Visions of Grandeur – Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

I love my family. I love my children. I love that we, as a family, have the opportunity for me to stay-at-home. I never want to take that for granted. That said, I have more to give! Ok that’s an overstatement, I’m exhausted. Maybe it is more accurate to say I desire to do more.

I don’t want to quit my day job. I don’t want to give up my nights and weekends, sacrificing our only all-member family time, for a part-time job. But I do want a connection to the outside world. As of late, that yearning has lead me down a path of expression through blogging; writing and dabbling in the art of photography- specifically food photography. I’m inspired to write short stories, mostly in the form of plays and dialogues- but first I need to get the kids on the bus. It’s the regular routine of changing the baby’s diaper, making breakfast, packing lunches, cleaning up breakfast, getting the kids dressed (or checking what they have dressed themselves in), inspecting teeth, braiding hair, etc. It’s a sigh of relief when the oldest two out of four are on the bus and on their way fully prepared.

Now would be a great time to enjoy a cup of coffee and jot down that funny thought I had earlier! What was that line again? …But realistically, first I should probably start the dishwasher anyway. That reminds me I have a load of dish towels in the dryer. Crap, the dish towels are still in the washing machine. I need to bring this load of boys clothes upstairs so I can dry the dish towels. “Kids, we’re going upstairs.”

Laundry, my nemesis. They say write about what you know. How can I personify laundry? A dark, looming presence always growing in strength, a force my heroine has to face head on. A little dark maybe, but not untrue. Meanwhile in the real world, what is Noah playing with? It looks like he is in his sister’s jewelry box.

“Oh no, mom, you have to see this!” Elijah yells. Ah! Noah has painted his bangs with nail polish. Oh Noah, I’ve already cleaned up two large spills from you this morning! (Which meant his sister wasn’t on the bus fully prepared, because her baby brother swiped her water bottle -that he poured all over my comfy chair- as if I was going to sit down anyway).

“Noah, No!” I say realizing that at this point it’s not going to make a difference. Let’s get you into the tub. Where is my nail polish remover without acetone… “Stay here.” Okay, I’m back let’s get off that diaper. Plop! Are you kidding me? I just changed a poopy diaper 20 minutes ago!

“Don’t move!” Thankfully it’s in a tub right? (Optimism gets me through the day.) Poop has been transferred to the toilet, now to disinfect. Joys of motherhood. And finally, let’s get to that hair. That is not coming off. I can’t use acetone, this is too close to your eye. What am I going to do? Shave your head? Well, looks like you are going to live with it for a while.

I have a headache. “Everybody downstairs.” I am not doing laundry right now, someone has to keep an eye on the baby. Drats laundry, you win again.

“Yes, Elijah you can have your snack now.” While we’re in the kitchen I should get started on dinner. Crockpot dinner tonight! We need to eat early because Naomi has gymnastics. 

Still, somehow I know these are the best days of my life. I want to cherish every moment. A couple weeks ago, my then still 3 year old said when it was raining “maybe the clouds are crying” -a theory he discovered all on his own. A couple days later, my 5 year old daughter was not feeling well and misquoted a popular saying by explaining “I’m feeling over the weather.” People always say it goes by so fast, and I know it’s true. In the midst of it, it feels fleeting.

So, I am by choice a stay-at-home mom. Coincidingly, I realize the importance of “mommy time”, the need to preserve my sanity and identity. I still have goals! However for me, right now, it’s a necessity that takes a back seat to the priority of “being mommy”. As for my writing career, my prospective coffee shop, my strategy du jour; I’m still dreaming.

