Category Archives: Vulnerability

Fixer of Broken Things

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Fixer of Broken Things

A great tree fell in the forest of life on this day a year ago and I am sad. I miss the colors of fall, the snow on winter branches, the shelter for spring birds and the clean air he so effortlessly provided. He made our world a better place and asked for nothing in return, except perhaps, some pasta.

I talk to the ghost of my father in-law daily, I miss him every day. He was a quiet man, a man of action, a family man, a zen master. He could pop over any time and I was always happy to see him. Not even a hint of internal – oh shit I need to….his visits only brought joy – a smile, an enthusiastic hello, would you like some coffee/breakfast/lunch/anything and it truly would have been my pleasure to serve….just the pasta, that’s all he wanted.

He would spend hours at our house, pulling weeds, fixing things, dawdling in that classic old school Italian way, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, the dog at his feet hoping for a crust of bread which, he always shared as he exited his car in our driveway. He was the fixer of broken things, the finder of stuff (he knew where everything was), the quiet gardener, the happy chef, a humble man who loved his family.

When the kids were little they would become attached to tiny toys that were given in party bags, random gifts and tchotchke items. One of a kind special things that were beloved and irreplaceable or at least hard to find. If something broke it would be set aside for Nonno to fix. His success rate was pretty high somewhere above 90%. He had that Italian mind designed to solve problems and find solutions, curious and steadfast in his thoughts, the man had an abundance of patience.

He painted when something needed to be painted. He organized, he cleaned, he made himself useful, he had to be productive, it was in his DNA. Like a border collie, he needed a job. He was happy here toiling around our house during the day and when he was done he would drive the 8 minutes back to his house. Freedom and independence without isolation.

He could sew too. My daughter had a brief stint in the Daisies and the Brownies and I never sewed a single patch, Nonno did that. He even sewed the dog’s toys back together. He could do stuff with gorilla glue and duct tape that defied the laws of physics, truly a fixer of broken things.

If I’m honest he fixed me as well. I didn’t grow up with a father in my life. He showed me what a good father was, I felt loved and appreciated. Perhaps that’s why I never lost patience with him popping in unannounced or declining invites to the kids events. Behavior which annoys me when someone else does it. I simply enjoyed his company and knew he loved us whether or not he attended the Holiday Concert.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday and another lifetime all at once. I don’t know how that’s possible, it just is. My husband seemed distracted and down today. He’s horrible at remembering dates so I didn’t want to remind him if the date slipped his mind. Why scratch the scab?

I popped in his office and asked if he was OK. Told him I thought he seemed distracted. His response let me know he didn’t realize the significance of the date – he asked if it was “that time”. That usually gets a steely gaze from me, on this day I practiced restraint…then he asked if I was OK, suspecting I was hormonal. I responded with a cheerful “just checking on you, I’m good”.

I’m not good.

 

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On the Path…

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On the Path…

Sometimes you find yourself on a path and you have no idea how you got there. Is this the beginning, the middle or the end? There’s no map. It isn’t a path you chose, it was chosen for you. You don’t know the length, topography, the fitness required to complete it…hell you don’t know the destination and yet, here you are.

There are no trail markers to assist, no consistent guide. You observe, look for tripping hazards, avoid the pitfalls when you see them. You try to adapt to the ever changing conditions, not knowing how long you will be here or where it ends. You have to adapt, try and enjoy the path when you can, take deep breaths, look around, it feels lonely. You are isolated, afraid, desperate. Every so often you hear a friendly voice nudging you along…mostly though, you are on your own and you need to make peace with that.

It Burns!

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It Burns!

Midlife has a way of saying f*ck you on a daily basis. Today I woke up and the right side of my neck hurts, bad. Don’t know why, perhaps I slept on it wrong, angered the midlife Gawds, total mystery. I recently gave up sugar for Lent and I’m pretty sure I’ve gained weight (dafuq?). I’m not trying to stop the age train, I would like to slow it down.

