Friday, January 30, 2009

You're Gonna Miss This...Moment

Just for something different, I decided to make this week's "You're Gonna Miss This Moment" about something about the family member I haven't yet mentioned. Our dog, Jude. These days he is a fairly peaceful and sedate, though still playful, three-year old German Shepherd. He weighs in at just under 140 lbs. He is one big dog. He looks like this:

But when we first brought him home, and this is the part I miss, he was only seven weeks old, and he looked a lot more like this:

He was tiny and adorable and, well, needy. He needed to go out every night at 3am to do his business. Luckily said business was much tinier then, but I DON'T miss the late night rendezvous in the front yard. I do miss the tiny cuddly little pup who used to be able to sleep in my bed while still allowing room for the humans. Things change, and this is just one more of those moments that I really miss. Thanks to Pam over at You're Gonna Miss This Moment for taking me on my weekly trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some Time to Myself

Thank you to the old man in the hat who spoke to me in Foodland almost twenty years ago. I was the express lane cashier and so frustrated by the customer who could not stop talking as my line wound its way back into frozen foods. When she finally moved on I made some off-hand teenage remark to you and your reply has stayed with me ever since, ”Everyone has a story to tell, and there is something for you to learn from every single one of them...” After you I listened more often and more carefully, and that listening taught me things that have made all the difference.

Thank you to the first client I ever cared for as a home health aide. You passed away on my second day on the job, right there in front of me, but quietly, peacefully. You taught me that death doesn't have to be feared; that it is a moment in life just like all of the other moments and that it is possible to meet it with grace and acceptance. So many times over that lesson has served me.

Thank you to the cashier at Giant Eagle who watched me struggle with my misbehaving children (only two at the time) and told me not to worry, that everyone's kids act up and anyone who tells you differently is a liar. She made me feel like less of a spectacle, more a part of the world called motherhood .

Thank you to the guy at the auto parts store, who in the four years since my divorce, has helped me to install batteries and put on new wiper blades, to change light bulbs and check oil, even though I know much of that is beyond your job description. You helped me save face with my ex-husband, made it possible for me to appear more independent than I felt ready to be. Just so you know that imagined independence finally stuck; last week when it seven degrees outside I changed my own wiper blades right there in the street and it only took a few minutes. I learned from watching you.

Thank you to the nuclear engineer I cared for for almost a year. You were my client, but you also managed to be my friend. We never talked much about my personal life, but all through the time that my marriage was falling apart and my divorce was in process you kept me focused on myself and my children. Without ever giving me overt advice you showed me the right way to make it through the hard times. I would have fallen apart without you. I miss you so now that you are gone. I miss our scrabble games, the nights we used to watch Lost together. At seventy two and thirty we were unlikely friends but I'm so glad we managed anyway.

Thank you to my Senior Writing teacher in college. You were an amazing and well published author, but you were still human enough to be kind to me when I came to your office crying to ask for a late withdrawl from your class. I was struggling with depression,  trying so hard to keep my despair a secret as I tried to get my degree and raise my small daughter. You were wise enough to see through me. You told me you couldn't allow a talented writer to withdraw for no good reason. You told me at life happens but that you make your own destiny too. You gave me an incomplete and told me that you had faith in my ability to solve my problems and return to my writing. You believed in me long before I was able to believe in myself. But the lesson stuck anyway, and when I was ready for it, it served me well. And I will never get over the boost you gave me when you called me a talented writer.

Last but most definitely not least—and maybe this one doesn't count because even though his influence on my life was barely a shadow for so many years, now he is my life, my future, my happiness. I thank you B. For loving me first when we were so young and for doing it so gently and so perfectly that I have never forgotten. Thank you for helping me pass my computer class in college that I would have otherwise failed. Thank you for being nearby the night of my father's funeral if only for a few minutes. Those minutes meant the world to me. You mean the world to me. And thanks for encouraging me a few weeks ago to start a blog, to put myself out there and try something new.

All those people, all those tiny little moments that added up to so much. I am feeling grateful tonight that I had the time to consider them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New life, Old love, New baby???

"New Father"
My "You're Gonna Miss This Moment" post the other day really got me thinking. I hate to over-do the topic, but quite frankly, the question of whether or not to have just one more child someday has been on my mind ( and the topic of conversations between B and I ) quite a bit lately. In addition to that, thinking it out in my head doesn't seem to be lending itself to the kinds of answers I'm looking for, so I figure I'll have a go at writing it out once and for all and then I'll leave the subject alone until our decision is finalized one way or another.

Months ago when B and I were looking through an old photo album one night, catching up on the babyhood of my oldest, I mentioned hat wonderful smell that babies have. I'm sure you know what I mean. (Some say it is the smell that keeps us from chucking them out in the snow when we realize how hard they are to care for...) But I prefer to think of it is the best smell in the world smell. Just holding someone else's baby and breathing in that indescribable sweetness is enough to leave me longing for another little one to call my own. But anyway, B was not familiar with THE SMELL. We talked about it for a bit, or rather I raved about it and tried unsuccessfully to describe it to him, all to no avail. B is not your usual kind of man. Most guys would just file this conversation away as girl stuff and forget about it. Not him. He asked his sister about it. Despite the fact that she has no children, she confirmed the existence and the wonder of THE SMELL. He Googled it. Yes--Google. I love this man. He is undeniably dorky, but I could not possibly love him more. The best part—Google confirmed everything I had told him. His response—“I believe you, I have always believed you, but I just really want to know what it smells like.” For this, Google was no help.

My youngest son, Z, is already fast approaching six years old. He is well past the age when the smell of babyhood passed us by. But I have noticed, with all of my children, that even after that age has passed, on rare and wondrous occasions, the smell will put in an appearance. This past Saturday was one of those precious days. Z got his bath early in the day Saturday and sometime around three he came running into my room and snuggled up against me as I was packing up to leave for work. I leaned in to kiss his head as I almost always do and BAM! It hit me. THE SMELL! It's part baby shampoo and soap, but equal parts brand new skin and magic...and there it was. I almost jumped out of my skin. I squealed--”That's it! Quick come here and smell this...” ( I know a total loon, Right?)

Good sport that he is, B came over and smelled. And sniffed again-- deeply this time. “Wow, you're right. I remember that smell a little now from when my brothers and sister were small. I can't believe I had forgotten.  That IS a great smell.” I was tickled to hear him say that. It surprised me how happy I was to hear him agree. I imagined just for a moment what it might be like to have that smell around all the time for a year or two again, and to be able to watch him cuddle some tiny little person against his chest and breath in deeply with that totally mystified expression on his face. That expression I had just seen for the first time. I can't help myself. I want to see it again. I want to do it all again. The sleepless nights, the worry, the magic of waiting to see just who this new little one turns out to be. Now I worry that he might change his mind, decide that three kids, especially three kids with sometime big issues, might just be enough for us to deal with. I'm hoping not though. He has no idea what wonderful things he would be saying no to if he decides against us adding our own contribution to the family we already share. I do. More and more lately I find myself thinking that if I never have another child, I might regret it later, but I can't ever imagine regretting the decision to have another child.

I can't say it any better than Dale Hanson Bourke already has—see her article here:

PS—When starting to read my blog a few days ago, B giggled that I only refer to him as B. He may regret that giggle because I have decided from here on out to call him The Brain instead, respectfully of course. But what else could I do-- I mean who Googles “the smell of newborn babies?” No worries though, I still love The Brain just as much as ever.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What if

After writing yesterday about all of the moments I know that I'm gonna miss when they are gone, I gotta major case of the what ifs this morning. I hate the what ifs. There is always some nagging possibility that might have turned out better, or the idea that changing one thing could have changed everything. But anyway, it was a what if kind of morning for me. So here goes:

What if I hadn't missed three birth control pills right after high school graduation? or what if I did, but I didn't get pregnant with my sweet daughter K?

What if I had finished college instead of dropping out to get married and have my little R? Would that degree in English Writing have made any difference? Could I have done both?

What if I hadn't moved back home in 2002 to help take care of my father while he was sick and dying? (I can't imagine any other option here, but sometimes I do wonder if I hadn't what would be different now

What if B hadn't shown up at my father's funeral in 2003? Would I still have had the courage to contact him last summer after twenty years apart? What if I hadn'tfought my own battles with self-destruction, would I have had the courage or knowledge about how to stick it out with him during those rough early months before he stopped drinking(for the most part?)

