C is for Certainty. And Choice

Things of which I was certain prior to embarking on this dating adventure: 

Absolutely no pets. I swiped left (or whatever direction meant No Thank You) on so many lesbians with dogs. Do you have any idea how limiting is was to be dog unfriendly? Lesbians and dogs are like macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly. And then I fell for a woman with a dog.

I was also certain that children under 25 were a definite No. If they’re launched by 25, chances are they won’t boomerang back to the basement. But like with the dogs, I wasn’t really up for the maintenance–the walking, the feeding, the cleaning up after. The responsibility. Been there. Done that. But then I fell for someone who had a kid (sort of).

How can you not love that face?

And then there was the whole coffee thing. I declared to anyone who inquired that I had two very good reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship: “I am 100% not interested in learning how to make someone else’s coffee.“ At this time. (Sorry, can’t tell you the other reason on a public blog).

The only certainty is change, Dear Ones.

It’s something of a mantra for me. Change and choice. If we can’t or are unwilling to change or if we forget that it is okay to make a change, we risk missing out on so much.

If we constantly brace for change, fear it, work to avoid it, all of our energy goes into staying the same. We can’t learn or grow. Our windows of tolerance for new experiences shrink rather than expand.

How do we learn that we have to stick with a choice? Who taught us that we can’t try a new direction if our current course isn’t working for us?

Like many of our ineffective adult behaviors, this one also likely began in childhood. Can you hear it Dear Reader? Can you hear your parents telling you “you signed up to play the tuba, sweetie. You have to give it a chance”? “You can’t stay home sick today, the team is depending on you. Suck it up and show up.” “You said you’d go to the dance with Johnny. You can’t back out now.”

We learn in childhood to distrust our own guts and go along to get along. Sometimes disagreeing can be dangerous. So we learn to put our own feelings aside to make others more comfortable. And, once we recognize that we do it, we can in fact make a choice to change.

We have such power in choice, when we slow down to recognize that we can choose our responses or our paths. I could have bailed upon learning about the dog or the kid or the kid’s sister. Turns out I chose to check it out, to turn toward those things instead of away. I loved the dog (and I know he loved me), and the kids were pretty great too.

I learned to make her coffee. In fact, I still have a bag of medium roast in the freezer.

Me? I like it dark. Of that, I am certain.

B is for Broken Toes,Busted Fingers, and Bad Signs

Two weeks before I got onto the online dating site, I broke my big toe on my left foot in an unfortunate accident with a freakishly heavy vase. Long story short, the vase is still intact while my toe was smashed like a cherry tomato hit by a falling brick.

As I contemplated dipping my toes into online dating, I wasn’t even sure I should be getting my broken big toe wet at all, let alone taking it kayaking (see A is for Alcohol), and so I swaddled it carefully in gauze and waterproof bandages. I am sure I mentioned it to my prospective date, but she didn’t seem terribly concerned. Possibly a bad sign.

Poor toe

My second date and I bonded a little over broken toes before we met in person, and that felt better. A little empathy goes a long way toward drawing people in. And by the time we put our paddles in the water together, my toe had recovered a bit more, and the salt water felt good on my flattened digit.

And that date went well. We set out on a Sunday afternoon in rough waters, and I wasn’t sure my little tub of a kayak was up for it, but the winds died down as the afternoon wore on.  We had a slight breeze at our backs as we rowed in unison, marveling at the seals dotting the shoreline and oohing over the enormous schools of tiny silver fish. The Indigo Girls should have been singing Power of Two in the background. It was that perfect.

We meandered our way back to the boat launch, sharing stories, stopping at a beach for a cider and some snacks. Once we landed, she left her rental kayak on the beach to be picked up, and I schlepped my boat up the ramp to my Jeep.

(I should mention here that exactly a week before, I had purchased a new Jeep, similar to my old Jeep but different enough that I was still figuring a few things out)

As she tended to her rental paperwork, I contemplated how to best get my kayak into the back of the Jeep: open the back door or just lift the boat over it? I opted for the latter but lost my grip, sending the kayak skidding to the gravel, and taking my right index finger with it, trapped as it was in the lip of the cockpit. I can’t remember ever feeling a twang like that. It reverberated all the way up my arm.

