Category Archives: dysfunction

I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

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I’ll Buy My Own Flowers

On Monday I went to visit a Medium (I’ll insert the eye roll for you). Personally, I would love to believe in magic, the Tooth Fairy, comprehensive affordable health insurance and “the afterlife”. Truth is, I don’t know what happens when we die. My father died in September and I’ve been struggling with the aftermath so I figured why not see someone.

I got the name from a dear friend who lost her husband several years ago when he died suddenly at 39 years old. Someone dragged my friend to see this woman and it was an amazing experience. My friend is more of a skeptic than me so I was intrigued. I got the number and made my appointment.

While I didn’t expect a miracle, it would have been nice to get a clear cut sign. A little wave from the people on the other side that I think of often. I was most curious about my father since we had some unresolved issues. Well, now I guess it’s just me with the unresolved issues, he’s been pretty quiet about the entire thing.

In my grief, I’ve had some heated one-sided conversations with my father and his second wife (she died twenty years ago). I basically cursed them both out for neglecting myself and my brother. I give my father the bulk of blame for this…as a woman and a mother, I can’t let his wife off the hook entirely. Abandoning us for a couple of decades until they figured out what to do with us (not much). Justifiable anger is the stuff that will rot your soul. I want it gone. So I thought perhaps seeing a Medium would help.

I did go in there as a cynic, a non-believer if you will. I have no poker face, and a very thin filter. My resting bitch face may have given away my cynicism. She immediately told me to uncross my legs so she could look for breaks in my aura or energy or something. I don’t know, apparently I have a 50 foot red aura which indicates some anger (thank you resting bitch face).Later in the conversation (not a reading) she said that she hoped my aura would change to green for emotional healing.

She also acted kind of weird at one point. Not sure if this is normal for this setting (OK, nothing is normal) but here goes:

Medium: You are the most spiritually evolved person I have ever seen, what could you possibly want to learn from me. I’m an asshole, you’re a saint.

Me: Um, whaaaaat?

Medium: You’re a saint, I’m a pig. Why are you here?

Me: I wanted to see if you saw any…um, relatives around me.

Medium: That’s not my specialty. Do you have photos?

Me: I do.

And she looked at a photo of my father and of my father-in-law (he passed away in May). She talked about them both made some observations. I was pretty quiet as I didn’t want to feed her information (still a cynic despite her pegging me as the most spiritually f*cking evolved person EVER).

In my one-sided chats with my deceased father I have requested a very specific sign and it is pretty ridiculous. Let’s just say that I demanded to see a-black-lab-juggling-flaming-swords type of ridiculous. (Psst…that’s not it, I can’t tell you the real sign because then if I see it somewhere I’ll just assume one of my blogging friends engineered it. Yes, I realize that is also ridiculous, don’t judge me I’m grieving, damn it). Let’s just say my new Medium pal suggested another sign as reassurance from my father, flowers. I may have rolled my eyes out loud when she suggested this because it was so far removed from the sign I envisioned and it’s just so damn basic. Bitch, I am not basic.

So I left there pretty much the same way I came in, a non-believer. A deeper realization that if my father didn’t put the effort in while he was on earth, why would I think he would change now. This isn’t new information, I know this, so today I bought my own flowers. Heal thyself.

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I am the Damn Sunshine!

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I am the Damn Sunshine!

My friend over at mydangblog listed me for the very exclusive Sunshine Blogger thingy. Basically, you answer some questions and suggest some blogs that your readers may enjoy. I’ve actually done this before but since she mentioned it, I’ll do it again. Someone sent her 10 questions and she modified them a bit to be specific to her blog. I’m not going to do that. I am going to answer her questions (some are basic and can be answered by anyone, I’ll let you determine which ones are specific to her blog).

