Riley turned sixteen at the end of August, which is a milestone I am still reeling from. Sixteen. He’s so tall and strong and he has this Steve-from-Stranger-Things head of hair that makes him look even taller and good god, it is just really weird when your little buddies are, like, driving cars and keeping an eye on the stock market.

Things Riley likes, at 16:

• Basketball
• Bike riding (a newer hobby in lieu of track)
• Nonstop audio input via AirPods which his parents annoying refer to as EarHorns
• CS:GO
• Cats and dogs, pet ducks
• Hunting and fishing, target shooting
• Character/weaponry animation for gaming (this is his current career aspiration)
• Cheese pizza only, no other kind of pizza, but also no other food with cheese (?)
• Oyster crackers, Hi-Chew, huli-huli chicken, Dr. Pepper, mint ice cream
MrBallen’s stories
• Being often fairly suspicious of things – who could have called this one??

And in the blink of an eye …

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I finally have a hospice patient again, after many many many months of the volunteer program being on pause. Every patient situation has been different over the time I’ve been involved with the program but this one is particularly tough, a woman greatly diminished by dementia and a recent stroke. She was a doctor, once upon a time. Now she cannot speak or interact, her body frozen and her eyes looking at something I cannot see. I go to a house to sit with her, while her adult son takes a break from caregiving. I have truly been at a loss for what to do during these hours, in her small dim sickbed area of the home. I was told she used to like nature shows so I play those on the always-on TV, occasionally chatting about what’s unfolding on screen. Last time, I read a chapter of The Wind in the Willows. No way to know what might she might find pleasant or at least restful, no way to know what kind of awareness she’s still capable of. Both times, though, her son came back at the end of the visit and said how happy his mom looked. Again, perhaps looking at something I couldn’t see — or experiencing something like relief for an uncomplicated time out. Either way, it was good to hear that he felt like he observed that.

I wish I could say that school volunteering was back on again as well, but that one feels like a long way off. School starts here in September (masks required for all) and their initial communications indicate that bringing in potentially germy parent volunteers is, understandably, a hell no for the foreseeable future.

I sure miss everything about helping out in the middle school library. I mean everything, from the kids to the sensory delight of the books themselves to the satisfying process of checking things in and out. I miss being connected to the school in a way that felt more involved, like it was a place I actually understood in some small way rather than a mysterious destination my kid never tells me about. (“So did anything interesting happen today?” “No.”)

So many things we all lost, and I know the smaller things pale in comparison to the loss of a paying job or a house or a life, but they are real losses all the same — compounded in shiteousness now by the fact that we could have them BACK, if only people would do the right goddamned thing.

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