This post is a mushy love letter to the folks at Disneyland, whose kind invitation to their annual #Halloween Time Media Day allows me to bask in all my Disney dreams… despite the fact that my child is no longer a little kid. I am living proof that you don’t have to be a kid or have young children to have a good time at a Disney park. You can even be a woman in your 50′s and have a great time there. It’s just that the experience becomes a little different.
This giant Jack o’Mickey greets visitors to Disneyland ‘s main park at Halloween Time. And every year, I take its picture.
My sister, Linda, is also a Disneyland devotee. She dropped everything this weekend and drove down here from Sacramento so she could enjoy the Halloween festivities with me.
“I really want to spend some time at California Adventure,” she told me. The last time we visited the Disney parks together, California Adventure was torn up for its $1.1 billion renovation, and she didn’t get to see much of it at all. It’s gorgeous now and better than ever. But she wanted to see that for herself.
As it turned out, the Media Day event included a reception in a “soundstage” on the Hollywood Backlot area of the park, so that was our first stop. On the way, Linda got her first glimpse of what a billion dollars buys you these days.
I took this photo last year, the first time I got to see the new Buena Vista Street entrance to California Adventure.
“This is beautiful,” she said as we wandered down Buena Vista Street, Disney Imagineering’s re-creation of Los Angeles circa 1923, the year a young Walt Disney arrived in Southern California. Buena Vista Street is very similar to the original park’s Main Street: It greets visitors by setting the stage for all the magic that’s to come, with period buildings, shops, restaurants and transportation (in this case, a replica of the old Red Cars, which criss-crossed the region and enabled residents to travel from one end of the city to the other).
Saturday was the final day for high school seniors applying to college to take the SAT, and so it was already past lunch time when we arrived at the Park and once we had checked out the reception, my daughter and her friend went off on their own, promising to check in with me by text every couple of hours. My friend Marsha (who blogs at Sweatpants Mom) joined us in a quest for something good to eat. Our first stop was the Carthay Circle, a restaurant designed to look exactly like the movie theater where Disney’s Snow White premiered in 1939. I remember seeing that theater, and also remember it being torn down in the late 60′s. This is probably the most elegant dining establishment inside either of the Disneyland parks — it is also tough to get a reservation on as busy a day as Saturday (I know — I tried to get one two weeks ago and the only available time for dinner was 4:00 PM).
So I suggested we mosey over to the Wine Country Trattoria, where I’ve always had good luck being seated. I had tried to take my sister here on her ill-fated previous visit to California Adventure, and we simply could not find the entrance behind all the construction. We were ushered to a table right away, and that’s where we made our first California Adventure discovery: There were cocktails on the menu. Now, California Adventure has always differed from the original Disneyland Park by selling wine and beer… but it you wanted a real mojito or martini, you still had to go to one of the hotels or Downtown Disney.
“Do you really have a full bar here?” Marsha asked. Our waitress assured us they did, and in the spirit of “if you build it they will come,” she ordered a margarita with her lunch. I toyed with the idea of having a cocktail and decided I might fare better on a hot afternoon with something a little lighter, so Linda and I each had a glass of white wine. Either way, we decided that feeling free to order a drink was a major benefit of enjoying Disneyland without our kids.
Yes, when bloggers get together for lunch it is totally normal for them to Instagram their drinks.
With lunch out of the way, it was time to explore the Parks. Our first stop — as always — was Space Mountain, my all-time favorite Disneyland ride, which adds a fiery ghost for Halloween excitement this time of year. For the few of you reading this who do not know, Space Mountain is a high-speed, high-tech thrill ride — the kind of attraction women our age are thought to avoid. And I will be honest: I am not as hardy as I used to be, especially when it comes to things like motion sickness. That’s one reason why I stay away from the Tower of Terror attraction at California Adventure. I think it’s a great ride — but the only time I tried it, I thought it was going to give me a heart attack. (My daughter, however, loves it and rode it twice on this visit.)
