Tuesday, November 23

I See You

I’ve had some strange dreams recently. A couple could become stories and maybe more than stories. We’ll see. But one is particularly haunting and it has led to a poem. 

I see you. 
I see your coffee-colored eyes, the rich darkness of your skin.

I see you.
I see your dark almost black brown eyes, maybe the color of a dark chocolate and wonder why someone ever thought your skin should be labeled yellow.

I see you.
I see your sharp jawline, your flat nose, your high cheekbones, your full lips, your round face. All the features that quite literally show me who you are.

I see the laughter in your eyes and hear your joy, even your sadness, as you sing and dance your culture.

I see you.
I see how your food expresses your culture and enhances not only what I can see but what I can taste and smell.

I see you.
I see how your history with its stories that shaped you, the good ones, the bad ones, the horrifying ones, the jubilant ones.

I hear you.
I hear the round vowels, the unusual consonant sounds, the lilt and rhythm and sing song of that language that was voiced by your ancestors.

I see and hear and taste how your culture—your songs, your dances, and your food—have shaped and informed my culture, our cultures.

I see and hear how your stories become my stories when I am willing to hear them all, the cry and laugh and celebrate as your stories become intertwined with mine.

I know that my story is not just my story.

My story reaches back to my mother and father, to their mothers and fathers, and to the generations before them.

And just as their stories were touched by every other human story that touched their own, my story includes all of those thousands of stories and your story and the stories of your mother and father and aunts and uncles and their mothers and fathers and so on back and back and back and back.

I know that my story did not start here, but started long before in a land far from what we call the United States and with people who looked not like me but with coffee- or chocolate-colored eyes and skin the color of honey.

I hear you.

I see you.

Tuesday, November 2

The Great Pandemical Change

I write from a position of privilege in that I am white. I am also a woman of a certain age which means I’ve had my share of misogynistic bosses and HR personnel who had to look the other way because, at the time, verbal abuse and overtones of sexual harassment were de rigueur. I also grew up in a middle class home with a mother who strained to be more and a father who found solace in alcohol. I have spent plenty of time doing work I’ve not really wanted to do, working more hours than I felt I should for little or no compensation and done so because I believed I had no choice if I was to keep my job, if I was to advance into whatever might be a career.

I’m at the point now that, quite frankly, I don’t really care about many things. I care about doing good work. I care about doing well. I care about being content in what I do. I care about trying to make a difference. But I don’t care to put up with anyone else’s nonsense any longer.

As I read about the Great Resignation, it’s clear the views are incredibly varied. Sure, the people who choose to leave their jobs are putting a strain on those left behind. That’s always been true. What seems to be less true is the ease with which that individual might be replaced. It is also clear the pandemic taught many of us a lot of things, many of which were and are unexpected.

Among those things, many organizations learned that employees don’t have to be at desks or in cubicles in a central location for specific hours. They also learned they don’t have to move employees to a central location and there could be value in having some employees in locations other than wherever the headquarters might be. I suspect even the idea of having a headquarters or “main office” is likely to change.

Education has been writhing and churning under the weight of mandates and expectations from federal, state, and local governments as well as parents. Even before critical race theory became one of the most misunderstood theories on the planet, teachers were already wrestling with trauma-informed instruction and cultural relevance on top of math and literacy mandates and expectations compounded and confounded by parental expectations and misunderstandings about what teachers can actually do in 48 minutes or less when there are over 20 nearly equally needy students in the room.

I have never before heard of so many teachers who are, barely two months into the school year, done. Just done. Done with kids and their attitudes. Done with parents. Done with administrators who are caught between several rocks and hard places. Done with trying to design lesson plans with all kinds of options because there is no way of knowing how many kids will be in the room and how many will have to try to join the class virtually.

The turbulence in education is bound to affect companies of all types and all sizes. That ripple effect is as inevitable as the disturbances on water when a pebble is dropped only there is nothing calm about this water. In fact, the pebble probably serves to amplify the disturbances.

People want to do work that is meaningful and appreciated, they want to be fairly compensated, and they want to work with and for people who aren’t jerks. Apparently that’s a lot to ask for, and it shouldn’t be.

Years ago I had an employee who came to me to complain that I never thanked her. She said she’d noticed that I also expressed gratitude to those who worked extra hours or came through on a project with a demanding schedule and probably demanding customer, but I never thanked her. I remember thinking that it was absurd to thank someone for doing their job, but then I got to thinking about the fact that she was always on time, she was always responsible, she always did her work even if not necessarily exceptionally, and she got along well with the rest of the team and others.

It’s easy to ignore those folks. The ones who quietly do their jobs and do them competently, even well. They’re not the troublesome employees and they’re not the superstars. They are the ones, however, who keep the engines of commerce running. I could stretch that metaphor but I won’t because I’m sure you get it. And so, periodically, I made a point of thanking her for being there and doing her job conscientiously and well.

She taught me to be grateful for all of my team members and to make sure they felt appreciated. There was little I could do about compensation, but I could make sure I wasn’t a jerk.

