It all started with a light bulb burning out in the upstairs bathroom. My husband asked for my help in replacing a new one, since the last light bulb he replaced was the wrong wattage and immediately shattered, leaving him in the new basement and totally in the dark, alone.


Several years ago, for Christmas, he gave me a sturdy folding red step stool with a 300 pound capacity sticker in bright yellow and a red ONE SIZE FITS ALL surplus reject knock-off Snuggie, that is somewhat like a backwards bathrobe, but could easily have fit six or seven people with very long arms inside the robe. I was about 15 lbs. heavier at the time and not happy about it, however the combination of the two gifts still makes me laugh.


So, back to replacing the light bulb: I grabbed the step stool, a 60 watt light bulb and between the two of us we changed the bulb. Unfortunately, I had to tilt my head backward which triggered an episode of vertigo, that I still have. Royal pain. Upside, light fixture from the 1930's is clean and there's light. In the midst of this, we got a phone call, letting it go to the answering machine. I listened to the message later and it was from my husband's schizophrenic sister, canceling meeting halfway for lunch for the third time. We were both relieved.


He and I ate dinner, watching reruns of Family Feud, even though the weather was gorgeous. My husband has lost his ability to understand the feeling of hot and cold. To him, it is always too cold, wearing multiple shirts, woolen long underwear, flannel-lined pants, and sometimes several pairs of socks. I tried to rearrange his clothes, but he got upset, so I chalked it up to "pick your battles."


While he was eating ice cream and cookies, I told him his sister called again, wanting to talk with him instead of visit AND she said he needed to call the other sister in California. He didn't want to, but it has been implied by his daughters and his sisters that I am isolating him, so I said, "Let's just get the phone calls over with and then you can sleep."


I dialed the numbers for him and then got on another extension of the landline. Usually, I let the other person know, then get off. I'm way beyond that courtesy. My own family of origin has some issues, but his are off the fucking charts. Both sisters were asking him how my mother was, if her house was being sold, and then said they would like him to fly to Colorado and California to be with "his first family." I could feel my blood pressure going up, some primal protective streak, which morphed into rage. I said nothing.


They all have no clue as to his changes, his vulnerability, his fears or obsessions. Initially, I would send emails or get on the phone to keep them updated. Totally backfired, to the point that I am the cause of his disease, in their version of reality. They criticize everything, yet offer no appropriate help. Oddly, my husband understands this dynamic and really doesn't want to see or hear from them.


From my perspective, I find the situation sad and discouraging, but know I tried. Legally, I've made sure he is protected and I have support from our two sons, my daughter and her extended family through marriage, plus my one sister who is helpful. Because he is 14 years older than I am, I do worry about finances, house repairs, and if it comes to the point where I cannot care for him at home.


His nightime wandering and sundowning have worsened. The medications he's on are all that the neurologist has in his arsenal. Despite this, last Saturday we visited my mother at the assisted living Mothers' Day Brunch that started out well, but ended up badly. I won't even get into that, suffice it to say, my husband and I went back the next day to make sure my mother was physically and emotionally alright.


I'm omitting numerous details but to end on a positive note, there was a tornado warning and we lost power for 6 hours. Good thing I still had Christmas candles around the house and an IKEA solar lamp. Both sons were off to my daughter's to play Tetris and Counter-Strike. No tornado, but a deluge of rain. I cooked dinner with my old gas oven then he and I played cooperative Scrabble by candlelight. He remembered the rules somewhat, but had trouble with words.


The bag the old Scrabble game was in had free newspapers and tide charts from our last vacation on Long Beach Island, before Hurricane Sandy, before his diagnosis of Alzheimer's. August 2012. The really positive ending is that my daughter and both sons found a new place and we'll be renting the entire house for one week at the end of June. I've missed the ocean so much and cannot wait!