I mean, my finger didn’t fall off, but dammit, that hurt. I ignored the pain in my finger long enough to recover the kayak and wrestle it back into the Jeep. I wanted to cry, but instead I jammed my fist under my left armpit and said goodbye to my date. We agreed we’d like to see one another again.

Poor finger

As I watched her drive away in her sexy little hybrid, I opened my fist to examine the damage.

Well, I thought, that can’t be a good sign.

A is for Alcohol (cider, actually)

Like all good adventures, this one begins with alcohol.

Last March, I hunkered down with everyone else, eschewing human contact, living hand to mouth surviving on the contents of my pantry (decades old rice cakes, expired cream of mushroom soup, rancid-ish rice, freezer burned chicken, ancient frozen fish). That was all fine, but when I ran out of cider, that was a bridge too far.

What to do? Naturally, I started ordering elderberry cider by the case from Lost Giants Cider Co. At first I told myself it was to keep them from going out of business. They had to survive the pandemic, I reasoned. One day we’d again sit inside and mingle with other cider lovers. And for a couple of months, that too, was good enough company for me. A can of cider, a jigsaw puzzle. Eventually I dragged out the old Wii. I spent those first weeks  Zooming with friends, watching a lot of Netflix, writing. I could do this, I thought, sipping my cider and ordering another puzzle from Amazon. It’s not so bad. A few weeks of staying home and it’ll all be fine.

But by the time July rolled around and we were STILL stuck at home, I had grown tired of sitting on my front porch and waving at the neighbors for fun. I needed more. So, though I initially felt jilted and abandoned when my two (straight female) BFFs started online dating, after a couple of ciders and some peeking at a couple of dating sites, I joined them. Why not? I hadn’t dated in 20 years, but I had met my ex-wife in one of the very first online dating sites back in 1999 or 2000. That wasn’t all bad. Said the fifth case of elderberry cider.

By mid-July, I’d started corresponding with a likely candidate. She seemed intelligent and intriguing in all the right ways. We agreed on an appropriately socially-distanced kayaking first date. Always the prepared boy scout, I packed a mini-lunch to share: 2 ciders, some almonds, some string cheese, dried mango.

I knew my first date was doomed when she refused my offer of a cider after our paddle. We did not paddle again. My second (different) date, however, welcomed my cider offer midway through our paddle a couple of weeks later. After that auspicious beginning, we dated long enough to enjoy many ciders together, discovering an affinity for peppered ciders, jalapeno pineapple, habanero pineapple. We kicked it up to spicy town. For six months.

That’s more than my two BFFs can say. They’re still wading through sites full of pictures of half-naked men wielding fish as if that’s what attracts women . . .

The A-to-Z Challenge, a brief introduction. And a theme: My Adventures in Online Dating During a Global Pandemic, from Alcohol to Zoom.

Welcome Back! We’re just in time for the A-to-Z Challenge. It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in this adventure, but I’m up for it, I think.

This year, as odd as it has been, deserves some special treatment, so I’ve decided to go with a theme: Adventures in Online Dating During a Global Pandemic, from Alcohol to Zoom.

Buckle up buttercups. Let’s see what I’ve learned.

A Return to the Interwebs. Happy New Year!

Consider this my Christmas Letter for 2017

Relaunched the website tonight. I’d taken it offline while I looked for a job. I go back and forth on this issue–should I let prospective employers see what I’ve written here or should I not? Will my writings help my career or harm it? I have no idea. But, now I have a job, so there.

I have a job! As a counselor. Good thing, since I woke up on Christmas to an email from the Federal Student Loan Servicing Company, reminding me that I was half way to the end of my Student Loan Repayment Grace Period.  Yay! I won’t get thrown in debtors’ prison. Yet.

And I’ll be in private practice soon, since my job affords me time to see clients on my own as well. I will be working three, twelve hour shifts each week, so I will have a few other days in which to start building my own practice.  I am very excited about both of these opportunities and couldn’t have imagined or hoped for a better outcome and transition into the mental health counseling field.

On the homefront, my 27 yo kid has moved in with me for awhile and I am completely digging having her around. It’s a chance at redemption for me. How often do we get an opportunity to have a real life “Do-Over?” I am one lucky mother.

