Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Care-Taking, Part 1

The perennial question “What do you do?” always stumps me.

I’ll be a few minutes into a nice conversation with someone I haven’t met before, when it pops up like an annoying jack-in-the-box. Or I might run into someone I haven’t seen in decades. “What are you up to these days?” they inquire, expecting a nice concise answer.

Hmmmm. How to condense.

Lately I’ve just been saying this:

“I take care of people.”

That is what I “do.”

Growing up, it never once dawned on me that “care-taker” would be my future avocation and appellation. At various phases of childhood and adolescence, I fantasized about becoming a dancer, a movie star, a lawyer, a writer, a politician, a professor. Somebody famous. I imagined myself one day being able to answer the ubiquitous inquiry with a sassy reply like, “I teach Russian Lit at XYZ University. Just published my third book on Tolstoy. What do you do?” (Told you I was a major Walter Mitty.)

Oh, the egocentric selfishness of youth!

Instead, I have a vivid memory of being at a party with old college friends and acquaintances. Some of us hadn’t seen each other since the early-to-mid-70’s. Sounds and smells from that era wafted through the air of the Big Chill-y gathering. The Question was particularly intimidating that night. The answers that were floating around with the smoke ranged from stuff like, “I’m head of NASA’s medical team,” to “I’m head of the Psychology Department at Emory Med,” to “I’m head of research at the CDC’s Department of Blah-Blah,” to “I head up the Litigation team at…” to “I’ve invented a medical device…”

I was the only person at the party without a graduate degree.

But I digress.  I have long-since come to terms with the fact that what I ended up ‘becoming when I grew up’ was a stay-at-home-mom who did some long-term substitute teaching at her daughters’ school.

I loved it. I poured my life and creativity and passion into my family. Personally, I think parenting is the hardest and most important job in the world. I was able to take my teaching to a different level because I didn’t have to do it all the time… just when I wanted to. It was special and joyful. I am most humbly grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity not to have to work, as most moms do these days. I don’t take it for granted.

Still, That Question retains just a tiny bit of residual ability to intimidate.

Hi. My name is Kim.

I’m a care-taker.

It may be by default, but this is my job. My calling. In some ways, my identity now.  I am learning to accept it… even embrace it. To celebrate the gifts intrinsic to the calling.

And I’m desperately trying to improve my job skills.

I was a spoiled little girl. I have been a spoiled woman. I’ve often been self-absorbed and forgetful of the needs of others outside my immediate circle. In many ways, I’m a novice at care-taking.

Some of it comes naturally, of course. Little girls grow up taking care of their dolls and stuffed animals and pets. Mothering was instinctual.

But this is a stretch beyond what comes naturally for me. I'm trying to take care of people from sea to shining sea. Pacific to (almost) Atlantic. I realize there’s been a huge gap in my education. I think Care-taking 101 should be a freshman requirement. Actually, they should start teaching it in preschool.

Because, ultimately, it will be everyone’s calling.

Unless you live on a desert island by yourself. Unless you have no human relationships at all. (Never mind. You might become your pet’s care-taker.) Let’s say “if you have no relationships of any kind with any living creature.”)

If you engage in the act of love, you will most likely need to become a care-taker at some point.

We Boomers are getting a heavy dose of it these days.

We may be trying to take care of our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, and our parents all at the same time. The fact that people are living longer means that we are becoming multi-generational care-takers. We could be changing diapers and Depends on the same day. And we try to take care of our friends when they can’t take care of themselves. (As they do for us when we’re in that position.) Then there are always strangers that need help.

The older you get, the more people there are in your life who desperately need some kind of care. This builds up to a crescendo until you are the last one being cared for.

Man, this is starting to sound depressing. I don’t mean for it to be.

Because care-taking can be a joy and a delight.

It is not always easy or fun or pretty.

But it changes you. Expands you. Enlightens you.

Teaches you to live outside yourself. Beyond yourself.  

