Gratitude week 38

  1. It’s been one of those weeks and I’m glad it is over. Nothing major, but sometimes it’s the little things. My son got his exhaust fixed on his car and a few days later the exhaust is loud again and a headlight burnt out. But I’m thankful that all my kids have vehicles that for the most part work so I don’t have to take them to work or school.
  2. Honestly, I’m grateful that the census job is almost over. It’s been stressful lately. I’ve been going to rough neighborhoods that I have been having difficulty closing cases in. Yesterday as I was walking through a neighborhood a man yelled at me to leave. I’ve been feeling quite anxious lately and I think an overall sense of not being safe is adding to that. It bothers me to see the living conditions of the children. Filthy apartment complexes with signs on the doors saying its recently been sprayed for roaches. Garbage littering, broken beer bottles shattered, and a haze of stale cigarette and pot smoke lingering in worn apartment hallways. Today as I was working several young unattended children came up to me and asked me if I had any quarters for them. It’s really quite heartbreaking. I also saw a woman walking around on a busy street in a bathrobe. Oh, all the stories I will write about the things I saw that will change my life.
  3. I’m grateful though for all the wonderful people I met through the census job. It gives me hope that humanity is not totally screwed despite people having to live through tough circumstances.
  4. I’m grateful that despite windy conditions Paul and I were able to take my cousin and her husband sailing. We haven’t seen each other in about 5 years at the family Christmas party. Even then we really didn’t have the chance to catch up and visit. Plus she works in the editing field and wants me to reach out when I am ready to publish my book.
  5. My daughter is moving home at the end of the week!
  6. Paul’s birthday is this week and it is the 25th anniversary of the day we met. I am renting a really nice hotel room where my daughter lives to celebrate then the next day we are moving her home.
  7. We are supposed to get some warm weather within the next couple of days. It’s been so chilly here that I’ve heard some people put on their heat. Not me! But I did break down and briefly wore my winter jacket outside.
  8. I am feeling a lot better. I had a couple of bad days of stomach cramps and nausea. I was worried that I might end up really sick with colitis again. I felt pretty miserable. Miserable enough to ask God to just let me die. Please Lord take my life because I can’t take it anymore. I still managed to somehow stumble to work. As I was getting ready for work, Paul came in to tell me he was having chest pains that radiated down his arm. What a sad lot we are! He figured out he wasn’t having the big one but just pulled a muscle. When I asked God to take away my life I didn’t mean Paul. In that moment I felt really grateful for Paul because who really knows how much time we have left. That’s the scary part about getting older. Someday all of this is going to end. We are starting to get reminders of that.
  9. I’m grateful I managed to find the time to finish the book I was reading. It was probably one of the most depressing pieces of fictional family drama that I ever read. Everything fell apart but in the end everyone and everything miraculously came back together. All broken relationships were mended. I found the book to be rather triggering. It made me think of the book I’m writing. There are plenty of messes that don’t seem to be resolving themselves. It was so sad reading it that I wondered what people would think reading my book. Too bad I couldn’t just write it with a happy ending. I want the feel good book of the year. I want people to feel good about what I write. But is that real life? Does it give hope when things magically come together? Or does it give more hope that we can handle things when they don’t?
  10. I got some good test results back this past week and I am meeting with the wellness nurse this week. Despite a couple days of setback, I am hoping that my path forward will include better health.

When nothing is everything

I’m not going to lie, I was a little afraid the first time I got census cases assigned to me in a rougher neighborhood.

The neighborhood was known for its shootings. It was a place I was rumored to say I would never work. I didn’t fit in. In most other neighborhoods I could blend in.

I was the only white lady around town on that day. An older lady yelled out to me from her window that she had a knife and she was not afraid to cut me. She had to be talking to me because I didn’t see anyone else around. I ignored her and moved on. Was she crazy or was she seriously afraid of me?? I was glad I didn’t have to make a stop at her house to find out.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon. Too hot to stay inside without air conditioning. When I got there, I felt like I just stepped off the plane into some warm Caribbean country. The neighborhood was full of old houses. A warm breeze blew through the streets. Somewhere close by, but never seen, was the sound of a live Mexican polka band. I’m not sure what the music is called but it was very upbeat and relaxing. In a strange way, I felt like I was on vacation which helped calm my nerves.

