"Resolve to be tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant with the weak and the wrong.
Sometime in your life you will have been all of these."
Dr. Robert H. Goddard (American rocket engineer 1882-1945)
Saturday was a pajama day for me. I placed my butt on the couch, turned on the TV and only moved when someone called from another room ... M A R R R YYYYYY!I had a ringside seat of a reality series that was being shown in its entirety on the WE channel.
The show was called the Baby Borrowers. It was an experiment of sorts - if you can call parents giving up their children to teenagers who don't have a clue about child rearing for three days an experiment; it looked more like torture for both the real parents and the wanna be parents. Here's the premise. A group of teenage couples from all over the country, are in "love" and want to have a baby (I never heard marriage or commitment mentioned - just the baby part, but I tuned in a little late). So they sign up for this reality show to find out what it's like in the real world, i.e. labor, delivery, sleep deprivation, poo diapers and, oh yeh, working a 40 hour week to pay the rent.
I felt kind of sorry for the kids. At the beginning of the first show they still had stars in their eyes. They got to sleep in the same bed in a house that was made just for them. The TV monitors didn't bother them. They were in love. They laughed.
After a few days of wearing a weighted pregnancy belly and one wisecrack from her sweetie, one girl took the belly off, locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out even to attend the classes that graphically detailed the birth process. To his credit, her partner hefted the bellypack over his shoulders and went to the class. It was pretty clear that this couple had some problems and bringing home a baby was perhaps going to be the proverbial back-breaking straw.
In the second episode, a group of parents delivered their year old, teething, not-always-sleeping-through-the-night infants to the couples. The teens were given a notebook full of instructions and then left to fend for themselves. The parents were on the other side of the make-believe neighborhood watching 24 hour monitors of how things were going. There was also a professional nanny shadowing the couple, ready to step in if an emergency presented itself.
Maternal instinct kicked in pretty fast for a couple of the pretend moms and even one of the fathers. However, the teens were like most new parents - scared, unprepared, and ill-equipped for a child that cries non-stop. Let's face it poop happens and saying the "F" word and stomping around the bedroom isn't going to change the smelly diaper.
As I watched the couples tossing pillows over their heads in the middle of the night to shut out the sound of baby wailing, or standing over the baby in a sleep deprived stupor trying to talk the child into going back to sleep, or crying to a partner whose sound sleep has not been penetrated by the screams, "I don't want to do this anymore, you do it!" I realized taking care of an older person who doesn't feel so good is a lot like taking care of an infant (maybe more like a stubborn two year old but I slept through that episode!).
Since Dad got out of the hospital, my nights have been long, my REM sleep short. When Dad calls my name, I am yanked from a deep sleep to instant movement by a great surge of maternal/caregiving adrenaline. I had no idea I could actually move as fast as I have been moving. One minute I'm in dreamland and the next I'm by Dad's bedside with some semblance of coherence. This morning I grabbed his antibiotic instead of his pain meds, then forgot the 2nd pee pill thus having to make 4 trips to the kitchen before my brain actually kicked into gear, yet in the end I got him accurately medicated. I smoothed back his hair, handed him a dry pair of underpants and crawled back into bed.
Knowing I should sleep while Dad sleeps I was unable to turn of my adrenaline stimulated brain. Memories of my first days of motherhood flooded into my foggy brain; praying for the crying to stop, pacing back and forth between my bed and the crib, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Infant rearing and parent caring are two sides of the same coin.
While somethings are the same - the round-the-clockness of routine - one big thing is different. When you are taking care of an infant, you are helping it to live, togrow. When you are caring for a parent at the end of his life, there comes a point when you realize all you are doing is marking off the days. The work is about making the patient comfortable in his last days. Days that could possibly extend into years. The joyful reward is replaced by on-going sadness.
Yesterday my Dad started talking about getting a 2nd opinion on treatment plans for recurring bladder cancer. I suppose even though we all know he's no candidate for surgery, chemo, or radiation, it wouldn't hurt to have someone other than me tell him so. But at the same time that he kind of, sort of, clung to the hope of living longer, he mentioned letting go, doing nothing, dying. Conversations like these make this caregiver/daughter emotionally confused.
It's his life. He is going to do what he has to do. At the end of our life's journey, we all have to make the decision to hold on or let go. But I find I'm caught in the middle. He's my father. I want him to live. I'm not ready to be an orphan. I want him to enjoy the days he has. I want him to smile. I want him to get fresh air, go to church, tell jokes, be happy. Even though it means I have more work to do, I'm not quite ready to let go. I believe wholeheartedly in the Hospice concept, but I'm not ready to embrace it. I rage inside because it's not even my choice. It's his.
We had a fight about pain medication this morning. For all my years of experience, I'm really not so different from that young guy on TV who cried in frustration at the baby in the crib crying in frustration. Neither children nor parents come with instruction manuals. Maybe Baby Borrowing should be a requirement. If there is such a thing as Dad borrowing, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Perhaps on the job training is a better option.
Forgetting how to be merry