  1. What country do you come from? That’s a tough one. I know it seems like this should be a no brainer, but the way things have been spiraling out of control the past few years, I often wonder what planet I’m on. I was born in the USA and have resided here my entire life (had a few extended stays in Switzerland, never an official resident – pretty sure they wouldn’t have had me, they are particular like that. I will say that within just a month or so of being there, I became fluent is Swiss-German and learned to yodel. Also, no one in Switzerland ever requests more cow bell, they have plenty. (some of this may not be true)). These days I refer to my country of origin as CrAzYtOwN.
  2. Have you solved the mystery of the mouth guard that you found on the floor? I’m embarrassed to admit it but no, I have not solved this mystery. I also can’t find my car key so I’ve been using my husband’s spare for the past week and this morning he busted me. In other news, I found this weird wire pocket sculpture whilst doing the laundry this weekend (psst…it’s the featured image, you’re welcome). I’d love to meet the artist to get the background on the inspiration alas, this too remains a mystery .
  3. What place are you currently in for the hockey pool? Again, more shame, I’m dead last. Apparently you’ve got to be in it to win or some such nonsense.
  4. Have you discovered how you are like Jeff yet? This is tricky to answer. I can’t quite pin it down yet but I feel a connection to Jeff that is beyond definition. Truly a mystery.
  5. What is your dream destination? A Mediterranean Cruise is on the top of my wish list.
  6. Why did you burst out laughing in a meeting on Thursday? Well if by “meeting” you mean the overly aggressive weight training class that I took last Thursday, then you mistook laughter for sounds of anguish. I usually only cry on the inside during the class however, our usual instructor was out. I can count on the ex-marine to punish us with planks and push ups, the substitute had a more menacing approach. It seems she took the summer off to spend time with her kids and she was determined to punish us all for her extended absence. You aren’t going to get those triceps defined in one day Trish, calm the f*ck down. I haven’t been able to lift my arms over my head in 4 days, bitch.
  7. What is your favorite movie? Home for the Holidays (Directed by Jodie Foster, 1995). I watch it every year around Thanksgiving.
  8. What crazy thing did you do Friday night? Thankfully I actually did something last Friday. I went out to dinner and to a local theater show with four ladies. The show was Curtains which is a funny whodunit in a 1950’s setting. A good time was had by all.
  9. Are you happy with your current life? Damn right I am.
  10.  Do you have any new and interesting bathroom stories? When we were in Australia this past summer I was entertained by the signs found in many of the ladies bathrooms. By the way the buttons are for a half (left) or full (right) flush. IMG_6416.JPG

Here are some blogs that I visit on the regular:

Freethinkers Anonymous

Little Miss Wordy

Redneck Latte Ravings

Feel free to nominate any blogger of your choosing for this prestigious award. Questions are at your discretion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handmaid’s Halloween

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Handmaid’s Halloween

You guys, it’s too much. All the hate swirling around, everyone’s trauma, keyboards screaming at each other, forgetting there are actual people reading their comments on the interwebs. America has turned into the worst dysfunctional family discussing politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and it’s Thanksgiving every G-damn night. Time to take a humor break and trigger warning: if you are offended by political humor or cursing, you may want to abandon ship, now.

Oh thank Gawd they left. If I have to eat Aunt Jojo’s sweet potato casserole one more time I will slip into a diabetic coma for sure. I mean I don’t actually have diabetes yet but that bitch has been trying to kill us for years with “naturally occurring sugar”. It’s in the yellow zone for Keto Aunt Jojo, slow your roll lady. Speaking of rolls, who brought these gluten laden monster balls? Since we’re discussing monster balls, Uncle Jimmy insists on wearing his oil stained “Love trumps hate, but Trump don’t give a f*ck about you libtard!” t-shirt to every family gathering. Come to think of it, I don’t think Jimmy has taken that shirt off in two years, I’m not even sure if he’s showered. But I digress…

Thanksgiving will be here soon enough, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. My favorite holiday is Halloween. You can dress however you want and there is free candy. I don’t care if I’m 50, I’m trick or treating. Don’t come at me with your judgement Susan, free fucking candy. OK so, I’ve been thinking about what to be, I usually like obscure ideas that I can turn into a lazy costume and maybe 10% of the people I see can figure it out. Last year I was Captain Obvious except I didn’t have a beard. I did rock a red jacket and a hat with a “Duh” pin on it. Too much obscure and not enough obvious, ironic.