What if I had been the one caring for our elderly friend Norma the night that she and her caregiver were murdered in cold blood by a druggie trying to find money? That was almost me.

What if I wasn't so anxious about everything all the time, wondering, worrying about what things might go wrong just around the corner?

What if my older two children weren't bipolar? What if most of our evenings were peaceful and quiet and my fears for their future were fewer?

What if I hadn't spent two years not talking to my dearest friend? What sort of things might we have enjoyed during that time or helped each other through, but instead had to struggle through alone?

What if I hadn't gotten pregnant unintentionally when R was only three months old? What if I had given birth to that baby, started a more permanent relationship with the baby's father? Would I still have had my sweet baby Z to cherish and love?

What if my siblings had kept in closer contact while my dad was dying and afterward? Would I feel less alone, less deserted, less disconnected from the father I miss so very much?

So those are most of my bigger what ifs. Not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination. But the important ones. Or maybe not so important after all. Maybe the really important ones are these....

What if I love B with everything that I am and everything that I have to give and it is enough because he loves me back the same way? What if happiness like this really does exist and it can be mine just because?

What if I love my kids every day good behavior and bad and I do my best to help teach them the right way? What if that too is enough and my kids grow up strong and wise and happy?

What if everything that I have done up until now was essential to this moment that I am living in? What if I love this moment so much for everything that it contains, that I couldn't dream of changing a thing?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You're Gonna Miss This...Moment

With four kids, all of them about five years apart, I've always got a lot of moments going on at once. When my oldest J was graduating from high school, my daughter was just starting junior high, and my littlest was getting his start in preschool. All at once it was a cap and gown and no more diapers. It has made me startlingly aware of how precious all of those little moments are. As each of my children passes a milestone in succession I realize how fleeting those times are and how with each child I am closer to never experiencing them again.

This year has brought a lot of changes to my life. I am in a wonderful new relationship with my high school sweetheart, and I find myself pondering once again a question I had already thought answered. When my divorce was finalized back in 2005, I came to the conclusion that I really was done having babies. I was lucky enough to have four healthy children in my life, and it seemed no great hardship to decide that my days as a new mom were over for good this time. I had been parenting for almost fifteen years then, more than half my life, and it seemed a good time to focus on my kiddos and start thinking about creating a life of my own, for that time, not really so far off, that they would start to go off to live lives of their own choosing. B has changed my perspective a bit.

During our years apart he never married, had no children of his own. (It's almost as though I had enough for both of us some days...) When we first started seeing each other again last summer I stated up front that I had no intention of ever marrying again, and that I was for sure not having any more babies. he nodded affably enough at my pronouncements and said nothing further. I remember thinking,"well, good, at least that won't be an issue."

It didn't take him two months to capture my heart and start me dreaming of the possibility of being his wife someday. We have talked and talked about what being married would mean for us, to us. I have explained my understanding of what a marriage ought to be, and we have agreed. We have agreed that a marriage is not created in a few moments in a church or a courtroom, but in the thousands of little moments spent together beforehand piecing together a life that pleases and nurtures you both. We have also agreed that that courtroom formality is a nice thing to have when you love each other the way we do and when you are trying to raise three children together. So at some point (later this year he says) we will marry. I will after all of these years, finally take as my own the last name that I used to scribble across my notebooks back in eighth grade. It will make me, I believe, the happiest woman I know.

That leaves only the question of children. Day by day he is learning to love my kids, and they are certainly growing ever closer to him. We have talked more than once about the possibility of one more. A child of his own, some little person we have created together. Despite my past reservations I cannot help but grow excited by all of the possibility that idea contains. I don't think I am capable of denying him the opportunity, especially when the moments it calls to mind are all so very precious in my mind.

I know now about the impending end of those baby days; How much it is possible to miss the sweet smells of baby formula and shampoo. I already miss those days when I could watch my older kids play while tiny little Z laid bunched asleep on my chest with his feet tucked under him like a frog. I know how much I miss being able to bury my nose in that sweet and heavenly space at the crown of a babies head. Almost every day I careen past another moment that I know I'm gonna miss. This week it is pinewood derby races and high school dances, but I know from experience that in the blink of an eye it will be graduations and college days and weddings...I have long missed the days I spent pregnant with the three of them, moving through my days with them tumbling about inside me. In a few shorts years there will be so many more moments to miss.

So I suspect that I will take B up on his idea. That we will someday in the not terribly distant future start the trail of moments all over again, just one last time, our first time together. I suspect as well that it will be wonderful all over again, even more so with this man I love so very much, but that it will also be bittersweet this time, knowing for sure that it will be the last time. So many moments that I know I'm gonna miss when they've gone by for good.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recommended Reading!

Is There Any Mommy Out There?: Stop Thief

An absolutely beautiful, not to mention meaningful piece of writing. Makes me aware that though the hard times have been so hard, my life is exactly what I want it to be and I wouldn't change a thing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Love and Fear

Love and fear have always been very closely intertwined in my mind, at least for as far back as I can remember.

I always loved my father beyond reason, but from the year I was twelve on, I carried with me a deep and abiding fear that he would die and leave me behind. So I loved, and I worried, always the two hand in hand, and in the end, of course, he did die.

I love my mother too, and it has always been my fear that if I do not share the dreams and goals she has wanted for me, that her love might be in some way conditional. It seems that this may have been true as well, although I don't proclaim to know my mother's true feelings. She wanted me to go to college and be a doctor, to delay having a family, to have an only child like I was, to marry a smart man with a big career and a bigger paycheck. I tried college, but as a writing major, and I flunked out. I got pregnant at the age of eighteen, just a few short weeks after my high school graduation. My daughter's father was older than me by almost a decade, he drove truck, earned little more than minimum wage, and was going nowhere fast. In short, she hated him, disapproved of my choices, and has never stopped letting me know about the ways and reasons she feels that I have failed. She cries on the phone to her friends about my lost potential and how many years she spent with me when I was young trying to teach me the right things, and how I have always had a mind of my own, no regard for her feelings. Another fear realized.

When I was twenty-three I married that boy my mother hated. I thought I loved him then. We had a three year old daughter together and we both loved her. We lived together and managed to get through the days. But again there was fear.  I was afraid he was still in love with my step-son's mother (he was.) I was afraid he was the kind of man who would hurt my feelings often and horribly and that he would take for granted how desperate I was to have a family and be proud of my part in it. (he did and he did. ) I don't mean to imply that he was a horrible man. We were horrible for each other though, and my fear of that was present right from the very beginning. The first time we fought and he called me a whore in front of our sons I knew that I was so right to have been afraid.

I love my half siblings from my father's first marriage. They are all more than a decade older than me, but I spent years looking up to them, chasing their affections and enjoying their company. I have always been afraid, though, that without ,my father there to link us, they would move on and forget about their youngest sister. And so they did, although they didn't wait for Dad's passing. When he got sick in 2002 I found myself pregnant with my third child and alone with my mother trying to provide round the clock care for my(very nearly) dying father while the five of them clipping along in their everyday lives, enjoying their grown children and sleeping full nights without our father's weakened voice to waken them. I watched him waste away alone for the most part. And since he's been gone they have left me farther behind than I had ever dreamed possible. They have all but disappeared from my life. It makes me sad, because they are the closest physical link I have to the father I loved so much and lost.

I have four children of my own now. My step-son and my own three little monkeys. I love them in a way I hadn't thought possible before becoming a mother so many years ago. It's the kind of love that dwarfs every other feeling I have ever had. And the fear that goes with it is almost insurmountable. I am afraid that I will make a mistake, hundreds of mistakes, really. I don't want to pressure them too much like my mother pressured me. I want to show them unconditional love and acceptance. I want to live for as long as they need me. I don't ever want to find that any of my children think that love and fear must be synonymous. Everyday I am afraid that they are the most important job I will ever have, and I am afraid that I will fail. Some days I do fail , but either way, the fear never leaves me.

