Category Archives: family

Volunteering

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Volunteering

Geezus it’s getting hard to give your time away for free these days. I’ve been a frequent volunteer in my kids school: class mom, chaperone, field trips, book drives, food drives, Secret Santa, Daisies, Brownies, Cub Scouts, soccer coach (psst, totally not qualified) and various fundraising efforts. Some of the activities were for a day or during a brief trial of a new activity.

A few years ago the State of Pennsylvania made it a total pain in the ass to volunteer. Here’s a checklist for people that volunteer in PA schools:

  • Criminal History Request
  • Child Abuse Clearance
  • FBI Fingerprints
  • School Personnel Health Record – TB test & physical for those volunteering 10 or more hours a week
  • Arrest/Conviction Report & Certification
  • Blood of a Unicorn

Only one of those is false. Not only do you have to pay some fees to fulfill these requirements, it’s also a time suck. Our closest FBI fingerprint office is a 30 minute drive away. Between scheduling, transportation and processing – I’m looking at 2 ½ hours just to get my fingerprints. Good luck finding people to do that.

One of my more substantial efforts has been volunteering for an education fund. It’s an organization that pays for teacher-led grants in our school district. It is one of those rare efforts which is all positive, no controversy – money for teachers, YAY!!! Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for everyone!

I hate to break it to you but the idea of an all positive, no BS, everyone stands in a circle singing “Kumbaya” organization that deals with the public is a myth (OK, LIE, it’s a freakin’ lie). There are a handful of us that volunteer for this non-profit. A few of us came onboard several years ago to try and revive the ed fund which had been neglected for some time.

We determined that we would revive “Ed” by hosting community wide fundraising events that would promote awareness and earn some cash. In the past three years we put on variety shows, held food truck events, a paint nite, a 5K and couple of barn bashes which featured a silent auction. We try to keep the “fun” in FUNdraising (I just smacked myself so you don’t have to). For the most part our efforts have been well received by the community and some fun has been had by all. There have been some exceptions.

It’s like planning a wedding. You have to be considerate of the majority of the attendees, smile politely when people want ridiculous accommodations and contribute more time and money then you ever anticipated. And in the end someone will always complain that the chicken was dry or the music was too loud.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

The Man on the Bed

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The Man on the Bed

I made a new friend yesterday, his name is Lenny and he’s 85. He happens to be dying of lung cancer but we didn’t talk much about that. I went to visit him as a hospice volunteer. Lenny’s house is a treasure trove of art and dust. His room smells like urine and his clothes are in a pile on the floor near his bed. If you can look past that, you are rewarded with art from several cultures and genres.

Soon after I arrived I noticed a copy of “The Man on the Bed” painting. This painting was created by Robert M for the December 1955 Grapevine (an Alcoholics Anonymous publication). I commented on the painting and informed my new friend that I was sober 35 years though I don’t go to meetings anymore. Lenny also got sober in the 80’s and attends 6 – 10 meetings a week.

The man is on oxygen and has a catheter and it doesn’t stop him. We joked about the car he drives which happens to be a Ford Escape and we decided it was the perfect name for his vehicle. Indeed he is escaping every time he leaves the house. For an hour or so he is welcomed into a warm room full of people he is fond of, embracing the humanity of it as a respite from the confines of his bed.

We talked a lot about Lenny’ s life, he’s had a fascinating life. He was born in Copenhagen in 1934. He spent his childhood in institutions as he was abandoned by his parents. His country was under German occupation during World War II when he was a child. He has vivid memories of interacting with German soldiers as a young boy. He recalled one memory when he was affectionately picked up by a German soldier and placed in the sidecar of a Zundap motorcycle which had a machine gun attached to it.

He never sat in a traditional classroom, he taught himself to read by working out the captions under illustrations. He has always been drawn to art and artists. He credits his time at the Summerhill School in Suffolk England for encouraging his creativity. He described it as a free range approach to education, no classroom required.

He became a mason apprentice at 14 and got his Mason Certificate and Union Book four years later. He traveled the world through his trade and spent time in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He came to the USA in 1963, he arrived on old freighter which was riddled with bullet holes. He disembarked in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his green card.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his three marriages. He did tell me that each of his wives was wonderful and that the blame for failure was his alone. He had four children and two died from overdoses. We didn’t dwell on it, he took the blame for that as well. He told me he was a lousy father, not at all present for his children when they were growing up. Three decades of sobriety has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of self acceptance.

Sometimes you need to spend time with the dying to fully appreciate living. I can’t wait to visit my new friend again.

Gridlocked

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Gridlocked

Once your kid hits Kindergarten you are officially on the grid. No more spontaneous trips to the children’s museum or the beach, the freedom of doing your own thing is officially off the rails. Your vacation schedule is at the mercy of the school calendar and you become a cog in the wheel.

