In the middle of winter & now into spring–on snow-covered roads and icy ones and mud-ridden too–I find myself traveling to the bedsides of those who are aging in place in my part of the state; and I am astounded by their spirits and by the devotion of their caregivers, and also by the plight of adult children caring for parents, or one spouse caring for another or siblings doing the same.
I am struck when I hear that opting for Nursing Home care comes with fewer strings, financially & practically; and this reminds me of my early years at home with my babies, if only I’d chosen a daycare to raise my little ones, it could have been subsidized, but if I gave up my career to be with my children so that they too could “age in place,” I would lose my foothold in the work world and exponentially lag behind in my capacity to earn and thus become increasingly disheartened in that regard, not to mention less and less represented in the wider world.
Unlike some of our counterparts in the developed world, we do not prioritize those who need care and those who give care–to the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the refugee, the lonely, the downtrodden, the minority, the mother, the child–namely–women–who as a result of unpaid/underpaid caregiving are among the most impoverished around the world no matter their race, educational background and marital status; and increasingly so as they age, with a wider income gap between women and men in the United States than anywhere in the Western world.
When my children were young, I tended to them in much the same way as I would have wanted to be tended, and I imagine the same is true for adult children caring for parents.
“We’re next, Kelly,” said one such caregiver, as she looked me in the eyes, and this is quite a sobering thought, particularly as I see parents become children, and then infants, in their offspring’s hearts.
My youngest was in his 1st year of preschool when we cleared the land, and now he’s in his last year of high school, and finally I’ve stopped demanding/dreaming/coveting my neighbor’s eastern exposure; and instead come to delight in the way my wintry days begin as a jewel, sparkling through his trees, into my welcoming hands.
(And maybe it takes 9 years of prayer to surrender to the gifts in our own hands.)
I step outside the bakery.
The flakes are wondrous.
Shops along Main Street empty of keepers and customers wanting to see.
All the kids are still in school so it’s just us grownups.
And even if you are as old as me, you can’t help but stick out your tongue, and effortlessly share in winter’s communion. The holy sacrament. Of snow.
Despite the magic, I decide that I better head home.
I drive slow out of town.
I approach a standstill at Route 9, the highway that leads to my mountain home.
I turn into the Chelsea Royal and attempt to assess the situation.
Is that a farm vehicle? A truck?
I turn around. I’ll take the back roads.
I stop for WIFI to share an update in on our community Facebook group, but the power is out at Dunkin Donuts, and at both the gas stations, they tell me.
A fire truck speeds by.
Must be a pole down.
Live wires, someone says.
I pass a vehicle in a snow bank, another in a ditch.
An ambulance speeds by.
A police car.
I stop at my dentist office, but it’s closed.
I stand outside the door and use the WIFI.
I take the road past Lilac Ridge Farm because its flat.
I stop for a photo. I pass Round Mountain, and use my mind to capture its majesty because I need traction now as Ames Hill Road begins to climb.
Cars without snow tires or studs or without steep slippery driveways like mine are pulled to the side of the road or stopped altogether in the middle or somewhere else, unintended.
I consider pulling into the Robb Family Farm myself, but all the spaces are taken. I remember the night of Irene, how this farm was the turning point, of no turning back, and how passing it, even months later, brought back the terror of that drive home. Of roads eaten away by water. Of a car, hanging in a ditch. Of trees strewn everywhere. Of boulders appearing where a dirt road was supposed to be.
One more turn up hill, and there are too many cars paused, and I become one of the casualties, and slide to the wrong side of the road, but still on it, and kind of out of the way.
Others speed by.
My heart swells with envy for AWD and especially trucks.
They resent me, and those like me, in the way.
I roll down my window.
I talk to a friendly guy named Jeff, heading to town, who offers to push me.
I don’t think that’s a good idea, I say, just as Jeff does a dance that takes him swiftly to the ground.
Other drivers stop to make similar suggestions.
I hand out my last Lake Champlain Valentine chocolates to each one–to my brother in law who was one of the cars I passed earlier, but then passed me after he put chains on his tires; and to my neighbor who volunteers with the Fire Department and who radios in about the condition of the road, and who helps spin my car downhill and temporarily into a driveway; and to the guy in the truck who later tells me, when I start to head back down to town, don’t do it, it’s worse that way now, cars allover the place.
And so I sit in my car on the side of the road, facing the right way now,
And hope no one hits me.
And change my mind about which seat is the safest, and whether or not I should wear a seat belt.
I have my laptop, but I’m too anxious to work.
I inventory my car’s contents.
I pick up trash.
I inventory my trunk’s contents.
I change my seat three times.
I regret my generosity with the chocolate, just a little bit.
There are no snacks in car, not even left behind on the floor or the seats. The kids are grown.
