Love never goes away

I will never stop missing my dad

I read Elizabeth Berg‘s lovely story about her dad’s dementia, I’ll Be Seeing You.

She writes beautifully. There are authors I like because they tell a great story about great characters. Berg does that, but her writing style is also gorgeous. She and Alexander McCall Smith have that gentle tone and these beautiful observations and elevations of the ordinary. They can both write an entire page about someone sipping a cup of tea and looking out of the window and make it lyrical and compelling.

When you combine that beautiful language with a story that so many of us have lived – of watching someone we love suffer in a way that we cannot make better – then you have a tearjerker.


It’s been 23 years, five months, 18 days, three hours, and 20 minutes since my dad died.

I still miss him every single day.

Mr T and I have been going through The 36 Questions That Lead To Love in the NY Times.

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

For me, this question is easy. My photo albums and the stack of letters that my dad wrote to me when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile.

Everything else can be replaced.


My dad did not have dementia. He had cancer – small cell blue non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Thank you Agent Orange.

A family friend, Mr S, had early onset dementia. He would have been – wow – I am just doing the math now – only in his 50s.

He knew he had it. I mean, he had the diagnosis. And he knew it would get worse.

He had one mission.

In his moments of lucidity, which were fewer and fewer, he sat down with his wife, Mrs S, and showed her all their investments. The house and car maintenance schedule. The file with the utility bills.

It’s not that Mrs S was stupid or ignorant – she was not. But they divided duties. She was a nurse and a mom. He was retired from the air force and a dad. They divided the house labor and he did the money stuff. (NB There is not a whole lot of money to manage when your career is in the military.)

His biggest concern was not whining or complaining about his fate but that Mrs S not have a hard time once his mind was completely gone.

Their story makes me think of Flowers for Algernon – the knowing that your mind is deteriorating. What do you do with that time? What do you do while you still can?


My dad was 61 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer.

He thought he had pulled a muscle running a 10K.

My parents were living in Italy at the time. My dad had started a second career, after retiring from the air force, as a teacher. He was teaching seventh grade math and science at the middle school on Sigonella navy base on Sicily.

[Imagine here the long, literally painful story about medevac from Sicily to a US military hospital in Germany to Walter Reed – where Mrs S, who lived in Washington, DC, went to visit him, to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, all of this over Christmas and New Year’s.]

I found out on Christmas Eve, via a phone call, that my dad had cancer.

I saw my dad on New Year’s Eve – the day he arrived there – in the hospital on Lackland.

He looked like he was pregnant with triplets – his kidneys were not pushing out fluids the way they were supposed to.

He tried to smile, but didn’t succeed.

They gave him morphine and he finally slept.


There was an ice storm in Germany and non-essential personnel were told not to go to work at the base.

The people who worked in the lab – the lab that was diagnosing my dad – were considered non-essential.

We waited and waited and waited for a diagnosis.

It took days for us to get it – the stage 4 blue cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Doctors of all kinds came in to see my dad.

The surgeon came twice – once to evaluate, once to tell us that he could not cut out my dad’s cancer.

“It would be like trying to cut out a wet paper towel,” he told us.


They needed to get a tissue sample from his hip bone. The resident, who was about to perform her first bone aspiration, told him that there was not a way to prevent pain for the procedure because it involved bone.

They told him he needed to expose his bottom half.

“I’ll wait in the hallway,” I told him.

Then I heard him whimper.

Then I heard him cry out in pain.

Then he said, “Please come hold my hand.”

“I don’t want to see your penis!” I yelled.

“I don’t care!” he answered. “It hurts! Please – please – hold my hand.”

He squeezed my hand so tightly that it hurt.

If you have never held your father’s hand while he weeps in pain, not even trying to hide his tears, you are a lucky person indeed.


Three days ago, my boyfriend before Mr T, John, would have turned 70. We dated over 20 years ago. I loved him but I couldn’t have lived with him – we were too different in how we did things.

But I loved him.

Three years ago, he died of leukemia.

