While figuring out a set of dates, I realized that when one of my clients was my age, I WAS NOT YET BORN. Then I realized that was true for ALL my clients: when they were my age, I was not born. Isn’t that weird to think about, that the caregivers who will care for us in our elderly years may not even be ON THE PLANET yet?

The DOCTORS who will care for us in our elderly years may not yet be here! They will be born, they will be potty-trained, they will go through the many years of elementary school and middle school and high school, they will go into college and then medical school, they will do all those other years of training, and they will do ALL of that long after we were already full-grown adults doing our full-grown-adult thing. No wonder older adults peer suspiciously at their young whippersnapper doctors. This child was so recently in diapers; why does she think she can lecture me about my cholesterol? I had cholesterol before she was even BORN!

Music Week: Twenty Feet from Stardom, Can I Say, Box Car Racer

I’m not sure how I heard of Twenty Feet from Stardom (Netflix link), about backup singers. I remember jotting the name of it down while at work, so I think what happened was something on TV mentioned some old footage of David Bowie found on this documentary.

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

ANYWAY, the upshot is that I watched it, and I recommend it. It’s not so much that I found it particularly riveting (though I was interested all the way through), but more that it was about a whole industry I don’t think I ever gave a minute’s thought. And now, when I’m listening to the radio, I’m NOTICING the backup singers, and I didn’t notice them before, so it feels like I made a permanent change in how I hear music, and that’s kind of neat for a 90-minute investment of time.

Now I’m reading Can I Say, by Travis Barker of Blink-182, so I am continuing the musical theme.

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

It’s what I like in an autobiography: a nice mix of name-dropping, personal tidbits, behind-the-scenes, shocking behavior, and transparent self-delusion. I like how the other people in his life contributed pieces of text, so you read along for awhile, and then he mentions meeting a great girl, and then there’s a section written by that girl. Or he mentions a bandmate or friend, and then there’s a section written by that bandmate or friend.

I had no idea that he and Tom DeLonge put out an album as Box Car Racer, and Tom DeLonge is my favorite Blink-182 singer, so I’ve been having fun listening to those videos on YouTube.

And there are a ton of bands referenced in the book, so I keep going to my computer to hear samples of what they sound like. And then in those songs, I notice the backup singers.

More About Getting Rid of Stuff

I mentioned I’ve been getting rid of some of stuff, and it’s been satisfying. I’m trying to keep up the motivation to even toss, say, one lipstick, or one pair of earrings. Sometimes it can feel as if there’s no point getting rid of one item out of a hundred, but there IS a point to it, SEVERAL points:

1. It GETS RID OF THE ONE THING. Which is better than getting rid of NO things.

2. It keeps the momentum going. If I get rid of one pair of earrings I am just never going to wear, I get a little bit of that good feeling that can come from bringing order to chaos / lessening the oppression. That can motivate me to get rid of that lip balm the dentist gave me (I don’t like the flavor), a cup full of the candy canes that were still on the Christmas tree when we took it down, and a pen that doesn’t write well. Over time, this ADDS UP—and can help bolster bigger projects such as going through the filing cabinet, or packing up a batch of handmedowns.

3. There was something else, but that second point got too long and now I’ve forgotten.


My parents have been getting rid of stuff at their house too. Two downsides:

1. It’s increasing the level of stuff at MY house.

2. My mom and I like to go shopping, but neither of us feels much inclined to purchase things when we’re working to get RID of things. I guess you could call this an upside, and OH, in fact this was meant to be point three above: Continually getting rid of things helps motivate me not to continually acquire more things. But it does take some of the fun out of the shopping trips.


