1:30 – 2:30

Whew. It’s 1:40 in the afternoon, which has become a bit of an oasis for me during this required time of isolation with family. 1:30 -2:30 is “Quiet Time” on our new family schedule. We’re into week two right now and the time has been going slow and fast, simultaneously. Slast. The time has been going by so slast.

My boys are 6 and 11. Their needs and interests are different. Very different. Typically, our schedules are set in such a way that the weekends are when we look for things that will make both boys happy, satisfied, and engaged. That weekend need has now multiplied to seven days a week. Weekends are now more clearly a construct of time and schedule, but man made, manufactured by union leaders of the past. Thank you, union leaders of the past!

Like so many other families sheltering at home during this time, we are winging it. Our trajectory, if Facebook has been any indication, is a wee bit different than other families we know. Last Monday, the first official weekday of Illinois’ ordered shelter in place, I got a bad toothache. This dental phobic gal knew exactly what that meant. Dammit all to hell is what I kept telling myself, wishing the pain away, hoping it was phantom, borne of stress, and like that miracle President Trump talked about, would just go away.

By Tuesday, it was clear it would not. By Wednesday, I got up the nerve to call my dentist and learned that dentists are not really in the business of dentist-ing right now. I was referred to an oral surgeon. Root canals are also not an option during this period of extreme caution, so they proposed to rip that sucker right out. With a lot of precautions, I had a rear molar removed last Thursday. I got IV sedation, which was the absolute calmest I have felt in a couple of weeks. A couple of days later, I realized I had taken about 16 photos of my feet in the recovery room that I had no memory of whatsoever.

So, yeah, after that and some other nonsense, it’s taken a bit of time to find our groove for this enforced time together. We are working to try and stick to a schedule that I posted on the Mary Tyler Mom Facebook page earlier on. It’s a little Pinterest perfect pie-in-the-sky, but with a few modifications, it has met our needs.

One of my favorite hours, I am not too proud to admit, is this one we’re in right now, between 1:30 – 2:30. Quiet time. That means my boys must rest in their beds, either napping or reading. Mama needs this hour. To breathe. To panic. To nap myself. To watch an episode of Nurse Jackie (why had no one ever told me about Nurse Jackie before this?). To catastrophize in damn peace, thank you very much.

Sixty minutes of mostly quiet. Sometimes giggles. Sometimes loud laughter. Sometimes little faces popping into whatever space I am in and asking, “How much time left, Mama?”

I need this hour. I need these sixty minutes like Nurse Jackie needed an intervention. I need these 60 Minutes like CBS News needed a ratings bump in the 1970s. And, for the most part, I am using it exactly as directed — quiet time. My time. Not family time or academic time or ‘get outside and walk’ time or chores time or kitchen time or ‘wiping every surface I can find with a too quickly dwindling supply of Clorox wipes’ time.

I use this hour to try and connect with some peace within, to quiet the fear and worries and dread and doom and gloom that is so very loud in these days. Today, I am sharing it with my keyboard. And you. And it feels quiet. And manageable. And familiar. And comforting. And necessary. Really and truly necessary, because the future is so uncertain right now and that can be a really scary thing.

It’s 2:30 now, folks, and the littlest one just came out, poking his head around his door frame. “Mama,” he says. And with that, quiet time is over.

How Old Is Too Old to Be President?

Folks are gonna hate on me for positing what many will consider to be an ageist question, but as someone who has worked professionally in the field of aging*, I think it is a question voters should absolutely be considering.

From youngest to oldest, Elizabeth Warren is 70, Joe Biden is 77, Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders are both 78, but Bloomberg comes in at 5 months younger than Sanders.

Four of the remaining six viable Democratic presidential candidates range in age from 70 to 78 years old. That number alone should not give you pause, but other factors about certain of these candidates should. But first, let’s get a wee bit of historical perspective of how old our past presidents have been.

To date, only 3 of our 45 presidents have served in office over the age of 70. They would be Dwight Eisenhower, who turned 70 just a few months before leaving office in his second term, Ronald Regan, who turned 70 just a couple of weeks after his first inauguration, and our current POTUS, Donald Trump, who was well into his 70th year at the time of the 2016 election. If re-elected, Trump would finish a second term at age 78.

I don’t know about you, but I find that surprising. I guess I have always imagined our Presidents to be old men, and they have, but given shorter life expectancies, old men were perceived as older at younger ages through our nation’s history. My point being, for 2/3 of viable presidential candidates to be in their 70s and a full half to be much closer to 80 is, in fact, an age related aberration for a presidential candidate pool.

That is significant and something we should be talking about. Now let’s get more specific.

The oldest of the Democratic candidates is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He suffered a heart attack just after his most recent birthday, which was confirmed in early October of last year by his campaign. While he had previously stated that he would release all of his medical records as a candidate, Sanders and his campaign are now walking back that pledge, maintaining that releasing medical records is a bit of a slippery slope and wonders where the requests for information will end.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me significant concern. There is online chatter that a heart attack does not matter, that even if Bernie dies or becomes incapacitated while in office, his VP will assume office. Except we don’t know who that VP is or what the health status of that person might be and the risk of subsequent heart attacks after a first one are significant. That said, Sanders appears robust and healthy on the campaign trail.

