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4 kittens

Officially just having life

Posted on 2016.01.10 at 21:45
I went to Madison this weekend.

I didn't dwink, wesponsibwy or otherwise.

One family member is super depressed and struggling. It was gray and dark. I spent time with my grandma, who is tranquil and easy-going at age 98, completely different than her first 95 years of life. She still knew who I am, but not much more than that.

This weekend - the struggling family member, the cold and grayness, and peaceful Grandma - felt like my own personal winter solstice weekend. Let's heap all our serious themes into one mid-winter cram session.

On Saturday I hung out with Grandma, at her retirement home. Every few minutes, she says, “I think I will close my eyes. I can see you in my mind’s eye.”  Since her eyes were always closed, I snapped a few photos.

These are her hands:

The skin on her hands has always fascinated me.  It looks just like it did thirty years ago: a very thin, crinkly layer that keeps flat in places when it crumples, like some space-age auto-crinkle smart fabric polymer. Her hands have not changed since 1985. (My mother's hands crease differently.)

Grandma’d open her eyes, and I’d tell her basic facts about my parents and my life. Then she’d close her eyes again and say, “I can see you in my mind’s eye.” I’d get on my phone and browse the internet for awhile and then we’d do it all over again.

She’s not sleeping exactly, but spending a lot of time drifting. Here is the corner of her room where she sleeps:

Isn’t that peaceful-looking? Being with her is very tranquil and it feels like time is in suspension. “I can see you in my mind’s eye. Sometimes you are with Colleen [my mother] and sometimes you are with both Colleen and Ken [both parents] and sometimes it’s just you.” That made me very emotional.

I asked her how old I looked in her mind’s eye and she said it was just a general picture of me. I asked her how old she felt, and she smiled and said, “Like a kid!” and closed her eyes again.


For the past twenty years, Grandma has answered, “Good enough!” when someone asked her how she was doing. Here are some ways I have described it over the years:
1. When you ask her how she is, she says "Good enough.” Which is aggravating, but I’ve come to accept it. Then she (dependably) says, ”Whenever I say 'Good enough’, the other person says, 'What’s wrong?’, and I say, 'Nothing’s wrong. 'Good enough’ is good enough.’ That’s what I always say. 'Good enough’ is good enough.”

Oh Grandma. You never say "Good enough is good enough.”  You only say that you say it, and all the time at that, in response to a third person you generically invoke.
- 6/22/2008

2. I’ve resolved to never ask Grandma "How are you?” ever again, for the rest of her life. From here on out I’m a strict "What have you been up to, lately?” woman. Because I’m sick and tired of her goddamn Good Enough lecture.
This has been going on for probably five years. Every time, Grandma answers "Good enough.” And then explains why she answers "Good enough”:
  1. Her eyesight could be better, her hearing could be better. But it’s good enough.
  2. When people answer "fine”, they don’t realize. What don’t they realize, Grandma? They don’t realize that "fine” comes from the word "finished” and so you’re really answering "I’m finished.” (Are you sure about that, Grandma? It’s not that they grasp small talk and perfunctory answers?)
  3. Some people have 7, 8 houses and still want more. Grandma is content to have enough, and stop there. So she’s really sharing her life philosophy with us.
  4. Then she’s tired and gets off the phone, and the whole goddamn conversation has been this repetitive lecture that makes me bug-eyed with exasperation. No more prompts, Grandma. The buck stops here. I no longer care how you are.
- 4/27/2009

3. This really happened. Remember how I vowed never to ask Grandma "how are you” ever again? Because she answers "Good enough” and then gives a long, predictable lecture about why she answers "good enough”? I called Grandma on Saturday, and when one would normally say "How are you?”, I instead asked her "What have you been up to lately?” And I got the most wonderful answer. She told me about her Tai Chi class, and a concert she’d gone to, and her friend, and her friend’s children and poodle. All these vivacious aspects of her life that I usually never hear about, because the entire conversation is dominated by the goddamn "good enough” lecture.
I had all sorts of warm fuzzies. As we’re wrapping up, Grandma says, "Have I told you my mantra?”
I said, "No?” even though I my gut was sending S.O.S signals up to my slow, thick brain.
Grandma eagerly shouts, ”Ask me how I’m doing!”
I swear, I wanted to flag the whole world down to bear witness as to what was in progress. That Grandma had really just told me to ask her "how are you”. I was dazzled into obedience. ”How are you doing, Grandma?” She triumphantly said, ”GOOD ENOUGH!” And then gave me the whole entire lecture. Of course.
- 4/5/2009