Those first few years it’s so hard just getting the littles out the door. Shoes and socks tend to disappear and someone usually has to poop the minute the coats go on. I’d like to tell you that this improves, it doesn’t. The dynamics change, they dress themselves and you have no idea if they poop but challenges remain. The days of racing out of the house like your hair is on fire will likely last longer than you think.

Once when my kids were in middle school we were doing our usual mad dash out the door. Actually, only two of us were racing. My son is always calm and ready with his backpack on, checking the time, reminding us we’re late. I grab my keys, shout a “hurry up” and run to the car. We are halfway to middle school when my daughter mentions that she needs to go back.

DD: Um mom I don’t have any shoes.

SC: Really? How does that even happen?

DD: We need to go back.

SC: No time, you’ll wear my sneakers.

Note: My shoes are about 4 sizes too big for my daughter. I had visions of my daughter tripping over her newly minted clown feet all day. At least I had a valid excuse for skipping my cardio class that day.

When my oldest started Kindergarten I entered the “Zealot Phase” of parenting. I took everything way too seriously and thought that the school would improve greatly if they just followed some of my suggestions. The fact that I have no experience as a public educator did not deter me from speaking my mind.

My first issue was class size. There were 25 kids assigned to my son’s Kindergarten class. I lost my ever lovin’ mind. I spoke out about it at school board meetings and wrote letters, so many letters. Then I found out my son’s teacher was pregnant and would go on maternity leave mid year (gasp). At one point there were rumors of the beloved elementary school shutting down and I went full on crazy and started a petition on Change.org (Oh yes I did).

We are fortunate that we live in a great school district. Somehow they managed to figure out how to keep things moving without adhering to every suggestion uttered from my lips, miraculous. After a couple of years I began to trust the process a little bit and got out of my own way.

One thing that has remained a constant source of entertainment is car line. Car line is where parents drop their kids off for school in the morning and fetch them in the afternoon. Sometimes my kids take the bus but I’m a sucker for letting them get some extra shut eye so I usually drive them in the morning.

I’ll just state for the record that I can be a bit “assertive” when I drive. My license plate has PA on it but I’m all Jersey behind the wheel. I’ve been known to take the turn into car line on two wheels, tires screeching with Slim Shady blasting on the radio. Most days though, I just have one-sided conversations with the drivers around me. I try to send out telepathic messages in the hopes the other drivers will heed my advice. Here’s a sample of my brain on car line:

SC: (To the slow moving vehicle with a Namaste bumper sticker) “Hey Namaste – why don’t you Nama-stay outta my way.”

SC: (To the minivan which has a Star Wars stick figure family decal on the back window with 6 car lengths in front of them…)”Is Darth Vader preventing you from pulling all the way up?”

SC: (To the Volvo in elementary school car line, outside of their car, having  coffee talk with another driver) “Could you perhaps move to a different locale? There are now 37 cars behind you and all of the kids are about to be late.”

SC: (To the Tesla Model X) “Move it along McFly, we know you love Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City, let’s go. You’ve opened and closed those doors so many times I expect you to fly off.”

My kids like to point out how ineffective this technique has been. Then I chastise myself when I realize the person in front of me is a good friend. The worst drivers are the people with COEXIST bumper stickers. It’s great when the COEXIST mom cuts you off than gives you the finger for getting her chakras misaligned that day. Namaste mofo, namaste.

If the Olympics ever add stupid driving as a sport, we’ve got some contenders for gold. Once you get through the drop off/pick up, you need to exit the parking lot. I lose my mind a little with the submissive people who have to make a left into a busy intersection. I’ve been an involuntary participant in the parade of cars waiting to turn because docile dad is having an existential crisis and can’t inch his way forward. Just make the turn dude.

Each building of our district has some variation of car line, they all share a common theme of inefficiency and mayhem:

Lower Elementary – Things move at a remarkably slow pace here. I used to wonder if people did craft projects in the back of their cars. Are you making slime back there? Put the Borax down and move forward. It takes a lifetime to get to the front of the line. Lots of hugs and kisses outside of the car as the littles are sent on their way for the day. I was home with these kids for 5 years straight with 4 hour breaks for preschool I don’t need an extra 15 minutes hugging it out at drop off. Lead, follow or get out of the way mom, your kid is fine.

Upper Elementary – Things move a little faster but it is still crowded and slow. Some of the kids have taken up instruments or have large class projects they need to maneuver. The jaws of life have been used more expediently for extractions then the volcano projects that take an eon to get removed from the trunk. Don’t you have to be somewhere today, move it along. Less hugs and kisses seen outside the car but there’s still some affection within the confines of the family vehicle.

Middle School – Most of the time the kids pretend they no longer know their parents. Like some random stranger or Uber got their asses to school. The time for drop off goes down but the stupid driving escalates. For some reason a high percentage of drivers can not grasp the first rule of car line – move forward (all the way). Our drop off/pick up area is in the shape of a semicircle. Drivers tend to only go to the halfway point…why? To get the kid closer to the door? Is there some invisible electronic force field keeping you from pulling all the way up? Are there voices in your head (perhaps Darth Vader) warning you against pulling forward all the way? I got so annoyed with this that I created a meme (featured image).