Here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. We talked about using the good stuff (one of my favorite comments sections ever), and I was thinking afterward, sometimes we don’t use the good stuff because we don’t want to waste it or the occasion doesn’t feel special enough, but SOMETIMES we don’t use the good stuff because we don’t LIKE it and don’t WANT to. And THAT’S a good thing to notice TOO, because sometimes our unused good stuff can do better work at someone else’s house, which can also be a huge relief to us and our storage spaces.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is this silly phenomenon: the “I have to use up this stuff I don’t like before I can use the stuff I like better.” Sometimes that’s a good policy, if we know ourselves and know that if we don’t make ourselves use up one bottle of conditioner before we start the next one, soon the entire ledge of the tub will be lined with 1/8ths-full bottles of conditioner. But SOMETIMES it’s more like a bottle of conditioner that makes our hair look greasy, or the set of 240 address labels I ordered, the ones that turned out to be ugly. But I’ve been using them on bills, month after month, because I feel as if I have to use them up before I move on to one of the five or six sets of address labels I DO like.

At the rate I send snail mail, this is going to take some time. What if I were to…put the labels I don’t like in the trash? And use the ones I like instead? This is wasteful, it IS: no one else can use those labels. But 240 labels takes up four sheets of paper. It’s a waste, but it is a small waste. And if I spend years using these, pushing all my other labels ahead of me down the line and working with, let’s face it, a limited amount of time—I could spend three years using the bad labels, and die with three years of good labels waiting to be used. I could just SWAP those: either way, four sheets of labels get wasted, but in one scenario it’s the labels I like, and in the other scenario it’s the labels I don’t. That’s it, those labels are going in the trash.

Mr. Catherine Wife’sFamilyName

I don’t know if it’s this way in all school systems, but in our school system there is a big change between 8th grade and 9th: up through 8th grade, a parent must go into the school and sign a child out, if the child is leaving school mid-day (like for a doctor appointment); but as of 9th, the parent can wait in the car, and the school lets the child walk right out at the time the parent pre-arranged. If you try to go in to fetch your child, the school secretary raises her eyebrows at you with amused pity, as if she is seeing you try to hold your 11th grader’s hand to cross a street.

It is an odd and sudden shift, and there is nothing about it in the handbook: you find out the first time you try to go in. That first time it’s embarrassing, but then after that it’s really lovely not to have to go in anymore. (I ITCH to be allowed to re-write the school handbooks, though. It would not be difficult to write a paragraph here and there to tell parents what is expected of them so that they don’t have to hear it from the secretary’s eyebrows.)

The other day, however, I did have to go in, because it was more than five minutes past the pre-arranged time and my child had not yet appeared. After a consultation with the school secretary, I was invited to wait out in the lobby for the child to emerge. While waiting in the lobby with very little to do, I tried to look casual by faking interest in the plaques up on the walls.

There was a really big one, put up to commemorate the people who were involved in the building of the school in the 1960s. It was super fancy, with people’s names in raised metal letters. And on this plaque, all the women’s names were instead the names of those women’s husbands, with a “Mrs.” tacked onto the front.

I have been cranky ever since, with a low simmering rage-ennui that is not passing off. The women’s own names were COMPLETELY NOT THERE AT ALL. There is no way to even know who they were, except to look up their husbands’ records and find out who those husbands were married to during the year the plaque was made! What a crappy, crappy, CRAPPY system someone came up with, and how TRULY SHOCKING it is that anyone willingly participated in it, ESPECIALLY in the name of it being the polite and proper way to do things.

When my mother-in-law was alive, she addressed my mail to “Mrs. My Son’s Full Name” just as if that were a reasonable etiquette-based thing to do and not a practice that fully redefines a woman’s identity as “whoever is currently married to this man.” It’s a system that uses one person’s name as the primary identification for that person and ALSO for A TOTALLY SEPARATE PERSON. It takes THE WHOLE POINT OF NAMES, which is to tell one person apart from another person, and OBLITERATES IT. But only for married women. Everyone else gets their own names. It makes me want to drop Paul’s surname and go back to my own family name. I really might.

I will say again that this plaque was made in the 1960s, which was only about 50 years ago. And many women still prefer to be addressed as “Mrs. Husband’s Name.” It’s so hard to imagine any man thinking it was the polite and proper thing to do to give up his bachelor’s name and go by “Mr. Catherine Wife’sFamilyName,” or that he would find that a reasonable way to be recognized in raised metal letters for his contributions.

