Category Archives: Relationships

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.

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Broken

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Broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Writing Prompts

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Writing Prompts

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

Backstage Pass

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

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

What’s Normal?

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

For the Ladies

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

Hospice

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

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It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

It’s Wine O’Clock somewhere…or maybe it’s Weed O’Clock, Sex O’Clock, Sugar O’Clock, or some other O’Clock I have not yet imagined. Our collective casualness with dependency is adorable isn’t it? I mean we all need a little somethin’ somethin’ to get through the day, right? I may ruffle some feathers and bunch some panties with this post.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to the topic…after all I was raised by an alcoholic mother (you may now insert all of your preconceived notions about me into your brain) and found myself in rehab at age 15 (insert more of those notions) and I’ve been sober ever since (perhaps that one was unexpected). I have a good grip on the subject of alcoholism, mostly through sober observation. I’m way past the zealot phase of recovery and I have many friends that are social drinkers. I have not been hiding in a sober closet for the last 35 years. That said the “Mommy Juice” culture is getting out of hand.

I recently got invited to a breakfast with other parents who plan to celebrate the first day of school by day drinking the minute their precious kids get on the bus. Mimosas at the country deli, won’t that be fun! Look spiked orange juice, so clever. The festivities start at 7:30am, I’ll pass. I hope they have a designated driver, Uber is scarce in these parts. I wonder if these parents will still be lit later that day, driving through car line which is a cluster f*ck without inebriated drivers.

Do your teens and tweens see these pro drinking posts? Are you buying them beer so you can be the cool parent? When is enough enough or perhaps too much…what example are you setting for formative minds? I know I sound like a cranky Puritan. Truth is I’ve joked about alcohol myself especially when asked why I don’t drink. “My gene pool is polluted” is one of my usual snarky responses. It sounds cooler than the real explanation – I made bad decisions and put myself and others in harm’s way when I drank. And I do have a sense of humor (pinky promise). A few weeks ago I got a good friend a “Shut Up Liver, You’re Fine!” t-shirt to celebrate her birthday. Hmm, I may be part of the problem.

I think my breaking point was the purse that markets itself as a wine pouch. Let’s all hold hands and recite the Serenity Prayer for this gem –

Wine Purses

If you need a purse to carry your medicine water,  perhaps things have gotten a tad out of hand. Look at it this way – substitute green beans for wine, does the behavior still make sense? Are you stashing green beans in different areas of your house for a quick bite when no one is looking? Are you stuffing your face with them in the parking lot before walking into the board meeting, the presentation, the PTA gathering? Are you disappointed when your friends decline green beans because they just can’t take another bite and they need to drive home? Have you recently eaten too many green beans at a public event and struggled the next day with a hangover and the shame of not knowing what happened? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with green beans. Just some food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Through agreement with 123RF Limited

Image ID : 44357768
Media Type : Photography
Copyright : belchonock  (Follow)

 

 

I Might Be Terrible

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I Might Be Terrible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

A Peek at Dementia

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A Peek at Dementia

Her mind is a jumble of thoughts that misfire and get hung up midway. She’ll start a task and forget what she was doing somewhere in the process. The other day I came in and she had all the ingredients spread out on the counter, she just didn’t have any idea how to put them together. She wanted to make a sandwich for her husband of 67 years. She’s probably made a thousand over the course of their marriage, this day the how-to’s of assembly escaped her.

She’s highly sensitive, aware of changes in the moods of those around her. Her feelings are easily hurt and she isn’t shy about expressing herself. I visit with her several times a week including one evening when the goal is to get her fed and dressed for bed. Getting dressed is a long process. It’s a series of repetitive steps that have to be done in a certain order. She can usually stay on task but there have been exceptions.

One day last week she insisted that she had to take her pants off over her sneakers. I had to explain why that would not work, she remained stubborn about it. Then it clicked for me, she must have been afraid of something. Fear is usually the root cause of her resistance. Earlier that week, her husband commented that he couldn’t tie her shoes any more, he was physically not able to do it. This is why she wanted to take her pants off over her sneakers, she was afraid of being shoe-less. Once I explained that I would put her sneakers back on, she complied.

She has dementia, a moderate case. The thing about dementia is that it only gets worse, never better. Sure there are days when she is more lucid but her baseline status will only descend from here. Any major change such as the death of her husband or a move at this stage will hasten the spiral and she’s one of the lucky ones.

