From Memoryland to Babyland Part 2

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It has been over six weeks since I last posted, a long stretch given I usually post at least once a week. I have spent most of that time, ever since BabyRalph’s birth, in New Orleans helping my daughter and her growing family. Basically, I have been embroiled in Grandbaby Land, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else in my life.

Including Ralph.

I write those two words nervously aware that you may be judging me as a bad wife for leaving Ralph in the breach. Or maybe I am projecting my own nervous guilt? A little of both I suppose.

But the funny thing is that Ralph is thriving in my absence.

I didn’t make the decision to be in New Orleans  lightly but I can’t say I hesitated. There were some rocky health moments in the first couple of weeks of BabyRalph’s life, and while he is fine now, he has demanded a little extra care. My daughter asked me to be there as much as possible to help. Ralph and I discussed it, and he was surprisingly comfortable, even encouraging, at least in the abstract. So after our initial visit, I drove him home to the farm and spent a few days organizing his life to work without me for the next ten days before driving out the driveway without him.

I called in favors from friends to set up a schedule of visits so that someone would be dropping by literally every day, whether to take him out to dinner or to chat for a few minutes and make sure he was okay. I set up his pillboxes. I bought and cooked frozen pizza, a roast chicken, and other favorite prepared foods.

Most important I made a new form of checklist for him: a linear calendar with times and activities spelled out in detail and a space for him to check X once he completed a given activity. Every day he was to X when he took his pills, when he fed the dogs, when he ate lunch, when he ate dinner (with menu suggestions spelled out), when Francis or Debbie or Kay etc. visited.

Ralph has always loved lists and calendars. When he ran his business, he swore by his calendar keeping and had all his employees keep detailed calendars as well. Now that his sense of time is shot—he can read a clock but has no sense of days, dates or the passage of time hourly or daily—we keep both a calendar book and an eraser board calendar for reference. (He does not use a computer or smart phone.) But this new checklist, which I taped to the kitchen counter, has been a revelation. He loves it and takes pride in checking off. The irony is that the only time he has missed taking his pills in the last two months was a Saturday when I was at home with him so didn’t have the check off list in action.

As for my presence, basically I have been gone for a week to ten days at a time, then home for two to four days, then gone again. While I am in New Orleans, I call Ralph in the morning to make sure he gets up, then every three hours or so throughout the day. And of course he calls me occasionally, although not as often as you’d think, usually when something has sparked him into a loop and he wants to discuss it over and over on the phone, just as he would if we were together at home.

But really he doesn’t seem very needy because he is suddenly Mr. Social, enjoying the company of my woman friends, “the Girls” or “my girlfriends” as he calls them, who sit with him during his late afternoons on the porch and sometimes drag him out to dinner. The woman who has cleaned my house for twenty years comes by twice a week (refusing to take money for the extra visits so we have arranged a barter) to make sure he has everything he needs. Everyone who comes, knows to check the pill box just in case and to make sure there are never more than a few beers in the fridge as well as where to hide the extras.

More important, so far everyone has let me know that Ralph seems to be not only holding his own, but in great spirits. Of course I worry, am I being selfish.

As a wife I should want to be with Ralph more than with anyone else. But the truth, and it is not easy to face or state, is that I can’t say I have missed Ralph as much as I think I should (of those shoulds!). This time with BabyRalph and family—filled with three-hours-of-sleep nights, endless laundry and washing of baby bottles and pumping implements, constant carpooling of a social butterfly thirteen-year-old adapting to having a tiny half-brother, and all the extenuating tensions of a life-changing event—has been a kind of vacation from my usual responsibility. I know Ralph may be less able to handle my absence going forward so I am taking advantage of the opportunity.

But I find myself wondering more and more how I am going to give up spending so much time with BabyRalph and how I can finagle Ralph into spending more time down here too. This is the crux of so much. As a married couple, the decisions of where to live and how to spend out time should be joint decisions. But I know we cannot live indefinitely the way we do now, on a farm that leaves us somewhat isolated and that Ralph can no longer keep up on his own. BabyRalph’s birth has thrown a spotlight on the need to make a decision sooner than later, but also on how complicated and difficult that decision and the ensuing changes will be…

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7 thoughts on “From Memoryland to Babyland Part 2

  1. Good to hear from you, Alice. Baby Ralph is gorgeous – but you know that anyway! I’m delighted to hear he’s doing well now and you are spending lots of time with him. From what you say, your Ralph seems to be doing fine – with all his ‘girlfriends’ – while you are away. I think it’s understandable you don’t miss him as much as you think you ‘should’ when you have grandchildren to keep you occupied, which may be exhausting but in a different way.
    Has your Ralph been to see Baby Ralph since the first visit?