Using the Good Stuff

THANK YOU for all your suggestions/empathy on the coughing post. Today I am coughing more, enough more that I worked up the nerve to ask my boss are we supposed to call in sick when we’re coughing this much? And she said no, we just wear masks. So. That’s. Great. But I do feel better having checked: I was a little worried I’d be assuming they didn’t want us to call in sick, when actually they really did want us to, and they’d be like “Um, how did you not know we didn’t want you coughing on elderly people??” I have three kinds of cough drops in my work bag, and I plan to be medicated up to the gills. And perhaps I will bring something to sip.

Okay, I have a work story. I will change details to protect privacy, but none of this is medical anyway. Well, almost none of it. ONWARD.

I regularly go to… Do you know, this is hard to figure out how to say, even though it’s simple and in no need of tact. I go to a couple? I go to a man and a woman and they are married and live in the same house? I care for a woman and her husband, there we go. Their children are quite active in their care, which is good and not good, as you can probably guess, even if you’ve never worked this job. It is good when people’s families are involved, and it is good to see it, and it is sad when the families aren’t or can’t be involved. But grown children can be bossy and upset and stressed, and there can be family dynamics that are tricky to know what to do with, and also it’s usually the families who treat us badly, if anyone’s going to.

Anyway. The house is all marked up with things we should not use. There is one cabinet of dishes we can use, the Corelle and the plastic and the promotional mugs, and the rest of the cabinets are marked off with masking tape and “Don’t use!” signs. There is a shelf of towels we can use, and there is a whole linen closet that is verboten. There is a drawer of silverware we can use, and a drawer we can’t.

I have had two unpleasant encounters with one of the grown children, both of which involved the grown child very, very, very upset that, for example, an unauthorized towel had been taken out of a closet, or an unauthorized plate had been broken. (In neither case was I the one who had used the item, but I was on duty when the violation was discovered.) “There are plenty of everyday towels! I don’t even understand why this happened! Don’t people see the signs? What are they even doing rooting through those cupboards?? This china from the NINETEEN-FORTIES! There are too many people in this house!”

Well. In both cases, the awkward thing was that I was pretty sure it was the man of the house who went into those cupboards. The caregivers have no reason to go into them, and we can see the posted signs. But of course the man of the house may take out his own possessions, and frankly he’s not as clear as he used to be on which are which. The trouble is, I don’t know how to say to the upset grown child, “You know, have you asked your dad…..?” without sounding like I’m trying to blame him and get us out of trouble. And of course I don’t KNOW: there ARE a lot of us in and out of the house, and maybe one of us DID take out the towel from The Forbidden Closet. But since the closet is in her dad’s bathroom, I think the most likely explanation is that one of us forgot to put out a fresh everyday towel for him (we have to bring one up daily from the shelf of authorized towels downstairs), and he just opened the closet conveniently located right in his bathroom and took one of the ones from there. Why does this not occur to the grown child? Well, there are a lot of emotions involved. And sometimes it’s easier to blame us, since they can’t exactly blame their parents for using their own possessions.

But this is where I’m going with this. I had assumed that these special possessions were roped off because the parents at this stage of life have shaking hands and failing eyesight, and because sometimes they might for example use a very special towel to clean up cat barf in the garage. And that may be the case. But there’s more to it than that, because the man of the house was telling me how they paid thousands and thousands of dollars to bring these items from his wife’s country back when they were first married. Eight sets of china from a special china factory in her hometown. Thirty sets of special sheets. Beautiful embroidered towels. Boxes and boxes of decorative items. All of these things have been unused for 60 years because they’re too special. Most of them are in boxes in the basement, the same boxes they were brought here in. Some of them are in the cupboards, but only to look at, not to use. “I don’t know why we even brought them!,” he said.

“Well,” I said, searching for something to say. “Your kids will be glad to have them.” “Oh, they’ve been trying to get their hands on them for YEARS!,” he said. Oh. But?