All of a sudden, things are different. If you've been with me up until now, you know that I am in love again, or perhaps still is a better word to use. I still love B as much as I did twenty years ago when I was only thirteen years old, except I love him more. And every day I love him even more. I don't believe that I have ever stopped loving him. In all those years we spent apart, there was never an important moment in my life that he didn't grace my thoughts. The day I married my ex, it was B's face I saw every time I closed my eyes.  On the days I gave birth to my children, I always stopped at least once to consider what those moments would have been like with B at my side instead. I have loved him above and beyond as a part of every moment of every day we have spent, together or apart. I would like to say that this one overriding love of my life has never held within it a moment of fear; but if I did I would be lying. There are days that I am still very much afraid, but it is no longer every day. I am sometimes afraid that he will look at my complicated chaotic life and decide that it's not worth it, that these kids are too hard to deal with or that I am too riddled with anxiety for him to rely on. I am afraid that he will someday decide to start drinking again, or that I might slip back into my old habits of self destruction. But with B, all that fear has a different quality to it. It no longer consumes me as it once did. Most moments of most days I am at ease in a way that I hadn't ever thought possible. I am no longer ever afraid of another person hurting me. I feel his love and protection and concern every second these days. The fears are fading away, and I have no reason not to think that someday soon I will wake up and feel no fear, just the comfort that is fast becoming my new norm. I hope with all f my heart that he can help me teach this new feeling to my kids. The glimpses I've gotten of love without fear have really been something to behold.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Bucket List

I finally got around to watching "The Bucket List." It has been on my dvd shelf for weeks now, but I finally found time. I enjoyed it. It was funny, but it also made me think. I have lost a lot of people that I care about these last few years and it's left me thinking about how I want to live my life, and about being able to let go at the end with no regrets. So, MY Bucket List:

1. Write a best-seller.
2. See all of my children grown up and successful, and by successful I mean happy with themselves and their accomplishments.
3. Live in the country.
4. Stand in grove of Giant Sequoias.
5. Drive an 18 wheeler, flat-out on the interstate.
6. Exceed the expectations of the people I love.
7. Learn to adapt to change with ease instead of anxiety.
8. Marry the man I have loved since we were only fourteen. (DONE!!!)
9. Go back to school and get my RN.
10. Be able to look back on my Dad's life and death with only laughter, not tears.
11. See the rodeo in Cheyenne.
12. Spend a week horseback-riding at a dude ranch.
13. Take a two day canoe trip down the Clarion River with B.
14. See all three of my children graduate from high school and pursue their dreams with open hearts.
15. Make a difference in the way elderly people spend their last days--better health care, better facilities, more ways for older people to stay in their own homes even after they can't do it alone...
16. Watch all of the episodes of MASH in order.
17. Learn from my own mistakes, ( and maybe from the mistakes of those around me too...)
18. Take road trips to thoroughly photograph both the east and west coasts of the United States.
19. Visit the Vietnam Memorial at night again.
20. Find ways to bridge the gaps between myself and my five siblings.
21. Spend a weekend at a dude ranch.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Walk Down Memory Lane

My posts have been lazy these last few days. I can't help it. I've been super busy doing the living that gives me things to write about. Yet I really should tell you about Saturday night, because Saturday night was a blast. We were expecting a few inches of snow here, and K was willing to sit for the boys, so B and I decided on a date night at home (sort of.) We got everyone settled in here with K and my Mom for the night, and then we headed over to his Grandma's to help his Mom get her off to bed. By nine o'clock everyone was tucked in and nearly asleep for the night, leaving us free to enjoy an evening alone at B's Mom's house, (She lives next door to Grandma and so we just swapped houses for the night. We had a fire in the fireplace, PB and J sandwiches, and a couple of old home movies a piece to watch together.

So we watched. It was so good to cuddle against him on the couch and check out how we spent some of our years apart back in the early nineties. It was strange to see how different our lives were then. He spent '93 and '94 getting settled into the routines of college and fraternity life, while I spent them being pregnant and settling into the routines being a new mom. It's funny, but the only thing we really had in common then were our budding problems with alcohol. I got a chance to see once more his sweet face in it's younger version, before his chin took on the solid look of a man's that it has now, before his shoulders broadened and when his voice still had the slightest squeak of youth. He got to see some of daughter's earliest years and some evidence that my son R has had his awesome temper since birth, but he also got to see me mothering them then, when everything was still new to me. We both got to see my Dad in action once more, and I realized just how quickly the sound of his voice had receded into my memory. It reminded me how precious those videos really are and how very much I still miss him. It was good to visit again with our younger selves for a while. We laughed and snuggled and enjoyed the fire and each other. It made me realize again just how lucky I am to have this second chance with him, how lucky we are to have this second chance together. It makes me grateful for all those little things we are able to share now.

Some of my favorites:

1. When he rolls over next to me in bed, and takes a second to brush my hair back form my face and say "I love you" before he fades off to sleep again.

2. When we sit in bed together after a night at work clacking away at our laptops and just enjoying each other's silent company.

3. When he wraps his arms around me in the kitchen (or the living room, or the...) and stops whatever he's doing to make sure that I know how much he loves me.

and so much more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Me in Six Words: (Or Maybe More...)

For something different, I decided to ask a couple of people close to me to give me six words that describe me and see what i could do with them. I had originally planned to ask four or five people, but almost no one wanted to cooperate (apparently afraid of offending me because scary was a word that came up often enough.)The results were as follows:

My fourteen year old daughter K:


You can tell time....





I'm not sure about cactus, but she explained that I am beautiful and resilient, but, well, prickly....

My ten year old son R:





R ran out of steam after just four words, but I have to agree with all four so...

Finally I asked my sweetheart B. He had the most interesting answers. Granted, he was clicking through his online thesaurus for inspiration, but he well exceeded six words. When I asked him about this he said six words just weren't enough.





socially adept??
















Generous-i didn't mean stingy













At first I thought some of those words he gave me were questionable (honest? yes. smart to disclose? not sure.) But as we talked afterward, he explained that without any of the more difficult words, I would be just like any other woman...instead of the woman he loves. So he said he loves me for all the words that describe me, not just the good ones. I'm glad I asked...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Not Me Monday

I have decided to participate in "Not Me Mondays" because it has been so fun to read these last few weeks.

I particularly enjoyed this week's gps pic showing MckMama driving over the lake and claiming she was "Not" (me) nervous about it here at My Charming Kids.

So here goes:

I did not hide in my bedroom from my kids on Wednesday after school because I simply could not bear their fighting and their noise.

I did not label my mom's number in my phonebook as "bitchy" instead of "Becky".

I did not torture B with my anxiety early in the week because I had PMS and unruly children.

Stay tuned until next week--I plan to give Not Me Monday a try again!

Making Things A Little More Right in My World

I once had a good friend, a best friend, really. More than a best friend. The kind of friend that will drop everything to be by your side when the rest of the world has walked away; the kind of friend that can be counted on to know what you need before you are even sure yourself. I think, that for the most part, I was this sort of friend to her too. Until I screwed up. I won't get into how I screwed up exactly, because it no longer matters. (And because it will make me look terrible, and let's face it, this is MY blog) But I definitely screwed up big time. I hurt her feelings deeply and I turned my back on ten or so years of the best friendship I have ever known. My reasons for doing this were stupid and inexcusable. I let others sway my opinion of my good friend in ways I should have known were ridiculous. I said horrible, hurtful things and I let my pride get in the way of apologizing. Until now.

Last week I found her profile on Facebook, this long lost friend of mine. (It has been more than two years since we've spoken.) It was good to see her face, and her children and that she and her husband seem to be doing well. It wrung out my heart to think about how much I miss her presence in my life. I got to thinking about all of the things in my life that have changed and gone better or worse in the last two years and how much easier the hardships would have been to bear if she had still been a part of my life. I thought about how much more fun the good times would have been with her easy laughter and our matching sense of humor. I remembered for just a moment how many times in the last two years I'd had a thought or a joke that I wanted to share just with her, and no way to reach out and do so. I thought about my children missing her children and how big a waste it really all had been for us to be missing out on so much just because I was too proud to apologize. So I did. I sat down and wrote her an apology and sent it facebook style to her inbox. It wasn't near the apology she deserved, but it was heartfelt and I was in a hurry to try to heal things between us. So I sent my apology. And I waited, and waited.

