Category Archives: community

Hallmark Milestones (make me cry)

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Hallmark Milestones (make me cry)

It’s fine, I’m fine, everything is FINE….my Gawd why do I get so emotional at these predictable Hallmark milestones? My kid just finished 8th grade and naturally there was a ceremony, we have one for everything now, first period parties, hard pass. I approach these events with the cynicism of a crone, meh, it’s 8th grade not med school, calm the hell down and yet…

As I scan the faces on the stage I feel a strange mix of emotions. I’ve known a dozen of these kids since preschool, most since Kindergarten, half the grade has been at my house at some point. It’s not a huge grade maybe 115 kids and as I watch them, I’m reminded of the ever growing gap in the parental/child relationship. I’m keenly aware that while I once knew everything about my kid, I’m no longer the primary confidant. One of my friends summed it up – once we shared them with the world, now they share a piece of their world with us.

Throughout the day I hear the refrain of Sunrise, Sunset go through my brain and my emotions play out like a predictable plot, so pedestrian in their ebb and flow. Somehow I’m OK with that because this is the shared camaraderie of parents. I can catch a side glance toward another mom and within seconds I know she’s on the verge of losing it as I quietly pass her a tissue. There’s comfort in that, knowing your peers are experiencing a similar cocktail of bittersweet emotions.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When, did, they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they, were, small?

Sunrise, Sunset – Jim Nabors

I’m sure the middle school promotion ceremony plays out in a similar format throughout America. The same six kids get recognized every year – leadership, citizenship, athleticism and all around Stepford child awards. My kids never get them. My son was one B away from straight A’s in middle school.

The single B was from 7th grade gym class where they had to choreograph a dance. Three dudes where set to shake it to Shaggy’s  Bombastic but some Lynne Cheney type bish decided that was too risque so they had to switch songs at the last minute. So basically censorship prevented my kid from making straight A’s in middle school. That same year they were forced to do square dancing and since there were more guys than gals, his partner was a known douche bag who likes to pick fights. I don’t think I’ve hated anything more in my kids school careers than 7th grade PE.

Bombastic

My girl had one C in middle school and it happened last semester in Algebra. I can barely spell Algebra let alone do the equations, I won’t hold it against her. My kids are good. They usually make the Honor Roll, don’t get in trouble and they are respectful around adults (well, the girl gets testy around me, she is fine with other adults). So in sum, my kids are slightly above average academically and there isn’t an award for that.

They stopped doing sports when they realized that concussions are a strong possibility and my son got sick of @ssholes on the soccer field. My daughter flirts with instruments – flute, piano, and now guitar, she has some musical abilities she just hasn’t stuck to one thing long enough to excel. Should I force her to play the piano an hour a day? Seems stupid to me and I’m done paying for lessons that aren’t enjoyed.

And those six kids that get the awards, they work their asses off and so do their moms. These kids have been groomed in utero and on through to this day to stay on track – musical instruments, student council, tutors, travel sports – resources and talent have been carefully mixed to keep their kids in the front of the pack. I admire their tenacity yet I opted out. I picked calmer weekends and weeknight dinners around the table, I was hoping for some sanity.

If my kids decided they wanted to do something specific, I followed their lead. We had one year of travel soccer (crazy and expensive) and a brief foray into lacrosse, neither stuck and I wasn’t too sad about it. So now my kids don’t do sports and I think the Grown & Flown types would have me feel bad about it but I just can’t muster up the guilt (yawn). BTW, the Grown & Flown Facebook Group has some seriously mean people in it. The posters routinely include “please don’t be mean” in their posts because there are some ragers in there.

As I’ve been a witness and a participant in this raising of humans, I am constantly aware of the privilege around us. I did not grow up like this. I was raised by a single mother and I had a dead beat dad, we were broke. My brother and I had to fend for ourselves. There were no tutors, no activities that required rides from mom or added any extra expense, it wasn’t an option. We were latch key kids who understood that there wasn’t money for extras, we barely got by.  I used to clean my neighbors apartment so I could earn money to go roller skating.

