Parenting is hard

It’s St. Patrick’s day. In 1984, my oldest child was born. I remember checking into the hospital and the nurse saying I would be having a  St. Patrick’s day baby and in honor of that, they would be tattooing a shamrock on the baby’s butt. Whether my serious expression was primarily fear of this whole birthing process or I was so tired I looked as if I were taking her seriously, she quickly assured me she was only joking.

B was probably 6 before she realized that the St. Patrick’s day parade we took her to each year was not actually held in honor of her birthday.

It’s 21 years this month since she left us, and I miss her still.

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3/17/2017 – B, Jan-1985; about 10 months.

And her final school picture, taken not long before she passed away.

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B – Jan-1996; not quite 12 yet.

March is a challenge every year. Not a day in the last 21 years passes that I do not think about her, and I would not have it any other way. Mostly I smile. Occasionally, I tear up and feel the weight of loss. Mostly, though, I really do smile. So much life and memories packed into 12 years and 5 days. In my heart I cherish all she was to those who knew her and turn away any and all thoughts of what might have been. Our time together was limited. I am glad to be someone who was present with my children, so my regrets about that time are so tiny and insignificant relatively to the balance of my life.

But parenting young adults is still hard.

C called early this morning after a major fight with her husband. Unfortunately this is not the heartbreak drama of teenage angst, but the seriousness of a grown-up married people. Trying to be fair and balanced – out the window. My kid is crying, having a panic attack over the telephone. Forget fair and balanced. A said cruel things and there is blood in my eyes.

Okay, not quite that bad.

Being her mother’s daughter, I cringe at some of C’s decisions and mannerisms that come directly from me. I know that when this kind of dust-up happens, it’s not just because A came home and decided to be a prick that day. Having been in Florida only a few months, there are a billion details that one takes for granted growing and becoming an adult in your own hometown. Finding doctors and dentists and making new friends – it is a process. And when shit hits, the gap between what you had before you moved crossed the country becomes the grand canyon.

I talked her down off the ledge, called and checked in on her more than I have in 20 years, since that first summer that she and her brother stayed home alone while M and I were both working. By the end of the day, she’d calmed down and made significant progress finding healthcare providers and making appropriate appointments … in a few weeks. But she found stop-gap help with a local clinic – a referral from an assistant manager at their apartment complex. And with a little guidance from me, began the outline of The Plan for what she would do if this type of thing should come up again.

As for me, it was a busy day at work with a lot of gratuitous meetings that did little other than frustrate me with stranger’s ability to demonstrate their cluelessness. I am a master at compartmentalizing, though, and chugged along and got through it. By the end of the day, though, I was unrepentantly swigging sugary soda.

Parenting is hard sometimes, something no one really stresses before you take on that role, and I am honest enough, selfish enough, to say I do not really love the responsibility and the job itself. But I love the kids involved, all of them, and my hopes for them hinge on their overall happiness. Even when things are not going so well and they do stupid shit that frustrates and/or irritates me, I have to believe they will learn from the experiences.

Another St. Patrick’s day, another of B’s birthdays in the history books.

I miss her.

 

 

Valentine’s day follow-up

I am at my employment job today despite it being President’s Day – small businesses seem to vary on whether or not this is a holiday. Here, it’s considered a prep and a clean-up day, plus the staff get some extra surprise on their paychecks on Friday. Who knew?

This is also my first Valentine’s day with this firm and its staffers. Of the 14 here, there are 4 married, 5 in relationships of some low (1 to 2 years) to medium (2 to 5 years) level of duration, and the rest trying to date in hopes of finding a compatible someone or just dating casually. What surprises me is the number in-the-doghouse or partners in-the-doghouse over V-day gifts – or in one case lack thereof – and special plans or celebrations yesterday. My astonishment was more about the obvious breakdown in communication over the gifts/no gifts, plans/no plans and expectations contained therein. This is most definitely NOT relationship advice merely the stating of common sense from a genuine non-romantic woman:

