Families can be green concrete

That’s a weird title, I know. It looks like email spam nonsense.

The house in which I grew up had a backyard covered in – I kid you not – green concrete. It was some post WWII housing boom idea. You got the green color without the yard work.

We had this strange non-biosphere because my dad grew up subsistence farming. He wanted nothing more to do with “working the land.” It was the harsh labor of his orphan childhood, and even mowing the curbside grass bugged him. As soon as I was tall enough to push a mower (remember push mowers?), the job was mine.

My mom grew up in an immigrant community in Providence, Rhode Island. She had a bricks and concrete childhood, so she actually liked the idea of earth and plants. The parts of the yard not buried in green concrete became her gardens, and she did quite well with a variety of plants and flowering bushes.

The thought hit me today (I’m fighting a virus and that means a head full of strange and muddled thoughts) that my childhood backyard symbolizes what I hear from other caregivers about family and friends.

In so many cases, caregivers lament that family and friends back away from them. They won’t come help out with the house stuff; they won’t provide some respite time for the caregiver; they just won’t, won’t, won’t. The only thing they seem motivated to do is stay away.

Those folks are like the green concrete. They exist as family and friends in some inert way, their names sitting on Christmas card lists and their faces fixed flat in photo albums and such. But they cease to form a living connection to the caregiver and the people who need the care.

I get it, I think. There’s a fear factor, like my dad’s about lawns. You let it get started just a little, and you’re sucked in for good. Family and friends see the stinkiness of care giving, and they want to keep safe distance. And the safe distance gets safer and more distant over time. The connections of dirt and water and roots and grass give way to green concrete.

I hear a few examples – and they are the minority – of family and friends who are more like my mom in her garden. These folks are drawn to dig in. Helping out with care giving enlivens them. They feel a sense of satisfaction from helping out, like planting seeds and watching flowers bloom over time.

OK, so that thought came and went. Think I’ll hit the DayQuil again and take a break.

Before I go, I’ll note that I was back in L.A. a couple of years ago and went by the house where I grew up. The green concrete was gone – in fact, it had just been broken up and the backyard was naked dirt, ready for real grass or a swimming pool or something, anything else to arrive. I didn’t feel any sense of loss – more of a chuckle and a “God bless you” on the new owners.

Oh, and one more thought. Families, I guess, are less about blood than about valuing and sharing important stuff, like Jesus says here:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

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