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Cranberry Highway and Deep Conversations

Cranberry Bog in Warrens

Cheese and Packers are what comes to mind when mentioning Wisconsin.  After all, a cheesehead wearing Packer is a common sight, especially at Lambeau Field. However, did you know that Wisconsin is the leader in cranberry production?  In fact, cranberries are the state fruit.  Cranberries have been harvested in Wisconsin since 1860.  There is even a scenic drive in Wisconsin called Cranberry Highway.

In late October, my mom and I hopped in “George Blue Thunder” and headed to Wisconsin Rapids.  I had read about Cranberry Highway on several travel sites.  However, there was not a clear map of the Cranberry Highway route.  Neither my mom or I have a good sense of direction or fine-tuned map reading skills, so we knew we were in for an adventure.

Rooster found along Cranberry Highway

We had planned on leaving around 12:30, but got off to a very late start.  I messed up…big time.  We were waiting for Eddie to get off of work and join us.  He sent me a text letting me know he could not make it.  However, I failed to relay that information to my mom.  Let me just say, she was not a happy camper considering I had received the text 2 hours prior to us leaving.

My mom and I are alike in many ways.  We are not the best communicators, we tend to hold things in and then let it all out in one glorious rush of irritation.  Well, I guess my mom had been holding things in for a long time!  On the way to Cranberry Highway, I was a captive audience for my mom’s rush of irritation!  Not exactly the peaceful, relaxing trip I had envisioned.

As we were driving, it became apparent that my mom’s meltdown had little to do with the 2 hours of her time that I unintentionally wasted.  Caregiver burnout is a real thing and I know my mom has been walking that tightrope for a long time.

One of the benefits of hashing things out in a vehicle is basically, you have to hash it out.  There is no where to go!  The two “miscommunicators” could not walk away from a very necessary conversation.

We did not want to spend the entire trip down Cranberry Highway working things out, so we pulled over in downtown Wisconsin Rapids to finish our conversation before hitting the official highway.

Being a caregiver is hard.  Having a disability is hard.  Having to rely on a parent as an adult is even harder.  The relationship I have with my mom is the most important one I have in my life.  However, it is also the most complicated with many blurred boundaries.  In addition to being my mom, she is also my primary caregiver and my assistant with this blog.

My mom has always done her best to not make me feel like a burden.  I truly believe that she does not view me as a burden.  However, I do feel like one at times.  I see that my mom is tired and stressed.  I also know she is in pain at times from the physical part of taking care of me.

Last year when my van broke down and I was left stranded, I became very sick.  As a result, my mom got very sick as well.  She still came to take care of me everyday.  I have felt like a burden when she has had to cancel plans to take care of me.  Basically, my mom is on call 24/7.

I have embraced my disability and try to be optimistic.  My focus is on the “cans” rather than the “can’ts”.  Joking about my dysfunctional body is my way of coping.  These positive and effective coping mechanisms have worked for me.  However, I have ignored and downplayed the aspects of my disability that are not so funny.

I consider my mom to be one of my friends.  We talk about almost everything, we laugh, we cry and we argue.  However, we have failed to discuss or even acknowledge the elephant in the room.  I turned to my mom in the car that day and said “I don’t want to be a burden”

My mom assured me that I wasn’t.  If the conversation ended there, a true resolution would never be reached.  It was time for gut wrenching, tear inducing reality.  After many hard words and even more tears, my mom finally turned to me and said “You are not and never have been a burden, but sometimes your CP is”  I know those were some of the hardest words my mom has ever had to speak.

Those words opened up other conversations that I have always wanted to discuss with my mom.  Guilt has weighed heavy on me recently and I had not been able to discuss it until that moment.  My mom is divorced and has a lot on her plate.  As her oldest son, I should be the one helping her.  My CP not only prevents me from doing that, it adds more on to her already full plate.

Growing up, I never gave much thought to having CP.  As I have grown into adulthood, I have discovered it is not that simple.  CP is a part of who I am, it is a part I love and hate at the same time.  Having CP has taught me many lessons of compassion, kindness and patience.  However, CP can be a prison for not only me, but also for others around me.

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Time got away from us, so we continued on our initial journey, Cranberry Highway.  We did not make the entire trip that day, but we did check out a few bogs.  It is a beautiful scenic drive.  There were so many little spots we noted for next year.

As the miles of fields passed us by, we continued to talk.  I learned a lot about my mom that day.  My mom is more than just my mom and caregiver.  She is a real person with real problems.  I failed to see the magnitude of the effects of caregiver burnout.  My promise to her on that open road was that I would try hard to be a better son, to do what I can to make her life a little easier…like relaying text messages that are important!

I can’t speak for my mom. but I think she finally sees me as a man and not her little boy.  It is hard to make that transition when a mom is still the caregiver.  We still have work to do to figure out all these complicated roles we have to play.  However, I found comforted in her words, “No matter how hard this life has been, I would do it 1000 times over if it meant you were my son”  I knew at that moment that I am not a burden to my mom. I have always intertwined my CP into part of my identity.  However, in this moment, I am separated from my disability.

We arrived home and discovered no photos were taken along the way!  I then decided to put my promise into action.  I gave my mom a day off and sent her back to Cranberry Highway.  However, this time alone with her camera.

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The drive from Wausau and back was a total of 5 hours.  My mom did not stop along the way, but did stop at the Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, WI.  She found other places for us to explore in the years to come.  Cranberry Highway will be a seasonal trip.  Every year we will make an entire day of it, stopping to see different sights from the year before.

Ironically, I am not a fan of cranberries.  I find them to be way too tart.  However, when I reflect on the entire trip I found parallels.  Cranberries are tart, but there is so much beauty in the bogs.  It is natures way of balancing things out.  My CP has a tartness, as did our raw conversation.  However, the personal growth and strength that came from both was pure beauty.  Our destination was Cranberry Highway, but our journey was so much more.

Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’


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