  • If you tell your special someone V-day is Hallmark holiday and you have no expectations of gifts or anything else, please do not crucify your partner over not getting a card or a gift or making some sort of special plans for the day. While this applies exclusively to the ladies in my realm today, it is true for both genders.
  • If you do get something for your sweetie, make it a thoughtful gift he/she will enjoy. And in this I am not thinking much less saying spend lots of cash or buy only expensive gifts (if that’s part of the expectation equation, you may be with the wrong person or have set a bad precedent from the beginning). Maybe take an old page from M’s book and do a little something every day leading up to V-day, at which time you present the perfect card you thoughtfully selected. Honestly, just a little advance planning can make all the difference. This one is for the gents in my office, but again, no double standards here.
  • If the relationship is new or casual, keep expectations low or better yet, talk about it in advance and set some boundaries and limits on gifts, should you choose to go that route. I always think holidays, even Hallmark holidays, are meant to be fun occasions, not the angsty drama I am experiencing all around me today.
  • And finally, how big or how little fanfare your partner makes about the trappings and celebration of V-day is not an indication of how much or how little he/she cares for you. What should matter and carry all the weight is how that is expressed the other 364 days of the year.

I actually feel a little bad for my crew, but being the pragmatist that I am it astounds me that this level of drama could occur among this very smart, caring, clear communicating group.

Happy, happier, happiest

I had coffee with a friend today, in the middle of the afternoon, just because I could. I actually stuck with tea, but still … it’s the spirit of the seeing a friend, not the actual beverage that counts.

My pal is an old college chum from one of my 30-something returns to college pursuits. A few years ago she divorced her husband after forgiving his wandering eye (and rest of his body) through an extramarital affair and then having the good sense and vengeful spirit to toss his crap out onto the lawn when she found out about his second affair just a year later. After a weirdly complicated divorce, she is in a better place and moving forward with her life. Thankfully there were no children involved.

In the last 6 months or so she began dating someone she described after meeting and their first date as a really nice, caring guy. Now I have absolutely nothing against really nice, caring guys – I myself am married to one, have a son and future son-in-law that could be described that way, and legions of male friends I would use the same descriptive terms for – but something about the way she said it and then repeated it after their first couple of dates struck me as “passionless and boring” instead of interesting and intriguing. I did ask a few questions, to which she responded that it was still new and they were getting to know one another, etc. Perfectly acceptable responses; I am not the type to pry and demand the intimate details of their dates and evolving relationship. I listen if she wants to share, but apparently there was little to talk about at that point. Other than he was nice and had a great year-old lab puppy.

Months have passed and between our sporadic get togethers, phone calls, emails, and texts, I gathered that she has continued to see him and the pup and he remains and caring, nice guy with a big heart … that’s something. However, she went to Spain and to Greece for business and vacation and sounded more animated and excited about people she met in her travels than she ever does about the beau here at home. Finally today she admitted she finds time spent with his dog more exciting than with him. OUCH! It’s not that he’s unpleasant or anything like that; he’s just not terribly interesting to her and she is not sure what to do about it.

Personally, I think 6 months is plenty of time to decide if someone makes your world brighter or is just part of the day-to-day scenery we hardly notice much less truly see. And life is too short to be sort of “meh” about a romantic relationship. But I have been married for what seems like eternity and have no recent dating experience. She is happy enough, but she would be about the same level of happy without the beau as a beau. She admits to probably missing the dog if she breaks it off. And she feels truly awful for characterizing the relationship that way.

So we started talking passion and sex and what it’s supposed to be like at her age (45) and my age (54). Reader’s digest version: if your intimate life is unsatisfactory when you are involved, either talk about it and find ways to enhance it or gently extricate yourself from the relationship and find someone else. I might have different thoughts and ideas if they were married and in that honeymoon is over and passion has faded to we are roommates who sleep in the same bed situation.