This chaotic pattern is repeated at pick up. Some people are simply incapable of pulling all the way forward to maximize the amount of cars that can be in the semicircle. I used to wait patiently, observing the tremendous car gap, wondering WTF to myself. Now when I see that I just drive past everyone else and pull into the front of car line. Total suburban anarchist. I haven’t gotten flipped off for it yet probably because most people have their heads down staring at their phones. I don’t know what happens at High School car line but our family is sticking with the slow down to disembark with instructions to tuck and roll as they exit.

Namaste bitches.

 

An Accidental Stay at Home Mom

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An Accidental Stay at Home Mom

My plan, our plan, THE plan was that I would go back to work after our son was born. I took three months maternity leave and after two weeks of being back on the job, I got laid off. I worked for a software company at the time and all of the Project Managers were “let go.” Wow that was a lot to wrap my head around, now what??? I never intended to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM).

Honestly, I was scared. Financially we could swing it (thank you husband) but mentally the idea of not working was completely foreign to me. I hadn’t considered it before, it wasn’t in the plan. This wasn’t a choice, it was an unexpected circumstance. I worked most of my life up to that point, from the time I was 16 until I got laid off at 35 and there were several years that I worked multiple jobs. Before I was legally old enough to work, I worked.  I raked leaves, shoveled snow, cleaned, weeded, babysat…I hustled.

 

I was raised by a single mom and we were broke. I worked because I needed to if I wanted anything beyond the absolute necessities. Through observation, I took in many lessons from my single mother. She always said things like “don’t become a secretary” and the not always verbal but always present and paramount life lesson – don’t depend on a man. Well damn, now I have a 3 month old baby and no J-O-B and a husband OK with me staying home.

The medical complications of my pregnancy and necessary follow up also had a profound effect on me. Part of me was just happy to be alive. I had to talk myself through the not working thing. I questioned myself, if this was my last day on earth, how would I want to spend it? Working some random job or taking care of my baby.Truth be told I did send out some resumes but it was a half-hearted attempt. I could not justify making a choice to work and leaving child care up to someone else a big chunk of the time, simply because I HAD a choice. It’s a different game entirely if it isn’t a choice, I get that.

It didn’t take long to see some hostility between SAHM and working moms…my theory is guilt. Only my theory based on my own experience not a universal truth so calm down…your theory may kick my theory’s ass at recess…I don’t really care.  I had guilt as a SAHM because I was used to being financially independent and I had to constantly tell myself it’s OK, it’s best for the family (and it was best for us).

It was still hard to shake the guilt because of the lessons my mom taught me growing up. I was falling short by depending on a man. I think working moms feel guilt because they don’t see their kids as much. It’s just a hard frickan’ job whether or not you work outside the home.

I had to step away from my practical, always working self and do something completely different from what I had carefully planned. Sorry atheists…but for me being a SAHM was an act of faith. You see at that time between the health issues, unexpected unemployment, moving and other changes…I really felt like the universe was telling me to stay home, so I did. Honestly it is not something I did gracefully. It was out of necessity and circumstances that were bigger than me.

A week or so after my son’s first birthday, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive. This was unexpected. After the complications of my first delivery, my husband and I were a little scared. We “planned” on having one child. We were wrong. So one and done became two and through with lots of monitoring of my high-risk pregnancy.

Knowing what to look out for in the second pregnancy was helpful but it didn’t alleviate all of my fears. There were weeks when my husband traveled internationally and it was just me and our son. My fear was that I would throw a blood clot which would incapacitate me and my son would be the only one around. It was not an irrational fear.

Late in my second pregnancy, we were having a New Year’s Day dinner at my mother and father in-laws house. My sister in-law and her family were there as well. My husband was joking about some minor health issue he had. I laughingly said something like – “Sure you get a man cold, meanwhile, I’m throwing blood clots like a pitcher in the Major Leagues” – something stupid and yet (cue the the creepy music) prophetic.

The next day I felt that familiar dull ache behind my knee and I called my OBGYN. This time she had me go directly to the Maternity Ward at the hospital and did the ultrasound there. Sure enough I had another blood clot behind my knee. This granted me a 5 day stay in the hospital with an IV of blood thinners and mandatory bed rest.

When I was released from the hospital, I had instructions to inject myself in the abdomen twice a day with a blood thinner. Say whaaaaat? Every twelve hours I had to psych myself up to jab a needle into my very pregnant belly. Dare I say, super cringey stuff.

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We decided to temporarily move back to New Jersey to be near the hospital and closer to family. I injected myself twice a day for a month before the Hematologist and the OBGYN got together and decided it was time to schedule a C-section. They were both afraid of a bad outcome (fatalities really mess with their malpractice insurance and I think they liked me). I had another retractable filter inserted. This time I demanded a mild sedative for the procedure, much better.

