Category Archives: dysfunction

Mourning the Living

Standard
Mourning the Living

Grief isn’t just for the recently deceased. Sometimes it’s for those we must purposely leave behind. We’ve all experienced it at some point….a bad break up, a friendship that can’t weather a bad storm, or a relative that is doing more harm than good. Grief paints with a broad brush.

Anger is my emotion of choice when dealing with the hard stuff. Some would call it a crutch, a better description is a shield. It protects me from the deeper, darker emotions that come from grieving the still living. My shield is past it’s expiration and the wear and tear is breaking it down, leaving me with profound sorrow.

Perhaps you have been there. Maybe you’ve experienced a relationship so broken or toxic that it is beyond repair. That’s the spot I’m in right now. The fact that it involves a parent, makes it especially harsh. So many missed opportunities for myself and my children, displaced by someone who is either incapable or unwilling to care. It’s sad and I need to allow myself a moment to acknowledge that.

Grieving the living is tricky business because it is ultimately a choice. It may be the most healthy, sane choice you can make for yourself. Self preservation doesn’t come cheap. I have spent years trying to fight the undertow of my mother’s mental illness. The constant tug to take me under while I continue to tread water is causing my head to bob up and down. It’s at my chin now and I refuse to go under any further. That leaves me with one option, to pluck myself out of the water and walk away.

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

Standard
Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

 

 

 

On the Road with Nannie….

Standard
On the Road with Nannie….

I should have known better. Nearly 50 years old and I’ve known this woman my entire life how did I think it would go, really? What happened you asked….I took my mother on a road trip with my teenage son and tween daughter. Our travels included a  flight from Trenton, New Jersey to Chicago, where we spent a night. The next day we drove to Wisconsin to see a beloved family member perform at a dinner theater. Two nights in Wisconsin then we drove back to Chicago to fly back to New Jersey. My kids call my mother Nannie, I usually call her crazy (in my head, mostly).

The trouble started about 3 days before we left. I got a frantic call from my mother, her friend who was going to cat sit got herself into some trouble with the law. Yup, you read that right. My mother’s friend…we will call her Mandy has a mental disorder which makes ordinary tasks more challenging. She is a sweet person she just doesn’t have a solid grasp on financial matters. She got sucked into some predatory loan trap and ultimately wound up trying to cash a fraudulent check which may or may not get her into a heap of trouble. Anyhow, Mandy was going to cat sit for my mother while we were away but my mother fired her due to the aforementioned steamy shit pile.

Mom was nearly crying on the phone worried about her cat and who would take care of her while we were away. Don’t get me wrong I like animals. I house a dog, a gecko and a gold fish we got at a fair a year ago (that thing thrives on neglect and malnutrition only explanation for it’s longevity). I get it you need someone to feed the cat but we’ll only be gone for three days. Do you really cancel a trip that someone else paid for so you can see your granddaughter in a starring role because the “regular” cat sitter is unavailable? My husband over hearing this conversation, graciously volunteered to feed the cat. My mom was still shook up but was slightly relieved. She started to mention the litter box and I shushed her on that. The hubs changed his fair share of diapers but I knew the litter box was a deal breaker. She left him 6 paragraphs of handwritten instructions. He followed the important one, feed the cat.

A few days later we were on our way. Now I will admit it….I’m a part time control freak. I say part time because my personal desk is far too messy to be claimed by a full time control freak. That said I go into full on freak mode when it comes to being on time regarding air travel and such. I’m also out of practice being the alpha on these types of trips. My husband prefers to drive and I’ve gotten used to letting him take the reins on family adventures. I typically do 90% of the planning then he executes the transportation in all of it’s forms. This time it was all on me – kids, my senior mom and a shitty GPS.

I had the kids and our stuff packed and in the car, it was time to get Nannie. She lives 10 minutes away from us so that part is easy. She wasn’t ready on time, she never is, it gets padded into the schedule but still manages to piss me off. As I was sitting in my car waiting I realized that I did not have my passport. Which I wouldn’t need anyway except the rental car paperwork specified that two forms of photo ID were required so back to my house we went. With the Nannie waiting, going back to get my passport (which my husband accurately predicted I would not need……but the paperwork said…blah…blah) and going to the Trenton, New Jersey airport for the first time, we still arrived about an hour and 40 minutes before departure. This would not be a ridiculous buffer time if we were at a normal airport. This airport is tiny, about the size of an average size grocery store. In hindsight we could have gotten there 10 minutes before the flight and still been fine, live and learn.

My mother packs a ridiculous amount of shit for three days. Sad part is she needs most of it for the various aches, pains and injuries she’s collected over 72 years. She had enough pills and supplements to supply a Walgreen’s. She also packed a heating pad type of device. It’s a tubular shape and has beads in it that you can heat in a microwave. This got my mom a pat down and a thorough bag search at both airports. After all that we still had an hour and a half to wait. Had a snack, checked my email and read a book, relaxing stuff. Nannie decides she has to use the bathroom the minute they start making the boarding announcement. By this time everyone in the tiny airport was standing up in predator mode ready to pounce when their row was called. Now, if my mother was the type to rush in and rush out that would be one thing but I have seen her go into a public restroom before and not come out for 20 minutes. Luckily she realized this would not work out and we boarded.

