Sister to Sister: Tommy in Trouble

There was a bat in my dad’s living room last Thursday night. Yes. A bat. Not the one with the baseball glove that’s usually in the closet, but the flying black kind…the kind that screeches. The kind that makes me go behind the nearest door and slam it. The kind that may have rabies, for all we know. 

But we have a guy named Grat who lives with my dad. A bat! Go get Grat! Now Grat is brave but he is the Clean-Meister, too. So he puts on this towel for arm protection and then he dons Ezra’s plastic fire chief hat. (Grat in the hat and the bat, now!) He gets the pool net ( that’s for sweeping leaves) and it’s Grat and the bat doing business while my sister Sami, the lucky dad attendee that week, does the bat-frenzy dance all around the living room. The magic bat was good at escaping the net, but, finally, Grat-man the bat-man and his handy bat-net had him securely under that net flopping around on the settee. Eeeew! 

So what next? Do we squash him? Well, not on the tapestried settee. Try and get him to the door and end his incarceration? Sami decides we are not taking any chances (famous last words). We will put him in this Tupperware and then, tomorrow, if he is still alive out there on the front porch, we’ll figure it out.  So Grat-man slams that bat-ware on the bat and throws away the hat (don’t tell Ezra) and they all profusely thank the Grat and that’s that for that bat!

Until the next morning when the Tupperware is on the back patio instead of on the front porch,  and the dog—you know, the one that wandered up a few weeks ago, is having a good ole’ time  chewing it up (the Tupperware….no bat about.) “Oh dear, we really should have made it to the vet with this puppy to get shots, since Dad has decided it’s name, though a girl, is Tommy and that “it’s the best dog we’ve ever had,” (even though we need a bulldozer to clean up the yard after him and just last week we had to purchase a new pool vacuum because he (I mean she….It’s that Tommy name) chewed up a component of the old one (which was also purchased this very summer)! 

“That’s a gooooood dog, “ Daddy was saying while ambling to the car with his walker that next day after all the bat commotion. “Tommy, Tommy! You’re a good ole’ dog!” he was saying just as Tommy was jumping up between his body and his walker, steadily pushing the walker away from him…just as Tommy was licking his hands and got so excited that he (she) took a playful little plug out of Dad’s hand. 

This, being the series of unfortunate events that it was, of course, left Daddy’s hand bleeding. So now, we have a dog, who needs a rabies shot, who has been in contact with a wild bat, that’s taken a plug out of Daddy’s hand. 

“We really should go ahead and take the dog to the vet,” (although Celine’s just sure the dog has been spayed—“See there’s the scar from the operation,” she said. “That’s what it looks like. I googled it”) turns into “We are going to the vet today. But, if Celine is right, this transgender dog probably had a rabies shot whenever they spayed her.”

But Celine was not right. This goooood dog needs spaying, a litany of shots, a heart worm treatment (Do you even know how expensive that is?), and “…we can put her up for ten days for you for three hundred dollars, till we are sure it’s safe for her to be around people.” 

So this week it’s my turn to be here at Dad’s. I stopped at Walmart pre-arrival and bought some huge project boards. They were for a very important project. They are now duct-taped to the fronts of the fireplaces. They are lovely. You know, white on white is the latest trend in room decor, anyway. I actually told Dad I would paint a fire on them, but, wisely, he chose the Alabama logo I hung there for trial. Perhaps my favorite handyman will have time to cap those chimneys when he comes next, but, for now, I can sleep easier. (Well, truly that’s an overstatement at this house, but I’m getting up in the night for things other than bats, anyway.)

One thing I’m getting up for is to go outside and untangle the wailing dog. (Of course, you did not think we were going to pay three hundred dollars to have them observe Tommy for ten days when we have a 20-acre observation deck here.) So we bought one of those long wire leashes and put her under the woodshed with a little kennel  and there are only about 156 things she can get tangled around. How DOES a dog go around a see-saw handle fifty times, anyway? And why does she do it in the middle of the night? Maybe that’s what dogs who are developing rabies do. And if she does develop rabies, I will be the one to contract it since I am going out there in the night to untangle her and I could never see the froth if she WAS coming at me, when she is jumping all over me and knocking the flashlight out of my mouth (yes, my mouth). 

