From the Mommy Files…

Archive for the ‘family history’ Category

Today we celebrate all the amazing dads and granddads, and my dad is no exception.

If you’ve been following my posts about my dad, you know that my dad has Alzheimer’s and now lives in a nursing home. A friend publishes this awesome blog with posts written solely by women, called Women.Who.Write. She published my Mother’s Day essay, and immediately requested one for Father’s Day. Easier said than done.  But this exercise helped me to identify and begin to confront some of the many complex emotions that Alzheimer’s elicits.

Have a read. My Dad: Reflections, Lessons, Love…and Celebration

Thanks Amelia and Women.Who.Write!

Happy Father’s Day!

I'm so blessed to be this man's daughter! Here we are on my wedding day.

I’m so blessed to be this man’s daughter! Here we are on my wedding day.

It’s about time that this issue gets some traction.

And now that an A-list celebrity – and a man – has raised the issue, maybe there will finally be some action.

If you missed it, you can read it here.

Mr. Kutcher sounded off about the lack of diaper changing facilities in men’s bathrooms.

And he’s right.

I’ve been talking about this for years.

I’ve heard a few dads lament that they can’t take their infants to the store with them (giving Mom a much-needed break); what would they do if Junior needed to be changed?

And now that we have stay-at-home dads, what are they to do? Never leave the house?

That’s not practical.

I remember when I was a kid, there weren’t many (ladies) bathrooms with diaper changing facilities.

My dad owned restaurants, and in many cases, the restrooms were too small to include one.

So what did moms do?

They’d perform a feat of wonder—changing a squirmy baby on a small sink top. Some, in desperation, used the floor. Or they took their kids to the car to change them, and came back.

That’s all fine and dandy unless it’s raining, snowing, or bitterly cold.

What's all this potty talk? Go Ashton go!

What’s all this potty talk? Go Ashton go!

Back when I was a kid, my dad didn’t change diapers. He was always working and barely ever home.

Today’s dads do change diapers, and are more involved.

So what do we do?

The babies can’t be changed unless there is a female around to change them?

Who wants to smell – and listen – to that?

Dads should be able to take their babies to the bathroom to change a diaper.

Those men’s bathrooms that have the physical space, should absolutely add a diaper changing station.

And I’d like to take this a step further.

I have two daughters.

This has always been an issue for us when we go out with the kids. When one of them needed to be changed, and now that they are older, when one needs to use the bathroom, guess who has to go?

Doesn’t matter if I’m in the middle of a conversation, eating, or whatever.

Yup.

It seems like whenever we go out to eat, my older daughter has to use the bathroom right as I begin to eat.

I tell them to go before we leave the house.

I even ask them if they need to go, before my food comes.

Never fails.

And my husband sits blissfully on the other side of the table, eating his meal uninterrupted.

We discussed this once.

The response?

They are girls and they can’t go in the men’s bathroom.

I get it.

But if they were little boys, I’d still probably be charged with taking them to the restroom.

The solution?

In all new structures and build outs, (stores, restaurants, park district facilities, stadiums, etc.) family bathrooms should be installed.

This way, Dad can take any of his kids to the bathroom – baby, young boy or girl – to take care of business.

This also frees up Dad to take his daughters out more often – no need to worry about the bathroom issue.

Now I realize that some men will balk at this – “this is the ladies’ domain” and all that.

And businesses and facility directors may react adversely to the additional expense or loss of space for something else.

But I have news for them.

This opens up additional revenue.

The stay-at-home dads, the awesome dads who wish to give moms a break and take the kids out, and the single and divorced dads who are out with their kids, all have money to spend.

And they are more likely to spend it at an establishment that has the proper facilities for these, um, delicate matters.

The roles of dads are evolving. This wasn’t an issue 15 or 20 years ago. Maybe not even 10 years ago.

But as their roles evolve, shouldn’t we be accommodating?

It’s a win-win.

So go sing your song, Ashton. Sing it loud and proud, to anyone who will listen.

And thank you.

Have you ever dealt with this issue? What do you do when there isn’t a changing table? Have dads encountered a lack of accommodation for them? What do you think? Please share in the comments below.

She was incontinent – hadn’t been in weeks.

The next morning, she had trouble breathing.

I told her if she continued to have issues, we should see the doctor.

She said she’d see how she felt as the day went on.

Later that day, she said she was fine.

Well, she wasn’t.

She was up all night, and kept Dad up for the next few nights.

She couldn’t breathe, wasn’t feeling well at all, but never said a word.