My kids don’t know that struggle. They have two parents that would set themselves on fire to give them what they need and we have financial resources that neither my husband nor I had growing up. He came from a working class family, his parents were immigrants, they worked their asses off to get their kids a better life.

When the college admissions scandal blew up this spring, I wasn’t surprised. I can see this happening where we live, these people are so primed for it. All the money, time and sweat equity they have poured into their offspring, they aren’t settling for anything less than Penn State. The ones that want Ivy Leagues pay for college coaches, they’ve all spent at least a year’s tuition on the prep before they receive their admissions letters.

Back to the ceremony…there was the obligatory photo montage featuring a small collection of photos for each student. A guarantee for tears is what it is…pictures of babies morphing into high school kids on a continuous loop until the ceremony begins. My brain went through a total recall of my daughter’s childhood. It extended into the known parts of her friends, past and present.

There were times when I felt like I knew too much…that girl is on anxiety meds, that one is struggling with her sexual orientation, another was once a close friend until she wasn’t, that kid’s dad has cancer, his parents are separated, divorce, divorce, affair, those 4 kids each lost a parent (one dad died 7 weeks ago, heart attack), the boy who has been in a wheelchair since he was two, the blind kid who has the same birthday as my daughter…..my heart broke a million times yesterday knowing some of their struggles. And while, I am still somewhat involved in the district, I don’t know everything. Each one of those kids is struggling with something, regardless of the awards, perfect hair or blatant talent, privilege can’t take away every obstacle in life.

Last night there was a party at the school for the kids. It had a theme because of course it did. I can barely remember a time when parties didn’t have a theme, barbaric. The theme last night was Aloha High School. Some moms came up with theme related activities. Decorations included grass skirts around the basketball hoops. These parents are EXTRA, they go all out. There were at least 8 different activity stations all with Hawaiian flair – hot potato, scooter hockey, volley ball, an inflatable obstacle course, limbo, hula hoops, and my personal station Flip Flop Flippin.

Flip Flop Flippin or FFF as it is known on the street, features two elevated hula hoops and flip flops. The goal is to flip a flip flop off your foot through one of the hoops. Yeah, sounds easy, in reality, not so much. It’s easier to do with a heavier shoe, I know this now, I know it deep in my sole (typo intentional, calm down grammar nerds). I had maybe five customers in 2 hours.

Midway through the party,  I went over to assist at the inflatable obstacle course. Actually, I wandered over to chat with a mom friend, she soon put me to work. Before I knew it was the inflatable course warden yelling at boys to stop grabbing each other’s ankles as they attempted to climb the slide. I yelled to the point where my throat hurt and some dudes got black listed from the course. I have without a doubt destroyed my daughter’s chances of dating any of those guys, mission accomplished.

Despite the carefully planned curated activities it turned into a zoo in no time. Noodles for the scooter hockey were immediately weaponized as 14 year old boys unleashed their inner Zorro. The boy in the wheelchair had at least 4 kids on the square scooters trailing behind him in a whip chain for at least 40 minutes (I was happy about that, he had a blast and his mom is a G-damn hero).

In the end, the gym looked like a Hawaiian party war zone. The “no food in the gym” rule was breached, a Moku dessert bowl bleeding pomegranate on the wooden floor. Remnants of leis were scattered like ashes from Mauna Loa. No doubt, the remains of a good time as they leave this part of childhood behind. I’m not crying, you are.

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Miracle…..Whaaaat?

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Miracle…..Whaaaat?

Some days I take my work home with me, not unusual most people do this on some level. I had an outing with Rob and Laura yesterday. We did our usual running around with a few add on stops to Miracle Ear and the Butcher. Only old people and Italians go to the butcher on a regular basis. As is the case wherever we go, my clients are greeted by name and with genuine smiles.

Miracle Ear was different because the appointment was for Laura. This is only the second time I’ve taken her to any type of medical appointment. Rob has an entire team of specialists that have him on their rotation – MD, Cardiologist, Podiatrist, Urologist and blood draws on the regular. I’ve taken him to the hospital for a chest x-ray and last minute doctor visits at least half a dozen times in as many months. Rob is 95, Laura is 92 so there isn’t a huge age difference. From my observation Laura is just a bit more stubborn and perhaps more resilient. I suspect if her arm fell off she’d scoop it up and be prepared to slug me with it if I suggested getting it checked out. She’s definitely the tougher of the two.

