Sweet Elusive Sleep

I just want a good night’s sleep. My kids are all teenagers so the unpredictable nighttime madness is over. Some stay up later than me so we peacefully coexist in the nocturnal hours.

A few months ago I noticed that my hands were falling asleep at night. At first I thought I was just sleeping on them. Then I noticed numbness in the tips of several fingers on one hand. I worried that I had diabetes like my late mother. Not being overly neurotic or a hypochondriac, I occasionally use a handy app called iTriage for perplexing symptoms before I go see a doctor. I had previously diagnosed myself accurately with shingles.

This time I came up with a possible diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. I saw a hand specialist who confirmed my diagnosis which is apparently very common in women in their 50’s. While not thrilled with this diagnosis, at least it’s not life-threatening and I was once again secretly proud of my diagnostic skill. I would have patted myself on the back, if my hands didn’t bother me so much. The specialist recommended I try hand/wrist splints for a month while sleeping to see if this would relieve my symptoms.

I never thought how much numb hands would affect my horizontal repose but they did. It seemed cruel that on the rare occasions when I could leisurely lie in bed and read in the morning, my body wouldn’t cooperate and I had to get upright and out of bed to relieve the numbness. Ever the supportive spouse, my husband tolerated my whining, the loud ripping off of the velcro contraptions/splints of torture during the middle of the night in my moments of desperation and discomfort and supported my decision to have surgery.

The surgery was uneventful and seems to have relieved the symptoms. Sweet sleep would be mine again. I was psyched. Then, before I was even completely recovered a new problem developed. My husband told me I was snoring.

Snoring? Oh great. One sleep problem addressed and now another one loomed. I was mortified. Is this what middle age is like? Solving one physical problem and then another one pops up like a game of geriatric Whack-a-Mole? Sure, my husband had to endure my complaining about my hands but it didn’t really affect his sleep. Now I had a problem that affects our marriage. I envisioned a slippery slope where one of us leaves the bedroom to get some sleep and there goes the marriage as we know it.

I googled “snoring in middle age women” and find I am not alone. I am optimistic that I can tweak my lifestyle with good results before I have to move on to more invasive sleep studies, c-pap, etc. So many people are kept from a good night sleep by anxiety, depression and stress. I am fortunate that these things don’t plague me. It’s my body that is rebelling and ruining my rest.

My husband and I can still joke about it. Before going to sleep the other night, I wished him a good night sleep and hoped that he wouldn’t put a pillow over my face. He agreed that while it might be tempting, he didn’t really want to go to jail.

While we laugh, clearly this has the potential to be a real problem, not only for me but for my bed-mate. Just when I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep I feel exasperated that it is elusive for now. I dread going to sleep, worrying if I will drive my husband crazy along with the nudges from him during the night. To add insult to injury, I find that the glass of wine or two that I occasionally enjoy messes up my sleep as well. Falling asleep is easy with alcohol but I sometimes wake in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep.

So I read – thank God for the Kindle but who knows how the electronic devices screw up my Circadian rhythm?

The pediatrician recently gave one of my teenagers a stern talking-to about the importance of getting 8 hours of sleep per night so all of the data he has acquired during the day can be sorted and stored into his brain properly while he is sleeping. All I could think about was how amazing it is that I function as well as I do, given the shenanigans of my body while it is allegedly “sleeping.”

The writer Anthony Burgess said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.”

It almost makes me yearn for numb hands.

Navigating with Grace

If you’re tired of reading my essays, take a listen to this interview I did with Jana Panarites on her podcast, Agewyz, where she gives voice to the struggles of caregivers. After all, we all are, have been or will be caregivers at some point in our lives. I hope you’ll take the time to listen and share with others. Maybe you would like to share your story with Jana too? Click HERE to listen.

Independence Day

petoskey-fireworks

I am about to embark on another 8-day women’s trip to Israel. The purpose is to empower women to change the world through Jewish values that transform ourselves, our families, and our communities. Sounds great, right? No matter where you live, if you are a Jewish woman (or man – they offer men’s trips too) or are raising your children Jewish there may be a trip that you too can take – check out the website at http://www.jwrp.org and see for yourself.

