Category Archives: Vulnerability

Grief Fog

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Grief Fog

Apparently there is a Mercury Retrograde phase right now which means we are all ripe for disaster my friends. Mercury is a bit of an asshole whilst in retrograde and this year March, July and November are on track to be awful. Here’s a link if you want your head to explode with all the retrogradey stuff….OHSHITMERCURYRETROGRADE

Mercury aside, I have been feeling all the feels today. You ever find yourself driving and suddenly realize you can’t remember the past 15 minutes? You’ve been on the road so many times that you slip into autopilot and you aren’t really aware of your surroundings. The past 10 months have felt like this for me. First my Father in-law got sick and passed away, then four months later I lost my own father. I’ve been in a grief fog ever since. Sure I do all the things that need to be done but I’m a muted version of myself.

During this process I haven’t been fully aware and in tune with the world including my small community. I know I’ve missed some important stuff and I haven’t been present in my usual capacity. Last night I found out that a local parent has been having chemo treatments for several months, I had no idea. Year ago me would have set up a Sign Up Genius and initiated a meal train, the current version of myself found out haphazardly in a group text. I’ve clearly been out of the loop bogged down in my own muck. I’d beat myself up about it a little more if I had the energy, I don’t.

Grief is a process, it isn’t a stage or a series of milestones that you pass and then it’s behind you. It becomes a part of you…sometimes it’s a tiny speck and sometimes it envelops you. If you are grieving, I hope you are patient with yourself…you deserve that.

 

 

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

Making Space for Forgiveness

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Making Space for Forgiveness

I told her it was OK as my mother sobbed on my shoulder. I turned out fine, my life is far better than anything I could have dreamed. I told her that I forgave her and I understood that she just did what she had been taught, modeled patriarchal behavior. The same shit that her parents did that tore her down. Now she feels regret for repeating those awful behaviors.

Women are so eager to take on the blame. She’s crying over the bad wiring in her brain. The structure and synapses which were created by her own traumas, one by one, they formed a new way of thinking; alcoholism, rationalization, self-preservation, victim-hood, depression and decades of regret, at 73 the guilt is smacking her in the face, hard.

It’s sad and predictable, I remain calm and reassuring, while simultaneously hoping I can get home before the ice cream melts in my car. I know that sounds callous but I’ve been living with this drama my ENTIRE life. My head wanders in several directions: my recently deceased father and the damage he inflicted on all of us, groceries in the car, company coming over and being a witness to my mother dissolving in front of me, again. It’s almost too much to take but I’ve taken so much more than this when I was little.

She laments about her mental illness and the limitations it has caused. Her brilliant mind is her best worst enemy. She talks about her long ago marriage to my father and how brutal he was…he’s been dead less than 5 months. She begins to tell me about the rapes, the beatings, how awful he was and I don’t want the details. She holds the worst of it back and I am grateful for that. I already know too many terrible things about my parents, I don’t need more. I do ask for clarification on a few things, the answers surprise me.

I asked her why she left me in Florida when I was 9 while she and my brother went back to New Jersey for a visit. She has a puzzled look on her face and says that I wanted to stay. I was 9 and calling the shots apparently, I stayed with friends that we barely knew for those two weeks. She asked me if anything bad happened during my weeks with Kay and her family. I tell her no, remembering that is when I started smoking and I kissed a boy for the first time. I don’t mention these things, she has enough on her mind. She didn’t want me to stay with Frank, her then live-in boyfriend. She asks me if Frank ever made a pass at me. He didn’t, I was never assaulted by any of her boyfriends which, in retrospect, is sadly miraculous.

Then she confessed one of her biggest regrets as I stood there. She regrets how she handled it when she found out that 16 year old me was in a relationship with a 32 year old man. A man who 6 months prior, had been my counselor. So predictable, the textbook definition of a vulnerable girl and a predatory male. She’s mad at herself for not lashing out at this man 34 years ago. Instead she gave me the anger and disgust because that is what she was taught. It’s the females fault, it always is, men are the way they are. It’s OK mom, you reacted the way you were taught, I forgive you. She seemed to calm down a bit and I told her I loved her and left to go home.

A few hours later, I’m in my kitchen making a damn good tomato sauce with sausage, eggplant and roasted garlic. I have the echo blasting 70’s music, I’m in my happy place. Then I have one of those ah-ha moments. My mother doesn’t hate me, she hates herself for all the ways she’s failed me. Somehow this awareness removes a burden and I have more space for forgiveness.

Pam

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Pam

Pam was one of my first clients, she reached out to me because she was recovering from an injury and needed some help. She was young somewhere around 60 and had a Chihuahua named Short Sale (Pam used to be in real estate and she had an incredible sense of humor). Short Sale needed to be walked twice a day along with other odds and ends like shopping, opening jars, rides to the doctor and anything else she needed. One time she wanted advice on a mouse infestation issue, I had to refer her to an exterminator. I have limits.

We became friends and the lines between work and friendship blurred. Pam had the charm of a Southern Belle and the wit of a seasoned New Yorker, she was one-of-a-kind. One day I came over to help out and she insisted that we watch The Devil Wears Prada. I am a fashion misfit so it made me realize how much she liked me to watch that with her. Perhaps she was trying to nudge some fashion sense into me, it didn’t take. Sorry Pam.

