Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

I am Peanut Butter, hear me Roar!

  

 As I stood at my kitchen counter today, making my youngest daughter her typical lunch, peanut butter on white bread…no crust, I recalled how many times I have made that very same sandwich, not only for my daughters, but also for my mother.  It’s a simple sandwich really; very plain, nothing extra, easy to make, and in that moment of consideration, I found myself relating to the peanut butter.  Am I crazy?  Has my life really been reduced to empathizing with peanut butter?

 My name is Kirsten VanAtta, and I am what “they” call the sandwich generation.  I am just one of a generation of adults caring for an elderly or ailing parent, while simultaneously raising young children.

 Eight years ago, my mother was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder, with an inevitable death sentence within 2-5 years.  At 56 years of age she was retired, living alone, her children grown with children of their own, and facing the inevitability of her own death.  She had already begun to lose her sight, her memory, and her ability to perform simple daily tasks.  Three years later, my mother was very much alive, but had lost so many abilities, that caring for her self had become a safety issue, which begged the question, what next?  With both my sister and I opposed to a nursing home, my partner set to work designing and building an addition to our home, to move my mother in and attend to her growing need for care.  Eighteen months later, she moved in.

 In a society where our elderly are a disposable commodity I took the road less traveled; the higher road.  I did the “right” thing, didn’t I? 

 I was a life partner, home-maker, stay at home mother to two girls, aged 2 and 5 at the time, operating a small business from home, volunteering at school, running, playing, living…My life was full.  What I soon discovered was that I really didn’t know what full was.  All these roles, by which I had lived and defined myself, were suddenly and abruptly replaced by the all encompassing role of caretaker.  Now, I was tired, over-wrought, over-taxed, impatient, angry, empty, and stretched beyond healthy limits.  It is in this way that I spent the next three years.

 It has been seven months since my mother transitioned into “the dreaded” nursing home.  She is content, taken care of and safe.  Even now, I still struggle to balance the weighted scales of the roles that I have chosen to play, but I see my place through a new, and more forgiving viewfinder.

 As I look back on my experience, I know I didn’t do it perfectly, but I have come to understand that I did it to the best of my ability, and with all the fallibility of being human.  Even with all the loss and sacrifice, I have gained and benefited as well.  I may have lost spontaneity, romance, easy-going days, and time for myself, but I gained immeasurable time with my mom that I would not have probably taken otherwise.  I may have lost my sense of self, but I really found myself too, in many ways I didn’t know existed.  I may have felt alone and lonely at times, but I have gained love and devotion from my friends, and family, that I didn’t realize I already had.

 I have tried, failed, fallen, cursed, wished, hoped, dreamed, fought, cried, laughed, given up, and made it through.  I have come to accept myself as the thick, sticky, nourishing gob of peanut  butter that holds the bread of my life together.  After all, a peanut butter sandwich, without the peanut butter, is just…bread.

About mattison12

I am a 42 yo. mother, of two beautiful girls, and currently living in Elmira, NY, with my partner of 11 yrs. I have been a self employed photographer for the past 4-5 years, working primarily in portraiture and weddings, while trying to transition into some fine art venues. I work out of my home based studio, while being a stay at home mother for my family.

8 comments on “I am Peanut Butter, hear me Roar!

  1. Connie Sullivan-Blum
    August 18, 2009

    Kirsten – I am so glad that you have brought up this issue. I think it is tremendously important. I wonder if it has impacted on your photography?

  2. Suzanne Maschmeyer
    August 18, 2009

    Thank you for sharing so much of the experiences and feelings that are so often hidden. So many people are being that peanut butter and suffering in silence and isolation. So many difficult decisions, so little support. I’m sure you have not felt supported by everyone around you but you and your family have generously taken the risk of allowing many of us to be “junior partners (??)” in your family. It’s a great privilege.

  3. Wendy Hovey
    August 19, 2009

    Kirsten, I have loved sharing your view of life through your photography, but where have you kept this writer-woman hiding? Here is the odd thing about life these days: in the “privacy” of your home many of us came to help, sensed your journey but didn’t know how to talk to you about it, or didn’t have the courage—and we felt and feel so many of the same things as those you are writing about. Though it’s my experience that there is nothing more intense, loving and guilt-laden than the daughter role. Now here, so publicly, you have said what is in your heart. You have given us, through the art of words, another gift. Thank you for opening this conversation. Thank you for the woman you are.

  4. vani akula
    August 27, 2009

    Kirsten,
    How beautifully you have put your feelings into words. I have known you as a potter, photographer, gracious friend and superb mother. Now I realize what a wonderful daughter and writer you are! It was great to read this entry.

  5. mattison12
    August 30, 2009

    Hi Connie! Thank you for your response. Yes, it most definately has affected my work. My Spotlight show was actually born from my experiences caretaking my mother.

  6. mattison12
    August 30, 2009

    Suzanne – I have also found it to be a great privelage in having you, and the other members of my mother’s Share the Care group, be ever present in her care. I count you and many other amongst our new extended family. Thank you!

  7. mattison12
    August 30, 2009

    Wow Wendy! Your words have really touched me. I am so grateful for your comments and your presence in my mother’s life. Never be afraid to ask. I think we are all in this together, and can really benefit from having each other to lean on. I know I have. Thank you!

  8. mattison12
    August 30, 2009

    Thank you, Vani, for your kind words and support. I appreciate your comments and your presence.

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