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PART 1: THE JOURNEY BEGINS

By Barbara Crooker Photo by Barbara Crooker

My three blog posts will be talking about a caregiving holiday that I recently won, from an organization called Caregifted. You can learn more at http://www.caregifted.org/.

But I’m going to begin, oddly, with a poem:

AT THE CHÂTEAU

         Life struggles to copy that French château.

                     — Stephen Dobyns, Body Traffic

 

Where Madame brings you a cup of café noir,

rich and dark, and a simple petit déjeuner

of the best bread you ever tasted, thick golden crust,

sweet butter, confiture of wild strawberries, les fraises des bois.

Mornings here are busy blurs: alarms clang, the kettle screams,

homework is lost, clothes aren’t ironed,

everyone hidden behind a wall of newsprint.

But at the château, you eat on a terrace overlooking the sea,

lavender and mimosa in the air. You feed your lover

buttery pieces of croissant, remember last night,

the linen sheets, the lovely silk of skin.

In this life, laundry streams, ironing looms mountainous,

the furniture shrugs into its coat of fine grey dust.

But through the open porte, the château beckons

in its marble perfection, every carved molding and lintel painted

in gold leaf, and oh! the damask bed clothes!

And oh! the mirrored hallways, the crystal chandeliers, diamonds

dripping from the ceilings, ciel, the word for heaven.

Fat cherubs and plump angels frolic in oil paintings,

caught forever in their gilt frames, and light is refracted

and refined from every faceted surface.

In this life, meals roll out like O’s, like baby birds

opening their beaks screeching for more.

Where the finest meal you muster can’t compete

with soft steamed burgers smeared with condiments

in their styrofoam nests, salty fried potatoes,

shakes of iced cement. Glancing out the drive-thru fenêtre,

you see china place settings, ivory candles,

a bowl of pink roses, crystal glasses of Puilly-Fuissé.

Un peu de pâté? Or mousse au saumon?

Then a light salade of spring greens sprinkled with violets.

A delicate white fish in a beurre blanc. A brisk sorbet.

A kaleidoscope of cheeses: hard, soft, goat’s, sheep’s,

ripened, fresh, spice-studded, herb-strewn. A dark cup

of espresso. And a marquise au chocolat, with raspberries

scattered around. For it’s l’heure bleu, night waltzing

in with her blue satin gown, a dazzle of stars at her throat

and wrists. A violin concerto enters the kitchen,

its rich opulent tones like the perfume of beautiful women.

I’m opening this way so that you can see the dichotomy I’m setting up, the difference between “ordinary life” and “respite life.” This trip, provided by Caregifted, was not the first one that we’d taken. As long-time caregivers of our son who has autism (and who is approaching 30), we realized early on that we wouldn’t have retirement time alone together, so we have tried all along to piggyback brief (7-10 day) respite trips with my husband’s work travel. In some ways, life is easier now—my husband’s retired, and we’re no longer dealing with major meltdowns and constant behavior modification. In other ways, it’s harder for us to go away—in the past, we’d used college students (special ed and speech therapy majors) and transportation wasn’t an issue (he took the school bus). Now, we need to find reliable adults who either don’t have jobs or who have enough flexibility in their job to be able to take him to and from work. But we don’t let that stop us (i.e., we keep looking until we find someone)!

Here’s a little bit about what our “regular life” is like: We get up at 6:30 am most days, but at 4:45 am on the days our son has his community (buzz word for “real”) job at a local department store, which is one or two days a week. The other days, he’s at a sheltered workshop, and we have to drive him, as there’s no public transportation. Usually, my husband does this, while I manage the food—we have him on a gluten (that includes wheat) and dairy-free diet, so I often cook two meals—see why I appreciate getting away? I do the morning med sets—lots of supplements, plus an anti-fungal and an anti-anxiety pill. While he’s at work, I divide my time between writing and domestic duties, including gardening (I grow most of our organic fruits and vegetables and do some canning). When he comes home from work around 3 pm, then it’s time to make dinner. In the evening, he has karate two times a week and choir once a week; again, my husband usually drives, and I go to an exercise class (you need stamina to keep this life up!). On weekends, we do activities with our son—movies, shopping, and the like. My husband’s 70, I’m almost there, but we’re rarely alone as a couple…

So when we were offered a respite week in Eastport, Maine, the furthest point east in the US, believe me, I leapt at it!

Photo by Barbara Crooker

***

About the Author

 Barbara Crooker’s books of poetry are Radiance, winner of the Word Press First Book Award and finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance, winner of the Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More; and Gold. She was a finalist for the 2012 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, and her work appears in The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Barbara is the mother of a 29-year-old son with autism who lives with her at home. Learn more at www.barbaracrooker.com

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