be patient and kind. Which is why I’ve also been hiding in my room. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, isn’t that what we’ve been taught?

Tonight while papa was hosing off I took some time to read his mail. The letter from our attorney arrived today asking us to detail the events leading up to the accident for which he is being sued for hitting another car at the rate of 5 mph. I can only imagine the pain and suffering he must have caused his victim at that rate of speed. It must be akin to being broadsided by a bumper car at Canobie Lake…

So to put what I will be facing in court, as his caretaker and spokesperson, in perspective, let me share a family story.

When I was a college student I would come home on the weekends to work. One weekend I was getting ready when my parents came home. They were arguing loudly as they headed up the stairs. My mother had undergone six botched carpal tunnel surgeries which had permanently damaged the nerves in her right hand and she was suing for malpractrice as she could no longer use her hand to work.

Mom and Dad had just left her trial so I asked how things went.

“How do you think it went? They asked your father for his name, he got that one right.

They asked him his phone number. He didn’t’ know.

They asked his address. “I don’t know”, he says!

How am I supposed to look credible when my husband doesn’t know where the hell he lives!!??”

Classic dad answer.
“I come home every night don’t I!”

 

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

Television

Ring..Ring..

“Hi Pop.”

“Hi Dani. It’s not your father. It’s Flint Audio. We have your dad here with his television to be repaired.”

“Oh, great! He found you.”

“Yes. We just need your last name and phone number to send the tv out for repair.”

I want a show of hands. Who’s father out there doesn’t know their last name or phone number? I see one. Oh, wait. That’s my sister. Anyone else??

I don’t know many people that watch as many hours of television as my father does. I really should call Nielson. It’s a waste of his time and talent to not have him in the ratings mix. In a mere four years he has logged enough hours on a brand new HD LG that the screen officially gave up.

When dad moved in with us his cardiac surgeon told me I would have two maybe three years tops with him if, and only if, he made some significant lifestyle changes.

Four years later- maybe it’s the salt air, maybe it’s the grandchildren, maybe it’s my meatloaf, but he has managed to outlive modern technology. I believe he may outlive me.

God bless you Papa.

 

 

Brave New World

Today is our first official full day back at home. Our mail has been held for some time and while we were gone it appears our seven year old daughter has started to get her own mail. Company Kids, Mini Boden, American Girl, Halloween Express and a dozen other kid’s catalogues. My father likes to sit with the kids and sort through them marveling at the array of fancy things you can buy your children. The costume catalogue sparks the most conversation. Papa can’t retain his own street address so the fact that the kids can name every character from every film, tv show or cartoon every created is simply mind boggling to him. The part of the exercise that I enjoyed best was when he turned over this full color, glossy marvel to reveal the back cover and the affixed mailing label. “Hey! look at that! They put your name on it!” As if only the best customers get their catalogues monogrammed. Keep the dream alive Papa.

Mixed Blessings

This week we move back home. All seven of us to include one Potter League Pit-Lab and two domestic black rats.  For the past three summers we’ve moved out of our home for two to three weeks and rented our house to visiting, out of town, families. We’ve taken vacations with friends and then spent the rest of the time visiting with my in laws at their summer home in Maine.

This year we decided to try an experiment and move into another house here locally, vacating our home for six weeks. Having been conditioned to make the best of things I went into this with a pretty open mind.

Cutting your living space by seventy five percent as a married couple with two young children and your dad in tow is, without question, a pretty big roll of the dice.

Papa did have a life before he moved to the island and he certainly had other options for summer lodging. He could have stayed with his other daughter or spent time with some old friends back at home, but he opted not to. He decided to stay with us. He told me that this was his home. It’s where he belongs. I think it was the most heartfelt thing he’s ever said to me.

The summer is just about over and I have to say that living in close quarters wasn’t what I expected. I believe in expecting the best and bracing for the worst. A principle I applied when preparing my in laws to meet my parents. Papa was, unbeknownst to us, mid-stroke, which kept him from drinking, yet didn’t prevent him from referring to my father in law’s plans for his long anticipated retirement home as, “A F-ing box with a roof.”

Having everyone within arms reach was good for all of us. Without his recliner, mini fridge and own cable box, Papa was forced to spend time with his family. Without question he has watched more Phineus and Ferb episodes than a grown man ever would or should.  And my children can now add Stallone, Arnold, Willis and Heston to their most admired lists.

With my father in the next room it was easy to sneak in at night and steal his dirty clothes, wash them and place them back without his knowledge. (“Tabernac, I don’t do anything to get dirty.”) I plan to keep this practice up at home.

The social pressure of pack living has moved him to increase his weekly shower schedule from one to two or three per week and he has actually started shaving in the bathroom sink vs. in his bedroom chair. The tap tap tapping of razor on steel radiator as one dry shaves in their microsuede recliner is enough to drive the most mild mannered of adult children bat-shit crazy and I’m ever grateful for his new use of a more socially acceptable method of grooming.

I’m curious if he’ll keep it up when we get home. He’ll be the first to admit his skin has never looked so good.