Today, she called me. It made my day. I got to hear her four beautiful children talking and playing the background and I got to apologize for real. (the kind of apology she deserved.) It was easier than I expected, having her there on the other end of the line, just to tell her how wrong I was , and how sorry I was and how very much I wanted to make things right between us again. She is a good person (she always was) and she has a gracious heart. She accepted my apology and in keeping with her heart of gold she told me that everyone makes mistakes, and that she missed me too. We are going to work to heal this thing that happened, the two of us, our families too. Tonight I will go to sleep knowing that things are just a little more right in my little world. If you owe somebody an apology, make it--you'll feel better.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Think I should Mention the Good Days

Reading back over my posts, I think I need to take some extra time out to tell you a little more about the good parts. Sure, the bad parts are interesting and overwhelming and noisier than the good parts, but the good parts are really what it's all about, and there are plenty of them.

Today was another quiet day. (so far anyway) My five year old, Z, has been playing his heart out at Playstation and Guitar Hero since the wee hours of the morning. He has been calm and mostly compliant and easy to please today. He has also been in an electronic trance. Now I have never been one to let the TV or Game system babysit for me. I have played many hours of Candyland and Lucky Ducks in my day. But. It has been difficult here lately, and I must admit that today's gaming obsession came as something of a relief.

The best part, though, have been his brief breaks from the tube. The ones where he runs into my room as I hack away at the computer and throws his arms around my neck for hugs and scams a piece of gum from my nightstand on the way back out. In the midst of the chaos, I love these moments.

R is having a good day too. He has been in and out all afternoon with his friends, (despite the frigid weather) happy enough to torment his siblings only intermittently today and without his usual fervor. He too has been particularly lovey and easy to get along with today. I am grateful.

All of this uncharacteristically quiet behavior has left me able to do some of the things I like best on a Friday snow day. I have had time to catch up on all of my favorite blogs, to read a little and write a little and to do some virtual window shopping on Amazon. I have also had time to snuggle quietly in bed beside B and talk; not heavy problem solving kind of talk, but easy, smiling, still falling in love talk. I was able to spend the noon hour nestled in the crook of his arm, with my head on his chest and the soft stubble of his cheek against my forehead and nose, listening to the beat of my favorite song. (his heartbeat) This might sound cliche, I know, but how can I lay so near to someone I love so much and not feel like the luckiest woman in the world?

Father of the Year? Not Quite Yet.

My ex-husband, for almost four years now, cannot make up his mind. He is not sure if he wants to enjoy the new found civility in our relationship since the divorce, or if he wants to nit pick and argue and continue to lose. (and I don't mean lose the argument either.) I don't have a laundry list of complaints about him like some ex-wives I know. I know that he loves our kids, is genuinely sorry (on most days) that our relationship went so badly wrong, and tries to be more accommodating than most ex-husbands I know. That said, sometimes he fails; in an epic fashion.

The Darling Three spend every Sunday night thru Tuesday evening with their Dad and his fiance. They often bristle about going, but just as often seem to have a good time while they are gone. I enjoy the quiet. It is often the only quiet I get. This week, when I picked up The Three on Tuesday evening, they entered my house as though they had been shot from a cannon. My two with mood disorders were mood-swinging like monkeys at the zoo and my youngest was along for the ride. As I cringed from the noise I unpacked their clothes and made sure everyone's meds had returned only to discover that R had missed four doses of Seroquel while he was with his Dad. That is four doses out of six, and not the preamble to a nice quiet evening at home for any of us. Things were becoming clearer. So while he raged in the background, and his sister sobbed at the kitchen table because her father said, "Why would you do that to your hair? You look like a boy." I called the ex to get his side. That was my first mistake. Thinking that if a mistake had been made, he would admit it was his. To make a long story short, we fought, loudly, on the phone for an hour. I do not need anyone to tell me how bad this is, for me, for my kids, and even for the big bad ex. By the time I hung up, and by hung up, I mean hung up on him, everyone was crying or angry or both and it took until nearly 10:00 to get the boys settled and asleep so that I could console my inconsolable daughter, trying to convince her that her father does indeed love her despite her haircut.

So I let some time go by before I talk to the ex again. Two days to be exact. And then I try a different approach. Hopefully it works. The initial feedback was encouraging. We talked for almost an hour. I explained to him some things I know from personal experience. Things lots of women know, but lots of men forget about. I tried to explain to him that the way a father treats his daughter sets the gold standard for how other men will be expected to treat her for the rest of her life. I reminded him, not for the first time, that criticism from him is almost impossible to erase from her mind, that he is THE man in her life right now. I told him that I wasn't trying to blame him for anything or make it all his fault, but that the way he deals with K is not helping her depression at all. I told him that I didn't want to see him lose a daughter in the same way we have both already lost a son. He told me that he understood, and I am hoping that this time he does.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

All is Quiet

So it's not even nine o'clock this morning, and B isn't even home from work yet, but I have noticed that despite the two hour delay for all three kiddos, it has been quiet here this morning. Exceptionally quiet. No yelling, no throwing or banging around...just the quiet hum of cartoons from the living room and the click of computer keys from the kids desktop in the hallway. It has not yet occurred to R to yank Z's chair out from underneath him, or to slap him in the back of the head on the way down the hall to the bathroom, and Z hasn't noticed that the cartoons aren't his favorite either. There is relative peace here for the moment. I am almost afraid....but keeping my fingers crossed that it lasts until the final school bus pulls away.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Missing My Son

My step-son J has been on my mind a lot lately. I started dating his father eighteen years ago when J was 2 and I was only sixteen. For sixteen years I loved him like I have loved my own children, worried when he was sick, been proud of his accomplishments and felt the joys of seeing him accomplish his goals, both large and small. From the time he was 12, he loved with my ex-husband and I and was an everyday joy to me. J's father and I divorced four years ago, and even after that J and I stayed in touch, talked on the phone each week, visited regularly. He is twenty now. I was lucky enough to get to attend his high school graduation, which was a hard-won achievement for him. About two years ago, though, he just disconnected. One day we were talking and laughing and then I never heard from him again. He stopped returning phone calls, broke off contact with my three children. (brothers and a sister he had always been so close to.) I'm at a total loss. I miss him terribly. I want him back in our lives. I wrote him the following letter but haven't sent it yet. I'm not sure if I should. I don't want to push him; I just want to understand.
Dear J,
I’ve been thinking about you almost constantly for a long while now, wondering if you are alright mostly, wanting so much for you to be happy. I wish I knew what happened to separate us, if only so that I could find some way to repair the rift, and close the space between us again. I watch the photos you flick up onto your web pages with my heart full of questions I wish I could ask you myself. I wonder if the girl in the picture has captured your heart, if your smile is genuine, if you remember how very much I love you. I wonder if there will ever be a place for me to go back to being your stepmother, or at the very least your friend. The hole your absence has left in my life is unbearable.
I was looking at K’s baby pictures last night, and there you were, always the proud big brother. I worry that I never got the chance to tell you how wonderful I always thought you were. Even when you were small and K was brand new, you showered her with love, never pushed away her affection or said so much as one word to hurt her feelings. She adored you then, and does even now, though you not being around really crushes her. I don’t know what to tell her to make it any better either. Hell, I’m still not sure what to tell myself. I message you as often as I think I can without you pushing me completely away. I never want you to forget how very loved you are here, and how desperately we want you to come back to us when you are ready. I will wait forever if that is what it takes. And if your worry is about what to say or how I will react then have no worries, id welcome you back if all you wanted to do was cuss me out. And I don’t have a harsh word to say about the time you’ve been away, except maybe that I’d be thrilled to find it over. I worry that the more time that passes; the harder it will be for you to feel comfortable about coming back at all. Just know that you don’t have to worry, you’re a welcome addition to my life anytime—no questions asked. You still have a home here with us if you ever need it, no matter what.

