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 wake to an iron sky; without a sliver of sun to lighten the density of my mind. i look down toward the pond and find it frozen too; while sounds from the road rise up through the bare trees, leaving me tense, as if house guests or repairmen or deliveries or burglars are heading up my driveway this very moment. the woodstove burns well on a day like today, but i sit at the table with my second cup of tea, unable to kindle a flame inside. i feel every bit as hard as the earth, until i look out and see the snow falling, and i surrender once again to the sweet return of its gentle rhythm–the gift of winter–an old woman’s life-giving tears.
Almost as soon as I began to set my roots down in Vermont, a quarter-century ago, it began to change me. It wasn’t always pretty, and it was frequently painful, particularly given my level of resistance, and yet, I also gave myself to it–surrendered to these Green Mountains & brooks & black flies & breasts & babies and found myself inspired by the older sisters I never had–first the homesteaders and the healers, then the advocates and the activists, the mystics and the artists--sometimes younger than me, sometimes male, and always among them–fertile permission to live my life as art–which for me means moving forward in the dark of not knowing for sure.
“Eccentric,” a college classmate once accused me, “If not for that, you’d be successful.”
She may have been right, but I wouldn’t have been “home” in that kind of success.
Tiny chirps let us know that the eggs in the nest above our light fixture have hatched,
and so this year, having failed yet again to prevent her nesting there,
we re-arrange our tiny porch to better accommodate feeding & flight,
which is to say: poop;
while eagerly awaiting the sight of little heads popping up from her moss wrapped nest.
She comes every year.
Last June Casey saw each one of her chicks take flight.
She’s been my steady companion this cold spring–flying out each time I arrive home or depart,
and then as the weather warmed, flying back and forth to the nest as I watched from the kitchen, fixing meals for my family, while she fed hers.
Last week I introduced her to a friend.
We’re all Mamas after all.
But then a day went by, and I realized I hadn’t seen her, and then another, and I was almost certain I hadn’t, so this morning, I asked Casey to check.
This year I decided or defaulted into resenting summer’s approach, which has long been my favorite time of year (ever since marriage & motherhood confined me to a state where the season of life is so absurdly short.)
So that even as I returned to my summer pleasure palace–South Pond–I resented it:
“Oh, this again…”
Which was a terrifying or at least a largely alarming state of mind, particularly after such a protracted winter.
“Had South Pond changed?
Was this what it was to age?”
But even in my sourness, there was suspicion.
Was I simply protecting my heart?
Had I lost the capacity to love in the face of inevitable loss?
YES! That was it!
I couldn’t bear another summer ending.
And so I wouldn’t love it.
But then May came, and even with all its cold rain, it wooed me.
And then June, not even through, was sweeping me off my feet.
So that I’m pretty sure that I’m falling in love again, in spite of myself, because this morning when I woke, in yet another dour middle-aged mood, I looked across the room and thought:
Look how beautiful my blow dryer.
I’m gonna take a photo of it in this morning light
and share it on Instagram”