Within seconds of waking up this morning, before my eyes had fully focused in the gloom, I was hit with yet another epiphany.
All of my life I’ve dreamed of what it would be like to have a multi-generational family under one roof, and now I have it.
And the reality is nothing like I imagined it.
As a child, I grew up missing my grandfathers. One died months before I was born and the other died when I was just six. I remember visiting my paternal grandfather’s grave with my grandmother. We brought plastic flowers and put them there near the simple plaque that rested on the ground. I cried for the man I had never met. Everyone told me that he was so looking forward to meeting me, that he would have loved me.
By that time, I was seven, and had recently lost my maternal grandfather, who I had only a few happy memories of visiting. A big man who smelled of pipe tobacco and gave me bone-cracking hugs, he had died soon after we moved far away, to Flagstaff, Arizona.
I felt robbed. What had I done to earn such misfortune? Not only were my grandfathers gone, but my great-grandparents were all long dead as well. I envied those who had multiple generations in their lives. I read about them in books, imagined what it would be like to grow up in a house with parents, grandparents, and siblings.
My reality was far different. There was me and there was my dad. Or sometimes, my mom. My parents had divorced a few months before my mom’s dad had died and we were 1,000 miles from our nearest relatives, nearly all of them in Missouri. It was a solitary existence, one that would haunt me for decades.
That last sentence sounded rather melodramatic, but it is the truth. In some ways, I feel as if I have been battling loneliness all of my life. Perhaps it is why I started a family at the age of 18. I wanted to live my life surrounded by family – and if I had to make it happen by myself then so be it.
And just as I dreamed of having children, I dreamed also of the “good old days” when aging parents were taken care of, not in this new normal of nursing homes and retirement communities, but at home, with their families, where they belonged.
I saw worth in it. I imagined what my grandfathers could have taught me. The stories they could have told me, the things that they had seen. I dreamed of what it could have been like for me, surrounded by love, not alone in apartments and houses for hours on end, with books and television my only companions.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”
And this morning I realized that I have continued to work towards that goal, that of the multi-generational family, all of my life. I have always seen its worth.
Dream and reality aren’t the same, though. Reality is far more messy.
Reality is that I can count the bones on my father’s body as I bathe him. They are better now, not so obvious now that he has gained ten pounds under my care. His clothes fit better, his attention span lasts longer, and he is improving.
Reality is that my eldest daughter wants nothing to do with him. NOTHING. He has asked, and I have explained, as best as I could, that their relationship is their own to fix, and not something I will involve myself in.
Reality is that we have pooled our resources and that, for however long this lasts, it benefits all involved. I am home more, the house runs relatively smoothly and is cleaner and more meals are fixed here. We are not suffering, and there are financial and emotional rewards to this new paradigm.
It also means that when my dad blew his whistle to call me last night, waking me up from sleep, it was to ask for band-aids to be put all over his feet as a “preventative measure” for the diabetic neuropathy he continues to deny he has. I said “no” by the way and grumpily told him to please refrain from waking me up with weird fixes for known issues.
It means learning things that I never knew, or don’t remember. Hearing the stories for the first time as he shares his wealth of knowledge and experiences gained over the past seventy years.
Reality is having to endure for the 126th time, the “novel” business idea (i.e. scheme for how to use other people’s money) to fund his unrealistic dreams for when he “returns to Panama and builds that Queen Anne.”
It means involving him in Em’s homeschooling. “Read to him from your Time Life for Kids series,” I say. She does, and he listens and then shares a story with her. She remains lukewarm towards him, but I hope that will change, that he will tell her some funny stories and that she will find worth and interest in him.
Reality is that some days he loves my cooking and other times he doesn’t. “These aren’t REAL tacos,” he says, frowning at the crunchy taco shell I bought at Aldi’s. “Someday I’ll show you what REAL tacos are like.” I say nothing some days, other times I snap back at him.
It means that there is another adult to talk to and spend time with each day. But someone who needs me, too, which has its moments of nice. I’m busy showing him all of the interesting series on Netflix as well – Sense8, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and more. We have established a routine of sorts.
Reality is that he can be petulant, demanding, imperious and a general asshole.
Yes, I just called my dad an asshole. And he is. Just as he can be sweet and kind and thoughtful.
He’s a human being, after all, and we all have a little (or lot) of asshole in us.
The end result of all of this? Two months ago (plus one day), I boarded a plane to Panama City, Panama. I had no idea what was going to happen or how radically my life would change. And for all of the positives, there are negatives. For all of the ups, there are downs. But one lone fact remains.
I dreamed of a life with a multi-generational family. I wanted it, desperately. That lonely little girl, with hours and hours and HOURS of just tv and books and the occasional interactions with children she did not understand or could not relate to, grew up. And she got that life she dreamed of, with all of the twists and turns she couldn’t even conceptualize of at the time.
She got her wish. It might not be in the neat little package she imagined. It might have manifested with puke in the sink and shit on the floor. Tears, laughter, mad as hell moments, and a lot of repeated “to the LEFT!” as a walker scrapes paint off of a door older than either of them. It may be full of interrupted sleep, multiple doctor visits and an army of home health nurses. It might mean that your relationship with your eldest is strained and silent and painful and the break she and you both have taken feels like abandonment. It might mean that your youngest still has a way to go before she sees the old man in the front parlor as anything more than a pain in the ass she does not understand.
But like Eleanor said, “Life is what you make it.”
And overall? Life is good.