Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Being a Caretaker

   I grew up as the oldest daughter in a large family.  I think it is for those two reasons - oldest daughter and being in a large family - that I have always been cozy with the role of caretaker.  As the oldest daughter, I learned early about taking care of younger siblings.  I also learned early on that sometimes we are called to be a caretaker for parents or older siblings.   When my son came on the scene, I was not at all intimidated by the care and feeding a newborn.  Seriously, it felt very familiar to me since having little siblings and being a community babysitter had given me plenty of experience.  I also remember that, as a high schooler, I could see my mother's exhaustion. I could also see the stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen which would be sitting there when she came down to the kitchen to make my dad's breakfast at 5:00 am.  It was not uncommon for me to clean up the kitchen and wash the kitchen floor before going to bed myself.  I wanted to make her morning.  I wanted her to start her day with a happy moment.  Again, as a high schooler, I would - really! - spend Saturday nights baking  a chocolate cake for my older brother, who would arrive home at 10:00 pm after putting in a twelve hour plus day working at the local grocery store.  I was so jazzed to do that, to bake the cake and then to wait up and watch Mannix with him for an hour.  He generally seemed happy to have the cake, the tv program, and the attentive little sister.
     I went on to become an elementary classroom teacher, a mother, and a middle school guidance counselor.  Recently , I found myself reflecting on this role and its value to the individual and to society.  What I realized is that being the caretaker is good for YOU, not just the person of whom you are taking care.  When my mother had a pacemaker implanted a few years ago, she stayed with me for about three weeks.  I took her to the hospital the day of the procedure and then remained in her room with her as long as possible that evening.  The next day I brought her back to my house, and made sure she was a comfortable as could be.  Over the next few days,  I did all those little things to both help her recover and help her be comfortable.  It was surprising how good that felt to ME.  I felt needed, appreciated, stoked that I could make her feel better.  In a way, caretaking is selfish.  Yes, the caretaker does help another person but he or she also is given a gift of sorts.  The caretaker can know they are doing the "right" thing, the thing that makes a difference to other people.  Certainly, this can bring an internal smile to most good people and that internal warmth has got to go somewhere.  How about out into the community?  How about that ripple effect?  How about the caretaker's self satisfaction turns into goodness in the world?  How would THAT be for our society?

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