She really appreciated everything I did for her. In a generous act, she gifted me with 4 tickets to a football game. It was an Eagles game and they were playing the Carolina Panthers. Pam’s brother had an executive level job with the Panthers so the seats were in the visiting team box and included passes to get on the field.

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Short Sale sporting his love for the Carolina Panthers. The Jersey was a gift I got him that Christmas.

Pam was a little upset when I told her that I wasn’t going. My daughter and I weren’t into football so we wanted to pass our spots on to someone who would appreciate them. My husband and son went with another father/son duo who are close family friends.

Tragically the mother of my son’s friend passed away the prior year. I told Pam because I knew she wouldn’t be mad at me for giving my spot away to a kid who had been through so much. On the night of the game, I took Pam out to dinner along with my daughter. We had a great time.

A couple of days after the game, Pam was getting physical therapy at a local facility. Physical therapy takes place in an open room with other patients at different stations. Pam liked to talk (a lot) and she was telling Bill, her Physical Therapist, about the game. She went on to tell him how two of the tickets went to a boy and his father and how the mother passed away the prior year. She went through the whole sad tale. Wouldn’t you know it, Bob, the widower was also getting physical therapy and heard the entire conversation. He introduced himself to Pam, thanking her for the tickets. See I’m not the only one who does cringe-worthy things (I wonder if my cringe is contagious…).

Pam and I remained friends after my services were no longer needed and I was heartbroken when she died unexpectedly in 2017. I couldn’t make the memorial service because I was out of town on a family vacation. A dear friend went on my behalf. She said the crowds were spilling out of the local funeral parlor, every seat taken with many people standing.

The place was filled with equal parts tears and laughter. Funny Pam stories and heartbroken friends mingling with family. Her family and closest friends decided to give Pam’s costume jewelry away to the mourners. There were trays and trays of her prized collection on display for friends to take as a remembrance of Pam. My friend picked out a spectacular bracelet for my keepsake. We take it with us when we go on adventures together.

In July of 2017, my friend and I went to see PINK in concert on the beach in Atlantic City. Pam was supposed to join us. We made plans to attend the concert at prior outing (the one where Jam Man donated $3. of Pam’s change). Pam reserved the room because as she said, “I got the senior rate ‘cause I’m so old”. I purchased the concert tickets. The three of us were so excited for our girls road trip. Sadly Pam died 6 weeks before the show.

When it was time to go, the two of us packed up and went. We thought about giving the ticket away but decided to keep it. We took her bracelet everywhere on our adventure and turned Pam’s ticket in with our own.

Ticket taker: “3 tickets, there’s only two of you.”

SC: “Pam’s here, you just can’t see her.”

Now when I go somewhere I think Pam would enjoy, I take her bracelet with me.

 

Aye, Aye, Captain

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Aye, Aye, Captain

The key chain in the featured photo belongs to my client, Rob (not his real name), he is 94 years old. Gawd, I love a man with a sense of humor. I visit Rob and his wife Laura (Pssst, that’s not her name either) twice a week. Their pseudonyms come from the Dick Van Dyke Show, my blog, my rules. Our visits usually consist of errands and me refilling the numerous bird feeders that surround their home.

They keep the bird seed (several varieties) in the basement and I’ve been asked to check the mouse traps down there as well because apparently mice like bird seed. I don’t have any personal experience with mouse traps (thank you husband) but I don’t want my nonagenarian friends taking a chance on the wobbly wooden steps that lead to an unforgiving cement floor. So I glance toward the mousetraps and give a prayer of thanks each time I find them empty. Last week I accidentally set one off when my foot brushed against it. Fortunately it isn’t flip flop season. Once I’ve checked the traps, I fill four old coffee cans with three types of birdseed and then I make the rounds. My clients are happy, the birds are happy and the mice have stayed out of the traps thus far, everyone wins.

This week one of our errands involved taking my clients to the bank to close an account. Laura told me there wasn’t much in it, just a pesky out of the way account she wanted to close in order to consolidate funds. No problem, the branch is near the grocery store, easy peasy. When we get to the bank and my clients state that they want to close an account, they get ushered into a fishbowl of an office. I sit outside the office but I can peak in because, it’s a fishbowl. After a few minutes I go into the office to see what’s going on because I’m concerned that maybe the employee is trying to strong arm my friends into keeping their account, or worse.

I’m not comfortable being in this situation. I’m at a bank with two elderly people that I’m not related to and they want to close an account and walk out the door with significant funds. It turned out that my clients had four certificates of deposit in this institution with maturity dates that went to 2021. At first the employee was extolling the benefits of keeping the CDs in until they reached maturity at which point my clients will be knocking on 100 years old. I gave her the FFS are you kidding me look which likely made me look like a potential criminal….then I asked my clients to think about what they want to do. I followed up with, if you close the account we must deposit the funds into your primary bank today. We left with a check for over $30K. which was thankfully deposited into their other bank before I left them for the day.

This incident created an emotional collage for me. These are new clients, I’ve only worked for them for a month and here I was in this financially sensitive situation with them. My first instinct was to protect them from the bank, I just wanted to make sure that their money was safe. I got a long slow look at how vulnerable they actually are and it made me sad. Later that afternoon I sent an email to their adult children to keep them informed, they are the lucky ones. How many elderly people have to navigate this stuff alone, without a trustworthy relative or helper?