If I have the luxury of time, I head to the mountains. One of my favorite things to do is hike without the consideration of time. Wandering up hills, down paths, staring at the sky, sitting still on a rock or hillside, embracing the quiet. It’s my time to think about hard things, or nothing at all.
If I don’t have the luxury of time, I head to my back deck. Our house is built on a hill, so even though the deck is off the main floor, it’s among the treetops. In the summer, I’m surrounded by a canopy of hemlocks and maples, green all around. In the winter, it’s more stark, but still offers me a quiet escape, even if only for a few minutes.
I don’t really have playlists. I love music. I love playing the piano. I love listening to live bands. I love listening to music on the radio or on Pandora. But I have never taken the time to curate a playlist.
If Mom and I are in the living room, then it’s a Pandora “Classical Music” station. Lots of Pachelbel and Bach and Beethoven. She “journals” – cuts up the daily newspaper and tapes it into a composition notebook. Sometimes right side up, sometimes upside down, sometimes mismatching articles. And coloring around the newspaper clippings with colored Sharpie markers. I’m generally clearing out my email inbox or reading. The classical music is a lovely background for either.
If I’m in the car, it’s usually the Hamilton soundtrack. I know it’s years old, and I still can’t resist singing along, very loudly. It brings back such lovely memories of seeing Hamilton in San Francisco with my theater gals, and with my parents. And memories of a Hamilton-themed Bat Mitzvah, so much dancing and exuberant joy with good friends.
Without a doubt, my smile/sense of humor/laughter. That’s kind of three things, but more like multiple sides of the same coin/die. I love to laugh, and I laugh often. It makes me so happy when people like to tell jokes. I generally can’t recall punchlines, so you can tell me the same joke multiple times and I will laugh as though it’s the first time I’ve heard it.
Mom likes to sneak up on me and tickle my neck, which drives me crazy. I’ll lift my shoulders so high I look like a turtle pulling back into her shell. We’ll pretend to tickle each other and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Word humor and puns bring me so much joy. I’m lucky that I work with really smart people who are quick witted. They’ll share plays on words and puns in Slack, and tears will run down my face because I’m laughing so hard.
I also love reminiscing and laughing at funny memories, especially if the person/people I’m reminiscing with enjoys doing so. One person will say, “Do you remember when…” and another will add a detail, and then another will jump in, and then we’re all laughing hysterically. And it feels so good when I’m laughing so hard that I can barely breathe, tears are pooling in my eyes, and my stomach hurts from guffawing.
Mom has been begging for a dog and cat for several weeks. I thought this was a passing fad. It’s not. Several times a day, she says, “When are we going to get a dog and cat?” She cuts out pictures of dogs and cats from the newspaper and leaves them on my desk. When she asks, I tell her, “Sure. We’ll look for one soon.” All the while hoping she’ll forget about this desire. (Note: I would love to get a dog, and I don’t feel I could successfully take that on right now.)
One of my water aerobics pals suggested a robotic pet. I did some research, and it seemed robotic pets are a popular solution for people with dementia who want an animal. I ordered this cat, and hoped for the best. It arrived today while Mom was at adult day care. I unboxed it, disposed of the box in the recycling, and familiarized myself with the cat. It purrs, it meows, it lifts its paw, and it sheds (really? that’s a feature of a fake pet?).
When we arrived home, I told Mom to sit on the couch and close her eyes because I had a surprise for her. She closed her eyes tightly, and I brought the cat in. I placed it in her lap, and told her to open her eyes. She stroked the cat, smiled, looked at me, and said, “It isn’t real.”
Well, this wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. I smiled and said, “It’s a cat! Don’t you like it?” She petted it, and it purred loudly. “Put it over there.” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. She took the cat and placed it in front of the fireplace. “That’s where she belongs.”
She sat on the couch and looked at the cat. “Is it real?” “Yep, it’s a cat.” She walked to it and leaned over, “Hey, honey sweetie. How are you baby?” She then looked at me and asked, “Where’s the dog?”
