nonBlog: May 2007

Click here for a possibly gratuitous explanation of why my blog is called "nonBlog" and my site is titled "Ceci n’est pas un blog."

Pre-Juvenile Delinquent—Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I believe that Greta is planning to commit a crime. There is no other good explanation for her recent questions. She started a few days ago when the two of us were in the car. Her little redheaded voice piped up, “If I drew on the side of a building and nobody saw me, would I go to jail?” I tried to explain that if no one figured out that she was the perpetrator she would probably escape jail time but that it’s still wrong to draw on buildings. It told her those drawings are called graffiti, and they are indeed illegal.
But that wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her. She persisted, “Well, if I robbed a store and nobody saw me, would I go to jail?” Now I started to worry. What was it I didn’t know about the goings-on inside Greta’s seven-year-old mind? I admit I have noticed her tendencies toward evil. She seems to have decided that since she cannot compete with the size and superiority of her twelve-year-old big sister nor with the cuteitude of her two-year-old little sister, she will subvert and obscure whenever possible. She even lies for no apparent gain, just to see if she can get away with it. What more did she have up her short sleeves? So I asked her a few questions. Are there no people in the store when she robs it? She explained that it’s closing time, right before the people leave. I asked, doesn’t she think people would see her if she was robbing them? Yes, she explained, but since they don’t know her name the cops would not be able to find her.
Days later Greta asked, “If a nanny is drinking in your house while she’s taking care of your kids, is that okay?” She quickly explained that she saw that on The Simpsons, which cut short the heart attack I was on the verge of having (although it should make me think twice about what she’s watching on TV). I thought we were out of the woods until this morning, when Tom was headed out the door to go to work. “Daddy?” she asked. “Do they feed you dessert in jail?”

Speechless—Sunday, May 20, 2007

For the second day in a row, my father has not greeted me when I’ve entered his room to visit him. Remember, I have flown 3,000 miles and taken my 7-year-old out of school on the long-awaited day she was supposed to meet her pen pal at San Francisco Day School in order to be here, but he has no hello for me. That is because there are things he wants able-bodied people to do for him the moment they walk in the door and he won’t start a conversation until these tasks are completed. Which means that he is no longer sweet, affectionate Dying Dad. He has gone back to being Chronic Dad.
Chronic Dad has never been my favorite person. When I walked in today he looked up, so I know he saw me. His face did not change. With his curled hands he reached for a small pile of five magazines on the rolling table by his hospital bed, grunting. (Yesterday he was grunting at the phone when I walked in.) For some reason the fact that a perfectly articulate man is grunting makes you behave as if he can’t speak. “The magazines?” I said. “You want me to do something with the magazines?” My father grunted again, which was not helpful. “You want me to hand you the magazines?” I asked. He shook his head. “You want me to throw away the magazines?” He shook his head again. Suddenly I remembered that my father is not, in fact, a deaf-mute and that he is doing this so that he doesn’t actually have to come out and ask for my help. If he acknowledged the fact that he was asking me for help he’d have to thank me for it, and we can’t have that.
I became suddenly and completely enraged. When I am this angry I have an unfortunate tendency to indulge in sarcasm. “I have flown across the country to see you for the first time in months and we have so much to talk about and very little time, but of course that pales in comparison to how important it is to do something with these magazines. So, fine, let’s do something with these magazines right this minute, before you even say hello to me.” I held up the first one. “Do you want to throw this one away, or keep it?” My tirade had clearly made an impression because he started making words. “Keep it,” he said. “Great,” I said. I picked up the next one in the pile, and the next and the next until it became clear that he wanted me to throw the bottom two away. This was the reason for this ridiculous game of charades. As I was tossing the final magazine in the garbage a nurse walked in to change the dressing on the open wound in my father’s knee. I walked out.
My sisters Sandy and Sharon were in the lobby keeping our four collective 4 to 7-year-olds occupied. We were taking 30-minute turns visiting my father and my visit had taken all of five minutes. They asked me what had happened. I told them I couldn’t talk about it yet and somebody else needed to go next before I finished my visit. Sandy volunteered. After ten minutes or so she came back and said, “Dad’s crying, you have to go in there.”
My father cries often after a lifetime of getting violently angry instead, possibly because of his pain medication. “I’m sorry,” he said in a high, thin voice. “I don’t know why I do these things.” I reached for a napkin to dry his eyes, forgetting again that he can wipe them himself. “Listen,” I said. “I’m sure I have no idea how frustrating it must be to be trapped in this bed and unable to do things when you think of them. I just wish you would say `hi' first. And maybe act like you’re happy to see me.” And I continued to wipe his tears for minutes afterward as he sat silently crying, making him feel better for making me feel awful, which pretty much sums up my childhood.

