Monday, March 26, 2012

On Being a MK

 I am an MK.  I know the new term is TCK, but it is not my term.  I am a MK, and I am proud of that title.  I am fundamentally different than an "army brat" or an "embassy kid" or many other types of TCKs.  We may share some commonalities, but there are also vast differences.  I am not only a MK, but I am the child of an MK.  I am also the grandchild of a MK.  My children are now the fourth generation of MKs in our family.

At times when people hear that, they ask the obvious, "oh, have you read this or that book about TCKs?"

I haven't.  Maybe I should.  Maybe I will one day.  There is a reason, though.  When I grew up as a MK, there was the "normal" way to be a MK.  You went out, and you either went to boarding school, or if you were lucky enough to live in a country where it was possible, you went to local school.  (That was 30-40 years ago, homeschooling was just not common.)  We did neither.  We home-schooled.

I went once to a MK type of event.  I didn't fit in.  I felt like a stranger even among what was supposed to be "my own".  There was no space for me.  I didn't fit either mold.  No one had really encountered us yet.  I felt rejected, estranged.  And I walked away.  I don't struggle with boarding school issues.... my grandma did, and she told my parents not to put us in one.  I don't struggle with local school issues - we didn't have one.  I had my own issues... ones that few understood.  And I felt left out, so I turned my back on all the TCK stuff and walked away.

I may change that stance.  I am taking my kids to a MK event.  I realize they have a need to have kids who can understand things in their lives that other of their friends just can not.  I'm happy that their lifestyle is not so odd.  How I was raised is also not so odd now.  Many kids are home-schooled on the field now.

I may even read that book.

But before I do, I thought I would write a little about being a MK.  I've been thinking about it recently.  Life as a MK is much like looking through a kaleidoscope.  Kaleidoscopes are beautiful, mesmerizing, entertaining.  "It must be so exciting!".  This is always said by people with two feet on the ground, never by the pieces in the kaleidoscope. 

I'm approaching 40, and my life is still like a kaleidoscope.  Full of beauty, but ever changing.

Being a MK is a life sentence of living with a profound sense of loss.  Nothing will ever be the same as it was.  There is no "home" to return to.  The experiences we had of "home" were transient - pieces in the kaleidoscope lined up a certain way, making a beautiful pattern.  That was our "home", our "normal".  And then it turned.  It doesn't take much of a turn to adjust the pattern - what was familiar is gone.  People moved, we moved, people came... the ever changing pattern.  Other people can go back to where they grew up, and there is the school, the neighbor, the store, the park, the....   Our lives have none of that.  Even if we go back... different people are there.  Even if we visit old friends, they are in different settings among different people.  Our home does not exist - it was only a certain moment in time.

It is like a kaleidoscope.... every piece, every pattern... turn and it is gone... never to return.  Each new turn is interesting and has a beauty of its own, but each turn means a loss... pieces are there, but the picture will never be the same again.

I enjoy change and cope with it well.  But I grieve what is lost.  What people in our churches don't fully grasp about the life of a MK is that it is not just the moves we make that are hard.  It is the constant moves of those around us.  If we love, we lose that relationship soon.  Communication has improved and this does enable us now to keep a minimal contact with old friends, but that day to day fellowship in close quarters changes.  The colored chips fall in a new pattern.

Kaleidocopes are mesmerizing.  They suck you in.  Each new pattern calling you to enjoy it.  There is beauty in this life. I wouldn't chose a different life.  I have no desire to be a normal kid, but I live with a profound sense of loss.  No permanence, each move - whether my move or others' moves, brings a change to my kalidascope, never to return to what was.  It is this deep sense of loss under-riding life that is different about a MK.

There are days I just stop.  I just go for a walk and am sad.  I can't explain it to everyone around me, and I stop even trying.  I go to be alone, to mourn alone, to walk, to remember, and then to come back.  I struggle on some days being totally involved where I am when my memory goes to a time before... a pattern of a previous turn, and I feel homesick.  Homesick for something that no longer exists.  Then I go on.  The kaleidoscope keeps turning, the pattern keeps changing..... each design has familiar elements, a different pattern, so familiar, so new.  I enjoy the new view.  I miss the beauty that is gone.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Own Patron Saint

I just found out I have a patron saint.  The priest told me, so it must be right.

I work very part time in an old folks home .. actually more of a nursing home.  We are specialized in end stage Alzheimers and geriatric/psychiatirc.  In other words, the people no one else wants, we get.  I only work occasionally to keep my foot in the door and, well, because being a missionary is not a good way to get rich or even pay all the bills!  Recently, I went back to work almost full time for three months.  We had some emergency staff absences at work, so someone had to fill in for awhile.  One staff broke her foot, another's husband fell down the stairs and broke about five bones, a pregnant coworker threatened to miscarry, and another poured a pot of boiling potatoes over herself.  We are just not a big enough home to absorb that many emergencies and keep going, so I got suddenly dumped with a lot of shifts.  They also were shifts all over the grid - some days, some evenings, some nights, and then more all mixed up again.  It was grueling.

