Saturday, July 30, 2011

Doah Has a Bed

Doah comes to visit us each weekend. Generally, he comes on Saturday, and we take him back to his nearby group home one town away so that he can sleep overnight. From time to time, in spite of his allergies to cats, of which we have three, he has expressed the desire to stay overnight. Until now, though, we have not had a bed for him to sleep in. He has used a tent and sleeping bag and slept under the stars -- that actually has worked well for avoiding cat fur. Once we moved into our new house last February, he developed great hopes of being able to use our new guest room. However, until two days ago, all we have had in it is a table and a window with a great view overlooking the town and valley, like all the other windows in the house.

Then, we got a new bed for Donnie and me because Donnie now needs something more like a hospital bed to deal with his sleep apnea and gout. The movers carried our bed into the guest room. The room is still quite sparse, but at least it has a bed. When Doah came for his Saturday visit, I told him to open the guest room door (we keep it closed to keep the cat fur off the carpet -- the only carpeted room we have). He shot out into the living room with the comment, "I stay tonight? I no be 'lergic to cats no more." With the cats off-limits to that room, he may be able to sleep there. So, we have some new kinds of overnight adventures to look forward to!

Amazing, isn't it, how it is the littlest things in life that bring us the greatest pleasure?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What to Do about Noelle?

Noelle, maybe not unlike many people, has moments of sheer brilliance, where she has overcome all kinds of odds to do things that most handicapped individuals don't dare consider, such as learning to roller-skate with chest-high braces and a walker as a child, and moments of sheer stupidity, where any logic behind decision-making is tidal-waved away by a churning sea of emotion. A call last night from Molly, her part-time caregiver, who helps her with laundry and housecleaning a couple of times a week, revealed the latest maelstrom. Noelle is about to be evicted from her low-cost, handicapped apartment, to which information she has reacted in aggressive and self-destructive obliviousness. "Won't happen," she told Molly. "And don't tell my parents; they will try to do something about it, and I plan to wait it out."

Here is the back story. After Ray died and then Noelle's cat, Prince Shadow, mysteriously died at a young age, Noelle was alone. She would not admit to being lonely, but then Noelle never admits to anything she thinks will make her look weak -- and as an extrovert par excellence, being lonely would certainly seem like a weakness. Nonetheless, she clearly was lonely. She had given up everything -- school, potential career -- to be home with Ray, who, for more than four years, spent the last days of his life in and out of comas and hospitalized in one venue or another. Although we suggested to Noelle that she could now return to school, finish the college degree that she had started years ago, and find a career for herself, Noelle was not ready to make such a drastic lifestyle change.

Before she could develop any readiness for moving on, along came Dreamee, a friend of a friend. Dreamee floats through life on other people's clouds. We do not know if she has any relatives, but we have heard that she has a godmother somewhere in the area. She does not talk about her past or even her present. She clearly has some disabilities -- she is very tiny for an adult in her thirties, her teeth are in bad order (but that could be from not taking care of them), and her face has a haunted look to it (but perhaps that comes from chain smoking). Dreamee and Noelle developed some immediate rapport, and Dreamee within days had moved in with Noelle. She pays no rent and does not help out in any way that we can see. Molly says that she now does Dreamee's laundry, too. I suppose none of that is any of our business, except that Noelle has in the past been used by people who learn that she is so good-natured and selfless that she will give away her last dime if someone else says he or she needs it. (In fact, we found out a while back that she was giving away every penny left over after paying bills every month, literally amounting to hundreds of dollars, to a "friend." It took us almost two years to convince her that a "friend" does not show up at your door right before payday, asking how much money you still have from the previous payday and demanding to have all of it because she is in tremendous need of it.) Now, there is Dreamee, who is, in essence, freeloading, but were we to use that world, Noelle would be terribly offended.