Okay. So, possibly if you are roughly my age, you are picturing “the parents” in, say, their 60s, and the kids in their 30s or so. But the people I am taking care of are mostly in their 80s and 90s, so the grown kids are usually about my parents’ age—like, mid-60s. Is this reminding anyone else of poor Prince Charles, now past retirement age as he waits LITERALLY HIS ENTIRE LIFE to MAYBE get to be king? These beautiful dishes and linens, sitting in boxes completely unused as the decades go past; the grown kids, past retirement age, still not allowed to use the good towels. …Perhaps it’s not a perfect correlation with the Prince Charles thing.

I mean, at least in Prince Charles’s case, his mom WANTS the crown and is USING it. In this case, the parents don’t even WANT the dishes and sheets and towels, but they STILL WON’T LET THE KIDS USE THEM. And now the kids won’t let the parents use them. By all means, leave those things boxed up in the basement where they can do GOOD. The kids can move those boxes to their own basements AFTER the funerals.

Well. This line of thought does feel a bit…familiar. How many articles have you read in your lifetime, urging you to USE the good dishes, WEAR the good perfume, USE the things you’re saving a special occasion? Five articles? Ten? Two dozen? And how many of them used the imagery of how sad it would be to die without ever having used the good stuff? But it seemed more vivid to me when I was looking at people who were literally planning to die without ever opening the boxes in the basement, and their children reaching old age without opening them either.

ANY of us could die at any moment, of course, but at a certain point you’re out of the stage of “I mean really it could happen to anyone at any time” and into the stage where your caregiver can’t be certain of her schedule for the next week because you might no longer be on it. I would really love to be serving them their meals on the good dishes, and drying their hair with the good towels. It WOULD be sad if an irreplaceable 1940s plate got broken, it WOULD. But I’m looking at the two possibilities: (1) using the dishes many, many times and enjoying them each time, and ending up with a set that has a few missing/chipped pieces, or (2) never using the dishes, and ending up with a perfect set. That we never see. Because it is in a box. It re-motivates me to go ahead and use that little jar of expensive night cream.

Coughing: Stopping It: Any Chance of It?

We watched Gandhi for our New Year’s Eve movie, and despite what you’d expect, it was not exactly a chill mellow meditation movie. Or maybe that is exactly what you would expect, and we should have asked you first. Anyway, it was the kind of movie I think of afterward as An Important Movie To See. I am very glad we saw it, and there were some truly excruciating scenes in it, but how lucky am I that the worst I had to experience was SEEING those etc. etc. etc. Anyway. Good movie. Good to have frequent breaks for pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks, chocolate-covered pretzels, putting a cool washcloth to my swollen eyelids, etc.

I am coughing again. Here is what is happening: I get a cold, just a perfectly ordinary cold, no big deal, not even a bad cold. Then I cough for two or three or four weeks, the kind of coughing that builds on itself until I’m gagging. No fever. No other bothersome symptoms. Just relentless coughing, until my stomach and back and shoulders are sore from it.

This was unpleasant but tolerable when I was an at-home parent. Now that I am working, and furthermore working for elderly people who should not be coughed on, this cannot stand. Listen, is there anything, ANYTHING, that can stop the coughing temporarily, for say two to four hours?

(This job, like all of my other jobs so far, gives lip service to not going to work when you’re sick, but actually does want you to come to work when you’re sick. This would not be a productive area for debate, because I KNOW RIGHT, but there it is. The elderly should not be exposed to germs, nor should people in hospitals, and yet this is where we are as a society until something elemental is changed about how we handle staffing. Really. I am too frustrated even to get relief from discussing how dumb it is. But anyway, even in A Better World it’s hard to imagine taking a month off of work for a cough. And then doing it again two weeks later. So. Back to the topic at hand.)

My mother says codeine cough syrup, and that is what the doctor gives me whenever I go to her and plead my case. But it just makes me feel pleasantly lightheaded and slightly queasy while I cough.

I think I have tried most of the over-the-counter cough syrups by now. Robitussin. Mucinex. DayQuil. Delsym. Feel free to recommend them anyway (it’s been awhile since I tried Delsym, for example), especially if there’s something FANCY about it: i.e., “I take Mucinex WITH half a Benadryl AND I gargle vinegar.” I WILL TRY SERIOUSLY JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. Oh, I have also tried Miss Grace‘s suggestion of a small glass of Drambuie before bed, which I’m not sure if it helps the cough PER SE but it certainly is delightful and delicious and I have bought many a bottle since she recommended it.