I have three blankets, and a flashlight. Nightfall is about an hour away.
A pair of gloves.
I have water. I even have chai.
But I have to pee so I can’t have either.
I could pee outside. I have tissues.
The snow bank is too deep. The road too slippery. The house across the road empty.
Cars heading uphill slow to a trickle.
Cars downhill still at a standstill.
Then, wait, what’s that?
It is, IT IS!
A SANDER barrels by, spraying delicious, dark chocolate dirt across the road.
I wait until the road around me is completely empty, and then I climb over the stick shift, and into the driver’s seat. I back up. I spin around. I decide on heading up hill–the direction I was forced to abandon over an hour earlier.
I don’t see another soul. I climb out of Brattleboro, past the sheep farm and the apple orchard, and approach the line into Marlboro, neatly delineated where, to my dismay, chocolate ends, and vanilla begins again, and yet the familiarity lends comfort, even without traction.
As I crest the last climb, the snow suddenly stops, and the sun arrives, welcoming me home, or mocking all the dark drama down below.
I pass the cemetery. I pull over to take a photo of the sky passed Liz and Craig’s.
The road beneath my feet is slick.
My neighbor, the fireman, passes me by again.
I turn downhill onto MacArthur, the road which bears his name.
I drive even slower. Test my brakes.
Wave past his aunt’s house.
The world is milky white and silent and stunning.
I photograph his grandfather’s house from below.
I forget that John died just last month.
I approach my own land. I slow for a man with two dogs,
and then accelerate again to get up my driveway, but pass it when I find it overflowing.
How has so much snow fallen in such a short storm?
I continue down to Camp Neringa, turn around in the driveway, exhale when I don’t end up stuck or in a ditch.
Tuck my car on the side of the road.
Hike up to my house.
Look back at the narrow path of my boot prints.
Gather wood from the shed for the fire.
Sit in the dark as the sun goes down.
Hold a flashlight.
Wait for the power to go back on.
I first met Connie in Chile at an international conference for the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living. Geographically speaking, Connie and I were neighbors, but the lifestyles and topography of Manhattan and Marlboro were worlds apart–her island that never sleeps meets my mountain town and dirt roads without a traffic light in sight.
Santiago is where the conference took place. It was 2011. I was the Assistant to the Director of Federation EIL. Connie served as our United Nations representative. This immediately lent her my affection. (I’d had a thing for the UN since I was a kid.)
Connie didn’t make it to the conference the following year in Japan or to the one after that in Vermont, and I didn’t make it to Ireland, and neither of us was in New Zealand, but our friendship, seeded in Santiago, deepened into a seasonal rhythm that presenced itself each March around the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW.)
“Expect chaos,” Connie wrote, when I first inquired about how to navigate the event.
Thousands of NGO representatives–mostly women–from around the world convened each year at the United Nations; which I found so thrilling, that I kept returning. Each time Connie encouraged me and we shaped plans to get together.
That first year, we met up between meetings, and later in the week for lunch, and on the last evening, Connie invited all the representatives from our organization to her home in the Upper West. She cooked. We brought salads and desserts and wine.
This ritual of connection continued year after year. One March, Connie and I caught up for lunch at the American Wing at the MET. Another time at Pain Le Quotodien on 2nd Avenue; while last year, a bunch of us gathered back at her home for dinner after the day’s events. Connie cooked then too. We provided the accessories again. Everyone stayed late into the night.
In the kitchen, Connie told me that she hadn’t made it to any of the meetings; that she’d been at the doctor’s. She shook her head as if to say: Things don’t look so good. I hugged her more earnestly that night.
When I returned to New York a year later for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, I saw Connie everywhere. In the park. At the MET. At Pain Le Quotodien. At the United Nations. At the Church Center across the street.
I’ve been home from the city for about a week, settling back into the rhythms of my dirt road, and now is about the time when she and I would exchange a volley of emails about the results of the Commission–where there was hope and where there was frustration–and Connie would invariably include a photo or two of spring in New York… a flowering tree perhaps, or a set of bulbs pushing through the ground in Central Park–to serve as an encouragement–to both of us–at the end of a long, cold winter.
This year, spring has come early to both Manhattan and Marlboro.
Look Connie… even in my backyard…
A former member of the US Committee for UNICEF, Connie Crosson served as the UN Representative for The Federation of the Experiment in International Living from 2008 until her death in 2015. Connie was a graduate of the School for International Training (SIT) at World Learning, a mother of an Experimenter to Germany, a host for many other Experimenters from around the world, and the director of a management training and consulting firm for nonprofit organizations.
We tucked our celebration away at the end of December, but the holiday season has dragged into the New Year for our family–by the Merry Mulch Fundraiser.