He was only 67. Sixty seven doesn’t seem so old to me anymore.

I knew he was sick but I didn’t know how sick. I sent him some puzzles to keep busy. I kept meaning to send him some brownies but you know. Things. Things got in the way.

I thought I had time.

I did not have time.

He died before I could send the brownies.

It still bothers me. It bothers me that I didn’t show him how much he actually meant to me and that I still cared about him.


I send brownies any time I can now. Any reason.


My dad was in and out of the hospital in San Antonio for months. He went through chemo.

When he started losing his hair, my mom and I took him outside and shaved it all off, giving him a Mohawk in the process.

He lost probably about 40 pounds with the chemo? He was so thin. We wanted him to eat. He said that a Burger King milkshake sounded good.

I ran out of the hospital, jumped into my car, drove off base, found the nearest Burger King, bought a milkshake, ran back to the hospital and handed it to him.

He wasn’t hungry anymore.

He was supposed to drink Ensure. He had a few sips, then stopped.

“Please, Dad,” I begged. “Drink more.”

“I’m not hungry,” he told me.

“Please.”

He breathed deeply, exhaled, then drank a few drops.

“More, please. Please, Dad. Drink more.”

He drank some more. I kept encouraging him.

He drank more.

Victory! Lots of calories in his skeletal body!

And then –

He threw it all up.

Pink strawberry Ensure.

All over his PJs and his bedding.

All because he wanted to make me happy.


My mom had to go back to Italy to pack up their things and send them to the States. She had found a small apartment near the base. I stayed with my dad while she was gone.

I was trying to read a book.

My dad kept reading out loud to me from his newspaper.

I would listen, say, “Uh huh,” then return to my book.

I just wanted to read my book.

My dad was the first one in his family to go to college. He was not encouraged to go. His dad had a small auto dealership and garage where my dad had worked until he left home to join the Coast Guard. My dad could have stepped into the family business and never left his hometown.

He was a stutterer. He was not encouraged in academics. Still, he went, going to school on the GI Bill.

He majored in Russian history. He read and was curious and took other classes. When I was in junior hight, I helped him study for a test in his geology class. He and my mom took computer programming when I was in high school. He was curious about the world.

I was the first grandchild of 26 – ten of whom are older than I am – to go to college.

When I was admitted to college and got academic scholarships, my father was so proud. He proudly wore the Rice sweatshirt I bought him. I have photos of him wearing it in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt – anywhere he traveled.

“Listen to this!” he said and read me yet another item from the paper.

Didn’t he see I was reading my book?

“I KNOW that, Dad!”

“You always were smarter than me,” he answered in a quiet voice.

Even now, 24 years later, I am flooded with shame at how I treated my dad. That I snapped at him when he was just trying to connect with me – while he was trying to take himself out of his chemo-ravaged body and think about something, anything, that was not cancer.

That I could not have been kinder to my dying father.


My mom was three years younger than I am now when she watched her husband die of cancer.


He was back in the hospital. Their stuff was on a ship coming from Italy. The apartment contained rented furniture. My dad had only what they had carried when he was medevaced.

One of those items was his rosary.

My father took great comfort in his faith. The hospital chaplains would come by to see him because he liked talking to all of them, regardless of denomination. He would argue with the Protestants and pray with the Catholics.

One morning, his rosary was gone.

My dad was not a panicker. He was not an angry, dramatic man. He was compliant with the doctors, doing whatever they asked of him. He did not ask much from my mom or my siblings and me. He did not want to be a burden.

But when he reached into the pocket of his robe and didn’t find his rosary, he panicked.

“Oh Dad it will turn up,” I assured him.

“No! No! We have to find it!” he insisted.

He tore at his clothes, open and closed the drawer in the nightstand by his bed, lifted his sheets.

The rosary was nowhere to be found.

“Where is it? Where is it? We have to find it!”

I rolled my eyes and started looking. I was DONE with cancer and stupid stuff.

I looked under the bed.

I looked in the closet.

I looked behind his nightstand.

My mom looked in the bathroom.