At 35 weeks/6 days of my second pregnancy our daughter was born via C-section. Me, my husband and our trusted doctors, all decided it was best to perform a tubal ligation after the C-section. Apparently I suck at being pregnant. I was 36 and survived two high-risk pregnancies. We had one healthy boy and one healthy girl, no need to get greedy.

Our second baby was so much easier. Perhaps because we knew the drill and our expectations were not as regimented so we could relax more. We knew we couldn’t “plan” every aspect of things so we just rolled with it. Bonus this baby wasn’t colicky and slept a reasonable amount from a very early age. (You mean they don’t all scream for several hours continuously and wake up 4 times a night…for years?)

Fast forward many years and I can see how being a SAHM served me. If I am honest, I got the perks and the liabilities in good measure. The perks are obvious, I haven’t missed a thing with my kids. First steps, first tooth, first haircut, first day of anything – I was there for all of it. We had so many special day trips that wouldn’t have been possible if I worked outside the home. They don’t remember most of them. I do, and I suspect they are the days I will reflect on in old age.

When I walk into my kids school, I know half the faculty, the school board and at least 60% of the kids by name.  I have created a network of go-to moms that can get me through to the finish line or at least high school graduation. I have volunteered for just about everything in the district (exception: I refused to get on the school board, that is just bat sh*t crazy).

The liabilities are pretty stacked too thankfully some of them have passed.  My first born was a colicky baby who had night terrors and did not sleep through the night for FOUR years (4 mofo years). My kids are about 20 months apart and (aside from my hospital stays) I got up with both of them every single time. Every. Single. Time. During those years I fantasized about being alone with a fist full of Tylenol PM in a dark quiet hotel room. Sleep was like trying to catch vapor in those early years of motherhood.

Being a SAHM was great but I had no time to myself. I thought it would be good to get away from the littles few hours a day, I couldn’t. I looked forward to medical appointments to get some “me time.” Some days it was easier to have the blood drawn than to be home. And sometimes I had to take two kids with me to those appointments. When they were toddlers I would play hide and seek just to get a few minutes to myself in the kitchen pantry (there may have been Oreos in there).

 

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

Being out of the workforce for a decade didn’t do me any favors career-wise. This may be the biggest hit that a SAHM takes. That and the guilt about doing anything for yourself because you get to stay home. What saved my ass was a small group of women in a Moms Club. Unlike me, they “planned” to be SAHM and their friendships have had a huge impact on me.

 

 

 

Stayed tuned for future installments of #SuperCringe

Blur

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Blur

Halloween as always been one of my favorite days of the year. I love to dress up, marvel at the decorations and of course, CaNdY!!! My kids love it too. The past few years we have split up. Me with one kid and their group of friends and the other with a different group in another neighborhood. Everyone dressed up and candy was abundant. This year things changed. My oldest didn’t really get to “trick or treat”, his friends weren’t into it. My youngest, didn’t want me around. This is as it should be at their ages. Just another reminder that this sweet time of parenting when we share a home and talk every day, it’s going to end in a handful of years.

It’s seems like yesterday or maybe a week, a few years ago at most, that I dressed up as Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 by my side. A more accurate description would be Thing 1 holding on tight with his right hand secure in my left. Thing 2 was riding my hip, arms loose around my neck. I was sweaty from exertion and they were just plain hot in fuzzy costumes.

I’ll never forget that Halloween, my kids were 3 and 5 years old. We met a friend and her family for pizza in a town that celebrates Halloween on an epic level. Our littles were in preschool then. We were on the precipice of big changes, elementary school was around the corner and we were trying to soak in the last bits of a schedule that wasn’t encumbered by school district rules. It was a glorious time and I was too exhausted most days to fully appreciate it.

That Halloween was unusually warm and the “Thing” costumes were not designed for that level of heat. We didn’t make it far that night, a few blocks at most. The uneven sidewalk, perpetual lack of sleep and the physical strains of being weighted unevenly on one side for hours was catching up to me. I was relieved to get them in the car and back home before long. It was a short drive but Thing 2 was also weary. I had to carry her sweaty, sleeping body into the house from the car. Then I tried to slip her out of her costume and into bed without waking her, mission not accomplished (sigh).

I ran a tight ship in those days, kept a schedule. It took so long for my oldest to sleep through the night, that I made a bedtime ritual mandatory. I tried everything – baths, books, warm milk, sprayed the room with monster deterrent (water) and finally resorted to meditation CDs. At 5, he was finally getting the hang of it. I tried to stick to that schedule because I had years of sleep to catch up on. My husband traveled almost constantly during this phase so I was on my own most nights.