The flight was quick, a little bumpy but nothing like the horror stories I had heard from some friends regarding Frontier Airlines. We arrived on time and did the schlep through O’Hare to get to a taxi. The ride was slow but enjoyable, we had a charming driver from West Africa and the weather was pleasant, so far – so good. We checked into the hotel around 4pm. My mother immediately left the room for parts unknown despite my requests that we stay together. We found her about 10 minutes later in the lobby and we all ventured out together.

I read about architectural sight seeing tours on the Chicago River and thought it would be a good use of our limited time. It was a bit chilly walking toward the Navy Pier and I saw the ticket booth and mentioned the tour. Everyone was in except my mother, she declined. She did it once 13 years ago didn’t need to do it again. OK I got the tickets for the kids and I and decided we should eat right away as we had an hour and 10 minutes before the tour.

We went to a chain restaurant at the Navy Pier. My son made the unfortunate selection of pizza. I say this as someone from the NJ/NY area, our standards for pizza are different. He felt sick after one slice. Soldier through little man and I will feed you later, pinky promise. I asked my mom if she had her cell phone on her and she told me she left it home. She was under the impression it wouldn’t work in Chicago or Wisconsin. Um, OK. I paid for the meal, gave my mom an extra key card for the hotel room, said a silent prayer and hoped for the best. The hotel was a few blocks away and was in a straight line so I was somewhat confident she could make it back.

The kids and I had a great time on the tour. Chicago is such a unique city and the architecture is varied and interesting. The guide was great, he gave us tons of information and trivia about the area. We walked back toward the hotel as soon as the tour was over. Mom was sitting in the lobby. When I asked why she wasn’t in the room, she said her key card did not work, it required an “app”. I was baffled by this statement as I had used my key card to get in without incident. We went up to the room and gave hers a test drive and it worked. Not sure where the “app” reference came in or why the front desk couldn’t assist while we were out but we got back in.

My son still needed food so I was preparing to go out again. Nannie was already sprawled on the couch watching CNN and declared herself done for the night. She declined my offer to open up the sofa bed. My daughter also stayed back so it was just the two of us. My first priority was to walk to the Hyatt where I would get the rental car the next day. A gentleman at the Hyatt showed us a list of restaurants and we settled on Catch 35. We had an outrageously good meal there and enjoyed the evening lights of Chicago. We were back in the room by 9:30. Nannie was snoring on the couch with her glasses still on her face, fully dressed with CNN blaring. I gently removed her glasses, turned down the volume and turned off the lamp near her head. I left a hall light on so she could see where the bathroom was, shut the bedroom door and we all called it a night.

The next day I got the kids up for breakfast and let Nannie sleep in. Breakfast was lousy but at least there was coffee. I brought some back for Nannie. My son wanted to explore some more and I was game so out we went leaving Nannie and my daughter behind once again. We walked along the river and just enjoyed the views. We snaked our way back to the hotel taking a different route to see more sites and then it was time to pack.

We had an 11am check out time so I was ushering everyone in my group out at about 10:59. I asked my son to stay in the lobby with the bags and Nannie while my daughter and I went to get the car. We got to the Hertz counter and we were told the car would not be ready before our reserved time of noon, fair enough. My daughter and I walked back to the hotel lobby and found my son alone with everyone’s bags. Nannie decided she needed to get the New York Times. Not sure why, she doesn’t read it at home but the desire to get the newspaper propelled her out the door on a solo mission. She got back about 15 minutes later with a bump on her head. What happened mom? I asked. She apparently lost her balance on an uneven portion of sidewalk and was helped up by two strangers (thank you fine sirs). Do you need a doctor, Advil, ice? “No, I’m fine” was the reply I got. So we went to the Hyatt to get the car. It still wasn’t noon yet so we waited in the lobby. My mother went to use the bathroom and I followed after to see if she wanted to rethink the ice/Advil/doctor situation. She said she was OK just a little banged up.

With no immediate medical need I was back to focusing on getting the rental car which didn’t arrive until 12:30. I was just about to ask them to extend the return time when the car showed. I plugged in the GPS I took with me from home and it didn’t work. More likely I didn’t give it time to acclimate to the new location, it’s an older model. Luckily I had printed out directions (because I’m old) and off we went.

Traffic in Chicago can be somewhat spectacular. I’ve driven in NYC, Philadelphia, LA and DC so I’m no light weight. I can get my native Jersey Girl in gear behind the wheel when necessary and it was necessary. The sound effects coming out of my mother made it all the more entertaining – intermittent gasps, mild cursing and the virtual braking were a real time commentary on the ever changing traffic conditions. After about an hour the traffic eased up and the scenery shifted from city skyline to farms. We made a couple of stops and a failed detour attempt to find food in Madison, 4 hours later we arrived. My mother started reading each road sign we passed at one point and I didn’t think I was going to make it but I persevered.