“Uh, maybe this isn’t such a great idea right after lunch,” Linda noted as we climbed into our “rocket.” By that time, it was too late. Thankfully, we made it through the ride with no ill effect, and later rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, complete with 360-degree loop. What can I say? We may be middle-aged but we’ve still got it.
From there, we journeyed to the other side of the Park, past Frontierland and New Orleans Square to the Haunted Mansion. I was fortunate on a previous Disney excursion to enjoy this ride beside Disney’s Michele Himmelberg, who offered up lots of background on this most appropriate Halloween time attraction. I love how they pay tribute each holiday season to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Michele is the one who told me that the huge cake in the ride’s party scene is made of real gingerbread, baked by the Park’s pastry chef — and each year, he whips up something different. (This year it’s a Skellington-themed Advent Calendar.)
We did a few more rides in both parks and a bit of shopping before we met Marsha back for dinner at Catal’s UVA Bar in Downtown Disney, which is becoming a part of our new Disneyland tradition (this is my third year dining at either Catal restaurant or UVO). And this time, I did opt for an actual cocktail because the menu offerings all sounded yummy. (And they were.)
We finished by watching the spectacular Halloween fireworks show. This is another feature that is all-new every year: The one thing you can expect is that you will walk away saying it was the best fireworks you’ve ever seen.
The Park started to empty out after the fireworks, and we toyed with the idea of getting on at least one more ride. But my daughter and her friend put the kibosh on that plan: We found them sitting on a bench and looking really sleepy. They were tired and wanted to go home.
HAH! Score another one for the middle-aged moms, who were still up for more Disney fun. Then again, by the time we hit the freeway, we realized the girls’ wisdom in exiting when we did. We were tired, too. The Fitbit I wear reported that all in all, we had walked over six miles.
“You know, it really isn’t possible to do all of Disneyland in one day any longer,” my sister remarked.
She’s right. There is so much more to see than there was when we were kids, and the wait times for the “E-ticket” rides seem even longer. I’ve gotten used to leaving the Park still wanting more — which isn’t bad for an attraction that’s thought of as just a children’s place. I guess it just goes to show you that some kids never grow up.
DISCLOSURE: I received four park-hopper tickets from Disney to visit the park during their Family Media Day event, so I could experience this year’s Halloween Time. I was not compensated to do so and all opinions are my own. The print and broadcast media who were also invited don’t have to offer one of these disclosures — just those of us publishing on the Internet.
On Monday, the day after I returned from BlogHer, I went to my doctor’s office for what was (for me) a routine ultrasound. She looked at the image and shook her head.
“You have a new mess on your ovary,” she said.
I have a history of really large uterine fibroids, and it seemed perfectly natural to me to refer to them as a “mess,” because really, that’s what they are. It took me a few minutes before I realized the word my doctor used was “mass.”
A mass near or on my ovary.
That didn’t sound good.
I am really good at doling out health advice to others, but when it comes to my own well-being, I kind of suck.
I was pretty responsible up until I quit my full time job and the comprehensive healthcare plan that came with it. We went from two full-time incomes to one, and decided to give the HMO option a try. That meant giving up the beloved Beverly Hills-based OB/GYN who got me through infertility and delivered my daughter.
I hated the HMO. When the following year’s Open Enrollment came around, we switched back to a PPO. But my old doctor was not on this plan either — and so in my mid-40′s, I stopped getting wellness visits altogether. You see, I felt pretty good. OK, I was slowing down a bit and my knees had starting creaking a little. But I figured, if it ain’t broke I didn’t have to fix it.
Besides, as long as I felt healthy and I didn’t have any doctors telling me otherwise, why upset the apple cart?
That lasted until about five years ago, when I developed a pain in my shoulder. I lived with it for several months before I finally sucked it up and got someone to examine it. And the first thing she did was tell me I had a large mass in my abdomen.
After I finished freaking out over that news, I guessed that what she had discovered were my uterine fibroids, which my husband had assured me were HUGE (the lucky man witnessed their gargantuosity in the OR during my c-section). And a subsequent ultrasound confirmed that’s what they were (the two largest were the size of grapefruits).