I saw a family outside, an older man surrounded by his children perhaps. I was wandering around stopping at various houses at times lost. I stopped when their dog barked at me and asked if I was going in the right direction. They were very friendly. I told them maybe I would be back.

I ended up wandering back an hour later and they were still there. There had to be about 10 people sitting on plastic chairs laughing and talking. I was told I needed to speak to the grandmother of the house. She did not speak English but would have a grandchild translate.

The grandma beckoned me inside. As a census worker, we are not encouraged to enter homes to conduct interviews. It was not forbidden either. I felt like it would be rude to turn down the invitation. I entered the house and there were about 20 children inside playing. They were not on screens, they were not fighting, they were just playing quietly with each other.

The house was clean but sparsely furnished. They did not have much, but I was asked to sit on their modest furniture so I sat. I spoke to the grandmother. Although in the eyes of the world she had nothing, she had everything.

She had on a warm Sunday afternoon what most families are lucky to get on Thanksgiving. Even then it is usually filled with stress. Will there be fights about politics? Will Joe drink too much? Will all of the kids be on their phones acting bored? Maybe we can zone out and watch a game on TV so we don’t fight. This forced let’s try to pretend to get along thing just seemed to come naturally to them. Maybe it was something they did every Sunday afternoon.

I thought about how I did not see my brother yet this year. My other brother I saw months before back in January. We rarely talk. My parents are contemplating divorce. Broken families. Stress. Always busy. Rarely taking the time to just sit and rejoice in each others presence on cheap plastic chairs.

After the interview was over, I was offered something to drink. I felt very humbled by the experience. I told the family as I was leaving how blessed they were as I tried to keep the tears from my eyes.

They had nothing. The kids didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t even see a TV. The house was old. The furniture was worn. Yet they had everything.

Somehow I found myself envious of everything they had as I left to go back home to my big empty house.

A day in the life of a census worker

It’s been over a month since I started the job of being a census enumerator. I wanted to write a lot about my experiences but have been having a hard time finding the time because I have been working 40 hours a week. Today is the first day I’ve had availability but they didn’t have enough work for me.

Just some basic info, the United States of America started counting its people in 1790 and has done so every 10 years since then. No, this is not something new although I’m surprised how many people know little about the census. I’m not doing the census to COVID track anyone. Yes I did hear this from someone. To put things in perspective, we have been doing the census long before there were automobiles.

Here is how the process works. Every day I work, I have addresses sent to my government issued smart phone. We use an iPhone 8, same phone I have so I didn’t have to do much to learn how to use it. We don’t go door to door anymore.

I interview people using the smart phone and plug all of the info into the phone. By the end of the day, I usually put on an average of 50 miles even if I am only a couple miles from home. I am paid for my mileage and a fair wage. I did have people ask if I was a volunteer.

One of the best things is that this job is very flexible. I pick my own hours. We do get paid more for working after 6 PM and on Sundays.

I have to go up to houses when sometimes every instinct inside of me is telling me to turn around and run in the other direction. I’ve been to abandoned houses in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been to places with no trespassing signs. I’ve been to houses that say beware of dog. I’ve had Dobermans snarl and lunge at me from behind a closed door. There is no doubt they would’ve torn me up if they were left outside unattended. There have been dogs outside when no one was home. I have to decide if I’m safe or not. I have to make quick judgments because my life depends on it.

I’ve been to houses of extreme hoarders. I’ve had to maneuver around piles of garbage to get to the front door. I’ve full on walked through cobwebs. I’ve climbed staircases that I wasn’t sure would hold my weight. I’ve been to the roughest part of town where there have been shootings. I’ve been to some very remote areas. I’ve traveled on a ferry to an otherwise inaccessible island. I’ve knocked on doors during thunderstorms in the pouring rain. Not to mention the whole COVID thing.

So far I’ve met many different people of various races. I’ve met the young and old, the healthy and sick. I’ve met many who don’t speak my language. I’ve had to find a way to communicate with someone who had a severe speech impediment. I talked to someone who was blind. I never know who is going to greet me on the other side of the door. I’ve been showered with appreciation treated like a hero and I’ve had the door slammed in my face a couple times.