The hotel was outdated in the common areas but in a charming old fashioned way. The room itself went from shabby chic to depressing pretty quick but hey it was only two nights. The accommodations included a private bedroom with a king size bed and a room with two queen beds and a tiny sad looking bathroom. I gave Nannie the private bedroom so she could listen to CNN without keeping the rest of us up. My son got his own bed and once again, I slept with my daughter who turns into a human starfish when she sleeps.

I called Peanut (the person we came to see perform) and was quickly out the door to pick her up. I then rounded up the rest of the crew and we went out to eat. The place had a fun atmosphere and we ate outside watching a family with 3 young girls all under the age of 4. The one girl lost 5 balloons in the time we were there, another one fell off a chair while the baby crawled on the table. I was frankly getting tired just watching them and twitched a little recalling the toddler years with my kids. Glad that phase is in the rear view mirror. It’s an adorable and absolutely exhausting phase.

During dinner my mom requested an update on her cat “Mademoiselle”. I texted my husband an quickly got a reply. As luck would have it, he was taking care of her the instant I texted. She looks happy to me (featured image). It put my mother at ease and I replied with a “You’re a saint honey.”

It was all going well and then out of the blue Nannie asks Peanut how much she weighs. I said mom you can’t do that, she’s an adult. You don’t just go up to other female adults and ask how much they weigh. She shrugged me off. Peanut evaded the question and we moved on. The thing is my mother has become obsessed with weight the past 5 years or so. This isn’t the first time she asked Peanut or me how much we weigh. It’s weird. She also weighs herself constantly and makes announcements – 107, 103, 106 “I really need to watch it don’t want to get fat again”. She was never that fat. I have gained some weight the past few years and she will make random insulting comments about how much I eat or how I shouldn’t wear stripes whilst gifting me with a striped shirt, I don’t get it. I exercise regularly and I am within the normal weight range, back off lady.

After dinner, Peanut, the kids and I decided to go to some outlets near our hotel. I asked mom if she wanted to go. She declined. The TV wasn’t working and she wanted to wait to get that resolved. I came back to the room to see if she was sure. Yup, going to wait here.  OK , we leave to go to the outlets. We wander around the outlets for an hour or so and whom do we happen to bump into, Nannie. Yup, the same woman who face planted in Chicago that very same morning decided to walk to the outlets in shoes that weren’t very comfortable. Nannie wanted to “look” at shoes, $40. and a Bass pair of walking shoes later, we were driving Peanut back to her place.

At 2am I awake to a very loud alarm clock playing a Kid Rock song…..”Gonna paint the town red and paint his wife white…” I half open one eye and see my mother walk out of her room where the alarm clock is blasting music and watch her casually saunter to the bathroom. I go into her room turn off the alarm clock and go back to bed. I mention this in the morning.  The kids heard it, Nannie did not. Sleepwalking?

The next day my mother is reviewing her clothing options and comments that “it looks like I slept in these”. She did in fact sleep in her clothes each night on the trip. She typically just falls asleep in the middle of some activity, usually watching TV and whatever she has on at the time is what she wakes up in. If she brought pajamas I never saw them. She took a shower that morning and the three of us listened to her curse a blue streak at the faucet which was not adjusting to her needs in a timely manner. This day we were scheduled to see Peanut perform so we were out the door around 11am.

The theater was really nice and we were all super excited to see the show. The show started at 1pm and we had lunch as part of the experience. At one point Nannie went to the bathroom and about 15 minutes later she could not find her purse. It’s about to be showtime and I am saying silent prayers that she doesn’t lose her mind at this point because I might lose my shit over the timing. I had my son check the car and my mom and I checked the bathroom. Fortunately a staff member found the purse and all was right in the world for the next 2 hours. That was a close call. The show was amazing and worth every blip encountered along the way.

After the show we walked around the town and took a short walk along the river. We had a nice dinner out and Peanut shared some Nannie stories of her own with my kids when Nannie was in the bathroom. Nannie has a long history of disappearing when caring for children, inappropriate comments, loud TVs and unsolicited political commentary. After dinner, we dropped Peanut off and wished her well. Then we hunkered down for our last night.

The control freak in me was up at the crack of dawn preparing to leave. I needed to get the rental car back by noon to avoid a surcharge. Since I didn’t know what the traffic situation would be I wanted 4 hours to get there, knowing we would make at least two stops on the way. We made it back with time to spare and had a solid 3 hours before our departing flight. Nannie was once again pulled aside by security for the heating pad contraband plus she just looks suspicious. It doesn’t help that’s she’s made bomb jokes in these situations.

I tried to keep an eye on her as the four of us took turns watching our bags and wandering. She sauntered off a few times but always made it back. The real kick in the pants was after we landed in Trenton I could not find my car key. It’s gone somewhere in Chicago or Wisconsin or perhaps tucked away in Nannie’s bag somewhere accidentally on purpose. I still can’t find the damn thing, good thing the hubs had a spare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother Made Me…

Standard
My Mother Made Me…

Why do we demonize mothers? OK you may be thinking I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop, she’s come off the rails, PMS…? All valid things to ponder but stay with me a bit…it’s a thought that has occurred to me on more than one occasion, maybe you have noticed it too?

