Caregiving is Hard

Back at the end of November, when I decided to blog twice a week, I didn’t know what life had in store. During the holiday season, both my mom and brother started having increased health issues. Things have gotten progressively worse since then. While they don’t live with me, I’m the primary caregiver for both of them. Caregiving is hard.

I try to do all I can to help them, but it also takes an emotional toll. It hurts to see them hurting. And there is nothing that I can do about that.

My ability to cope with it all has diminished significantly. I don’t know that my twice a week blogging schedule is sustainable. Not that anyone is forcing me. It was a promise to myself first. But I have to focus on what I can do. I’m reaching out to to others and seeking resources to help with everything.

For now, I’ll shoot for posting once a week on Sundays. I don’t want to blog just to blog and not feel genuine in terms of my writing. I strive to create content that is not only interesting and helpful for me, but for others as well. When I don’t have the energy to write what I want, I don’t want to to just post filler. Which some posts feel like, even if they are kind of fun.

Maybe this is part of my answer in terms of deciding whether to continue blogging. I’m letting time be my guide as I continue this caregiving journey.

Baby Boxes Coming to America?

Recently, I was watching a reaction video where American parents react to a video about baby boxes received by all expecting parents in Scotland. The boxes are amazing!

They include clothing, toys, books, swaddles, thermometers, a mattress, sheets and much more. The box itself can even be used as a bed for the baby if needed.

The baby box idea first started in Finland. It’s shocking that governments in so many other countries support new parents in ways that don’t happen here. Much of it is because we don’t have guaranteed health care in the United States, but that’s another post. More support needs to be given to parents, especially with the increasing assault on reproductive rights in this country. Again, another post.

I was so intrigued by this idea of baby boxes, that I was curious if there might be something like that here. Surprisingly, the answer is yes. The Biden-Harris Administration realizes that families need more support and recognized that other countries have some good ideas on how to do that.

“Today, basic newborn supplies like diapers can cost an average of $1,000 a year for each diapered child in a home In addition, nearly 1 in 8 women – regardless of age, income, or race – will suffer from some form of postpartum anxiety or depression, a number that is on the rise for women in America. Further, mental health conditions now comprise 23% of pregnancy-related deaths – more than any other single category.

In an effort to alleviate some of these stressors on new families, governments in at least 91 other countries and municipalities offer new families a “Baby Box” upon the birth of a child. In addition to offering much-needed physical goods, these baby boxes are designed to offer critical postpartum care information and to promote increased interactions between parents and their healthcare providers.”

In May 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a pilot program in collaboration with Baby2Baby, a nonprofit organization. The program provides Newborn Supply Kits to new mothers.

“The Newborn Supply Kits consist of more than 20 items including diapers and wipes, clothing, hygiene items, blankets and thermometers for newborns, and postpartum pads, lotion, cold packs, breastfeeding supplies, and carriers for new moms. HHS and Baby2Baby will first distribute 3,000 of the Newborn Supply Kits across Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico – three states experiencing deep levels of family poverty – via hospitals and community-based partner organizations. Any mother giving birth during pilot implementation at one of the partner sites will be eligible to receive a kit.”

The intent is for the program to expand with a focus on addressing the maternal health crisis. “We need bold solutions that recognize and respond to the unacceptable disparities in maternal health outcomes in this country,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. “Through this new funding, health centers will be able to tailor their response to the needs of their patients and communities and take action to save lives.”

As we move further into 2024, more information will be available about how the program is doing and plans for expansion. This kind of help for new families is long overdue and I’m looking forward to learning more about it!

Boston History: Mayor Kevin White & My Father

Boston Mayor Kevin White
Left to right: Barbara Christopher (8th grade), Boston Mayor Kevin White, Mrs. Gardner, Dallos Perry (8th grade), Thomas Johnson. (February 4, 1971)

Last week, while looking through photos at my mother’s house, I found this rare gem. A picture from 50 years ago!

Since my father’s passing in 2018, it’s especially nice to find “new to me” old photos of him. And this one is for the history books. He’s with then Boston Mayor Kevin White.

I’m not sure exactly what the occasion was for this photograph, but it must have had something to do with his work as a Boston school teacher. He taught in the Boston Public School system for more than 20 years. Writing found on the back of the picture gives the names and date.

The timing of finding this picture seems especially poignant. Sometimes it feels like overall not much changes in the world. But it does. Step by step.

The week that I found this picture, showing one of Boston’s most influential mayors from last century, Kim Janey made history as the city’s first woman and first Black mayor of Boston. Janey is the 55th mayor and White was the 51st.

And the way it happened was completely unexpected! I remember being so excited when Michelle Wu decided to run for mayor back in September. Then just weeks later, Andrea Campbell put her hat in the mayoral ring. Boston could have a woman of color as mayor!

