Sunday, July 12, 2015

every day is Freaky Friday, role reversals in the parent child relationship

There comes a time in life, when the parent - child relationship gets reversed somewhat, the extent of this depends on so many variables, but to a degree I'm sure you have experienced or witnessed grown adults who become protective of their parents - worrying about safety, worrying about health, advising, even "laying down the law".

My parents seem so innocent and gullible to me now. I have to tell them the people who ring them and say "I'm from Microsoft, please turn on your computer and login we've detected a massive threat to your computer" are lying scumbags from hell, and that its absolutely okay to yell at them "you are a fucking criminal ass wipe" and then hang up.

I have to practically tie my father to a chair to stop him from doing jobs he should not be doing, and that he promised me many times he will no longer do. After every heart valve replacement, and every code blue, broken hip, and hernia I have held him in front of me and looked deeply into his eyes and said "you cannot do any more hard work, you cannot chop firewood anymore or saw logs, or dig the edge of the garden beds to keep the front lawn from invading" and he has looked me in the eye and said "oh no, I won't do that anymore" and he has broken that promise one thousand times (or more)

Now I'm the one making sure Dad doesn't leave his jacket, walking stick, or cushion on the train.

I'm the one who checks the house is locked at night, or finds the keys when he's lost them, or thaws the 2 litres of soup out after someone has accidentally put it in the freezer instead of the fridge.

But this is the tip of the iceberg, these are the issues everyone talks about, but there's so much more, and I'm your girl, I'm the one who is prepared to say there are other ways that the relationship is reversed with age.

Because your parents are most likely the people who taught you the most about certain things. Like hygeine, and manners, and how to behave in public, and you've finally mastered all these things, and now they are unmastering them before your very eyes!

The woman who taught me not to pick my nose is the woman I walk in to find in up to her elbows while watching television, and I have caught my father using the car immobiliser lock to pick ear wax out of his ear, at the dinner table.

This is Freaky Friday, Twilight Zone, weirdness. Laughter is just about the only option. The others are nausea, outrage, and wondering how the hell your life turned out this way.

It is so weird to find out your parent's social skills include tantrums that the most devilish two year old would be proud to call their own, as well as the occasional bout of silent treatment, passive aggression, and deliberate property destruction.

Not to mention the faux pas. Oh my God, you will overhear so many terrible, terrible things. 

Listening to my father on the telephone is like Verbal Waterboarding. He could patent it. I am absolutely beside myself at times, but now I really try to find something to do well out of earshot as a measure of self preservation.

And if you are considering being any part of your parent's lives as they become elderly, you will need to find ways to cope as well. My recommendation is to become inured to it - let it be like water off a duck's back, accept it for what it is.... and treasure the lighter moments because they become precious memories.

Monday, July 6, 2015

how I got my dog

This is my dog, Fizzy, he's a rescued border collie x kelpie and today is our third anniversary or "gotcha day" if you are familiar with rescue terminology. Since he is such an important part of my life, I thought I'd share how miraculous it seems to me that he is mine, and the magic he works daily on our family. To be honest, I don't think we'd have made it this far without him.

Fizzy is my very first dog. I never had a dog when I was a child. I wanted one desperately. I don't think any child has ever been sent more gaga for want of a dog. We would be out and about as a family and I would see a dog, with a collar, and tags, and a family of its own on the horizon somewhere, and I would be crying and begging my parents to save this poor, wretched homeless dog that needed us. Loudly. Passionately. Blind to all the facts. I am sure many a family left in a hurry "quick Marge, put the dog in the car and let's get out of here!"

I was hysterical in my desperation to have a dog. To add fuel to the fire, my Dad was always whistling or singing 'How much is that doggy in the window'. He's not an evil genius or anything, he's just oblivious to the effect he has on the people around him.

I left home, lived in student housing (no pets allowed), lived in share houses (no pets allowed), lived in rentals (no pets allowed) and dreamed of the day of owning my own home and buying a dog even before fully furnishing the place... and somehow ended up back with my parents, and nothing wears away your morale more than being an adult and needing your mummy and daddy's permission to get a dog.