Also feel free to say things you feel as if maybe you shouldn’t say, such as “You know, this is probably cough cancer” or “My asthma was just like this before I knew it was asthma” or whatever. I’ve mentioned the situation to two different general practitioners already, and both of them were all “Yep, colds sure suck, and coughs are a normal part of colds, SHRUG.” And maybe they DO and ARE, but I feel as if I cough a LOT MORE than the average Josephine.

Odds Are; Birdseye Vegetables

Ever since Trudee mentioned it in the comments section, I have been listening to this song:

Odds Are, by Barenaked Ladies.

Very heartening.


One of the nice things about having a driving teenager in the house is that if I am halfway through making dinner and realize I don’t have an ingredient, I can send the teenager to the store for it. But. Last week I was planning to make chili but suddenly got in the mood to make soup instead. All I needed was the frozen vegetables, and that’s easy enough, so I sent Rob. Here is what I wrote down for him:


I explained it verbally, saying that I THOUGHT it was called “Classic” but it might be something similar, so I was writing down the exact vegetables in the blend so he’d be able to figure it out; and that I believed the bags were 16 ounces, but I needed 20 ounces so he might need to get two bags. I think that’s pretty clear. This is what I was expecting him to bring home:


But two of them, since as I remembered, the bags are 16 ounces. Here is what he instead brought home:


I mean. How did this even happen? His answers were unsatisfactory. At first he tried to defend his choice: “You said Birdseye frozen vegetables, these are Birdseye frozen vegetables!” “You said 20 ounces so I got three boxes!” “They didn’t have anything marked Classic!” It was hard to know what to say. I had him look again at what I’d written down. I reminded him of what I’d said. I didn’t want to make him feel stupid, but his wrongness was so inexplicable: microwave-ready boxes, of a specific not-at-all-what-I-said vegetable blend, that comes with a sauce. They WERE Birdseye, though! Good job, honey!

And then I still needed vegetables for the soup. I made Rob come with me to the store. He was pretty cranky about it, but I wasn’t sure how else to complete this training exercise, except to guide him to the frozen vegetable section and show him the piles of the very thing I’d asked him to buy.

Good at What You Hate

Tonight at work I had a terrible shift, where things happened that I am not trained or paid enough to deal with and yet I had to deal with them anyway. For a mental picture that gives you the gist without the details, imagine that you have agreed to work as an assistant teacher in a classroom and, while you are there, all the students throw up all over the floor, and you have to clean it up even though it is not at all what you were hired to do, because in this imaginary scenario I am creating just to give you the idea, you are the only person there and no one else can help all those poor sick kids.

Anyway. It was awful. It reminded me of when one of my babies would have a diaper so terrible that I didn’t even know how to start, and considered CUTTING the onesie off rather than dragging that horrifying object up over the baby’s head. (By the way, if you have not yet encountered this and need to file away this information: most onesies can be pulled DOWN.) Or when a child would throw up so extensively that I would be sobbing while cleaning it up, because I knew I would never, ever be done cleaning it up. And yet the only thing to do was to keep working at it.

And I did keep working at it, and I did fix it. At the end of the shift, the client said something so loving and grateful to me, I went from thinking, “Never again. Nope. Never, ever again. This is WELL BEYOND my pay grade,” to thinking, “I can never leave, not until death do us part.” I went home and poured a giiiiiiiiant brandy, for shock and trauma. I put all my clothes into the laundry and put on comfy jammies. I washed my hands up to the elbow in the hottest water I could stand, several times. I lay down on the bed and the littler boys snuggled in, one on each side, and I soaked it up.

This is reminding me of working a cash register. It’s a job that I hate, and that I am very good at. I am polite, and smiley, and I try to fix things and make the customers happy. While doing this, and afterwards for literally years, I suffer. Every snippy or unfair thing a customer says, every error I make, every time something goes wrong that I can’t fix—all of those things are slow-burning coal for the lying-awake furnace.

