Junior Tennis-Growing Up

junior-tennis-B16-L3-championship-zullinger

I had the opportunity to travel with Luke to a big tournament a few weeks ago. It was the USTA section championship for his age group. He won the singles and doubles titles, either of which would have been great. Coming home with both titles was beyond his expectations but not beyond what he knew he was capable of.

Interestingly, this tournament means more in terms of ranking and his future in tennis than placing third in the state high school tournament. But he definitely got more notoriety in the neighborhood and in the press for the high school tournament. Funny.

I love to watch Luke play anytime but it was especially enjoyable because he was so consistent and confident in this tournament. He was focused on each match and what he had to do. I noticed that nearly every opponent was frustrated that Luke was just making great shots. They would just say to themselves out loud “what am I supposed to do against that?!” Which was kind of fun.

As the boys are getting older, they actually give credit to great play rather than beating themselves up for not winning every point. That’s what I mean by the title of this post (“Junior Tennis-Growing Up”)

Luke played the final against one of his best friends who lives on the other side of the state. For all my complaints about the elitist nature and inaccessibility of junior tennis at this level, one thing I love about it is the good friends he’s making. Social media and texting keep them connected between tournaments.

His opponent has been mowing down the competition and winning most matches easily in the past few months (including placing second in the state high school tournament) so Luke was looking forward to a shot at him. He knew he had to play well with limited mistakes and he was able to do that.

Luke squeeked out the first set in a tie-breaker (9-7), was down 1-2 in the second when they had to stop for rain. Then came out guns-ablazing after the delay to win 6-3.

People ask if I get nervous and I really don’t. I’m so happy for him that he won the tournament but truly it was such a good match that either one of them could have walked away with the trophy and I would have been proud of both of them. As in, “thanks for the entertainment.”

I discovered that I would rather watch Luke play a harder opponent than one that he can beat easier who puts on a show (drama, questionable line calls, beats himself up after every mistake). Even if Luke’s winning handily, I never enjoy watching those kids play.

The other thing I don’t enjoy is watching kids tank and it happens in tennis more than almost every other sport except golf (Norman/Faldo anybody?). Even when it’s in Luke’s favor, ugh. Don’t like seeing it.

So, congratulations to Luke and Michael. I really mean it.

Full disclosure, Luke played in the B18 L3 the following weekend and did about as well as he expected. Actually, he would have liked to have won a competitive match against another friend (and arch nemesis since they were little) but I think he was pooped from the previous weekend.

How a Mammogram Made my Day…It’s not what you think.

How a mammogram made my day

Source: Abdulsalam Haykal on Flickr

I went to a mammogram appointment this week and had the sweetest experience…(NOT THE MAMMOGRAM). The fact that it was a mammogram is only important as it relates to what I noticed about a couple who came in at about the same time as I did.

An older couple parked at the same time as me and we ended up in the same office. The woman was using a walker but seemed too young to be using it. Also, she seemed pretty steady on her feet. Maybe early seventies. Her husband looked a little older. Both of them were smartly dressed. She moved so well with the walker that I was thinking maybe she was recovering from an accident.

They checked in (he did the talking) and the man directed his wife to a waiting room chair. He told her he would be waiting out in the lobby just outside the suite. She was fine with that. Before he left he quietly conferred with the receptionist and she assured him that she would “remind the technicians”. Within a minute or so, the man came back in and sat next to his wife and told her he decided he’d rather wait with her. “Thank you very much,” she said.

Next the man pulled out the magazine section of the paper and handed it to her because he thought she would enjoy it. “Thank you”, she replied to his thoughtful gesture.

In the next area where you change and wait again, (why it made sense to disclose that we were there for mammograms) the attendant showed the woman to a changing stall then quickly adjusted her strategy and said the technician would help her with the robe.

I could be wrong but my brief observation of this couple indicated that the woman suffered from some form of dementia and the husband was her caregiver, protector and advocate. He was so patient, sweet and thoughtful of her needs. The measures he took to inform the staff discreetly that she required extra assistance seemed so loving and tender as though his primary concern was preserving her dignity.

Not only was it touching, it made me think of Mark (my husband). He’s always as kind and gentle with me as the man was with his wife (though, often I don’t deserve it). Should I require care in our older years, I have no doubt that Mark will be as patient as the man was with his wife.

Thinking of that made me smile out loud.

 

 

Getting Old and Getting Glasses

bifocals and cataracts getting old

…or WHY IS MY COMPUTER SHAPED LIKE A RHOMBUS?

I’ve known for a while (3 years) that I could benefit from some sort of corrective eye wear. Night time driving is sort of tricky and I try not to drive to unfamiliar places at night, especially if it’s rainy.

