The Kids Are All Right

Tommy and I have just expanded our family: a boy and a girl. They arrived not as bundles from heaven, but in a Jeep and on a bicycle. In truth, they are young adult companions for my husband -- miracles of referrals rather than biology or science -- who I’ve hired to give me respite from ‘round-the-clock caregiving.

I do have flesh-and-blood daughters. But since they live on either coast, they can’t be at our beck-and-call. As for Tommy, he entered this second marriage sans children; hence my designation of this new adopted duo as “our kids.”

Before our boy Stuart came for his first assignment, I prepped my husband. Unlike the cinematic moment: “Darling, I have wonderful news. You’re going to be a father,” my revelation went something like this: “Honey,” I said, “I’ve hired a young man who will take over driving you to the Y one day a week. He’s a CNA, that’s Certified Nursing Assistant, so he can also help out when I have my hip replacement surgery.”

Well, okay, I fudged a bit. Stuart’s medical credentials are important for Tommy’s condition, but I hesitate reminding my husband of his special needs. I can take the fall  -- metaphorically of course because of the hip thing -- as I really do see our boy being helpful when I’m shouting for my crutches.

After Tommy gave the plan two thumbs up, I gave Stuart this checklist: “Before you leave the house, be sure Tommy takes his reading glasses, cellphone, gym bag, and that he’s wearing his dental bridge, baseball cap, and gym shoes.” Stuart -- using an impressive two thumbs entry -- recorded it all on his iPhone, immediately winning me over with the product and the pace.

On the morning of their first drive, I left for the health club at 6 a.m. Stuart would use his own new key to gain entry at 8:30. “Don’t text me unless there’s a problem,” I had told him. But, that didn’t keep me from checking my own iPhone at 8:30, 8:45, 9:00. Nada. I was at peace.

Tommy and Stuart were due back between 11:45 and noon. After a sublime four hours to myself, I returned home to await their arrival. At 11:40 I stationed myself at our picture window and watched as each car turned the corner into our street. At exactly 11:45, a black Jeep entered my view.

“Everything was fine,” Stuart said as Tommy walked into the house with two thumbs raised. “He was all set when I arrived, everything on the checklist completed.” I felt as proud of them as if they had just aced their ACTs.

Our girl Kristen had been engaged to be my husband’s companion one afternoon a week. Her task is to follow him as he rides his bicycle to a park about a mile away, and then circles the grounds four times before heading back home. Ever since Tommy returned from a ride with an unexplained bruise on his leg, I’ve worried about his safety.

For her first shift, Kristen rolled up to our house outfitted in a gingham summer dress over bike shorts. She wore a helmet; and slung across her body, an enormous leather purse, which I later insisted she forgo in favor of one of my archived backpacks.

I had told Tommy about Kristen’s arrival, and again employed the hip excuse. “I won’t be able to drive for at least four weeks,” I said. “Kristen can keep you company on bike rides, or use our car to take you to the putting green, golf store, or wherever you want to go.”

But I needn’t have dissembled because the moment Kristen -- who is an actress -- removed her helmet, shook out her hair, and smiled, my husband rushed to the garage to get his bike. While this duo was on their ride, I once again peeked at my iPhone willing away any text messages. Gratefully, as with her faux sibling, none arrived. And in a little over an hour from the time they left, the two returned.

“It was fine,” she said. “I followed behind him [they use sidewalks] and alerted people as we approached. We stopped for water, then headed home.”

Tommy, his face moist and smiling, gave her two thumbs up as he headed for the couch. Before she left, Kristen went to where Tommy was prone to say goodbye. Instead of shaking his hand, she dotted his damp forehead with a kiss.

Perhaps our kids are heaven-sent after all.

All For One, One For All

It’s a perfect day for golf. The sun is shining and the temperature is in the 70’s. There is no wind. Although I’m not a player, the weather delights me because it means Tommy will be hitting the links with his three friends.

This is Tuesday, the day of the week I cede responsibility for Tommy to the group I call the Three Musketeers. I fancy Barry, Hal, and Marshall as characters from the Dumas novel because the way they care for my husband, their motto must be “all for one, one for all.”

I’ve driven Tommy to the golf course, and paid for his round and the rental of a pull cart. After he rolls his clubs onto the practice green, I take a seat on a concrete bench to await the arrival of at least one of the Musketeers.

While my love for the Musketeers could be considered self-serving because they give me a day off, Tommy enjoys their personalities. Each player adds charm to their game that keeps my husband entertained for hours.

Barry is the first to arrive. He is an artist, retired high school teacher, and devotee of dancing and jazz. “You’re here!” Barry says as he approaches my bench. His golf bag is slung over one shoulder like artillery. Sometimes, he can stop by our house to pick up my husband for their weekly outing. But today, other appointments interfered. “Don’t worry, I’ll bring him home,” he always reminds me. All for one.

“Not a problem, I can drop him off,” I tell Barry. I’m sincere. I enjoy this small respite on the concrete bench. I enjoy seeing each Musketeer arrive from the parking lot. But mostly, I enjoy watching my husband on the putting green. His stroke looks perfect -- careful, slow -- as the ball slips through the grass and drops into the cup.

I never join the foursome on the course itself, so I can’t ogle Tommy’s swing. But, I know he still lives by his mantra, “hit ‘em straight.”

“He’s still the best golfer in the bunch,” Hal, aka Tiger, assures me. Hal is a retired advertising and sales promotion executive, which accounts for his proficiency as the Musketeer’s organizer. He sets up tee times and starts the round of phone calls to alert the players.  Hal’s acted in local theatre -- a talent that surfaces when he narrates his latest joke.

The third Musketeer, Marshall, is a retired attorney. He’s the young-at-heart and the eternal optimist in the group. In Marshall’s eyes, the glass is always half full; sometimes overflowing.

“Beats me every time,” Marshall will tell me when I ask how their game went. Each Musketeer is aware I hang onto positive assessments. And a good game brings my husband home with a smile. When he opens the front door, his hand outstretched to show off his score card, his face is as bright as the morning’s sun.

There was a time when Tommy was obsessed with perfecting his golf game on his own, not only on Tuesdays. We bought the expensive cable package because it included the Golf Channel, he subscribed to two golf magazines, and there was never a question as to what my husband desired for gift-giving celebrations. “Book about golf,” I’d tell my daughters when they queried. I’d purchase the same.

I’d encourage this obsession. “Let’s go on the Internet and we’ll search for DVD’s,” I’d say. Tommy, who shuns computers as if they were unexploded bombs, would pull up a chair next to mine. “That one,” he’d say, as I scrolled the offerings. After the DVD’s arrived, Tommy would overcome his aversion and use my laptop as screen.

There were memorable incidents during that time of my husband’s addiction. Errant balls pinged a dent in the bedroom’s sliding glass doors and in one of our living room windows. His determination to use real golf balls when he practiced at the nearby park, instead of whiffle balls, would send me, a neighbor, and the park director to his spot. We pleaded with him to switch; he turned us all down.

This season, all practice in the house and park evaporated. We still have the Golf Channel, but Tommy only lands on it while flipping the remote. No new DVD’s have been ordered. And when my daughters asked about Father’s Day, my answer was, “Sweatshirt, no logo, medium.”

Gratefully, my husband still relishes his Tuesdays with his Musketeers. That’s when Barry, Hal, and Marshall watch over him, and I take off. All for one, one for all. Cue La Marseillaise.