Category Archives: Relationships

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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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….

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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…

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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.

 

 

My Other Mother

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My Other Mother

I recently had an experience where I caught a glimpse of my mother from an outsider’s perspective. It happens sometimes and it reminds me that my mother is a multi-dimensional person. Just like the rest of us…she isn’t all bad or all good, she’s a complicated mix. I have written quite a bit about the bad stuff – the drunk, raging, dysfunctional mother and now I want to share another side.

A few days ago, I had lunch with my “other mother” at a student dinning hall at the University of Pennsylvania. When she 40 she decided that she wanted to go to college and prove to everyone that she wasn’t stupid. She started local at a community college where she aced her way through two years and graduated with induction into Phi Theta Kappa.

Her grades and her personal narrative were so compelling that she got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Her initial thought was that she would complete her B.A. with a law degree as the ultimate goal and somewhere she switched to history and psychology. She did graduate from University of Pennsylvania and attended one year of graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.

We found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of her doctor appointments. I insisted on driving her because she is not a great driver and I thought public transportation would overwhelm her. So we were walking from the medical facility toward campus and she mentioned that she wished she could give “them” more money. I turned toward her and said “what” rather forcibly……WTF was strongly implied. In my mind the coffers of the ivies is always so damn full and my mother is broke. She lives in a house I bought but she still has utility bills. She is on Medicaid and has no discretionary income, zero. Then she went on to say how she learned so much about women and other cultures around the world during her education. How her time there was a bit Dickens….”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Clearly she just wanted to pay it forward to another woman that she will never meet and my tone softened.

I admit it, I am a hard ass around my mother. Impatient, suspicious, not trusting on any level, my armor is always up around her and I can be an obstinate jerk. I know this and I willed myself to be patient and oblige her wish for lunch on campus despite the growing list of sh*t I had to do that day. After all, I don’t know if she will get another chance to stroll down this particular neighborhood of memory lane and I didn’t want to begrudge her that request.

I could feel the pride of her accomplishment that hour. She went on about how this changed and that was the same. She wanted to eat in the hall of flags and peeked in on an event taking place in that room. That lunch she was reflecting on happy times and people that sadly have passed that helped her with that part of her journey.

During lunch I noticed that she was wearing her university ring. I got that ring for her as a graduation gift. I was in my early twenties, going to college and working two jobs to support myself. The money I used to pay for that ring was based on serious sweat equity and sacrifice. She told me that day it was the nicest gift anyone had every given her. I guess we both had something to be proud of that day.

Gasping for Air

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Gasping for Air

What does a writer do when they feel too vulnerable to write? It’s OK I’ll just wait over here until the universe can send me an answer….still waiting……….waiting some more. Well the universe doesn’t seem to be getting back to me so I guess I’ll have to take the steering wheel, again.

I feel like the world has gone fahking mad. How did we get here? The terrorists attacks, the society of rage that seems to be festering all around us……Donald Trump. It feels like one big WTF moment that has gone viral well beyond it’s 15 minutes of fame. So there’s that.

On a personal level I have been watching my kids struggle with tween/teen issues. I feel like my heart resides outside my body in two distinct and always moving places…..and it can be assaulted at any time, unprovoked. I guess that’s how it is when you have kids, forever vulnerable. I don’t think this is a phase we will transition through….sure the teen years will pass, but I will always be vulnerable to their pain, assuming I’m aware of it.

My kids tell me a lot, maybe too much. I’d rather know what’s going on, at least for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that in the future. My husband thinks I coddle. I disagree. I think I have created a mostly safe place for our children to come to when they need to talk. I say mostly safe because sometimes I suck at this parenting thing. Catch me at 11pm on any given night and I am not at my best and neither are they. Yet that seems to be the time when they want to get close and tell me their fears, their sadness, their pain and of course their joys and dreams as well. It’s a mixed bag but lately the mix is leaning heavy on fears and sadness and it’s weighing us all down.

Raising humans is hard. I mean think about it you are shaping a person into their pre-adult self….enormous fahking responsibility. And I know this…..I’ve been doing the parent thing for over 13 years now…it’s just sometimes that weight just smacks you in the face when you were taking a moment to look the other way. Blind sided, unprepared caught unaware, gasping for air. That’s how it feels right now.

I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

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I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

I opt out of some of social norms. I don’t wear jewelry. I mean nothing, no watch, rings, necklaces, hell my ears aren’t even pierced.  I didn’t want or get a huge diamond when we decided to get married. We have titanium wedding bands which we wore once at a family party after we eloped. It was a nod to my mother in law who was a stickler for tradition. It was hard enough for her to accept that we chose to get married on a beach in Mexico without any family or friends present. So we wore wedding bands for about 4 hours. I still consider eloping to be one of my top 3 best decisions.

