Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shame and Caregiving

I’ve just read Brene Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me” about women and shame. She writes about bodies and money and parenting and work and weight and –surprise—caregiving. Though I’ve read --and now written-- a lot about caregiving I hadn’t seen this coming.

What Brown writes about is the delusion of caregiving. It’s the place where perfectionism and imposter syndrome collide. She writes about how we often compare the hard realities of day-to-day life as a caregiver with the idealized notions of being someone who is responsible, compassionate, dutiful and kind as a caregiver. Brown says, “Any image of stress-free, dutiful and rewarding caregiving is only available to those who have not yet fully engaged in this process.”

She goes on to write about the mistake we make when we talk about role reversal as part of the caregiver experience—and we often talk about role reversal, “parenting our parents”. We imagine that the child becomes the parent and vice versa. I thought that too. But no. As Brown points out there are crucial differences:

• We don’t have the same relationship with our partner or parent that we do with our children. When we bathe our child we don’t have to try to not cry.

• The energy we use to care for a child—even the exhausting care of a baby --is fueled by promise: it will get better and easier and rewards will follow. Not the case with a seriously ill partner or an aging parent. That will get harder and sadder and the experience is steeped in fear and grief not promise.

• Our culture and society has systems and mechanisms that support parents and children. Restaurants have children’s menus and booster seats and special areas for kids but they don’t have the logistics or practices to accommodate customers with Alzheimer’s or feeding tubes.

What caregiving and parenting do have in common though is that everyone’s a critic. There is endless critique and advice and suggestions that we could be doing either one better.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Swan

On Saturday I’ll read this poem at the memorial service for our friend Will. I did not know the poem before his wife asked me to read it. And now I am in love with this image of ungainly, ungraceful swan that lumbers and is awkward. That’s not what we picture when we think, “Swan.” But the one in the water, the one we see gliding, regal. And now Rilke says that is like us and I think, “Yeah, this is why I like poets—they can put words to this feeling and this fear of my own bumbling, rope tied, tripping over to-do lists life.

"This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on
and cling to every day,
is like the swan,
when he nervously lets himself down into the water,
which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave, while the swan,
unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on."

The Swan, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I got a great  piece of advice last week from Diane Sawyer.

Last week I saw her interviewed on Oprah and she talked about her marriage to Mike Nichols. She said the best piece of advice she was given for marriage was: “Criticism is just a very poor way of making a request—so could you maybe just make the request?"

Brilliant. “You are selfish and lazy” is just a really poor way to ask: “Can you help me?”

Now lets see if I can do it!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Collaboration and Creativity in Marriage

One of those times of intense inspiration. I’m reading the book, “The Cello Suites” by Eric Siblin—who tells a personal story of searching for the suites and their history—the political and musical history of Bach’s cello suites. I also dug out an old DVD of Yo-Yo Ma and Mark Morrison collaborating on the third suite and listening to them I was moved again by the critical factor of ego and no ego. (This is a beautiful film of Ma and Morrison working at one of my favorite and most sacred places: Jacob’s Pillow)

Clearly Yo-Yo Ma had to find an artist of his caliber with whom to create these collaborations. Watching him with Morrison I could see that it had to be between to artists who had the same amount of skill, expertise, gift and ego to make the collaboration work. If one had more or less then they would have buried the other or dominated the creative work.

Maybe this is also true in marriage? Each partner has to have confidence in themselves, a belief in their own creativity, health, passion, ability, intelligence and the ego strength to both hold their ground and cede the ground as needed. Collaboration may be a better word than partnership. Partnership suggests each puts something aside—dies down a little—in order to make the concern work—but collaboration requires strength and humility—the ability to suggest, insist and to step aside and be taught without loss of face or ego.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Long Weekend

This is when we feel like a couple. A long weekend and it is a mix of chores and fun and errands and decisions. We went to Saratoga Springs, watched lots of football, obsessed over home goods for kitchen and bath, set up a wireless network to use the lap tops, made chili and bread together, went to a wake, read for hours and made love.

Even in this loving, cozy time death was near us. We talked about health and illness and aging. Maybe being older helps and maybe cancer was gifting us too with this reminder of time and attention.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

Big snow today. John had a snow day and I had a work-at-home day. I was restless at first—always happens. I dream of a day at home and then the reality is that I don’t know how I want to use it—too many possibilities. I was starting to fuss and feel frustrated with myself –should I read, write, research, do errands? Try to get to a meeting? Try not to?

Then it hit me: there were so many days over the years when we’d wished for and fantasized about being together on a snow day. It wasn’t possible and it gave those past snow days a kind of sad tinge.

But here we were now-- together, alone, snowed in.

I shook my head, turned up the heat, took John to bed --and turned up the heat. No more frustration.

Monday, January 10, 2011

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

---Mary Oliver

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Vacation

People plan. God Laughs.

Our three day trip to in Florida turned into eight. John’s Mom has no TV or internet so we blithely arrived at the Palm Beach airport to fly home on December 27th and like many were turned away. After hours and hours of airport life and long lines and my almost visceral refusal to believe that even with the storm we could not leave for five days—I finally surrendered and accepted what it was.

I began a gratitude list in the airport:

1. I had 18 hour mascara

2. I love to read magazines and the airport was full of mags I’d never read.

3. My husband was not screaming at me—a man behind us kept screaming at his wife.

4. We were not blind—a couple near us were both blind. (And they were negotiating all this hassle and being decent.)

5. I was not traveling with an infant—several families had teeny new babies.

6. I remembered to pray. (It took some work to get my thoughts to behave but I did pray)

7. We were both ok—really ok. We had family nearby so eventually we gave up and went back to John’s Mom and ate extraordinary food for five days and

8. This unexpected and unplanned week gave me a chance to get to know my new mother-in-law in ways I never could as a holiday houseguest.

Because we had planned our Christmas time with each other for December 27th—we had our own celebration on January 1st.

My favorite gift to John was a hard to find recording of Jeremy Denk playing Ives.

My favorite gift from John was the “Clapper”—the gadget that turns lights on and off with a clap of hands. Really. Now we can turn lights on and off in bed. All kinds of possibilities there.