I'm still not sure how I made it through yesterday, but somehow I did. I cancelled an interview I was going to do with a friend who wanted to speak on the secret world of chess. He's an interesting guy, but I didn't think my focus would be sharp enough for a q and a format. I made breakfast with my oldest daughter and was almost late picking my youngest up from her last day of school. After school we went to the grocery store. She sat in the car while I ran in to grab some snacks and five containers of vinegar. I'm going to keep one in each bathroom and one in each kitchen so I don't have to hunt them down when I need them. I tried to keep things healthy, but also appealing. I hate buying the prepackaged peanut butter containers, however they are a great grab and go option that provides some fat for the girls when they need a snack. My oldest tends to go heavier on the protein, my youngest is a carb addict so my goal is to try and balance their diets better. I bought a piece of smoked salmon for my oldest, my youngest does not care for fish, she's a picky eater and I could grumble about that, but after being angry while we were doing the dishes I told her to take a bath and while she was in there she asked if I would read her a story.

I don't know why I thought there would be an age where my kids would grow out of wanting a story in the bath. I suppose I was thinking back to when I was a kid and how I pushed my parents away when I was their ages. It's funny to hear them say things about their changing bodies. Sometimes they cover up when I'm around, other times I look out the window and see my youngest daughter squatting in front of a tree in our backyard and going off to play when she's finished relieving herself. Yesterday my husband asked what the plan was after telling me he was planning to go out. I said that I thought he would be watching the girls since he's gone out the past two weekends. When he told me that his dad would watch the girls and have them overnight I thought about how uncooperative they had been when I asked them to do a few chores to help me around the house and explained that I didn't feel that type of behavior should be rewarded. He agreed and asked if there was anything he could do to make the time up to me if I would watch the girls again. I told him he could owe me, but by five I was regretting my offer. My magazine was disappointing, I was expecting more book like content instead of so many ads and recipes that my family can't eat, but it the idea of the treat that was important yesterday.

Last night my oldest and I went out to take the trash to the condo and to pick up my vitamins. We stopped to buy a calendar for each place. She chose a white board model which haven't worked for us in the past so I was skeptical and reluctant to invest, however I filled in the spaces last night and I think that I was premature in my concern. I dropped one off at the condo, took one home, and I'm hoping that having a calendar that everyone can see and use and write on will help improve communication. The model is Board Dudes and I must say that I'm particularly impressed with the pen that came with the set. There's a space for notes, lines for a to do list, and a magnetic strip at the top for whatever we may need to fasten to the board. It didn't seem like it would have sufficient space to write in dates and times, but the space is actually pretty generous. Sometimes you don't know what you need until you accidentally stumble upon it and someone else insists that you give it a try. Betweeen this and my book calendar and my phone, well, all we can do is try it out and see how it functions when put to the Jensen family test. I have a pill organizer that I'm going to give to my daughter, a lot of these small changes really do add up to greater efficiency at home.

I stayed up later than I wanted to, but actually slept fairly well since I was at home and he was at the condo. I sent him a text message that he didn't reply to which was annoying. I went back and reivewed our legal separation paperwork. What I'd like to do is sit down with a mediator and try to work things out so they are mostly fair to both parties. I found some backless barstools on Craigslist that I'm going to be picking up today. Instead of hooks for backpacks, I'm going to see if using those as a place for the girls to drop their school bags will be a better option. We had a hook come out of the wall so now we have a nice hole in the drywall by the front door. If these work, and I'm praying that they will since they're twenty-nine inches tall and only nine inches deep, we can also use them as seating when we have that need if company comes over. I've become a big fan of chairs lately, only now beginning to realize how versatile these things are. Most of the chairs I have are well made inexpensive thrift store finds, and I probably have more than I need in my collection, but they come in so handy on so many occasions that I'm having trouble getting rid of members of my collection. 

My daughter is measuring my trunk to see if these barstools will fit, I keep sending her back out to get different measurements so she's rolling her eyes at me and letting me know that she's positive she has the correct numbers. I find it suspicious that she's reporting a one inch increase in trunk width once you get past the opening of the trunk. Having my own tape measure has come in handy on numerous occasions and I'm glad that it has provided me with so many years of consistent service. We have a better one at the condo, but for my needs, this little twelve foot gadget does the trick without adding extra weight and thickness that I don't need to be lugging around. I feel good today. My sister and I were talking about some of these issues last night. I didn't realize how bad I was. She related it to the job she just left where she was let go. Her disciplinary paperwork finally came through so she had to tell her new manager about the restrictions on her license. She said her manager said that was a really dumb reason to report someone, my sister privately agreed, but couldn't really say that to anyone. It doesn't sound like it will be a big deal, my sister says the people she works with at her new job are really nice and I'm so happy she's out of that awful and toxic environment.