My mother in law was old school Italian and I would have been steam rolled in the planning process. We weren’t into it and after being together for about 6 years we got pregnant. It wasn’t entirely accidental. I told my love that I was going off the pill after nearly two decades of being on it and within a year, boom. I don’t call it a shot gun wedding because I didn’t have a strong male figure in my life that would have pressured us into marriage. I was pretty chill about myself. I told him we didn’t need to get married, he saw things differently coming from a traditional Italian Catholic family. In retrospect, I’m glad we got married. There are times when things get sticky and that legal status makes you hesitate before you set that bridge on fire with a defiant one finger salute. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

So here we are twenty years, two kids and a large dog deep into it. We have the beautiful house and all the trappings of suburban bliss. I say that without snark, we are truly blessed. I had a birthday recently and I chuckle to myself when people ask what I got. Repeat this process for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…..all the days when Hallmark and mass marketing tell you it is urgent to give, give, give! The constant stream of ads for jewelry that tell us if he doesn’t spend two months salary on an engagement ring perhaps you should reconsider. And what Mother’s Day would be complete without a charm from Pandora…..oh pahleeze, just go away. Here’s the thing, I don’t collect shiny things. Sometimes I get a card or flowers, sometimes I don’t. If I feel like I need a card or flowers I’ll say “hon, I’d like a card and flowers” and they will appear. I learned a long time ago that people aren’t mind readers so if you want something specific you should get it yourself or leave detailed instructions. Oh and expectation is the root of all evil.

So when someone asks me what I got, here are my thoughts…..I got a man who is a great father. A true family man who does the right thing without being asked. Three days ago he was at my mother’s house taking a canopy off a retractable awning. He spent hours researching where to get the best replacement and then bought one after he had me pick the pattern. Better than a bracelet, way better.

 

For the Hubs

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For the Hubs

I adore my husband. He will likely never see this post so I’m doing this just for the pure joy of it, no brownie points here. We met in April of 1996 at an alternative rock bar in Philly named FUBAR. It was lust at first sight. He wore a Marvin the Martian watch and he had swagger, so much swagger. He has a smile that can melt icebergs but he was far too handsome and well traveled for me to get my hopes up so I played it cool. Indifference is your friend single ladies, just don’t take it too far. So this is my modern day version of a mixed tape.

This song played in heavy rotation on the way home that night. I declined his offer to go back to the house he rented with his friends.  Instead, I made the long trek back to Belmar, New Jersey  where I had a one bedroom apartment on Ocean Avenue. By the way, I highly recommend living in a resort town in your mid twenties.

Counting Blue Cars –

 

We took things slow and he had the nerve to move to Italy for a job within a few months of meeting each other. He did invite me to visit him there, which I did. I brought a friend though because that is what a girl does when she is trying to stop herself from falling in love with a man who seems elusive. Resistance was futile, I fell hard. But I kept that shit tucked in….Fiona Apple understood what I was going through….

 

That visit left me with a constant craving so yes, this too –

 

And of course I will never forget moshing to this in some club in Turino, Italy –

 

As I am going down memory lane I realize I can not possibly list 20 years of songs in one post. These were some of the early day songs and my feelings for the man have not dimmed. Still so crazy in love (oops another song)

 

Hmm……noticing that this is a very eclectic mix and yes still very much in love. Lucky girl.

Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

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Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

Deep breathe…..sometimes I suck at parenting. It’s a fact. I’m human, flawed, impatient and just plain don’t have my shit together every minute of the day. I would love to blame my own parents for this because 1) they sucked as parents (WAY more than me) and 2) introspection is hard.

My latest bout of mediocrity (OK failure) happened last night. It happened late at night when patience reservoirs were low or perhaps empty. My daughter wanted a special breakfast out this weekend just the two of us. Son got wind of this and wanted in. At 11:17pm I wasn’t able to negotiate this emotional minefield without casualties. I tried to postpone the decision knowing that some decisions are best made when well rested. Daughter couldn’t do that pushed and pushed for an answer. So I asked her….”what would you have me do – hurt your feelings by not going or hurt his feelings by excluding him”. I described it as the lose-lose situation that it was and determined that no one would go out to breakfast. This resulted in many tears on her part….impatience on my part and eventually a heart felt conversation. It was emotionally exhausting and I felt like a bad mom. I did promise to spend one on one time with my daughter but at a different venue. That seemed like the best compromise. You know compromise – no one is really happy but it seems somewhat fair, ugh.

My girl is going through a phase right now where she wants to spend a lot of one on one time with me. Of course that shifts immediately if a better offer comes along  and I am fine with getting placed on hold so she can spend time with friends. My issue is I have two children and I need to be mindful of how so much time spent with one child impacts the other. So I just keep talking to them individually and encourage open communication (preferable before 10pm). It’s a juggling act and did I mention I’m not good at juggling. Multitasking emotional situations, it’s difficult.

I am aware that these children that I adore with my entire being will be gone within the next decade. Off to their own lives to parts yet to be determined. I will not have these late night soul searching conversations. They won’t always show me their raw emotions….these hiccuped conversations are a gift. I probably won’t always be able to conjure up an image when they mention the name of a friend, classmate or colleague. They won’t always have room for me in their lives and that is the nature of the parenting beast. It makes me equal parts sad and grateful. Somebody please slow this train.

Mother’s Day is Hard……

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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

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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.