She looked behind the bed.

She looked in the cushions of the chair.

We could not find it.

I wanted to stop.

But my dad, who was not a man who insisted, insisted.

Finally, after half an hour of searching, we found it wedged between the foot of the bed and the mattress.

He grabbed it with both hands, holding it close to his chest.

That rosary is now in my nightstand drawer. Every time I see it, I think of my dad.


My dad died eight months after he was diagnosed. I was working in Miami, but flew to the hospital in Wisconsin when my aunt, who is a nurse, called to say that his cancer had returned and he was not going to make it.

When I returned to work two weeks later, the VP of my group stuck his head into my office and offered his condolences.

I burst into tears.

“Oh,” he said. “Were you close?”

Yes.

I still miss my dad.

What if women ran the world?

To quote my grandma Sylvia, We’d all be fat and sassy

Last week, I had a job interview.

Last week, I had a job interview with an amazing woman.

Interviewer: What do people get wrong about you?

Me: They say I’m intimidating. Well, men say it. Women do not.

Interviewer: You mean you are focused and results driven?

Me:

Me:

Me:

Me: Yeah, I am really nosy, which helps, I guess, with getting to know people via Zoom and email. It’s harder when you can’t talk to people in person.

Interviewer: You mean you are curious and engaged?

Me:

Me:

Me:

I keep thinking about our conversation – how she was not willing to let me use pejorative terms to describe myself.

How she isolated the attribute from my sex and described me in a way that many people would describe a man with the exact same characteristics.

How I describe myself in ways that are negative.

How I incorporate the language of the patriarchy to convert that what is positive in a man to that which is negative in a woman.

And I didn’t even see it.


A friend of mine – an engineer – has just been promoted to director level at an engineering company.

“My mom seems angry. I think she is jealous of me,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I think she is angry that I get to have all these opportunities that she did not have.”

Which makes sense.

We have not really come that far. Her mom grew up in a time when women couldn’t even get a credit card in their own name and, in many cases, had to quit their jobs when they got pregnant.


White women have had the right to vote – wait – our right to participate in our democracy has been recognized for only about 100 years in the US and the UK. For Black women, it’s even less time.

[And take everything I say here about women and amplify that by a gajillion for all that has been lost to the world because of slavery.]

And we had to fight for it. Literally fight.

I read Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion, by Fern Riddell. The suffragists in England blew up buildings and train stations. They went on hunger strike and were force fed with tubes down their noses. To draw attention to the cause, one woman threw herself in front of the horses at a major race and died of her injuries.


This drawing is from my grandmother’s 8th grade workbook.

What has been lost to the world because women didn’t have a chance?

Against her wishes, my Grandma Helen had to leave school after 8th grade. She said,

I graduated (from 8th grade) in May 1926 and that was the extent of my education.

I would have loved to go on to school, but there were no school busses in those days to take me to Owen 7 1/2 miles away, and my parents could not afford to pay board for someone to keep me.

Before she married, my grandmother, who grew up in northern Wisconsin, worked as a maid in Milwaukee and Chicago. In Chicago, on her day off, she would walk the miles into the city rather than pay for the streetcar so she could use the money to buy chocolate instead.

Which – yeah. Genetics.

When she was 28, she married my grandfather, who also did not get to go past 8th grade, and they had a dairy farm. It’s not the quaint, sweet life many people imagine – the people who say, “I just want to move to the country and have a small farm with some cows and some goats and a garden.”

It’s a hard life that requires that you get up every single morning to milk the cows. Eery single morning. Every single day. Cows wait for nobody. It’s a hard life that consumes all your time, even more back when my grandparents were farming and my grandmother had to line-dry laundry, including diapers for her seven children, and made bread from scratch and canned their food and sewed their clothes.

Grandma and I didn’t have intimate conversations. She didn’t talk about how she felt. I didn’t know what her dreams were. She just got on with things.

She expressed herself through food, showing her love through cooking and baking.

She did have one big hobby – she painted. She took painting classes for years.

I asked her what she would have done if she could have done anything.