Fast forward to my “Things”, 13 & 15 and oh, what I wouldn’t give to relive that night. That friend from the pizza place, she passed away nearly five years ago. She died on Thing 2’s 9th birthday. We knew it was inevitable, she fought cancer and the horrific effects of chemo since the birth of her son who is the same age as mine (Thing 1). And our boys, they’re still friends. I’ve kept a vigil on that as I promised I would. It was an unspoken promise, the one you make in your heart when the words can’t come out because you want to be brave but you’re jello inside. So I guess I should stop lamenting over the passage of time and all that is getting to be in the rear view mirror, because I got to be here for it.

 

Becoming a Mom

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Becoming a Mom

I was one of those doe-eyed first time moms who took the birthing classes, read libraries full of books and even (and I still chuckle at this) created a birth plan. My birth plan included a leisurely stroll on a New Jersey boardwalk while admiring the view of the Atlantic Ocean. This would be followed by a trip to the International House of Pancake (IHOP) where I would consume my soon-to-be-born baby’s weight in pancakes.

 

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Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bhofack2′>bhofack2 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

Full disclosure, I was a vegetarian when I became a human incubator and instead of embracing the holistic lifestyle, I decided to reintroduce meat. In fact, I fell off the vegetarian wagon during my first trimester when I ordered a hot dog at the San Francisco Airport. I was of the mindset that if my body wants it, I must need it. I was an idiot. My birth plan included stacks of pancakes and bacon, glorious bacon.

At 39 weeks pregnant, I had an ache behind my left knee. Whenever I tried to sleep on that side (I know who sleeps at 39 weeks pregnant) it hurt more. I told my doctor about it and she sent me for an ultrasound. Shortly after, I discovered I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and needed to go straight to the hospital. This was NOT in the birth plan. Sh*t got real very fast but I still wasn’t entirely aware of the danger.

The panicked looks on the medical staff in the Maternity Ward alerted me to the seriousness of the situation. A blood clot could have easily broken away from the DVT and instantly killed me or my baby. I was told to make one last trip to the bathroom, put on a hospital gown and then, DON’T MOVE!

A few hours later I was taken to the trauma unit. The plan was to insert a retractable filter in preparation of childbirth (apparently giving birth is fertile ground for throwing blood clots). The filter would, fingers crossed, break up any clots before they got to my lungs, heart or brain.  I was petrified. I sent my husband on an errand to distract him. I told him to get me a tuna sub because, hello…pregnancy cravings.

I silently begged God not to take me or my son away. Thoughts of my husband raising our boy alone were excruciating. I was placed on an operating room table and told to turn my head and not move. First they inserted a needle in to my jugular vein to numb the area (thank you and how about a little something to take the f*cking edge off) then the retractable filter was gently guided in to place.

 

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Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_megaflopp’>megaflopp / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I don’t remember how long it took, it was an overwhelming blur. I do remember a sweet nurse holding my hand and telling me it would be OK while a stream a defiant tears made their silent escape. I wanted to ugly cry with sobs, snot and a heaving chest but the procedure did not allow for that. First lesson of motherhood, put your issues on the back burner honey, you have a small human depending on you now.

The retractable filter became my “get out of jail free” card (or try not to die card). The doctors and nurses were pretty sure that I wouldn’t clot out so they transitioned from let’s-keep-this-woman-alive to let’s get-this-baby-out. Shortly after the filter was inserted (tuna sub, consumed) I was told that labor would be induced.

Well, YAY! What first time mom doesn’t look forward to that. This was also NOT in the birth plan. I got the prostaglandin insert which is basically a tampon that is supposed to prepare the cervix for labor. I had mine “in” overnight. The next day was removal time and lucky for me they sent in Nurse Krueger for the process. She could not get it out despite her claw-like hands. Finally my OBGYN came to my rescue and removed it, humanely. Then we just waited for the magic to happen.

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The nurse must have been related to this guy.

The hours ticked by and I happily took the epidural.The idea of biting on a stick or focusing on some object to get me through this seemed a bit ridiculous. At this point I was happy to be alive. My whole beach walk, pancake eating birth plan was out the window. Eventually it was time to push. I pushed and pushed and pushed some more.

Two hours passed, then three, my OBGYN told me she had to go to NYC that night.  I pushed harder, she told me about the doc who would fill in for her (gasp, a man). Four hours of pushing, then five. My baby wasn’t coming out and my sweet doctor stayed with me. I have no idea what she sacrificed to stay with me that night but she did and I will always be grateful for that.

At one point during this process a group of eager looking med students came by to ask if they could observe.That was a big “HELL NO!” from me. I wouldn’t even let my mother in the room. It was just me, my stubborn refusing-to-be-born baby, my husband, my doctor and two nurses.That was enough of an audience.

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Scrubs: “Can we observe your tremendously complicated child birth?”                                                     Me: “Hell No!”

Back to my non-compliant baby…at some point it was obvious that my baby wasn’t coming out the traditional way and a C-section was in order. Great let’s do it.  Whaaaaaat? I have to wait for an operating room? Oh come on and there is a backup for C-sections. What are we at Newark airport, waiting to take off?