I almost felt bad for the technician at Miracle Ear, he was trying so hard to be endearing, telling us about his family weekend. After about 10 minutes and far too many details about his cousin’s two year old’s birthday party at Knoebels (details included the parking lot layout and traffic patterns) he got around to asking Laura how her hearing was doing.

Tech: Well Laura, how is your hearing?

Laura: Whaaaaat?

Tech: Your hearing can you hear me?

Laura (aggravated): Yes, and now it’s my turn. I’m returning this (tosses a hearing aid on the desk), I don’t want it!

Tech: This is a hearing aid for your left ear. Model IDK2017

Laura: Yes, I don’t want it. It gave me an infection. You keep it!

Tech (sensing the hostility, made a wise choice): Alright then.

The rest of the errands went on without much drama until we got back to their house. Halfway up the walkway to the front door, Rob’s legs quit working. He was reduced to incremental strides which could be measured in centimeters instead of inches. Rob is over six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds. I’m 5′ 4″ and weigh significantly less (that’s as close to my weight as you’ll get from me), it took a Herculean effort to get him over the threshold. Once we got into the house, Laura appeared with a walker to replace his cane. That helped and we were able to get him into his favorite chair.

Once Rob was seated, I got him some water and fetched him lunch. I stayed an additional forty minutes to observe him, it was quite a scare. As soon as I left I texted his children to let them know what happened and suggested that someone check on him later that night. I also called a few hours later to check in and he bragged to me about making it to the bathroom without his cane (I may have gasped).

And this is the hardest part of my job….I become attached to these people and I know our time is limited. I realize we all have limited time, it just seems more pronounced when you are dealing with people in their 90’s. I worry about them. I worry what will happen if one dies before the other which is, statistically likely to happen. I ponder which one would be better able to live without the other. They will be married 69 years in August. I wonder how much time we will have together before it all changes, their vulnerability is palpable.

 

Next Stop, High School

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Next Stop, High School

Things have been busy around here. The Holderness Family made a video called MAYcember which is a beautiful tribute to the insanity that is the end of the school year.

Holderness MAYcember

My daughter is about to finish 8th grade which apparently is a big deal now. When I transitioned from 8th into 9th grade in the ’80s, not so much. There’s a promotion ceremony which requires a new outfit and shoes ($$$$). There’s also a party for which parents are expected to donate time, money and a pint of blood (specifically, unicorn blood).

Of course a Sign Up Genius went out via email and I was ready. I beat out at least 17 other parents to be the virtual first which means I get to be Napkin Mom. This is the most coveted of all of the sign up options, followed by Paper Plate Dad with Aunt Disposable Utensils coming in third.

Yesterday Facebook made me all gooey by showing a photo of my daughter from five years ago. It was her third grade field day and let me just say, we do field day big here. Until middle school then it falls off a cliff because middle school should suck every damn day. When I was a kid we had tug-of-war and races, that’s it. If you were lucky you got one of those frozen POP-ICE sugar water things that bled purple dye on your legs, done.

Field Day here has a theme and kids are encouraged to build something to go with the theme. They order special t-shirts each year which kids (and adults) customize. One year it was flying machines…most kids went with airplanes and helicopters, my girl made a flying saucer and it was the sh*t!  The memory photo that came up yesterday featured the seafaring vessels. That year both my kids participated. My son made a viking boat and my daughter brought out the big guns and made a submarine.

Obviously these projects require some supervision. Unlike the Boy Scout Derby Car that my husband totally made (1st place winner), field day projects are individual with minimal construction help. My daughter would always consult my father in-law. Nonno was the fixer of things around here, that Italian ingenuity deep in his DNA, he could jury-rig anything. She would come to him with a very specific vision of what she wanted, sketches in hand and he would search for the materials to make it happen. They would tinker in the detached garage until the structure was built and then she would take over with painting and any finishing touches.

