Preparing for Take-Off

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Ahhhh... Sun, sand, flip-flops, and fun times... a good book and an ice cold lemonade... ocean waves breaking gently on the shore... no computer and no phone... one glorious week of eating food prepared by anyone other than myself. I – just - can’t – wait - !

Before I can reach this modified version of Nirvana, however, I have stars to align.

For thirteen years, family vacations held a mix of anticipation and excitement, but also a thimble full of personal dread. My husband and kids could pack n’ go, but I had the daunting task of planning, prepping and preparing to leave our family dog at home with a sitter.

The most spoiled animal in the universe, Bo’s gourmet meals were comprised of boiled chicken, brown rice, rinsed hamburger, and cheese – individually bagged and frozen for easy distribution (it was the least I could do for his caretaker). Oh - and a multitude of healthy “treats,” dispersed on a relatively rigid schedule. Bo’s death 16 months ago has left a gaping hole in our hearts, but has also rendered us pet-free for the first time in 13 years. There’s something to be said about that for sure.

Last winter was the first time my husband and I could leave our house for a well-deserved jaunt with nary a thought about anyone or anything. No kids. No dogs. No Nothing. We threw our wrinkled summer clothes in a suitcase and headed south to see Mom in her beloved “double wide” in Florida. No fuss, no muss.

But that would be the last time we’d ever visit Mom’s Villa again. By the end of our return trip to New England with her it was evident that at 91, her long-distance travel had to be curtailed. Disheartened but realistic, Mom understood. It was time; her friends had moved or died, her golf cart was broken, and the Democratic Club had closed shop.

So now, Mom and I get to spend 12 out of 12 months together, with little breaks thrown in for good behavior – our upcoming trip south being one of them. Over the years, Mom’s four months in Florida were a kind of stay-cation for me... respite from meal planning and preparing... the kind of guilt-free, off-duty feeling I’d get like when my kids went to daycare and later, off to college; knowing they’re safe, but also providing a little more me-time.

No snark, but the reality is that some things about leaving Mom feel oddly familiar to pre-planning a trip away from Bo... like it’s my responsibility to align her stars with nutrition, exercise and social interaction while I’m gone, just as I always did for Bo.

Left to her own (excessively independent) devices, Mom would eat a “Lean Cuisine” every night for dinner...I’d come back from vacation and she’d be a mere shadow of her former self. So before I leave, her fridge will be filled with high-calorie prepared foods; “slit to vent” and “Microwave for 4 minutes” written on top. 

I’ll also line up a little exercise and social interaction for Mom. Bo got two walks a day and playtime in the park, Mom’s requirements are less arduous, but nonetheless important. Much of her regular human interaction comes from my daily bookend visits. Thankfully, while I’m gone, she’ll have weekly “helpers” in on Friday and Monday; one managing the indoor tasks, and the other taking Mom out for fresh air and errands. Other likely visitors include my sister, Mom’s mail carrier, her paper girl, and possibly a friend or two. Overall, Mom should be sufficiently socialized and exercised by the time I return.

As with Bo, I’ll have to leave an emergency medical plan in place for Mom. The vet lived within spitting distance of our house which always gave me comfort. Mom’s most proximate doctor can be summoned by her trusty “Life-Alert” which has been a life-saver many times. She’s on a first name basis with the ambulance drivers, so their visits score double points for social interaction. Finally, although at work from 7 to 3, my daughter lives in the apartment above Mom making her a sort of built-in social and safety net.

Perhaps I’m not as important to Mom’s daily existence as I’ve come to believe... Perhaps she’d be perfectly okay without any intervention or planning on my part at all... Perhaps (as people use to infer about my planning-palooza for Bo) Mom will do just fine without me. No need to test this theory though... visions of the Marblehead Police and Elder Services wrangle for space in my head.

When Bo was alive, the best part of a family vacation could be the welcome home... ecstatic, unbridled joy at seeing our faces again... Bo would actually be pee-accident-happy. Although I don’t anticipate this kind of response from Mom, I’m pretty sure she’ll be glad I’m home and will have a stockpile of stories to share about all she did while I was gone. Being rested and renewed, I’ll be happy to hear them all.

Past experience (with Bo) tells me that once our car leaves the driveway, I’ll be officially on vacation... giving myself total permission to rest, relax, and recoup. With all of Mom’s physical, social/emotional, and medical needs accommodated and accounted for, I should finally feel able to exhale... and start reading my beach book.

Emily GaffneyComment