Home is where the shark is

OK, I (Tim) am gonna whine. If you don’t like whining, and you’re one of those people who can just summon up a motivational quote, do some deep breathing, put on a happy face, etc., go do your thing while I whine. There’s some humor of a sort down below if you want to skip to that.

I hate the spring time change. I just adjusted all the clocks an hour ahead. I’m sure there’s some great social good to this somewhere, but it’s just another bit of sleep deprivation to me.

I’m whiny because I’m sleep deprived and “home deprived.” I work long hours and get home to a good share of household work. After that, I desire some rest. I want to enjoy some space and let my mind float a bit. But “situations” come with care giving, and the last few nights have been full of them. No privacy, no mental rest, reduced sleep and added stress.

Among the frequent bits of advice given to care givers are “Take care of yourself, reduce stress, do some things for you.” But those are exactly the things that care giving compromises. It’s been acute for me in recent weeks, so I’m whining.

Had a day off of sorts today. Got a wee bit of extra sleep, although now I’m setting the clocks ahead to give an hour back. Got to watch the better part of a movie on TV. But I didn’t get to the gym as planned, or read some stuff I wanted to read, or work on a book I have a contract to write.

So sometimes I annoy those around me by creating meaningless mental space. It is the only way I can go on automatic pilot and cut down the applied thinking and stress of too many demands.

A14148_009AOne way I achieve this is to pull out a diminutive glow-in-the-dark toy shark. Long story about his origins; enough to say that I got a few laughs out of humming the Jaws theme while poking Melissa with the shark early on in our married life.

So I pull out my pal Sharkey, or just put my thumb and index finger together if he isn’t handy, hum the music and poke Melissa. Or threaten to. Or make a face every time a word that rhymes with shark comes up – “I’m taking the dog to the park, wink, wink. Or give her the look any time the ocean shows up on TV, even in a commercial.

It is to the point where she’s more annoyed than amused. But I find it hard to go cold turk… I mean… cold Sharkey. Sharkey creates meaningless mental space in which I can just rest. I don’t need a “man cave,” just a shark bite.

Posting from under the car

This picture is a disturbing reenactment of an actual incident.  Viewer discretion is advised.

This picture is a disturbing reenactment of an actual incident. Viewer discretion is advised.

So here I am under the bumper. It all started just a few minutes ago…

[Picture goes wavy/eerie music]

I’m here at the clinic with the autistic kid for a 3 pm doctor appointment, which is crammed into the last week of the year because he doesn’t have a physical on file with his day program.

Only, everybody in town is cramming stuff into this week, so the doctor is running late. An hour late. Now it’s 4 pm in the waiting room.

Lo and behold, the kid’s remained calm for the hour. He chit chatted with me about movie lines that make him laugh. He probably did better with the hour than I.

Physical went fine. Doctor remarked on how calm and composed the kid was compared to previous visits.

Out into the frigid air. Get the kid in the car and turn it on to get the heater running. But the extra hour means snow and – worse – some ice is coating the windshields, so I need to scrape.

Which I commence to do. Which I commence to do with a scowl. Which I commence to do as if there’s an emergency underway. And in rushing from one end of the car to the other I don’t see the ice-coated parking bump under the snow and…

[Picture goes wavy/eerie music]

Same warning as in the first pic.

Same warning as in the first pic.

So here I am under the bumper.

One of the stinky things about care giving (even in winter when stuff freezes before it can stink) is the way chores and errands and irritations pile up. We have our bad days, when even if the circumstances are going well (or at least better than expected), we fall down and go boom. Because we’ve put out so much energy staying calm in the face of crazy situations that we are just empty. We’ve deferred so much self care that we go off emotionally over little things.

Some years ago some friends and I had a code that we borrowed from Bible study. If one of us said, “It’s a Psalm 37 day,” we knew that his temper was being pushed into the red zone, and made it a point to let him vent and calm down. Because Psalm 37 says,

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

Maybe I should tape that to my axle for next time.

The Winged Electro S**t Worm

I served in the U.S. Army during the Cold War. I believe it was called that because we sat around being cold a lot in what used to be West Germany.

I was in the Field Artillery, in what was called a “Special Weapons” section. There were four of us and we were somewhat unpopular. We handled “classified government high explosives,” and this gave us all kinds of breaks from duties endured by others. For instance, we had a restricted access work room, which led the rest of our unit to believe that we were kicking back being warm while they were outside working in the cold. Which was often the case.

But even in our relative privacy and comfort, we still did what soldiers do, trying to fend off boredom during long stretches of “hurry up and wait.” Lots of banter, lots of complaining, and occasional outbreaks of laugh-’til-it-hurts humor.

One slow day, one of my section mates found this thick roll of paper, unrolled it, and taped it to the wall of our hideout, from ceiling to floor. He marked horizontal lines on it, making it look like a giant thermometer.

Then he took a sheet of notebook paper and drew a critter that was like a giant dragonfly, except with sunglasses. “This is the Winged Electro S**t Worm,” he explained with no lack of creative pride.

Then he took a piece of masking tape and affixed the Worm to the thermometer. “The Winged Electro S**t Worm will render our attitude check as needed.”