Her family is engaged and loving. She sees a relative at least five times a week and speaks with them a minimum of three times a day for medication reminders. Companions like me visit her each weekday. She has a small army of compassionate caregivers and she still lives with her husband. There are millions of people facing this condition without these benefits, what will happen to them?

https://www.dementiasociety.org/

It’s estimated that 9 million Americans are living with some form of dementia. They don’t all have the financial and familial resources to remain safe and comfortable. Families are stretched thin trying to triage caregiving while managing their own lives including; children, careers, personal illnesses and a home.

https://www.alz.org/facts/

This situation will overwhelm our healthcare system within the next decade and beyond. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, effects one in nine people after age 65 and that rate increases with age. People 85 and older have somewhere between a 30 – 50% chance of acquiring some form of dementia. This condition is impacting more people as life expectancy increases.

What can you do to prepare for this? I suggest having direct conversations with aging loved ones while they are well. Discuss specifics of financial resources, care preferences and have an Advanced Medical Directive and a Will. All adults should have these preferences documented.

https://www.medicinenet.com/advance_medical_directives/article.htm#advance_medical_directive_facts

If someone has been diagnosed, you may want to tour some facilities that specialize or have a wing dedicated to memory care. If you have a male loved that will need these services, get them on a waiting list as soon as it is reasonable. Many facilities have beds that are assigned male or female. Since women tend to outlive men, they have historically had more beds available to them. It can take years for a male patient to get into his desired facility due to a lack of available beds.

Many people opt to care for loved ones at home due to financial, emotional or other reasons. It’s wonderful if you can find a caregiver within the family. At some point that person will need assistance as well. AARP has put together a thoughtful list of resources for caregivers.

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/local/info-2017/important-resources-for-caregivers.html

To all the caregivers reading this, you are not alone. Please take a moment for yourself to find support. When you need help, ask for it from those that can assist. That may be an individual, an agency or a non-profit organization. When you don’t need help, prepare for when you do, your work is so important. Self-care is not indulgent, it is a necessity.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_victor69′>victor69 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

Enough

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Enough

It’s amazing how your experiences can come back to tap you on the shoulder (or give an unexpected punch in the gut) decades later. When your life’s foundation is built on a fault line, you never know when the next big earthquake will make it crumble. Hell, sometimes the aftershocks can take it down. Too much stress and the sturdy, seemingly indestructible structure can be fallen by a minor tremor. You never know when it will hit. It’s been anticipated for years, you know it will be catastrophic, you just haven’t nailed down the timing. This is the result of a traumatic childhood, a foundation built on chaos.

Raising kids is the most important work I’ve done and of course it’s the hardest. As a mother, I am all in with these children of mine. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now  and there are days when I still wish they came with a manual. I did not have a good childhood, I don’t come from good stock and I’ve been winging it the entire time. I’ve done pretty good so far. Both kids are on the honor roll, no one is in trouble with “the law” and they are generally good humans. That’s modest, they’re amazing humans, each in their own way. I’d love to parent brag here but I’ll respect their privacy instead.

There are times when I will reflect on what I was doing at their age, the contrast is startling. Sometimes I lose my patience over minor issues because I get stuck in the long ago realm of my youth and it decreases the length of my fuse. Most of the time I keep it together unless I sense entitlement and then I temporarily lose my cool. If I’ve gone too far, I apologize quickly and we move on.

There have been times when my husband and I disagree on things and he’ll inevitably say that I’m too sensitive. My usual course of action in a heated argument is to leave the room and cool off. I know all the rotten, hurtful things to say to someone to push them over the edge and I choose to disengage. I find it’s best for me to temporarily remove myself from the situation so things don’t spiral out of control. This is a point of frustration for him.

I laugh to myself a little when I hear myself described as too sensitive. I get upset if someone is harsh, I anticipate the feelings of other people and try not to step on them. Is this supposed to be an insult or an observation? The funny thing is I’m not overly sensitive in most areas of my life. There are times though when he’s right and I am too sensitive. The alternative for me is a complete shutdown, that’s the nuclear option.

There are days when it feels like my best efforts are not enough. I get up earlier than everyone in this house, I go to bed later, the hours in-between are primarily filled with doing things for them. Nothing exotic mind you, just the day to day work that no one appreciates until someone stops doing it. I spend the bulk of my hours shopping, cooking, running errands, doing laundry, driving kids and staying on top of the business of raising humans (the forms, the appointments, the scheduling, the shuttling, the social/emotional nuances). The invisible work of motherhood is my primary focus. I squeeze in my small business and writing on the side.