This year I’m going for IN YOUR FACE! I’ve decided to get a Handmaid’s Tale inspired costume. To avoid confusion I will have statements attached to the red robe and here’s what I have so far:

  1. No, I’m not Little Red Riding Hood – read a f*cking grown up book once in a while.
  2. F*ck the Patriarchy! (No really, I have to f*ck the patriarchy, it’s not a choice)
  3. Help I’ve fallen into a dystopian nightmare and I can’t get up!
  4. Red is the color I am forced to wear. (It’s also the color of Satan, blood and Republicans… coincidence, you decide)
  5. Access to women’s reproductive choices is fine as long as it’s an unbaby (Google it)
  6. Damn it, I lost another finger. I swear, I was just reading the nutritional label of the quinoa.
  7. Where’s my check George Soros?

Feel free to comment with suggestions for other statements that I can add. And kudos to Magaret Atwood for being so ahead of her time (clairvoyant?). The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985.

Finding my Way

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Finding my Way

65, 52, 47, 76, 83, 77, 68, 47, 49, 42, 42, 42, 39 I watched the numbers change like a heartbeat roulette wheel and I was betting heavy on black. Wishing for a different outcome and dreading the likely one. Praying it wouldn’t take that long, mouthing words of comfort, rubbing my father’s arm, listening to the sounds of tears and gurgling breath. I watched my father slip into the big sleep and still managed to be shocked when the nurse pronounced him. He is gone, it shouldn’t have gone down like this.

He went in for a routine test and things went terribly wrong from there – abdominal surgery, cardiac arrest and ultimately death. He was a firefighter, a first responder, he should have died in a fire, saving someone, or on the bay doing a water rescue. It was at least 15 years too soon, he left us brain dead for days before his final departure. A situation that caused his children from two marriages to come to consensus on his care and arrangements. Unlikely as it is, that has been the easiest part of this mess. His children are amazing, each and every one.

I feel robbed, I’m angry. I’m many things right now, anger is the easiest feeling to process. She keeps the depression an arm’s length away. Well she tries, the feelings seep in on their own schedule. I’m experienced enough to know that grief comes in waves. Sometimes those waves pull you under until you can find your footing again. Then you try to get yourself off the sandy bottom, wobbling into an upright position to face the next round. Sometimes you can anticipate the wave and jump up into the big one and ride it to shore. Be careful, if you turn your back on the ocean, those little waves can knock you down when you least expect it. My father didn’t give me much life advice but I do remember this, never turn your back on the ocean.

 

 

Broken

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Broken

Sometimes you stumble your way through the dark on an unfamiliar path trying to  discern the next right step. In my experience, these paths are riddled with emotional land mines. You anticipate the boogeyman when he jumps out in front of you. When you hear the creepy music, you don’t have to turn your head to know someone is behind you. Then there’s the stuff that blindsides you and takes you to your knees, the unexpected hits you never saw coming. I’ve had a week of those.

The days are blurring together and feel oddly suspended as they do when things get awful. Some slow motion version of life settles in as you try to adjust to the new normal, which is anything but typical. On Wednesday, I went to visit my father in the hospital and they were talking about discharging him. Then on Thursday morning, he went into cardiac arrest and he’s been in a coma-like state ever since. The prognosis is grim and now we wait for things to change in some new direction. Waiting for milestone hours to pass; 24, 48, 72 and we continue to wait, and wait and the days feel like weeks and every so often the physical/mental/emotional exhaustion comes over you like a tidal wave. It feels a lot like drowning, minus the water. I’ve been dry drowning.

This situation is awful enough on it’s own and yet, there’s more. Five decades of an on again/off again father-daughter relationship, half siblings, a beloved twin who is far away, a history of family tragedies and what can I say, it’s complicated. I’m the oldest of seven, one of the two from the first disastrous marriage. The other siblings are from my father’s second marriage. His second wife died in a car accident in 2000. His youngest child died by suicide a handful of years ago. The pain this family has experienced is enormous and I feel like a ghoulish outsider with unfettered access.

As I’m getting older, friends and loved ones have lost parents. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like for me when the time came. I no longer resent my father for what he did or didn’t do when I was a child and yet, we aren’t especially close. Not a conscious effort to stay separate, it just became easier to chose other priorities. I’ve also tried to insulate my children from the dysfunction of my childhood. There is a lot of my personal history that they don’t know yet. As they are getting older more is coming to the surface but not everything.

I’m a strong person, been through plenty of my own shit and always came out the other side on top. I’ve beaten odds that no one could’ve predicted. If younger me was a horse in a race, no one in their right mind would have bet on me and yet I placed. I found my way into the winner’s circle, against all odds. I thought I would be somewhat disconnected when dealing with my father’s mortality, I was wrong.