What a treat to travel for 8 days on my own. Actually I will be with 11 other fabulous women from my local Jewish Community Center and we will be part of a larger group of 200 women from around the country and the world. I look forward to being able to think and act independently, without being someone’s wife, mother or daughter. I only have to follow the planned itinerary. I don’t have to worry about what my kids will or will not eat, if they’re tired or cranky. It’s a way to rediscover my own person-hood through a Jewish lens – what a novelty!

It’s a great time for me to go because two of my children are away at camp and two will be home in day camp. What a great way for my family to exercise their own independence, without big Mama running the show. Papa Bear will be in charge, in whom I have complete confidence. He will drive, shop for food, make the lunches, deal with the medication, go to the end-of-camp dance performance all while being way more fun than cranky old Mom.

One of the biggest gifts of leaving the kids with my husband, besides the obvious awesome trip experience, is that other than leaving one page of phone numbers and reminders, I do not have to leave detailed instructions. My hubby is engaged in all parts of our life so I don’t need to school him on what goes on around here while he’s at work. Okay, I do feel a teensy need to tell him that I will organize things to make it as easy for him as possible – after all, he will be working in between driving to and from camp.

“Really?” he said, “Do we have to do this dance where you try to convince me that it’s all going to be great fun? It is what it is. It will be fine. Go, lead your group, and have fun.”

Lesson learned. I will shut up and plan the best I can. He will deal with whatever comes up. He can help my daughter shop for whatever costumes she may need for her dance recital. He will rise each morning at 4:30 am to medicate our son with special needs, through his feeding tube, while he sleeps. He will write the children who are away at camp.

Let’s not forget the children’s independence here. When I tell some people my children will be at sleep-away camp all summer, I occasionally get a look of pity or horror – surely I must be an awful mother to send my children away. They love camp because they get to be their own person, independent of their parents. There is no one to nag them about how to act or what to wear. Sure, they have counselors but they care much less about the minutiae of life than a mother does.

Take for instance my fourteen-year-old son who left a week ago. I am loathe to look at the camp website to catch a glimpse of my precious child, but I briefly succumbed to peer pressure to take a peek. As expected, my son looked adorable and happy. It’s his fourth year and he asked to go for the whole summer – of course he’s happy. But does he have to wear that dorky camouflage hat that he pilfered from his brother? To make it worse, in my next email to him I felt the need to suggest that he not wear it all the time as it doesn’t really match any of his clothes and he looks super cute without it. I can’t believe I’m even admitting that I did that. Shame on me…leave the child to wear whatever he damn well pleases without me spying on him.

I told the children who will be home with their Dad that I care about three things, and in this order: the people in the house, the dog, and my potted outdoor plants. I trust them to help each other, feed the dog, and water the plants. Mostly they just need to take care of themselves. Yet another life lesson I’m imparting in my joyful absence.

So here’s to a happy independence day to all of you – in between barbecues and pool hopping, try and let a little personal freedom ring. I promise you’ll see fireworks.

Cookies

 

cookies

My parents were married for fifty-four years until my mother’s death in 2013. It was a strong partnership and a loving marriage. I’m told that people who have good marriages are more likely to marry again as they’ve had such a positive experience with the institution.

So it’s not surprising that my father has a lady friend, and a very nice one at that. We recently had the pleasure of making her acquaintance. She too was married for a long time and was widowed around the same time as my father. I am pleased that my father has a companion, is not lonely, and continues to have an active, full life.

Intellectually, I am all in. Emotionally, however, it took me a little longer to get there.

A couple of months ago I was with friends who inquired after my father. They wondered if I had seen a picture of his lady friend and were surprised when I said I hadn’t, nor did I particularly want to. “Why not?” they wondered.

“If I see a picture, that means three things,” I answered.

a) this person actually exists

b) my mother is dead, and

c) my father has a girlfriend

“So, no, I don’t really need to see a picture. I’m good.”  My logic was sound and my denial fully intact. What was the harm in believing my parents were away on vacation?