We've got a few big men now.  In fact, I don't think we have any man who is under six foot at this moment.  Most of our men are nice....  but disease does interesting things to the brain.  We have three who are "fighters".  One is sort of comical, one is sporadic, and one is downright dangerous.  We've been hit, kicked, punched, grabbed, spit on, and attacked.  I'm getting tired of it.  My arms begin to look like I'm an abused wife - bruises of different stages of healing up and down my arms and legs.  My worst injury was a few weeks ago when our more dangerous man grabbed my wrist and squeezed with all his strength.  He popped my joint, weak from two previous dislocations, in and out of joint.  I couldn't lift anything for a week, and still have pain with it.  I'm supposed to be on "light duty"... yeah right!  All it means is I have an excuse for moving a little slower - none of our patients are light duty.  Still, it is better than my coworker who got a concussion from this man.

Anyway, the other night, our retired priest went bezerk.  It took four of us to just get his diaper changed and him washed a little.  Honestly, the things I hear priests and nuns say after they get Alzhiemers makes me wonder...  for weeks he kept complimenting us on how we looked.  Looking up and down us as we steadied him on his feet to change him, he would comment, "Hmm.. you are a very. attractive. young. lady."  I felt like saying, "hey, you took a vow of celibacy".  Another time, he yelled and screamed at us and told us, "I already paid the first girl, you aren't getting any more money!" after calling us all prostitutes.  But this time, he went bezerk, trying to hit us, trying to ram us with his chair, barking and hissing and growling.  After we changed him, I sat with him attempting to calm him down.  I began all the Catholic prayers I knew because if I started them, he would finish them before yelling more.  Finally, since it was St. Patrick's day, I asked him about St. Patrick and who he was the saint of.  The priest gave me a disgusted angry look and leaned closer to say, "He's the patron saint of people like you!" in a very derogatory tone. 

Hey, I have my own patron saint!  The saint of nurses aides who keep getting beat up, perhaps?  Well, we need a saint working there! 

So thankful that my coworkers are back on the job, and I am back to working only one day a week!  I was getting tired of being beat up!  Even though I love my patients, (and the "dangerous man" is really sweet when we are not trying to undress or wash him), I am getting tired of it.  It is demoralizing to be beat up, swore at, and called a prostitute simply because you care enough to help wash well, wash that off old people's rear ends.

My grandpa died recently and as people gave me sympathy over the last weeks, I had a hard time being too sad.  I was only happy that he had lived his life well and died quickly after a good day in church and visiting with friends.  He never ended up in a home and going through all the horrors we see there.  All three of my grandpas were able to die peacefully at home.  That is something to be grateful for.  I think the prayer of every worker in a home like ours is, "Please, Lord, when I get old, let me die quickly."  It is not that we aren't nice.... it is just that Alzhiemers is an awful disease.  The only thing I think I hate more is Parkinson's which leaves the mind but takes the body first, then the mind.  Alzhiemers steals the brain, but then comes a time when people are less aware of their suffering than with Parkinsons.  Both are terrible.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In March, I Remember

She used to wander the halls at night.  Friendly, wanting to talk.  Confused, unsure of where she was and what was happening.  She'd make small talk with us while we did our charts or took our break.

"Are you married?"

"Do you have children?"

"I have three boys."  Here her face would grow soft remembering the chubby babies, and she would smile.  Then her eyes would take on a far away look.

"I had one more."

"His name was Samuel.  He died when he was a baby."

She would sigh, a soft little sound.  "I miss him.  I will see him again one day soon.  I want to see my baby."

People used to ask me when I would "get over it".  I felt.... wrong... for remembering.  Then I met her.  She's in her late 90s ... still waiting to see her baby Samuel.

She's grown older now, and the horrible person-eating disease has taken its course.  She no longer walks the halls and stops to chat.  She no longer talks more than a word here or there.  Some glitch in her mind, or some decay, has made her put everything in her mouth and chew it voraciously.  She has the look of a feral child.  Still, there are nights when I change her and tuck her back into bed that her eyes meet mine.  I always think the same thing.

"Soon, sweetheart, soon."

You will see him soon.

She is too far gone to remember.  So now I remember for her.

I printed pictures today, determined to decorate an empty wall in our dining room.  Things that are special to us, family photos, laughing babies, gangly teens, good friends.  I put them in frames and lay them out on the floor.  We will decide how they go tomorrow. 

Then I sat there looking at them.

That vague empty feeling - something is wrong, nothing is right.

I sat and quiet tears pooled in my eyes.  There was my baby girl who died before she was born, who they threw in the trash "because she was not a human being yet".  There was my other baby who died before we knew what it was.  Laughing faces smile from the photos.  My children are my blessings.  But every time I hang their photos, I pause.  That empty space.

Someone gave me a gift - a string of hearts with my daughter's name on it.  That will go on my wall in among the family photos.  Somewhere in there, I will hang a memorial to the tiny one we lost.

Grief is such a lonely thing.  People grieve because they remember.

Grief of a baby not yet born is an isolated thing.  No one remembers.  I was the only one to know my child, the swelling in my belly, the flutters of little kicks.  The hope. 

It is March again.  In March, I remember.

I tuck my patient in again at night and I tell her, "soon, sweetie".  Soon she will see her child.... and mine.

Give them a hug for me when you do.