Yesterday’s memory photo featured my daughter at 9, beaming with pride next to an equally proud art teacher, the submarine in the foreground. That particular teacher is a mentor of emerging artists, an innovator, one of those teachers that makes a difference. Nonno helped her make that submarine, letting her lead, making gentle suggestions only when necessary.  It was a snapshot of that precious time between childhood and the teen years. The last real bits of childhood, before you care about how you look or what others think. Before she was on Instagram or Snapchat, when she was a ball of creativity and enthusiasm guided by the gentlest of souls, her dear departed Nonno. She still has those qualities, they are just a bit muted now by life experiences and the realization and pressures of the real world beginning to unfold.

Next stop, high school.

 

 

 

Heaven Sent

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Heaven Sent

I used to visit her on Tuesday mornings. I would make a cup of tea and fill up the pan with warm soapy water. Kelly would soak her feet a few minutes and we would chat about whatever caught our interest that day. Sipping tea, chatting like old friends though we didn’t know each other that long.

She created a Facebook page for people with cancer so they could pass along items they no longer needed – wigs, walkers, canes, commodes, anything. Kelly wanted to help anyone in need, she was keenly aware that there were many people in need. We also talked about her children – a daughter and two sons. The daughter was married, her youngest son was in middle school, the same age as my boy.

After about 10 minutes I would take one foot out and pat it dry. Then I would give her a pedicure, she always liked a good pedi. It isn’t something I excel at but that’s what she wanted, so I fumbled my way through. She was always grateful for my attempt, a genuine smile on her face. We did this for months before I left for vacation.

That summer my family spent 3 glorious weeks in Italy. Exploring as much as we could – Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Orvieto and Rome. My husband speaks fluent Italian and he got us some great rental properties to stay in. It was my all time favorite vacation. It was magical, the four of us in a place of beauty, enriched in history and the food, my God what a time we had.

When I got back home I was preparing to jump back into my schedule when I heard the news. Kelly had passed away just a few weeks after her 48th birthday. Today her birthday came up in my Facebook feed, she would have been 51 today. I turn 51 next week.

I think of her youngest son often. I didn’t know her that well, I was just a hospice volunteer that would visit once a week, make her tea and paint her toes. Sometimes I wonder why life is so hard for some people and seemingly so easy for others. Why did I get to go to Italy while she perished?

Life doesn’t make sense, there is nothing fair about it. So today Kelly reminded me how precious life is and how fleeting and unpredictable it can be…I feel like she would have wanted me to share that message, so I am. Happy Birthday in heaven Kelly.

Napkin Mom (Over It)

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Napkin Mom (Over It)

I started out so strong when they were little. When my son was colicky and didn’t sleep through the night I would hold him, offer him a bottle, sing a little song I made up. I was a good mom. When my daughter came along 19 months later, I was still good. Grateful that this one liked to sleep more…I promised her the moon. I was so filled with gratitude for an easy baby.

When they got to preschool I was all in. I knew every kid/mom/dad/teacher/assistant, I could tell you the names of the baby chicks that came in the spring. I dressed like an adult for the Mother’s Day Tea. Hell, I put on lipstick AND mascara. For Halloween I dressed up as Cat in the Hat, my kids were Thing 1 & Thing 2. I was happy to be there in those moments, soaking it in.

My reign of good momness continued into elementary school. I volunteered for everything. I was a lunch mom, I assisted the littles with their Capri Sun straws, opened cracker packages, kept the peace at recess. I was the Class Mom for both my kids some years….do you have any idea how hard it is to pull that off? People fight for that here, I was golden. There were years when I had each School Board Member and the District Superintendent in my phone contact list. I never called them but they probably would have answered if I had (alright, most probably would have answered…..some….perhaps, two of the 10 wouldn’t block me).

At one point I was consistently attending school board meetings and I had opinions about things. Then I realized that I didn’t need to have an opinion about EVERYthing, so I shifted my focus. I started volunteering for a non-profit that provided grant money to the district. This was the big time of good momness, I was raising money (say it with me) “FOR THE CHILDREN.” And honestly it was a lot of fun for the first year or two, until it wasn’t.