I wasn't overly hopeful about the chances of getting a dog - my parents never gave me any signs of hope that they like dogs at all.... they didn't want to pat dogs when visiting other homes and had steadfastly resisted all forms of begging and pleading for over 20 years.

But my Mum knows how much I need pet therapy for my mental health, and a 19 year old cat that poops on our beds during the night was a) not going to live forever and b) thankfully, not going to live forever. I said to Mum, "Mum I'm never going to have kids, and all I've ever really wanted was a dog. What if I die and I've never even had that experience of owning a dog?" (Oh Yes, I Did) and she told me that when my poor old scared cat left our lives I could get a dog.

Dad said "it will have to be an outdoor pet" and I said yes, mainly, but we've got to at least let is sleep in the laundry at night. So he made a pet gate for the end of our hallway. I still was a bit nervous about his attitude to our potential new pet, but Mum assured me he would be the softest of all of us and would let it in even if we didn't want him to.

And she was right. My dad, freaking loves this dog. My dad has never raised his voice to this dog, he is more patient and kindly with the dog than with us... but bygones....

We adopted a friendly but frightened, beautiful 8 month old boy named Tizzy (I renamed him Fizzy) and from the first day he has brought us nothing but joy. He is the most perfect pet we have ever had. He is gentlemanly, eager to please, grasps his place in the home (he never jumps on their bed or the couch) he doesn't dig, or bark, or steal our food, he is gentle and exceptionally patient with children, he brings joy to the elderly nearby who have no pets, and is everybody's favourite dog. They tell me every day.

My parents say "you could not have gotten a better dog" and I glow.

Fizzy is amazing, he has brought magic into our home. It brings me joy to see that he is pet therapy for both my parents and not just me. I accept many things about my parents that I previously would have fought them on because I think "they let me have a dog, let go of it". We laugh together, we enjoy his antics, we enjoy his love, we share his love.

For three years we have had better lives because he is with us.

Friday, July 3, 2015

a typical day in the nest

Morning has broken - my mother will rise and turn the television on by 7am and it will remain on until bed time. I hate television.

I squabble with the dog all the way around the block - he is afraid of an increasingly inconvenient list of things  all of which can be found in our 'hood or flying overhead (drug houses, airforce jets, small poodles, eagles, strange smells, hoon drivers, the rubbish truck) we tend to go the direction he decides moment by moment, is less threatening, and usually end up stranded with no "safe" Fizzy approved way of getting home.

While my parents breakfast at a table that had been almost completely set after dinner the night before (tablecloth, cups, saucers, bowls, cutlery, cereal... basically everything but milk and the teapot) I rush to the computer because my first thought is whether any orders have come in for my business Starzyia overnight, or if I have any customer questions to respond to, I love this!

I lovingly wrap any orders for my customers so I can ship them when I go to the shops, which is early, but fits around any doctors appointments my parents might have.

We shop or run errands.... if Dad comes there is a walker to collapse and shove into the boot and he likes to do it himself (which takes 50 times as long as if I did it but its better if I stand back and let him do it himself while I cop dirty looks from passers by at the sight of an 80 year old struggling to lift a walker into or out of a car while I stand doing basically nothing)

No matter the size of my "to do" list compared to the size of their lists, I will always, always be the one waiting for my parents. Its impossibly freakish the way it turns out. I play games on my ipod while waiting. Sometimes I wait so long I worry they have forgotten where we said we'd meet and agonize over whether I should look for them at one of our other meeting places. Sometimes I wonder if at least one of them has collapsed in the centre and I can't understand any of the PA announcements in the mall.... its all gibberish. I could be getting paged and I wouldn't know.

My father who recently passed his driving test to remain on the roads, will insist on driving and will quite roughly hit the curbs at least once there and back. It makes me incredibly nervous when he checks his wrist watch while driving, fails to register the time, and looks about three more times before asking me what time I think it is. Why time is important I don't know, none of us have anywhere to be in life, really. Though I think about Hawaii quite often.

