Category Archives: Relationships

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.

 

 

 

It’s Complicated

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It’s Complicated

So today is a shitty day. It is actually the anniversary of a very shitty, horribly tragic, mind numbing day. One year ago my half brother hung himself, he was 25. I feel I must utter the odd disclaimer: we did not grow up together and I was born more than 20 years before him. We were not close in the traditional sibling way. We didn’t share Christmas or birthdays, we did not jockey for the best passenger seats in the family car or get jealous over the attention one got from mom. I barely knew him but I liked him. Circumstances led us to be primarily facebook friends and let me tell you the kid was funny as hell on facebook. I used to love his posts. He was a musician, a bartender, no doubt a player – the ladies loved him. He was adorable. And he killed himself, I’m still angry about it.

Before you get on my case for being angry let me just stop you and say, it’s a process. Perhaps I should be further along than anger but I’m not so let me be. I don’t have the ocean of sorrow, the missing expected and vastly hallow memories, sadness for new memories that won’t happen, it wasn’t that kind of relationship. What I do have is my own bizarre experience of how it all went down and I am curious if others have been in this particular and peculiar spot. I’m going to try and keep it as brief as possible but it is um….complicated.

So my parents got divorced when my twin brother and I were two years old. Drama. Physical fights, multiple moves, betrayal, screaming, drunks and chaos from my earliest memory. My father saw us on a scheduled and somewhat regular basis until about age 8. He got remarried when we were young, maybe 5 years old?

His second wife, we’ll call her Jenny was so pretty and kind. I remember her long thick, straight hair – brown with some reddish blonde highlights. She used fat hot curlers to achieve her look. She drank Pepsi and had a little dog named Scruffy and she had a birthday party for him. She made me feel like a super model before that was even a thing. She was a teacher and she knew how to work kids, we loved her. Of course we couldn’t tell our mother that.  She was a rage filled, jealous alcoholic. I learned to read her from a young age and I knew that I could not act as if I liked my father or Jenny around her.

When my brother and I were 8 years old my mother and father had a custody battle and mom won. That’s how it was in the 70’s kids went with mom most of the time regardless of how F’ed up she was….we soon moved from New Jersey to Florida with my mother’s then boyfriend.  Now that span of time is a whole other story that I don’t have time for right now but my god the insanity was at expert level.

We were in Florida about one year before that situation imploded in a cops taking mom away in cuffs kind of way…..We wound up back in New Jersey. My brother and I were so excited to see our father again we went to his house at the shore as soon as we could. A different man showed up. I mean the guy looked like my dad but he didn’t act like him. He opened the door, did not invite us inside and talked to us on the stoop. It was obvious even to a 9 year old that he didn’t want us inside the house. Well I determined at that moment that he would not get the better of me and an internal emotional wall was erected to protect myself. My brother chose the slam his head repeatedly against the wall approach. The necessity of either approach sucked.

So for the next 20 years or so my relationship with my father consisted of a Christmas card and a birthday card each with $50 and an obligatory brief thank you from me for each. There were a few skirmishes on the phone when my mom would prompt me to ask him for money for necessities. When I was 15 I went to rehab (I know what a shock) and he came in to sign insurance papers, didn’t bother to visit. My mother made sure to tell me that. At 21 I wrote him a letter as an adult. I acknowledged that I heard one side my whole life and invited him into my life. I got no response. No. Response.

In my late twenties relatives started to die, the old ones mostly. I would see my father and his family (which included 5 kids with Jenny) at funerals and weddings and other large family events. Eventually it became less weird to see them and we started making small talk. My siblings from my father’s second family didn’t even know I existed before then, that must have been an interesting family meeting. In 1997 my aunt became terminally ill with cancer and that increased the sightings. In early 2000 my twin brother and I were there on a random Friday night for pizza. Three days later Jenny died in a car accident leaving 5 kids behind. Ben, the youngest was just 11 years old.

My twin brother and I tried to be there for them. On the day of the accident we rushed to the hospital to meet our father. His oldest daughter from his second marriage was in the car with Jenny and required surgery. A friend of my father’s was with him and when he was introduced he commented that he had never known about me. I was 32, that kind of crap happened all the time but clearly there were other things to think about so I swallowed it down. Made sure the doctors knew that my sister needed to be able to attend her mother’s funeral. I could tell my father needed to communicate that but he wasn’t capable at the time so I said it out loud on his behalf.

My twin and I went to the wake, the funeral, the lunch all the sad events. At one point we were at the wake surrounded by family pictures of our father, Jenny and their five kids and we weren’t in a single photo. We both felt so many mixed emotions in that room that after an hour or so we needed to leave. I felt like I was choking. I mean I wasn’t but I was dry drowning on my own anguish. Jenny was a teacher for 30 years, she had 5 kids and was active in her church there were probably 1,000 mourners. Highway lights were blocked off for her funeral procession it was intense and horrible in all the ways you imagine it would be.

Fast forward 14 years and Ben kills himself. Once again I have a back stage pass to someone’s tragedy. I have expected rights to rituals based on my family label with just a fraction of the closeness the tasks should require. I heard the news from my twin who had stayed much closer with dad’s second family. He lived in the same town for several years and had more things in common like, sailing, beer and music. I’m a stay at home mom who lives far from the beach oh and I don’t drink alcohol, practically another dimension.