Undervalued—Friday, May 18, 2007

I always seem to be getting on a plane when one of my Perspectives airs on public radio. Last time one aired I was in Florence and Tom and I listened to the piece via the Internet. This time I listened while throwing last-minute items in a bag to take Greta to Florida so she could play with her same-age cousins while my sisters and I close down our father’s apartment for the last time now that he is in a nursing home and looks to stay there for good.
My Perspective was about the figure that gets published every year of the salary a stay-at-home-mom would earn if she were paid for all the work she does. This year’s number is $166,483, which just happens to ignore the fact that the actual nanny/housekeepers that working moms like me hire to do our jobs actually get paid about $35,000. In fact, that whopping imaginary salary number bothers me for so many reasons that I could easily have written two Perspectives about it—maybe three. One of the things I didn’t mention in the piece that aired is that I think the number is racist. What they mean is that if a white mother were to be paid for all her work she’d earn $166,483. It’s only the Hispanic women who do the housework and childcare for working moms whose time is worth $35K.
But if we acknowledge that the people who do the work of stay-at-home moms as a profession earn only $35K, then white women whose high-earning husbands don’t appreciate how valuable their wives’ time is will win the argument. It’s not worth much—any Nicaraguan with half-decent English can do it for peanuts. Thirty years ago my mother was one of those white women who used that overlarge salary figure to try to earn some husbandly respect—a point I did make on the radio. So when my piece aired again later that day, I was in Florida to do work for my father that his wife no longer has to do because he appreciated her so little and treated her so poorly that they are divorced. And since he is alone he has to rely on three daughters who wish it wasn’t their problem, plus a host of nurses he only wishes cost a mere $35,000 a year to do what my mother would now be doing for free.

Me Neither—Thursday, May 17, 2007

I never get tired of watching little kids acquire language. Out of absolutely nowhere Ava recently started saying “I can’t take-a more.” Like a little Italian kid who’s been pushed to her limit. Naturally we thought this ranked as the funniest kid-ism ever. “You can’t take it anymore, Ava?” we’d reply. “What’s wrong?” And then she’d explain, more or less in English.
In no time she was co-opting our response. So long, wee Italiana. “I can’t take it anymore,” she’d say when SpongeBob was over or when I was taking too long to cook her noodles. There’s really only one way to respond to such an adult statement from a gap-toothed toddler. “I can’t take it anymore either,” we’d say. And given whatever mayhem might be transpiring in the house at the time, it was substantially accurate. But of course Ava wasn’t going to let that one slide. Now, at moments when her life disagrees with her, Ava walks up to one of us, reaches up her arms, and says to Mommy or Daddy, “I can’t take it anymore either.”