But speaking of VPs, let’s talk about former Vice President Joe Biden. No heart attacks in his health care closet, but you don’t have to look hard to see that 2020 Joe is a far cry from 2012 Joe, or even 2016 Joe. As someone who has worked with older adults professionally, I see a few red flags with Biden, but three are especially concerning for me.

One is his language. Biden’s language is disrupted and it appears to be getting worse. One of the primary and earlier signs of dementia is a change in language capacity. Aside from the “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” comment he recently made in Iowa, there are other signs of language disruption separate and apart from his well known issue of stuttering. His pauses are longer, his words and responses not always relevant to questions he is being asked. He is increasingly off topic and unresponsive and not completing sentences.

The second one is an uncharacteristic anger and loss of filter. These things are common when an older adult is struggling with changes in their frontal lobe, the part of our brain that acts as an innate censor for all of us. Biden appears angrier than his usual relatable, jovial self on the campaign path. Calling voters (plural, as this has happened more than once), not Trump or fellow candidates, a liar is a red flag for me. It is an impulsive, unfiltered response to stimulus he does not like. And it is a marked shift in personality.

Finally, there is a vacancy in Biden’s affect or expression, which is unmistakable for me. He looks lost more often than he looks in command of things. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is present and at his side much more often than in previous campaigns. Is she acting as cover? Is she a conscious or unconscious guide, helper for her loving husband? This is very possible and very common for older couples when one is starting to require more assistance.

These factors I have identified with Biden are nuanced and easy to explain away. Folks can become defensive when it is suggested and that is understandable. And let me stress that I am responding as someone with experience with an older population, but all of my feedback is anecdotal. That said, I can’t help but think of a current story arc from This is Us where the character of Rebecca has just been diagnosed with MCI, mild cognitive impairment. Her story line has encapsulated much of what I observe with Joe Biden and is consistent with my previous experience.

And lest folks accuse me of being ageist and discriminating solely on age, let me argue the opposite. I have seen no signs of alarm related to age from either Mike Bloomberg or Elizabeth Warren, again, both in their 70s, though Bloomberg does have a history of cardiac stent placement.

The thing about aging is that it happens to all of us, if we are lucky, and no two folks have the same experience or path. There are folks in their 90s running marathons and folks in their 60s living in nursing homes. But it is undeniable that being older puts all of us at greater risk for change, including changes in health status, and sometimes those changes are slow and progressive and sometimes those changes are sudden and acute.

It would be irresponsible not to consider the age and health of these candidates. And now, not after a candidate is chosen for the primary, or elected to office.

_______________________________

* I am trained as a clinical social worker and spent twelve years working in health care settings with older adults. First at a hospital in a program geared towards older adults and then at a retirement community where I was responsible for helping individuals cope with aging and the losses, cognitive and physical, related to aging. For eight years I worked alongside a geriatric psychiatrist who provided training in the neuropsychological assessment of older adults.

Our Moment in the Breeze

I remember it so well, like it was yesterday, like it was this morning. Our front windows overlooked the athletic fields and tall trees of St. Scholastica, a venerable but now no more Catholic girls high school. It was rare to look out on greenery living in the city, so I always felt lucky that this view, this green, was ours.

I was a new mom, a working mom, a part-time working mom, and this moment was on a day that the world was working, but I was at home with my baby, my Donna. You were under a year, but soon to be an infant no more. Like me, you loved to look out the windows where the sun shone and the trees bloomed. They faced east and it was not yet noon, so the light was bright and warm. It made everything better.

I loved those mornings. We had walks and errands. We were newish to home ownership, just a few years in, so things like dish washers and washing machines were still new, still novel, still made me feel fancy and adult, accomplished.

That morning was for puttering. I cleaned and tidied, you played and explored. We ate our breakfast together. I probably made the beds and folded the laundry. That was before those things felt like burdens. Those things were still gifts to be cherished. They made me feel responsible and competent, satisfied and full. Life was lovely, full of love that I gave and received. Lovely.

You still had very little hair, but what you had was blonde and warm and held the promise of curls. Your eyes were bright blue almonds, your lips pink pillows. Your skin was so soft, still new, perfect. You were perfect, my Donna, and brought me such joy. You were the balm I never knew I needed.

I walked into the living room and the windows were open, the air flowing. You were standing on the bench, giving you height to see, that freedom to look at the world outside. Your tiny hands clasped the window sill and your chin was upturned and you were bliss personified. You welcomed that breeze, made it your friend, invited it into your home.

I admired how the sun shone on you, your shoulders bare, your tiny, fine, baby hair catching the light. I watched you bask in that sun and that breeze and that warmth and that light. I watched you and then I joined you, raising the window open higher — more breeze, more trees, more light.

I hovered over you, following your lead, closing my eyes, and taking it all in. I remember, Donna, just how lucky I felt in that moment. My chin resting on your head, the breeze, gentle and warm, blowing all around us. You smelled of baby shampoo and all good things.

The world stopped in that moment, for just an instant, enough for me to imprint it, to really be present, to feel its joy and overwhelming bounty. I was overcome with a sense of luck and gratitude — for you, for the breeze, for the sun, for being able to experience all of that with you.

How lucky we were, my girl. How lucky I am on this cold winter day, to remember. To have shared it with you. To have known that moment. To know it still.