I’m a little young to be making conscious choices like that (kind of like when 80 year old drivers avoid making left turns) so, it was time to bite the bullet and get the eyes checked.

I figured I would need glasses for nighttime driving and for my convenience when I want to see things clearly far away. I read every night with no problem seeing the words on the page.

I didn’t expect the guy to tell me I needed glasses from the minute I wake up to the time I go to bed. Bifocals. What?!?

Once he showed me how clear the world can be, I was anxious to get them.

When I first put them on, I wanted to cry. The room was swirly like being in a funhouse with mirrors. The optician assured me that was normal. Huh? Although that sensation went away pretty quickly, I still felt like I was viewing the world through somebody else’s head.

When I walk, I feel 10 feet tall and as if I’m going to fall off the floor.

I’m not too impressed. I think they’re the right lenses. I don’t think they made a mistake. This business of having to tilt my head just so to see clearly is bizarre. Plus, when I look at my laptop or desktop, they are shaped like rhombuses. It’s true.

Everyone says I’ll get used to it but that’s nuts! It feels like there’s a spot about the size of my pupil through which I can see clearly at any given angle.

I’m thinking there hasn’t been much improvement in optics since Ben Franklin invented the bifocal.

How can Google invent glasses that lets you get on the internet but there aren’t glasses that allow me to see everything in my viewing area clearly without looking like a confused puppy?

That’s my rant.

Oh yeah, I have cataracts, too. Nothing like bifocals and cataracts to make you feel 70!

My Word for 2015

Realizing I’m late to the party, here. I think I may have been exhausted from my 2014 Word but I was mulling over a few choices for 2015. I don’t even remember what I was considering but the one that kept feeling rightWord of the year was……

“intention”

That’s a word/practice/concept that I totally can apply right now to EVERYTHING I do.

I’ve been kicking the tires with “intention” this past month and I think I’ll keep it for the year.

Applying intention to my words, my time, my closets, my routine, the company I keep, my reactions, my projects, my purchases, my purges, my mindset, every single choice I make is such a valuable habit and so far has served me well.

I’ll try to give good examples of how it’s making a difference in the day-to-day and ultimately, the year.

Do you choose a word for the year? I’d love to hear what it is and how the practice has helped (or not) you.

Reflecting on My “Word” of 2014

Word for the year #oneword365 #myoneword

A couple of times throughout the year, I’ve thought about the “word” I chose for 2014 but now that it’s December and I look back to the impact of focusing on this particular concept, it’s hard for me to believe. I have to admit that, at times, I have felt like a pawn on a chess board but more often, I facilitated, initiated or went along with all the changes during the past year, so I really can’t complain.

At the beginning of the year, I chose “MOVE” as my word for a few reasons; 1) I needed to make our 1800 sq. foot house more functional for our family of 6; 2) I needed to start moving physically (and I did for a while); 3) I had a desire to get back to writing; 4) I wanted to move money and make progress in the budgeting and planning department of our lives and 5) I wanted to plan meals and eat healthier.

The year began with some remodeling with the help of a local contractor and by February, Mark and I were sleeping in what used to be our living room. Hannah and Kate each had their own rooms and our dining room became our new family room.

Most of our family had “moved” within our house and we were enjoying it. What felt like extra space was really just a more efficient use of the space we had.

Less than 2 months later, my aunt had a minor fall and overall had been declining rapidly both physically and mentally. My mom decided it was time to bring her home to Pittsburgh (either to her apartment or to a nursing home). I offered our newish first floor bedroom and we MOVED my aunt in.

When I envisioned the changes within our home, I had no idea that we would make room for a new family member. My aunt hasn’t lived in this city since she left to teach over 50 years ago. I always just assumed she would die in place or go to a nursing home (near her home) when the time came.

I don’t think this practice of choosing a word is magical or anything.  For me it’s more effective than goal-setting or making resolutions (which everyone knows are useless) because it’s simple. It’s so much easier to focus on applying one principle to many areas of my life than to haphazardly attack a variety of goals.

This word was effective for me because when I felt overwhelmed by a task or something I wanted to do, I just thought about moving forward with baby steps.

If clearing out a whole room seemed too daunting, I just filled a box at a time and moved it out. If words didn’t seem to come, I just wrote a few. Just kept the cursor moving. If I was fearful of making a big financial decision, I just moved a smaller chunk of money.

Aside from my aunt’s status, almost all of the kids “moved” from homeschooling into a brick-and-mortar school during the course of the year. Big change, that! Luke’s still at home plugging away at his cyber school because it allows him to train for tennis as much as he needs to.