I remember with crystal clarity the last time I saw you. I was in the car outside of Z’s preschool waiting for the time to come to pick him up and you stopped in the church drive and got out to talk to me for a moment or two. It was the week before thanksgiving, just a few days off of the anniversary of us losing Dad and you stopping meant the world to me. I remember your smile that day prominent as always, no glitch in your mood, nothing at all to indicate that years would pass before I would see you or hear your voice again. I sometimes wonder if that day will ever come or if the every growing time between us will keep you away forever. I have no way of knowing, just as I have no way of knowing why, though I question myself daily trying to find all the answers or the missing piece that will bring you back into my life again.

It has been a full eighteen years now since the day you came into my life, making me, over time, a parent for the very first time. I remember your little face as well as I do your last smile and I wonder what could have gone wrong for our relationship in between. I have always been so proud of you, your accomplishments, but really just who you are. I have never met anyone as even tempered as you were growing up—no teenage angst, or rebellion against me for any reason. Never once in all of those years did you ever say “you’re not my Mom” or any other word to hurt my feelings or question my authority. In return I tried to keep the authority to a minimum. I'm sure it didn’t seem that way you at times, but I did my best to temper your father’s rash anger and impulsive decisions and to give you as much stability and love as I could despite my inexperience and my young age. I know there are dozens of ways in which I’ve failed you though. Not the least of which is that things between your Dad and I dissolved, leaving you alone with his bad temper in that damn apartment. Never does a day go by that I don’t wish I had pushed harder for you to stay here with us when your dad moved out with J. Looking back there are an endless number of decisions I would make differently if only it would mean I could get you back somehow.
I think a lot about my decisions, especially the ones I made those last few years, how hard I was on you when you failed English in eleventh grade or didn’t complete some damn homework assignment on time. I wonder if those were the things that pushed you away, but then I remember the day you came home and gave me a ticket to your graduation—so totally unexpected-and told me that without me you wouldn’t be graduating. I remember how I cried when you crossed the field to get your diploma—I knew perhaps better than anyone how hard you worked to get it and I have never felt that kind of pride in anyone before or since.  In my heart I carry all of these moments—your first date with S—the night I picked you guys up at Kennywood and drove you home-- your first job, the day you came to show me your new car. That day was something—I was able to watch you move further forward in life than I had ever been able to. I relaxed into the idea that you would settle into adulthood without the mistakes your mom and dad and I had made trying to get there ourselves. I let myself relax and breathe a little easier thinking that you would be just fine. That every step away would lead you closer to happiness and back to us again in the end. I don’t know what went wrong or how I can ever begin to fix it without some clue from you as to how. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, you know, to get you back in some small way, an email or a phone call, just some tiny corner of your world from which I can watch you move into adulthood. Those are the things I wish for these days.
That said, things here change almost every day. The kids get bigger and Z seems to get smarter and R more devious…things I want you to see for yourself sometime soon. Your brothers and sister are slowly turning into different people, and I hate the idea that you won’t be here to help shape that, to give them someone worth looking up to. I would love for them to have the traits I have always admired in you. Some I think they will come across on their own, because even after two year it is stunning how clearly they remember you, even Z who was only three and is now chasing down kindergarten in just a few short weeks. But I wish you were here for them to learn from (even the mischievous stuff that big brothers are good for, like when you taught R to say hot babes and he got us both in trouble repeating it in Kindergarten. His teacher was so mad that all I could do was laugh, but it was so typical of the two of you—that brother stuff.) I want those moments for Z too. For him to realize how lucky he is to have been born your brother.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the time when Dad was sick. You stand out in my memory for all the things little and big that you did to make my life easier then. You helped with the kids like they were your own, never complained, helped us take care of Dad, and watched over him a few times when Mom and I needed to be somewhere else. I remember how proud I was at the funeral home when the vets presented you with his flag. I still have it for you. It’s not mine you know, but yours, and you deserve it every bit as much today as you did back then. Even though Holly had RJ and Kevin had Brian, you were, in many ways, my Dad’s first grandson of 14 grandchildren; the first he really got to know and enjoy. So many times he told me that if all of his grandchildren turned out as well as you he would be the luckiest man in the world. I know better than almost anyone that it must not have been easy for you to live there with us and my mom and dad, almost like having two extra parents every time you turned around, but you were a pleasure to live with. I can’t even begin to tell you how much emptier the house seems without you. I cant even begin to accept the idea that you are lost to us for good.

I’m sure you're more than sick of reading this by now, though there are a million more things I can think of to say. So I guess I’ll leave it for now. Just know that I miss you more than any letter will ever express, and there isn’t one thing in this world that I wouldn’t do have you back in our lives, even in just some small and simple way. Please know that you will always be welcome, and there is no such thing as too much time passed or too late to come back home.
Still your Mom

Coming Up for Air

It has been one of those weeks. A rough one. B and I have been terribly hard on each other all week for reasons unknown, and I think now we are both feeling worn out from all the stress and pressure. I know we are. What I don't know is why it happens. I realize that it happens to everybody--or most everyone anyway, life jostles you around a bit and who do you take it out on but the person you are closest to. I have been running at panic level anxiety the past four or five days. In part because K and R have been coming slightly unglued as we wait to see the new psychiatrist at the end of the month, and in part because I always tend a little towards the panicky side. It does not bring out my best features, not by a long shot. B, of course, has been bearing the brunt of my overblown emotions and he's not holding up well under the pressure. While I wish this were different, I can hardly blame him. Now that he has quit drinking  he says it's like walking around in the world without your skin--nothing to protect you from the harsh environment around you. Just nerves and a constant blast of cold air. And on top of that, I know how very difficult I can be to get along with when I am feeling raw myself. Which I am lately, and again I'm not terribly sure why.

I have to assume that we will figure out how to get through this discomfort together, but I can't help but hope that we will figure it out sooner rather than later, because these days of riding directly on each others nerves are hard on us both. I keep thinking that the key must just be to be kinder to each other, but the hard part seems to be figuring out how. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I believe in Santa Claus..Some Post (Past) Christmas Thoughts

I remember the year I was twelve. I had just found out ( a little late if you ask me) that Santa Claus was really my father. Actually as it turned out, my father wasn't even just my Santa Claus—he was also Santa for another fifty or sixty kids, most of whom I didn't even know. I was disappointed to say the last, but not Dad—he had big plans for us both that year. I think it was early October when we first began to put his plan into action. We started at the Joann Fabrics together, hunting down the simplicity pattern for a Santa Claus suit. Dad had decided that if we were going to do it at all, we were damn well going to do it all the way—velvet, sheep's wool, jingle bells and the whole nine yards. Unfortunately, by the time we made our last trip to Jo Ann's it ended up being something more like fourteen yards. It was Dad's first major sewing project, and pants are not as simple as everyone might think. Twice he cut two right legs from the rich red velvet, then when we finally got the legs right, we realized that the velvet from that pair of pants and the jacket he'd already stitched together didn't match exactly—back to the drawing board with a fourth set of pants. Thank god that last set turned out just right. My mom was starting to question our sanity and the cost of the entire project. Dad worked for a few weeks like that, every night after work, from nine until after midnight at the dining room table, pinning and cutting and stitching like mad. After he had all the velvet pieces sewn and edged he finished each piece with rich fluffy sheep's wool—the ends of the sleeves, the cuffs of the pants, the rim of the hat, and a tiny white fluff ball at it's tip. Finally, the week before Thanksgiving, all of the sewing was finished, leaving us with what turned out to be an even bigger project—accessories. As the shopping season was just gearing up for the holidays that year—I think it was 1987—Dad went off in search of the final things that would turn him- an ordinary car salesman into the real deal—Santa Claus. He found a pair of wire-rimmed glasses at an estate sale one Sunday, shiny black knee high boots in a an old catalog he found in a doctor's office waiting room, white gloves in a music store down town. Finally he found the final and most important piece in a long forgotten costume shop—the perfect wig and beard to really turn him into the big guy. By then Thanksgiving had come and gone. Dad spent the Friday night after the holiday making his phone calls-- lining up all of our stops. He started with his regular list—my nieces and nephews, some of the neighbor kids, children of the men he worked with, the younger siblings of the kids I played with in the neighborhood. That year something different started to happen though. Word got out. The people Dad usually went to see talked to their friends and families and they in turn talked to their friends and neighbors. By the first week in December, as Dad and I got ready to go out together for the first time, our list had grown to over one hundred houses. We were scheduled to go out on fifteen different nights, the stops grouped by location and occasionally by the availability of the family we were going to see. That's how Dad was-- if you weren't going to be able to be home for Santa Claus, Santa would just come back another day, because no way was he going to disappoint some group of little kids by missing a year. There were a couple of nights when scheduling difficulties would have us covering almost two hundred miles in an evening, criss-crossing back and forth across the city of Pittsburgh as though we really were magical, from the North Side, to Saltsburg, Mt Lebanon to North Huntingdon. The only day Dad had off was Sunday, so we took off right after work on Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturdays too just to fit everyone in somewhere. That meant Dad was putting in fifteen hour days every day but Sunday when the only thing we had to do was go be Christmas for all the little ones. The really funny thing is, I can't ever remember a time when we had more fun, or when I saw Dad smile more often than he did during those busy Christmas months, year after year, running himself nearly ragged. We didn't even miss the year he had his two heart attacks in early September. It was hospital and angioplasty, and very nearly death, but back in action come November, and always with a big smile on his face. After those heart attacks, even though I was only thirteen, I always thought to myself that the year he wasn't able to go would be the year that saw him gone. My teen aged guess turned out to be only off by eleven months. Those holiday months were what he thrived on, the beauty and the magic and the ability to make so many people so happy so easily. He was the holidays for some of the people we visited-- the only part of Christmas they could afford. (because never, ever, in the forty years that my father was Santa Claus, did he ever take a dime for doing it.) In some houses we were the bright spot-- a holiday memory that families would hold onto in photos and videos after loved ones were lost and Christmas forever changed. In others, in most of them probably, we were simply a wonderful tradition, looked forward to eagerly and documented for all the years that the children believed.