On any given day, we receive 7 to 21 calls about Christmas trees. (Of note: Despite a progressive populace, not a one referred to theirs as a Holiday Tree.)
Our son volunteered to receive these calls to offset the cost of his highschool band trip. His mother, who did not play a band instrument, is a writer. Self-employed. In the home. Which is why it was both necessary and excruciating to succumb to this daily intrusion. (I stopped answering the phone in 1989.)
On any given evening, my son spends 20 to 60 minutes replaying (and replaying and replaying) messages; compiling information; and making follow up calls.
More than the volume of Merry Mulch activity, we are surprised by the volume of good will. This is its 27th year of the Music Department fundraiser at Brattleboro Union High School. Some of the callers let us know that they have been participating since its inception. One woman informed my son that she was the one to conceive of it.
Our hearts are equally touched or tickled or annoyed by the characters we find on our answering machine. The warm and gravelly sound of an older man. The busy staccato of the cell phone caller. The confused caller. The comedic one. The irritated. The kind. The repetitive. The overly informative. Their quirky names. Corky. Junio. A woman named Mann. (My son wishes he could meet them all!)
When Aidan showed up at school that first week with close to 100 orders, the band director offered to place our phone number last on the radio and newspaper call list instead of first.
I am almost certain that we will never (or always) do this again.
Note: if you live in Brattleboro, here is the link to more information. There is one more pick up Saturday remaining. Calls must be placed by Thursday. Please don’t call the first number. http://buhs.wsesu.org/merry-mulch
I arrived in the city engulfed by the enormity of the population here, feeling both crowded and alone, intruded upon and abandoned; but over the course of 7 days, I began to notice patterns beneath the surface of chaos…
In the way one woman’s thigh comfortably flanked mine in the subway car.
How we could each let our guard when other women were beside us.
The framed Maya Angelo poem on the wall of the subway car. The Courtesy Guidelines chiding “man sprawl.” The Sexual and Inappropriate Touch warnings.
The kind voice of the driver over the loud speaker, welcoming visitors, students, residents and indicating which stop we were approaching and which one was to come.
The sense of collective relief when a handful of passengers made it through the doors just before the train departed again.
How we all ignored the man with the atrocious cough, and the other one who attempted to speak to each of us as he stumbled through the car.
The pause of the elderly woman to thank me when I put out an arm to help her to her feet.
The circle of officers chatting on the platform.
The laughter and awe of a crowd circling a performance of dance at the station.
How quickly the Shuttle, the Downtown, the Uptown, the 6, the 1, became familiars.
The constant deluge of billboards on walls, and stairs, and subway cars advertising the latest play or upcoming television series that I desperately wanted to see simply to resolve the pressure.
How I rushed like the rest of them, even though I was in no hurry.
How I wished I was a smoker, not for nicotine, but for the reminder to breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.
Stopping to help a foreigner purchase a subway ticket.
The searching smiles of other passerbys. The ecstatic traveler.
All those unplugged, and all those talking to themselves, with and without, wires.
Pointing the direction to Central Park.
The new baby at the cafe. The new baby on the subway car. The new baby in her father’s arms.
Lovers. School groups. Tour guides. Families.
Two different women who told me not to park there because if I didn’t get a ticket for the fire hydrant, I’d get a ticket for being on the wrong side.
The man on the stoop who told me that the sign about “No Standing” confused him too.
In this clashing culture of crowds and singularity, there was so much separation, yet there was also communion, and it was abiding and filled with the absence and presence of love.
It’s awkward to admit, but despite being a yoga instructor, I’ve never been particularly absorbed by the mechanics of the body, until this past week in New York.
The city is infinite in its pleasures, and I don’t need to count the ways, but the ability to drink without driving is high on my list of appreciation, along with the MET and outdoor cafés and gorgeous men in suits.
Still, my deepest gratitude goes to my feet. These 51 year old friends walked mile upon mile, day after day, on hard concrete, at a pace set by a city that never sleeps, without complaint, or at least not a complaint that could be heard over the outlandish display of outrage offered by my right hip on days 2 and 3, or the moans of my left knee on days 3 and 4, or the whining of my inner thigh on days 4 and 5.
In fact, I didn’t hear from my feet until the last two days, and even then, it was barely a peep.
Ironically, in the weeks preceding this trip, I expressed a desire to deepen my relationship with my first chakra, and that I did, carefully noting the relationship of the muscles in my hips and thighs, knees and feet, calves and arches; creatively exploring stretches to support and counter each strain and pain and resistance.
While others stared impassively or curiously, I played with the mechanics of my body at every red light, in each subway car and in a handful of conference rooms at the United Nations.
My body, in all its wisdom, had designed a personalized anatomy course just for me.