Speaking of Mother, she has moved to a memory care facility. We reached a bit of a crisis point after Thanksgiving with a pulled tooth, a root canal, and a bottle of pain meds. Suffice it to say that her level of needed care exceeded my level of competency. She has a roommate who has a PhD in Sociology, so Mother is both duly impressed and thrilled to have someone to talk to who is at about the same stage of Alzheimer’s. They arrived within a week of one another, and both seem content (generally) with each other.

Charlie (or Chuck, as I like to call him), Mom’s shitzu, moved too, and seems quite happy to be there along with a handful of other dogs, a couple of hedgehogs, a Siamese cat, a tankful of fish, a cage of birds, and a chinchilla.

The transition to the facility was as awful and wrenching as I imagined it would be. Mom was none too happy with me that night, but I had to move her for her own safety. Who wants to have to make that sort of decision for someone? I certainly never imagined I would have to. And, I am thrilled to have my life back, my time and my home back. You can’t know what it’s like until you live it.

I spent the holidays working. Mom spent Christmas and Christmas Eve with my kids and their other mom. I am grateful for everyone’s love and caring these past few weeks, these past sixteen months. I couldn’t have done this on my own.

Happy New Year!

Pam

Coming Out, Again and Again and Again

I am reposting this today though I wrote it four years ago. Much has changed since then. I was thinking this week how we still aren’t completely free to be ourselves in public. I was on the Oregon Coast and walking down the beach behind what I assumed was a lesbian couple. We were at least a mile from the main beach and far from the public eye on a remote part of the beach before they held hands. They seemed oblivious to my presence a dozen yards behind them, but I couldn’t help wonder what if I had not been me, but someone who didn’t support LGBTQ rights? What if I were a homophobe and emboldened to act out as so many are these days? 

Also, this piece was published in a slightly different version by Ooligan Press in their anthology Untangling the Knot:  Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships, and Identity

It’s fitting that National Coming Out Day should fall during Mental Health Awareness Week. The two are inextricably linked.

We wore our cowgirl outfits to the wedding, after all the invitation had said country chic and it was being held outdoors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the reception to follow in a barn. Me: black cowgirl hat, pointy-toed boots, Western shirt with pearl snaps, bedazzled cowgirl jeans. The Little Woman: ruffled skirt, black cowgirl boots, black Western shirt with longhorns on the shoulders, pearl snaps. We had road-tripped down in our Jeep, all 1600 miles or so, through eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming. We were excited to see the family, to celebrate with my cousin Brad and his soon-to-be wife Megan.

TLW grabbed my hand when we got out of the Jeep and waited for my brother and his family and my father and his wife to debark from their vehicles and join us as we walked to the front of the (very upscale) barn. I let Nancy hold my hand then, but I could feel that familiar uneasiness creeping in the closer we got to the venue, and when I didn’t immediately see anyone we knew (i.e. members of the family) or anyone else so duded up, I pulled away and dropped her hand.

“So that’s how it’s going to be,” she said. “Really?”

At that moment, self-preservation trumped self awareness. I pretended not to hear and walked a little bit ahead, suddenly flooded with shame and hoping that either the ground would swallow me whole or that a whole posse of cowgirl lesbians might be waiting for us just around the corner. Of course neither happened. Around the corner waited only straight (as far as I could tell) normally attired wedding attendees—maybe a bit more casual than normal wedding attendees, but still, straight, suit jackets, dresses, the occasional cowboy boot. I wanted nothing more than to turn heel and run, to safety, to the familiar, to someone I’ve never been nor will ever be: a taller, thinner, more feminine, more socially acceptable me.It did not matter one whit in that moment that I was surrounded by people who loved and accepted me. It did not matter in that moment of panic that my brother was also wearing a cowboy shirt and cowboy boots and jeans and a cowboy hat. It didn’t matter that I had come out to my family years ago and that TLW and I were as accepted and loved and as much a family unit within the extended family as my straight cousins and aunts and uncles. All that mattered to me was my obvious otherness.