It enables you to lose yourself in order to find yourself.

care (etymology)

Middle English, from Old English caru ("sorrow, anxiety, grief"); akin to Old High German kara  (“lament.”) Cognate with Old Saxon cara, kara (“concern, action”), Middle High German kar (“sorrow, lamentation”), Icelandic kör (“sickbed”), Gothic kara, (“concern, care”).
Sense of "charge, oversight, protection" is c.1400.

I like the Old Saxon slant the best: concern that leads to action.

Just as God has acted on our behalf.  “For God so loved the world that he gave… came… rescued… healed…

When we take care of each other, we are joining the Shepherd in tending his flock...

connecting with the Creator in the act of caring for his creation… his creatures.

His critters.

His kids.

And in the joining, we are being transformed into the image of his Son.

… for it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born…


Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” (Matt. 10:29)

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34)


Does anyone else struggle with the role of care-taker?

(To be continued...)


Anonymous said...

While you use the word care "taker," I truly believe that what you are is more a care "giver." You have given so, so much to your family.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear today, as it describes my "job" to the letter! This newly-empty nest has little birds fluttering back occasionally, as well as a post-op beagle (referred to as "critters" in your post), to care for ... and for now, that's my occupation. When folks ask what I'm DOING since everyone has flown the coop, I usually stumble around, mumbling something about trying to figure that out. Thanks for reminding me that being a care-taker/giver is a lifelong endeavor, and that in God's eyes, it is (more than) enough! Jeri

Lesley said...

You asked if anyone else has trouble with the care taker/giver role...I do. I have a toddler and a baby on the way, and am on the brink of becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom. I'm beginning to wonder just what in the world I'm going to do with all that time on my hands, and then I remember, oh yeah, there's the kids! Don't get me wrong, I love my son (and soon to arrive newborn), but I never envisioned myself as a stay at home momma. I also love working. But this is where God is leading our family, so I, too, am learning to embrace this new role and trying to focus on the joys rather than dwell on the challenges. Thanks for sharing! ~Lesley

gena said...

Oh, my gosh. This is exactly our life now. Our parents need to be checked on all the time. This generation under us has dogs that need to be kept when they go on vacation.
We've been through heart, hip, knee surgery with the folks and my mom Alzheimer's and dads death from cancer.
My husband and I both teach during the week. We found vacations away a must to renew and refresh to continue to caregive.
Please continue to write, you have the right words to give us hope and faith.

Callie said...

i LOVED this post, mrs kim! i'm a child & family development major at UGA and we are learning about so many of the topics you mentioned. i have taken courses entitled "marriages & families", "development throughout the lifespan**", & "parent education & child guidance". i cannot get enough of this information. it is so interesting AND it feels like everyone should have to take at least one of these courses. as i want to work in a hospital as a child life specialist when i graduate, "care" is a career that i am going to have to adopt also. i'm excited to read the rest of this post!!!

**where we talked a lot about the "Sandwich generation", aka baby boomers, who are having to care for their young(ish) children and their aging parents.

ashli said...

You do it so well! care giving!

thanks for sharing this all important role. i think the hard part is deciding when/how much to care and how to care and when to take care of yourself.

it's a tricky life long quest i am sure. i'm trying to figure it out myself right now with 4 young ones at home.

i just read an old book called "return from tomorrow" by george ritchie. it actually did put some thoughts and feelings into perspective. now the trick is implementing them daily in my life.

thank you for making me think deeper and love stronger.

Candy said...

You are a modern day Barnabas, among other roles. I'm hoping your time of renewal was very refreshing, as your job never stops.
To the rest of you care-givers: you ARE the Hands and Feet of Jesus. Never let anyone berate you for what you do. I found working as a Pediatric Oncology Nurse at Egleston 32 years ago FAR easier than being a stay at home Mom, though I'd never have traded rearing both daughters for any job.
Just wish I could see you, Kim, in person again. I can't believe it's been over a year!
Love, Candy