I guess I am a bit of a pragmatist who feels pursuit of personal happiness is important. My pal is secure enough to be happy on her own, yet hopeful enough to want to meet and have someone special in her life. It does not sound like caring and nice guy is fitting the specialness bill after this much time together. I actually feel sad for the guy, but cutting him loose gives him opportunity to find a woman who thinks he’s encompasses all the stars in her sky.

Or so goes life according to me. I am quite sure there are lots of differences of opinion out there.

The conversation got me thinking about happiness and what it means to me. M makes me happy, and I think he is glad I said yes when he finally got around to asking me to marry him. When it all fell apart, we had to start from scratch and rebuild our relationship. It taught both of us a lot about what we love about the other and ourselves, what we each have invested in our relationship and what it takes to make a marriage work. We love each other, sure, but in so many real and tangible ways we’re absolutely besotted with each other.

We are happy, happier, happiest … depending on the day. And it seems to me that is as it should be. Our future as a couple looks and feels bright.

Are there days when I want to gag him or smother him with a pillow? Oh GAWD yes! But the impulse passes and cooler heads prevail. Sometimes I wish he would just agree with my opinions or always let me have my way, but then I realize I might be speaking of him in the same ways my friend speaks of her beau and his dog.

Our wedding anniversary is coming up next weekend, and as is typical for us, we have no particular plans. We are pretty low-key about celebrating our birthdays and anniversaries, but it’s also Valentine’s Day so we get to see celebrations all around us with the displays of anniversary candy, flowers, stuffed animals, and balloons. In my heart I am glad we stuck it out, slugged it out in marital counseling, stuck together through the years, love and support one another, created an amazing family of people we love and adore and who are part of support system and cheer squad. I never expected to be so blessed and so fortunate and sometimes still cannot believe I have the life I am living.

So while I personally feel a little shakey and rattled these days, it’s not because of M or anything he is or is not doing in our life together. My kids remain awesome, and my friends are simply stellar. Even in my sad times of loss and the grief that accompanies it, I am happy.

I am the lucky one. In the midst of the negativity and anger and heartbreak I read about almost daily, I have a good life.

I need to keep my eye on that, remember it, use it to stay the course. Because many are not so fortunate.

Family

Every now and again I am asked to speak to another family about the loss of their child. To be a compassionate ear. As someone who has been through that type of heartbreak, I simply cannot say no. I figure it is a small way for me to pay it forward, a drop in the bucket toward the outpouring of kindness and compassion I have received through the years.

About a month ago I got a request from a bereavement counselor I have worked with in the past for these situations, and I readily agreed to accept whatever form of contact the grieving family felt comfortable reaching out to me. While I am absolutely no substitute for professional therapy in any situation, I am a good listener and can fairly accurately describe how those parents feel. Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience of my entire life, and I have had some traumatic experiences to select from for comparison purposes.

On Wednesday night/Thursday morning I got a middle of the night txt from this mother whose 4 year old son had died in a bathtub accident. It was no one’s fault – he slipped getting out of the tub and hit his head against the side. She was awake at 3 in the morning, sobbing uncontrollably in her grief, feeling her heart break yet again. Not just from the loss of her child, but also the resulting separation from her husband after their loss. Finding their way back to each other is so difficult, and she had no one to turn to or to talk with.

I texted her as soon as I woke up and read the message. I waited for her to call or to text and received no reply. I checked my phone every free moment the last 36 hours, hoping she would reach out to me again.

Until this afternoon, when I received a phone call from her husband.

He found her last night after a series of texts throughout the day and then a blurry/slurry voice mail message. She had carefully hoarded a supply of sleeping pills and taken them all with a good quantity of Glen Livet, then secured a plastic bag over her head to sufforcate herself once she passed out.

I am devastated. I did not know this woman at all. Except for the few texts reaching out for help, we never communicated. I texted in reply as soon as I could, and then waited for her to reply or to phone. It’s hard to know what the right course of action is in these types of situations, and I did what I thought was best.