When my kids were both in middle school I hit the wall. I was burnt out and it happened to coincide with some family issues and a teeny bit of social drama. I wouldn’t say I went out in flames, it wasn’t that dramatic. I just kind of walked away, fire licking at my toes and I didn’t look back.

It’s been a year now since I deserted my volunteer post and I have definitely turned a corner. My daughter has a school event coming up in a couple of weeks. As is the norm these days, a Sign Up Genius went out requesting parents to bring party goods – food, decorations, etc. I responded immediately, I wanted to get on there before anyone else so I could make my claim. It was close, I edged out 4 other moms to beat them to the coveted spot and I’m happy to report that I won. I used to be the makes-homemade-chicken-parm and brings several trays to feed a hundred people mom. Now I’m “Napkin Mom” and that’s just fine.

 

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White Tower View

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White Tower View

When I was a teenager I spent several months living in an all female group home. The ages ranged from 15 to 65 and anyone that was within childbearing age was taken to the gynecologist and put on birth control. It was explained as a way to keep everyone on a regular cycle and minimize mood swings. I didn’t fight it and went on the pill like most of the other residents.

For the next fifteen years I took birth control pills, the lowest dose at the time (ON777). My menstrual cycle was consistent, nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Not painful like some of my friends and the pills didn’t seem to cause any side effects. When I became sexually active, I was grateful for their effectiveness. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam and purchased my birth control pills through them at a discount until my late 20s.

I never had a bad experience. The place was clean, staff was professional and no one shouted “whore” as I made my way into the clinic. Never once did anyone try to sell me on an abortion, I never needed one thanks to those little pills. I had access to effective healthcare, physical and financial accessibility, without which, I could have had a different outcome.

When I got to my early 30s I was starting to get concerned about the long term effects of birth control pills. I decided to give my body a break and go off of them. I discussed this with my long term boyfriend. By this time I had a good job and I owned my own home. My guy was doing well and we were in love, 5 years into our relationship. We were pretty relaxed about the possibility of becoming pregnant and let the universe guide us. We eventually got pregnant….I say we because I don’t know any female that has gotten pregnant on her own (an immaculate conception is pretty rare). We decided it would be a good time to get married and have a kid.

We got married and the pregnancy was going well until 39 weeks in. I felt a dull ache behind my left knee. Turns out I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can become fatal if a blood clot breaks away and goes to your heart/lungs/brain, scary stuff. I was fortunate to be within 3 miles of a trauma center hospital. A retractable filter was inserted through my jugular vein and was placed below my heart and lungs to break up any potential killer clots. The fact that I’m typing this lets you know it worked.

It turned into a fairly dramatic birth including me being induced, 5 hours of pushing and a sideways baby that wasn’t budging (I’m happy to say he’s become much more compliant since then). Eventually it was determined that I needed to have a cesarean section. Two weeks later, the retractable filter was removed and I was put on blood thinners for 6 months. I had all kinds of terrible reactions to the medication which caused me to have numerous tests for Lupus, MS and enough blood draws to satiate an army of vampires. It was rough and we didn’t plan to have another child.

Because of the blood clot issue I could not go on BC pills or have any kind of hormone based birth control. IUDs freaked me out, I heard too many horror stories. So our options were a diaphragm, condoms or pull out. We failed at those options and I got pregnant soon after our son’s first birthday. When I told my husband I was pregnant he said – “congratulations, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

It was a fair question given the unexpected complications of my first pregnancy. My husband was traveling internationally on a frequent basis. Most of my pregnancy would be spent with a toddler and no local family, just a handful of friends that I made in the 6 months since we moved. I didn’t hesitate though, I wanted to go through with the pregnancy.

My gyno had become very close with me since the birth of my son. The kind of closeness that comes from a near death experience. I could see the concern on her sweet face when I went in to see her to have the pregnancy confirmed. She contacted the hematologist and gave me the name of a good perinatologist, I was going to be closely monitored.