“I would have gone to Paris to study art,” she answered.

My grandma was prolific, making hundreds of paintings. This one is a copy of a painting of Segovia my mom bought when we lived in Spain. My grandparents visited us in Spain – the one big vacation they took in their entire lives.

Have you read the book, Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marçal?

Think about it. It’s always been in the back of your mind, somewhere – the question, “How did all these scientists and artists get anything done? When did they cook? When did they do laundry? How did they get clothes?”

Someone was doing the work.


My grandma Sylvia grew up in Milwaukee. She left school after 8th grade as well.

She was always very proud of her great-aunt Katie. Katie never married. She was the head housekeeper for some rich family in Milwaukee – the boss of several other employees.

Sylvia worked at the Milwaukee Public Library. When she married and moved north with my grandfather, she helped run his business – an auto-repair shop and a gas station. She also volunteered at the library.

When my grandfather died, leaving her a widow in her 50s, she ran the gas station by herself.

She was smart and funny and sassy. When I would go to the grocery store with her, she would buy the National Enquirer, which I found mortifying. She had plastic over her sofa and she was an indifferent cook. She really didn’t care about that stuff. She wore dark red lipstick and had her nails done and she smoked. And she wore pants. Which was not so common back then.


My mom is brilliant. She went to the University of Wisconsin on an academic scholarship, but dropped out her freshman year to get married.

It’s hard to be a scholarship student with no money for fun.

“I didn’t even have a dime to buy a cup of coffee,” she told me once.

My mom is super smart and artistic and creative – and has looked her entire life to find outlets for her talents.

If she had been able to finish college, I am pretty sure she would have ended up one of the first female CEOs of a Fortune 100 company.

When I was junior high, she started studying photography.

My mom has always had a good eye.

She learned to develop film and make her own prints. She built a darkroom at our house.

When I was in high school, she took computer programming classes. She got an associate’s degree in computer science. When I hear people talking about how older women don’t understand technology, I roll my eyes. My mom programmed in Fortran and COBOL.

Like my grandmother, my mom is an excellent baker.

She started a bakery business out of our house. People would call and ask when she was baking again. They couldn’t wait for the next batch of bread, of kuchen, of coffeecake.

Then she started researching family history.

In the past 20 years or so, she has written – sheesh, I can’t even count them – five? six? detailed, meticulously researched, beautifully illustrated books about our family.

She has interviewed primary sources, transcribing hours and hours of conversations. She has found and restored photos. She has dug into immigration records, birth certificates, certificates of naturalization.

Now she is creating in another way. She gardens. She is a volunteer gardener at her church and a guerilla gardener in her neighborhood, ruthlessly weeding the common areas and planting flowers because the HOA won’t do it right and hire gardeners.


In her wonderful book More Work for Mother, Ruth Cowan shows how technology for homemaking tasks has made life easier for men but has not eased the burden for women. Indeed, in some cases, it has increased it. Women do more work at home than men do.

And it’s not because we are better suited for it, as one man suggested when he informed a friend of mine that their daughter’s diaper had leaked and there was poop on the floor.

“Well clean it up,” my friend said.

“But – you’re so much better at it!” he replied.

Women are not better than men at cleaning poop off the floor.


What if all that brainpower and energy – my two grandmothers, my mom – had been directed toward curing cancer? Solving hunger? (World hunger, not grandchild hunger. My grandmothers solved that one.) Eradicating disease? Developing art museums and parks and children’s programs? Inventing new products? Running the symphony?

It’s not that their efforts were wasted. Our society could not function without these women. They provide a tremendous amount of unpaid labor. They do the things that keep the wheels greased for the rest of us.

My grandma Helen volunteered at her church. She made sure her nephew with schizophrenia was fed after the nephew’s mother, my grandmother’s sister, died. Her gardens – both vegetable and flower – were works of art admired by all. Her paintings hung in the local bank.

(I once had to cash a check at that bank. I asked what ID they wanted from me and the teller said, “Oh I don’t need anything. You’re Helen’s granddaughter, right?”)