Many years I’ve been nostalgic or reluctant to choose a new word because I felt there was more work to do with the old one. Not this year. I’m ready for some stability and ready to move on to a new focus? See, I can’t get away from the word!

I still haven’t chosen my word for 2015. It may take me a few weeks but when I do, I’ll share it. I find other people’s “word” posts inspiring. Plus, I usually need the accountability.

Do you choose a word for the year?

Teens and Caregiving Part Three

Sandwich generation #teens #caregiving #elderly #strategies

If you’re one of the millions of Americans with parents over 65 and children still at home, chances are you’ll likely be facing a decision about whether to provide care for your parent or another aging relative.

While most children are adaptable and will pitch in wherever they can, many kids are dealing with overwhelming stress from school, friends and other demands in their world.

What can you do if your child doesn’t agree with your desire or need to take on a primary caregiving role?

In spite of the added demands on your own time, your first priority is to your family. If you have a choice and a careful consideration of the situation points to another option (assisted living, nursing home or hiring care and service providers from an agency or the community) sometimes you’ll have to go with that. I’m not suggesting that you cater to a whiny or self-oriented young person but I do think you should carefully consider whether the decision will lead to irreparable harm to your family.

A number of factors could lead to a teen’s inability to cope with another person under the roof. Feelings of grief or loss of the family member who needs care is a possibility. If the person suffers from severe dementia or extreme health conditions. If the person is scared, mean or confused. A recent death in the family or other crisis from which the child must still recover or intense situations at school could be other reasons that your child might be unable to cope. Whatever the reason, it’s not productive to judge it but you should consider any such factors when weighing your decision.

Here are some suggestions to help a child who can’t or won’t cooperate if you’ve already taken on the responsibility.

1. Adhere to familiar routines as much as possible or create new ones

Predictability is extremely comforting to most young children. Some kids continue to rely on familiar schedules and knowing what’s next depending on their personality type.

Even if the routine will change, preparing everyone ahead of time should minimize the stress.

2. Carve out chunks of time to connect with your child

You’ll both appreciate your efforts to do so and you can create memories you might not have had otherwise.

3. Talk talk and talk some more

Communication can be difficult with teens but talking about what seems like an outside topic (your relative) can help form a habit. Don’t wait for your child to complain or break down. Be proactive about bringing up any subject and make it clear that resentments are normal and you won’t be angry with him for expressing frustrations with the situation or the person your caring for.

4. Point out some benefits of the new situation

It may be that having your loved one in your home is easier than trying to manage her care in a nursing home, for example.

In my case, my aunt lived 4 hours away and in the weeks leading up to the decision to bring her to my home, I had to travel there at least five times in as many weeks with my mom to take care of issues that were popping up. Including an extended stay over Easter without the kids. That situation wasn’t sustainable and was extremely disruptive to our family life but my mom wasn’t able to manage the responsibilities and decisions on her own (she’s also in her 70s).

5. Look forward to something fun and positive with your children.

Make a bucket list of things that you might like to do when things return to normal. If you don’t want to wait that long, enlist the help of family and friends to get to it soon. Time spent just dreaming about fun things will be productive.

6. Be vocal about your appreciation when your child shows kindness, compassion and helps in any way

Even if that help isn’t directed to the person your caring for, let your child know that you noticed and that it helped you.

7. Seek counseling if necessary.

Kids process things very differently than adults and other kids. If you observe drastic changes in behavior, you might need the help of a professional to give your child an objective listener and some tools to manage the new situation.

Some of these suggestions seem obvious but they’re easy to forget or put off when you’ve added a full-time job to your already-busy schedule.

I would love to hear some other strategies for helping to minimize the impact of caregiving on children.

This is part 3 in a series about caring for teens and a sick or elderly family member simultaneously. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

 

Teens and Caregiving Part Two

 Tips for Caregivers-4

Inevitable Changes With a New Role of Caregiver

When you accept the role of primary caregiver for a sick or elderly relative, your family takes on the responsibility too. If you still have children at home, the addition can be both a blessing and a stress.

Children of all ages and stages can be notoriously self-oriented but having a human under the same roof who’s relatively helpless and vulnerable is a constant reminder NOT to think of themselves first. Even if the children aren’t responsible for the manual tasks of providing personal care, they’re on-call to provide companionship and attention and to help the person in other ways around the house.

It’s important to be sensitive to signals when the kids in the house are feeling the stress of the new situation. Even seemingly minor adjustments (like having to change where you sit at the dinner table) can trigger a meltdown when combined with the compounding changes like modifications to environment, schedule, routine, traditions, a likely increase in visitor traffic through the house, equipment in the home and possibly a shuffling of room assignments.