Lo and behold, what happened a few days later? My father sent my siblings and I a picture of his friend. Funny how the universe works. God must have been gently nudging my emotions to catch up with my intellect, which of course they did. I’m fifty-one years old, not ten. While it’s weird to see my father with someone other than my mother, it’s good-weird. My sister called me after receiving the picture via email too.

“Did you see the picture?” she asked.

“Yeah, I saw it,” I said.

We agreed that this woman looked like a normal, nice person. My sister told me she got up from the computer, walked into her kitchen, and made a beeline to the counter where a plate of cookies sat that she had specifically not been eating all day. You know where this is going…she proceeded to eat the whole plate.

Emotional Eating 101 – your mom dies and your dad moves on with his life. How could cookies not make you feel a little better?

I have been hearing many stories from other people who have lost a parent and had similar experiences with a parent in a new relationship. One woman told me, “I’ll make you feel better – my father married my mother-in-law.” Wow, she wins the gold medal in the unusual second marriage category. Most everyone tells me how glad they are that their surviving parent has someone to share their life with. Those whose parents were never in another relationship lament that fact. I am thankful for my dad’s run of the mill widow-meets-widower story.

I am no longer in denial. I realize my father isn’t trying to find me another mom; he has simply found a companion for himself. Hard to believe, but it’s actually not about me. It’s a good life lesson – one that goes down easier with a big plate of cookies.

 

Scars

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While backing my minivan out of my garage last week, I clipped my side-view mirror and it broke. Some of my kids were in the car – they were aghast. No worry, I assured them. It was an accident. Clearly I did not intend to cause damage to my car. Yes, it is a nuisance, a financial burden, and an inconvenience. But it is not the end of the world.

Sure, it takes age and experience to react this way. In my younger days I would have been more upset and agitated. I would have been reluctant and full of trepidation to tell my husband. Not anymore. This 50-plus year old is confident and liberated when it comes to dealing with life’s foibles. I didn’t mean to hurt my car, I explained to my kids. Like scraping your knee or cutting your finger – these things happen. Yes, I’ll have to eventually replace my mirror, although fortunately I can still use it. But for now it’s just one of life’s scars, a boo-boo if you will.

I was on a roll…what a great analogy for life to pontificate to my kids about on the way to school. Scars are evidence of a life lived. It’s easier to cope with life when things go smoothly but it is the trying times that truly test your mettle. Mustering up grace in the face of adversity is a difficult life-skill to master. I could leave the car in the garage and never drive it – then it would never have dings, scratches or bird-poop splotches. What would be the good of having a car? The same thing applies to life. You can sit in your house and be fearful of experiencing new things, failure, meeting new people or going outside of your comfort zone. Or, you can get out there and live.

So when I picked up my kids that day, they said, “Did you tell Dad about the car?”

“Of course I did – I’m not scared of him,” I assured them.

Okay, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to tell him about the car. However, over the course of our marriage, I have developed a system of communicating bad news that has worked quite well. I would email my husband about potentially difficult topics – getting caught speeding by hidden traffic cameras, ordering drapes that I loved that happened to be exorbitantly priced – so that he could digest and process my news before reacting. As the years have gone by, and we have both been busted by those dreaded traffic cameras, I need to use this tactic less frequently. I just speak to him directly. He wasn’t thrilled about the broken car mirror but he understood it could happen to anyone. Now, when we see the dreaded notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles in the mail, my husband will wonder aloud who has gotten the speeding ticket. One came just this week. I quickly confessed that I thought it was me and predicted exactly where and when it occurred. What could have been a tense and uncomfortable situation had now became a game of recall called “where was I caught speeding?”

So my side-view mirror is partially shattered, but usable. Actually, I kind of enjoy seeing the prism and distortion it creates when I glance at it – it brings a little surprise/psychedelia to the banality of my chauffeur duties. I might as well enjoy the trip until I get it fixed.