A lot of what we saw on those trips made me believe again, just not in the same way. I learned to believe in my father in ways I hadn't been aware of before. He had a wonderful knack for changing things, making them lighter and better and always less troublesome, and he would do that for some of the families we visited. I had always known he was a look on the bright side kind of guy, but never before that did I realize how much he was the bright side, how much of that light actually emanated from him. He brought Santa to life, and changed the meaning of Christmas for me. Watching him all those years changed my heart and made me crave the ability to make things better for others, even in the smallest of ways. After that I thought less about myself, and more about what I was capable for doing for those around me. It made me believe in magic and fairy tales again, even if it was only the ones you build for yourself. That was going to come in handy later, even if I didn't know quite yet. It would help me find a career, give me an unsinkable optimism when it came to the good of others. It would get me through the days like no other tool I could ever acquire. Most important of all, it kept me believing in the ability of a long lost love to come bounding back for a second chance. I had learned that anything was possible if only you could keep your heart open to the magic.  What else could I possibly need?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twenty Things I love About Him

1. He is hands-down the kindest, most gentle man I have ever met.

2. He laughs at all my jokes no matter how stupid or dorky they are and matches me with his own dorky jokes, never failing to make me laugh every day.

3. He can't help but stop to pet a cat when he sees one, even though he is terribly allergic.

4. Every day he thanks me for being in his life and for helping him to take care of his Grandma. (even on the bad days!)

5. He cooks and cleans and does laundry and never hesitates to try to help me with a chore or a problem I'm having. (He says that he wants things to be fair and never wants me to feel like he doesn't do his fair share of the work.)

6. He know exactly what to do when my computer gives me trouble and makes me want to scream, but when he helps he never makes me feel stupid-- he just teaches me what to do next time.

7. He tries to get a little more involved with my kids every day, talking and listening to them, playing with, just helping out.

8. He never acts jealous or possessive and in turn I know that I never need to worry about him cheating or being disloyal; it's just not who he is.

9. Even when we are angry he never raises his voice at me.

10. When he catches me watching him do something else he always smiles and often stops what he is doing to give me a kiss.

11. He has made unconventional decisions about his life that have nothing to do with money or prestige, only with doing the right thing and taking care of family.

12. He is brilliant, not just smart, but an over the top genius and he is generous with his time and knowledge.

13. He tells me that I am as beautiful as I have ever been, despite age and weight gains that he seems to never notice.

14. He tells me that he doesn't care how long it's been since I shaved my legs or my armpits because he understands how busy I am as a mother and as a woman. (and he really doesn't mind either.)

15. He likes to spend Saturdays doing fun things as a family, even though my kids aren't exactly his kids. (although I think time will make them his as much as they are mine.)

16. Last night he said, " You know, when problems come up for you with the kids, I don't think of them as your problems anymore--I think of them as our problems, and I don't want you to worry because there aren't any problems you and I can't solve together."

17. He almost never passes me in a room without stopping to kiss my forehead or brush my hair back from my face or just touching my shoulder on the way by. I always, always feel loved.

18. I trust him to always make decisions with the kids and I, and our happiness, foremost in his mind.

19. His skin smells exactly like it did when we were young, like soap and laundry detergent, and, well, him.

20. I would rather struggle through a bad day with this wonderful man I love than have a good day with any other man on earth...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Yesterday Was a Bad Day

Yesterday was a bad day. A Very bad day. My middle son, R, is ten and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago. He has good days and bad days, and yesterday was a doozie. It was the first really bad day he has had since B moved in with us last week. My first chance to see how B was going to react to the disaster that often rocks our days. It took me an hour of dragging and cajoling and pleading to get R out of bed yesterday morning for school. He claimed to be too tired, that I was entirely too mean, that everyone except B hates him, and that he was going to go straight to school to tell all his teachers that I drug him. (Despite the fact that prior to being put on mood stabilizers for his bipolar, the school often called me to pick him up when he became out of control during the day.) By the time I drug R all the way to the bus stop and the freezing rain, with my hair wet and plastered against my head (too hard to drag a ten year old and hold an umbrella) he had coated my entire dining room in root beer by shaking up a twenty ounce bottle and throwing it across the room. I had been kicked ( although not bitten this time, I am happy to report.) So yeah, It was a bad day.

After standing at the bus stop freezing for ten minutes, I returned home dripping wet and crying to sit on the edge of our bed. I sobbed, and even though B has never in his adult life lived with children, especially not a child as difficult as my son, he did everything absolutely right. He helped me get changed and pulled me under the covers beside him and said all of the things I so needed to hear. He told me that together we would work it all out, that things were not ever as bad as they seemed, that I was still a good mother, and that no matter what kind of day it turned out to be--He loves me. Then he held me in his arms for three hours and just let me sleep and forget about the morning's stress. He totally passes the step-dad test. Where do I sign....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Looking Back...Again

I remember the fall of 2003 so clearly, the new hope with which we started September, in Cook Forest all together, my dad so much healthier than he had been the year before. There was no indication of any kind that the weeks ahead would be so difficult, would involve that permanent letting go. Our last day at the cabin Dad and I fought, as we had been so prone to that year. Our falling out in February left me feeling angry and undervalued, and for a long time, it was as though he and I could agree on nothing. It was a stupid fight, in retrospect, mostly about being right no matter what about. He wanted a price list for the cabins and I said it wasn't necessary that I had one, but he wanted his own and I just snapped-- let him have it that I was the one making the decisions now, paying the bills, doing all of the sacrificing. I suspect when it was over Dad was much more hurt than he let on, but in the end he conceded and said nothing. My life was so frantic then-- the four kids, a rocky marriage, all of the care my parents already seemed to require, and me only twenty eight years old. My siblings had long ago left me stranded with our father, to care for him in the long late months of 2002,when he was ill enough to make us all think we were losing him already. I had no idea that it was to be our last trip to the Forest together, our last trip anywhere together as a matter of fact. I had always suspected that I would lose my father before I turned thirty, it was a matter I had settled with myself when I was only thirteen and he had his first heart attack. I understood that there would be parts of my life and myself that my father would never get the chance to know—I knew even then that my adulthood would have to come mostly without his support and advice. That said, my anger had clouded my thinking and I grew complacent with the idea that I had time to make it up, to let go of our differences and move past the anger between us and have things healed again before we lost each other for good. I did not know as much as I thought I did.