It’s easy to focus on the bad times. The other day I had a guy that answered not sure to every question I asked with a smirk on his face. Seriously the guy had to be around 30. I wanted to ask him if his parents were home. But I kept calm, cool, and collected. If someone treats me like crap, it’s on them not me. I’m not going to let them define me or my day.

A vast majority of people are nice. I’ve been offered food, water, beer, and a chair to sit on. This is really bringing me out of my shell. I try to connect to people and they feel like they can talk to me.

I’ve met many people who have lost a spouse, parents, or close friends and family members this year who didn’t have the heart to fill out their censuses. I’ve heard about painful divorces. I listen to them and offer my condolences. So many people are suffering this year. I try to give them hope things will get better and sometimes after I leave they remain for a short time in my thoughts and prayers.

I’ve met the mom of a friend of my son. Never in a million years would’ve I guessed I would be going up to their house wearing a mask and asking his mother her age. I never thought I would be going to the bank wearing a mask asking for money either. What other things are going to happen that we never thought of as a possibility? That really says a lot since I am an anxious over thinker as it is.

We are only allowed to ask questions to respondents age 15 and up. I did ask a couple of people if they were old enough. They were in their 20’s. My gosh am I getting old! Everyone under 30 is starting to look like a teenager to me.

If no one answers the door, I leave a notice with a specific code just for them to fill out online. I am never allowed to put the form in their mailbox. This would be a crime. I am also not allowed to open any doors even if it is a screen door to knock on an inside door. If a door is broken, census workers could be blamed for it if they open it. Most people have doorbells and dogs so I’m pretty good.

The job can be stressful because you never know what to expect. I often get lost. It’s hard on my body. I am in and out of my car all day. I spend a lot of time on my feet. I crouch down a lot to fill out forms. My hands get sore from carpal tunnel being on a phone all day. And sometimes when I am out in the middle of nowhere I really have to pee.

The job is really rewarding. I believe in the importance of what I am doing. I’ve learned a lot not only about other people but about myself as well. I’ve had to face my fears. It has really brought me out of my shell during a time where it would be really easy to have an excuse to hide in it. I’ve become more assertive.

Every day is a new adventure.

Gratitude week 32

  1. Summer! It has been absolutely gorgeous out.
  2. For the time spent visiting with my daughter when she was home last weekend.
  3. Looking forward to my daughter coming home again this weekend.
  4. We were able to take my mom sailing and give her a good birthday.
  5. For the motivation to work 40 hours despite being tired.
  6. Having a husband who is willing to pick up the slack.
  7. Having my last house call be right next to a place selling used books. I was able to get a paper bag full of books for $2. I found some cookbooks and tons of old self-help books. Watch out, by next year I should be new and improved while whipping up some nice dishes.
  8. Conquering fears. As a census worker I never know what kind of situation I will be entering into. It can be intimidating and anxiety producing. So far on my first week I’ve encountered questionable dogs, stormy weather, angry/rude people, abandoned/creepy houses, and being in places were I did not feel a sense of safety. I was sent to the roughest part of town where there have been shootings. I am going door to door in a time of great fear of COVID. But more often than not, during this time I have also witnessed the goodness of strangers.
  9. Feeling efficient and productive. Almost every day I need to ask my supervisor for more work. Sometimes I am so focused I don’t even pay attention to where I am going. The other day I was walking while I was following up with work on my phone and I ended up almost getting into someone else’s car. I went to sit down and wondered why the seats were a different color. My gosh, how embarrassing.
  10. Tomorrow will be my first day off since starting last week. Yeah!!

The first few days at work

The morning started rough. I awoke bleary eyed. I haven’t been sleeping all that well since I started the census job. My body, always resistant of change.

I went to feed my pets which all mornings is rather uneventful, well except for today that is. I opened the lid of the cat’s food container reaching inside only to find a mouse feasting on the food inside. Freaked me right out. Not the kind of excitement I needed to start my day.