Since my baby wasn’t in distress, I needed to wait. I was grateful my baby was not in distress, I on the other hand was exhausted. About an hour later we got in and my son was born via C-section. I will never forget the relief I felt when I heard his cry. I was able to hold and nurse my son soon after delivery. It was miraculous especially after such a stressful delivery. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered except that my boy was healthy. Of course there were medical issues that I needed to confront and those would once again alter my plans.

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Actual photo of my birth plan...(not really).Photo by Movidagrafica Barcelona from Pexels

I had planned to breastfeed for six months. I figured once the teeth started to come in, I would transition out of it. I never considered not nursing in my “plan”. Apparently, that wasn’t in the cards. I was to be given a blood thinner for a minimum of six months as follow up treatment for my DVT. The retractable filter that was inserted could only stay in for two weeks.

The first time I felt like a sh*tty mom was the night of my son’s birth. I was talking to a friend (a staunch breast milk advocate) on the phone and her disappointment in my inability to breastfeed was palpable through the phone. I may have muttered something like “you know I almost died” while she extolled the benefits of breastfeeding. This is how it is for moms…you can come within a millimeter of death and someone will say something ridiculous to try and make you feel bad. I just wasn’t “Mom Enough” (screw you TIME Magazine).

I remember being somewhat shell-shocked the day we left the hospital. They let us leave with our son, I didn’t think we were qualified. My husband is an engineer and proper car seat installation was a bit daunting for him (unusual). The early arrival threw him off balance as well. Our son arrived a week before his due date.

My husband had a plan too, a project plan. We renovated our kitchen during my pregnancy. Kitchen renovations during pregnancy are a bad idea. You have to eat out all the time and wash the few dishes you do use in odd places like tubs or the laundry room sink. Our laundry room sink was in the basement with uneven stairs and my stomach was the size of 5 basketballs tethered together. The hubs had a renovation plan detailed out by date and the finish date for the renovation coincided with our son’s due date (feel free to laugh at the naivety of that one). I have no idea how he pulled it off but he managed to finish the kitchen before we came home from the hospital.

I don’t think we ever discussed it but when we got home our residential census grew by three – our newborn son and my in-laws. My mother and father in-law just moved in with us for the first week. Thank God they did, it was overwhelming. I remember sitting in the living room chair feeling like my breasts were two flaming bowling balls. I looked down a few times to make sure they were not actually on fire. My mother in-law brought me ice packs and happily held the baby.

Having your first baby is life changing. Having a newborn with your own medical complications ups the ante. Suddenly I had doctor appointments with a hematologist, and a pulmonologist, I had to get the “gist” of my condition. I also had to have my blood tested weekly to determine if the medication was effective.

Two weeks into the parenting thing, we felt like we were getting a handle on things. That was short-lived, out of nowhere our son started screaming, continuously…for hours at a time. We took him to the pediatrician and were basically told that we won the lottery and got a colicky baby.

He would literally scream for hours. We would hold him, rock him, swaddle him, sing to him, feed him, change him, drive him in the car, attempt bribes, nothing worked. It got to the point where I looked forward to blood draws and the doctor appointments just to get away from the screaming.

On top of this, I had to have my retractable filter removed. Keep in mind this was my safety net. I insisted on having an ultrasound on my leg to see if the DVT was gone before they removed the filter. You may think that would be a given but I had to advocate for myself to get that done. The prevailing thought was the filter needed to come out whether there was a clot or not. I needed to know.Thankfully the DVT had resolved.

A few weeks later, the blood thinners I was taking were giving me unusual symptoms, tingling in odd parts of my body like the bridge of my nose or my forearms. This prompted more visits to the “ists” – a neurologist and a radiologist to see if I had Lupus or MS. It was such a daunting time, it was a lot to juggle.

Things started to settle into a new normal and three months in, my maternity leave was coming to an end. I had it all worked out, my mother and mother in-law would each take one day a week and I found a great sitter for the other 3 days. I could work from home most days so I would be able to check in on my baby throughout the day. My new plan was on track (cue the foreboding music).

 

 

Mother’s Note: I want you to know that the once colicky baby is a great teenager today. In fact, once he got past the screaming non-stop for hours every night and not sleeping phase, he became the best behaved kid on the planet.

Less Than

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Less Than

My emotional bandwidth is full at the moment. The world seems to be a swirling mass of chaos and I cannot process one more thing. My father died a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been trying to find my footing ever since, I’m still shaky. We weren’t close, we weren’t estranged, we were somewhere in-between, a relationship on hold. A quick call on birthdays and holidays, a visit or two throughout the year and lately one or more of those visits was in a hospital room. I always tightened my stomach before dialing his number, it never got easy, but I kept trying. Walking through the awkward became somewhat less traumatic yet, it never vanished.