We expect so much from mothers. Thank you Captain Obvious for stating that…..I know (insert eye roll) but think about it in your own life. OK, I’ll start since I’m the first one reading this…and perhaps the only one.

I had a fairly crappy childhood with divorced parents. As kids we lived with our mother (for the most part) and our father paid child support (except when he didn’t,  which was often). He pretty much abandoned us except for the bi-annual court ordered payments when he would be forced to write a check. My mother kept a roof over our heads (with some lapses) until my twin brother and I turned 15 and the shit storm went nuclear. Fast forward 30+ years later and which parent aggravates me the most…..mom.

I see myself in her and her in me. Usually the parts I don’t like, have her fingerprints all over them. The negativity, the feeling of being easily overwhelmed, the victim mentality, the flakiness. Sometimes I see these flaws in discreet slivers….sometimes they are wrapped in neon signs holding a bullhorn announcing themselves to the world at high volume. I don’t ever think of my father when a character defect pops up and I am just itching to identify the source so I can destroy it so it never comes back again. PS – they always come back again, like garden weeds and stray cats that you accidentally fed on purpose.

So why do I do this? Why blame my mother when my father was not even around. Maybe that’s it….perhaps his absence gives him a free pass? Well damn that seems woefully unfair. But I have to be honest at this age, I’m too tired to build a relationship with the guy just so I can hate him. Meh, I don’t have the energy and he’s kind of a jerk.

Or is that society has brain washed me and you and all the woodland creatures into thinking that moms must be perfect and if they are not they must be hated? What the hell – why would anyone want that job asked the mom of two?

So here’s my suggestion…let’s be nicer to our moms. Let’s try to remember that they are mere mortals that make mistakes. Some mistakes may have been bigger and more catastrophic but would you let your dad off the hook for a similar issue? Would you forgive a friend if they stumbled along a similar broken path sometimes grabbing at the wrong branch for balance? And let’s be real honest, I don’t want my kids to hate me so maybe I’m just hoping for some good karma. Good luck to all the moms out there.

 

 

Mother’s Day is Hard……

Standard
Mother’s Day is Hard……

Mother’s Day is hard for me.  My mother lives close by in a small house that I bought for her. It’s in a retirement community and is a 10 minute drive from me. And it is kind of a remarkable thing given our history. Let’s be clear though, I mostly bought the house for me, not her. I need to be OK with myself after she passes.

My mother has been mentally unstable my entire life. As a young child I watched her drink alcoholically, drive drunk, and create drama. There were the standard saturday morning thrashings if my brother or I woke her up too early. If I’m honest, my brother took the brunt of that. I would scurry away and he would try to reason with her, smack. When I was in first grade she was brushing my hair and got so frustrated with me that she hit me hard on the forehead, which caused a bump and a surprising amount of blood. I was told to say I walked into the door so mommy wouldn’t get in trouble. Most of the abuse was mental. She would routinely say “I wish you were never born”. That’s hard to reconcile as a child, hell it’s hard to type that now.

It was just the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I. My parents divorced when we were two years old. We saw our father on a regular basis until we were moved out of state at 8 years old.This move followed a custody battle between our parents and as soon as the ink was dry from the case our mother moved us to Florida with her charismatic and somewhat insane boyfriend. So we went from 3 to 4 for one drama filled year.

I remember crossing the state line in a red convertible Cadillac “Welcome to Florida – The Sunshine State”. It was pouring and the irony or perhaps it was foreshadowing was not lost on me. That year was filled with insanity and contradictions. We moved four times in 10 months and went to two different school districts. There were snakes and palmetto bugs, lizards and a trip to Disney. We had a 40-foot boat and I learned to fish and went snorkeling, it wasn’t all bad.

The bad was really bad though.The relationship between my mother and her boyfriend was volatile. I saw him beat her. I listened to countless loud, uncontrollable arguments. At one point my mother left with my brother to go back to New Jersey. I was left in Florida with a family that we barely knew.  They had rented one of the houses we had lived in and they had 5 kids, I was 9 years old.Who does that? Who leaves their 9 year old girl in another state with strangers for a month. A desperate crazy person, that’s who.

My mother came back in about a month and was promptly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I was sent to a foster home for a week. Soon after my mother had another breakdown and destroyed the place we were living in. I watched her get arrested and placed in the back of a police car. A few days later I was taking my first ever plane ride back to New Jersey, alone.  My brother and I stayed with our grandparents for the next year until mom could get a place for the three of us.