I asked Mom repeatedly if she felt OK, and she kept saying she was fine.

On her fifth day home, the phone rang.

“Hello. This is ADT Home Health Alert. We’ve received an alert, and an ambulance is on its way.”

Here we go again.

Back to the hospital…where we learned it was a very severe congestive heart failure.

Mom had it before, but not this bad. heartmonitor

Later, the doctor said it was so bad, we almost lost her.

My grandmother used to go to the hospital a lot for this, and would spend a few weeks in the hospital.

But that was 20 years ago, and things have changed.

Now, after 3 days, the hospital was ready to send Mom home, with a very intensive follow up treatment.

Each day, my father would need to:

  • Weigh her and log it: any gain of more than a couple of pounds would indicate she was filling up with fluid
  • Take her blood pressure and log it
  • Check her ankles several times a day for swelling
  • Measure and monitor her fluid intake very precisely: too much would put her over the edge, too little would dehydrate her
  • Provide a very strict diet: absolutely no salt
  • Get her to take her meds—all her meds—at the prescribed time and in the prescribed amount, every single day, no exception

We had been struggling for more than a year to get her to take her meds as directed.

There was no way Dad would be able to handle this.

He’d tell Mom to do something and she’d bark at him and he would give up and not mention it again.

It was just easier to do what she wanted than to try to fight her.

So we elected to send her back to rehab.

If she had the strength, she probably would have kicked my ass.

But there was just no way.

The doctor told us that the CHF would not improve, we only try to keep it from getting worse.

Enter a nephrologist – she hadn’t seen one previously but the CHF put considerable stress on her already stressed kidneys.

Another doctor we’d have to visit.

This doctor concurred with the decision to leave the mass alone.

He would continue to monitor her kidney levels, and we’d need to see him every 2-3 months.

This was becoming truly overwhelming – taking her to all her doctors for follow ups was getting to be a full-time job.

And no one else will take the time, advocate for her, ask the needed questions or do any research.

My children began to see their grandmother as the one who took Mom away.

It seemed like I’d make plans with them—even something like watching a movie—then my mother would have an emergency and I’d have to leave.

They would cry like I just took away their favorite lovey.

I don’t want them to remember their grandmother that way.

The sad truth is, they probably will, because she has never really engaged them or tried to do anything with them.

Anyway, Mom went back to rehab.

We checked her in that night at 9 pm.

Yes, 9 pm!

We started to wonder why this couldn’t wait until morning – there had been a bad snowstorm, and it was so late.

Apparently, they couldn’t wait to get rid of her. She was driving everyone crazy.

Well, it’s what she does best!

It took 1 hour to get home from the rehab center.

It was normally a 15 minute trip.

Before I even got home, Mom called.

“Why did you leave me here? They don’t do nothing for me! Get me out!”

This lament would be repeated over and over.

Mom prefers to be waited on hand and foot, and rehab is not like the hospital.

There are less nurses and aides for more patients.

The calls came every hour.

“I could have gone home. Get me out!”

She got meaner and meaner, but by the next day had settled in.

What she missed the most was not having anyone to be her personal slave.

My dad had taken on that role.

Someone she could yell at any moment to do something—and he would do it, even if it meant foregoing something important for himself, like sleep.

Mom would wake Dad up at night if she couldn’t sleep, which was often.

She’d wake him to help her to the bathroom.

She was capable of going alone but why should Dad sleep if she wasn’t?

I’m not exaggerating.

She’d wake up hungry and bully him until he got up to make her something to eat.

And I’m not talking a sandwich or warming up leftovers.

She’d want a fresh meal—she’d demand it.

And Dad would get up to do it.

Of course, he never said a word to us.

He just did it.

Later, we’d learn that Mom had always treated him so poorly.

Even more so than we had witnessed.

And he did what she wanted, because he loved her so much.

And wanted to make her happy.

It’s been more than 50 years, and he’s still trying to make her happy, but unfortunately, she has never allowed herself to be.

But that’s another story.

On this blog, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of keeping traditions alive.

Family history goes hand-in-hand.

Many people don’t know how their family ended up in America, let alone when or where.

At our house, these traditions and history are part of our everyday.

My children know all the names and towns.

They’re fascinated by it, and ask questions.

This past Thanksgiving Eve, I had the pleasure of having my nephew/Godson come to stay with us.

My brother is a single dad.

Maybe he doesn’t have time – maybe he doesn’t know about family history.

He certainly doesn’t celebrate any traditions or customs, unless I do it and he joins in.