Then several others decided to run and there’s been speculation about even more. With so many people, it wasn’t as exciting anymore and I was over it. After all, I don’t even live in Boston, so I wouldn’t actually be voting.

But then, out of the blue, President Biden tapped Mayor Walsh for Secretary of Labor. Suddenly, we have a Black woman becoming mayor during Women’s History Month. And the mayoral election had nothing to do with it. Plot twist!

When the time is right, change happens in ways we can never imagine. Like the way the first woman mayor in the United States was elected back in 1887. It was supposed to be a cruel joke — only Susanna Madora Salter won.

My father loved politics and was quite the conversationalist. When a major event happens, I always wonder about conversations we would have had. Which makes me think even more about this picture.

Since the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure my father must have said something to Mayor White. I can only imagine. But on that day back in 1971, Mayor White got the chance to have a conversation with Thomas Johnson. Which is something that I now miss everyday of my life.

Rest In Peace Marshall Johnson

My paternal cousin Marshall Johnson died this past week. It was way too soon. He was way too young. This picture, from much happier days, shows him with his mother at our cousin’s wedding.

He’s with his mom again now and his father. Along with many aunts and uncles, including my father. And some other cousins who died even younger.

When my father died and my mom and I went to the hospital right after, Marshall was there with us. He was there for all of us in my immediate family many times before and many times after. How do I describe such a big presence?

It’s Valentine’s Day, so maybe the best way to talk about him starts there. With love. The day usually focuses on romantic love, but it’s also about love for family and friends. Marshall had a big heart.

He was always one for big celebrations with family and friends. The bigger the celebration the better. He was someone who extended himself to his immediate family, extended family, friends and co-workers. But he wouldn’t stop there. Then he’d also welcome the family, extended family and friends of the first group!

I mean he would go big with invitations and bring everyone into the fold. There would be lots of food, music and an atmosphere of fun and joy. Big gatherings were his thing – backyard barbecues, picnics at a Boston area parks, Super Bowl parties, birthday parties. All kinds of parties. He loved to party!

I have to admit, as an introvert, sometimes the sheer number of people that could be anticipated would be overwhelming to me. I attended many of the gatherings, but not all of them.

Something that I learned and especially appreciated about him over more recent years was that he would truly see and celebrate you as an individual. It didn’t always have to be a big event.

When I got a food writing gig with WGBH, I was so excited! And so was Marshall! He was genuinely happy for me and wanted to celebrate my win by treating me to dinner. I chose Myers + Chang and we had a lovely time.

I thought there would be more time with him. It’s a small circle of people who’ll celebrate your wins and be there at times of extreme loss too. My father was one. Marshall was one. My heart hurts losing both of them so recently. It’s hard to process it all. Writing through it is a start.

Marshall had a lot of extreme health challenges over the last several years. But he beat so many and came back. He was so strong. His most recent health struggles were just too much. I hope he is at peace now. He can finally rest.

I hope he knows how much he will be missed and how much he was loved.

The Reunion Project

The Reunion Project

With only days left of 2020, I’m certainly happy to see it end. But there were some bright spots during the year too. At the end of January, my mother turned 80 years old. We gathered with extended family and had a nice dinner at a favorite restaurant. It was the last family gathering before the pandemic, so I’m especially grateful that we were able to celebrate.

Turning 80 is a big deal for anyone. But it was an even bigger milestone for her, because she is a breast cancer survivor of nearly 35 years. Things could have gone very differently. I’m so glad to still have her.

As January turned to February and March, it was clear that this year would require a great deal of isolation. But luckily, my mother became part of The Reunion Project through her involvement with the Bridgewater Senior Center. The project was created by Lora Brody, who is an Affiliated Scholar at the Women’s Study Research Center at Brandeis University. Since I went to Brandeis for undergrad, it was quite a coincidence when they met and discovered the shared connection!

My mom is a very enthusiastic person and dove into the project full steam ahead. Based on questions given to her, she wrote about her experiences and thoughts about life from when she was very young compared to what she knows now as an elder. She was interviewed by a college student and then had her portrait taken by Lora.

Preparation took months, so by the time she was interviewed and sitting for her portrait, the weather was warm and they were able to meet socially distanced outside.

The exhibit took place outside on Bridgewater Common for the month of November. When I visited, it was so interesting seeing the pictures of all the participants from when they were young and their portraits now. The answers that people gave showed the joys and hardships in life that we all face, but then there were many differences in perspective too.

The Enterprise wrote an extensive article about the exhibit. They photographed and interviewed my mom too! I’m so proud of her!

2020, you weren’t all bad. But I’m looking forward to 2021!