Yesterday I felt hallowed, a husk of a human who had their innards scraped out. An emptiness that was dark and consuming, a black hole from within. It took me by surprise and I had to yield to it. I could not leap through this particular ring of fire, I had to stand in front of the flames and watch it burn. Eventually I had to accept help and let my husband and kids join me at the hospital.

In the middle of my pain, I imagined myself as a plate made of fine china with an intricate pattern. Seemingly intact, functional and somewhat pleasing to behold. Upon further inspection a hairline crack is discovered, the kind that can cause the plate to break if it is not handled in a delicate manner. If you feel the edges on the backside the chips reveal themselves and you know this plate has been compromised. It makes me wonder if the damage is visible to an outsider. From a distance, it looks good but up close, you can see it’s damaged and on the verge of being broken.

 

Writing Prompts

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Writing Prompts

When you feel vulnerable everything is a writing prompt. Sometimes the thoughts just swirl in my head, marinating until they become a somewhat tasty morsel that spills onto the screen. Not enough for a meal but, with any luck it leaves you hungry for more. Most times though, those prompts just wither on the mental vine. Here are some seeds that are lying on the bare ground, waiting for neglect or nurture to determine their fate.

Backstage Pass

My father is in the hospital again. He’s been in several times this year for various illnesses. We aren’t close and that’s not likely to change. He was out of my life from when I was 9 until sometime in my 30s. Too late for strangers with nothing in common to cling to – I say that with sadness, not hostility. We’ve both made attempts to bridge the enormous obvious gap, we just haven’t found the right the platform.

I find out about his health via group texts from his longtime partner. She’s devoted to him and very kind, which is comforting. It’s just awkward. The man had 7 kids from two marriages. I’m the first born but last in the pecking order. When I do get informed, it’s like having a backstage pass for an act you don’t know.

What’s Normal?

My kids recently went back to school and I feel myself being consumed by my own anxiety for them. I’m outing myself in the hopes that it will get me to ease up a bit. I have two teenagers and I can’t help myself, I think of what I was doing at their ages. Then I wonder, is it normal for parents to do this? If you’re a parent do you reflect on what you were doing when you were the same age as your child? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question, I don’t know what’s normal.

For the Ladies

You ever get your period and think “Oh that makes sense” as you flashback to the night before when you ate half a chocolate cake and contemplated life with a new identity.

Hospice

A friend asked me how I deal with the mental mind f*ck of caring for people on hospice. This is what I wrote to him:

Hospice is a weird thing. I think what draws me in is the lack of bullsh*t. The small stuff and pettiness that most humans get tangled in tends to fade away when someone has a newfound awareness of how finite our time is here. I appreciate that level awareness and honesty and I get into a – do the next right thing modus operandi. It’s more difficult with people you know versus volunteering for strangers. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing though, one of the benefits of a dysfunctional upbringing.

There is also a curiosity that pulls me in. I kind of want to know what it’s like at the end of life – I mean, we’re all going to die one day, yet people rarely discuss it. Or maybe my twisted brain thinks…if I am a witness and a helper for so many at the end of their lives, perhaps I’ll be granted a swift departure when my time comes. I don’t want to be subjected to weeks or months of Depends and really dry, chapped lips. So basically what I’m saying is….there is no way to delay the existential head f*ck, you just have to lean into that motherf*cker.

 

 

 

*Featured image used via agreement with 123rf.com image is Copyright of Sila Tiptanatoranin

 

Troubled

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Troubled

Something was posted in the New York Times recently, no, not that. Something that struck a nerve in me which, is still reverberating from the pluck.

Liz (pictured in the article) and I have gotten to know each other over the past year. We share a common horrific thread of having known Tony & Betty Argiros who ran “The Family” and founded the Family Foundation School (FFS). Trust me I can see the humor in FFS as the acronym. Sadly that is the only humorous take away.

I met the Argiros in the winter of 1984 as a homeless teenager. I was basically sent to their group home/working farm in Long Eddy, NY because I had no where else to live. My family imploded due to a recent disastrous second marriage for my mother. I was newly sober and not one relative would take me in.