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    1. Hi Mary. I am learning not to listen too much to the shoulds and have been much happier as a consequence. Ralph has not come back but I have scheduled a visit in a week–we’ll see how that goes…am hoping he decides he likes hanging with his namesake.

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  2. Thanks for putting all this out there – the decisions we have to make between competing interests, important family times, and what responsibility really looks like in these circumstances. Sounds like you covered the bases beautifully, at home, and that Ralph is managing his end quite well. Congratulations on little Ralph, what a cutie!

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    1. Thanks, I cannot pretend I don’t think he is the cutest baby ever. You articulate the complexity of the situation really well. Those competing interests are both external and internal. Ralph seems to be handling well, but I always wonder if I am seeing the whole picture…

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  3. Once again, this is so comforting for me. Thank you for your posts.

    As we have the first wedding of our kids this summer, I am really looking forward to having grandchildren (which my daughter and her fiance also want, soon!). As I see your picture of holding the baby, I so look forward to that physical closeness with my grandchildren. My husband had prostate cancer a dozen years ago, and added to the symptoms of aging, he has no need for any physical affection. Yes, he hugs me (side hug usually) when he leaves the house, and once or twice a week in the morning, but not like a husband, more like a “brother/sister” hug. I have talked with him, and he said it was a cruel joke (of God’s?) that now I need affection when his body has neither ability (sexually) or need/desire. If I sit down next to him on the couch, he will sometimes put his arm around me, but I know that he is very uncomfortable. He has never liked getting his hair cut either (someone touching his head) and would never get a massage (again, someone touching his skin). So I go back and forth being hurt, angry, and feeling pity for him and me. I look at it “as in sickness and in health”, so I can’t leave him for being sick, but it is tempting when I meet a nice man that still has that twinkle in his eye.

    I know I need to be thankful… he retired from a job that he never really liked, but has provided us with a decent home and a retirement income so I don’t have to work full time now. I do work part time so that we are not going backwards financially. He has also lost a lot of the “fight” in his personality, and never raises his voice anymore and has even learned how to make oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts, which he does several mornings a week for us. He does dishes sometimes and will fold laundry too, if I ask him. He turns 70 this year, and I will turn 61.

    Like you, we are also on a farm (hobby) which we really cannot keep up, but it is his love, and I just can’t deny him that right now. Our sons are helping more and more with farm chores (they live over an hour away) and I am hoping that they see the changes in him and will help me through this transition. I am also the one that posted a while ago with the boat that never gets used, but costs hundreds of dollars every year to keep at the marina.

    I think it is just a bad day… gloomy, pre-spring weather here in Minnesota, and I just did my taxes. I started my own pottery business last year (to feel like I am doing something, and to be with people). Well, I made over a 1,000 dollars last year in my business, but my expenses were over 1,600, so that was a loss of about 600 dollars. Hopefully the loss will push me to work harder and try to make a profit in 2017. I have made several new friends through my pottery, and that is a real comfort to me. It is also very therapeutic to work with clay.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. I don’t know anyone personally in my situation to talk to, so this is good for me. I am on anti-depressants (have been for decades) and that helps a lot. Maybe I will go for a walk to clear my head.

    Thanks again and best wishes to you

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    1. Thank you Karen. I think your “ramble” is very brave. Sex is one of the subjects I have avoided, but you make me realize the issue of physical affection is one that must be tackled with honesty. And the resentments you voice-and I share-are very real and can’t be swept under the rug. the pottery business was a good move–my daughter wonders why I run my little business as a book club facilitator given I barely break even, but I find it stimulating. I am also fascinated by our common farm experience. I am not sure how I will handle that as we move forward though it is certainly on my mind. Stay in touch

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