I was referred to a new OB/GYN. My fears about getting routine medical help were confirmed: The fibroids did not bother me in the least, but they did concern my new doctors, who were alarmed at how anemic I was (the fibroids caused heavy periods which depleted my iron to frightening low levels). I told them I felt fine. They told me that probably would not continue.
At my age — 52 then — it was just a matter of time before menopause kicked in and I would stop producing the estrogen that nourished the fibroids. But that anemia was a problem… My two doctors sparred a little bit over how to treat them before settling on one procedure that resulted in an overnight stay at Holy Cross. It was deemed successful — until six months passed and I experienced the Period From Hell, which used up a half box of Super Plus Tampax EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK. I was afraid to leave the house lest I could not get to a bathroom in time to change every hour. It ruined my enjoyment of my daughter’s graduation from middle school, because I was terrified of a leak — and caused me to leave our group’s graduation party early to see one of those doctors so I could get some medication to MAKE IT STOP.
My doctor wanted to perform a hysterectomy, and she had a point. I didn’t actually need my reproductive organs any longer, and without them, I could live my life without fear of uterine or ovarian cancer. But I get emotional about losing my hair or getting root canals — I’m not real keen on losing an organ, if I can help it. And it’s abdominal surgery. Recovery takes several weeks, during which I would be unable to drive (and then how would my kid get to and from school?)
We agreed to just monitor the situation with regular ultrasounds. My last blood tests showed that I am indeed in the throes of menopause (as if I could not tell from the hot flashes!) I’m no longer producing estrogen and the growths on my uterus had been shrinking… which is why this new “mess” was so disturbing.
“Overall, your uterus has shrunk. But this new mass is unexpected.”
She ordered a blood test to detect the presence of tumors. “This test is not 100%,” she warned. “So if it turns up normal, I still want to do another ultrasound in a couple of months.”
I left her office and called my husband from the parking lot to let him know what was going on. “People in my family die of strokes and heart disease, not cancer,” I told him.
The routine doctor’s appointment had taken two hours. It was time for lunch, but I wasn’t hungry just then — and when I did get my appetite back, I decided I didn’t feel like sticking to my diet. Hell, if it did turn out to be cancer why bother with depriving myself of food I like? I was going to eat every single thing I loved that was bad for me.
And that’s why I was at Islands yesterday, scarfing up a basket of fries when the call came from my doctor’s office.
“Your test came back normal,” she said.
My next ultrasound is in October. Even if we see some shrinkage, I feel like the writing is on the wall and there’s some surgery in my future, and I’m OK with that. For most of last summer, I was unable to drive thanks to a broken right toe, so my kid was my chauffeur. She ended her driver’s training period feeling really practiced and confident and aced her driving test. And now that she has her own license, I can spend six weeks in bed without worrying about how my daughter will get to and from school.
And I will resume my diet… on Monday.
On Tuesday, I had to get my flu-ridden self out of bed and take my daughter to school.
No, the Fall semester hasn’t started THIS early (she still has another two weeks, but the summer still feels like it’s been too short). But as this will be her senior year, there are additional events and activities on her agenda. She’s been talking about next year’s prom for months, since her class raised enough money to secure fabulous space at our beautiful Museum of Natural History. And next week, she will sit for her senior portrait — so I really do have to get off my butt and make her an appointment for a haircut. And maybe a blow dry just before the photo shoot.
Today – August 1 – is when the college common application goes live for students entering next Fall. It’s show-time, folks. All the years of education, testing and prep have all culminated to this, and it’s scary as hell (at least, for ME). For my daughter and her friends, the scariest part is having to write the various personal statement essays that will accompany those college apps. So the wonderful teachers who coordinate her magnet put together an all-day essay writing boot camp to jump start the process, featuring a couple of established private coaches — and we parents were invited to sit in on the morning presentation.
As usual, we ran late — so the school library we entered was already filled with students and their parents. Fortunately, there were empty seats near Megan’s best friend and her mother, who greeted me with the confession that she isn’t ready for this.
