Neatly Ironed Witnesses

These placemats. These. Placemats. Why do I still have them? They are old, and stained. They are not slick, shiny and wash-offable. I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve had them, but I know I bought them at Bi-Mart, for less than $2 each, before Cyann was born … and she’s going to be 14 tomorrow.

If you know me you know I am not a saver. I have little to no hoarding tendency. We have lived in this house over 20 years and I have several empty drawers, cupboards and shelves. I am the queen of discarding or donating. But I keep these placemats.

And you know what? They have to be ironed. WHAT?!? Back up!! Did you hear that?!? THEY HAVE TO BE IRONED. The corners curl up into a nasty mess after being washed, and I iron them. I worked in a professional environment and did not keep clothing that had to be ironed. I have an ironing board and iron only because I sew … and because I have these placemats.

They are for both casual, every day usage and formal events. Well, as close to formal as I get … if you come to my house for dinner one will be under your FiestaWare plate. Ignore the stains; if there is something crusty on it feel free to pick it off; admire the neatly pressed corners. You’re welcome.

Do I keep them because I remember Daynon and Cyann competing to get a placemat with the kitty cats? Daynon never really cared which placemat he had but Cyann loved the kitty cats so it became a sure-fire way to push her buttons. It worked every time.

These placemats saw one of the few times I lost my cool with a grandchild. Cyann, ever the fussy eater, was mucking around in her food. I was trying to get her to eat, knowing that either her Dad or Grandpa would soon lose their patience and punish her. Finally in exasperation I yelled “Eat!” And then, as the kids would describe it with eyes wide as saucers, “Grandma slapped the table!”

These placemats have seen Mike and I laugh until our sides hurt, cry until our hearts would break; fight like we were mortal enemies and make up like…ummm…well, ahem…let’s keep this G-rated.

I think I want new placemats. While out shopping I look. I note the design, I feel the fabric. I have even put some of them in my shopping cart. I just never make it to the check stand with them. There is always something that is just not quite right, so I put them back on the shelf. Eventually I will be forced to address this issue as I started out with 8 and now find I only have 6. I don’t know where the MIA placemats are. They must be like socks; tangible, physical items that just disappear, occasionally to return on moving day when you find them in a totally random location. My placemats are probably behind the refrigerator, in which case I will never see them again. I moved the fridge once, there is nothing but scary shit back there. Dust bunnies with teeth … hand to god …

All that being said, I’m right back to my original question. Why do I still have them? I don’t know, but I suspect because they are a constant. In a world rife with change, where tiny grandkids become awesome young **gulp** adults, where cancer and Alzheimers catch you off guard, they stay the same. They are a reminder of so many memories sitting around this table (with its big nail polish remover stain) that replaced the previous table (also with a big nail polish remover stain! What’s up with that?!? I hardly ever wear polish on my nails but have managed to damage not one, but two tables!!)

Our house is small and this table sits directly in front of the front door, smack dab in the middle of the living room and kitchen. I have a computer area and sewing/craft room but eventually all projects wind up out here. iPad, laptop or sewing machine sitting on top of a placemat.

Everything happens here, at this table, with these placemats as neatly ironed witnesses.

All in a day’s work.

Today’s project – hang a string of bells I brought home from my dad’s house. Don’t ask me why I brought them home as I have literally only asked for 3 items so far … and we’ve went through a lot of stuff … and there is nothing special about them except they sound calm and soothing.

I’m not going to go into detail about how I managed to hang them from the eave of our second story balcony, but let’s just say it involved a Swiffer duster wand; a rubber band to hold open the carabiner clip; a step stool and an already-in-place eye hook. (No, Ellen Weiler, there was no coffee can involved!) Needless to say I was successful in getting the string of bells hung but they were a little too heavy to catch the breeze and tinkle.