So here I was with my nephew, on Thanksgiving Eve.

My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was making my maternal grandfather’s meat stuffing recipe.

It’s a lot of work, so my aunt didn’t want to take that on, along with everything else.

I totally get that, but it’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

The last few years I made it at home anyway, because, well, it’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

Sad thing, these days, only one of my cousins (of nearly 20) make it.

My aunts and uncles do not either, because it’s a lot of work.

This is why there used to be a party BEFORE Thanksgiving, when we all gathered to lend a hand in the stuffing preparation.

This party would include family, friends, some appetizers, wine—and lots of laughter and storytelling.

For a while, this actually became more fun than Thanksgiving, but I digress…

So here I am with the nephew – the kid is 9 and he’s one inch shorter than me. 😉

He offered to help.

The girls decided that if he wanted to help, that I should have that time with him.

They told me so.

So they stayed downstairs, while Nephew and I cooked.

He got a big kick out of the food processor! He’d never seen one before, let alone used one.

We took each ingredient, one by one. I cleaned, chopped, put things in bowls, etc., and he inquired about each and every one and why it was prepared that way.

Then I asked him if he knew whose recipe this was.

Holiday time is a great time to share family recipes, history and to keep traditions alive. This is my papou’s “famous” meat stuffing. It’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

The conversation went like this:

Nephew: You said it was Papou’s (grandfather).

Me: Yes, but it is MY papou’s recipe…my mother’s father.

Nephew: Really? It’s been around a long time then!

Me: Yes. It’s just not Thanksgiving without it!

Nephew: I promise I’ll try it this year, since I’m making it and all.

Me: Great. Do you know what my papou’s – your great papou’s – name was?

Nephew: No.

Me: His name was Jim.

Nephew: What?! That’s my dad’s name! Is that where my dad got his name, like I’m named after my papou?

Me: Yes!

Nephew: That is soooo cool!

Me: Do you know what my yiayia’s (grandmother) —your great yiayia’s – name was?

Nephew: No.

Me: Maria.

Nephew: Get out! How cool! Was that on purpose?

Me: Yes. This is our tradition. Auntie and Uncle were named after Papou’s parents.

Nephew: So is that how Boo and Bebs got their names?

Me: Absolutely!

Nephew: That is the coolest thing! Does everyone do that?

Me: Not anyone else in our family does that anymore. But many Greeks follow this tradition.

Nephew: I would really like to go to Greece someday. Would you take me?

Me: Sure. Do you want to learn Greek?

Nephew: I know about 10 words in Greek. Could you teach me some more?

So everything that we did, I described in Greek. He listened intently.

Nephew: So tell me about your grandfather Jim.

Me: He came to the US in 1906.

Nephew: You’ve got to be kidding! That was more than 100 years ago.

Me: Yes. He came here when he was a young man. He went to join his father and uncle who were working out West on the railroad.

Nephew: With trains?

Me: They helped to lay the tracks.

Nephew: Maybe that’s why I really liked trains.

Then I proceeded to give him the abridged history.

Papou eventually moved to Chicago and went to work with his uncle in the grocery business.

Later, he opened his own store, and also a restaurant and bar.

He married my yiayia and they had 7 kids.

My mother is the oldest.

My papou also imported cheese and olives from Greece, and became known around the country.

He also sponsored about 1000 Greeks from the area around Tripolis, Greece, near where he was from, to come to Chicago.

These people would come, and he’d help them start their new lives.

He’d either train them in his restaurant, got them jobs somewhere else, or help them start their own businesses.

He was well-respected.

Nephew: That’s amazing! Did you ever meet him?

Me: No. He died many years before I was born.

Nephew: How old would he be now?

Me: About 125.

Nephew: What?! Did my dad know him?

Me: Your dad was about 2 when he died.

Nephew: Oh. How come no one else talks about him?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe they don’t know about him. You should ask Yiayia to tell you stories about her dad.

Nephew: That would be so cool.

So the stuffing was complete, and Nephew actually tried it, and he liked it.

At Thanksgiving dinner, he proudly announced to everyone that he helped make it, and that it was his Great Papou Jim’s special recipe, and that’s who his dad is named after.

It was a really special time with him.

He asked me later that night if there were any special Christmas traditions.

I told him he’d have to come over again to find out.

As we left, I hugged him and he thanked me for telling him about the stuffing, and my grandfather.

Then he said, “I’m so happy to be Greek. There are so many awesome things to learn about being Greek.”

That totally made my night.