Saying Goodbye to Grandpa

Grandpa excelled as an sportsman. He had a keen eye and would point out things in the tops of trees or in the back of a field at a great distance that I could never see. He was an excellent shot and terrific hunter of large and small game. He was one of those intuitive fisherman and had the trophies to prove it. He was a fantastic golfer and had plaques made for achieving two “holes-in-one” in the same week. He was incredible with a sling shot and could swim like Johnny Weissmuller. He worked hard and his life wasn’t easy. Born in Tennessee his family moved to Detroit for more opportunity when he was a young boy. His parents weren’t the most dependable kind. They often left his sister and him to fend for themselves. I remember once when he was asked about what it was like to live through The Great Depression, and his response was that they were so poor they didn’t notice a difference. As an adolescent, the streets of Detroit were his playground. He told me of playing “cops and robbers” with his friends and rolling down the now historic stairs of the Fisher Theater after he would fake getting shot. When he grew old enough he took a job as a cab driver. He would get his fares done early so he could have the car for personal use and drive wherever he wanted- mostly pool halls. He met, fell in love with and married my grandmother. Apparently they were quite the duo winning dance contests for the jitterbug and the such. We really didn’t hear much about all of that. You see, not too long after taking their wedding vows they were invited to a roadside tent revival. They accepted Jesus into their hearts and felt a peace and love they had never experienced before. My grandpa told me how shortly thereafter he was at the 19th hole with some friends. He was drinking his usual beverage that he said tasted like water when he felt this new found peace start to leave- and it scared him. He asked God right then and there that if He would give him back that feeling he would never drink again. He dedicated his life to God and his family. Grandma and grandpa both got jobs in one of Detroit’s booming manufacturing opportunities. They were great providers. They bought a house outside of the city to raise their two daughters, two nieces, nephew and take care of grandma’s mother. Grandpa became a bible teacher at their local church. He wasn’t perfect, but it was clear that he loved God, he loved his family and he wanted to give them better than the experiences he had lived. He said those days with his house full of kids were the best times of his life.

When grandma got sick with dementia, it was hard to watch. Not because she would forget things or regularly repeat herself or ask the same questions over and over. It was hard to watch grandpa. He wanted her to remember. Maybe he got tired of giving the same answers. Maybe he would get embarrassed, for her sake, in front of company. I think mostly he wanted her to get better. The night she went into the hospital for her heart, I drove just over 2 hours home from college to see her. She was sitting up, talking and doing great. I remember telling her I loved her and that she would be going home soon. I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call that she had suffered ventricular fibrillation during the night and passed. My mom, aunt and grandpa went through the routine of making arrangements. The next year would have marked their 50th wedding anniversary. I’ll never forget my grandpa’s sweet words to me at the funeral, “She was a good woman, I didn’t deserve her” he said.

It hadn’t been a year since grandma had passed and I knew grandpa was lonely. Owen and I had recently gotten engaged, it was the perfect reason to stop over for a visit. Grandpa was happy to see us, but I could tell he was out of sorts. He had the television remote in his hand and was frustrated. I asked him what the matter was and he answered with anger that “Someone has been messing with those wires.” What wires, I questioned and asked him if he had other visitors. The wires behind the TV he explained, and no he hadn’t had any recent visitors. It really didn’t make sense. I asked him who was messing with the wires, and he changed his story to an animal must have gotten in and messed with his wires. Since there was no sign of any animal being in the house, I assured him that that couldn’t be the case and told him Owen would take a look. I figured a wire had gotten loose and disrupted his service. I mean, technology is confusing even for me. When Owen moved the TV set away from the wall, we were all shocked to see that the wall was blackened around the outlet. Thank God there wasn’t a house fire! I told grandpa we had to unplug everything and we would need someone to come out to fix the electrical. He seemed a little dazed and confused, and I knew something was wrong. After our visit was over, I called my mom right away to let her know what had happened. “Something is wrong with grandpa” I told her, “he needs to get checked out.”

He had always been a sharp man. The kind of guy who could quote poems, riddles, stories and Bible passages without missing a word. He was the employee who was awarded $2000 for an innovative idea that would save Chrysler a fortune. Grandpa was a self sufficient person who always seemed confident in who he was and what he was about. The same guy who turned down a supervisor promotion to remain an inspector, because he knew what it meant. No, his weeknights and weekends were for hunting, fishing, tinkering in his garage and going to church. It wasn’t very long after our visit that he was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. We all understood, himself included that it wasn’t safe for him to live alone. My grandpa, aunt, and mother saved a few personal treasured items, allowed the grandchildren to take any keepsakes, and kept what my grandfather would need. Then they contacted an estate sale company and put the house up for sale. A plan was set for grandpa to move into a first floor bedroom with my parents.