The matter has come to a head, though, because Noelle is in Section 8 housing, which is all she can afford, and the landlord has learned that Dreamee is living there, too, in a one-bedroom apartment. The landlord has sent a letter, demanding that Dreamee leave immediately or Noelle will be evicted. (Molly has seen the letter and is going to get a copy to me.) Noelle has told Molly that she has no intention of responding to the letter -- and certainly she has no intention of asking Dreamee to move out. So, something will come to a more frightening end here very soon if Noelle does not pull her head out of the sand.

The more complicated part of the matter is that Noelle has told us nothing. She acts like life is all hunky dory. Molly does not want us to let Noelle know that we know. She is afraid that Noelle will not only be angry at her but also fire her as her caregiver. That would be truly bad -- but within the realm of Noelle's more illogical responses to situations she does not like -- for finding another caregiver like Molly, who really becomes involved and tries to help, would be difficult.

The core of the situation seems to be Dreamee's hold over Noelle, who, at times, has told Molly that she really does not want Dreamee living with her but that Dreamee insists. Then, after Molly has left, Dreamee seems to take over and when Molly returns, Noelle contends that she does not want Dreamee to leave and Molly must have misunderstood. Clearly, the situation is driving Molly nuts, but more than that, Molly is genuinely concerned about Noelle's welfare.

So, what to do about Noelle? She does not want us to know, but we do know -- and I would rather do something now and not after she has ended up on the street. How to help her keep her independence while wanting to help out? How to break up a destructive relationship without appearing destructive ourselves?

Moreover, Noelle's dilemma has appeared during a moment of depleted resources for us, having just forked over more than $2000 last week to Lizzie for cat surgery and helping out Shane to the tune of $600 or more each month since he is still coping with a lowered salary from having been fired when Nikolina's $2 million hospital bill was too much for the insurance company at his place of employment to handle (the company refused to provide policies on any employees unless Shane was removed from the group).

Has anyone seen a similar situation? Any ideas for a creative and supportive resolution?

Saturday, July 2, 2011


One of my young, senior managers came into my office on Thursday and told me that he wanted to let me know before I heard from another source that he and his wife were getting divorced after quite a number of years of marriage -- well, at least a dozen since they have two children in the upper grades of elementary school. I immediately felt guilty because I have sent him out of town at least twice a month for the past two years: he oversees ten of our non-local branches. At one point, I had asked him how this was affecting his family, and he said that they understood and there was no problem. Now, I wonder if his traveling schedule had been a problem.

I asked him again on Thursday, but he said again that it was other matters, not the travel, that were a problem. I know his wife and children well. They are a very nice family and seemed supportive of each other. I suppose the inside of a house looks different from the inside of a home. He says he wants to drop by my house some day this month and talk to me at length about the situation. Of course, I will listen and try to be supportive. I am not sure I will understand, but I will try.

When these things happen, they cause me to reflect on my own situation. Donnie and I just celebrated our 41st anniversary, but it has not been easy. If either of us were focused exclusively on our own happiness (the orientation that some psychologists today seem to encouraging), I don't think we would have made it this far, especially since we are so very different one from another.

Many people were surprised when we married and made the assumption that the marriage would not last -- all except for a professor of sociology of a course that a friend of ours was taking when we were into our third year of marriage. The friend interviewed us for his course as a study of a married couple, and he came to the conclusion that although we clearly loved each other, we were too different one from another for the marriage to last. He showed us the comment his professor wrote on his report: "It will last if they want it to." Clearly, we have wanted it to last and still want it to last for all kinds of reasons.