I did not flee. Even when I realized we were 45 minutes early and would have to mingle and make small talk or stand awkwardly with each other and sip the lavender water. I silently cursed the lack of pre-ceremony alcohol and our obsessive punctuality. I talked myself down from that internal ledge and tried to see us as others might. I tried to look at the individuals in the crowd and not at the crowd itself. I feigned interest in the barn and the surrounding grounds, and I eagerly greeted familiar faces as they trickled in. I reminded myself that I was 50 years old, goddammit and beyond (hahahaha) caring what other people thought of me and my life choices. I berated myself into behaving as if I actually believed that.

Eventually, I talked to enough people, had enough wine, ate enough dinner, spent enough time to re-inhabit my body. No one laughed at me. No one made fun of me for being a lesbian. In fact, just the opposite happened. I relaxed and opened up, and TLW and I danced. We danced together, alone, with strangers on the dance floor, and as we danced a funny thing happened: acceptance.

The wedding invitations had included RSVP cards to mail back. Each card asked for a song request, what song would we like them to play at the reception? TLW told me to put down “Same Love” by Macklemore. I seriously doubted that our song would get played—partly because it’s really not a dance song, partly because it’s gay. But wouldn’t you know it—about three quarters of the way through the evening, I heard those notes, grabbed TLW’s hand and pulled her onto the dance floor as I whooped and waved my hands in the air. We were the first ones out there, but not for long. My cousin wrapped us in a huge embrace and thanked us for coming. Strangers and relatives alike joined us on the dance floor in what felt like an enormous celebration of love. Period.

I wish I could bottle the feeling I had at the end of that night, wear it around my neck and sprinkle it over me before I walk into new situations, because coming out isn’t just a one time event. Coming out happens over and over and over again, every day, every week, every month.

Alzheimer’s Sucks

Alzheimer’s disease sucks. Gawd. It sucks on so many levels, I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with a story, the story of today. My today:

I wake up at 6:20. Before I do anything else, I listen. I strain my ears toward the kitchen and concentrate. Then, wishing I could rotate my ears, catlike, I swivel my head so my ears point toward Mom’s bathroom. Silence. I breathe. I get out of bed, softly walk to the bathroom, pee, do not flush.

I pad carefully to the kitchen to start the coffee maker. I tiptoe back to my bedroom and pluck my phone from the nightstand as I quietly, so very, very quietly, crawl back into bed, phone in hand so I can check Twitter to see a) if The Dumpster resigned b) if North Korea bombed us, and c) how many followers I have. While the coffee brews, I repeat a, b, and c for Facebook, my blog, Instagram, and finally, the more traditional news sources. I check my mail, my calendar, and my messages and then I tiptoe back out to the kitchen for coffee, which has now brewed, and either a smoothie (if I remembered to make it the night before) or a banana. I grab a napkin, and I creep stealth-like back to my room. I listen. So far. So good. I eat my banana, I sip my coffee.

I continue my foray on the Interwebs: I check the local paper, the local paper’s horoscope, the local obituaries, the NYT for the latest Modern Love or Couch column. If I am feeling particularly brave, I might even watch and listen to a video without putting on my ear buds. I sip coffee and eat banana, and while I read, I wait for the coffee to work its magic. When it does, when the banana and the coffee kick in, I head back to the bathroom. I no longer try to be quiet. The jig is up, because as soon as I flush that toilet (this time I have to flush, Febreeze alone is not enough), she’ll awaken and arise. The peace, my peace, short lived as it was, will shatter, and I will not be able to reassemble it, the sharp-edged shards of my peace, until mid-to-late evening. For the next thirteen hours, I am on duty. Double duty.

I go back to my bedroom swiftly, quietly, a thief in my own damn house. I listen, not breathing, craning my ears—is she making breakfast yet? She moves fast once awakened. My running stuff is hanging in the laundry area adjacent to the kitchen, which is adjacent to Mom’s wing, which is visible via a closed set of French doors, and I might be able to get my shorts, t-shirt, toe socks, and sports bra without her seeing me, but the odds are rarely in my favor.

My home is no longer my haven. I will seek peace all day, but not here. Away. I will seek peace on my morning run at Lake Padden. I will look for quiet in my kayak after my run. I will float and read and soak in the sun for as long as I can because inevitably I will need to go home and shower and get on with my day. I have clients to see and classes to attend and questions to answer. So many fucking questions. And Mom will be waiting for me at the front door. She will hear the beep when I lock my Jeep, and she will open the front door.

