Caregivers Unite!

Dad, have a seat. This one isn’t about you.

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Since I was a kid I have loved superheroes.

I’ve seen all the movies. Dabbled in all the TV shows. I have heated discussions with my children about the best superhero to take into war. My youngest daughter would take the Flash.

I may have messed up with that kid along the way.

Superhero stories are a fun escape. We root for the good guy. We want the hero to overcome. Art imitates life. We need the hero to overcome.

The problem? Superheroes are cookie cutter. (A comic book purist’s head just exploded.)

An individual has a negative life event. Said event shapes them, alters them in some way. They use their power and/or resources to rectify event. In this process, they grow and realize what they were able to do for themselves, they can do for the less fortunate. They fashion a suit.

Boom. I just wrote a superhero plot.

Though the heroes are great, it’s not the cape wearers that have kept me coming back for more. It’s the villains I’m captivated by.

Oh. My. Stars! Do I love a good villain.

After all, what is a superhero without a villain? Just some random person with too much time and spandex on their hands.

My fascination with villains didn’t start with the increased popularity of the Marvel franchise and the DC Universe. It goes way back.

J. R. Ewing.

Mrs. Olsen and Nelly Olsen. (Having two in the same show… magic!)

Sylar from the underrated show Heroes.

Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent.

Jack Randal from the series Outlander. Tobias Menzies, who played this disgusting villain, also played one of the good guys in a different century. Two characters in the same show! SMH… I can’t even.

Darth Vader. Guys! Give the man a break! He’s been through some stuff.

I could go on and on, but I’ll move on to ultimate villain. The man that set the impossible bar for all villains.

Alan Rickman.

You may be familiar with his ability to portray evil from movies like Robin Hood and Die Hard. Later in his career, he took his ability to be a good villain and launched it into the realm of being the greatest villain of all time when his acting ability collided with great writing.

Alan Rickman’s portrayal of J. K. Rowling’s character Snape, in the Harry Potter series, embodies everything that captivates me about villains.

For those of you that aren’t Potterheads, I’ll give a quick run down. I’d normally leave out spoilers, but if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies yet, you’re probably not going to.

Snape is introduced early in the series. A textbook villain. Wears all black, greasy hair, a constant look of contempt. Almost all the heroes in the story KNOW he’s a bad guy. Even more fascinating, all the actual villains believe him to be a bad guy.  There is only one character that trusts him, Dumbledore.

Though it is not immediately revealed to us why Dumbledore trusts Snape, the simple fact he does, plants a mustard seed of doubt as to who Snape really is.

Most Villain stories advance one of two ways. The villain is defeated or the villain travels down the road of redemption. This isn’t the case with Snape. As the story progresses, Snape proves over and over again what a dirt ball he is. Later in the series, he kills Dumbledore! The one guy that trusted him, Snape offs, leaving readers reeling.

All hope is lost. Mustard seed crushed.

But wait. It’s not over.

As the series ends, it’s revealed that Snape wasn’t a villain at all. That everything he did, including the collaborative execution of the day Dumbledore chose to die, was to one end. The ruthless protection of the love Snape carried for a woman he lost. In fact, it could be argued that Harry, the namesake of the series, wasn’t the hero at all. Snape was.

Suddenly, the label of villain morphs into something much richer.

Ruthless hero.

Most of you are familiar with the word ruthless. It is owned by the villain side. Even Webster’s dictionary gives it a bad name.

I challenge you to throw out the world’s definition and consider another angle, an angle that has become a way of life for me.

Let me explain the why and how.

First the why…

As caregivers we pour out. Constantly. Sometimes the person we are caring for takes a teaspoon, sometimes, the whole pitcher. This depletion can be exhausting.

In fact, let’s pause there and bellow the next sentence out loud…. THIS IS EXHAUSTING!!

Feel better? I hope so, now onto the next bit of bad news.

There is no cure.