As fate would have it I had plans to go to the same shore town that day to visit a friend. So I took my kids to visit with my friend and went to my sister’s house where I had never been before. My father and his girlfriend were there along with my siblings (minus the one I grew up with who was 12 hours away) and Jenny’s best friend who always gives me and my twin death stare daggers when we are in the same room. My sisters were writing the obituary. It was awful and I was useless, awkward and in the way most likely but I felt like I should be there. I didn’t want to make a statement by not being there in my mind that was worse.

The wake was awful as you would expect. People waited for hours to pay their respects. I waited outside for a good amount of time before my twin got me and shuffled me inside. He wanted to get me to wait on the receiving line which just would have been too weird. I felt the building sway with the grief in that room it was surreal and yet here we were again. Another room filled beyond capacity with broken souls aching in their grief filled with pictures of a happy family that I was not really a part of….. I just waited it out feeling like some kind of fraud. I was there for my father and twin brother but the others probably wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t there. I say that without malice it’s just a reflective thought.

The next day was the funeral. I started the day with a last stop at the funeral home where the “family” was saying their last good byes. Those poor kids having to bury another pivotal family member far too soon. My heart broke for each of them and my father. I can’t imagine having to bury my son. It should not happen to anyone. Eventually we cleared out and went to the church for a Catholic service. I took my own car and planned on ducking in the back. My twin was a pall bearer and I just wanted to blend in somewhere.

That didn’t happen. My father saw me outside the church and motioned for me to come over. He had his longtime girlfriend on his left and me on his right. He held my hand and walked me down the aisle to the coffin where a fabric was draped on top he then led us to the front pew. I sat next to his girlfriend and my twin for the service and was motioned to sign a book at some point, it’s a blur. So many emotions swirling through my head it was like an out of body experience.

After the service we went to the cemetery. Once again there was a several miles long procession with a police escort and a salute from the fire department (he was a volunteer), highway lights blocked to other traffic. Eerily similar to his mother’s funeral procession. It was hot and the grief was palpable.  It was as prevalent as the steam coming off the asphalt of the cemetery parking lot. The sobs came in waves, a sea of mourners. They buried him next to his mother.

Beating the Odds

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Beating the Odds

I grew up in a the textbook dysfunctional family. Divorced parents, alcoholic mother, absent father, no money and not a lot of hope. There was verbal abuse, some physical abuse and of course the mental torture that lends itself to that environment. The odds were stacked against me.

I cleaned up after my mom when she got drunk. I was the good little enabler, the peace keeper, people pleasing and overly responsible little kid. It gave me a sense of importance, a purpose. I was needed. No matter how many times my mother told us “I wish you were never born” and she said that frequently, I knew she needed me. I had a purpose and I swore, swore to myself I would never EVER end up like her.

Not sure when I had my first drink but it was a grenade from go. I remember my first real drunk though, it was planned. I stole a bottle of Jack Daniels from my uncle’s stash. He had a large basement bar and I was confident no one would notice the missing bottle. A few days later I rode my bicycle to my friends house and three of us started drinking the Jack Daniels and some beer. We were counting out our shots and I got to 21. Seems I won or lost depending on how you see the world. Now I have to say I felt fine with my 21 shots of Jack and assorted beer until I attempted to stand up….then the world shifted in that carnival spinning ride way and I was in and out of a black out for the next several hours.

I woke up in the hospital with a nurse complimenting my nail polish. I didn’t know how I got there. I did notice that my bra was undone and my jeans were unzipped. I was a 14 year old virgin at the time and required a gynecological exam to determine if my hymen was intact. Fortunately it was and the incident became an early example of how I would put myself in harms way so I could get wasted.

I became what was termed in the 80’s, a garbage head. I would do whatever chemical was available to get high. I was really lucky that there wasn’t a lot of intense stuff like cocaine or heroin. I have no doubt that I would become hooked on anything that was within reach, it is in my DNA. I hitch hiked for a chance to get high. I knocked on random doors if I liked the music I could hear from the street. I was equal parts stupid and selfish with the added affliction of being young and dumb enough to think I was bullet proof. I was a good liar, a fast talker and a quick thinker – honestly that and some invisible force in the universe stopped me from getting raped more than once.

After about a year and a half my mother was sick of her teenage daughter coming home drunk or high. My last drunk left a trail of vomit that led from the front door to my bedroom. I was able to convince everyone except my mother that I had the flu. She knew I was full of shit and decided to send me to rehab.  I was 15 at the time.

I had a pretty cocky attitude about going to rehab. I thought I could write a book about it someday, maybe gain some street greed….what a punk. What actually happened is that I had realization a few days in, some call it a spiritual awakening. It was simply this….I had a moment of clarity where I was certain that I was an alcoholic and an addict and that I needed to get sober. It was as if a new life path was placed before me and I had a moment of sanity where I chose sobriety and I have continued with that choice for more than three decades.

My first year of sobriety was absolute hell. I wrote about it in a ten part blog series called “1 Out of 37”. You can find it on my blog at https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/ I have to say since then my life has improved greatly. I would not be on this path if I wasn’t sober. No doubt about that.