Boy, can I relate. “I almost wish she was flunking out so I could keep her home a little longer,” I joked.
A dad at the table looked at me incredulously. “You want your kid to fail?” he asked.
“No, of course not,” I sputtered. No one is prouder of my beautiful, smart, high achieving daughter than I (except maybe her father). But the other mom got it.
“It must be a lot harder for you with an only child,” she said. “At least I still have two more at home.”
I nodded. It is REALLY hard to acknowledge that the best, longest job I’ve ever held is ending. Not “ending,” exactly, as I will always be her mother. But my role is changing, and I feel so very lost (which I suppose is what yesterday’s post was really about). Couple the sadness I am feeling over that with the anxiety I’m experiencing over where she will go to college and how we are going to pay for it… and I think it’s understandable that I’m kind of a wreck right now.
The presentation began with Audrey Kahane, who helps families hone in on the colleges and universities that are the best fit for their students. She talked a bit about why it is so much more competitive now than when we were young.
“If you got into UCLA or Berkeley 30 years ago, chances are you would not be able to do so today,” she said. The reasons:
- That same common college application that makes it so easy to apply to ten or even 20 colleges at once is one of the reasons: universities now have many more applicants to choose from, so their acceptance rates are smaller.
- On top of that, having a low acceptance rate makes them look good to the people who are doing the college rankings, so the colleges themselves are under pressure to keep those rates low
- This is one of the reasons why today’s universities recruit new students so aggressively; some even targeting kids right after they’ve taken the PSAT.
I can attest to that: we used MY email address on Megan’s PSAT and SAT tests, so all the recruiting emails come to me — and we’ve been receiving dozens a week for the last three years. Some of the colleges reaching out to her are really well known; but the majority are schools I had never heard of. Most are private with tuitions of $40,000 a year or more. There is no way we can send her to one of those without MAJOR financial assistance, and I am not talking about loans. I am terrified of seeing her start her life with a college loan that’s equal to a mortgage.
“Everyone wants to go to USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford, but the acceptance rates are extremely low,” Kahane said. “Be sure your list includes some great schools that are more accessible.”
But how? How do we sift through all those colleges? How do we find the ones who will love her enough to offer her the scholarships she would need to be able to afford this?
She has a list of colleges she wants to apply to, and most of them are the ones that are hardest to get in. I’ve told her she also needs to apply to at least one CalState (including the one that’s only a few miles from home — which actually offers the kind of program she is interested in). Living at home and commuting a couple of miles away is NOT her college dream, and it’s not mine either — but everything changed after the economy imploded and that is what we know we can afford. Even if she only went there for two years and transferred, it would make a huge difference in the cost.
Kahane talked about what colleges and universities are looking for:
1. They want to see applicants who demonstrate intellectual curiosity
2. They want to see students who have had some impact in their schools and/or communities, which makes them attractive as someone who would have an impact in college or even the world. Yale said they were looking for the next Einstein or world leader. (Well, it’s a good thing we’re not interested in applying to Yale.)
There are three steps to getting a good match with a college, Kahane said:
1. Know yourself
2. Know the colleges
3. Present your best self in the applications
Create a balanced list of likely schools, 50-50 dream schools and accessible schools (she doesn’t like to use the term “safety school”).
Once you find the schools that you like, you have to show them you like them. This does not apply to the Stanfords and Berkeleys on your list, but schools that are less selective do need to know that you really are interested.
The biggest way to demonstrate interest is to apply for early decision, but since that is binding, you should only do that if you are absolutely certain you will go if accepted. This is not a good route for someone who needs to compare financial aid packages between universities.
You could also apply for early action, which doesn’t require a commitment so this could be a good thing. However, this is not a good idea if you need an extra semester to up your GPA.
Some colleges actually track how long you spend on their websites. (Ha! This might explain some of those emails we continue to receive from schools that caught my fancy — but offer nothing my daughter is interested in.)