And so it did. S**t Worm high up the thermometer, near the ceiling? That meant our spirits were high. Like when we avoided going out to work in the cold, or we passed one of our constant readiness inspections, or we found girls in town who hadn’t sworn off of dumb GIs.

2012-12-22_09-13-56_966But sometimes the worm moved down toward the floor. S**t Worm low on the scale meant our attitude was dropping. Long cold walk to town, struck out with the girls, long cold walk back = S**t Worm descending. Sergeant ordered us to go to the motor pool and work on our truck? Worm dropped down some more.

One day I walked in to find the Winged Electro S**t Worm taped to the floor in the middle of the room. Can’t remember why our section was in such a bad mood but the worm expressed that we were about as low as we could go.

One day a Lieutenant happened in unexpectedly, took offense and made us get rid of the attitude thermometer and the S**t Worm. The End.

What’s this have to do with care giving? Well, here we are in the holidays, with plenty of extra stuff on top of the regular routines. High hopes and big let downs can alternate quickly. Attitude can ride the waves.

We took our son to a couple of seasonal music programs. Taking him to public events can be risky, but he actually listened and enjoyed them, and our holiday spirits rose.

On the other hand, we’ve been getting the house ready for a Christmas Eve party. Company! Human contact! But the kid (and the dog and the cat) have countered our tidy-up efforts with some formidably disgusting messes. Attitude sinking… sinking…

Holidays make the roller coaster ride of care giving more intense, I think. Laughter, even the grim kind, can be good medicine for attitude fluctuations.

So don’t be ashamed to represent with a Winged Electro S**t Worm.

I got care gived

Over the weekend I was able to enjoy significant rest from care giving.  I was able to go on a retreat with some men from our church.  Good conversation, fishing, hunting and Sunday morning prayer in a serene location with gorgeous autumn weather.

It was more than just getting away from my routines.  All kinds of other folks became my care givers.  I wasn’t called on to do any cooking – meals were set before me.  I don’t own any fishing gear – guys lent me theirs and coached me on how to use techniques that were new to me.

Then there were care givers from heaven and nature.  God took care of me via the quiet and beauty that abounded.  Coyotes serenaded me one prolifically starry night.  One guy’s hunting dog took to playing with me and even tried to snuggle in my sleeping bag.  Lots of fish hit my line – no keepers, but catch and release was fun.  We were after Walleye and Northern Pike – feisty when hooked and satisfying to reel in.

2 lb. Northern with goofy respite enjoying care giver. Yes, I let him go.

So who took care of the kid at home?  Melissa, of course.  She was my care giver as well as his.

As a care giver, I’m blessed to be part of a tag team.  As you might have read in Tuesday’s post, Melissa didn’t have peace and quiet.  She stepped in to handle all the emotionally draining work so I could rest and refresh.

When I got home on Sunday night, she kept asking, “Did you see the bright orange leaves on the tree out front?”

“Of course not.  My eyes don’t do color well even in the daytime.”

“You should try and see it.”

“In the morning, OK?”

When I took our dog out on Monday morning, I got a look at the fall foliage – then realized  that all of the front yard plants were trimmed back for winter.  Melissa had arranged a yard service to come and do an annual chore that usually wipes out all of a Saturday, not to mention my back.  Talk about major care giving.  She really came through for me.

Even that tangled mess you see on our blog’s masthead is cut back and cleaned up.  I won’t change the picture, because now it reminds me of much more than the out of control mess that care giving can become.  It reminds me that care givers can get “care gived,” too.  We are blessed by the generosity of others.

Guys and grief

…make room for the possibility that your strongest emotion is grief.  Those of us of the male persuasion perceive grief as a weakness…

Our son likes to watch rapid images.  Movie trailers or Disney music videos on You Tube really keep his attention.  I was “playing requests,” loading up movie and song clips as he asked for them.  Then the computer froze.

Autistic people can get violent when frustrated.  Our son didn’t have words to express his displeasure and my repetition of “Ready to be calm?” couldn’t reach him.  He grabbed up a braided rope dog toy and started whipping me with it.

I tried to stop him verbally, but the strikes hurt and all of a sudden I was ready to strike back.  I spun the desk chair around and shot to my feet.  There he was, maybe a third my size at the time, his face contorted in rage.  He just held the rope whip up, not sure what to swing at now that my full frame loomed over him.  I had both fists clenched.

Then I ran out of the room and dissolved in tears.  I didn’t want to hurt him, but I was hurting deep down.  My own child was so messed up that he was beating on me.  He was upset because one little thing that brought pleasure to his confusing life wasn’t working.  Everything looked like pain and impossibility from every angle.  It broke my heart.

You might blow up emotionally from time to time.  The one for whom you care might seem like a total waste of time, space, money, effort, hope and love.

When that happens,

make room for the possibility that your strongest emotion is grief.  Those of us of the male persuasion perceive grief as a weakness.

We often put on anger or physical aggression as the most available masks, because some part of our agitated brain perceives those reactions as strong and effective.

You might feel like you need to raise your volume and smash something, when what you probably need is some privacy and a big box of Kleenex.