“How was your day?” she asks. “Have a good run? What are your plans for the day?”

I push past her. “Good. Fine. Read the note Ma. I left you a note on the counter.” I plop my running bag, a gift from my brother, onto the bench in the entryway, kick off my shoes.

“Okay, good,” she smiles. “Mommy was just wondering.” Her voice rises an octave. She talks to me the way one talks to an infant. She totters back to her wing, behind the French doors; she will putter there while I change. I used to strip naked in front of the washing machine and then wander carefree to the shower, but now when I strip off my running clothes, I do it in my room and throw on a t-shirt and a pair of boxers so I can take my sweaty nasty clothes to the washing machine without my mother seeing me naked. Ew.

I change in less than three minutes. Mom meets me at the washing machine. “How was your day?” she asks. “How was your run? What are your plans for the day?”

“The run was good,” I say, breathing deeply through my nose. “Not too many people.” I try to smile her direction. “The jury is still out on how my day will be, though, Ma. It’s only 10:30.” I nod toward the counter at the note I left her before I went running. “I left you a note.”

“Oh,” she hangs her head and scurries back to her side of the French doors.

“Ma,” I call. “Ma, it’s ok. Don’t leave. I just . . . “ My voice trails off as she shuts the door. I can see her sit on her couch and pick up the tv remote.

My heart sinks. I suck. I should be more cheerful, nicer. But every morning it’s exactly the same. Every (mostly). Fucking. Morning. Since. September. The same questions, repeated, ten, fifteen, twenty times an hour. Every hour. All day.

I shower and get dressed. I finished my internship hours a couple of weeks ago, but I still leave the house every day as if I am still going. Coffee shops. Friends’ houses. Breweries. Whole Foods has an amazing happy hour everyday from 4-7. Three dollar pints.

Mom meets me at the front door. “You’re in Seattle today? You have to drive? Is Diane coming to pick me up for group? Is it until 1 o’clock today?”

I sigh. “Did you see the note, Ma? I’m in town at my internship. Diane knows. Yes, it’s at one. I wrote it all down for you. Have a good day.” I muster a malnourished smile as I stand at the door and wait for her to move. She stands in the doorway, unaware that she is in my way.

“Goodness,” her voice goes up an octave, and the baby talk begins again. “Mommy wouldn’t know what to do without you, Pammy Sue.”

Just a note: Hmm. I guess this is the first in a series. Possibly it’s the second in a series. Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a very strange adventure. Per my usual MO, I did not come very prepared for the ride and am learning on the fly. I’ve connected with the local Alzheimer’s Society where Mom attends groups three times a week. I am well-connected with services. That’s the easy part. The hard parts are more complex, more nuanced, more opaque. I hope to be as honest as I can here. My intentions are good. I want what is right and good for my mom, but holy shit it is really difficult to figure out what might be best at any given moment. We have entered uncharted waters, Dear Reader. Flotation devices strongly recommended. Buckle up. 

K is for Kayak and Kilometers and mucK

I don’t know what letter I should be on by this point. Clearly I have been derelict in my blogging duties, and probably have been ousted from the A-to-Z community, but I feel compelled to write today, dereliction be damned.

Not much makes me happier than sitting in my kayak on the lake on a sunny day, except maybe kayaking after a great run. Today was one of those banner days when I got to do both, something I haven’t done for months and months.

The sun finally made an appearance in conjunction with a day in which I had nothing to do but read for class, so I took advantage and slept in, went for a run (5.26 miles or roughly 8.5K), and then spent the remainder of the afternoon in my kayak on the lake (reading my Gestalt textbook). When I looked up from my book, I got to see fish jump and hawks swoop down from the skies to pluck the trout from the water. I chased a blue heron down the coastline trying to get it to sit still while I took a picture. An unsuccessful endeavor, but majestic and rewarding nonetheless.

After a week off due to illness, I took to the trails yesterday and got in a little more than seven great miles (or approximately 11.5K). In fact, yesterday my fastest mile was the last mile. I love negative splits, and I love coming back strong after time away. Today’s run was a bit tougher, a little slower, and a tad shorter as I pulled something in my right ankle while mowing the back 40 yesterday. I had to wear my rubber boots to mow since most of the backyard is a swamp. Those polka dot fashion boots from Fred Meyer don’t have much stability or support. Now I’m sitting with ice on my ankle.