4. When we drop Hawaiian Punch off at daycare, we should say "Be kind!” instead of "Be good!” because I can’t even remember why. But in the course of that lecture, she managed to interject her "Good Enough” speech. Her vision could be better, her hearing could be better, but she’s good enough.
- 9/22/2009

5. I had asked Grandma what things she had been doing lately, and Grandma ignored me and said, "Good enough! Have I ever told you why I answer ’good enough’?”(Yes, a million times.) ”Because my eyesight could be better, my hearing could be better, but I’m good enough.” (Short version!)
Then she veered into new territory: ”My mother used to say ’I’m always done. I wake up in the morning and use the bathroom, and I’m done, I go to the kitchen for coffee and I’m done. I’m always done.’ ”
- 4/12/2011

Now, in her senile reverie, she still answers “Good enough!” cheerily in response to “How are you doing?” like when we were walking down the hallway to lunch. But she does not have the force of monologue anymore, and it now seems sweet, zenlike and profound instead of domineering and manipulative.

This is Grandma, resting her eyes, in the atrium of her facility.  She seems so small. She’s losing muscle tone and has a shorter haircut, and she has always been pretty short. Under five feet tall.

I walked back from my grandmother’s to my uncle’s house and my phone died yet again, so I didn’t take photos of the ice fishers on Lake Menona, in their blue tarp tents.  They would have made a nice visual contribution. (I’m thinking about getting a new phone.)

My uncle has an infestation of ladybugs in the attic bathroom of his house. There are seven in those two photos, above.

I go back to work again, tomorrow.


On a different note, we all recognize this cliche: the lure of thoughts of the form, "As soon as I accomplish [X], then my life will truly start," where [X] is a moving goalpost. I am far too wise to fall victim to such a sentiment, except of course I'm not.

In the past few years, my [X] has equaled:
- having babies,
- being done nursing,
- finishing the addition on our house
- finishing the renovation on the different part of our house
- get help so that I'd be less overwhelmed with time management, and
- have my ladyparts and ladybumps removed.

I'm officially done with all my [X]s. I don't have anything I'm waiting on to be happy. I feel pretty content, so that's nice.

And also, there's some breathing room before all the predictable adult tragedies - loss of parents, etc - start in. For the time being, I'm officially just having life. I should probably take some deep breaths.


Kelly Jennings
Kelly Jennings at 2016-01-11 13:12 (UTC) (Link)

Good Enough

"I'm officially done with all my [X]s. I don't have anything I'm waiting on to be happy."

Heh. You're fine!
heebie_geebie at 2016-01-19 15:47 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Good Enough

It's an odd feeling! Where's my treadmill.
mistersmearcase at 2016-01-12 03:45 (UTC) (Link)
That little living space makes me happy for her. You could feel very content there.

[x]s move around a lot. It is one of their qualities, for me.

Oh hey I totally lied about Austin. I'm going to be there until June. I assume that'll get moved or canceled, too, because I live on the moon.
e_messily at 2016-01-15 17:24 (UTC) (Link)
Woo hoo! Meetup!
heebie_geebie at 2016-01-19 15:48 (UTC) (Link)
Grandma's little room is super serene. If I lived closer, I'd treat her like a little coffee shop and bring my laptop over there while she blasts CNN and rests her eyes.
(Anonymous) at 2016-01-13 16:14 (UTC) (Link)
I don't think I'd realized she was in Madison! My unhappy-with-everything grandmother is just outside. We could have set them up to complain about the world and live-blogged it! Except nothing in the world has ever been "good enough" for my grandmother, unless maybe that's another thing that changed once they tricked her into dealing-with-your-husband's-Alzheimer's pills a/k/a antidepressants and suddenly she was a kinder person.

heebie_geebie at 2016-01-19 15:50 (UTC) (Link)
NOTHING'S EVER GOOD ENOUGH. It's kind of funny that "good enough" and "not good enough" are both sentiments of sadness and woe. Twinsie grandmas.
(Anonymous) at 2016-01-15 19:42 (UTC) (Link)
I like "what have you been up to" over "how are you" and "be kind" as a more concise "be excellent to each other", and will try* to work these into my idiolect. I find "good enough" charming but I don't think I could deliver the subsequent lecture.
*By which I mean "I will almost instantly forget to". My idiolect is a funny thing.
heebie_geebie at 2016-01-19 15:51 (UTC) (Link)
I also prefer "be kind" now that I'm actually raising kids who are not kind whatsoever, and I'd much rather instill kindness than goodness. I think. At any rate, at the time I wrote that, Hawaii was about 6 months old and I mostly resented being lectured at.
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