It takes a village to care for an elderly man who has a really goooood dog. But I can remember when I was a kid and we thought Lassie, who had the worst case of the mange and smelled like a wet dog even on sunny days, was the prettiest dog on Lynn Dale Lane. I remember my tadpole that turned into a frog and the trip Mother and Daddy and I made together to give him his freedom at the creek. I remember Prissy getting on Dad’s cars and I remember that cage he made for my bunny when I was in the second grade. I remember our chihuahuas and that awful lizard that lived in my brother’s room. I remember his peacocks that he loved to show the grandchildren and their being entertained by the squirrel on the patio that would sometimes eat a piece of bread from his hand. I remember. He called each one “Tommy.” That’s just his name for all pets. I remember lots of “Tommies.” And, I guess this particular Tommy hasn’t quite caught me up with dad yet on “Tommy-trouble.” I think I’ll probably never be really our of pet-debt with Dad. I am learning, though, that pet equity is sweat equity.

On Saturday, if we do not have any rabies at Four Mile, Tommy will be free. The deer that have loved his incarceration will not be happy. But Dad will be ecstatic. Garbage will be strewn again and Dad will have a tough time getting to the car. But Dad will be so happy to look out on the patio and see that good dog again. A part of me will be a little relieved, too. Dad, from his recliner by the glass patio door is on “Tommy-tangle” patrol during the incarceration. And he is vigilant. Right now, I’m headed out to the woodshed in the rain because Tommy is tangled around the clothesline pole…and he’s such a goooood dog.

 

                       A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

 

I Might Need to Go Home…

I think I may need to go home for a bit.  This is my 11th day straight of being here with my sweet nonagenarian. I have three more days to go and then I’m going to have my break down, cat scan and meltdown. But, even while I am having them, I will miss him. I will miss his silliness, his voracious appreciation for Waffle House and his “I-can-try-this” spirit. 

While there’s so much fun at his house, including, this time, a 4th of July visit from the Giselbachs, and a birthday party for my daughter Hannah, there are also some compromises you learn to make—compromises in cleanliness and order, schedules and nutrition. You learn to cut corners. You learn to improvise. You learn that there are some smallish things you just allow to blow away in the big wind of making life the best it can be, even in its decline.

For instance: 