That's kind of how I feel about the events that have transpired this past week. Naturally I'm not perfect either, but now I can see a lot of things much more clearly than I have in the past. Even something as simple as creating a routine or scheduling events on the calendar were met with resistance that I didn't understand or expect. I've read that people with ADD can have a tendency to complicate things. I need ridiculously simple systems as I am easily confused. It helps me to write out what I'm contemplating tackling the next day and writing things out helps give me a sense of how long each task will take and then I can build in some flex time since most things have a sneaky habit of taking longer than I anticipated. What's interesting to me is he couldn't just let me handle this on my own, he actively attacked what I was doing, and I would say intentionally sabotaged my efforts by critizing white boards and cork boards I've purchased in the past. He did that with a lot of things and I'm kind of done trying to talk to him about why he feels the need to offer his opinion on something when he wasn't asked for it. I hate it when he does that, I see it in the girls, and I probably do it myself too. Unless you have something nice to say, or what you have needs to be said, please keep your unkind thoughts to yourself.

I think if he would have offered better solutions, or tried brainstorming, that would have been different. I can see that now. I would come up with an idea or come home with things I was excited about and he would be critical of me and my efforts. That hurt my feelings and I never stood up for my right to hang a calendar on the wall that would work for me. One year he bought a calendar for me. I didn't like the way it was laid out and I really didn't like the fact that a woman he knew had told him about the calendar and how it helped keep her organized. The first time I met her she was wearing a sleeveless top so the tattoo on her shoulder was visible. I watched her flirting with my husband, for a while he went out to lunch with her and spent evenings away from our family so he could hang out with her and her girl friends. That's the kind of thing that I should have not put up with, and believe me, if I ever get to date anyone else again, I'm going to be much more aware of subtle attempts to put me and my ideas down without offering anything constructive in return. He told me I was overly sensitive, and I can be, but it's funny how when I was talking with my daughter about the calendars, I didn't mind that she disagreed with me.

When I'm talking to my friends or my sisters and they disagree with things I can usually get past it. My mom is an exception. Two of my sisters and I talk quite frequently, they offer ideas and opinions, and sometimes others come up with much better ideas than the ones I have. I think I got into his habit of putting other people's ideas down since he shot down so many of mine. He tends to go overboard on projects, that makes me nervous since it's money I don't feel like we need to spend and then we end up with a collection of tape measures and duplicates of tools that represent a sunk cost. I can tell that I'm getting upset about this so I'm going to get started on breakfast. This can be a topic for another therapy session when I can get some feedback and help on these issues. Self esteem is such a delicate thing. I'm glad I put my oldest in therapy despite his objections and can't wait for my youngest to get in there and start talking about things that bother her. Hopefully having someone to talk to and work through issues will help them grow and heal despite the damage their parents have inflicted on them so far. 

Walking to the facility took me across the Atlanta Underground at the height of a soon-to-be summer day. The sun was shining brilliantly, heads were nodding in response to some thudding trap track or other, and a group of fiery black preachers dressed in purple were screaming black national fire and brimstone out of Revelation.

I was white but clearly not homeless, so I got some looks. Not of scorn or derision, but just simple curiosity. It wasn't a workday and I wasn't heading towards the office towers around Centennial Park but towards Martin Luther King Boulevard. Not a usual destination.

The school, nestled in a neighborhood with four Atlanta PD police cars offering constant surveillance - was a spartan affair. I was greeted warmly by a young beautiful woman of color in curlers, and taken to the back to visit the proprietress. She was seated at a no-nonsense table surrounded by papers and controlling all from a small MacBook.

We hit it off immediately.

She's obviously in it for the love of the thing, and a chance to give back to various communities. She's scaled it so it's accessible to folks who can't get student aid because they don't have a GED, but want some skill to take them out of the projects with no future hope.

Once a month they do a mission to a church and beautify the homeless and the job-seeking unemployed. 

In short, it's the kind of sink-or-swim meritocracy that works or doesn't work if the community does or doesn't pull together.

I'm in. I start two weeks from now.

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