Think … think … think … It needs a wind catcher tail and some weight. Hmmmmm. Where do I go when I need to find something totally random and yet useful? Mike’s shop! That man has everything! Grab the keys and head to the front shop. I’m looking around and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A reflective strip! He won’t miss it, he has 3 more just like it! Now the idea is really starting to gel. I turn around and on a shelf I see fishing line. Perfect. Now, something to poke a hole in the reflective tape. A small screw driver, got it. I need something to hit the screwdriver with to make the hole. I’m standing in Mike’s shop. He probably has 15 hammers. But the first thing I see is a paint can opener and the handle will be just the blunt object I need. Hole poked. Done and Done.

That right there is what makes my husband CRAZY! He has caught me using his cat’s-paw to dig weeds, tin snips to cut barbed wire and an ice cream scoop to pound in a nail. He has NO imagination. I get my money’s worth out of anything I purchase, every item in my house must be a multi-tasker. Please do not rat me out to my husband. Let’s just keep the Swiffer duster and paint can opener details to ourselves, shall we? Good.

With great pride I tied my reflective tape/fishing line invention to the end of the string of bells and … … … nothing. It is too light and even though the wind catches it, it does not have enough weight to cause the bell rope to swing.

Think … think … think … what can I use to give the reflective tape a little bit of weight? Didn’t we have some left over sticky bumper things from some long ago project? I meant to throw those away, but I think they may still be hanging out in the junk drawer in the laundry room. Yes! I found them and they will be perfect, I just know it.

So, about an hour and a half later, after trying different fishing line lengths and weight placement combinations I have a wind catcher that has enough bulk to get my bells tinkling even in the slightest of breezes.

I know this is just a prototype. The backing on the reflective tape is not waterproof and the sticky backed bumper things are not going to stay in place if we get much wind. But for today I was successful and I can hear my bells tinkling as I type this. About 2 o’clock in the morning I will come up with the components necessary to have a lasting wind catcher and I’ll have to wait for another day when Mike isn’t around so I can create to my heart’s content.

Just call me Jeanneine MacGyver, Angus MacGyver’s illegitimate half-sister.

 

Let’s get real…

True confessions of an imperfect daughter.

Almost 3 years ago my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. At that time she went through an evaluation process and it was determined that she was probably 2 years into the disease. I had an “aha” moment and twinge of guilt. Not knowing what was going on with Mom I had become increasing frustrated with how self-centered she had become. I remember hanging up the phone in frustration one evening and telling Mike that my mom had become even more of a self-centered bitch than she already was.

You see, my relationship with my mom has not always been easy. I’m not going to try to analyze it in this blog post but suffice it to say she had issues, I had issues, families have issues. I believe our issues were pretty standard, with our own unique family dysfunctions. My mom has always been high-strung, nervous and cold; as her disease progressed those traits were magnified. To calm her nerves, give her a slight mental boost and soften her interactions with Dad her doctor decided to place her on her first dementia medication and a low dose anti-depressant.

What a difference! She got a boost in cognitive function and I had my mom back with the added benefit that she became more easy-going than I had ever known her to be. So here is the first part of my confession…I liked her better this way. The barbed comments, negativity and cold assessments were gone. Mom has always been sharp and quick-witted, with this change she became even funnier – no filter but also no back-handed digs. This is why I have repeatedly made the comment that my mom is gone and I am caring for someone else now.

My posts have been made during this period time. The challenges have been hard and Mom continues to decline but the relationship has been strong and easy. I’ve shared the honest truth of it here with you. But there has been another change since placing her in memory care and I know that to keep this blog real and relevant I had to confess the struggles to you, my readers.

Mom took the news of her move fairly well. We settled her in to her new apartment and all was calm. Within the first two days a change began to happen. I don’t know how to explain it, and I assume it may be common, but her mental wheels began to turn more than they have in a long time. I think being thrown into a new situation activated her “fight or flight” mechanism and she began initiating conversations again, being more aware of her surroundings and of those around her. This change also brought back frustration. She wants to know when she gets to go home. Who makes that decision? She knows she has not seen a doctor since being here so who is evaluating her? Then the issues become more personal…will she ever live with my dad again? Are other women flocking around him now that she is away? Will he move on without her? Are we dumping her? We have decided to be honest with her and answer her questions directly and with compassion. It is hard, she is sad but as we talk she thanks me for not lying to her. This tears at my heart…

Then it becomes even more personal. She is pushing my buttons; bring up past criticisms, opening old wounds, saying things that used to rile me up. I kept my emotions fairly well reined in, only popping off a sassy retort one time. Stuff it down, do what needs to be done, finish what I came to do and make sure she is settled before I leave. Done, done and done. Success.