The roller coaster continued throughout my formative years.Mother continued to drink and spoke of suicide often. Each day when I got home from school I would walk into every room in our apartment. Honestly, I did not connect the dots on this behavior until I was an adult, but I was looking for my mother’s body. There were also plenty of nights when I found her passed out on the floor with the telephone cord wrapped around her or in the bathroom. In between there was lots of yelling, uncertainty, acid laced gossip and talk of bankruptcy. I would be filled with panic when I heard my mother’s footsteps coming home at night, we never knew what to expect.

The high level of dysfunction continued until 1983. That year I was sent to rehab after a brief but intense bout of teenage rebellion. My mother had just gotten sober and once again introduced an insane man into our lives. Eventually that union caused the original three to be scattered in different living situations. My year consisted of institutions – including a cult working farm which portrayed itself as a recovery half way house. My brother lived with a friend’s family and mom couch surfed. The three of us never shared the same roof again – my brother and I were 15.

I grew up fast out of necessity, with little familial guidance. I learned how to “adult” in AA. Truly the 12 steps are a nice road map for life and I sure as shit wasn’t getting solid pointers at home. I learned about taking responsibility for my actions and my emotions. I became financially independent while I was a teenager and harnessed a strong work ethic. I put myself through college and really have done OK for myself despite the enormous odds stacked against me.

So how is it that after the shit storm that was my childhood am I able to care for my mother in a way that she never did for me? I don’t know maybe I get the illness part of mental illness. I mean if she had cancer or lupus I wouldn’t abandon her. I know it isn’t the same because the cancer patient doesn’t typically destroy others with their narcissistic ways, but I do know this, the woman is not well. So for the past 20 years or so I have managed to find a balance between compassion and self preservation.

So once again I will opt for the funny Mother’s Day card and some flowers, maybe a meal out for mom. I will not blubber on about how wonderful she is or post pictures on Facebook of smiling faces. I don’t do fake but I can do compassion.

 

 

 

 

Teachable Moments

Standard
Teachable Moments

For those who are not familiar….teachable moments tend to be awful and necessary. They also like to present themselves at inconvenient times and mostly in public places usually when you are exhausted or at least exasperated. My husband and I are raising two kids; a nearly 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. If you haven’t raised humans up to the tween phase let’s just say things get interesting. My number one goal in parenting is to raise kind, productive people that contribute to society in a positive way. I’m not hoping to get a sports scholarship, ivy league acceptance or even perfect hair….I just don’t want to raise assholes.

My kids are opposites in some ways. My son wants to stay a kid. So much so that I had to break the news to him about Santa Claus a few months ago. For the past two years I’d been leaving hints in bits of conversation like scattered bread crumbs, hoping he would ask for more. I leaned heavy on the “traditions” aspect of Christmas and would often say things like, different families have different traditions. We would discuss this regarding Santa and the Elf on the Shelf. I even suggested…scratch that….flat out told him…..”Do NOT talk about Santa at school.” The point is the hints were there, I left them scattered about to ease the transition. He didn’t bite, not even a nibble.

This Christmas Eve he had the “Santa Tracker” on his Ipod and made intermittent announcements about where Santa was in his one night gift giving world tour. I made a mental note to squash Santa on December 26th. Of course that day came and went and I finally had to make myself tell him the last day of winter break. It was hard. I waited until we were alone and I looked him in the eye and decided to ask “Do you really believe in Santa?” I saw sadness and fear in his eyes and I knew I was about to take away a piece of his childhood. It killed me to tell him but he’s in middle school if word got out, the mob would descend on him like vultures on a fresh carcass. I was gentle and direct when I told him something to the effect of……..there isn’t one Santa, there are many Santas – moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends….there isn’t one man dropping off presents all over the world. Santa is the idea of giving without expectation, it’s a tradition and a fairy tale rolled into a beautiful message of giving. We both cried a little and hugged. A few minutes later I asked him if he had any questions or if he wanted to talk about it. His only response was “I don’t believe you”. True story.

Now for the girl….ahhh tween girl drama is brutal. We have already experienced frenemies and flat out bullies. At times I think my daughter has been a bit of a bully and I called her on it immediately. I tell her constantly about the importance of not talking smack about people and treating everyone the way you want to be treated. I monitor her Instagram and I am shocked at some of the conversations that take place.

My kids have limited access to electronic devices. Half an hour during the week and an hour on weekends and holidays. They are not permitted to have their Ipods in their rooms at night. This past Valentine’s Day there was a conversation with several girls on Instagram and two girls were pondering where my daughter was since she wasn’t responding. One girl suggested she was dead, another suggested she was pregnant. Yes you read that right and these girls were 10. Do you think their parents monitor their Instagram? Doubtful.

My daughter has not yet found her tribe. She floats between different groups of girls and has some close friends. She does not have a best friend at the moment and she is trying to make me her best friend. This is achingly sweet, but let’s be honest I can’t be her BFF, I have to discipline her. She is very emotional right now and requires a lot of one on one time and I am juggling the chainsaws and kittens the best I can. Yesterday was a disaster.

