As I sit here watching my baby ducks play in their wading pool, something very important has dawned on me. It seems to me there are two kinds of people, those who are needy and those who need to be needed. I am the latter. I thrive on being needed. I’ve spent most of my adult life taking care of something or someone. First I took care of my clients. I figuratively held their hands as they made important marketing decisions.
Along came my husband and I did what I could to take care of him. Most of that entailed cooking because I have never been much of a cleaner. Instead of being affectionate, as I know he desperately wanted, I showed my love by making labor-intensive gourmet meals. At that time, there were no such things as love languages.
As the old saying goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. Like many couples, though, our first baby wasn’t really a baby at all it was a golden retriever named Kamir (Come Here spelled more fancily). Our first human child, an adorable – yet colicky – little sunshine became my new project. We were then blessed with our little sailor man and the double income suburban family was complete.
Again, I overdid everything, from blending homemade baby food (it definitely would have been organic if that had been the trend back then in the dark ages) to throwing birthday parties that rivaled those given by the stars. I kissed ouies, bandaged up what I could (if there was blood or hospital visits involved that was Daddy’s job), rocked them to sleep, and sang lullabies. They needed me and it felt good.
But managing warm cuddly children and dual careers can cause stress in a marriage. My husband’s stress manifested in depression, and watching him joust against his pitiless demons with the help of drugs and alcohol was painful. He bravely climbed out of the pit with the help of medication, counseling, and faith. He needed me and it felt good.
Along came school days, and my caregiving morphed from changing poopy diapers into shopping for clothes, supporting fundraisers, assuaging hurt feelings and broken hearts, volunteering everywhere, and helping with homework. I couldn’t fix everything, but it’s surprising what warm snickerdoodles and hugs can accomplish. My kids needed me, and it felt good.
We decided every child should have a dog, so we picked out the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen. Tundra and Drifter were Great Pyrenees mixed with Golden Retriever. They were not only super cute, they would grow up to be excellent guard dogs at around 100 pounds. Those puppies definitely needed me!
The teen years are a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. Watching your children transform into teenagers and still loving them is especially challenging, but somehow we do it. I turned into a chauffeur, baseball, softball, soccer, hockey, basketball, lacrosse, track, drama, and choir mom. All of course while still bringing in the bacon… lots of bacon.
I did my best to help mold my son and daughter emotionally and spiritually, but these are complex times. There are mean girls everywhere, and helping my daughter love herself without that nasty rhetoric looping in her subconscious was hard.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t prevent or stop the bullying of my son. I found out it happened many years later. If I could travel back in time I would have serious discussions with the teachers, principals, and youth pastors who looked the other way while his self-esteem disintegrated into piles of dust. Shame on you and shame on me. He needed me and I wasn’t there for him.
Of course there were happy times mixed in there too: confirmation, prom, getting flowers from a boy for the first time, sporting events, choir performances, and the thrill of graduation day. Once again, Mama bear the overachiever had crazy big grad parties because I wanted to make up for all the time I spent earning the almighty dollar.
Now they’re grown up and moved on. My oldest daughter is married to a wonderful man and lives seven hours away. I get a big lump in my throat remembering she is no longer the little Sunshine who needs her mother desperately. She was my best friend for her entire life, but three years ago someone else took my place. That’s the natural order of things, I understand, but I don’t have to like it.
My son is not quite in that place yet but he is definitely more independent. I do get to buzz his hair, though, and that’s kind of fun. Sometimes I really want to hold that plump little sailor man of my memory and sing to him again. Somehow I think he would feel that to be inappropriate at twenty-one. Darn. Instead I sing to the dog and the duckies. They love it.
I didn’t know it, but God had a couple more caregiving assignments for me. In September 6, 2011, my father was diagnosed with severe Alzheimer’s Dementia. I drove him around, helped move him into a memory care facility, visited him, took phone calls at all hours of the night, and managed his health care the best I could because he needed me. On November 22, 2011, he needed me no more and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. I taped those pieces together long enough to help make funeral arrangements, see him put to rest, and manage his estate.
For the next year and a half my next caregiving job was in an almost full-time capacity. My poor mother, who suffered with chronic kidney disease for forty-nine years, had to be put on dialysis three times a week. She absolutely hated it. Beyond that, there were about a thousand other medical appointments and hospitalizations as we watched her body rapidly fall apart.
In the spring of that year, my beloved Tundra died of lung cancer. She had always been extremely needy, but in her final moment of love, she waited to pass away until the thirty seconds I ran into the house to get a cold drink.
Just over a year after Mom started dialysis she decided to suspend treatments and let nature take its course. Besides being hooked to a machine twelve hours each week, she had developed some other debilitating medical issues. That was it… she was done. It only took three weeks for the light to leave her eyes.
After becoming best friends and talking to or seeing her more than once a day, she was gone and no longer needed me. The only way I can serve her now is to effectively manage her final wishes and execute her estate.
In case you are crying as much as I am, let’s fast-forward a few months. They have been tough times of mourning for my parents and the loss of the life I once knew. Now, four months after my mom’s passing, I might be feeling as right as rain one minute and then WHAM I suddenly feel a shot of that old familiar grief hit me hard in breadbox. I don’t understand it, but I hope it’s normal.
My husband, who is the wisest and most wonderful person I know, came up with a sure-fire way to make me happy. After a long road trip with my daughter and her man, I walked through the front door and found four little yellow and brown puffballs with bills… baby mallard ducklings! He knows I need something to care for again.
They are the loves of my live and it cheers me so to have them follow me wherever I go and kiss the palms of my hands (looking for bugs, I suppose…yuck). These adorable helpless beings are completely vulnerable and need me to keep them alive. It’s working; these little charmers have totally captured my heart. They give me loads of laughs and smiles and just make me happy. My moments of utter despair still return, but I can go sit by my babies and they will listen nonjudgmentally… and then cheep enthusiastically.
They most definitely need me…no, we need each other.