Monday, March 22, 2010

fictional characters, yes. fictional details, no.

I had just settled into the sofa with a steaming mug of hazelnut coffee and my new Working Mother magazine. As usual, I flipped the glossy magazine over and started paging through it back to front. I seem to have picked this up from my sister. Just one of the many quirks the Kirk girls share, I suppose. This is how I read a magazine. I start at the back, and read the last page first. This is my favorite part of the periodical; usually some sort of humorous personal account. Then I take my first pass at the rest of the magazine, checking out the articles, the recipes, and ads. I read the titles and the first few lines of each article. I glance over the recipes, caught up in the beautiful photographs of the food. Food porn. I am a pretty good cook, but my end product rarely looks as appetizing as those magazine photos.

I love a new magazine. Taking it out of the mail box, setting it aside for later, when my little guy is tucked in his bed upstairs and my husband has fallen asleep on the sofa while clutching the television remote in his hands like a life line. Lights down low, fireplace lit, I can hear Matthew breathing next to me through the monitor that sits on the side table by the sofa. Sleepy breathing in stereo. My husband on the other sofa, to my left, and my son in his room, sending his sleepy noises down through the monitor. There is nothing so peaceful as hearing the rhythmic breathing of your loved one's sleep. Surrounded by these peaceful sleepy noises makes me feel as though I have been wrapped up in a very soft, very warm fleece blanket. Protected. Safe. Content.

I am in the magazine zone. I have read the essay on the last page. I have salivated over the lemon pepper fish that looks so good in the picture. On the rare occasion that I cook fish, (I am the only one in the house who will eat it), it never looks like this. By the time it reaches the plate it has barely survived the frying pan and is usually in numerous pieces, unlike the shining piece of perfection staring up at me from the glossy page of the magazine. I have read the headlines of the articles and have decided on my first read; an article about addiction to caffeine and how to finally kick the habit. I have been addicted to caffeine for years. I blame my sister. Circumstances in her life saw to it that we ended up at separate local colleges at the same time. Kind of cool, really, being able to study with my older sister. We would take turns studying at our respective colleges, both of which had lots of coffee to offer. She continued to fuel my addiction after college when she moved to an apartment in Cleveland right around the corner from a coffee shop. My love affair with both coffee and coffee shops was born, and I have been an avid follower ever since. This article was right up my alley. While I have no intention of ever giving up my precious caffeine I do know there are negative health effects to the amount I consume. If this article could offer up some tips on at least reducing my intake, then I was in.

The story opens by following a nurse at an assisted living "facility". First red flag. Would you want to live in a facility? They are not facilities. People, not "residents", live in assisted living communities, not "facilities". I push down this annoyance and read on. The heroine of the story downs her third cup of coffee as she heads into the assisted living "facility" because she knows that she will not have time to take a break once her shift starts, due to the budget cut induced under staffing. The red flag is now dancing in front of my eyes, jumping up and down and waving it's arms. Under staffing? Really? Maybe. But probably not. What a stressed associate working the floor may see as an understaffed schedule is often simply a schedule that has been brought back in line with the budget and the care needs of the people living in the community. Swinging the staffing pendulum back to where it belongs assures that every shift is appropriately staffed and eliminates the need for drastic measures such as downsizing. How much coffee would that nurse be drinking if she were sitting at her kitchen table reading the want ads?

Magazine induced happiness haze destroyed. Cripe.

The next day I am hiding in my locked bedroom waiting for Daddy to finish Matthew's bed time stories. Matthew loves his bed time stories, no matter which one of us reads them, but if I am in the room Matthew tends to not pay attention to Daddy's reading. So, occasionally I hide during story time, showing up in my son's room just as the book is closing. We have bonded so well, but because of that our life tends to be a carefully choreographed dance, much of which includes locked doors and hiding places.

I pick up the book on the table next to the bed and open it to where I left off. My friend recently gave me this book when I spent the weekend with her. She was packing to move and uncovered it while sorting sweaters. The two main characters in this book are having marital problems after years of dealing with infertility. It has taken me a while to get into this book, and I am still not sure I am going to finish it. The wife, unable to move past their inability to have a biological child and upset over her husband's refusal to discuss adoption, has retreated to the laundry room, where she folds clothes over and over and stares out the window overlooking their pristine back yard. I am sure she would give up her beautifully landscaped lawn in a heartbeat if she could have my backyard. Nothing special. Grass, a patio, a fence. But what makes my yard so very special to me is the little signs of small people life out there. the tiny slide that my son has nearly outgrown and now enjoys pushing his dump truck down, watching it land with a heavy thud at the bottom. Sometimes I stand at my kitchen window and look out at the small yard and my heart fills with such happiness. I love having a soccer ball and a bird feeder and trucks strewn around the grass. I often wonder if those women who had no trouble getting pregnant feel as nostalgic when they pick up their children's' toys for the hundredth time. Or when they drive around town running errands with their sleeping child in the back seat. I wonder if these same women feel the guilt I feel when I get upset with my son for splashing water out of the tub or not listening. I waited so long for this precious child and here I am just so frustrated with him. The guilt associated with adoption just pops up when I least expect it, smacking me in the face like an open hand.

The husband in my book is frustrated with his wife's inability to let go and move on. He doesn't understand the need his wife feels, the need she cannot control. This need lives in her brain and in her heart, and seeps into her bones and muscles, making them heavy and hard to control. Sure, he wants to have a family. Sure he is sad about their fertility issues. But he loves his wife and is ready to make a life with her, children or no children. And he feels as though he is maybe not enough for her; she cannot seem to be happy without a baby, so obviously he is not enough for her. To make this right in his mind, to make sense of all of this, she just needs to get over it. He cannot grasp the idea that this need is a part of her. I am not sure I want to continue reading this book because this is a little too familiar to me. I do not need to read about another woman's pain. I can so easily still recall my own.

The husband is a podiatrist and he makes calls once a week at a local nursing home. The scene opens with him walking through the doors into the home, leaving the bright sunshine of the hot California day behind him as the glass doors slide shut. His eyes slowly adjust to the darkness of the nursing home as his nose is accosted by the scent of urine. Seriously? I love to read. We have already established my love of magazines, and books hold even more importance in my life. Sometimes all I want is to get lost in the lives of these fictional characters. Fictional characters, yes. But I want the details surrounding the story to be believable. And I find it hard to believe that a nursing home in an upscale California community in this day and age would smell like urine. The associates I work with work very hard to assure that our communities are clean and fresh smelling, every day. Suddenly I couldn't see the story past this detail. Perhaps I was still thinking of the magazine article I had read the day before. We are surrounded by stereotypes off all shapes and sizes every day. Some we can control, some we cannot. Call it a pet peeve of mine, but pushing the stereotype that nursing homes and assisted living communities are smelly, understaffed facilities full of residents with vacant looks and overworked associates is irresponsible. Ask the daughter who can finally sleep at night because she knows her mother is well taken care of and safe, with no chance of falling down those basement stairs Mom tried to navigate daily in her own home. Ask the wife who now enjoys her visits with her memory impaired husband because he is no longer physically assaulting her while she tries, in vain, to get him into the shower. And ask the grandson who can't wait to go visit his grammy because he loves the huge floor to ceiling cage of tiny white and yellow birds in the living room, the fire place that is always surrounded by seniors full of life who love to give him high fives and hugs, and the little basket of toys he keeps in his grammy's closet in her well appointed assisted living apartment. Go ahead, ask him, he is right here at my feet, playing with his cars under our kitchen table.

No comments:

Post a Comment