This place seemed like a reasonable option, it wasn’t. Since I couldn’t live with my family, I was sent to “The Family”. It was a cesspool of abuse on a level I had never previously encountered. I grew up with an abusive alcoholic mother and no father so I was pretty familiar with neglect and abuse was no stranger either, this place was next level horrible. The atrocities I saw/heard/experienced there nearly 35 years ago can still cause me tears or make my blood boil with anger. I say this as a person who has been sober for over three decades. It’s a dark, depressing rabbit hole I don’t dive into often these days as my life has been blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.

The FFS closed in 2014 thanks to a tireless campaign coordinated by alumni who fearlessly and publicly told their tales of horror. I didn’t even know the school opened until about 3 years ago when another person who went to the farm reached out to me through my blog. I felt physically ill when I heard that the Argiros expanded their reign of terror. I also felt guilt for not doing more to shut them down in the 80s. I told the authorities in upstate NY about the abuse when I ran away but the place was set up to avoid a lot of scrutiny and I was a “troubled” teenager therefore, I lacked credibility.

I am posting this because Liz is a champion of keeping awareness in the spotlight. She also keeps track of alumni deaths from FFS. Over 100 alumni have died that Liz knows of – many were suicide or substance abuse related. That’s over 100 people under 50 years old, many under 40, some younger. No one is sure how many alumni there are (hundreds. a thousand?) but they seem to be dying off at an extraordinary pace.

If you or someone you know is considering an aggressive treatment facility for a teenager, please be vigilant and doggedly research the program. The names and locations change but these places, they still exist.

 

They Call Him Daddy

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They Call Him Daddy

They call him Daddy in the steady stream of texts between a group of six. I only recognize half the numbers, that’s a telltale sign. Their father, my father, our father is currently in the hospital under some dicey conditions. No one knows how this is going to end, for now, we just share medical information and opinions regarding care.

He had seven children with two different wives. I’m his oldest from his first union and I have a twin brother. He had five kids with his second wife, sadly one passed away a handful of years ago. His second wife died over 20 years ago in a car accident. Tragedy is no stranger to them…and to think there was a time when I thought they were the lucky ones.

My father passed in and out of my life when I was a child. A bitter divorce, insane ex-wife and a court system which leaned toward mother as the custodial parent, stacked the odds against a consistent relationship. Add in a remarriage, kids getting moved out of state and starting family number two and you have the makings of a really pathetic after school special. It’s predictable and accurate in it’s decay.

My brother and I were trained to hate our father from our earliest memories. Some of it was his own actions firmly attached to years of hate spewed from our mother. She referred to our father as “shithead” for as long as I can remember. I don’t recommend that if you are sharing custody, even if the person is indeed a “shithead”, it just makes the kid wonder if they are 50% shit.

Not surprisingly I had some substance abuse issues as a teenager and got myself tossed into treatment. I straightened myself out at the age of 15 and did some serious self reflection. I wrote to my father when I was 16 in the hopes of creating some sort of a relationship with him. I acknowledged that I had only heard one jilted side of the story my entire life and that I was open to getting to know him. He never responded to my letter, that was 34 years ago.

About a year before his second wife died we started to bump into each other at family events, mostly weddings and funerals. I was in my early 30’s at the time and his other children ranged in age from 10 to 20-something. They didn’t know who I was, had no idea that I existed. Eventually it got less weird to see him and his family. We had pizza at his house two days before his second wife died in a car accident.

The thread of a relationship frayed some more as he had more pressing concerns to attend to and then life just went on. I got married and had kids of my own and before you can blink a decade or two is in the rear view mirror with just fistfuls of occasions where our lives overlapped. It wasn’t intentional at this point, we just went with the tide.

It’s Father’s Day this weekend, so I’ll sit in the hospital room and visit with him and whichever family members share my schedule. It will be awkward and silently awful for me as I try keep my twig of a branch attached to the family tree. All the while, surrounded by bigger, stronger branches that through no fault of their own, get my share of sun and nutrients.

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_yacobchuk’>yacobchuk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

 

 

I Might Be Terrible

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I Might Be Terrible

I’ve been doing cringe worthy crap my entire life. This week has been off the chart, here’s a recap:

Last night I was in a doctor’s office with my daughter. She needed to get an X-ray. I saw a close friend with her daughter also waiting for an appointment. Instead of just saying hi like a normal person. I go over and say “What are you in for?” because people love to announce their private medical concerns in a crowded waiting room. I might be terrible.