As Kahane spoke about the goals of the college essay, I realized that her advice could easily apply to blogging. I imagined hearing her advice at one of the BlogHer writing labs I wanted to attend but somehow could not find the space in my schedule to do so:
The goal of your essay is not to impress, but to create a bond with the reader (who may be reading hundreds of essays a day). Find a story that reveals something about you that admissions officers can’t tell from other parts of the applications. The most effective essays may focus on a moment that made students see their world differently.
Show that you are an intelligent person who thinks about things. And most of all, make sure it has personality, is concise and easy to read. It should have a conversational voice.
And remember: the first draft does not need to be perfect. Get it out and then rewrite it until it shines. (I wish I did this more with my blog, but I am such a slow writer that all I ever do is post first drafts here — which may be why everything I do is so flat lately, compared with my posts during the gymnastics years, when I spent my afternoons sitting in a gym with nothing else to do.)
That’s a lot, but the second speaker — Julie Ferber Frank — had even more to say. I am not going to even attempt to paraphrase her advice here, because the handouts she brought are online at her website, AdventureEssays.com. I left the parent part of the boot camp feeling both reassured — and more anxious than ever. I thanked my daughter’s teachers for putting the event together, and thanked the lecturers for sharing their knowledge with us all, and left my daughter and her friends, who were spending the rest of the afternoon beginning the first drafts of their essays.
On the way home, I told my daughter I thought we should hire one of the consultants to help us with her college search. This is a big concession for me, because I tend to think of private education consultants as unnecessary ventures, designed just to make me insecure enough to part with what little money I have. My kid has done very well without going through the private coaching and tutoring so many of my friends’ kids have endured. Could she have done better? Maybe. Would I have signed her up for extracurricular tutoring if she was not the kind of student she is? I’m sure I would. But so far, we have not needed it and it feels funny to be considering that now.
I never needed to hire a consultant to help me get into college, but everything was so different 40 years ago. For one thing, our high school offered counselors who took the time to get to know each of us. My daughter’s high school has one counselor for every 800 or so students, and getting in to see one isn’t easy. When I applied to college, my parents told me I could go anywhere I wanted — as long as it was a public institution in Los Angeles. I applied and got in to both UCLA and CSUN, with just a 3.31 average. As Kahane said, I would not be even close to UCLA today.
My daughter was kind of appalled at the suggestion that we talk to an outside counselor as we begin this process. She feels she has it all under control — from her college list to the essay writing. I wish I had that same confidence.
I look back at my daughter’s young life and realize that I felt this same anxiety with every new phase of her education: from choosing a daycare I could trust with my newborn infant when I went back to work… to preschool, to kindergarten, to middle school and high school. I stayed up nights, worrying — was I doing the right thing for her? Would my decision help or hinder her development? Would she be safe? Would she make friends? Would she do as well academically in public school as the kids who could afford the area’s best private schools?
Each and every time, once we got there, my worries were laid to rest. She was in the exact right place at the exact right time for her. She’s done well and has grown up to be a capable, smart, independent young woman. Everything I want for her.
I tell myself I need to step back and let this process take its course. I need to stop worrying. Now is the time to focus on ME and what I will do next year when I no longer have a child to take care of. The thought of her leaving makes me tear up, even as I write this.
But of course, I won’t stop worrying — about either of us. Not yet. I’m not ready.
I just received a reminder about my high school reunion, which is taking place this summer.
I tossed it straight into the circular file. As I said when I received the “Save the Date” notice last year, I don’t do reunions any longer. That’s what Facebook is for.
Besides, I’ve spent the last 40 years trying to forget the horrors of being a teenage girl at an American high school in the late 20th century — and I don’t need to spend an awkward evening with a bunch of my peers whose only thing in common with me is that we served time together 40 years ago.
I know – that makes it sound like high school was pure torture. That’s only half-true. It was also an exhilarating period of my life, filled with friends who I was convinced were all going to change the world. As I thought I would do — even though I was a socially backward skinny teen who had trouble making friends. I just knew that once I was an adult, all of that would change.
