Apparently, once you hit 70 or so, you don’t sleep. At least that’s what I’ve learned after spending two nights and three days with my parents this past weekend.
I really thought that older people slept a lot – or at least napped – sort of like cats, but, alas, that is obviously not the case.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that aches and pains and heartburn and simple, general old-age insomnia keep many older people awake, so that’s why they don’t sleep. I’m already experiencing it at middle-age. Still, I had no idea that people of a “certain age” only need about five hours of sleep to function each day. They may not function well, and they may function on a bit more of a cranky plane than others, but they function nonetheless.
My daughter wanted to stay at her grandparents one weekend and since we couldn’t that particular day, I told her we would do it the following weekend when her brother was at a sleepover and her dad was working an extra shift. As so often happens when I plan a special weekend, I ended up having two weird health spells while there (translation: I’m hitting that special age when our hormones shift so my nasty monthly visitor came early), which wasn’t fun, but what was fun was watching my daughter spend almost our entire time there sitting next to her grandmother playing with her stuffed animals and telling my mom all she knows about wildlife thanks to PBS kids’ Wild Kratts. Of course, she did tell Mom that some Jaguares give birth to 300 cubs at a time, obviously not accurate, so I think she may have misunderstood something Chris and Martin told her.
I don’t have a strict bedtime for my children most nights and since this was a sleepover we went to bed late that night. I crawled into my aunt’s old room around 11:30 and since Little Miss hadn’t had a nap all day she passed out within five minutes. I started to drift off at midnight while reading a book.
Before bed I had tried to figure out how to turn off the lamp next to the bed and before I even reached it, it turned off, which made me realize it must be a touch lamp. I decided I must have touched it right and went to bed, only to have the thing turn on a few moments later without me even touching it. That was disconcerting so I found the actual switch and turned that to make sure the light stayed off. I could just imagine my late aunt up in Heaven, if she can see from there, laughing at me until she couldn’t breathe. Back in bed I curled up in the flannel sheets and tried to relax after a weird day of dizziness and high blood pressure (as mentioned before, this turned out to be related to my early visitor, but I didn’t know that at the time so my hypochondria had kicked in. The blood pressure went back into normal range the next few days.).
I closed my eyes and ten minutes later a light filled the room as if the stadium lights at a night football game had been turned on. Zooma the Wonderdog had curled up at my feet, but, of course, when she heard footsteps in the hallway she was off the bed to investigate. I figured Dad had to use the bathroom while Mom was in the one downstairs so I waited for the light to click back off again. It did, but then bam! It was on 30 seconds later. I decided I’d have to join the dog to investigate so I headed down the stairs only to meet my dad, brushing his teeth, coming up to meet me.
“I turned the light off but then I thought I’d better turn it back on because I didn’t know if the dog could find her way back to your room in the dark,” he told me.
“Dad, she’s a dog. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
I flipped the light back off and went back to bed. It was about 1 a.m.
At 6 a.m. I woke up to use the bathroom and could already hear my dad opening and closing the front door and calling for Zooma to come back inside from her morning potty break. I’d had a long day the day before so I crawled back into bed and a few hours later I staggered downstairs to find my parents somewhat wide awake and freshly baked fish on the counter for breakfast (we aren’t really breakfast-food people.)
“Good grief, don’t you two sleep?” I asked.
“What? I was up at 5:30…” Dad told me.
“Yeah, but you didn’t go to bed until 1,” I pointed out.
I imagined he would catch up on his sleep the next night. Instead, I was again woke up at 6 a.m., the next morning, after going to bed too late again, this time by Zooma jumping on the bed and a bright, artificial light filling the room. Apparently, Dad still didn’t think Zooma could find her way back after her morning potty break.
The last night we were there, my 4-year old daughter and 12-year old son were eating tomato soup with their grandfather at 10:30 at night.
I was glad it was only soup this time.
One other time we were stranded at their house in a snowstorm when my mom began shoving several pieces of chocolate into my then 3-year old daughter around 11:30 at night. Fine, maybe Mom wasn’t shoving them in, but simply opening them one-by-one so my daughter could shove them in. We were awake until at least 1 a.m. the next morning. When I discovered the empty wrappers, I asked my mom what she was thinking and she giggled and said “I don’t know! She was just so cute!”
I swear when people hit grandparent age they forget about all those rules they had when they were parents. I can’t imagine my parents ever letting me shove candy down my gullet that late at night, or even being awake that late at night.
And also when they hit grandparent age, they apparently, forget how nice sleep can be.
The yard sale and the lonely old man
I was inside when he pulled up to our yard sale. My son and husband were outside with him but I stepped out to see if he had any questions about the items he was looking at. He did but only about a film camera I was selling, which turned out to be his launching point for telling stories about his life.