Since my employee has thrown me into a reflective mood, let me do what I do when I am reflecting: make some lists. The first list would be the ways in which we differ; the second why we want it to last; the third why it has lasted. So, here goes:

List #1: How we differ
1. Donnie is a scientist and artist (graphic arts, photography); I am a humanist and linguist.
2. Donnie is big (rotund and significantly taller than I), and I am small (could lose a few pounds, but not a lot, and could add a few inches since I would like to be able to sit in a chair and have my feet touch the floor at the same time).
3. Donnie comes from the upper middle class, and I come from a farm where the poverty line was something all the families in our farming community ogled in anticipation of some day making enough money to at least be sitting on the poverty line, not swinging from it.
4. Donnie went to an in-school university; I went to an out-of-state university (but it was the same uni, at least); similarly, the only time Donnie has been out of the USA was the two years we lived in Jordan, whereas I have lived and worked in 24 countries (while Donnie kept the home fires stoked).
5. Donnie loves outdoor leisure activities, like backpacking, kayaking, and fishing; I love indoor leisure activities like reading, writing, and taming little wild animals (i.e. feral cats).
6. Donnie was a doctors-and-teachers-know-best parent; I was a discuss-it-with-me-and-consider-my-input-or-I-won't-listen parent.
7. Personality-wise, Donnie is an ISTP (introvert, senser -- grounded in reality and actuality, thinker, perceiver -- keep all options open until the last minute and schedules flexible); I am an ENTJ (extrovert, intuiter -- floating in the realm of possibility and dreams, thinker, judger -- devoted to the production and following of schedules, planning, and deadlines).
8. If an expert tells Donnie that something is too dangerous, highly risky, and should not be attempted, and he stands back (i.e. he is risk-averse); tell me the same thing and I rush to try it to see if I can overcome the odds (i.e. I am a risk-taker par excellence; hence, the willingness to travel the world alone).
9. Donnie speaks only English and while he tolerates my friends who do not speak English, he has been unable to learn another language except for a few necessary phrases in Arabic while living in Jordan; I have studied 18 languages and easily communicate in a good many of them.
10. He likes adventure movies and reality shows related to logging and whaling; I like chick flix and spiritual movies.

List #2: Why we want it to last
1. We took an oath of "until death do us part"; that meant something -- and we are not yet dead.
2. We have children; they are now becoming spouses and parents; they need to see that marriage can last; they need an example.
3. We have children; they need a sense of stability; parents who stay married (at least, amicably married) provide that sense of stability.
4. We have grandchildren; they need the same sense of stability, and grandparents are part of the equation.
5. And we have not yet lost the love that brought us together although it has taken a different shape over time; we want to be with each other.

List #3: Why it has lasted
1. We have wanted it to last; while sometimes it seemed easier to each go our own way, neither has put our own happiness and desires above family needs;
2. By going through a lot of travail together and not taking divorce as the easy way out, we have become intertwined, imprinted on each other; we are perhaps now more like family than lovers, but whatever the nature of the love, it keeps us bonded.
3. We learned to accept each others' interests; I learned to fish, kayak, and backpack. Donnie, of course, was always able to read and write, but there was a time early one when we worked together on photojournalism activities, he as a photographer and I as a writer, publishing some things in local and national publications; more recently, he has turned to graphic arts and we run a publishing house together (he does the graphics, cover design, and typesetting, and I do the copyediting in my, hah!, "free", time).
4. We valued each others' differences and allowed each other to explore his/her interests, develop his/her talents, follow his/her own career path -- and provided support (not always perfectly, but the desire to support was always there) to each other along the way.
4. We raised children who clinically died from time to time, and that created a tremendous family bond. I thank God for trusting us with these children. I also thank God for giving us these experiences because these experiences taught us, shaped us, and bonded us.

Maybe there is something to be learned from these lists. I don't know if there is anything helpful for others, including my employee (will have to see what he has to say when he drops by), but it has been revealing for me to stand aside an look at our situation from the outside (as much as I can do that). I think the bottom line is clear: we have wanted it to last, so we have worked through the difficult times and the differences from the point of view that we are family first and last.

Now, what would be interesting would be to have Lizzie, our little professor of psychology and oldest daughter, write a post on why she thinks the marriage has lasted.

What about you? Comments?

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