A Warm Legacy

A Warm Legacy

Recently I was under the weather for a couple of days with chills and achiness. It was nothing serious, but it sent me to bed at times to try to warm up. I climbed into bed, fully dressed in my jeans and sweatshirt, and piled on the blankets. My mother’s gone from this earth but I felt her presence as I lay in bed shivering. She passed on the wisdom of the electric mattress pad – a bed warmer, if you will, which I cranked up to high and waited to be warmed up like a piece of bread in a toaster.

I don’t remember it from my childhood so I think she discovered this modern adaptation of metal bed warmers filled with hot coals and the hot water bottle when I was an adult. She talked often about how much she loved it. Like many children, I nodded my head, smiled, and said “uh-huh,” as if I was listening or was interested in a discussion about mattress pads. I had no interest, or the need, for such a thing.

I was too busy doing other life-stuff for such trivial matters. I got married, which theoretically produces a warmer with whom to share your bed. Then the kids came along so my bed was heated by the combustible energy of children coming and going. As everyone started sleeping through the night and I was getting older, I became colder. “Old and cold,” I joked. I started to seriously contemplate my mother’s idea. My husband scoffed at it. “I like getting into a cold bed,” he proclaimed. I don’t. Those first few moments of sheer icy-coldness when you turn in after a long day? Not so much.

So what did I give my husband for our anniversary a couple of years ago? Wait for it…but of course, a Sunbeam electric mattress pad. Okay, I knew he didn’t want one but I was hoping he would change his mind when he actually had one in his hands. As you might guess, he was underwhelmed with the gift. I think he was offended that I would call into question his ability to warm up the bed. Plus, it was so obviously a gift for me, not “us,” he said.  He had clearly expressed no interest in this foreign bed invasion and I deliberately chose not to hear him.  It was admittedly not one of my finer gift-giving moments.

“But there are dual controls, so we can each control the temperature on our own side of the bed,” I enthusiastically explained to no avail. That first winter, he resisted it. I don’t think he used it once. By the next winter he was curious, and cold, and finally began using it. He won’t say it, but I dare say he has come to love it almost as much as me. It has become part of our winter, nighttime ritual, in that whoever goes up to bed first turns on the bed-warmers. Getting into bed in the winter has become a delight – a warm, toasty bed greets me.

The added benefit? It’s part of my mother’s legacy. She’s still tucking me in.

Good Ol’ Teddy

teddy-bear

We recently trolled for treasure at my in-laws house so our kids could pick out some keepsakes. My husband came across his childhood teddy bear, which he decided to bring home with us. I was a little hesitant as Teddy had definitely seen better days. He has black ears, arms and legs and apparently had a white body but most of the fur is gone from so much loving and cuddling. My husband’s grandmother performed a surgical repair to replace his chest and tummy with white fabric. Teddy has reddish eyes with black pupils but almost no nose or mouth to speak of.

Who knew that resuscitating this bear could once again give its owner such joy? Teddy has brought us innumerable laughs. It’s surprisingly been a mischievous break from the daily grind.

On Teddy’s first night in our house, I tucked him into my  husband’s side of the bed so he greeted him when he came to bed. It made hubby smile. We chuckled that Teddy may feel a little awkward having to share my husband’s affection with me. The next night I came to bed to find Teddy perched atop our headboard, lording over the marital bed, my husband joked. I confessed that I thought Teddy was creepy and scary-looking and flung him to the floor.

I have gotten enormous pleasure from surprising my husband by posing Teddy in varying and amusing attire. Part of the rush for me is that I forget about Teddy until I go up to bed, when hubby is generally not far behind – I often have only a few moments, wildly looking around the room for inspiration and humor.  First I tied a bandanna around his head, so he looked sort of like Bruce Springsteen, of whom my husband is a big fan. The biggest laughs so far came when I had him sitting in a chair in our bedroom with my reading glasses on and “reading” on husband’s kindle. It made us both laugh so hard, we cried. The silliness of it tickled our funny-bones – go figure.

If our kids are around, they share in the fun. Otherwise it’s just one of those silly things that keeps life light and fun in the midst of the harder times of being adults.

Apparently teddy bears aren’t just for kids anymore. Or we’re just kids in the body of adults…old and weathered like Teddy.

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