“I took photos a long time ago, when I was in Korea in the service. Of course I traveled other places too. I have a box of color slides at home. My son takes photos, he knows more about these things than I do. You say it still works?”
It did, that I knew of, but had been passed down to me from someone else. I always told myself I was going to learn how to shoot film, but I’d never got there and had decided it was time to give up and sell the cameras, one of which had a broken lever.
Before I knew it and without speaking much at all myself, I learned the hunched over older man was 88, had flown planes for years, had traveled the world, had lost his wife in 2009, and had almost remarried two years ago.
As we talked I realized I knew the man but thankfully he didn’t remember me at all.
It was one of those times I was happy to see someone suffering from the ill mental effects of old age. I had written a feature story on him in my old life as a small town newspaper reporter and had been quite proud of the story of a war veteran and local hero who had established a fundraiser for cancer research with his wife in memory of their son. He wasn’t as impressed. His lack of praise for the article didn’t come from inaccurate information I had presented but the fact I had made him look “too good.”
Apparently I had idealized him too much and given him so much positive coverage he felt embarrassed and humiliated, as if he had been bragging about himself. So there I stood one day, in the front of the office of the small town paper I worked for, listening as he scolded me for saying too many nice things about him. I didn’t even know how to respond, other than to silently consider digging up some nasty dirt on him to balance out the portrayal.
This annoyed response to a positive article actually wasn’t the only of its kind for me. A few years before that the mom of a friend had told me the same about an article I wrote on their dairy farm. My personal affection for what I saw as an idyllic rural upbringing transferred the story, in her opinion, into an unrealistic view of their world and made it appear that she and her family were perfect, when she knew they weren’t.
Again, I was stumped. After these incidents if I began to second guess positive feature stories I wrote, wondering if should throw in some negative antidotes about the subject or ask them to provide me with some personal failings to flush out the story and make them look less appealing as a human being. I tried my best after those complaints to never make a person look “too good” again.
The man at the yard sale talked away, saying my name sounded familiar, thought he knew someone with my last name (he does and it’s me and my husband, who he’s also been interviewed by for another story about the fundraising event held in memory of the man’s late son.).
“I used to have one of these. Took photos when I was in the Air Force,” he says, the camera strap hooked around his neck now. “I’ve got some old color slides in my attic. Korea and Greece and places like that. My son knows about cameras. He takes photos. He lives over in South Waverly. Just down the road here.”
Each item he looked at seemed to trigger another thought.
“I almost got remarried a couple years ago. I knew her in high school or course. We used to go to the roller rink. She got married and has some kids and so did I. My wife, Joan, she died in 2009 and her husband had died. She would pull up in front of house and I’d go out and we’d talk. Well one night I went to hug her and she pulled away and said “what are you doing? I’m not a hugger.’ I said to myself ‘well, that’s that, because I’m a hugger.'”
He talked away, about nothing and everything.
I listened because I knew he needed someone to listen.
Even though he didn’t remember me or know that I knew him, I did remember and I did know.
I knew he was alone in a tiny little house he’d once shared with his wife and his twin boys and a daughter. I knew one boy had died from cancer as a teenager.
I knew his life had been hard, full of pain, but also joy. I knew he was humble and didn’t like anyone to think he thought he was better than anyone else.
I knew he needed to talk and he needed someone to really listen because really it’s what we all want – someone to really listen when we talk and not just listen, but really hear.
I told him to stop by and show me the photos he took with the camera. He said my address out loud a couple of times, to commit it to a memory slowly failing him and promised he’d stop by again.
He crossed our busy street, back to his van, and we waved our goodbyes.
I didn’t know if he’d remember me later, or even the conversation we’d had that day, but I was glad to have been someone who listened to stories of his past on that summer day.
Mud, leg bruises and fun
I picked up my 10 year old son the last day of camp and found him covered in mud and smiling – just the way I like to see him.
He attends a day camp about 45 minutes from our house in rural Bradford County, Pa. for a week each June.
Stoney Point Camp is literally in the middle of nowhere, or at least it would be considered the middle of nowhere to anyone not originally from Northern Pennsylvania.
Someone from this county is used to dirt roads that lead to camps deep in the woods or sometimes to another dirt road and sometimes to an empty field.
The camp is full of Christian-based adventure and the day camp offers activities related to Christ and wildlife. They also offer horsemanship and teen camps throughout the summer.
Each day my son learned about wildlife, nature and God, which sounds like a good way to spend a summer day to me.
He spent two nights away from us at his friend’s house because our friends live less than ten minutes from the camp and it was easier on those days to have them take him with them. My friend is also one of the art instructors at the camp.
I won’t lie, we missed him terribly while he was gone.
We missed his laughter and the way he can make even the gloomiest day seem brighter.
