We are brought into this world as squishy little people who can’t function at all without a caregiver. Unlike other baby mammals that learn to walk or swim in the first moments of life, we learn to cry, feed, and defecate. My 7-month-old Dodge is just about to crawl and my 2-year-old Max still hasn’t learned to duck under the door knob when walking in the back door. We’re a strange species at birth. Even more odd might be how we are at the end of our travels. In the wild, other mammals leave their elderly behind and they are consumed by their predators and nature. For humans our worst predator at elderly age is most likely health insurance companies. We put our elderly in homes and keep them “comfortable.” We return full circle to our birth (sometimes) and find ourselves capable of crying, eating, and defecating. A good or bad existence depending on how you look at it.
Death is my #1 fear in life, always has been. Fear of the unknown yet inevitable. It is the driving force in my agoraphobic anxiety nonsense and the root of every nightmare I have…including last night’s where I got shot in a random circumstance. It is my illogical fear. Being shot without notice and just having everything end. This is a conversation for another time. Please don’t shoot me. Okay…good…glad we cleared that up.
This summer I took my boys to visit my grandmother Dawn who isn’t doing very well. Her mind is gone. Alzheimer’s? Dementia? No one is 100% sure but what we do know is her body has outlived her mind. It started like Alzheimer’s with her losing her short-term memory, then she became very confused and forgot people, and now she spends all day in a chair and doesn’t know how to talk. I fear she may not be alive next summer when I am back in New York so this summer I put my stupid fears aside, gathered up the kids, and took the family to see Great-Grandma. She hardly looked like herself and I needed to ask a nurse if it was her. She had to be woken up which took a long time and I felt bad for taking her away from the peaceful place her mind was. Her eyes rolled around in confusion, her fake teeth sat slack in her mouth, and she was a ghost of the person she once was. Then she locked eyes with me. BAM! It was like electricity had hit. She jumped in surprise and gave me a look that can only be interpreted as, “I know you!” I showed her my kids (elderly people LOVE kids). She was interested but kept coming back to me. She knew me. Maybe she couldn’t put all the puzzle pieces together and remember the cookies we used to make together, how I stayed with her for a summer, how she used to take me strawberry picking, and how later in life we used to drink beer together on the couch and watch Wheel of Fortune…then take a nap. Grandma loved her afternoon beer and nap…I do too.
I bawled in the parking lot. I’ll never forget that moment with her but she most likely forgot it moments after it passed. Another reminder how living in the moment is better than dwelling on the past.
My folks and my wife’s folks are in phenomenal health and decades away from needing a caregiver, let alone a hand on the stairs. They’re young and active. Someday they may require assistance and when/if that day comes I am 100% committed to doing whatever they want and what is best for them. Parenthood gives you a special window into the hearts of your parents and you realize how you’ve spent your entire life trying to distance yourself from them and establish independence while they have unconditionally supported you while hoping for one last hug. At least, that is how it has been for me. Parenthood is the hardest thing I have ever done but it comes with the greatest rewards. I constantly find myself saying, “So this is what my parents did for me.” I look back on my life as a kid and I remember the embarrassing things they did to me like trying to hug me when I went to school, complimenting me at a party, or putting their arm around me when I was trying to look professional. Just one more hug. It isn’t embarrassing…I wish I could go back and jump into their arms every time I shoo’d them away or told my mom, “No PDA in public!” Luckily, I have them now and I can hug them every day, and so can my kids.
Last night I was reading books in bed to Max, my 2-year-old, and he asked me, “Dada…what’s brave?” Not having a dictionary on hand and trying to figure out a way to explain it to a toddler I said, “It’s kind of like the opposite of afraid.” He’s two…so we played the why game a bit and I came to this clarification: “Max, remember how you were afraid of the dark but we talked about the things you were afraid of and you found the courage to fall asleep? That’s brave. Brave isn’t the ability to not be afraid, it is the ability to be afraid and push forward…like me with flying. I am afraid of flying, but I have to, so I find the courage to do it despite my fears and that is when I’m brave.” Max listened to this and without hesitation he told me, “Dada, if you are afraid of flying I’ll take care of you because I like to fly up in the air in the airplane. When I get bigger I can carry you because you’ll be smaller. I’ll carry you Dada. I’ll take care of you.” So now I’m tearing up in my toddler’s room and I scoop him up into a big hug and tell him, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.” He hugged me back, patted my back, stroked my hair, and said, “Shhhhh…its okay Dada, Max is here.”
Max told me all sorts of things we can do together on the next plane-ride to make me feel better. He asked for cuddles and I happily obliged. I’ll take cuddles over Monday Night Football any day! We talked at length about Max’s world and I answered questions as best I could. We listened to the rain, discussed books, talked about school, and made up jokes. Me and my son Max. Max, the 2-year-old boy who understands his dad is afraid of flying and wants to grow up and take care of me. He wants to carry me…and I’d be happy to be carried.
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