One evening at bedtime my daughter mentioned that she has fears of someone breaking in and killing everyone. She asked if I would run in and rescue her. I said, “Hell no, I’ll be running for my life. You’re smallish, hide in a closet, play possum, figure it out.” Now I’m wondering if we should just put her college fund toward therapy. Probably terrible.

A dear friend has been dealing with a kid with a foot injury. Her kid is pretty delicate so the pain tolerance level is – butterfly kisses chafe. One morning this week she was trapped in bed with her tween, afraid of waking her daughter if she moved. I don’t know how long she was pinned, arm going numb as her bladder begged to be emptied. Most parents have been held hostage in this way – desperate to escape, afraid to rouse the sleeping child.

The injury happened over the weekend and the effects lingered for several days. She kept her daughter home from school on Monday, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom without assistance. Later that day she sent me a picture of the balloon animals they made out of an excess of desperate boredom. I texted her…If your kid can make a G-D balloon dog she can pull up elastic pants, that’s all I’m sayin’. My friend insisted the issue was with putting weight on her injured foot, but still…moderately terrible.

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This is the balloon animal my friend made. It appears to have some kind of balloon animal medical issue. I don’t know what it is exactly but my visceral reaction is concern for the balloon and my friend.

I was assisting an 80 year old client with bathing this week. Three minutes into the bath she mentioned that she felt an urge to go. I may have said “please don’t sh*t in the tub” repeatedly under my breath. She has really good hearing. Sh*t in the tub is a horror show so, probably not so terrible.

This weekend I accidentally took my son’s phone. Not too terrible, EXCEPT when he suggested that I might have accidentally picked it up and I immediately dismissed the idea. In fact my husband and I thought that perhaps our son was scared that he lost the phone and was desperate for a scapegoat. Then my husband and son searched the path of a walk they took the prior evening (the search took place in cold, rainy conditions because of course it did). Approximately an hour later the phone was found in my car. Clearly my son’s suspicions were proved correct. Moderately terrible, I apologized.

I was catching up with some volunteer work the other day. To be honest, I’ve wanted to “retire” from this particular project but the benefits are so good it’s hard to walk away. That’s a joke the benefits are a significant loss of personal time, a severe lack of appreciation and agita. I was emailing another volunteer and she was getting a bit testy with me. I decided to use the exchange as a writing prompt and somehow managed to send her a text with my observations which I intended to flesh out into a fictitious blog post. Bottom line is I hurt the other person’s feelings. So I’m terrible AND an idiot. I apologized, definitely terrible.

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From this day forward, all the sh*t that goes sideways will be known as a writing prompt. What terrible cringey things have you done this week?

I leave you with this gem – How to Make a Balloon Poop Emoji –

 

 

 

 

 

Say “Uncle”

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Say “Uncle”

When I was a kid saying “uncle” to someone was the verbal equivalent of waving the white flag of surrender. My actual uncle took great pride in hearing the kids in his life scream or giggle cry that in the middle of a tickling frenzy. The tickling got way out of hand. It turned into a battle of wills between the victim and their own bladder. Many of us lost the internal conflict, there’s only so much tickling a kid can take before they spring a leak.

Similar games were played in my uncle’s pool. This added a whole other level of danger to the activities. There were multiple near drownings. Then there was that time when my cousin got chased by an angry swarm of hornet’s after he disrupted their nest. That wasn’t actually my uncle’s fault, it just happened in his yard. Joey had more than 30 reminders of that calamitous event. Eventually the swelling went down and the pain subsided. It was most unfortunate that some of the hornets found their way into his swim trunks. I bet he still can’t pass a nest without a flashback.

My Uncle was a loud, gregarious, larger than life personality. I remember childhood holidays spent at his house with a heady cocktail of emotions. Angst and wonderment were abundant in equal measure. We were amazed by the gourmet chef inspired meals and horrified by the table topics at dinner. It was a hazing ritual with elements of cannibalism and we all wanted to avoid the hot seat.

For the bulk of my childhood, Uncle Jack was married to Aunt Dolly. That marriage went off the rails some 30 years ago but the memories remain. Aunt Dolly was from the South and her mother Mimi made the trip North at least twice a year. I loved their accents and their sweet smiles. I had never heard of ambrosia until they came along. Who doesn’t love tiny marshmallows in a salad that doesn’t even pretend to be healthy.