It’s hard to explain to my bosses what the problem is. Why am I saying I don’t want to work the cash register, when I am so obviously a natural at it? Why am I running out the door, lighting everything on fire as I go, when dealing tactfully with horrifying messes is clearly my calling? It is difficult and complicated and hard to explain, to be good at something you hate.


Isn’t it weird to think there may right now be people who won the lottery but don’t KNOW they’ve won the lottery? Like, they could still be asleep.

And when I was thinking about that, feeling kind of happy about how they were going to be SO SURPRISED AND HAPPY, I started thinking about all the BAD surprises we might not know about yet.

I continue to fly verrrrryyyyy lowwwwwww. This is the song my radio alarm woke me up with the other day, and it has felt very apt:

Pinch Me, by Barenaked Ladies.

Here, I know: let’s force this. I will say three good or happy things, not counting the big ones like that all of us are alive and safe and warm and fed, and not counting any of the ones where I have to list all the horrible things we’re lucky NOT to be going through.

1. After our last set of experiences, we tried a new lab for Edward’s bloodwork and it was ONE MILLION TIMES BETTER. Fast. Easy. Nearer to our house. No screw-ups. And I deleted the rest of this paragraph where I discussed how one experience was too soon to call it, and how we didn’t yet know if our insurance covered it.

2. The creepy, spidery-looking thing dangling under my chair turned out to be a little bit of fluff and not a spider.

3. Tacos for dinner tonight.

4. Oh, I thought of another one: I ordered some clearance Christmas chocolates and they’ll be here tomorrow.

Broody and Moody

I’m here to stop myself from going back to my town’s Facebook page, where right now there is a very tiresome yet provoking argument. I’m sure that Michelle doesn’t mean to imply that the only way for people to get information is the way SHE prefers to get information (thanks for yet again replying to a question using only a link to Google, Michelle! Very neighborly of you!), and I’m sure Carol doesn’t mean to imply that the town’s page should only be used for things she personally is interested in (thanks for yet again saying you don’t understand why anyone cares about this, Carol!), but in that case why is this argument happening and why are phrases such as “you people” and “better things to do” being bandied about? And why does it happen that there are people who think it is a waste of time to chat on Facebook, but do NOT think it is a waste of time to criticize others, on Facebook, for chatting on Facebook?

I have already said my piece (despite believing that the absolute best way to handle this would have been to hit “hide conversation”), and it was well-received (more likes than Michelle and Carol are getting, and no one fighting with me about it), so now I need to stop participating while I’m ahead. It helps to remember that theoretically whatever I write can be seen by my clients and their families.

Speaking of which, I am feeling panicky and meh about my job again. I don’t know why it happened. Oh, actually, I think it’s that my schedule changed. One of my main clients decreased her hours and that eliminated a big chunk of mine. So now I’m meeting new clients again, and my schedule is irregular again, and I don’t like either of those things. Anyway, I’m back to feeling bad on work days, and feeling like it’s the wrong job for me, and needing to repeatedly list to myself the reasons why I should stick with it anyway (it’s a good answer for the “What do you do?” question; it’s a good job for immediately increasing hours/paycheck if Something Happened; I believe in the value of the work itself; I wasn’t happy when I WASN’T working, either; probably nothing else part-time and entry-level is going to be any better, and at least I’m over the new-job hurdle with this one; I DO feel good on my way HOME from a shift).

Well. It’s possible some of this is post-holiday blues. It doesn’t FEEL as if it’s connected, but one can only go so many years feeling depressed in January before one is forced to concede that it COULD be part of it. I’m very glad to have something fun planned for this weekend. I’m also glad, despite what I just said about my job, that I’m working today: how I’m feeling right now is how I used to feel a LOT of the time, and it’s one of the reasons I GOT the job, so I don’t think I can say it’s BECAUSE OF the job. And despite the dread I feel right now, I know from experience that when I’m THERE working, and when I’m on my way home, my mood will be significantly better than it is right now.