I did the best I could to not focus on what could happen. My biggest fear was driving or being alone in the house with my son and having a pulmonary embolism or a brain aneurysm, these were not far fetched concerns. I kept thinking of Steel Magnolias when  Shelby dies while making dinner with her young son crying next to her body. The possibility was a shadow throughout my pregnancy.

Six and a half months into the pregnancy I felt that familiar dull ache behind my knee again. I called my gyno she asked me to meet her at the hospital.  Sure enough I had a clot, not a monster DVT like the first time, but a clot which could have been fatal to me or my baby girl. I was put on a heparin drip and remained inpatient for a week. When I was sent home I was given medicine that I needed to inject into my pregnant belly twice a day for the remainder of my pregnancy.

My gyno and my hematologist were getting twitchy. I could see fear in their eyes with every interaction, I was a ticking time bomb. I told my gyno that I wanted a tubal ligation after the baby was born and I could hear her exhale as she expressed gratitude over my choice. To be clear, my husband was also onboard with that and he respected the fact that ultimately it was my decision.

This time I had a planned cesarean and the now familiar retractable filter was inserted just prior to that. They decided to do a c-section at 35w6d and I got my tubal ligation immediately after. Two weeks later the retractable filter was removed followed by a year of blood thinners and more blood draws, so many blood draws. I went to a blood clinic at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey to see if there was a genetic reason for my issue. After more tests and many more blood samples it was determined to be pregnancy related and having no plans for further pregnancies, I was released from care.

I was fortunate to have two healthy babies, now teenagers. I had a caring partner with both pregnancies. I had assistance with child care when I had to go to the hospital. I had good health insurance. I had a vehicle to get myself to the necessary appointments. I had money to pay for gas, pay for a sitter, pay co-payments, I had a network of support. I also lived within reasonable proximity to excellent reproductive healthcare.

What if I couldn’t get birth control as a young woman? What if there was no clinic, no sliding-scale fee, no access? What if I was a woman of color? Would my seemingly minor medical complaints have been taken seriously? Would that dull ache get the attention it deserved? Or would I just be another sad anonymous number in a case study?

I understand how the pro-life movement can seem like the high moral ground when you are looking down from an ivory tower. You can’t see deep enough into the brush to see what is happening there so it simply blends into the background, it’s just scenery. I would ask you to take those long steps down and see what is happening outside of your limited view.

Have you ever gone with a 15 year old girl who was getting an abortion? I have, it was devastating. She made a mistake, she was so scared, just 15. I held her and cared for her and listened to her when she told me about the recurring nightmares of her unborn child. This was not an easy decision, she was gutted.

Have you ever seen the bruises of domestic violence on a pregnant woman? I have and I wanted to kill the guy. I threw a baby shower for a dear friend when we were both 20. She married her long term asshole of a boyfriend when she got pregnant. Fun fact – domestic violence often escalates during pregnancy. She got changed in front of me and her chest was covered in bruises. She and her baby eventually got out of that situation, it took a long time.

Have you known anyone who had a late term abortion? I knew someone who had a late term abortion. It was heartbreaking. A co-worker of mine found out that her fetus died in utero in her third trimester. She was given the choice to abort or wait for her body to naturally go into labor and deliver a stillborn baby. Can you imagine living with that trauma?

Do you know any females that have been raped in a manner which could have resulted in an unwanted pregnancy? I expect every hand to be raised at this one. Has the #MeToo movement taught us anything? Sexual violence and molestation is rampant – at work, in the military, college campuses, church, school, pretty much everywhere including home for some unfortunate victims. These women should go to jail if they abort an unwanted zygote? Should they be denied a morning after pill? What if the trauma has them so horrified that it takes them a few weeks to come to terms with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy? What if the victim is also beaten badly during the rape and is in a coma – does she get a f*cking pass then?

We all have strong feelings about this topic and I’m not trying to isolate anyone, truly I am not. I’ve seen some horrible stuff up close and in person. My own personal experiences and those of people close to me have helped to form my opinions and I’m sure the same is true for you. There is a lot of gray area for me and in the end I always circle back to individual choice. I can’t know the fine print details of each individual situation. I’m not a medical professional, psychologist or social worker. I’m not pro-abortion, I’m pro-choice.