Based on limited insight and a bunch of reading, I think the Great Resignation is an important shift and that people are tired of unreasonable expectations, a lack of civility, and a lack of appreciation. I think some people will tolerate less compensation if they are valued and if they believe the boss supports them. Whether or not bosses understand this is a very different story.

Friday, June 8

The Demon of Dementia

BrightFocus Foundation
My mother has dementia. Over the past four years, I have witnessed her slowly slide into a mental oblivion. For a while she was able to put thoughts together and express herself with some coherence. While her recollections were occasionally humorously fantastic, some of her older recollections were spot on. There were times I'd take her out and she'd make comments that made me want to correct her, but I soon realized that she articulated what was in her head and whatever connections made sense to her so I let it be. In fact, there were times I learned more about her as a result of those connections that often made me want to pause and process a bit.

I went to see her a month or so ago. We don't live in the same state and I try to visit her at least every other month although I'm beginning to feel as though I need to try to visit more often. She had obviously declined further, which came as no surprise but that still didn't make it easy to witness. I sat with her while she cleaned the tines of her fork and then spent several minutes attempting to spear a piece of macaroni. She didn't seem frustrated. I found myself getting more and more tense as I tried to appear to be patient and not just reach out to do it for her.

I saw her again just after Mother's Day, a day we didn't really acknowledge in any real sense. I found myself sitting with her at the table again and found myself again clenching my hands in my lap as she fiddled with her food, though part of it was simply trying to figure out how to eat it. Early on the house caregiver picked up the half sandwich and put it in Mom's hand and did the same with another resident. She explained, "Sandwiches are easy to eat once they have it in their hands but they have a hard time remembering how to pick it up and eat it."

One of the other residents has a small dog. I have thoughts about the wisdom of a small dog, even leashed or especially leashed, in a converted duplex with 7 or 8 people most likely using walkers or wheelchairs, but the dog and her owner are there. The dog was whining and begging to come to the table; her mother was talking to her and trying to shush her. My mother turned to me and said, "I want her." I explained the dog already belonged to someone. My mother lifted that eyebrow and said very clearly and in a tone of voice I well remember from days gone by, "You wanna bet?"

So she can't really eat a sandwich by herself, but if she wants something, she can, in fact, put her mind to it. Disturbing, Daunting. Intriguing.

Some months ago I was having a weird headache and my doctor sent me to a neurologist to get an MRI of my brain. The headache thing proved to be nothing of concern (he said he could give me meds but it was hardly worth it and I should report to my doctor if the headaches in that location continued; a few weeks later they were gone). I'd asked about dementia and did tell me there were no indicators in my brain. At that time. He explained a lot about what doctors know about dementia, but also acknowledged there is a lot they just don't know.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, terrifies me. I'm fascinated by the tests, by the attempts to diagnose sooner. I'm fascinated by what I might do to try to make sure this doesn't happen to me though I also know there are no guarantees.

I have a sense of what might have contributed to my mother's descent into this particular hell of which she is, oddly, not aware. That is the blessing in disguise because I tell people how angry she would be if she knew this was happening to her. She didn't seem to go through the panic of losing her memory but mostly because she was in denial that it was happening; I realized that later. There are dozens of things I would do differently had I know then what I've learned over the past few years. Nothing prepares you for those subtle shifts in behavior so it's easy to be in denial or to delay getting any medical evaluation because you don't want to overreact. However, if I'd known sooner about her situation, I could have made plans differently and less jarringly.

I know that my living situation is very different and it's not likely that I'll repeat her particular scenario. I also know that once I hit 65, all bets may be off but that I can do particular things to try to reduce the risk.

What's interesting is that keeping the brain active and learning is not one of the main factors listed to reduce dementia risk: not smoking (check), drinking in moderation (check), regular exercise (gotta work on that), and healthy diet and weight (more exercise will help with the second of these), stress reduction (exercise will help with this, too), and good restorative sleep (huh; exercise could help with this, too). But I won't stop keeping my brain active and learning just in case researchers change their minds. ;)

I can't tell, though, which is worse: watching her decline and wondering what will happen next or wondering about my own situation. I couldn't remember the word "dustpan" the other day. Never mind I haven't mentioned a dustpan in possibly years, but I freaked a little that I could not remember the word. And then the round and round starts to happen as I do a sort of mental awareness and alertness check. Because wondering what will happen next is the best anyone can do. No one knows enough about this disease and it progresses differently for everyone.

What gets harder is to know how best to handle medical situations. Earlier this year my mother had an infection that required hospitalization followed by time in a rehab facility because of the antibiotic that had to be administered. That little jaunt did nothing good for her liver. When she seemed to have another flare-up of that particular bacteria, the nurse practitioner wanted to put her on a heavy-duty antibiotic that would require home health care and would nothing good for her already battered liver. The infectious disease doctor agreed with me that because my mother wasn't symptomatic, there was no point in stressing her liver and, given her age (88), palliative care made sense. The nurse practitioner was not happy with me, but we're now with hospice palliative care. Mom is visited weekly by a chaplain, a social worker, and a nurse.

At this point in my life, the best I can hope to do is keep her as comfortable as possible, do a better job of taking care of myself, and not let the concern about her or me consume me.