My grandma Sylvia volunteered at her library.

My mom has been a Brownie troop leader, a soccer coach (when she didn’t even know how to play soccer – but my city started a soccer league for girls and I joined and she coached my team), a Sunday school teacher.

These women make our lives – our communities – better. They are the unsung heroes of society.


A friend wrote on facebook that her son’s orthodontist can’t give after school appointments to all his patients because of “working moms.”

Because it’s so beyond the pale that a father might be expected to take time off from work to take his child to the orthodontist?


Women have been and are, for the most part, the ones making these sacrifices.

What would the world look like today if my grandmothers had been able to pursue more education?

Would my grandmother’s art be exhibited in museums?

Would my mom be retired from leading the company that found a cure for cancer?

Would my grandma Sylvia have created a convenience store empire? (Not that the world needs that – so perhaps this one is not such a loss.)

How much better would the world be if everyone’s talents were recognized?

UX Review: Female Adult Human

Bad design, bad functionality, 0 stars out of 10

Overview

We find the body of a female adult human (“Woman”) to be, sadly, very poorly designed and unfit for purpose.

We do not recommend Woman.

Usability review

Temperature

Woman is cold all the time, except at night when she is trying to sleep, which is when she has hot flashes.

Woman’s temperature is completely incompatible with the average temperature settings of most public spaces and common spaces.

The poor design of Woman means that her body, especially her arms and legs, requires the covering provided by clothes to stay warm. However, because clothes lack these features, Woman is always cold.

Size

Woman does not fit into most clothing and when she does fit, she often does not fit into clothing of that size but in a different brand. Woman’s inconsistent size and shape makes her unsuitable for clothing.

Height/leg length

Woman’s average height is completely inadequate. She cannot reach the items on the higher shelves without the help of assistive devices, such as stools, ladders, and Man, meaning she is incapable of acting independently. She is unfit for use in the standard kitchen, where shelves are often located near the ceiling.

Her legs are not long enough to operate a car properly, requiring adjustments to the seat and destroying the careful esthetic engineers have designed for the full automotive experience.

She does not fit well into public spaces such as benches, gym equipment, and seats on public transportation. For public transit, not only are her upper legs too short for her to have her feet on the ground whilst also having her back against the seat, but she carries too many items, such as her External Storage Devices, Groceries, and Children, to fit on the floor in front of her.

She uses the space directly in front of her seat to place her legs (and her items and her children), which means less space for Man in the next seat, whose spread legs are constrained by the unfair boundary created by Woman’s legs.

Storage

Woman lacks storage space. She is forced to carry external storage, which is often cumbersome, requires its own storage when Woman is out in public, and can be stolen.

Her internal storage is inconvenient and limited.

“The rioters were hypnotized by antifa temptresses who hid psychoactive drugs in their vaginas,” said Lindell. “If you look at the video, many of the rioters had crazed looks in their eyes.”

Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO

Voice

Woman’s voice is too high and often shrill.

In addition, she uses it too frequently.

Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, on Wednesday said women have an “annoying” tendency to make meetings run unnecessarily long in comments that he sought to retract Thursday.

Speaking to members of the Japanese Olympic Committee with reporters present, Mori said “board of directors meetings with many women take a lot of time.”

“When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” he said, as told by an Agence France-Presse translation of an Asahi Shimbun story.

“Women are competitive,” Mori added. “When one person raises a hand, others think they need to speak up as well. That’s why everyone speaks.”

Washington Post

Patience

We do find Woman to be exceptionally good at Waiting.

Accessibility review

Urination

A major design flaw appears with the urination function. Not only does Woman have to pee frequently, she has to do so sitting down, or, at the least, squatting, which means it is very difficult for her to perform the pipi rustique, as Man, a far better designed body, does.

Woman is forced to use public toilets when not in her home, which constrains her travel and daily activities, as public toilets are not readily available and why should they be?