 

 

 

Friend of the Family

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Friend of the Family

The other day I was assisting clients at the grocery store. We are a slow moving parade when we navigate the aisles. The shopping cart transforms into a makeshift walker for Rob while Laura has her permanent downward head tilt and a cane. This does not go unnoticed by the fellow shoppers or staff. Rob greets each store employee by name with a genuine smile, he’s the real deal. I reach for the items that are too high, too low or too far away. Then I get out the way so they can do what they can, I am mindful of their need to participate as much as possible.

Shopper: It’s so nice that you help them. Are they your parents?

Me: No, I’m a friend of the family.

Laura will refer to me as their driver or nurse depending on who asks (psst…I’m not their nurse or a nurse of any kind, this has been mentioned). Rob refers to me by my name.

That’s really how I see myself. Yes, I get paid to help but I am so much more than paid help. I am an advocate at doctor appointments, a reminder to take medication and I bring yummy meals. I represent freedom with the prolonged ability to live home independently.  I am contact with the outside world when the walls feel like they are closing in. I am a listener, a friend, a caregiver. I am the triage between family members. It is so much more than errands and tasks around the house, it is mutual respect, genuine concern and affection. I am indeed, a friend of the family.

Winter View

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Winter View

I can just barely make out her house from the window above my kitchen sink. Once the trees fill out for spring, I may just see a splash of color or a bit of rooftop. It’s a beautiful house, old and charming, lovingly decorated with authentic treasures and keepsakes. It isn’t large or small and there is nothing cookie cutter about it. Little nooks and crannies are filled with art and memories, photos line the hall going up to the main level. The kitchen is open with modern appliances that somehow work in this older space. There is an air of authenticity about the place. Ginger and Amber are two tiger striped cats and they fit right in.

I went to visit my neighbor today. It was the first time I had ever been inside her house. Years ago my kids and I stood in her driveway getting bags and reflective vests for a neighborhood roadside cleanup. Neighborhood sounds misleading, these houses are all independent of each other in construction and in life. This area is upscale and spread out sadly, I can only name a handful of my neighbors and we’ve lived here for ten years. This is not unusual as most people have busy lives that are headed in different directions.

Today’s visit was as a hospice volunteer, I relieved the caregiver so she could go food shopping. I’ve often wondered what that particular house looked like on the inside and now I know. Once again, I am reminded a lot of people have something difficult going on in their lives right now. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience or a wounded ego, other times it is facing an imminent final goodbye. I’m not sure if I will see my neighbor again. I am sure that I will think of her whenever I drive by her house and I’ll be reminded of what is truly important.

 

Grief Fog

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Grief Fog

Apparently there is a Mercury Retrograde phase right now which means we are all ripe for disaster my friends. Mercury is a bit of an asshole whilst in retrograde and this year March, July and November are on track to be awful. Here’s a link if you want your head to explode with all the retrogradey stuff….OHSHITMERCURYRETROGRADE

Mercury aside, I have been feeling all the feels today. You ever find yourself driving and suddenly realize you can’t remember the past 15 minutes? You’ve been on the road so many times that you slip into autopilot and you aren’t really aware of your surroundings. The past 10 months have felt like this for me. First my Father in-law got sick and passed away, then four months later I lost my own father. I’ve been in a grief fog ever since. Sure I do all the things that need to be done but I’m a muted version of myself.

During this process I haven’t been fully aware and in tune with the world including my small community. I know I’ve missed some important stuff and I haven’t been present in my usual capacity. Last night I found out that a local parent has been having chemo treatments for several months, I had no idea. Year ago me would have set up a Sign Up Genius and initiated a meal train, the current version of myself found out haphazardly in a group text. I’ve clearly been out of the loop bogged down in my own muck. I’d beat myself up about it a little more if I had the energy, I don’t.

Grief is a process, it isn’t a stage or a series of milestones that you pass and then it’s behind you. It becomes a part of you…sometimes it’s a tiny speck and sometimes it envelops you. If you are grieving, I hope you are patient with yourself…you deserve that.

 

 

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.