I had imagined that retirement from a demanding job would provide lots of free time. Not so much. Since Andy and I moved to Texas four years ago, our days are full. Each weekday, we are at our daughter's house at 7:00 AM to get her two kids ready for school as she and her husband head out the door. That means waffles, sausage and fruit for four-year-old Noah and cereal with juice for his sister Lena, age seven. Then one of us gets Noah dressed, checking his backpack for extra clothes and pull-ups. We get our granddaughter a snack for her after-school Tae Kwon Do class, brush her hair into a pony tail, and check to see that her homework and books are in her bag. If needed, medications are given and teeth are brushed. Then it's into coats and off to school and child care by 7:45. On the other end of the day, we usually get Noah at 4:00 to have some playtime at our house or home, then Lena is collected an hour later. One of us stays with the kids until Hannah or Reagan arrives home from work. Sometimes we get our oldest grandson, Booker from school and spend time with him, as well.
One of us always seems to have an appointment with our primary care doc or a specialist (there seem to be more of those as you age). We take kids to the pediatrician for routine visits and meet Hannah at Children's Medical Center for emergencies or to see specialists. Housework, bills, grocery shopping, errands, laundry, pet care fill the day. When the weather warms, I'll fill big containers for around the pool with summer flowers and plant some annuals in the front. Andy will do pool care and cushions for outdoor furniture will come out of storage to prepare for summer.
And so it goes. We enjoy each day and love being in the lives of our three grandchildren and their parents--the reason we moved to the Lone Star State. Lucky us.
Some of you may be wondering why I disappeared this week. First, my adorable little grandson Noah (almost four) was playing with his sister and her friends at their house when he somehow planted his right foot and twisted, letting out a shriek of pain and collapsing. Hannah and Reagan collected him and took off for the emergency department of Children's Hospital. Negative x-ray, so the doctor Ace-wrapped it and put him in a little ortho shoe. We kept him home from preschool and unwilling to bear weight on his foot, he stayed very quiet. Hannah made an appointment with the orthopedic doctor, who saw a spiral fracture of his tibia that the ED docs had missed. So, Noah will be sporting a knee-high boot with many Velcro straps for the next month. He stayed at our house during the days ahead, happy to be a couch potato, doing puzzles and watching his iPad. Today, he finally began clomping along on the boot, announcing, "I walk good!"
Late this week, I began feeling quite unwell toward the end of the day. I took to my bed, hoping for deliverance from my terribly upset tummy and suffering miserable body aches. Thinking I might have the flu, I saw the doctor, who agreed, although they weren't able to test, having run out of swabs due to high demand. She heard some crackles in my right lung, so fortified with an antibiotic, steroid shot and a packet of Tamiflu, I returned home to ride it out. However, after reporting symptoms to my brother Dave, an emergency physician, he felt that I probably didn't have the flu, since there was no cough or high fever. I slept through most of the next 48 hours, eating little and losing eight pounds in the process (yay).This morning, the sun came out after a week of heavy rain, and I woke up from a ten-hour slumber looking for breakfast.
On the Road
Ah, the joys of traveling. When we lived in Denver, where all three kids came into the world in four years, we didn't take many car trips, except for day excursions into the mountains. One day, however, we received a Montana view book from our friends Dave and Suzanne. There was no note attached, just photo after photo of beautiful landscapes. Andy and I looked at each other and said "Let's go!". Piling the munchkins into our big green station wagon, we stayed overnight in a cabin at Yellowstone National Park and headed for Roundup, Montana. The huge Crow Indian Reservation was on our way, and we stupidly thought there would be gas stations. Not so much. With the fuel needle creeping well south of the red mark, we finally exited the reservation and giddy with relief, found a place to gas up.
After we moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia, a car trip to see the grandparents in Toledo became possible. As the kids tended to get bored and restless during the nine-hour journey, we usually broke it up with an overnight stay. So we bedded down for the night about halfway there. The kids wanted to watch TV, so Andy, tired from driving, took the fold-out bed. The girls shared one bed and Peter and I took the other. In the wee hours, while getting up to use the bathroom, Hannah hits her head on the corner of the dresser between the beds and starts screaming. I quickly turn on the light, just as Andy, somewhat disoriented, sits up suddenly and has the bed fold up like a taco with him inside. By now, everyone is awake, laughing hysterically. There was no chance of going back to sleep, so we found an open shop and loaded up on donuts, coffee and orange juice. My parents were quite surprised when we showed up at 8:00 a.m. with a story to tell.
No Good Deed...
They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and I'm a prime example of that. After months of arduous physical therapy post spinal surgery, my bionic left knee started "giving" painfully, so continuing PT was out of the question. An X-ray showed a spot where the cement had come loose from my knee prosthesis and the doctor gave me the unsettling news that I might need to replace my knee replacement, a very complex surgery. Yikes. But first, he ordered a nuclear bone scan. By the time insurance approved and the hospital called to schedule the test , my symptoms disappeared completely. I spoke with my physical therapist and we agreed that the exercises I was doing may have set off the problem.