I get in my car to head home and all those stuffed down emotions come bubbling out. I. Am. So. Angry. At her for making me feel things I haven’t felt in years. Angry at me for letting it get to me. Angry at her for ripping open old wounds. Angry at me…for gods sake she has a disease, surely what she was saying was not intentional, just a muddled up mind lashing out at the one who is near. Angry at her for…what? The past? The guilt? The shame? This interaction happened two days ago and I still don’t know. I still haven’t fully come to terms with it.

I have a therapist I see on occasion, I like to say I see her when I need to get my head screwed on straight. If you have never met with a counselor, priest, pastor…any impartial third-party, I highly recommend it. Talking things through with someone who has no skin in the game, whose sole focus is on you and your well-being, is extremely helpful. I am seeing her today. Thankfully this appointment was already scheduled – I knew I would need to get grounded after moving Mom and prior to Mike’s surgery. It is almost guaranteed that my outlook will change and I may wish I had waited until after my appointment to make this post. But I owe you all reality. I’ve promised the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, right now it is ugly. I’ll keep you updated as I work through this next phase. Being human is hard and the struggle is ongoing.

Some of you are already on this journey, some are farther along than me, some have just begun and some fear it is on the horizon. Let me tell you, it is a marathon. Learn all you can. The 36 Hour Day by Nancy Mace is a good place to start. It is a roadmap that helps set your expectations for what is to come. Your next step – get you a person; a therapist, clergyman or someone else who is not part of your inner circle. To get the most from your person be 100% honest with them. It hurts at times but if you only say what you think they want to hear, or share the version of yourself you want to be not who you are, you will not get the help you need.

Lastly, laugh when you can; cry when you must. Know that you are not alone.

The Gap

You probably knew that with what is going on with my mom a blog post would soon follow. Writing helps me. Getting the words out of my head also releases them from my heart.

I’ve known this day was coming for quite some time but I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared. Mom can rally and be fairly cognitively aware and yesterday was a good example. As each of us kids showed up I could see her becoming a little more suspicious of what was going on. We live far enough apart that other than formal family gatherings it is rare for all of us to be in one place at the same time. As the last of my siblings arrived I actually saw her start doing a head count. And then the meeting was called to order…

She took it well, my dad not so much. He was pretty weepy and had to make several trips to the restroom. We loaded up the obvious stuff and made decisions on the lesser things fairly quickly. My siblings and I work well as a team and before noon we had two pickups filled and were caravanning our way over to Mom’s new home.

This is where the picture in my head of how things would go started to deviate from reality. Not in a major way, but in minor nuances and “aha” moments. There wasn’t any hand holding from the facility. We were basically left to ourselves to move stuff in with no formal intake process. (The intake process happened later in the evening, once the chaos of the daily activities of the ward died down.) It was right at noon so they offered a lunch for mom and it was helpful to have a place for her while we setup her room and got things in order.

Once last-minute things had been brought from the house and the final touches put on the room I started to see the gap. I hadn’t really thought about it. We were all eventually going to leave. Even Dad. Mom would be left in a new and unfamiliar place. Unable to effectively get herself around so she could learn her new surroundings. Even navigating the logistics of her room will not come easy for her. I started to fully understand exactly how many things Dad has been managing. Every. Single. Day. Day in and day out.

He gives the structure to her life. Hours, days, weeks, routine, these are all lost to my mom. Dad gets her up, makes her breakfast, gets out her pills. He runs the TV and makes the calls. He knows when it is time for lunch and gets them both to the dining room…same process for dinner. He fixes her bra when she puts it on backwards. She can putz around getting dressed, lay down and take a nap halfway through the process, and when she finally emerges from the bedroom Dad will remove one of the shirts if she has put on two. In one fell swoop this safety net is gone.