I feel tired but good. I have my drug back. Work. The days go by and I find I don’t think about anything except for what I am doing. I’m not overthinking. I’m not anxious. My mind almost completely void of troubling thoughts. Then after the day’s work is done, my thoughts turn to mush. No worries, no grand stories. Nothing much.

Not only do I have a greater appreciation of those who travel door to door, but I am now thankful of people who clearly mark their houses with their house number. You wouldn’t believe how many times I turn around just looking for the street address of one house even with the map app on.

For the most part, people have been nice. I appreciate that as well. I have been doing a lot of walking. It’s funny but the first couple of days my legs and feet have been sore and I am a runner. I have a new respect for people who are on their feet all day at work.

It’s nice to spend the day working outside on these warm summer days. I haven’t had to go house to house in a downpour yet. Then I might be telling you a different story.

Things at home have been piling up. The dishes have yet to be done and the laundry needs folding. But for a few minutes I thought I would slip away to let you know that as for today everything is okay.

The ultimatum, part 10

After taking a couple weeks off of drinking in January, Paul had a new plan.

He was going to drink a bottle of wine every other night. His doctor said he shouldn’t have more than 14 drinks per week. With this plan, he was pretty close.

He didn’t have a problem not drinking when he didn’t drink. But he found the nights when he had a bottle of wine more challenging. Frequently when he was on his fourth glass, he no longer had the discipline to not drink a couple more. What if it was an extra large bottle of wine? Did that still count as one? He had a hard time leaving extra wine behind because that would throw off his count. What if he had a couple of mixed drinks and then started a bottle of wine?

I found myself angry and triggered on the drinking nights. If he went over I knew. At times I threatened to dump all the alcohol in the house out. He said I was wasting my money because he could just go to the store and buy more.

I tried to ignore him on the nights he was drinking. That also did not work well. It seemed to bother him that I avoided him and usually lead to an argument. Sometimes I would confront him if he started his fifth drink. That also didn’t work. The one that says please help me when he is sober also says leave me alone and stop controlling my life when he is drunk.

After several months he discovered that his plan did not work. He devised a new plan. He could have 2 drinks every day of the week. If there was a special occasion, he could have 4 drinks a day if he had two drinks at two separate times of day. For example, he could have two drinks at lunch and then two drinks at suppertime never having more than two drinks in his system at a time. If he had 4 drinks per day he would have to give up drinking another day of the week. This would keep him within the 14 drinks a week limit.

He had it down to a science. I told him if he followed this plan I wouldn’t give him a hard time about drinking ever again. Things were going well, really well in fact. But then he slipped this past week. I confronted him on it. He was upset at first, but he knew I was right. I am only trying to hold him accountable because I care about him.

I don’t like to be in the position of being the person that has to help him control his drinking. I don’t want to have to be the bad guy. He’s told me countless times that without me he would probably drink himself to death. I want to think that he would be fine without me. I think it will be something he will always struggle with.

He had made a lot of progress in this last year. For that I am thankful. I am happy to be an influencing factor in that change. He was willing to address his issues and grew a lot in the process. I have to give him a lot of credit for being willing to look at some negative things about himself. It hasn’t always been easy.

It’s our anniversary next week, 23 years. We are planning on getting away a few days on our sailboat. This year I am confident things will go well because we are taking a different path.

The ultimatum, part 9

I felt a lot of anxiety leading up to his birthday. He did it, Paul went without drinking for almost 2 months. He said it was a piece of cake.

He said he would try to quit drinking until his birthday.

But then it was his birthday. I was worried. Now what would happen?

That night we had a few friends over. They had pizza and he drank a bottle of wine. I felt a sense of loss. I didn’t belong. I felt like an outsider. I had been dairy free for over a month by that time. As they ate pizza and laughed, I brooded in the corner.

I felt triggered by Paul drinking again. I felt angry and hurt like I did on the night of our anniversary when he drank too much. Paul was in a jovial mood. He drank another bottle of wine out by the campfire while I sat inside.

He wanted me to sing while he played guitar. When he pushed close, I pulled away. He was gone and I felt like I couldn’t trust him anymore.

What was going to happen going forward?

Slowly and steadily he started drinking more but nowhere as close to as much as before.