I’ve not seen the backyard this wet in the nearly 20 years I’ve been living here, but had I not mown yesterday, I would have to rent a hay baler next weekend. As it was, I had to take a layer off with the weed whacker first. And I am not exaggerating when I say there was at least six inches of standing water in places. One section of fence had fallen over, the posts completely rotted away. I suppose at some point that’s going to cost me. For now, it’s propped up to keep the deer out (little f**kers got in and ate the geraniums and pansies Mom planted last week—for more on that ongoing battle, check out this blog from a few years ago).

But today I felt great having tackled the first mowing of the season, the first run in a week, and the first kayak since October. I am a little stiff and sore, but done with the worst of it, ankle notwithstanding. I am looking forward to more (especially since I recently talked a couple of buddies into buying kayaks).

Spring is blossoming slowly in these parts this year, and today was a small taste of everything I love about the next six months: kayaking, running, my backyard, and sharing it with friends.

Hope to see you out there!

B is for Behind (Already!) or Boundaries

I decided a few days ago that B was going to be for Boundaries—a relevant topic now that I am a counselor and caregiver (see A is for Alzheimer’s). But then life intervened in unexpected ways and while I should be cranking out my C is for . . . blog, I’ve still not gotten around to B. Also, there’s the little matter of a poem to go along with. Every time I sit down to write a poem, I get interrupted. Poetry is challenging enough without constant interference. I wrote one the other night, but I’m not sure it is suitable for public consumption—in fact, I know it isn’t. So, back to the drawing board.

A few words about Boundaries. Boundaries are those imaginary lines that we draw in the sand between us and the rest of the world. The word “no” is a boundary, as in “No, I cannot help you move this weekend (or ever).” Boundaries are personal bubbles, as in “if there are 90 empty seats in the movie theater, don’t sit right next to me if you don’t know me.” I am continually amazed at how often this boundary gets violated (especially in Bellingham). Boundaries can be fences, hedges, the edge of the lawn, a strategically placed flowerbed, or (if you are Cheeto Satan) a $65 billion wall between countries. What all of these borders, imaginary or actual, have in common, is they separate me from the rest of you in some way, or us from them, or my yard from your yard, or my body from your body, or my time from your time. Stepping across the line means I am choosing to merge some part of myself with you.

As a counselor, having boundaries means that I must keep our relationship confined to the counseling setting. It’s a bit odd, this particular boundary because while you (the counselee) may chose to tell me (the counselor) many intimate details about your life, I will not reciprocate with intimate details of my own. Normal relationships (friendships, intimate partners) rely on the mutual sharing of such information across boundaries to create a sense of closeness. You tell me an intimate detail, a secret, something you’ve not shared before, and I reward you with a secret/intimate detail of my own, our friendship grows, intimacy flourishes, the exchange is reciprocal.

Not so in counseling or therapy, which works differently. You tell me (the counselor) a secret, and I reflect it back to you, usually with a question. Something like “what meaning might you assign to the anger you have for your father?” or “what would it mean to you if she asked you out on a date?” or “how has being abused as a child affected your parenting of your own children?” Or maybe even (if I’m feeling stuck) “how do you feel about that?”

As a counselor, I have to have Boundaries because how helpful would it be if you disclosed your traumatic childhood to me, expecting insight and healing, and I said to you “Wow! My childhood was traumatic too”? Or, even if I did determine that some level of self-disclosure might be warranted (a quick rule of thumb re: self-disclosure: it can be ok if it helps the client, but not if it’s only for my own sake, i.e. to make me feel better), how helpful would it be if I confused you by having loose boundaries in the therapy room but then ignored you when I ran into you at the supermarket? If I took your money (or insurance payment) under the auspices of helping you but came to rely on your feedback and your insights? If you leave a counseling session knowing more about your therapist or counselor than he/she knows about you, somebody’s Boundaries are too loose.

Therapy is a very specific sort of exchange, one that depends on firm Boundaries. Less than firm Boundaries create all sorts of havoc and may result in the counselor or therapist losing their license. Lapses in ethics often result from lapses in Boundaries and can be a very slippery slope. Loose Boundaries can lead to inappropriate friendships and perhaps even sexual liaisons between therapists and clients. Sleeping with a client is never a good way to help them heal. It might make the client feel special initially, but will eventually destroy them (and probably the counselor as well).