Our relationship went off the rails the summer I was 9. My twin brother and I were back in New Jersey after living in Florida for a year. Before we moved, there was a custody case, mom won and promptly took us away. While we were gone, we would get weekly calls from our father and stepmother telling us how much they missed us and couldn’t wait to see us again. We believed them.

We made our way back to New Jersey and were visiting a family friend who lived around the corner from our father and stepmother. My brother and I went to the house, excited to see them. We could barely contain ourselves, wouldn’t they be surprised! A somber version of our father emerged and coaxed us away from the door and sat us down on the front steps. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was – you can’t just come here unannounced, I have a family now. I’m sure it had something to do with his baby daughter and a wife that wanted to contain the crazy. Looking back I can see where the man had been put through hell. Trying to get custody, losing that battle, then his insane (certified) ex wife takes his kids to Florida, it must have been an emotional roller coaster for him. I lacked that perspective then. What I heard was I don’t want to see you and then it all faded to black.

I think my little psyche had been through too much at this point so I just shut down. Florida was a nightmare and I had witnessed far more than any child should. If he didn’t want us to visit, then fine I wouldn’t want to be there. I flipped a switch, threw up a wall, deployed the shield. My brother, God bless him, he handled it different. He just tried harder to get the man’s attention. For years, decades even, it was like watching an animal stuck in a trap trying to get free, wailing in pain with each pull of a limb. I avoided the trap.

My father and his second wife had 5 children. They raised them Catholic, took them to church every Sunday and didn’t mention the fact that they had half siblings. My brother and I would visit our paternal grandmother who lived 4 houses away from our father and he would not stop in to visit. A whispered hush fell over the town when we would visit, “those” kids were around. Our uncle lived next door to our father, we could hear our siblings laughing and playing outside while we were across the street. They didn’t even know we existed. I guess the plan was that eventually we would give up on every paternal relative but we didn’t. We kept showing up and at some point our father and stepmother had to tell the other kids about us. Is this the Christian way to raise a family? I mean I don’t go to church too often but this seems a little off, but I digress.

We never had a conversation about this. I wrote him when I was 21, suggested that we  get to know each other. I acknowledged that I had not heard his side of things. He never responded to that letter. In our late twenties my twin and I would see our father and his family at events for extended relatives, things started to thaw.

Back to Dad…

In mid September he went in for a test, that test resulted in an error which required a surgical fix. I went to visit him on a Wednesday, they were talking about discharging him, this was 5 days after his surgery. We did our usual small talk, I showed him digital pics of my kids from a recent trip, we listened to the weather channel. A somewhat bland visit, it was to be our last conversation. Oh how I wish I could redo that chat. The next day he went into cardiac arrest, 5 days later, he was gone.

Those days went by in slow motion, somewhat suspended as we sat in a CCU waiting room, anxious for the next update. I was there with four half siblings, my father’s significant other and other relatives that would stop by. I participated in conversations about his medical directive and eventually we got him transitioned into hospice. I’ve been a hospice volunteer for ten years so I was familiar with the process and knew which questions to ask. He died within 20 minutes of having the ventilator removed, per his wishes which he declared in an Advance Medical Directive. He was surrounded by people that loved him in his final moments and it went about as well as these things can, it was still awful.

I knew the wake would be hard for a variety of reasons. Of course there is the grief of losing a parent. If you’re lucky, you have a lifetime of memories to cherish, inside jokes, and special moments that live in your heart. My memories are scarce and tainted by abandonment, unanswered questions and decades of denial that I wanted, no, needed a father. No more do-overs, mulligans or second chances, in that regard, hope also died. Hope that somehow, someday, somewhere, someway, the awkward yet necessary conversation will happen, it won’t. It never will.

That’s a lot to take in when your standing in 4 inch heals for five hours straight on the back end of the receiving line for your dead father.  He was flanked by honor guards, standing at attention. Honor guards, and some people looked confused as they were trying to sort out my role. I was his oldest daughter, twin to a brother that bore his name and I had to explain that dozens of times throughout the wake. It’s not the first time someone has said “Oh, I didn’t know he had an older daughter”, perhaps it will be the last.

Of course there were pictures. Pictures everywhere of a life I never lived. A seemingly happy family with 5 kids and two parents in matching Christmas outfits, funny birthday shots, tons of beach and bay photos filled with beautiful people on sunny days. I forced myself to put a memory board together and only found one photo of us from my son’s Christening 15 years ago. I filled the board with twin baby and toddler pictures of my brother and I. Then I added some random beach shots of my kids in the town that my father lived in. It was pathetic and sad and I insisted on doing it, I needed to be in that room. I needed my kids to be there too, forced inclusion at it’s lowest level.