Whew, problem resolved. However, my 72-year-old body wasn't quite through acting up. Decades ago, I had a painful bone spur removed from my right shoulder. Fast forward to 2014 when it again became bothersome. I had an injection and an MRI and for the next few years, it was fine. But now I couldn't sleep on that side and by evening, my shoulder was quite painful. Back to the doctor, who injected it with steroids that didn't bring relief. Another MRI was negative for a rotator cuff tear, but showed a bone "denting" the area. So...exercises I was doing for my spine may have aggravated my old shoulder problem. So it's back to PT for some exercises to make this misery go away. Am I on a merry-go-round? Getting old is not for sissies, but it sure beats the alternative.
Back in the Saddle Again
Nearly four years into retirement, I suddenly got an opportunity to do what I loved most about my job: interviewing people and then turning my notes and observations into stories. The designer I worked with for nine years offered me a freelance job helping to write an annual report for a senior services organization in Jacksonville, Florida and I jumped at the chance. I've always preferred to conduct interviews in person, and my daughter Hannah generously offered some of her Southwest Airline points so I could fly south.
My designer friend Susan and I have had a rather unusual working relationship. Although I was based in Wilmington, Delaware and she in Jacksonville, we created dozens of publications. Chief among those was Together magazine, a twice-yearly publication of the Nemours Fund for Children's Health. After a staff meeting to glean suggestions, I'd interview patients and their families, write the articles and send them along to Susan to fit into the layout. Then it was time to supervise photography by the pros we worked with me handling north and Susan south. After photos were placed and a few rounds of edits completed, PDFs flew back and forth amid many phone calls and emails before sending the publication to the printer. Although this process may sound painless, producing each issue was akin to having a baby and sometimes just as painful!
I'd almost forgotten both the pleasures and rigors of business travel. While enjoying an overpriced cheeseburger in an airport cafe, I saw harried business travelers with phones held to their ears, couples on vacation, families juggling babies, diaper bags and strollers and excited teenagers on their way to a basketball tourney. However, both there and back, I was wedged in the middle seat to read my novel, and the flights were delayed by 30 minutes. I sank gratefully into my comfortable hotel bed after an Uber ride to the hotel.
Next morning, after a happy reunion with my designer friend, we were off to River Garden (a lovely place set among palm trees and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss) to interview residents and staff. In addition to hearing praise for the services they received, the elderly residents often told us the fascinating stories of their lives. As an interviewer, you strain to hear every detail while writing copious notes and simultaneously thinking of the next question you might ask. Now that I've returned home, I'll complete the familiar process of making those stories come alive on the printed page, just like the old days.
Little Girl Lost
It was sometime in 1950, when I was about five years old. My dad was a busy pediatrician and my mom was raising me and my younger siblings, Steve and Connie. My two youngest brothers, Peter and David, would come along later. Our house was a in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood in the enclave of Ottawa Hills, which was completely surrounded by the city of Toledo, Ohio. I have only a hazy memory of the episode I will describe, but I'm sure my parents remembered it for the rest of their lives.
One Sunday afternoon, my dad and brother had walked to a mailbox a couple blocks away. After a bit, my mom suggested I walk that way and meet them. Well, I somehow took a wrong turn and ended up on Secor Road. Today, this street is a thriving commercial area, but back then it was relatively quiet, especially on a Sunday when most businesses were closed. Apparently, I was unperturbed that I had not encountered my dad and little brother, so I just kept walking. I had covered nearly two miles when I spotted one of my favorite spots - Dagwood's Diner. Somehow, I crossed the street to get there. Why no adult had questioned why this little girl was completely on her own is a mystery, but it was a different era.
Dagwood's had an outside window where you could get ice cream, so I boldly walked up and requested a strawberry cone. I don't remember whether someone paid for it or they just gave it to me, but I was soon enjoying the treat. At this point, I made a right-hand turn onto Sylvania Avenue and kept walking. It may have looked familiar to me, because my grandparents lived just a few blocks away. On I walked, licking my ice cream cone. By this time, I had covered another half mile or so.
Soon, I arrived at another place I loved - the pony rides. An enterprising guy had built a corral on a vacant lot and had several ponies that kids could ride. I remember begging my dad to stop there. After hanging around for a while, I cadged a pony ride from the owner. Unbelievably, a parent of one of my dad's young patients recognized me from a photo he kept in his office. They got in touch with him immediately, of course, and I was taken home to my worried parents who had been searching for me for hours.
I do not remember getting scared or upset at any point during this escapade, and when I arrived home, couldn't understand why everyone was in such a panic. I do remember that I wasn't scolded or punished, just given a nice dinner. When I was raising my own three kids, I often thought of the terror my parents must have felt while their little girl was missing for such a long time. Who knows, perhaps this extraordinary journey gave me the confidence I have always felt as an adult.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.