  1. You compromise on the definition of a dirty towel. “This one could hang around for one more bath.”
  2. You’re up for sleeping very late in the morning if the nonagenarian is game (which is a rarity, for sure.)
  3. You give in on your eleventh visit to “the House” and order a waffle at the place that bears the name of that perforated disc of unprofitable calories. 
  4. You find  a lot of entertainment value in watching high school kids that you’ve never heard of playing basketball and you even start rooting for something called “east” in said game. 
  5. Although your husband is a clock repairman, you ask him to disable the striking function of that clock in Dad’s bedroom, just hoping it might be the culprit in the gazillion night time  trips to the bathroom. 
  6. And that dog! What is so good about that ”best dog he has ever had”?? Best is not what I use to describe that flower-digging, trash retrieving, shoe chewing, mud-slinging, child- mauling, yard littering, deer chasing mutt. But I love that dog, anyway. He brings great joy to the one who thinks he is Lassie reincarnated. 
  7. Does it really matter if birthday presents are wrapped in Christmas paper in July? I think not.
  8. Do you have to have swim diapers for babies to get in the pool? They’re nice, but nah. 
  9. And does the P-H level in the pool have to be right on? Do all the leaves have to be swept out? I’ve had a great time in a lot of creeks, so I guess, no. 
  10. Can pants with jelly, coffee, mud and ketchup on them be worn to worship? Sure, just make sure it’s all on the tie, too. You need a match. 
  11. Clean carpet may be overrated anyway.
  12. You can’t worry about money you poured into a pool that’s still cloudy or plants that got dug up, or medicine that got spilled in the dish water, or hearing aids that got microwaved in a bowl of jelly beans. Irretrievable=Forgotten.
  13. Trade-offs are important. Sometimes you trade a few blood pressure points for a great dessert and a happy camper in the ward. 
  14. Sometimes the safest walker is not the coolest one. So you go for cool and stay very close by.
  15. When you’re more tired than you’ve ever been, you go ahead and do those band stretches and can lifts right along with him. You know you need them anyway and he is 94! You know he’s got to be even more tired than you!
  16. Rejoice about the mud in the car. It means he is still going places and that’s why you bought those mud mats anyway.
  17. Don’t fret over contradictions like “Why is a ninety-four-year-old man applying something called ‘Youthair’” ? Fretting uses up brainpower.
  18. Don’t worry that you cannot explain everything to his satisfaction. Sometimes you just have to say “Well, I know it might be better sometimes to do this your way, but today, we are going to have to do it like this.” or “I know you are capable of doing this alone, but we are always going to do this together….That’s just how it is.”
  19. It’s really okay to put the towels in the machine with the dress slacks occasionally. Sometimes you just have to choose between dirty and fuzzy. I pick fuzzy.
  20. It’s okay to use Clorox wipes on everything…really. Remember, what kills a mouse in a laboratory probably won’t kill a man, and this man’s been through World War II already.
  21. Does it really matter if something way back there in the refrigerator is getting moldy? Does it really matter right now… tonight? Probably not. After all, you are here and you are getting out all the food for all the meals and you can probably recognize mold when you open it later.
  22. Does it matter if he wants you to order enough black Pilot pens on eBay to almost certainly outlive him (I mean 100 of them)? no. Someone will use them. 
  23. Does it matter if he wants to engage every stranger who has on an Alabama shirt, hat or even carries an Alabama keychain …I say, does it matter if he wants to engage him about football? No. In fact, people usually even enjoy that. 
  24. Is six eggs a day too many for one person? Well, it’s hard to criticize the diet of somebody who’s made it to 94. 
  25. Is it always just wrong to have the window open in one room while the central AC is running? You have to really think about this one, but when it makes the person who freezes in July comfortable in his little bedroom at night while still making everyone else sleep a little better in those precious hours, I say “God bless it!”  

See, here’s the thing. Contentment is comprised of compromise. If you’re unwilling to compromise the happiness and well-being of the one who provided for you when you were small and extremely dependent, you learn to live with other, smaller compromises. After all, he probably did without a few luxuries, made a few sacrifices, got up a few times at night and expended some energy even in some tired times to be sure I made it to this place of calling more of the shots. It’s all good. 

I’m surely not perfect at this care-giving thing. My sisters are both better than I. I come to the end of the rope sometimes before I’ve tied the knot. I talk in maxed-out decibels sometimes when I’m not sure the hearing aid is really at fault. I sometimes cry and I fall asleep in unusual places. I’m pretty sure my judgment is impaired at times. I can get to a point of poor listening and quick response. And today, I told the doctor, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you.” …and then I totally forgot what that thing was. I think something about Dad being forgetful. 

But I’m hoping the care we can give him is still better than the alternative care by people who do not know him. They might not be willing or able to make all the compromises. They might not even know about the place we are going where there are no necessary compromises, which is really the catalyst for all our decisions for all of life’s challenges.  I know that some good people certainly have to rely on care from outsiders.  I get that. It’s a  difficult compromise we may yet have to make. But for now, it feels right to make other, more insignificant compromises for contentment. Protecting life and nurturing it on both ends of the spectrum, from unborn to elderly, are responsibilities from God. Sometimes compromises: financial, social and practical, are required to try and make sure we do not compromise spiritually. The key is making them with joy. We are still blessed by much joy in the home of this nonagenarian.