The pictures were of particular importance. Nearly 20 years ago, my stepmother died in a car accident. We had just begun to heal our broken relationship when she died suddenly and that wake had a thousand pictures filling the room. My brother and I weren’t in one, believe me we searched with bloodshot eyes, not a single picture. At one point, I needed to leave that wake because I was so overwhelmed by grief of the life we never had with them, it was palpable and I was choking on it. Then 4 years ago, our father’s youngest son died. Another wake, more pictures, more despair, this family has been through hell.

After 5 hours of standing in line, trying my best to look less broken, we were asked to sit. I sat in a chair which was off to the side, it was closest to the casket and gave me a side view of the speaker. An elderly man, a chaplain from the firehouse, who gave a very passionate speech which at times, felt like a personal challenge.

Man: “He was a GREAT man, a great man!

(OK, stay calm this will all be over soon)

Man: “He was the best if you had a problem with him, then that was your problem!”

(Are you challenging me old man. Oh FFS, I saw him beat my mother, he abandoned his first two kids, didn’t pay child support and was likely a neglectful parent to his other kids after his second wife died, he was a serial cheater and probably an alcoholic)

Man: “We will all miss him so much. Truly, a great man (sniffs).”

(Maybe I was the asshole, everyone says he was great. This send off feels like a canonization. Dear God, was it me, was it my fault??? Table that for later…)

The wake was followed by a dinner with a large crowd and it was as nice as these things can be. I truly enjoyed spending time with my brother, niece, nephew, uncle, aunt and half siblings. I don’t know them well, yet I feel a pull towards them. An inexplicable pull that goes beyond having compassion for people that have been through some serious shit of their own.

The funeral was on a Monday and it was as if a Statesman had been laid to rest. His flag draped coffin was placed on the back of a vintage fire truck. Uniformed firefighters saluted his coffin, bag pipes wailed as the church swelled with people. I had to keep reminding myself to walk tall, shoulders back, head held high, looking straight ahead, like an android in mourning. I treated this like a last wish, playing my part in this orchestrated event. After the mass, his casket was placed back on the fire truck and  paraded past the places he frequented most. Cops closed off intersections to let the procession cars go through red lights. Surely, a legend had died, a great man forever sleeps.

The next day the sibling in charge of our father’s estate sent out a group text outlining the details of the Will. Yup, a group text which was sent while my twin was mid-route of his multi-state drive home. We were clearly not the favorite kids that hunch became tangible as some of the finer points were laid out. The house would go to the four kids from the second marriage. That was expected, in fact our father told us his intention in regard to that property. My twin was hurt, I was somewhat indifferent, it still stung a little. Another property with individual components would be divided 6 ways. Wait, there’s a catch, sales from the property being divided 6 ways would first go toward the house mortgage, any remainder would be divided six ways. (Geezus, do I owe money at this point?)

Imagine a pie – perhaps it’s blueberry, pumpkin or custard – it’s your pie, imagine whatever you want, no calories, so YAY! You need to share that pie because sharing is good. Right off the bat 2/3’s of the pie go to the younger 4 siblings. That’s OK 1/3 of the pie split 6 ways is still a delicious little sliver. But before you get your sliver you need to reduce it some more and give it back to the younger ones (the ones Daddy loved more) and you’re left with…crumbs. Crumbs and a bitter taste in your mouth because he didn’t warn you about that bit and clearly a lot of thought went into it.

So for the past two weeks I’ve been cursing at ghosts. Grieving the childhood I didn’t have, feeling my brother’s pain along with my own. I am determined to get through this, lose the bitter taste in my mouth and get on with it. I’m just not there yet, there’s no manual for this.

Big Black Dick

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Big Black Dick

The past couple of blog posts have been grim. My father died this week and it has brought up a lot of emotions as death tends to do. I just want you all to know I haven’t lost my sense of humor.

A couple of days ago I was putting together memory boards for my father’s wake. It was an especially tricky task given the lack of actual memories and the scarce photos with the few that exist. I was struggling with this emotionally and I was a bit on edge. My husband also seemed a bit off so I checked in on him.

Me: You OK hon, you seemed pissed

Hubs: I just had to clean the damn toilet

Me: Um, OK….

Hubs: Would you like me to show you….

Me: No, I’m good.

Hubs: (proceeds with hand motions and visual cues) You just need to..

Me: No, just no.

Hubs: You always get pissed when I try…what you’re going to walk away now. I’m just saying I could show you…

Me: I KNOW HOW TO CLEAN A F*CKING TOILET OK!!!!!!!! (leaves the house, time for car line)

We wound up taking a walk and talking it out later that day. I got even in an unintentional, yet glorious way.

2 days later…

We have a dinner at my father’s GF’s house after the wake so I sent hubs to the liquor store to get some wine and rum. I told him to use his own judgement on the wine, the rum however was very specific. My siblings told me about a favorite rum of my father’s longtime partner. So I asked my husband go into a liquor store to get three bottles of wine and Big Black Dick, which is rum (maybe). And he did it because he loves me despite my inability to properly clean a toilet. Sadly there they were out of Big Black Dick.

 

 

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.