We got hit pretty hard in the next couple months with bad news about my dad. It will be a long time before I am ready to talk about that. I can tell you this, my dad struggles with addiction. My mom ignored it. She buried her head in the sand. I have to wonder maybe things would’ve turned out differently if she gave him an ultimatum.

I think I did the right thing. I never wanted Paul to stop drinking. I just wanted him to be in control of it instead of it controlling him.

I found myself triggered by so many things, not just Paul drinking. What happened with my dad threw me into a deep depression. I wish I could say that trauma only happens from your parents in childhood. Sometimes it tends to be a lifelong roller coaster ride.

Paul thought he was going to lose me this time. He was so stressed out that he started to drink more which stressed me out more.

Because of the ultimatum, he knew it was a problem he needed to address. In January, he stopped drinking for a few weeks in a time of prayer and self-reflection. Then he came up with a new plan.

The ultimatum, part 7

Paul said he was willing to try to stop drinking until his birthday almost two months later. He wanted to see if he could even do it. It was a step in the right direction.

What did that mean though? Could I still have a few drinks with my friends around him? I was willing to give it up too. His close friends asked if he wanted them to stop drinking around him. Some friends just stopped drinking with him when he stopped. I think everyone was a bit uncomfortable doing this new dance at first.

Paul said he didn’t want everyone to change the way they lived their lives. But they did. I really didn’t realize how much we influence other people with how we live our lives. When he quit drinking quite a few of his friends cut back too.

It changed the dynamics of our relationship big time. I was angry and we argued a lot at first. But after the initial anger wore off, I noticed another change.

His drinking gave me a lot of power and control. I didn’t realize it until it was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted him to stop or at the very least cut back. I nagged and nagged him to stop which didn’t work. It only made things worse.

Every time Paul and I got in an argument I would never look at my own negative behavior. I would throw back in his face that I would talk to him about my issues when he stopped drinking. I held the trump card of remember when you screwed up _____ with your drinking. It gave me a get out of jail free card that I used in almost every argument that wasn’t in my favor.

Now I could no longer avoid talking about some of my issues. Not only that but without drinking he now had the upper hand. He was working through his issues. That meant I had to work through some of mine too. I started seeing a therapist to work through my anxiety and depression.

In some ways I envied Paul. I wanted to leave my issues on a shelf, to not drink of that bottle and then they would be gone. But I’ve learned so much since then. Battling addiction is more than just leaving the bottle on the shelf. It’s the longing to reach for it like the embrace of an old friend in sadness and celebration.

I had to face the fact that my anxiety and depression also scared him. He’s had to reach into the darkness to pull me out many times. I can’t seem to escape the trauma I’ve experienced. At times it still threatens to drown me.

We both had to work on our issues. We were both broken people in need of a fix. It wasn’t just about him and his drinking. It was how we learned to cope with our trauma at our very core. It was exploring every crack and crevice that was tearing down our foundation.

We spent those two months rebuilding our relationship. We got along better than ever before. Then after that things went a little haywire.

Gratitude week 24

  1. This school year is finally in the books!! I think my daughter passed all of her classes. For the first time, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen…so that is tons of stress off of me!
  2. Summer!! Mother Nature has been moody this year. It’s either been hot, humid, and rainy or cool, dry, and windy. I almost froze this weekend sleeping in my winter pajamas. Some days we need the heat and others the A/C, but we are saving money by keeping both off.
  3. For the first time in my lifetime a tropical storm passed through the state of Wisconsin setting records. I almost felt like I did get that trip to Florida. Just another thing to add to the list this year of weird historical events I’ve lived through. Our foreign exchange student had her 16th birthday and party the day the storm hit. Talk about memorable.
  4. I finished a self(?)-help marriage book this past week. I realized I am an avoidant marriage partner. I like to take care of myself and not ask for help. I tend to hide out in my shell and have to be drawn out. As an introvert avoider raised by two introvert avoiders, I don’t tend to reach out to others as a source of comfort. I sometimes wonder if blogging is another way of avoiding relationships with other people. I am grateful for books that bring about more self-awareness.
  5. I also finished the colitis for dummies book. I learned a lot of helpful information. I also met with my wellness nurse this past week. I expressed frustration over not feeling good after going for almost a year. She still thinks she can help me but said that I have a lot of things going on in my body that have been that way for decades and are resistant to change. She gave me her personal contact info which she doesn’t give out to any of her other clients so I can update her on my progress. I feel like I can trust her. I am working hard with the nurse, counselor, and craniosacral therapist to heal my body. It seems almost voodoo like to have to purge all the junk I’ve stored in my body for so long to deal with the trauma in my life.
  6. I bought some flowers this week to decorate the outside of my house.
  7. I have been working with a mentor the last couple months on a Bible study on anxiety. When talking about what to do next, I suggested a couples study on marriage. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression my whole life but I haven’t been married that long. It’s something we want to work on with someone who has been married longer than us.
  8. I’m grateful my husband spent the weekend away working. His new business is taking off and I am happy about that since it was something we worried about.
  9. Flavored sparkling water.
  10. I’m grateful my daughter will be coming home for a visit this week.