My mind knows she will have a new safety net, one that will develop over time as her old one did. A safety net that will come with many extra things my dad can’t provide, but the heart discards that and runs on pure emotion; logic be damned. She will have a new safety net…

But it won’t be us.

I felt like a parent leaving a child at school for the first time. Will she make friends? What if she doesn’t get along with others? Or others don’t get along with her? Will people be respectful of her things? What if someone takes something that belongs to her? Who will stand up for her, defend her, protect her? What if she gets confused in the night?

This being a memory care facility the typical social aspects of coming into a new community aren’t there. Many residents are in their own world. Introductions are awkward at best and will probably need to be repeated often. Everyone is confused and lost to some degree. How will she get integrated? How long will it take? There is no road map. I just want a god damned road map.

I feel like a fool that these things had not crossed my mind until yesterday evening. It doesn’t change my mind on the decision that was made. This change was necessary for so many reasons; for the well-being of both my mom and my dad. I just wasn’t prepared for the stark reality of the depth and breadth of the gap that will slowly need to be filled.

I woke up several times in the night and each time wondered if she was awake, confused, lost. I want to get in my car and go see how she is doing. At the same time I know she needs time to assimilate. We need to find the perfect blend of involvement. If we step in too much and try to fill the gap she will not get the full benefit of what The Waterford has to offer for her. So, here we go, another new normal. I am getting very tired of new normals. What is wrong with things just staying the same?

The short answer is, that is life. Ever changing. There is no normal. Adapt and keep moving forward. Humankind has been doing that for years on end. I am not the first person to want the cycle of life to stop and I am sure I won’t be the last.

59 years

Tuesday I took my dad to see the last two living facility options for he and my mom. We started our tour at The Waterford Grand, an assisted living and memory care residence that is a possibility for my mom. As with every place we have visited (this was number 4) I see Dad’s shoulders begin to sag as his eyes scan the rooms, the dining area, the current residences. It is hard for him but he has very specific things he wants for my mom and there is no better way to get a feel for the facility than to take the tour. I know he is visualizing Mom here. Getting a mental picture of what this next phase of her life will look like. It is not a pretty picture. No matter how grand the accommodations, how caring the staff, this is not the future he envisioned. He often says the shine as been taken off the golden years.

Our tour guide is a nice young gentleman who shows us around the facility, pointing out the amenities and showing us a couple of different room options – private and semi-private. Dad doesn’t like the semi-private one at all. Two suites with a shared Jack and Jill bathroom. You can’t lock the barn style entry doors and he voices that concern. At this point it becomes obvious that this nice young man doesn’t really understand much about the needs of Alzheimer’s patients but he is solutions oriented so suggests putting a wedge up against the side of the door to keep it closed. I seriously had to refrain from slapping him upside the head! My mother has lost most of her reasonable thought processes due to this disease. She doesn’t shower because she can’t remember the steps it takes and the order to do them in…do you think she’s going to remember to remove the wedge so she can open the door so she can access the restroom?!? Herein lies one of a myriad of problems within the elder care community…but that is a post for another day. He means well so I refrain from slapping him or pointing out his assessment error.

We conclude the tour and as we are getting in the car Dad says that if a semi-private room is the only option available then maybe it would be OK as long as it is a woman in the other suite. Jealousy? Fear for her safety? Protection of her dignity? Probably a mix of all. He takes his duty to care for her very seriously. I tell him he has worked hard and they can afford the slightly higher fee for a private room; we are in no immediate hurry and can wait for one to become available. That seems to make him feel a little better. Restores his pride. Due to his years of hard work and thrifty living they have options. He can take care of his wife in this new normal.

Our next stop is Willamette Oaks, an independent living solution for Dad that is right next door to The Waterford. It is within easy walking distance for him to visit mom. Willamette Oaks is an establish senior community with a comfortable, home-like vibe and an involved resident community. We meet with Kay. She is a young expectant mother who has a calm, old soul, demeanor. We sit at a table in the dining hall so she can get to know Dad. The conversation is pleasant and at one point she looks my dad in the eyes and says “This must be very hard for you.” Not superficial small talk, genuine care and compassion. Dad begins tear up and cry. She doesn’t panic or abruptly move on to a safer topic. She leans towards him and reaches out a hand…and says nothing, she simply allows him to work through it and regain his composure. I love this young woman.