Caregiving is exhausting. If you’re a mom, your kids will exhaust you. A mom of a special needs kid… double the exhaustion. If you’re a daughter, your parent’s failing health and subsequent health crisis will exhaust you. If you’re a nurse, give your soul to Jesus, because we are talking the seventh-circle-of-hell-level of exhaustion.

The first step is admitting it, but we can’t stop there. We must accept we can’t always change it.

Are you there yet? No worries if not. You’ll catch up.

Now we have to manage it.

Some manage the stress in their life while wearing a cape. Maybe you achieve this by meticulous organization. Maybe you have a housekeeper. I honestly don’t know how the superheroes operate, because I’m not one of them.

I’m a villain (aka ruthless hero).

How do I do this? I’ll give you an example.

I ruthlessly protect Sunday mornings. It doesn’t matter if I’m offered triple time at work. It doesn’t matter if I have a houseguest. My family and I go to church. Though the entire experience is important to me, I ruthlessly protect it for the first 30 minutes.

In that small block of time, I have the pleasure of participating in what is referred to as praise and worship. For 30 whole minutes, it’s not about what I can or cannot do. It’s about what God has done and will do. It’s not about what I need or want. It’s about what God has already given me. For 30 minutes it’s not about me and it is the most therapeutic 30 minutes of my week.

Why? Quite frankly, I get so tired of me!

I could give you more examples of other areas of my life that I am ruthless in, but the point of this is not to make you my kind of ruthless. The last thing I want is a bunch of cookie cutter villains. Boring!

Now let’s address you and the three groups that as a reader you may be falling into.

Group 1

Some of you are intrigued. You’re saying to yourself, “Self, you can totally be ruthless.” Ok, but there is one rule.

You must be selective.

Maybe you decide that taking a walk alone every day is something that you need to ruthlessly protect. Good. Do that, but as your seasons in life change you must change with it. Months from now, sitting and reading for an hour may become invaluable to you.

You can’t always protect both.

Understanding this is what makes the difference between a ruthless hero and a petulant pain in the ass.

Group 2

You’re getting nervous. Hives are forming. “I could never act that way.”

Don’t confuse being a ruthless hero with being mean. I promise, I’ve never kicked anyone in the shin. The people that love me the most, love me for my ruthlessness, not in spite of it.

When I say to a friend, “I am not attending that event with you because it sounds horrible. Absolutely, utterly, horrible. I’d have to do my hair, wear a bra… no. It won’t happen, BUT I love you and want to see you. I want to catch up with what’s going on with you. How can we pull that off and fit both of our energy levels?” They know I mean it.

When people realize your willing to use the word “won’t” over the word “can’t”, they trust the other things you say.

It also frees your loved ones. No one in my life is asking, “Are you sure? Are you O.K.?” They know the answer. I’m sure and I’m O.K.

And finally…

Group 3

You are appalled! “I’m not giving up this cape! It defines me. Not only am I empowered by it, but it matches my skin tone flawlessly!”

Good for you. Wear that bad boy like it’s your job! Guess what?

You just ruthlessly protected something you need. Though you may not be ready to take the cape off, put this information in your pocket just in case your skin tone changes.

My fellow caregivers, this isn’t about learning to say “no”. Toddlers know how to say no. Let’s create a lifestyle that we protect the things we need, in order to fill up with the love that we pour out over those that deserve it the most.

One more thing before I unleash you all to spread ruthless heroism.

I want to talk to one person.

The individual who is young in age or new to this walk as a caregiver. The woman that is too tired to change her shirt, let alone her mentality. Maybe I’m addressing the mom that is terrified of being judged.

Are the sons and daughters worried that they will make the wrong decision still listening?

How about those of you that have been trained your whole life to believe speaking up equals confrontation, you guys with me?

There is one villain I left out of my star-studded list.

A man believed to be capable of such evil he was hunted before birth. A villain so despised, he had the ability to bring opposing masses together in their shared hatred of him. A man accused of being so diabolical, he died a villain’s death.

His name was Jesus.

Suddenly, the label of villain morphs into something much richer.