After unpacking any shopping, I have to take the dog out at least to the park (3 houses down) or to the end of the street because he absolutely will not take a crap in our yard, though my life would be much easier if he would. He likes to do it in the 'hood to mark his territory. He is submissive to every other dog in the world but he can fake a good confident "this is mine" poo, I think, I'm only guessing.

At least once a day the phone will ring and my dad will answer it even though he cannot hear anything on the phone, and usually ends up hanging up because he couldn't understand the person's accent, or if the person is lucky, he will come and grab either Mum or myself to get to the bottom of what is going on.

At least once a day the phone will ring and my mum will hang up summarily on the person, because when she said "hello" they didn't say "hello" back right away which she believes is 100% proof that the person is in a call centre. They might just be a medical receptionist distracted mid ring by a patient or other staff member or any number of other legitimate callers who have just been given the Short Shrift.

I hardly ever answer the phone. I'm the one who can hear, does understand, doesn't abuse a call centre person until they've earned it, but I HATE phone calls.

Lunch time! I eat in my room while watching an episode of whatever show I'm binge watching on dvd.

After lunch I either: create new products; conduct photo shoots; write blog articles or my email for my VIP members; update bookkeeping; unpack supplies parcels; shop for supplies online; or when it hasn't been achieved in the morning - housework or garden and yard tasks my parents can't do.

At least once every hour while they are awake, my parents have a bickering match that begins over not being able to hear or understand each other and sometimes I have caught them arguing the exact same side of an issue only in different words and not comprehending that they are actually in complete agreement with each other. I face plant.

Nearly every day I will be actively involved in a dispute with one or both of my parents, in which I am treated incredibly rudely, and let's face it, I'm not one to cope well with being treated unfairly. Because of the way I was treated by my father as a child, I refuse to take abuse from him now. So when I call him on his current behaviour.... which I call "holding a mirror up" things tend to go badly. My intention is to show him how he has just treated me, but being unable to perceive that in the first instance, he still cannot detect it when it has been replayed for him. Its the biggest emotional void in my day and is one of the things I have to work on letting go of. But it sucks that I have to let go.

There's usually no way in hell I can get access to one of the toilets when I need it, because since Mum had bowel cancer she has had irritable bowel syndrome, and Dad has heaps of troubles himself. He will usually crap in the bathroom in the morning when I want to clean my teeth. Then Mum does it. Then Dad does it again. There is always spare underwear and a plastic bag in the car glove box. Unless I go to consult the map and the underwear is no longer spare... Eww!!!

Dad likes my cooking, mum does not, plus Mum can no longer eat foods that contain fructose since her bowel surgery. I don't like Mum's cooking (and never have) and don't want to kiss goodbye to so many gorgeous fruits and vegetables, plus I don't really eat meat... so every day there are two dinners prepared in our house. But not at the same time because the kitchen is too small. So I often cook early in the day and reheat for dinner. If I'm smart and cook for 4, I can get by having a day off in between cooking, and have a hot lunch and hot dinner every day. I buy my own groceries and only make the things I like, so its pretty good.

I come home from walking the dog to potent mixed aromas - Deep Heat and gravy would be one of my least favourite combinations (considering I hate both, and together, forget about it!) Whatever the smells are that day, they are bound to clash with the smell of my dinner.... and again, I eat alone in my room. Separate meals, at separate times (I can't force myself to eat dinner at 4.30-5pm every day anyway) this is the most independent part of my day.... the closest I come to living alone.

The dishes are washed and put away, the table is set for the morning, and I work on Starzyia tasks until 7.30 which is my designated computer shut down time. Relaxation begins and the dog loves his cuddles on the bed while we watch an episode or two on dvd.

A basic day in the nest! There are lot of things that are the same each day, but the variations are insane - the actual subject of any bickering match is sure to be one for the record books. I hate the tension, I like peace and quiet, but as long as we are having insane arguments and getting in bizarre predicaments I figure I might as well treasure them as the uniquely hysterical hilarious moments of our lives. There will be plenty of them. I hope they make you smile.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

my escape and return to the nest

I left home as soon as I possibly could - I had just turned 17 and was starting university in the next city. Its fair to say I was pretty excited, and fair to say my mother had grave reservations, mostly because she knew I had a bad relationship with my Dad and it might not get fixed by going our separate ways.

