Hi this is Sarah again… So many interesting and wonderful things have happened since I last blogged. Where do I begin? It’s been weeks since I blogged about my career evolution from telecom company marketing manager… to stay-at-home mom… to part-time Caregiver via CGUSA. If you’ve missed my last article, here’s a quick recap to get you up to speed.
I officially turned 46 years old and had a nice, low-key celebration at my favorite organic restaurant with my husband David, and our two teenage boys, Mike and Zach. Besides treating me to a delicious and nutritious special meal (I even splurged and had a piece of flourless cacao cake) all three pitched in to buy me a new, high-end vacuum cleaner, replete with all the crack and crevice nozzle attachments I’ve come to love as the aforementioned “neat freak.” I’ve been putting my incredibly efficient new appliance to good use not only at our suburban Columbus, Ohio home but also at Jim and Josh’s house. They are my new clients for whom I provide caregiving services. We connected through the electronic job board on the CaregiverUSA website www.caregiverusa.com.
Now to the heart of the story. I admit, when I first met Jim and Josh, their situation was dire, and I knew my job wasn’t going to be easy. Jim, age 40, a divorced single dad who works as a wastewater specialist for the county water department, was diagnosed with stage 2 lymphoma about five months ago. He is the father of an adorable five-year-old boy, Josh, and shares joint custody with his ex-wife, Brittany, who lives about an hour’s drive away.
Jim’s doctors are treating his cancer aggressively and have been giving him several courses of chemotherapy over one to three days at a time. Each course of chemo makes Jim very tired and unable to do much of anything, especially cook for and keep up with Josh, who is a typical little “bundle of energy”, to be sure. Naturally, Jim was feeling guilty he can’t take care of Josh as he should during or shortly following the chemo. It didn’t help his frame of mind that for about three months prior to my arrival, Jim was depending on neighbors to feed and watch Josh while he was “out of commission”. Jim realized the neighbors have their own lives, with irregular schedules, and he needed to bring somebody qualified into the house right away. Leaving Josh with the neighbors was a temporary band-aid.
After trading several internal messages on the CGUSA site, Jim and I had our first candid phone conversation about his situation and the pressing need for my services. It was heart-breaking to me, as a parent, to realize that despite his own life-threatening health issues, Jim was most concerned about losing custody of his son. I could tell that Jim “being there” for Josh was essential to both the father and son’s well-being. Jim didn’t want to lose influence over his son’s rearing during this crucial phase of the boy’s life.
Generally, Jim is not a big talker. On this initial phone call, he was pouring out his fears about disrupting Josh’s routine too much, which could aggravate “acting out” episodes over “something’s wrong with Daddy”. Most of all, Jim wanted to stick to his pre-illness custody schedule as much as possible, rather than let Brittany watch Josh while he was sick. Jim “did not want to let on too much” about the seriousness of his condition, in case Brittany would try to “take Josh away from me, and just leave me with some visitation rights”.
While internally I was struggling with my own emotions upon hearing this truly sad scenario, I chose to be understanding but professional, recommending that I come into his home four days a week for six hours each day, with any needed adjustments made to accommodate Jim’s chemo treatments. While I knew Jim was desperate and would probably agree to almost any hourly rate, I stuck with my original quote, displayed on my CGUSA profile, of $25 an hour for cooking, housekeeping, organization, errands and, most importantly, child care. I felt this was reasonable given my experience and skills sets, and it also made it worth my while as I seek to build up my own sons’ college tuition fund.
My first day on the job was daunting. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I felt (and still do feel) it is my purpose and mission to be there and help Jim and Josh through this distressing time. Anyway, Jim answers the doorbell and he is tall about 6 foot, but very pale and frail-looking, with thinning light brown hair and blue eyes. Despite his obvious fatigue, he has a pleasant, accommodating personality. In a surprisingly strong voice, he calls for Josh to come out and meet “your new nanny”. “Josh, come see, Sarah says she’s even more fun than Mary Poppins!” Jim jokes.
“Great,” I think, as this tow-headed little fireball races toward me from around the corner, “Now I have to live up to Mary Poppins standards. What a let-down when he realizes my umbrella doesn’t carry me off to the skies!”
However, fear of not flying was the least of my initial concerns. There were dirty, smelly dishes in the sink. The house seemed as if it hadn’t had a good cleaning in at least six months. Toys were strewn everywhere. After talking a few minutes, I realized their usual dinner consisted of order-in pepperoni and bell pepper pizzas (at least the peppers are vegetables) or fast-food burgers and fries.
Like Mary Poppins, it was time for me to work my own brand of magic to transform Jim and Josh’s living situation. Day after day, I would happily scrub and scour tubs, corners, and cobwebs, and revealed in more opportunities to use my fantastic birthday vacuum cleaner. I did an inventory of Josh’s toys and created a color-coded bin system so he, Jim, and I could retrieve and stash them easily.
Practically speaking, I agreed to make the delivery pizza only an occasional dinner treat. Instead, I took the grocery money Jim gave me and whipped up some tasty, nutritious healthy meals. Like the former junk-food eaters in my own family, Jim and Josh quickly learned to love my famous “zucchini with roasted pistachios” not to mention “baked chicken with sweet potato and green beans casserole.” As Josh says: “Gulp-alicious!”
Clearly, the biggest challenge of all was handling Josh’s roller-coaster emotions. He is such a cute, smart little guy, but it didn’t take much to turn him into a screaming banshee! He threw a fit when he didn’t get his customary “sprinkle cheese” on his sandwich. He cried and carried on when he couldn’t see Daddy sleeping in the bedroom. He grabbed the Comet when my back was turned for just a second and started sprinkling it all over the furniture – now that was a clean-up job I actually didn’t like!
Fortunately, Jim and I discussed in advance how he wanted Josh disciplined. Besides, Josh’s personality reminded me of Zach when he was that age, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve. I even told Josh funny stories about my boys when they were little – finding a frog in the inflatable swimming pool; Mikey’s big hit in T-ball, etc. without giving Josh too many ideas!
Today, I just returned from Jim and Josh’s house. I’m thrilled to report Jim is responding very well to the chemo. Without the added worry of cooking and caring for Josh, Jim has been able to rest more comfortably and focus positive energy on his recovery. Josh’s tantrums have started to subside now that a sense of order has been restored.
I’m so touched Jim introduces me as a “godsend” to his family. Besides the housekeeping, cooking and childcare services I provide, Jim credits my “optimism and positive attitude” with making the biggest difference in their lives. He says he is grateful to me for getting them through this “sludgy situation”, and plans to recommend CaregiverUSA to his friends and his HR department once he is able to return to work. I’m hoping that will be in the next couple months. I’ve developed a real affection for Jim and Josh, and plan to visit or help out once in a while, even after they resume their regular routines and I move on to care for another client family.
By now, you know I’m not “just about the money”, although I am happy our college fund is growing week after week. This experience with Jim and Josh has helped me find renewed purpose and a heightened sense of contentment. I would never have imagined that I’ll be sharing my care story about a single father with cancer and his little boy, let alone be blessed with the opportunity to help them through a tough time.
With everything I’ve done in my life thus far, I’ve discovered that caregiving is what I do best. When I nurture other people, I am nurturing my higher self to be the best person I can be. I’ve found my true calling.