He had mostly good days at first. He could drive and go out to eat if he wanted to, his last bit of independence. Slowly he showed more and more signs of his disease. He would come home with 10 cans of the same baked beans because he couldn’t think of what else to buy at the grocery store. He would get frustrated and irritable. He was angry with himself for not remembering, and he would often take it out on his family members. Alzheimer’s has a way of making you suspicious on top of forgetful, and he started regularly accusing my sister of taking his belongings such as electric shavers and slippers when he had himself misplaced them. At doctor’s appointments, although clever, his answers became more evident:
“Who are these people?” the doc asked referring to my aunt and mother.
“Relatives” my grandpa answered.
“What kind or relatives?” the doctor prodded further.
“The good kind.” my grandpa replied.
He could no longer remember that they were his daughters. And so it went, some days worse than others. Some days we could cope with humor, like when it took him 20 minutes to baby-step/shuffle from the dining room into the living room. When he arrived he looked up at all of us watching TV and asked “Now what?” Some moments were frightening, like when there was a large crash in the middle of the night. He had pulled out a drawer of silverware that had dropped to the floor. He was just getting his tools he explained. Night wanderings had become more common and my teenage sister had a dead bolt installed on her door. She didn’t feel comfortable with the thought of grandpa walking into her room in the middle of the night. I couldn’t blame her. My parents had alarms installed on the doors after they were awakened to the police pounding on the door one morning at around 2 am. Thankfully they had found my grandpa walking down the road, and in a moment of precious lucidity he could offer to them my dad’s name.

My mother tried to keep him with her as long as she could. They paid my cousin and a family friend to be caretakers and help him with his hygiene when he could no longer remember how, not even when prompted. But it was only a matter of time when we were no longer able to take care of all of his round the clock needs. My mother and aunt found a comfortable adult foster care home with a 24 hour nurse and care he required just minutes away from their houses. They visited him daily, even though he didn’t know. As anyone with personal experience will tell you, the signature not-knowing is the curse and the blessing of the disease. It is the tormenting reality that the family members and friends have to come to terms with and accept. They have to watch their loved one become a shell of their former self, a person that resembles someone they knew very well. At the same time it is the only relief- to know when the Alzheimer’s has fully taken over, the infected person doesn’t seem to have any realization. And you pray that it’s true, that they don’t on any level know the depths of what they are going through.

I was with him early in the day of the night he died- my mother, sister, aunt, cousins and me. When I was told he passed I felt relieved to know he was finally at peace. He went to be with his Lord, with my grandma and many family members that had gone before. He was home and he had his memories. I didn’t attend his funeral services, I continued on a planned trip to Europe. In truth, I knew he was in a better place… and I had said my goodbye to grandpa a long time ago.

A Tale of Three Dishes Part I

Owen was pretty low on the corporate ladder back then. Isaiah, almost a year old, and I were tagging along on his business trip to the Czech Republic. For the first portion of our stay we were just going to make due with whatever arrangements the company had made for Owen in the town of Jihlava. During the second part of the trip we had extended the stay on our own dime to tour Prague. Being the dutiful man that he is, Owen had made this known to his company. After all it really changed nothing as I was willing to do all of the child care and touring my heart desired while he was fulfilling his commitments. Somewhere along the way however, word got out that Owen was bringing his family, and to accommodate our situation we were moved into an executive suite normally reserved as an apartment for executives with long term stays. The room was like a studio with a kitchenette, a large bed and an extremely large bathroom with a spacious walk-in shower unlike any European bath I had seen before. Thoughtfully management had even furnished the room with a crib for our son.