Back to Pittsburgh after Labor Day, Dad and I resumed the tenuous truce we had been living day to day. We cooked and cleaned together, played with the kids, loved them with the same sense of urgency, but remained disconnected from each other. During my long days at work I would muddle over the problem, wondering how and when we could resolve it, get back to the closeness we had always had and forget about the troubles between us.
I remember the last long months of 2003, the way days ran into nights and then finally weeks and months as I slowly watched my father slip away from us. When I consider that time I recall most of my days being filled with the business of caring for him, though I know in reality that I did many other things as well. I worked full-time at my job as a retail buyer, I mothered after four children aged 6 months to fifteen years. November alone brought with it pneumonia, chicken pox, two fractured knuckles and an inconvenient head lice infestation. I admonished my mother to take better care of herself, took over all of the household accounts, refinanced my mother's home and managed the inevitable schedule of home health care, sports practices, girl scout meetings and pediatrician appointments. I cooked and cleaned and listened nightly for long hours as my Dad fought again the battles of world war II through his intermittent delirium. I am certain there were places in which my care taking was unusually threadbare-- days the kids went to school uncombed and wrinkled, classroom treats bought last minute on the way to the bus stop, days when my own hair went unwashed as I rushed absently from one necessary to the next. For the most part, though, things got done, and well enough that the rest of the world rushing by on its way to some seemingly inconsequential place, had no reason to take notice of my slips.
Just as certainly, there were days when the world could not help but notice that my life was rapidly spinning out of my own control, my temper running high and quick with impatience whenever I had to deal with the less urgent needs of the outside world. I could be counted on at work for a fair amount of ranting, "unacceptable" outbursts at customers who had no way of knowing that their biggest fault was in not understanding that while they operated on the time of the rest of the world, my own life seemed to be ending just two miles away in a bedroom under my mother's watchful eye, during my hours at work. I was loath to leave him at all during those last three weeks, the anxiety unbearable during the hours I was away. My greatest fear was always not being there at that last moment, that I would spend his precious last seconds on earth waiting on some inconsiderate moron in a children's clothing store while the most important man in my life drifted away for good. As sometimes happens though, the world worked in my favor, allowing me the peace of being there with him at the very end. After nearly twelve weeks of unbearable vigil, he spoke his last words to my mother and I on a Friday night, slipping almost immediately afterward into the coma from which he would never recover, languishing through the day on Saturday until early in the evening when slipped away peacefully on a cloud of liquid morphine, lying in my arms with my mother's head resting on his chest as it slowed to motionless.
So for those weeks, Almost three months in total, I learned the skills. I wrapped my writer's brain around the details necessary to bathe my father in his bed, to squeeze hours of needed sleep into just minutes—thirty or forty five. I, who had never professed to care for the chores of domesticity, cooked three meals a day and other things in between because my own helplessness was simply unbearable. I bargained daily with a God that I don't believe in (and didn't then) to spare myself and my kids from the loss of the one person our world seemed to revolve around. I promised to be and do better, to no longer complain about long hours and unappreciated work, to work harder at my already failing marriage. I promised to forgive him, my Dad I mean, for the few ways he had failed me, and the time I had wasted agonizing over the meaning of those failures. All the while I watched my siblings, four of the five anyway, come and go so infrequently, stopping by only when we called to emphasize that this heart attack was one he was not likely to recover from. They would drop in in large groups-- three or more at a time, with the grandchildren and their significant others in tow, as though there were some safety in numbers that would protect them from his dying. Visits stayed short, a few hours one or two evenings with my mother and I scrambling to fill the other twenty two hours each day with things to make his days worth waking for. I often wonder what they thought during those visits, and perhaps more importantly on the ride home afterward. Did they console themselves with platitudes about how good he looked, how many, many times he had defied the odds in the past fifteen years? I don't know. I only know that as we watched him each day, my little family, my mother and I, there was no denying that this time was different—that the end was lurking somewhere nearby.
I remember so clearly the anger. I was angry at everyone in those days. Strangers who moved through their lives so unknowingly, unaware of the ways in which my life was falling apart. My siblings, the five of them wrapped so carefully in their blankets of denial, so certain that Dad would always pull through, never really be lost to us. I was even angry at my mother, who labored beside me each day to care for Dad. Together we bathed and turned and fed him, kept careful watch over his oxygen, his fluid intake, the medications that kept him comfortable and not afraid—gasping for air as his cells begged for the oxygen his heart simply could not provide any longer. Still, she got her share of my anger as well, though certainly not a reasonable portion. I was angry at her for marrying a man so many years her senior, for giving me this wonderful father, when it seemed I had been doomed from the start to lose him years before I was ready. So truth be told I was angry at everyone, myself not least of all.
Throughout the month of October especially, I had hours to spend considering things. I thought about the ways in which I may have disappointed my Dad, the many ways in which I may have fallen short over my twenty seven years as his daughter. During the long night hours I spent by his side, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath I had time to consider all of the decisions I had made as an adult, my children, my marriage, the one man my father often held out as being the one I should have waited for. I thought of all of those things and so many others, turning them over and over again in my mind as I wondered too about my father's regrets—seventy eight years worth. When I had free hours and they were few, I spent them pouring over photographs dating back to my own childhood and that of my father, right up through the ones I was still taking so avidly, trying to not let a second slip by undocumented. I sought comfort in those pictures that there might be some slim shard of him left when everything was over. It is only now that I have realized how very inadequate a substitute those photos have been despite the great comfort they provide me on the days when I am unable to see his face quite clearly in my mind's eye. Those are days that come more frequently as the time between dad and I yawns wider with each passing year.
2003 was a year of loss for all of those close to me. My nieces lost two fathers, one to sudden medical emergency, one to suicide, my mother's closest friend lost her mother and her confidante to murder one Thursday early in May. My own dad drifted away slowly that fall following his worst and final heart attack. And then the following summer brought the passing of my Mom's oldest sister to lung cancer. As a family, that year, we just gave and gave and gave of ourselves and our loved ones until their was nearly nothing left to hold onto.

So here it is another new year begun, I have spent a few years wallowing in it all, one ignoring it completely, and this will be the second that I have tried to find my own way again. I want to rebuild what I have lost into something new and satisfying, something that doesn't leave me feeling achy and wistful. There must be some way to throw myself back into life again. If I have ever had any chance at finding it, I think that this will be the year. My life is full of wonderful things this year-- this brilliant man I am in love with, new time to spend with the kids and my own space at long last. . I want to worry less about money and loss and soak in the all the progress these last six months have brought. That said, I am still wistful, still wanting one last holiday season with my Dad, and yet knowing that one more would never be enough. I just wish there was some way he could see how things are finally turning out, the love I finally have in my life and how very happy it makes me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Awful Lot to Love

" Love is Being Stupid Together"