We set time aside to go shopping in a mall. Let me just state this for the record – I hate to shop, especially at malls but this is my girl so I make time for it. We stopped at a friend’s house on the way which took longer than expected and as a result we had less time to shop. She had about 10 items on her list of things she wanted to do and we had time for maybe 7. When I told her it was time to go, a tear slid down her cheek and I got the instant whinny rebuttal from her. I felt a lava like rage boiling in my gut and I insisted that we had to go.

I won’t lie it was ugly and I wish I conducted myself differently. My initial fear was that I was raising a self entitled spoiled brat and that is oh so unacceptable. I told her we needed to leave and I walked at a very fast pace. She was a wreck. I did not yell but the anger was coming off of me like steam, it was palpable. She was crying before we got in the car.

My tone of voice and body language made it clear that I was angry and I wasn’t good at listening to why she was upset in the first few moments. I came to my own conclusion that my daughter was being a spoiled brat. That probably wasn’t entirely fair but it wasn’t completely off the mark either. So I stepped on to my soap box and told her how I will not tolerate a spoiled entitled child. I explained that I wanted her to focus on kindness, a work ethic, academics and not on shiny pretty things we get at the mall.

Then I droned on in a way that has made kids eyes roll for centuries. I told her that when I grew up, the only clothes I got were hand me downs from my cousins. In addition, I got one new outfit that my Nana would buy me in early September before school started each year. Then I realized that this conversation was taking a toll on her and I reminded my daughter that she is funny, smart and kind to animals and people and that I liked those things about her. I told her that I worried that she was too concerned about designer labels and material things…. Geezus it was just too much to put on 11 year old shoulders.

At the end of the day we were both calm and discussed better strategies for our next outing. We have determined that a prioritized list will help us stay on track and help us better focus our time. We both apologized to each other and ended the night with our usual tuck in – saying prayers, reviewing the best parts of the weekend, making plans before the final I love you for the night. So many teachable moments this weekend and sometimes it’s hard to keep my own brand of crazy out of the mix. My own childhood haunts me and I know it echos into my present parenting abilities. So as the teachable moments keep coming, I need to remind myself to stay teachable. Parenting is hard.

 

 

 

I’m Angry

Standard
I’m Angry

I am angry and sad, disgusted, grateful and happy. So what led me to be this twitching mass of emotions? My past. Old wounds long ago scabbed over and faded are suddenly brought to light. Burning sun on Mercury light. Yesterday I unearthed a message that was buried in the not yet friends message folder in Facebook. It was waiting there for three weeks.

It was from a lovely women living in another continent who stumbled upon my humble blog. She was enthusiastic in her message to me, a total stranger, because we shared a common teenage horror. We were each sent to “The Family” in upstate NY in 1984 when we were 15 years old. We were not there at the same time but our experiences had some unfortunate overlap.

I have written about “The Family” before in some of my posts which describe my first year of sobriety. Here’s where they come in to play in my story if you are so inclined,  https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/02/1-out-of-37-part-4/  it was a horrible place to say the least and not something I think about often. Of course now that it has been revisited, I find myself in investigative mode and the stuff under the rocks is pretty gross. Think contender for Dante’s 10th circle of hell and you’d be getting warmer, much warmer.

Tony Argiros and his wife Betty ran “The Family” when I was there  in January of 1984.I’m not sure how long they were in the group home/work farm business at that point but I found some testimonials that go back to 1979. I suppose they tweaked their sadistic craft over the course of several years and decided that they were so fabulous at wrecking lives that they ought to expand their services.

My new online friend informed me that Tony and Betty Argiro founded The Family Foundation School in Hancock, NY. According to Wikipedia The Family Foundation School was established in 1984. In googling the school’s name I came across a website http://www.thefamilyschooltruth.com/Home.html whose sole purpose was to get the place shut down. They sought testimonials from alumni, parents and staff. After a 5 year battle, they were successful and ultimately the place shut down. The Family Foundation School, later known as the Allynwood Academy closed in 2014.

Sadly, in the time that they were open, hundreds, if not thousands of lives were forever altered. I’ll toss a bone Tony’s way and suggest that perhaps a handful of kids were helped along the way. And I say that knowing the ends do not always justify the means. Based on the testimonials that I read, the school shared some common traits with it’s precursor group home “The Family”.

Both places had a strict blackout period during which residents could not even communicate with their parents. Pro tip, if a place says your kid can’t talk to you for 3 months, that’s a red flag. They shared a focus on breaking down the individual.  They did this by removing all personal belongings, providing unfamiliar clothes, cutting hair in a severe manner and horrid meal times where staff and residents would select targets for humiliation and degradation. With the added bonus of sleep deprivation and physical labor to the point of exhaustion.I honestly don’t know how some of these kids made it, some where there 3 or 4 years. To top it off many of the alumni complained they never finished school due to excessive punishment or manual labor. It was supposed to be a school….shouldn’t the academics come first?

Imagine if Jim Jones opened a school except there’s no Kool-Aid. Just a steady barrage of soul shattering punishments, isolation and humiliation. The founders loosely based the school on a 12 step program and inserted their own brand of insane diabolical fundamentalist values. The result was disastrous.