Best Advice To Date

The most profound advice I got was from a friend who took care of her dying mother in the last 6 months of her life. Stacey has 4 children about the same age as my own. When she learned that I would be caring for my aunt in our home, the only advice she gave was to attend and to drive my kids to as many activities as possible. I was surprised since transportation might be the easiest thing to delegate to friends and family members who want to help in this new situation but she was right.

Three Reasons This Advice Was So Great

1. Time and Attention is at a Premium

My (or my husband’s) presence at a game during an otherwise chaotic time provides a measure of security to the child, even if they’re unaware of it. My time is not my own and there’s less flexibility to make it theirs. Carving out time to spend time with any of the kids makes a difference. If you make this point non-negotiable with your family and support network, it creates some predictability in an otherwise unpredictable situation. Practices and games are usually scheduled well ahead of time which gives everyone plenty of notice that you’ll need help at home during those times.

2. Car Rides Can Be Quiet and Private

One-on-one time can be difficult to find and time in the car with you gives a kid a chance to talk about things that are on his mind. Even if you don’t talk about the subject of your new circumstances, it can help you gauge your child’s mood and pick up any underlying concerns.

3. A Mini Respite

Committing to this simple, routine chore forces you to physically remove yourself from your environment which allows you to decompress and take a break. Arranging time away from the house (and your added responsibilities) for other events might be a hassle so you probably have a tendency not to. Practices and games are relatively predictable so they’re also easier to plan for.

Whether it’s a 15 minute run to the field for a practice drop-off or sitting in the stands for a two hour game, the time can provide a much-needed but efficient respite for you since you’re also supporting your child.

Even if I’m not always able to arrange it, I’m grateful for my friend’s advice and believe it’s been key to keeping us all moving forward during a major change in the household.

I would love to hear your tips for caring for teens and a sick or elderly family member simultaneously.

This is part 2 in a series about caring for teens and a sick or elderly family member simultaneously. You can read part 1 here.

Teens and Caregiving-Part One

caregiving tips for the sandwich generation #caregiving #teens #sandwichgeneration #generationgap

An estimated one out of every eight Americans aged 40-60 are caring for an aging family member while still raising children. Chances are the children of this “sandwich generation” are teenagers or close to that age range.

Three Generations Under One Roof

When neighbors and friends hear that I’m taking care of my aunt, their response is always supportive and encouraging. Most say what a blessing it is for the kids to have the example and unique opportunity to help someone they love that’s out of the ordinary. They say things like “they’ll remember this when they get older” or “they’ll always appreciate this experience”.

While all of these comments are well-meaning and hold some truth, they only acknowledge one side of the picture.

Everyone recognizes my sacrifice since I’m providing most of the hands-on care but most people don’t consider the major sacrifice my husband and children have made.

Below are some of the realities of our new life and how it affects the kids. My intention isn’t to complain, but to help others anticipate some issues to help better prepare for caring for an elderly family member while still caring for children at home.

Two generations that are high-maintenance

I know my children will benefit from this experience but I don’t take that for granted. Teenagers can be more needy than younger children.  It’s a notoriously emotionally-charged time with increasing demands at school and in their world.

I minimally prepared my own children for the change due to my aunt’s unexpected fall. I tried to keep them informed of the progress and timeline of my aunt’s arrival but they really had no input into the decision and in many ways, it turned their lives upside-down. Some of those changes have been drastic, others have been subtle.

We all knew the kids would have to shuffle room assignments but it was impossible to anticipate some of the other changes and demands on their time and privacy. Both of which are in high demand during the teen years.

Unexpected Responsibilities

I rely on all of the kids to keep my aunt company if I have to run an errand, make dinner or do work around the house. When this one or that one has a long day at school and just wants to retreat to their room, sometimes they really don’t have that luxury.

When teens help care for elderly relatives #elderly #aginginplace #teenagers

We set up my aunt’s room to include a sitting area with a TV and I really expected her to be in there all the time.  In her former life, she sat at the same table all day and watched her shows. Since coming to live with us, however, she prefers to be where the action is with the family. I think it’s great and a major factor in her improved overall health but it also puts a constant demand on our attention. It’s an unexpected reality of our new life together.

Although this is her home, my aunt’s mobility and cognition is limited so her choices of things to do to occupy herself is also limited. She’s only entertained by 3 shows (which we record for her) and EWTN. The kids are so sweet that they also limit their show selections to her favorites when she’s in the main living area. My aunt doesn’t demand it and tries hard not to interfere with their leisure time but they want to make her feel comfortable.