Aunt Dolly told me I had a face like Venus, the Goddess of Love. She said that when I was in the height of my awkward ugly stage and no one was sure if it would all work out. She gifted me with a ray of hope that I would not always be an unattractive lanky tween with buck teeth and stringy hair. She saw my potential and it wasn’t just looks. She noticed when I did more weeding than the other kids and argued with my uncle to better compensate me. She paid attention to me when no one else did and I will always cherish her for that.

We spent a lot of holidays at my uncle’s house growing up. He had the big house with the pool and plenty of space. They had an Atari gaming system which was the sh*t in the early 80s (Breakout and Space Invaders, the best). I was usually by myself because the other kids divided into two groups of two. My brother with our cousin Joey and my cousin Jenny with Tammy, Dolly’s daughter from a prior marriage. They weren’t particularly mean, it was just clear that I wasn’t in the mix. By this point, I learned to read people and saw myself out before anyone else could make the suggestion. I split my time between Atari and my grandparents.

Meal times were the absolute worst. It was like a twisted family style version of Survivor minus the camera crew (or the exotic location). Most of the adults were inebriated by the time dinner was on the table. Dinner time always got pushed back to some ridiculous time like 9 or 10 O’clock, apparently drunk people are lousy at keeping track of time. My uncle was a fantastic cook so that offered some redemption.

While we ate, the topics would vary between politics and religion. If those topics got stale then someone at the table would be fodder for the discussion. This was awful. My uncle would spew merciless hateful nasty comments at whomever had the bulls eye. It was usually, Tammy. We were all too scared to speak out against him. This was his house, his food, his f*cked up show. I wish I could go back to 10 year old me at Christmas Dinner and say “what is your problem man, why do you need to pick on a 12 year old every damn holiday”. No one did that, that girl was verbally abused at 90% of holiday meals. I’m ashamed for all of us.

Like most people, my uncle wasn’t all bad. He was always thoughtful when it came to gifts for my brother and I. One year he gave us 10 speed bikes for Christmas. For our birthday, he gave us season passes to Great Adventure. Those gifts meant the world to us and gave us experiences and mobility that we would not have had without his generosity. I know he helped my mother financially from time to time, despite their thinly veiled animosity.

My mother hated my uncle. She would lash out from time to time but not enough to stop taking us there for holidays. They would often spar in alcohol/dysfunctional family fueled debates that were horrendous to witness. My mother stopped drinking in the 80’s and our trips there stopped a couple of years later. They disagreed on everything from politics, money and the best nursing home for Nana. They have remained on non-speaking terms since my grandmother died in the early 90s.

I haven’t talked to Uncle Jack in years. After his second marriage dissolved we lost touch and eventually he moved to Florida with his third wife. I have some contact with my cousins and his daughter contacted me this past weekend to tell me Uncle Jack was asking about our side of the family.

Turns out the third wife was on an information gathering mission. Honestly, I’m not sure if my uncle even inquired about us. When we spoke on the phone she cautioned me that my uncle is “forgetful”, that is code for dementia. My grandmother (his mother) had dementia and his wife wanted to know if my mother showed any signs. I haven’t noticed any at this point and I passed that along.

My uncle definitely has some dementia, it was evident to me in the few minutes that we spoke. His wife told me that they plan to move from Florida to Delaware in about 6 months. I cautioned her that a move would be disruptive to him. I work with people that have dementia and change is a real struggle for that population. He will likely decline from that move and he won’t bounce back, they never do. She has family near where they are moving so I understand the practical points.

In the handful of minutes I had with my uncle, I told him things that I thought would be meaningful for him. Like how I always think of him when I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. He wore that record out every December. I also told him how he made the best mashed potatoes that I ever had and that I was not able to duplicate them despite my best efforts. He chuckled out those memories and I think they resonated with him, if only for a moment. I see a white flag in his future and it’s sad, uncle.

 

 

*Photo credit attributed to: This is the Front cover for the Single Blue Christmas by the artist Elvis Presley. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, RCA Victor, or the graphic artist(s). Front cover of picture sleeve of original single release of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” (RCA Victor 447-0720)