When my children were young, practicality forced me to work from home. My ex was not supportive of my career, my kids managed to scare off a cadre of babysitters and from the time the babies were born, it just seemed to make sense to keep my business going, typing with one hand with my babies at my breast.
Would I have preferred a "real career"? I know that nomenclature somehow belies that I actually ran a successful business in those years - which, in fact, I did - but working from home, no matter how much money you make - no matter how impressive your clients are - never quite feels like a "real career" with a water cooler that someone else pays for, vacation days, sick days and other bennies. So, in a sense, all those years, I would have preferred working elsewhere, but hey, that's the way the cookie crumbled. I was home or not too far away from my kids at any given time. Life was manageable. I took care of my kids AND made money.
Now my youngest child is about to fly the nest. "Real" jobs are scarce, and this week my mom went into the hospital - so I brought my dad, who is in early stages of Alzheimer's, home with me. Being home with dad has me remembering the art and the rigors of babysitting. Timing my phone calls so they won't coincide with baby (or grandpa) noises, asking him if he's hungry, interrupting my day to make him lunch or a snack or to plunge the toilet or ask him if he's ready for naptime. It's like babysitting without Barney.
My dad doesn't like watching TV. Maybe that's because he refuses to wear hearing aids and can't hear the TV unless it's blasting. He doesn't have the attention span to read the paper. He has one task that he enjoys - reading junk mail. The stuff that I don't even bother glancing at, that I automatically toss in the recycle, he reads cover to cover, considering each page carefully, and then, only then, he throws it away. Judging from the table covered with solicitations in his home, he doesn't throw too much away. Although he aspires to some day. After he reads each request for charity, letter informing him that he's won the grand prize, or pitch to fine tune his windows and improve his energy bill.
He forgets where he is sometimes - and what he meant to say - and he calls me by my mom's name, my aunt's name and sometimes he just trails off and forgets what to call me. He stands over my shoulder and stares at the screen as I work on my computer. When I make a phone call, he perks up. "What? What did you say?" he shouts, running into the room. I wave him away, hoping the client on the other end doesn't hear. Didn't I used to do that with my kids? Yesterday, he was so anxious to go that I took my laptop and cellphone into the bathroom to send out one important email. "Where are you going," he implored. "The bathroom," I said, grabbing my equipment and hiding out. My daughter was in stitches. Little does she know I learned the trick when she was four years old and I had to do some business. And when I left Dad home alone briefly to pick my daughter up at school, he called my cellphone, frantic. "Where are you? When are you coming home?"
A social worker recently informed me that I've got an attitude problem. She says I'm not respectful of my parents' needs. But what about my needs? I've done this before - why must I do this again? It doesn't seem fair. People remind me one day I'll be old too. I tell them, "shoot me first!" Sorry, folks, I know it's harsh - I love my dad but I don't love the illness and I hate the fact that he's old and helpless.
Somehow this week I managed to get my work done. With him standing over my shoulder and following me all over the house. I guess some skills never leave you. I've done this before, I can do this again. I just wish there was a Barney for the Geriatric set.