I admit I’m a coffee hound. Years in the newsroom will do that to you. So will years of single parenting. I’ve done both.
But it was not a caffeine craving that had me nearly in tears with longing for a cup of coffee yesterday. It was the extremity of my schedule. In order to get my 80-year-old mother and me ready for me to set off to work, I had been regularly getting up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays. The close of the day for Mom is at about 9:15 p.m., after which I ordinarily spend another hour and half taking care of my usual household chores, plus increased work that stems from Mom being here.
That’s an ordinary week. This last week was more demanding. Blessed with an understanding employer, I have recently taken Mom to several medical appointments, during the business day, of course. Because my employer is so stellar, and because I had some work to do on deadline, I wanted to do my best at my job. So on a few days, I got up and arrived at work even earlier.
All week, I tried to take things one step at a time. After all, I reasoned, no single task was very big. “It’s only a sandwich I have to make,” I’d tell myself as I prepared Mom’s lunch while also fixing breakfast at 6 a.m. “It’s no big deal.”
It’s easy to feel that way at the day’s start, but by 9:30 p.m., when Mom was at last tucked in and beginning to doze, it was not so easy to cheer myself by saying, “It’s only a load of laundry. It’s only a dishwasher to load. It’s only bills to pay.”
Somehow, when it’s well into the evening and you have not paused since 5 a.m., it’s not easy to convince yourself that a few more tasks are nothing much. It might seem sensible to pause then, at least, but when you know you have tasks that will keep you going until 11 p.m. if you keep at them, while enjoying a break will only keep you up later, it’s not very relaxing to take that break.
That’s why a cup of coffee on Saturday morning seemed so precious. I’d been longing all week for a few quiet minutes with a hot drink, but when Saturday arrived, there was so much on my agenda that I knew once again that I’d pay for any relaxation by running late on everything else. Hence the tears over the coffee question. And those tears made me feel foolish, and churlish and small to be so keen on a cup of quietude.
That’s when I remembered being interviewed by Vanessa Broga of Spectrum Generations, an agency that works to support home caregivers. She tallied the time I spend weekly on Mom’s personal care, errands, housework, medical appointments, paperwork, meal preparation and dispensing medications, and found I am spending some 26 hours per week on work that stems directly from Mom’s care. And that does not include socializing with Mom, which I do not consider work but which does absorb time that used to be spent on other things.
I wiped my eyes and brewed that mug of java. I did not sit down with it but drank it while taking on a task that has always seemed satisfying. While folding towels, I forgave myself for those tears of frustration. And when the towels were all neatly folded and put away, I walked into Mom’s room and said, “Good morning. Would you like a cup of coffee with breakfast today?”