He’s never been big on sleep overs, taking after his mom and preferring to spend his evenings home in the familiar so he was ready to come home on that final day, he said, even though he’d had fun with his friend.
We weren’t sure how Little Miss would handle her brother not being home since she’s so used to him being there every night. She handled his absence better than I thought, but did ask each night before bed where he was. The day we were ready to pick him up after his sleep over, I asked if she was excited to go get him, expecting a “yes!” but instead she said “No. I’m not excited anymore.”
I guess the process of preparing to head out the door to pick him up had eroded her anticipation.
But she was excited when we finally had him in our van and headed home for the day, stopping by an ice cream stand, complete with a climbable wooden pirate ship and a small playground, on our way home.
Jealousy, lost dreams and love
I scroll down the page and my heart sinks. Here I am again, feeling left out and less than.
A group of photographers met up and their meeting was full of creative opportunities. They’re all sharing photos and gushing about the chance to expand their artistic wings.
Comments on each other’s photos range from “amazing!” To “outstanding”. My photo, posted five hours ago, has three pity likes and no comments. In some ways I feel like I’m in high school again.
I look around my room
Our washer just died and I’ll most likely be packing up the laundry to visit the local laundry mat the next day.
The cat is screaming and I’m threatening to throw her in the street if she wakes up the kids. My bedroom is a mess and I know I need to add cleaning it to my list of chores. There are groceries to buy, diapers to change, playgrounds to visit, bills to pay.
Artistic outings aren’t a reality in my world.
I feel the envy rising up.
The comparison game is being played.
The dreams never realized are on my mind again, long after I thought I had succeeded in pushing them into the box marked “failed ventures. Move forward and don’t look back.”
It’s days like this that remind me social media breaks are needed and necessary and welcomed. To stop the voices, the comparing, the wishing, the envy and the hurt.
I look around me and my children are asleep next to me. The cat has finally stopped screaming and she’s asleep at the end of the bed.
I’ve been reading more about God and His plans for our lives.
I’ve been claiming His healing, listening for His voice.
I don’t know why some of my dreams were never realized or why I always seem to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the photography circle, but I know I am a child of the one true king, a mother to two amazing children, and success isn’t defined by accolades or attention but by love.
And I am loved.
And so are you.
Real life parenting moments
I’m in the kitchen trying to perfect a Ree Drummond recipe but every few moments my oldest is shouting that the cat is on his Lego table knocking pieces off to smack around on the floor or the youngest is holding an empty bowl and asking me when she can have “port top” (pork chop).
She’s looking up at me like a child from Oliver Twist, big green eyes, pitiful and pleading. One would think she hadn’t eaten in days, instead of five minutes before when her cheeks were full of apples.
Let’s be honest, I know I’m no Ree Drummond, whose children aren’t under foot when she cooks, or at least when she films for her show, but it would be nice to have at least twenty minutes uninterrupted to try to complete a new recipe (incidentally one of the Pioneer Woman’s. I had to leave out the grits because I’m allergic to corn.).
If I only have two children and a cat interrupting me then I have no idea how parents with more than two children cook, although they might have the benefit of an extra parent to help out. Extra help is rarely a luxury here thanks to my husband’s late afternoon to late night schedule and most of the time I really don’t mind.
On this day the ultimate interruption came between cooking the apple part of the recipe and browning the pork chops.
I heard the footsteps and the words before I even looked away from the cast iron pan the chops were sizzling in.
“Mama. I jus’ poop!”
I remember at that moment how Jonathan told me earlier his sister had stripped down naked. And sure enough she’s standing before me in her natural state pointing toward – not the bathroom – but the dining room.
“What do you mean you pooped? In the potty? You pooped in the potty?”
I knew she didn’t poop in the potty. Call it a intuition. Call it a horrible dreading feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“No. Right der. ” She was still pointing in the dining room.
“Where?” I asked, somewhat frantic to find “it” before my or my son’s feet did.
“Der! Under table!”
And indeed it was there.
Under the table.
Looking much different than it does squished in against her little tush in her diaper.
Yes, be thankful this is one of those life moments I didn’t photograph.
Unlike other similar events in the past (though this was the first pooping on the floor incident) I was able to stay calm and instead of asking “what were you thinking?!”because she wasn’t, because she’s two, I kept myself calm and used this as a learning experience for us both.
I ushered her into the bathroom and reminded her that was where we went when we had to poop, not under the dining room table.
She sat on the potty but let me know she didn’t have anymore poop left so I suggested she pee, which she did.
We celebrated and then I made sure she was instantly clad in a diaper before I let her loose in the house again.
I mentally committed to quickly respond with running to her with a diaper if I ever heard again, “Gracie just took all her clothes off.”
And despite all the interruptions, I managed not to burn dinner.