So I'm sure by now someone reading will be starting to ask why I stay. I mean, I'm no dummy, I know that drinking and lies don't usually make for successful relationships. So I want to explain, because the wonderful things about this man I fell in love with so far outnumber the two that we struggle with.
My Dad was a very special guy. He was charismatic and smart and he knew all sorts of stuff about all kinds of things. He did the New York Times Crossword puzzle every morning in pen, and for all of my life told me that I was the smartest, most beautiful daughter in the world, that I could do anything that I wanted to with brains like mine. He was kind and gentle and soft-spoken and generous. He was opinionated and confident and not afraid of handing out advice, most of which was really good. For the twenty eight years I was lucky enough to have him, he was my rock. He was also one of the biggest liars I have ever met.
That said, this lying thing with B has turned out to be a tricky thing for me. I know it is possible for a man to be a wonderful father and a loving person, while also being capable of great dishonesty. My father's lies were not small ones. He wrecked my car and told me he didn't do it. He cheated on my mother and lied to me when I caught him. He was bad with money and lied to cover that up. Still, they never colored the way I looked at him. I knew that despite his dishonesty he was still the most reliable person in my world. He was always the one who loved and supported me most, kept me the safest, was the person I could count on above all others.
Now B. Where do I start to show you who he really is? I fell in love with him years ago--twenty years--back in junior high school. Then he was a brilliant, socially awkward, extremely gentle, young boy. When I was fourteen he pulled me behind the bush in my parent's front yard and kissed me quickly--half on the mouth, half quick lips brushing against my cheek. It was the first time I had ever been kissed, and clumsiness aside, it rocked my world. When he broke up with me a few years later it broke my heart. That first relationship colored the way I handled all of my relationships after that. I moved on and dated others, got married, had babies, but I never got over the ache of that first love. After B, I chose men who weren't as smart as me, men who were less likely to walk away because I was so often far out of their league.
Just this past June I was tinkering around on facebook, keeping up with my young nieces and my daughter and step-son, reconnecting with some old friends from high school when I searched B's name on a whim. I found him and his younger sister and messaged them both in an attempt to get back in touch. My divorce had been final for more than three years. I had even tried dating other women for a while, all with little effect on my happiness and with no luck finding someone compatible with my eccentricities. Then I waited. Maybe two weeks later my inbox held a quick message from him and it was like someone hit the reset button on my life. We messaged and talked and took walks and spent hours filling in twenty years worth of absence. The first time he reached an arm around me to give me a hug, I realized what I had been missing for so long.
B has spent the last several years taking care of his elderly grandmother. She is ninety-five and suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease. He goes daily to her house to help his mother with her care so that she can stay in familiar surroundings. For years now he has gone there every morning and night to lift her in and out of bed and complete household chores for her. He spends a majority of his nights there doing laundry and sleeping on her couch, ever alert to the sounds from the baby monitor that might indicate her discomfort or any danger of falling. He talks to her and makes sure she is as happy as she can be. He makes sure that every day she is still well loved. Men like this do not come along every day.
So I'm trying my best to see past the lying, to get through the drinking, one day at a time, because this man is my other half. He is the only other person I know who likes to lie in bed at night and read random shit on the internet, things both silly and serious. We laugh at each others jokes--all the ones no one else gets. We both fight off the depression by immersing ourselves in learning about anything-- about everything. When I snuggle up against him at night, and lay my head on his shoulder, with my hand resting in the nest of black curls on his chest, I am so perfectly at home and content that I cannot imagine any reason not to love him. When I bury my nose in his neck when he hugs me it smells like heaven, and when he holds me in his arms, with his hand cupping the side of my face, he makes me feel like the only women in world. His voice is always soft when he talks to me-- even when he's angry, even when he's been drinking. He gives me ample credit for being smart and capable and good at things that he is unable to do himself. He tells me that he loves me and that I give him hope that the future still exists, that marriage is worthwhile, that there are still dreams left for him to dream. He says that those are things he had long given up on.
One of the things I love the most is seeing his face aged to match my own, glimpses of our youth peering out from behind the fine lines etched into our faces by experience and longing. I now look forward to growing old alongside him when a few years ago I was fighting aging with all that I had. I am nearly anxious to watch the gray scatter through his dark hair even as his hairline slides back a fraction of an inch every year. God how I loved him then, how much more I love him now. There really has never been another for me; I know that I married, dated, slept with more men than I care to admit, but there was never anyone like him, no one to grab my heart and hold onto it the way he did when we were both fourteen, no one else ever able to comfort and calm me with just a touch, a featherlite kiss on my forehead.
I love his hands. I look at them, fingers intertwined with my own. They are strong enough to make me feel always safe and protected, yet his touch is always light and never rough. When I look at his hands I think--"These are hands that will never ever hurt me."

I find myself unable to see a future without him in it.
There simply must be a way through these problems.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Finding Our Way Through the Dishonesty

I wonder if he guesses that because of my own experience with drinking I can add and subtract the number of beer cans in a case, the fridge, the trunk of the car, the bottom of the garbage can faster than anyone I know. I can estimate the ounces of whiskey or gin left in a bottle at a glance with the accuracy of a chemist. Based on the way he hedges my questions he has not yet realized this. I wonder how long it will take before he gives up the secrecy, figures out how futile it is to fudge the numbers and turn away from my kisses-- I can smell the sweet fog of alcohol from just one beer long before my lips ever meet his, and the avoidance simply breaks my heart. I know all of the excuses by heart and when he utters them my heart fills like it will split into a million pieces. It's not even the words I listen for to give me answers, really, it's that slight thickening of his voice, the too careful way he structures his sentences, trying not to let me see, that always gives it away. It might be different if I knew him less well, if I hadn't spent so much time trying to memorize all of the things that I love so much about him, different though, is not always better. It isn't the return to drinking that upsets me so much. It is easy way the lies and evasion roll off of his tongue, although I guess on some level I realize that at its very root, alcoholism is really just a fundamental problem with honesty. I somehow think that if we could just get past that-- to the point where he can open the beer and drink it in front of me as easily as he does the second I walk out the door, then we will have made progress, at least in our relationship, if not in resolving the problem all together. Perhaps then we might actually be able to live with it without it destroying us. I suppose only time will tell.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Losing My Father

(Background still...) I lost my Dad to heart disease back in November of 2003. He had his first heart attack fifteen years earlier when I was only thirteen and B and I were first dating. Over the course of those fifteen years he had nine more silent heart attacks before he had the "big one" in September of 2003. His health had been failing in other ways for more than a year, and the early months of 2003 saw my ex-husband and I selling our house and moving back in with my parents to help take care of my father and his fading health. I was pregnant when we moved back in, and my new son Z was almost six months old when we finally realized that my Dad was dying. My mother and I took care of Dad at home. Doctors and some of my less helpful siblings suggested a nursing facility, but my Dad wanted to be at home in his bed with his family around him, enjoying the time he had left. So that's what we did. And I cooked. Like a fiend. I made anything and everything I could think of to cook. Just to fill the hours in the kitchen while I watched him waste away in that back bedroom. Maybe some small part of me felt that if I could just keep cooking, fill everyone with comfort foods, I could stop him from dying. Sure I was twenty-eight, and I really did know better, but my head just spun out of control when I had to contemplate giving up the most important man in my life.
It didn't matter. He died anyway. On November 22, 2003, my Dad took his last breath as he lay in my arms with my mother holding his hands and my sister sitting beside him. He went quietly, and on his own terms. It was as good a death as I can imagine; if death can ever be said to be good. It was peaceful. That night I staggered under the reality of the situation. I cried for a while, and sat out on the porch steps watching the stars in the cold.  We held my father's funeral service the night before Thanksgiving that year. My memories from that week are spotty at best. I remember picking up my daughter from girl scout camp, that my youngest had the chicken pox and then an ear infection and then pneumonia, that my middle son was simply too young to understand. I don't remember much of anyone from the funeral home with a few stark exceptions. I know that my sister was there and I thought that she shouldn't be; I know that B showed up there at the last minute after eight years of near perfect silence between us, and that him being there at the moment when I needed him mattered most of all...even though it would take us the better part of five years to figure that out.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year?

I've been kicking around starting up this blog for a few weeks now, test driving different sites and just generally trying to figure out where to start, as things seem to get more complicated with every day that goes by. So with the new year creeping up on me in just a few hours I decided to just dive in.
The truth is, I'm not sure where to start. I have so much that I'm stewing over these days that it's hard to know what's the most important thing to tackle first. I can barely remember what I was doing at this time last year because so damn much has changed in the last twelve months that 2007 seems like a lifetime ago. Maybe I should start with the good stuff.
I'm in love. Not your average every day in love, but crazy head over heels in love with the first boy who ever kissed me back in junior high. I mean this is the kind of love you see in fairy tales and sappy chic flicks. Believe me, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but seriously. A year ago I had completely given up on love, figured that it just wasn't going to be in the cards for me, that maybe rising my kids was something I was supposed to do on my own, without any outside influence. Somehow, though, back in June I found my way back to B. We had been in sporadic touch during the eighteen years we were apart, talking every five or six years or so, but for the most part, we had completely disconnected, and through the wonders of the Internet (Giggle) I found a way to get us talking again. And it worked. We talked everyday for a while and started seeing each other, and almost immediately began falling in love all over again. For me it was almost like he was this other half of myself that I had been walking around missing for the last eighteen years and the completion I felt sitting there next to him, talking and laughing and catching up on all those missing years felt so right.
So here we are, six months later and millions of new words between us--letters and emails and late night long talks. We are really trying to have a go at building a life together. It's been the happiest six months of my life hands down. But. There have been a few little glitches; maybe not so little. See, neither one of us did a really great job managing our personal choices during the years we were apart, so there's quite a bit of baggage for both of us.