If you’re like me, you still have kids at home and at least one elderly relative to check in on. Midlife is a balancing act on all fronts. Drifting away from our younger years and aware that things will likely deteriorate at some point. There’s a constant stream of advertising that comes your way via mail, telemarketing calls and those damn pop up ads that have a direct connection to my thoughts (Minority Report anyone?). The general message is you’re getting old, no need to look that way, we can fix it!

The messaging isn’t subtle. The day you turn 50 I guarantee AARP will send you something to acknowledge it and say “join us, we’re going to age gracefully with vigor like some Stepford midlifer”, it’s implied. Step off AARP, I’m not interested. In my brain I think I look 35, the mirror on the other hand, tells a different story. Today I went for another consultation to see about minimizing the bags that have taken up residency under my eyes. If you follow my blog (and thank you if you do), you may remember another recent consultation Work it (or Not)

I arrived at Les Crap of Zee Bull (not the actual name, it was equally French and fancy) eager to see what non surgical options could fix this mess. I was whisked upstairs to the waiting salon by a 20 something staff member. She did the obligatory model hand wave toward the refreshment table and promptly got me a questionnaire to fill out. I may have lied about my weight on the form, that is classified and it’s going to the grave with me. I filled out the form and waited.

While I was waiting I noticed a client who was sitting across the room with an ice pack on her face, she may have been writhing in pain or perhaps she had to pee. There was a water wall in front of me which made me think there was no way I could afford this place. I texted my friend Kristy about the water wall and she suggested that it was there to muffle the screams. She attended a prestigious university and studied science so maybe she’s on to something.

After a few minutes of listening to the melodious splash I had an urge to go. On the way to the bathroom I walked past a ginormous advertisement which proudly displayed several large photos of before and after ass pictures. In that moment I was grateful that I didn’t have an issue with my backside because the idea of having my before and after ass on display was a little too much to bare (intentional typo calm down grammar nerds).

Things didn’t improve in the bathroom. Everything was fine until I went to wash my hands. I got some soap and waved my hand under the faucet, nothing happened. I did the magic wand wave a few more times, approaching from different angles, adjusting the speed in the hopes that water would be released, nope. I looked at the faucet for clues, nothing emerged, it just stared back at me with a steely gaze, unyielding. There were no handles, no sensors, nothing obvious. After approximately 90 seconds of me waving hands frantically and muttering  “Oh for f*ck sake!” repeatedly, I figured it out. The cube at the top of the faucet pushed up to release water. I did have to chant (thanks for that tip Paul) and wiggle my ears while simultaneously applying enormous pressure in an upward motion to get it to work. Nevertheless, I emerged with an empty bladder and clean hands.

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Sure it looks simple enough. Trust me without the chanting, ear wiggling and upward motion, total desert.

A few minutes after that ridiculousness, I was ushered into an exam room by a pleasant middle aged woman with a stylish hair cut and cute glasses. Did I mention that I came from the gym so I was sweaty, potentially smelly, not even a hint of make up and my hair was dripping with sweat? My new friend put down a cloth barrier on the chair that I was later guided to sit on. I’d like to think they do that for all the clients….in retrospect, I’m not so sure. I was also told to remove my hat which was providing shelter for my sweaty pony tail so you know, sexy as hell.

She asked me why I was there and I told her. A few minutes later a nurse practitioner came in the room and asked the same questions I just answered. She gave me a hand held mirror to hold while she pressed on various parts of my face to demonstrate how fillers could possibly help. The lighting in there wasn’t doing me any favors, I felt like a vampire seeing the sun for the first time, it burns! Let’s just say the nurse was honest, brutally honest. The take away was “Honey, we can’t fix that. Go back to the surgeon or else you’ll waste gobs of money and be miserable.” So, that went well at least it was a free consultation – free of dignity, confidence, pride, ego, totally free. I may just get a stylish hair cut and some cute glasses.

 

 

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?