Caring for Matt

It’s been at least a decade since I took care of my autistic brother Matt in my house. A few things precipitated this change. Initially I stopped providing weekend respite care for my parents after Matt was violent towards my daughter.

There may have been a few times I took care of Matt and my mom took my kids although it wasn’t much of a break. It was difficult raising 3 little kids without having much for family support. My mom had to take care of Matt. My brothers didn’t live close. My mother-in-law could barely handle raising the one child she did have, my husband. I found myself bitter towards parents that could dump their kids off and get away every now and then.

But the biggest change for me as a care provider for Matt was when my parents placed him in a group home. I was no longer needed to help out, until now that is. Matt’s group home was closed since the virus started. It is now open but if he goes back this month, he is not allowed to leave.

Originally my mom wanted me to stop by the house every night to make sure Matt was okay under my dad’s care. I told her it would be easier for me to have him stay with us for almost a week which is longer than he has ever stayed with me before.

I told my kids that Matt was coming to stay here for awhile but they wouldn’t have to adjust their lives around him. If it didn’t work out, Matt could always go home and I could check in on him everyday. One of my kids called me selfish for saying that our world didn’t revolve around Matt.

As a child my whole life revolved around Matt and if I had to tiptoe around him in my own house it wasn’t going to work. No other family member is willing to step up and offer to take him in for almost a week. That should count for something.

The whole experience went better than I expected. Although Matt is no longer violent, caring for him is not easy. He is on a special diet. I needed to make separate meals for him. At certain times of the day his medicine needs to be ground up and put into applesauce. He doesn’t have table manners. He farts and belches at the table. Sometimes he gags on his food especially if you bring a napkin near him.

He has poor hygiene. He is a messy eater and soils his clothes. He often wears his clothes inside out and/or backwards. He doesn’t change his clothes often. He refused to shower which he would need assistance doing. He wouldn’t ask for help after using the bathroom and made a mess on the floor. I had to floss his teeth and big clumps of food came out of his mouth which made me feel nauseous. He made a total mess out of the bathroom he used. In all honesty, it did trigger feelings of hopelessness in me.

Not only are my parents hoarders, but they rarely cleaned the house. Cleaning up after Matt would be like fixing up a house before you knew a tornado was going to hit. I didn’t even feel completely relieved that everything was clean after I cleaned once he left. I can’t always clean up messy feelings inside by cleaning the filth in my house.

I felt guilty when I wasn’t spending every minute taking care of him. Most of the time he would sit on the couch and stare off into space when I wasn’t interacting with him. I felt the ingrained need to please him because his life is so sad.

I found his favorite movies and put them on for him to watch. We went on walks together. I talked to him about the shared good memories from childhood. I talked about places and loved ones that long since passed. I talked to him about the things only a sibling would know. All these things helped ease his separation anxiety from my mom. I think things went really well, as good as I could have hoped for.

As a sibling, I worry a lot about what life will be like for Matt when my mom is no longer here. My parents are getting old. It is comforting to know that maybe he will adjust with my help. Matt will probably never be easy to care for but I think he would do well with me. I was impressed with how well he adapted to his new environment. It felt good to be able to help my mom out. In some ways it was nostalgic and strangely comforting for me as well.