And for a while, it did. My first jobs out of college had a modicum of glamour. I interviewed rock stars for a living. I worked in television. I traveled.
And as much as I tried to forget the teenaged me, she refuses to stay buried. Today I’m a socially backward, pudgy middle-aged woman without a lot of real accomplishments under her belt. I don’t feel like affirming the opinions of those who won’t be surprised by that. That is, if anyone remembers me at all.
I might feel differently if I had moved away from here. But since I remain, a day does not go by when I am not reminded of something from my youth. Like yesterday, while driving my daughter and her friends home from a day at the beach, we ended up passing an apartment building that had been home to two of my high school friends who got married at 19. A block up the street we passed the hospital where another friend had some scary surgery. And across the street from there was the corner where another friend died in a car crash.
By the time I was 40, five of the kids I hung out with in high school had all died: Two suicides, one AIDS, one cancer and the aforementioned fatal accident. The couple that married too young eventually divorced, and after that I was dismayed to learn that the relationship had been abusive.
I suppose part of my reluctance to revisit those years is a fear of what I might learn about the real lives of my old friends.
Better to remember each other when we were young and had bright futures.
At least on Facebook, I can choose the side of myself I wish others to see.
heart attack anatomy (Photo credit: gandhiji40)
I’ll get to the point as quickly as possible:
1. Yes, I spent Friday night in the hospital.
2. I am fine.
After spending Wednesday and Thursday picking up the pieces from my delayed trip back from Denver, I was finally set to work on Friday. You would think that all the notes I take would make it easy to write up a report on the conference I attended… but I’m an excruciatingly slow writer and I was only about a third of the way through at noon, when the pain hit.
The attacks began when I was in high school: A vague feeling of discomfort would turn into an intense, unrelenting ache deep inside my mid-section, and there was no escape. Laying in a fetal position would alleviate it for short bursts of time before it would come back in strength and I would have to try something else. The pain would usually hit late at night and last for hours, until I finally got to sleep… and when I’d wake up, it would be gone.
The stomach aches came with increasing frequency when I was at UCLA, and I took advantage of the student health services to get completely checked out. Test after test after test turned up no physical source of the pain. I came to the conclusion that they were related to stress (even though I could never pinpoint any one thing that served as a trigger; in fact, they usually occurred at times when I was not overly anxious about anything). After I transferred back to CSUN and was living at home and the pain would hit, my mom would slip me one of her Valiums, which would put me to sleep and make the pain go away.
I gradually stopped having these attacks, and by the time I got married, they had stopped entirely.
Until two weeks ago, when that familiar, awful pain hit me on a Saturday night and kept me awake into the wee hours of the morning. In desperation, I popped a Vicodin left over from last year’s broken toe episode.
And then it hit me again on Friday. And there was something different about it.
The pain wasn’t just in my belly. I felt it in my back, my left shoulder and arm… and in my chest.
Now, any of these pains could be just normal wear and tear on my middle-aged body; the difference could just be because I’m not 17 any more. But because I’m not 17 any more, it actually could have been something way more serious, according to the American Heart Association:
Heart Attack Signs in Women
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
Something similar happened to one of the other bloggers who attended the Lifesavers Conference in Denver. I commented on her post. I wondered if the pain I was feeling was just the power of suggestion. But I also remembered my grandmother, who had her first heart attack at 50 and a stroke at 55. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago and since menopause, have gained a lot of it back very rapidly. That’s not good for your heart.
I decided to get myself checked out and drove myself to the ER. In hindsight, that was a stupid thing to do, because there were moments during the drive when the pain was so bad I thought about pulling over and calling 9-1-1 after all.
When you check into an emergency room complaining of chest pain, they don’t mess around. It did not take long to get me on a gurney and hooked up to monitors. I was given nitroglycerin. They took a lot of tests, including an ultrasound of my chest. The technician thought it looked good. I was relieved and expected to be released.
And I felt foolish, for wasting everyone’s time and scaring my family.
“You did the right thing in coming here,” the ER doctor assured me.