Read the words of the alumni testimonials. Visualize for yourself what these teenagers endured, some for several years. I only spent a month or so during my incarceration at the family farm and in that time I ran away twice. I was successful the second time. Others tried to runaway from the school or the farm. One kid was killed by an 18 wheeler in his desperate attempt to flee the farm. Many attempts were made at the school and at one point they used search and rescue dogs to retrieve the escapees. Another student killed himself by jumping off a second story balcony. During my time I fantasized about breaking a leg just to go to the hospital. I even had a failed attempt at burning the place down. I understand their pain and I want to tell their stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

Standard
Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

So in 1983 my world imploded just the tiniest bit. We had been living in the same town in central NJ for about 5 years. Some years were better than others but it was the longest stretch I had lived anywhere in my 15 years so it felt like home. I lived there with my mother and twin brother.

A little background, mom was a drunk until she got sober for good in August of 1982. That is pretty much when I started to drink and “experiment” with drugs. Fortunately for me, I had limited means so it was mostly some pot and an occasional pill. I am pretty sure I would have tried anything put in front of me. We called that a garbage head in the 80’s. I was quite reckless and I put myself in harm’s way on a regular basis. Traded in my long term friends for a sketchier variety that wanted to meander along with me on my path of self destruction.

How did the once good girl suddenly find her self so misguided? Escape. I just wanted to escape from the life I was in. As a young girl I remember looking at the most popular girl in the class and I wondered….what is it like to be Kim? Back then I was a judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover kind of gal and my cover was torn, tattered with some coffee stains and a cigarette burn or two. Kim had a flawless, shiny, smells like a new car cover going on…..I wondered what that was like.

In addition to having the family from hell I also had a fairly long “awkward stage” that’s the stage when the kid is fairly ugly for a few years and everyone hopes it’s temporary. So I basically went from being the buck-toothed scrawny girl to braces straightened teeth, kind of pretty and overly made up. It wasn’t a magnificent transition but it was enough to get the boys to notice me. The ones who made fun of me the year before suddenly wanted to “hang out”. I was insecure enough to not tell them to fuck off. If only I had a time machine…….

So this is where my childhood ends. The story, my story continues in another series titled…..(insert drum roll here) “1 in 37……..”. That series describes my first year of recovery. Spoiler alert I have been sober since 1983. Don’t let that stop you from reading…….some crazy shit happened that first year (and trust me, I know crazy, we’re like besties….smh).

https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/04/28/1-out-of-37-part-1/

 

 

Keep on Truckin’…….Part 8

Standard
Keep on Truckin’…….Part 8

We lived in an apartment over a hardware store in a blue collar town in central New Jersey.  We lasted there the better part of 5 years. That was a milestone, hadn’t made it past 18 months anywhere else up to that point. For the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I that was a bit of stability. Everything else was a bit of a shit storm but at least we had friendships that lasted beyond a single school year.

The apartment was small but it was home. You approached it from the outside via steep wooden stairs on the back north corner of the hardware store. At the top of the stairs was an enclosed landing….porch sounds too fancy. Once you opened the door you stepped into a hallway. To the right was a closet and straight ahead was an opening to the living room. If you made a left in the hallway you were steps from the kitchen which was large enough to have the necessities and a small table. The kitchen also doubled as the laundry room with a washer and dryer in the corner. Just past the laundry area was my brother’s bedroom. He had his own bedroom, I’m sure I was jealous of that. Off of his bedroom was a storage room which lacked proper insulation and for some reason there was a window shared between the storage room and the bathroom. There was a second short hallway off the kitchen which provided another entry point into the living room and a closet, my closet. It was also the means to get to the only bathroom and the second bedroom which I shared with my mother. There was a door at the end of this hall which led to another apartment. This was weird because it locked on our side but we could open the door and be in our neighbor’s apartment. We lived there from the summer of 1978 to October of 1983. In school terms we were there from 5th grade to the beginning of 10th grade.

The layout of the apartment became intimately familiar to me. Every day when I got home from school I would walk through the apartment. I would go into every room and open every closet, every damn day. I did this looking for my mother’s body. She talked about wanting to die so frequently that I would go through the apartment on auto pilot searching for her. I don’t even think I connected what I was doing until much later in life but there it is.

My mom drank alcoholically and she was pretty expressive with her feelings. Basically she had no filter and no control. Drunk or sober she told my brother and I countless times “I wish you were never born”. Literally so many times I can’t even give you a ball park estimate, 100 times, a thousand…..does it fucking matter? I guess part of her was kind enough to say that instead of “I wish you were dead”, she reserved that wish for herself. She would vacillate between being completely over protective and affectionate to wishing we were never born. Between apologies, isolation, madness, drunken debauchery and uncertain life circumstances we never knew what to expect from her.