Even something as seemingly benign as a friendship can become problematic between a therapist and client. As your friend, I have a vested interest in telling you things you want to hear, things that will keep you as a friend. As your therapist, I have a duty to tell you things that you might not want to hear but need to, things that will help you heal and move forward, things that a friend wouldn’t tell you. Boundaries make it possible for me to be your counselor.

Confused yet? It’s tricky, I know. But trust me, this is one lesson you’re better off NOT learning directly.

Related Haiku (this is an old one, but relevant)

Please do not invite
me in and then abandon
me at the threshold

A is for Alzheimer’s

Note: Since it is also National Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo) in addition to the 2017 A-to-Z Challenge, I will try to include a poem at the end of each blog entry. Today’s poem is a Haibun, a Japanese form in which a prose-poem precedes a haiku. 

My mother only eats off of salad plates, and she will only use a salad fork. When we run out of small plates (we only have six and she will not use the one that doesn’t match the rest, the blue one with stars, the sun, and the moon) and small forks, she tells me it is time to run the dishwasher even though it may contain only her six salad plates and her six salad forks. She does not remember that she can wash the plate and fork by hand. She eats off of small plates and she drinks only tea but her teacup goes in the dishwasher rarely. It is brown with discoloration and stains and sticky from the sugar she ladles into her tea.

Her habit of eating off of the small plates is not new. She has been in the habit of using the salad plates for a long, long time now. It comes, I believe, from years of being monitored by my father for overeating. For as long as I can remember, my father scrutinized my mother’s eating habits. When I was a kid, a teenager, I remember going out for ice cream and my dad making my mom get a diet coke while the rest of us had ice cream cones. Divorced for 16 years, she now eats ice cream right from the container. It’s as if not using a bowl means the ice cream doesn’t count, doesn’t really mean anything, will not invite supervision or scrutiny.

My mom moved in with me in September. My brother and I had been fielding reports from her friends and neighbors for several months in which they outlined her memory declines and odd behaviors. She reported seeing Sasquatch in her back yard a year ago in March. She forgot that she had ever played Farkle, a dice game that she played regularly over the past several years with friends and family. She got lost driving and forgot why she went places, her best friend told us.

I expected she would move in with me last June, but she called and refused. She didn’t want to leave her community or her friends. She had book clubs and garden club and Friends of the Library, she said. I had time last summer, time to orient her to Bellingham, time to sign her up for services, time to drive her to appointments. But she couldn’t quite marshal her resources, became overwhelmed at the monumental task of packing up her house, of sloughing off unnecessary items, of sorting through the detritus. My brother and I showed up last Mother’s Day weekend and hauled a ton of stuff to Goodwill and the dump. We divvied up her Waterford crystal and boxed up the china to be auctioned off on Ebay. I prepared her room in my house, but she didn’t come in June. She didn’t come in July or August either. And when I asked, she told me she was too tired to pack, too overwhelmed to organize the boxes.

Her friends kept calling. She shouldn’t be driving, they said. She tells the same stories over and over, they said. As if I hadn’t noticed that. Each phone call was the same as the last. Each conversation might as well have been a recording of the previous one. She couldn’t muster the energy or wherewithal to travel. She had missed Thanksgiving and Christmas the previous years. She told her friends she hadn’t been invited. She told her children she didn’t feel like traveling. I know now that she couldn’t get organized, couldn’t leave her dog, didn’t know what to do to get ready.

My mother eats off of small plates. She only will use a small fork. Her life is getting smaller. The walls are closing in. On both of us.

Haibun
My mother has become an old woman before my eyes, aging into forgetfulness and dementia, a victim now of ancient routines. She flutters toward the light, safe and trapped simultaneously, unable to escape the confines of what little remains, the walls of her cerebrum wiped smooth, scrubbed of the dust and fluff of daily nuances, the surfaces there papered only in history, teflon to what is new. She hunkers inward, shuttering her blinds, while painting on a brave façade.

Memory’s threads fray,
Ragged edges and patchwork
The mind’s makeshift quilt