In fact, there was one test that came up negative, indicating a possible blood clot in my lung. I was admitted overnight for observation, and I underwent a cardiac stress test the next morning.
The cardiologist’s conclusion was that the chest pain was heartburn (also common for overweight people my age). He prescribed Prilosec and told me to reduce my caffeine intake. I was released late Saturday and am following orders and am seeing how much I can get done without my coffee fix. In the meantime, I now know my heart is strong and I can stop worrying about inheriting my grandmother’s cardiovascular problem — and focus on doing all I can to keep myself from developing one. I started a daily walking regime last month; I am going to step that up.
As for the weight: I’m at my wit’s end. But as long as I stick with food that is heart healthy, I should be OK.
Welcome to the blog carnival featuring some of the blogosphere’s most eloquent writers. We’ll be highlighting the work of 8 women who write about what it feels like to be a primary caregiver to someone who depends on you — whether you’re on vacation, it’s a holiday, it’s an emergency at three in the morning, or through all the highs and lows of sickness and health.
We’re continuing to bring attention to the important work that caregivers willingly do. So let’s give thanks to the caregivers in our lives for unpaid work that weaves so many lives together, yet can often leave the caregiver herself or himself frayed and unraveled.
Thank a caregiver today! Tell them how much you appreciate their efforts.
We spent Saturday afternoon visiting some local attractions with my friends Nancy and Niles. But first, Nancy had to make sure her 92-year-old mother was comfortable. She was just getting down to breakfast when we arrived.
“You may want to take a shower while we’re gone,” Nancy suggested to her mom. She sighed to me. “She’ll probably still be sitting there when we get home.”
The three of them have been living in Nancy’s childhood home for several years now, ever since Nancy realized her mom was no longer able to care for herself. Her friends (including me) thought this was a terrible idea, and we told her so. But without resources for full-time care and no siblings willing to help, what was Nancy to do?
Since then, Nancy has had problems of her own. She’s been treated for cancer — TWICE. And a couple of years ago, she was dealt the cruelest blow of all: Her 54-year-old husband Niles was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Nancy supports them all. She works from her home office a few days per week, but cannot be home all the time. Leaving the house often means hiring someone who can watch over her mother. And after Niles’ recent chicken-in-the-microwave mishap (which caught on fire), she worries that he can’t be left home without supervision, either.
According to the AARP, Nancy is one of 34 million Americans who care for an adult family member with an illness or disability. An additional 13 million people care for children with special needs. Two thirds of these unpaid family caregivers are women. They may be caring for elderly parents, disabled partners, or children with special needs. Many lose hours at work or have to quit their jobs in order to give the care their family members need. This affects their future income, as well, causing them to retire with lower Social Security benefits.
AARP estimates that the worth of all the unpaid care in the United States totals $450 billion annually.
Niles has been a part of our extended family for over 30 years. He was a special guest at our small wedding (only 35 people attended), and he met Nancy the following year when we celebrated our first anniversary. We were witnesses when they got married on Valentine’s Day 11 years ago. They were both regular guests at all our holiday celebrations: Thanksgiving, Passover, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year. But once they moved back in with Nancy’s mom, getting out for an evening or a weekend was no longer easy — even when mom was included, Nancy’s attention was on her: seeing that she had a comfortable place to sit, helping her with her meal, helping her to the restroom, and leaving early. And now Niles needs her for most of those activities, too.
We hope to get together with them for a nice dinner before Christmas – but much will depend on whether or not Nancy can find someone to watch her mom so she and Niles can go out. I would love to give Nancy the gift of time for herself. I think she needs it.
This holiday season, show the family members and friends who are doing so much to help others that you care. Visit GiveACare.org to personalize a video greeting for the caregivers in your life.
DISCLOSURE: I have been contracted – along with some of the other MOMocrats – by the Give A Care campaign to raise their profile through social media. If you have a caregiver story to share for our blogger carnival, please leave me a comment below. This post has been revised since its first appearance at Thanksgiving.
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