TEND and SAVOR
“Why the hair is attached to the head it will not come out please respond to me in a video.” These were the first words Bink communicated to me today, shortly after she got up. I’ve answered this question—one of about six in the current sequence that makes up part of my daily conversation with her— approximately 80 times in the last three months. Sometimes my answers are exactly the same. Other times I vary them, adding a new detail or a supposition. This morning I reverted to one of the easier in my answer supply: “Hair grows out of our heads, from under the skin. It is supposed to stay on our heads. If it fell off, we’d all be bald. Our heads might get cold.” This I recorded into a short video on my phone and sent to her. Even though she was 10 feet away from me when I said the words, she played it back with great interest.
This is a far more complex answer than I might have given a few years ago, which is an ode to the growth in her curiosity and understanding. I’ve been wondering if and when I might be able to introduce the concept of the life cycle of hair; how it grows and rests and ultimately falls out. I can already imagine the confusion this could create, which could fester for years before she might one day ask the obvious question, in her inimitable way: “Why the hair falls out we still have hair on the head?” If the subject then holds her interest enough to get stored away in her amazing brain, and I’ve told her that the hairs don’t all fall out at the same time, she might file that answer away. In another few months, years, or a decade, she may ask,” Why the hairs know when to fall out?”
My own day had begun a few hours before. I’d been doing the morning dance of tend and savor. Feed the cats, scoop four litter boxes. Notice the shape of the clouds. Fill the birdfeeders that I’d washed last night; thistle mix for finches and friends, split shelled peanuts for the jays, woodpeckers, grackles, cardinals, mourning doves, and assorted other winged ones. Hang said feeders on their respective hooks outside, on the deck above the place where the raised flower boxes will go in May. Breathe in some gratitude for the memory of spring and summer flowers, and the clouds, and the birds. Pick up some stray socks on the floor in front of daughter’s favorite TV watching chair. Do a quick email check, prioritize a few responses. Put a load of delicates in the washing machine, sweep the floor in that small room. Clean the cat bowls, refill their water fountain. Pick up a few of their toys. Gather the discipline to get down on the floor for my physical therapy exercises, the ongoing treatment for the 12 month old pain in my right hip that was diagnosed as a torn tendon when I finally went to the doctor. Spend a moment feeling sorry for myself. Spend another moment remembering to be grateful for access to good medical care and for the body parts that are working well right now. Grit my teeth through the exercises. Go wake up Bink at the appointed time, with the novel made-up song that she expects each weekday morning.
My life is often a run-on sentence, combined with some elements from the movie Ground Hog Day, that film where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over in a time loop.
I prepped her breakfast, which she eats at specific times depending on the day of the week. Today it was 7:30. Her choice has been a healthy one the past few weeks: a zucchini and carrot casserole, customized with dried cranberries per Bink’s request. I reminded myself to savor here, for this breakfast choice could end suddenly at any time, with her abject refusal to eat any of it. Made sure her morning pills were available to her, coached her through mixing the fiber supplement into her orange juice.
As soon as I finished breakfast prep, I began to put together her lunch, for today is one of her two “program days” where she attends a program for adults with disabilities. The lunch we negotiated this week is mushroom udon soup. Savor, savor. Relatively healthy, and this, too, could be switched to the no fly list at any moment.
Down the hall now, I laid out clothes for her day. I should be letting her choose her own, but this morning I succumbed to the ease of doing this for her. When she chooses for herself, she may end up with a short sleeve shirt on a cold day like this, at which point I’ll go through my patient explanation about seasons and weather and how to know what to wear. Sometimes, I just don’t have it in me.
Cat boxes must be scooped again, and their empty dishes washed out. Bink loathes the smell of their food and gets rather upset if she catches a whiff of it. As I moved through the dance—tend, tend, savor. Tend, remember to savor. Tend, savor, tend—I mused about these two identifiers, and the overlap between them.
There is a pleasure in the caregiving that I do with my daughter, as there was with my late mother. There is also burnout, fatigue, and worry about the future, but when I remember to savor, there is deep satisfaction there as well. I try to treat my daughter as I wish I’d been treated when I was a very sensitive child. My patience has grown wide and high under her unwitting tutelage. This mixes well with that bottomless and abiding love that is as much a part of me as my skin.
I sometimes feel, when I am giving care, that I am mothering myself, too. I feel it when I sing my girl awake, or when I used to listen intently to my mother’s latest delusion. When I repeat the same things in an arrangement of words or at a volume that will make it easier to comprehend. When I soothe during a thunderstorm, and cut the food into little pieces. My inner child just lights up at this kind of attention. It’s a healing of sorts, this sense that I can give all parts of myself—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual— some of the care I want and need, even while caring for others.
Bink: Why the follicles have long hair sides?
Me: All the hair on our heads grows out of follicles. Long hairs, medium hairs, short hairs.
Does my patient, gentle answer make it more likely that she’ll grasp any given concept? Almost three decades of evidence-based real life observation tell me it isn’t likely. Her growth and understanding is erratic, and I don’t claim any large part in when and how comprehension arrives. It is, like any lustrous miracle, predictably unpredictable.
Tend, tend, savor, savor. Remember to breathe in the gratitude, exhale the rest. Seems a fitting a formulary for these times.