In addition, Woman is often accompanied by Children, Elderly Persons, and Disabled Persons who also need to use the toilet. But public toilets, when available, are often small and have room for only one person in the stall. There is not room for Woman’s External Storage Devices, Children, or other persons Woman might need to help.

Listening

We do find Woman to be exceptionally good at Listening, which also includes Praising for Ordinary Tasks. The design of “Two Ears One Mouth” is suitable for Man’s purposes, which is to have someone to Appreciate the Wisdom of What He Says When He Wants to Say It.

Technical review

Woman requires far more maintenance than Man.

Plumbing

The plumbing system for Woman needs at the minimum, annual medical attention, and breaks easily.

Even in its healthy state, Woman’s plumbing needs prophylactic attention to prevent more serious Woman Conditions, such as pregnancy. The prophylaxis itself can cause health problems, such as blood clots, strokes, and death.

Woman needs expensive materials to accommodate menstruation, which in Woman who have not reached menopause, occurs monthly. These materials are not always available in public toilets and must be carried on Woman’s person or in her External Storage Device, Just In Case. In addition, the facilities for discarding these materials are also often not available.

Aging

Woman ages. Her hair grays and her skin wrinkles and her skin loses its elasticity. These features are most unattractive.

In addition, as Woman ages, she Cares Less and Confronts Men More. Highly undesirable.

Recommendations

  • Increase Woman’s temperature so she is not cold
  • Adjust Woman’s extremities so she does not need to cover them with clothing to stay warm
  • Design Woman in one or only a few basic sizes so she will fit into available clothes
  • Change Woman’s urination stance to standing so she can use World As Designed
  • Remove Children, Persons Using Wheelchairs, and Elderly Persons from the world so Woman does not have to help them urinate
  • Lower Woman’s voice
  • Eliminate Woman’s plumbing
  • Eliminate the Menstruation feature
  • Stop the aging function, or, if that’s not possible, require hair dye, plastic surgery, and a muzzle

Additional reading

No Place to Go, Lezlie Lowe

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez

At last he is useful for something

Ceci n’est pas une toilet brush

Buy it here.

I saw this image (above) on twitter and it reminded me of this story.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I had a cleaning lady. It was mostly because I discovered I did not want to spend my Saturdays washing my clothes by hand in the tub. I was willing to pay someone else cold, hard cash to wash my clothes by hand in the tub.

Nope. Laundromat was not an option. There were none in my town. There were laundry services, but that required I drop off my dirty clothes and retrieve them days later. I didn’t have enough clothes to run two tranches.

There were drawbacks, of course, to the “washing the clothes by hand by rubbing them against a rough board” approach. Have you ever had threadbare clothes?

You know how when your jeans get so worn out that you can see the white cross threads? The point right before there’s a big hole and you need to patch them?

Now apply that to your underwear and your socks.

That is threadbare. My clothes all got threadbare.

Anyhow. My roommate and I hired a cleaning lady because we did not want to wash our own clothes. And as long as she was going to be in the house, we might as well have her clean the house.


BTW, we paid her four times the going rate and paid her even when we were on vacation and she didn’t need to come to the house. We did not want to be colonialist exploiters.


I was home sick one day and was watching Marisol work.

I saw her kneeling next to the toilet, scrubbing it by hand.

Her hand was in the toilet. Even though there was a toilet brush behind the toilet. She was cleaning the toilet with a hand brush.

Why was she cleaning the toilet with a hand brush?

How odd. 

Marisol, I called. I didn’t realize you brought your own cleaning supplies.

I don’t, she answered.

Then where did you get the brush that you’re using?

This? she asked, as she looked at the brush. 

Oh, this is from under the kitchen sink.

From under the kitchen sink.

Marisol, I said slowly. That’s the brush I use to scrub vegetables.

Oh! she replied cheerfully. Well, I’ll put it back, then.

No, I told her. That’s OK. I’m not going to be using it for vegetables any more.

And I didn’t.

By the way, I have not been seriously sick since then. Just saying. It takes work to build an immune system.

(But I don’t know if I am protected against COVID. So I stay at home and wear a mask when I go out.)