When the kids disappear into their rooms for long stretches of time, I let them. Luckily, there are enough of us to pick up where someone else left off and my aunt has nearly constant company after school and on the weekends. Giving them some space in this demanding situation is the least I can do.

Inevitable consequences of caretaking

Maybe it’s not a change but since I’m getting up through the night and my introverted self is primarily responsible for providing companionship for my aunt throughout a majority of the day, some days I reserve my patience for my aunt and there’s very little left over for the kids. I have a lot less tolerance for their dependence and I’m a bear if I don’t get enough sleep. You get the picture. In spite of my sometimes shorter fuse, the kids have all been very accommodating and understanding and truly forgive me for snapping at them on days when I’m particularly tired.

Suspended traditions

Our holidays will look drastically different. For one, the piano we got for my aunt is sitting in the only space for a Christmas tree. I have no idea where we’ll squeeze one in, but we will. I’m hanging on to a few abbreviated traditions but some will have to be suspended.

I usually host Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for my parents and anyone else who doesn’t have plans but this year I won’t be able to. Luckily, my children are used to me cutting some of the clutter of the holidays but meals have never been considered clutter.

The only thing I can really do is talk to them about what the holidays might look like and ask what parts are most important to them. I’m sure I can’t accommodate all of their preferences but we can probably preserve a few.

The ultimate test of patience and selflessness

Finally, the kids have been so patient and sweet about repeating things that my aunt forgets due to her short-term memory loss. This is another minor thing but when it’s compounded with all the demands on their time and attention and the tsunami of change in their lives, both inside and outside of the home, it could potentially add to their stress. So far, no one has expressed anything but compassion and sometimes amusement when she asks something repeatedly. She really is so sweet that it’s nearly impossible to get frustrated with her.

Overall, my children have really risen to the occasion and have been patient and compassionate to a person who has loved them for their entire lives. The ways in which my children have served my aunt are humbling. I’m so proud of how they’ve handled everything from my limited availability to the physical changes to our environment.

They’ve been forced out of their bubbles of teen-ager-ness. Their reaction to the situation and the needs of an emotionally, physically and cognitively vulnerable person is an indication of their character. I still think it’s important to acknowledge the stress and to keep talking about it openly in order to identify times when it’s overwhelming and to find creative ways to relieve the stress for them. I’m sure I’ve missed opportunities to reassure them but I’ll just keep trying.

They get an unusual extension of grace from me. If our family wasn’t in this role, I’d have a lot less tolerance for their moody, self-oriented selves when it’s directed at me or each other. But I’m not lumping that on to their plates because they’ve shown over and over that they aren’t only thinking of themselves.

In the next post in this mini-series, I’ll share the very best piece of advice I received about caring for the kids when I was about to bring my aunt home.

Elderly Aids and Equipment-Furniture Blocks

I’ve been caring for my elderly aunt in my home since the spring and I promised to pass on things that I’m learning along the way.

One need that I didn’t anticipate ahead of time outside of a hospital bed, a wheelchair and a few ramps, was furniture.

Taller Furniture Please!

It isn’t uncommon for older people to have difficulty getting into and out of furniture. Height is a concern and arms are essential for leverage for most elderly people to boost themselves out of a chair. None of the chairs or seats in my home accommodated this limitation.

My aunt sat in a wheelchair provided by medicare for the first few weeks in my home. She would walk (with the aid of a walker) from room to room for the exercise and one of us would follow behind with the wheelchair so she would have a place to sit in every room. Not only did that become cumbersome, it didn’t provide her with much independence. I was determined to find sturdy chairs that were tall enough with arms. No easy task.

taller furniture

elderly aids, taller furniture, blocks #eldercare #caregiving

It turns out that my porch chairs are sturdy and wide enough with arms for leverage when my aunt wants to sit or stand but they aren’t quite tall enough. My mom suggested bed risers. They’re affordable, come in various heights and material and accommodate a variety of leg styles. I chose the 3 1/2″ wooden risers. They don’t compromise the stability of the chair at all. This has been a perfect solution and works very well for any chair that doesn’t need to slide or move (like one that needs to slide closer to a table for eating).

I also purchased an office chair for the table in her room. The wheels make this chair less ideal because my aunt either needs someone to hold it or she has to get the chair against an immovable object or wall in order to get up without it rolling away from her. It works better in her room than a chair on blocks because she sits at a table and can swivel around.

Believe it or not, the easiest chair for my aunt to get out of is her bedside commode. I used the seat height, width and arm height as the template for my chair search.

I would love to hear if you’ve busted through any furniture barriers without a lot of expense or an exhaustive search.

 

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