Executive Suite

The first night of our stay was a difficult adjustment for the baby. He was still on our time schedule, which was about a six hour difference. Owen has a practice of trying to get on the schedule of where he is traveling right away, so he went to bed in the evening to be able to get up early in the morning to head off to the plant. To Isaiah it felt like lunch time, and he wasn’t sleepy at all. Since he and I could make our own schedule, I set up a play area away from the bed and tried to keep him as quiet as possible. When we had arrived the very nice woman behind the desk informed us that a complementary breakfast would be offered between the hours of like 6-9 am. Since the baby and I had finally gone to sleep around 2 am Czech time I had decided to sleep through breakfast, besides European cafes with fun pastries are one of my favorite things about Europe- so whenever we woke up I was confident we would be able to find something to eat.

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Touring Jilhava with Owen

Some time around 10 o’clock, the baby and I were still asleep when there was a knock on the door. I knew it wasn’t Owen, he had left a few hours ago, and he had a key. I got up and asked who was there. I recognized the voice of the nice woman who had checked us in the day before and opened the door. Much to my surprise she had three large trays full of food! She had noticed that we missed breakfast and wanted to make sure we had something to eat. There was a tray of sliced meats and cheeses, a tray of breads and pastries, and a tray of fresh fruit and two different yogurts. She had also brought orange juice, water and coffee. I felt like a queen! I didn’t have to wake the baby or go anywhere! Plus Isaiah had options when he did wake since he could easily eat a banana and yogurt.


A view from town square in Jilhava, Czech Republic

It was a lovely start to the day to say the least. And I actually felt guilty that I couldn’t eat it all! (And I made it a point not to miss breakfast again). After we got dressed, we did a little exploration of the city. There were cute little boutiques hidden behind painted doors. There was hustling and bustling down narrow streets full of working people and little cars. Because the area we were in was very business like and everything looked the same (and because I instinctively have no sense of direction), I didn’t want to stray too far because we had gotten a late start and I knew Owen would be back from work soon. Not too long after we returned to the room and I had put Isaiah down for a nap, Owen walked through the door and informed me of where we were going to dinner.

Apparently the place we were staying also had a restaurant downstairs. I hadn’t even been able to see or hear it from the lobby, but all we had to do after we went down the three flights of stairs from the floor of our room, was take a different turn which landed us right in a unique type of dining hall. The walls were made of stones and the tables and chairs were dark wood. There was a fire burning in a fireplace that seemed to be in the middle of the room and a cooking fire in the corner. You could see pots hanging from an area that must have lead to the kitchen and the whole place was packed full of locals and business men and women that already knew about this hidden treasure. To say it was charming would be an understatement and I was completely delighted. The weather outside was chilly, somewhere between fall and winter, inside was warm and picturesque.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

This picture does not do it justice! I took it during a breakfast with Isaiah. At night it is full of people. The fireplace in the corner is for cooking.

We were seated at a long table filled with executives; sellers and buyers. I was a part of the only family there and they had insisted that we come. Everyone greeted us warmly and commented on Owen as an appreciated employee and respected colleague. I felt their sincerity and I was proud of him. I think it was a nice change for everyone to have something a little more personal rather than all business as usual. After spending all day together at a plant resolving issues and talking numbers, I’m sure it was a nice diversion.

The restaurant was accustomed to international patrons and equipped with menus in English. As a starter I selected a soup I had never seen before or again. It was simply called Garlic Soup, and considering the weather outside, the warmth inside and my love of garlic it just seemed right. When they brought it to the table I didn’t really know what to expect. It was broth-y and mostly clear. It had a few little drops of oil that had collected at the top. I don’t remember seeing any pieces of garlic per say, only a couple of thinly sliced scallion rings. It was light and fulfilling at the same time. It was warm, satisfying and delicious. After that I really can’t recall any more of the soup or anything else I ate that evening, but I do know that I ordered it two more times before we left the city. I have researched recipes for Garlic Soup since, some were creamy and some were chunky; none were ever close to what I had at that quaint restaurant on the bottom floor of the of the executive apartments where I was treated like a queen.

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Isaiah and I felt like royalty!

Featured image taken in Prague, Czech Republic