And made me proud.

Won’t he be surprised when I take him to the National Hellenic Museum over Christmas break and show him the photo of my papou that appears in their newest exhibit, “American Moments!”

In the early 1960s, my father came to the US from Greece, in search of his own American dream. When I was growing up, my dad regaled us with stories about coming to America. Fast forward to 2006, when on a boat in New York harbor, gazing at the Statue of Liberty, I recalled the story and shared it with my husband, garnering laughter from all around us. Here it is, with a reminder to keep family history alive. Your children should know where they come from. I hope you enjoy! Happy 4th of July!

“It’s the Goddess of America!”

NEW YORK — Ahh, New York City. The Big Apple. It’s truly an amazing city–positively electric, and seemingly on the verge of chaos at any moment. One afternoon, we made our way to Battery Park, to take an excursion to the Statue of Liberty. As a little girl, my father had told a wonderful story about the Statue of Liberty, upon his arrival in America. From that day, I’d always wanted to see it.

We were so excited to hear that the Statue of Liberty would be open this particular day. Since 9/11, it is rarely opened to visitors. I was so excited, recalling fondly my dad’s story. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ticket window, we learned that no more tickets for the statue would be sold. We took the boat excursion any way – we had to see it.

The boat docked at Liberty Island, a 12-acre island in New York Harbor. I stood there in awe, gazing at this amazing statue that was a gift from the people of France so many years before. It was dedicated in October 1886, and serves as an international symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was designated a national monument in 1924.  The flame of the torch has been restored, and it shines a glorious gold on the green statue. Until 1916, one could actually go inside the torch. The crown is also not accessible. The island is open every day except Christmas, and special, limited availability passes are needed to enter the statue.

Here we were, docked at Liberty Island. I thought about my father’s arrival in America, how he must have felt, and imagining him there. Now it was time to share this very cute story.

It was 1960. Just in his mid-20s, my father left his home near Olympia, Greece, and sailed on a boat for two weeks. He traveled in the lower level of the boat, since the tickets were quite expensive. There, he met about a dozen or so other young men from Greece, all with the same dream – to find work and prosper in America.

The journey lasted two weeks. “There was nothing to do, but play cards and drink,” my dad recalled. Finally, after two weeks, exhausted and plied with drink, one of the men decided to go take a look on deck, to find out if he could see “the Promised Land,” as he called it. The man came running down the stairs, shouting with joy, “The Goddess of America! It’s the Goddess of America! Hurry! Come quick!” They all ran upstairs to have a look, and the beautiful green lady was beckoning, welcoming them to the Land of Opportunity. “Can you believe it?” one said. “We have arrived in the land of dreams,” my father said to the group. “What a beautiful goddess she is,” another said. “She says, ‘Kalos Orisete!’ (Welcome!).  She will guide us and bring us prosperity in America,” the man continued. “But only if we present her with an offering.” They all paused to ponder what their offering to this goddess of America would be. Mind you, they had been drinking, didn’t sleep or eat much in two weeks, so you can imagine their mindset. Then one shared an idea: “Let’s shave our moustaches and sprinkle them on the goddess!” When asked why, he said, “to give her a piece of us, a piece of our Greek selves that we can leave behind forever. We’re now Americans!” It seemed silly, but they all went along with it. It was symbolic gesture, after all.

The very next day, they all had returned to the “Goddess of America,” clean-shaven, whiskers in hand, wrapped in their handkerchiefs. Even with a good night sleep, a meal, and no alcohol, they were determined to carry out the plan. One man rose to speak. “To the Goddess of America, we humbly give you this offering, and ask that you grant us prosperity and good health in America.” And they all proceeded to sprinkle their whiskers on the statue. They hugged one another, wished each other well, and then went on to find their new lives.

My dad never saw those men again, and to this day, will not grow a moustache, as if in some sort of secret pact with the goddess.

By this time, I’d noticed people had been listening as I told the story to my husband, and they were listening quite intently, smiling. They loved it!

I had to call my dad; thank goodness for cell phones. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m on a boat looking at the ‘Goddess of America’,” I replied. He was silent. I thought perhaps he’d gotten choked up, remembering his arrival to the strange new land, the excitement, the fear, or was he surprised that I remembered the old story. “Dad, are you there?” I asked. I asked again. Was he going to tell me the story was made up for our amusement? Finally he answered. He couldn’t believe I remembered the story, so many years later. Then he laughed and said, “Sweetheart, did you find my moustache?”

Published in The Greek Star, ©August 2006


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