It actually got worse in fact, because when we spent time together - and by this I mean a short afternoon tea visit on neutral (public) territory or the occasional overnight stay so I could come home to visit friends - we were almost outraged to find how much the other one pissed us off. We couldn't cope anymore because we were out of practice, and being suddenly thrown together only brought the personal atrocities of the other as a shock to the system.

I hadn't forgiven my father for abusing the heck out of me when I was a child, and he hadn't forgiven me for growing up and having an opinion - and it wasn't just that I had opinions about our family or our relationship, but actually any time I opened my mouth to comment on, well, anything, he pulled the incensed face. Steam could have literally come out of his ears, even when we have the same bad opinion of the same bad eggs.... the fact that I could express myself when I was raised not to, was something he struggled to adapt to.

He still makes a face when I express myself, and mostly tries to remove me from a group discussion on anything - seriously on a daily basis he will hijack a conversation I begin with my mother and then become angry that I am an active participant in the conversation..... and he has absolutely no awareness of his role in the conversation or how it is he became angry.

And here I am living with it full time again - which is a pretty surprising turn of events, but I guess life knows what we need, and if my 83 year old father isn't going to live forever, this is our only time to learn to live peacefully together and patch things up.

When I was finished uni my parents were ready to Grey Nomad it, and offered me the house in return for paying bills, watering the garden, and caring for pets. Awesome. We mostly only spent Christmas and significant birthdays together..... until, surprise twist, I got sick.

I started to need my parents to be there - and by the time I had my life on track, Perth was entering The Rental Crisis. I spent a long time trying my guts out to get a lease anywhere on my own, on disability pension, and being passed over constantly for families and groups who could pay a higher rent - even if they ultimately trashed the house, never paid rent, and were forcefully evicted.

While my health at least stabilised - Dad's declined - and every time his life was in danger my Mum and I appreciated the comfort of being together, and living as a team, pulling him through, getting things done, supporting each other through code blues, and open heart surgeries, and one damn thing after another.

The Grey Nomading chapter is over.... we are here together.... learning to live together and trying to make the most of time together (and not kill each other, to be honest) this is it - we cope better together even though some of us have very poor social skills and are at different stages of our lives... it just kinda works.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Introduction to Strange Nest - who we are and how we live

I'm Starry, young, fun, and single.... and living with my elderly parents in what I refer to as "an interesting social experiment"

Our nest is strange, it is cramped, one of the birds is deaf, we're all cracked.

I've been dealing with the huge age differences in our family for as long as I can remember. My parents were middle aged when I was born, senior citizens when I was in university, and elderly when I was in my twenties. 

At first my twenties were awesome - I lived in my family home solo while my parents went grey nomading. Paradise! But health statuses change, and I started to share the home with my parents, which was weird at first, plus its socially awkward admitting that you live with your parents but our mindset has begun to change and we see living as a team as a really smart option. As a team we are stronger and more financially stable. I'm not a mooch, I pay my way, I do the tasks they can't do, I avoid the rent crisis, they get to stay in their home for as long as possible (hopefully the rest of their lives).

To succeed as a family we have to reinvent our existing family dynamic. If you've got older parents, you know what I mean - at a certain age you parent them.... but they don't like it. And it gets tense. They need to see me as an adult, and understand it is not usual for me to live like this. I need to understand that their abilities are changing, and that it is still their nest and I'm the guest (who can be addressed far more rudely than you'd ever entertain speaking to a real guest)

If you want an idea of what its like to look after aging parents, or you're trying to decide if you can cope with bringing your parents into your own home, this is probably the blog for you - you'll get plenty of insight here, and solidarity too. Sometimes the most important part of coping is having someone you can let off steam with. Plus sometimes you will laugh until you cry.

At the core of this experiment, is my belief that family is one of the greatest blessings but also the biggest trial a person faces in their life.

I hope our concept of "living as a team" prevails over our trials. But even failure can be fascinating (people are still intrigued by the Titanic, after all)

So behold... our experimental lives!