When someone complains that these best efforts of mine aren’t enough, I lose it. I’m so sick of the not enough message. Ladies we are bombarded with this message. Not pretty enough, skinny enough, young enough, smart enough, rich enough, sexy enough, good enough. Not good enough is constantly streaming like the news ticker on CNN or Fox – not good enough is messaged all day, every day. Well, I have had enough.

 

My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

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My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

I don’t mean to brag but my job is better than yours. I started a business a few years ago to fill in the gaps for families. I run errands, let the dog out, greet kids at the bus stop, take people to appointments; a variety of services for people that need help. Sometimes it’s a one time deal, other jobs are long term. As the business has grown, it has taken a definite turn toward the more mature client. Most of my steady clients have been in their 80’s and 90’s, their families hire me to check in on them with a social visit.

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I have always been fond of the elderly, even as a child. My cousins would pair off during holiday gatherings and I would visit with Nana and Pop-pop. I loved their stories and their inability to filter themselves. Even as a kid, I found it refreshing to be around people that simply spoke their mind without fear of reprimand. This fondness has followed me my entire life.

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I currently visit a couple twice a week. Ralph and Helen have been married for over 60 years and they still kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you” when one is going out without the other. These are usually outings to a social activity within the assisted living facility where they reside. Ralph is a frequent participant in Wii Bowling and Helen likes to beat me at tabletop shuffleboard.

The featured image for this post is the face of the card that they gave me the other day. Here’s what Helen wrote inside:

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I adore these people.

Traditions…

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Traditions…

Every year sometime after November 1st,  I watch Home for the Holidays. It came out in 1995 and was directed by Jodie Foster. This movie hits all the feels for me. It is perfectly cast – the writing is authentic, funny and heartbreaking at times. It is my favorite movie of all time. I usually watch it alone because this blend of humor and poignancy isn’t a hit with all of the humans here.

I make time for it every year since I discovered it in 2000 when I found a used copy on VHS at a store on Hollywood Boulevard. That year my twin brother moved to California and was sad to be so far from home at the holidays. I was single and kid free at the time, so I scraped up the cash for a ticket to LA. We hung out for a few days until I left late on Christmas Eve.

My family likes to watch Trains, Planes and Automobiles. It’s on a repetitive loop between late October and Christmas. This is one we all belly laugh to even though we know it verbatim. My kids are finally old enough that I don’t have to mute the scene where Steve Martin loses his sh*t at the car rental counter. It’s amazing to see how much some things have changed (no laptops, cell phones or tablets) and how the important stuff remains (being kind, family, dealing with adversity).

 

Of course we got sucked into the Elf on the Shelf scam about 5 years ago. My kids were young enough when we started that they believed in it for the first year or two. I’d fall asleep and wake up in a panic when I’d remember that I forgot to move Flash. In my mind I call him Jumpin’ Jack Flash because I feel like less of a dork for buying into the whole ridiculous scheme (humor me). Now my youngest moves it around because I’m lazy and tired most nights. We aren’t ready to let it go completely, yet.

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We also adopt two children to buy gifts and clothes for during the holidays. We buy for one boy and one girl. I try to get kids the same age as my children. This one is sacred to me. The Christmas my brother and I were 7 years old, a Secret Santa made a delivery to our apartment.

I have never forgotten the kindness of that act and how happy it made me feel as a kid. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother and brother as we emptied the overflowing hefty garbage bag. It was full of gifts – Candy Land, toy trucks and gastronomical delicacies, like Peanut Butter and Fluff. It was truly magical and I want to sprinkle some of that around and teach my kids through actions, not just words.

As for hosting, I get all the holidays. It’s practical as we have the largest dinning room. I have also taken on the task of serving seven fishes on Christmas Eve. It is a nod to my mother-in-law who passed away when my children were young. I didn’t have strong roots or family traditions growing up and I welcome the opportunities to give that to my kids. What I really try to give them is memories. That is the point of this entire holiday thing – making memories with your family and friends. Something that will last beyond a turkey carcass and some crinkled, torn wrapping paper.

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Tell me some of your traditions….what do you love to do during the holiday madness?

 

Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.

The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.

There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet  personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.

As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.

Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.

As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”

My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.

The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.