Dad takes a deep breath and says, as he has several times lately, “If I am going to lose her, I’d just as soon lose her.” And then he adds “I can’t even tell her what we have been doing.” He tears up again.

And that pierces my heart.

For 59 years they have made decisions together. They have had a relationship of trust. He is trying to do the right thing, see that Mom is cared for, and all the while he feels like he is betraying her.

I don’t even know how we navigate the next steps. Mom will need to be assessed by a nurse so an intake and care plan can be constructed. We will need to move furniture and belongings into her new home and make it feel cozy and comfortable. We will need to distribute so many of her things, collectibles; art work; quilts and crafts to family. Where is Mom during this process? With her decreased mental function and inability to really understand what is happening and why it must happen, being part of the process will be frustrating and upsetting to her…and not a good situation for those of us trying to make it happen. Shutting her out of the process feels wrong too, like we are setting her off to the side, or putting her in some kind of limbo, or behaving as if she has already passed away. Neither option feels good, but is something that must be figured out, and soon!

I don’t have a conclusion to this story. I don’t know how everything is going to go down. I’m going to take one step at a time, consult with experts and meet with family members. This is uncharted territory for all of us. I’ll keep you posted as we move forward. If you ever find yourself in this, or a similar, situation, it is my hope that I have helped in some way. Maybe in pointing you to a resource, or giving you a small road map or possibly just instilling some peace of mind knowing that you are not alone.

Pride

Well, here it is. My last day of work for Pacific Continental Bank. Yes, I know, technically since November 1st I have been an employee of Columbia Bank, but for  most of the non-continuing employees, in our hearts and minds, we have been employees of Pacific Continental Bank.

I’ve known since January 9, 2017 that this day was coming. I’ve had ample notice and ample time to prepare. Over the last year we (continuing and non) have celebrated a company that we had a personal stake in. That we helped build. We have mourned the loss of something bigger than just a job and losing the daily interactions with coworkers who know us as intimately as our families. But even with all that time and all the events I. Am. Not. Ready. to say goodbye.

My career has taken me from Operations Supervisor to Network Administrator to Information Technology Manager to Business Resource Manager. When I first started at PCB there were 4 offices located in Eugene, PCs were running a mix of Windows 3.0 and 3.1; the network was Netware 3.x; our core was Jack Henry 20/20 and we had a single dial-up line to the internet that I used for server patching. There was no online banking, no external email and relatively little pressure. As a young network admin learning my new duties I could bring the network to it’s knees and nobody really noticed or cared. Phones still worked, typewriters still typed and original signature cards and processed checks were still in the offices. On the core side of the house, upgrades could go bad or transactions could mis-post and as long as everything was in order when statements cut nobody was the wiser.

Fast forward 22 years and PCB has 15 offices in 3 geographic regions and a national dental banking presence. Data flows in and out of our network continuously on fiber and sophisticated telecommunications lines. Clients have a real-time view into their accounts through online banking and the ATM network. Sometimes they know there is a problem before we do!

During my initial interview with Hal, Carol and Tom if they had told me all the things I would help accomplish I would have said “I can’t do that.” There was no way I could imagine helping to implement such change! I don’t think any of us could comprehend what a group of “home-growns” could do! But we did it! We did big amazing things… and do you know how? Working with like-minded, talented bankers.

On the system side of the house we had employees dedicated to making processes work. Every day. Task oriented, project-minded people who could sit around a table, discuss the situation, crisis or project and walk away knowing their piece and also knowing they could rely on the other members of the team to do their part and do it well.

On the client facing side of the bank we had employees dedicated to building relationships with their clients. Understanding their businesses and business practices and offering solutions and support. Always championing to get them what they needed to meet their business and personal goals.

Personally and professionally, we have watched each other grow and learn. We’ve seen each other through better and worse, sickness and health, tragedy and triumph.