Setting, Setting, Set—Saturday, May 12, 2007

I am watching a perfect, fat orange sunset from a sushi-                           strewn room at the Ocean View Lodge in Fort Bragg on the Mendocino coast.The sun is soft enough to stare at   and fronted by snowy white waves that would kill a surfer who might dare to ride them. Ava  is pointing at   the low sky and yelling, “See the sun? See the sun?” at Tom,  who  is on the deck taking photos as the sun sinks gray  into the horizon line. This is my Mother’s Day present.
Tom and I have been spending weekend vacations in Mendocino since 1990, a year before we got married. We worked for PC Magazine and went on monthly business trips to places like Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco, and the company had a policy that if you stayed over Saturday night they would pay for your hotel room because you were saving them so much money on the flight. We took monstrous advantage. We had sexy weekends from Austin to Boston and everywhere in between, and we always say that Ziff Davis financed our romance.
No rhymes in this paragraph, I promise. At any rate, I asked Tom if we could go to Mendocino for Mother’s Day because I can’t think of anything more resonant to do on Mother’s Day than to go to a place we used to visit before our marriage and all our children were even a glint in our eyes. If you ever want to see the physical manifestation of the passage of time, take your kids to a place you enjoyed when you were single and watch them react to it. Whoosh.

Riddance—Friday, May 11, 2007

Today is Heather’s last day of work. Heather is my father’s CNA—Certified Nursing Assistant—and my sister Sharon cannot wait to see her go. Heather worked for my father for the last two and a half years that he needed in-home care, and things have a way of disappearing when she’s around. Dad’s cleaning supplies, his paper goods, the change left over after she does his shopping. Heather is paid a princely sum and still finds ways to get Dad to pad her income, one of which is charming extras out of my dad that include a new TV and very nearly included a new car until my sisters and I intervened. So Sharon decided not to pay Heather any kind of bonus, and instead just to give her two weeks' notice. Sharon said that when she visited Dad today, Heather was as rude to her as she imagined was possible.
But whatever Heather has pilfered, whatever boundaries she has crossed, there is one thing we can say for Heather that we can say for no one else: Heather can get along with our father eight hours a day, seven days a week. My mother couldn’t say that and we three kids can’t say that. No friend of his can say that. Heather, by contrast, gives the appearance of actually enjoying his company. Which is why we don’t begrudge her the 12-pak of Bounty or refill bottle of Windex or $4.96 left over from Dad’s $15.04 pharmacy run.
It will be a relief to know that someone who seeks to take advantage of our father is out of his daily equation. More than that, the fact that Dad is in a nursing home means that he is no longer at the mercy of one individual whose canceled workday would mean that a bedridden quadriplegic would be alone—unthinkable—unless Sharon takes the day off of work. But my sisters and I always theorized that my father didn’t really want a wife, he wanted a nurse. Heather was that nursy non-wife and, to the degree that she gave him what he really wanted from a woman, I am sorry to see her go.

The Sixth Stage of Grief: Bitterness—Monday, May 7, 2007

I’ve noticed that my recent postings have been characterized by their—how shall we say this?—pissed-off quality. I think it has something to do with the five stages of grief. As you may remember, the five classic stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. By any calculation I should have arrived at an acceptance of my father’s situation, but I haven’t. Either I skipped over acceptance and went directly from depression to my current stage of extreme bitterness, or maybe I am trapped in depression since, as psychologists say, depression is anger turned inward.
Either way, I walk around practically cursing under my breath almost every minute I am awake. Rassa frassa frassa I mutter, or some variant thereof. I think it’s because I went through all those stages, or most of them anyway, to process my father’s imminent death from MRSA staph—and then he didn’t die. I had griefus interruptus. And when someone you adore and cannot live without is saved from the brink, this interruption is nothing but welcome and joyous. But when the person whose demise you’re processing is someone especially complicated, someone who is as hard to love as my father, it’s difficult to go backward. By the time it was clear that my father would live, I was ready for him to die.
Thus my edgy recent blogs. I am reminded, as I recognize where all these nasty feelings are coming from, that there are lots of people around me besides my father who are alive. My husband, my three daughters, my sisters, my friends. Myself. And they all deserve better from me.