I returned to the website and placed another order…
My dear friends, R and W, had converted a huge tree into a camper van. They had built it themselves, and you entered through one rounded door (that’s probably against safety regulations, but it was a dream). The canopy of the tree included both a captain’s station (driver and mate) with a huge windshield, and multiple beds in a loft. The downstairs was beautiful handiwork (wood, of course), with nooks for reading as we were driving. The vehicle was large enough that no one got motion sick, even if we were walking around or playing cards. We were on a road trip, and entered a National Forest (?) or tourist attraction (?) where there were many trees. But also pathways, with lots of people. We parked the tree car, and got out to wander on the trails and get something to eat. As we started walking, I said, “Hey! Shouldn’t we lock the car?” They laughed, saying that no one would suspect it was a car; it blended right in. They were right. 🙂
If you could, what year would you time travel to and why?
I’d travel back to December 2018, right when Dad was diagnosed with amyloidosis, and we were told he’d likely have 18 months to live (he passed four months later). I’d spend every day with him, talking. We could talk about anything and we’d be happy. In reality, we did talk a lot. Jokes that we had heard, him trying out for a AAA baseball team (and how he never realized his arm could hurt so much after just pitching one day), his journalism career, building the cabin, spirituality, favorite books. But I would do so knowing we only had four months (not 18) and pack as much love as possible into each day.
Or, I’d travel back to July 2015. When I met Mom and Dad in Italy for vacation. And we had so much fun exploring markets, eating gelato, visiting museums, and exploring cathedrals. We watched glass blowers in Murano. And bought antique jewelry. And rode gondolas in Venice. That was the summer we recognized the first signs of Alzheimer’s in Mom.
Maybe I’d travel back to December 2009. I had joined Mom and Dad in Vienna, Austria, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Each day we walked from Christmas Market to Christmas Market, snow falling gently on us, arm in arm, laughing constantly. There was music everywhere, beautiful string quartets. We ate great food and drank delightful wine. Then we spent Christmas in France with dear friends. It was one of our best vacations together. We were all healthy; we were all happy.
Or maybe I’d travel back to June 1973. We had just moved into our new house in Rural Hall, NC. Dad drove to downtown Winston-Salem each day for work in an old, tattered, dark green Volkswagen Beetle. When it was time for him to return home, I’d walk, often barefoot, through the woods, along the quarter-mile gravel driveway, to wait and watch for him. I’d see the dark green Beetle Bug turn the corner at the end of the street and shimmy towards our driveway. I’d jump up and down, my scrawny arms waving, yelling, “Welcome home!” and he’d stop so that I could get in and ride back down the driveway with him.
I have a couple (favorites are just so hard to narrow down).
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle.
Ian Maclaren, often attributed to Plato
I love the first quote because I’ve found it to be so true. When a friendship is forming, a new world is opening up, one you may not have realized was there. There’s something intoxicating about hope, about possibilities, about the unknown. I feel so grateful to have friendships that have spanned decades, and have evolved as our life circumstances have.
The second quote is a good reminder, applicable in just about all situations. Battles aren’t always visible. Small battles can seem insurmountable. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.
Early in the morning, Mom crept into my bedroom and crawled into bed beside me.
“Did you look outside?”
“I did, Mom. It’s really pretty out there, isn’t it?”
“Let’s go back to my room. It’s prettier in there.”
“Your eyes are closed. How do you know it’s prettier?”
She tugged me out of bed.
In her room, we sat in her bed, propped up against her headboard, looking out over the front yard, the street, the majestical trees, all covered with snow, and soft, clumpy flakes continuing to fall from the sky.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“It is, Mom. It is.”
There are hard moments. And there are magical moments like this.
It was hard to choose just one. And it was so fun looking through my photo library and reliving past trips and fun moments with friends. But this one is one of my absolute favorites.
This was summer 2015, and I had joined Mom and Dad in Italy for a couple of weeks. It was on this trip that we noticed that something wasn’t quite right with Mom. At first we thought she was joking with us. At restaurants, she would order, and when we were served, she would say, “I didn’t order this. I ordered that,” and she would point to either my or Dad’s plate. We would switch, thinking she was joking. But she wasn’t laughing. When I would get gelato for us, I’d come back with three cones, and she’d insist that she didn’t ask for the flavor I handed her, but one of our cones. And in the evening, we’d talk about our plans for the next day, and less than five minutes later, she’d ask, “What are the plans for tomorrow?”
I took Dad aside and asked if he noticed anything unusual. It was then that he shared she had wandered off while they were in Belgium, and he and the police spent hours looking for her. He was at a loss with what to do. We talked about resources they could access once they were back home. And this picture embodies the life they shared for 60 years, full of love and adoration for each other.