Featured image

My mom worked her ass off to support us. My father was shitty and inconsistent with child support payments and as a result we were broke. We had enough to eat, thank you school lunch subsidy and we got food stamps but there were no luxuries. Most of my clothes were hand me downs from my cousins. Mom had to splurge on clothes for my brother because there were no hand me downs to be had for him. Our grandparents would take us shopping before each new school year and we would get some needed items – jeans, shoes, jackets. They were good to us and our lives would have been so much worse without their help.

Besides the clothes and money they slipped my mom our grandparents also took us for occasional weekends so mom could get a break. This was after spending a year living with them. Our means to get there was less than delightful. My brother and I would take a bus from Sayreville to Waretown. It felt like 3 days but it was probably a good 2 1/2 hours with several stops including bus stations in Lakewood and Toms River. I would always get off the bus in Lakewood to cause my brother anxiety and stretch my legs. It was a bit of a ghetto there and my brother was always afraid that I wouldn’t get back on the bus in time….I never missed. We started this trek when we were 10 years old….pretty sure parents would get locked up now for putting their kids on a public bus for such a long period but in the late 70’s it was no big deal. Aside from the horrible fumes, second hand smoke, freaks and intense motion sickness it wasn’t so bad. Kind of like the scene from Trains, Planes and Automobiles just switch out the open space for a more urban setting.

To be continued…..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2016/01/16/keep-on-truckin-part-9/

Keep on Truckin’…….Part 7

Standard
Keep on Truckin’…….Part 7

Sometime in the summer of 1978 my brother and I finally moved back into a place with our mother. She had spent the last year getting settled into a job and a new apartment. While she was getting settled my brother and I stayed with our maternal grandparents. That living situation was prompted by a disastrous year in Florida with my mother, her boyfriend, Frank and my twin brother and me.

When we came back to New Jersey my brother and I were excited about seeing our father again. He lived in a shore town in New Jersey and we were both looking forward to reconnecting. Before we left for Florida we saw our father and his bride on a regular basis. They even tried to gain custody of the two of us. I remember having someone from the court ask me who I would rather live with….which was a ridiculous question for me…that question was a 1,000 pounds on my 7 year old shoulders. I answered with trepidation….something to the effect of I love them both but I guess I’d rather live with my mom.

The truth is I was torn. I kind of fantasized what it would be like to live with my father and his new wife. I really loved them, they were good to us….her whole family was good to us. On the other hand I had my mother and I recognized that she was wounded and I felt like she needed me. I also knew with every fiber of my being that if I went to live with my father she would be lost to me forever.

She frequently said bad things about my father and step mother which made me question my loyalty on a regular basis. I felt good when I was with my father and his new family and then when my brother and I would get home our mother would interrogate us. She would look for the smallest sliver of anything she could use against him. How many drinks did so and so have, who was there, what was on tv? It was intense. And I’m not sure exactly when it started but sometime early on my mother started referring to my father as “shithead”. She did this constantly used shithead in place of his name or a pronoun. Textbook definition of how not to behave after a divorce.

So naturally when we went to see our father for the first time since returning to New Jersey, my brother and I were nervous. We were also excited. He called us weekly while we were in Florida and we were under the impression that they missed us. So when he answered the door and didn’t invite us in my world caved in a bit. He said something about not being able to just come over unannounced and blah blah…..I don’t remember the exact words. I just remember shutting down and closing him off. Of course my mother reinforced how awful that was when we told her what happened.

Even though my mom was crazy it was hard for me to be apart from her. So when the three of us starting living together again I was happy. We started 5th grade that year in an elementary school which was maybe six blocks away. I had been to plenty of new schools by this point so I was pretty good at making new friends and observing situations.

Not sure how far into the school year it happened but one day I got into a verbal altercation with someone.  Before I could blink I had half the class threatening to beat me up after school. At which point I became more bravado than brains and started to assign people numbers something like “oh yeah I’ll fight you first, you second, you third….” pointing out the kids I would fight and in what order. Somewhere before I got to double digits an angel stepped in. She was the class jock and everyone adored her and even then she was cool enough to not give a shit about what people thought of her. She announced that if anyone fought me they would have to fight her as well. They all backed out of the fight and I got a new best friend.

I’ll never forget the day that Shelly stood up for me. After school I was determined to go to her house. I went up to the door and from that day until high school I spent many hours there. Her family was crazy but in a good way. They were loud, all the kids cursed but they loved each other. There was always food, snacks, dinner and all the Nestle Quik you could drink. Those were luxuries for me then…..hell we couldn’t afford Devil Dogs. Her mom didn’t work so she was often driving her kids and their friends around. I was always welcome there.

This was such a stark contrast to my family life. My brother and I were latch key kids. We came home after school to an empty apartment and I always had a long list of chores including getting dinner ready most nights. My brother and I fought all the time. That caused problems because we lived over a business so my mother had to hear about our behavior a lot. That did not make her happy and if mom isn’t happy no one is happy.

We never knew what kind of mood our mother would be in when she came home. When we heard her coming up the steps we would scatter like roaches when the lights come on. Scurrying off in different directions, tucked away until we could determine if it was safe to come out.

To be continued…..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/11/12/keep-on-truckin-part-8/