Who’s Crying Now?—Saturday, May 5, 2007

When my sister Sharon stopped crying over the fact that my father will not get his wish to die at home, it was not because she got to the bottom of her tears. It was because she received several calls from my father in his nursing home, complaining that he was thirsty and nobody would bring him water. Sharon was flabbergasted. What about Heather, his private aide, or Heather’s sister Diane, Dad’s other private aide? Between the two of them they make $81,000 a year as my father’s private (meaning not covered by insurance or Medicare) certified nursing assistants. Couldn’t one of them get him some water? “That’s not Heather’s job,” Dad snapped.
Then Sharon got a call from the hall nurse at The Court at Palm Aire, Dad’s nursing home. “I think you should know what your father’s CNA’s are doing,” she said, “because I’m sure it’s not what you’re paying them for.” Turns out my father missed a medical test because he had soiled himself and Heather refused to clean him on the theory that it was the Palm Aire nurses’ job. Getting him water to drink apparently falls into the same category. When Sharon told me this we wondered, are Heather and my father sitting there together discussing how thirsty he is and how cruel the nurses are for not fetching him water when Heather is six steps from the faucet?
“I’m done,” Sharon said. She told me she would move Dad out of his apartment—perhaps the fourth time she’s had to do so in the last two years—but after that she has to let Dad take care of himself. If he’s capable of calling her a dozen times a day, as he often does, to complain about how thirsty he is while he’s surrounded by able-bodied people who are paid to take care of him, then he can use that energy to agitate until someone or other brings him a glass. Sharon needs to get on with her own life—that is, if she can remember what it was comprised of before this father who doesn’t even deserve her love commandeered it.

Sharon’s Tears—Thursday, May 3, 2007

My father was taken in an ambulance to his new home yesterday: The Court at Palm Aire, the same nursing home where he lived when he first moved near my sister Sharon over two years ago. The irony of this cannot be overstated. Dad is back at Palm Aire because he foiled Sharon’s plan to get him admitted to the much-nicer nursing home she had found, and Palm Aire is the place he so detested that after allowing Sharon to go to all the trouble of moving him across the state after he broke his ankle and ended up seemingly helpless in a wheelchair, he found himself a handicapped-accessible apartment nearby and undid all her work just to escape. Now he’s back. He’ll die there, although not anytime soon.
Sharon has been bursting into tears at intervals for the last three days, but especially Tuesday, when she found out that Palm Aire was giving Dad the only free bed in its 24-hour-care wing. I thought she was crying from relief—because she no longer had to worry that one of his caregivers might fail to show up for work; because she would no longer need to coordinate the providers for Dad’s every need; because now that he’s in a nursing home the state will take over his care if he runs out of money. But I was wrong. She was crying because now there was no chance Dad could die at home, as he had wished. My father is not very nice to Sharon, who does everything for him. He doesn’t thank her unless I yell at him. Whatever sacrifices she makes for him, he always demands more. And yet she’s crying because he won’t get to die at home.
When my father got himself ejected from hospice and we found out that his doctor was dumping him as a patient, his social worker asked Sharon why she didn’t just give him 24-hour care in her own home. Sharon took a breath and explained that, considering the kind of father Dad was to the three of us, he’s lucky we’re even speaking to him. No matter how much Sharon does for this ungrateful father of ours, somebody can always think of something more she could be doing. The fact that she’s still crying for him says nothing about him and everything about Sharon.







  • KQED Radio
    Perspective about my father's desire, and inability, to die.
  • Story in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine about English Channel swimmers who train in the Bay area.
  • KQED Radio
    Perspective about how Florida has gone into the bumper-sticker business with "Choose Life" license plates.

  • Office Mate: Why Work Just Might Be
    The Perfect Place to Find True Love
    due out fall 2007 from Adams Media.
  • Story to be published in the book Cup
    of Comfort for Writers
    , due out fall 2007.
  • Fame and fortune; date TBA

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