Yes, we had conflict. No, it wasn’t always perfect. Yes, as we were growing it was getting harder. No, I didn’t always love my job. Yes, the stress could be immense. No, we didn’t back down or cave to it. Yes, we believed in The PCB Way. 100%.

Today around 30 of us will leave our desks for the last time with a few more leaving over the next few weeks. Debbie, one of my longtime coworkers and a truly amazing, strong woman, summed it up in a Facebook post, “I’m walking across that finish line with pride.” That says is all. We built an amazing institution; we were part of something unique; we were a successful bank and Columbia paid a premium to get us. We will walk out with our heads held high. Even knowing we were losing our jobs we did whatever it took to hand over the best bank possible.

Pride.

Clients.

Employees.

Shareholders.

Community.

Heart.

The PCB Way.

 

 

The homestretch

For some time now I have had the surreal feeling that I am in a horse race. I can feel the power of the horse beneath me, legs stretching, hooves pounding, sweat flying. It’s been a long race and both my horse and I are growing weary. We round the last corner and I look to the finish line…only to find it has been moved. Ugh. What can I do? I must stay in the race. So I loosen my grip slightly on the reins, crouch a little lower and give the horse his head. At some point I realize I can not control it all, and that is OK.

The stark reality is that life is not a horse race, until you die there is no finish line. There is always that next thing up ahead, both good and bad. For over a year “the finish line” has been the end of my job. When I reach that milestone I will accomplish X and Y and Z. Wrap it up, put a bow on it. And then my mother’s Alzheimers worsened …

Things that had been easy to laugh at were suddenly serious. This is not amusing anymore. Things are rapidly becoming more than my 88-year-old father can be expected to handle. Difficult decisions must be made. Life changing decisions affecting both my mother and my father. Let’s bump that finish line out a couple more laps. I tuck my knees into the horse’s side and push through. OK, my job is going to end giving me more time and capacity to get my mother placed in memory care; my dad placed in an independent living community and disperse the contents of their home. At that point I will head to the winners circle and collect the purse. What? My husband has cancer? Are you fucking kidding me?

100% honesty here. After the shock wore off I was pissed. Angry in a selfish, poor me, kind of way. I had plans! I had this forced retirement all mapped out! My to-do list was a mile long! And then it hit me. Life is not about control. Life does not present itself in a neat package complete with a well written instruction manual. If we are provided any guide at all it looks more like something from an IKEA manual – what exactly is that chubby little guy trying to tell me?!? Life is not always an easy journey.

I have to adjust my plans. I have to cut that to-do list down to what really matters. Mike’s surgeon said something to us that touched a spark in my very soul. “After your surgery you need to plan on being off work for six weeks. Technically, even with your line of work, you could probably go back sooner, however, you have many years to work…take six weeks off to heal from cancer.” 

How often do we push through? Get back to work as soon as possible? Grip the reins and steer the horse? What if…? What if we not only give the horse his head but also relax our knees and sit upright? Or maybe we need to let go completely and lay boneless against the horse’s neck, arms dangling to each side, trusting that the horse will find its way back to the barn?

Mike is going to take his six weeks off to heal from cancer and guess what? I’m going to do the same. This is not a vacation, there are things that will need to be done, but my approach will be different. I will move forward with settling my parents; I will need to do whatever needs to be done for Mike; I will also do what needs to be done for me. I will ask for help as necessary, I will admit when I am not strong. For the first time in 30 years I will not have to meet the challenges of life while also managing a career.

I urge you all to assess what is important at this time in your life and focus your energy there. Let the other stuff fade in importance or even fall completely away. What is important will be different for each of you. Don’t judge yourself by what is important to your friends and family. Realize that over the years what is important will change often so be flexible. I’m winding down and am at the end of my career years, but for some of you, your career and building financial stability for your family may  be important now. Maybe finishing school is high on your list. Maybe building relationships, or focusing on health or paying off debt is on top for you. Make room for the things that matter.

You have many years (or not) to do X, Y and Z…but you only have a limited time to [insert priority items here]. You define your winner’s circle. You, and you alone.