But she is/was a real person, another mother completely destroyed and heart broken by the loss of her only child. I get that, and I am trying so hard not to judge her final choice. What I know about her and the circumstances of her life is completely encapsulated into a couple of conversations with other people and some very brief texts. I am simply a passing stranger who truly wanted to be there and to help.

I was too late. And I will live with that knowledge. Maybe someday I will forget about the very spare contact we had, where our lives intersected, but I seriously doubt I will ever forget how poorly it makes me feel.

Tonight is family dinner night, and we have much to discuss and cause to celebrate. After a month and 14 (and counting) interviews, K has received her first offer and is currenly undergoing a thorough background check. While nothing is completely, 100% firm right now, she feels infinitely better having that in hand. In the meantime, while she waits for the investigation to conclude, she is continuing to interview (2 more set up next week). C’s birthday is in December, and we are hoping to be celebrating together in Disneyland. M and I have hotel rooms lined up for all of us, plus our plane reservations are made. G and K are not sure yet, with the new job and school finals being that week for both, but we are hopeful. A and C cannot put in for time-off until mid-September, but since it is before the Christmas holiday it is likely to work out fine.

It will be wonderful to be together, at our favorite Chinese restaurant, to share a meal, talk, laugh, catch up.

I will hug them all extra tight when we say goodbye, make sure I tell them (as I always do) how much I love them. I will blink away any excess tears left from this moment and this woman I did not have opportunity to know.

Life is fragile and it can be irrevocably altered in a blink. Today, I am unbearably ungrateful for the reminder.

My demon resurfaces

I do not speak of my childhood abuse here because it’s an ugly subject and I hate talking about my experiences with it. It is my demon to bear as best I can while continuing to live a happy, contented life. Besides, I have way too much other real-time, happening now, thinking about it and wanting to dissect it stuff to bring that up and make it part of my day-to-day reality and permanent record. What happened, the mental, emotional, physical scars I bear have stolen way too much from me to give them another second of time and energy.

That said, forgetting is impossible. Sometimes I have to let a little leak out to clear it from my system.

When M and I first met, I still had night terrors regularly, where I would thrash around nd wake up gasping or making these alarmed chirping sounds. Screaming was not allowed when it was happening. Screaming got me into trouble with my sibling and my parents. As the years  have passed so have the nightmares and the times I wake up terrified and have to remember I am no longer a child, no one hurts me, no need to be afraid.

What brings them back when they happen now I have no clue. As they have faded I thought it was stress-induced or too much caffeine leaving an opening for disruptive sleep. But even when I am completely at ease and sticking to my decaf diet I have them from time to time. My latest theory is that I have not completely mastered my self-esteem issues. I do not think I know anyone who has mastered their self-esteem issues completely, so I’m not somehow deficient and failing.

Yesterday, this whole week have been good days. I am enjoying working from home, because I have a lot more control over my time and can spread my energy and use it in ways most appropriate to be efficient. While yesterday’s interview was so not for me, it was not something I am worried about. I had confused my timeslot with my trainer yet had a good conversation with him and set-up the immediate future with at least 20 hours of learning. One of my regular commenters shared her success with fitness and inspired me to keep pushing forward and learning with my trainer. Another shared a hiring story that reminded me of the mentors I have had in my life and career and how they contributed so directly to any success I enjoy right now. The kids are coming tonight with a couple of friends in tow to bbq and swim and catch up on life, so M and I were at Costco last night doing our regular grocery shop as well as selecting meats to cook and buying produce for salads and sides. I have lunch with the law firm partners I met on Wednesday and feel completely turned on by the possibilities buzzing (yeah, I know – geekette personified).

I am happy. I feel energized and excited about whatever comes next. My brain is churning with thoughts and ideas and very interesting “what if” scenarios. Choices are nearly always a great thing.

Into such a happy time my demon resurfaces. In the depths of sleep I could smell his putrid breath and feel it on my neck, his hands roaming over my little girl body. The words of affection and love I so longed to hear and wanted desperately to believe, yet make me want to throw up and knowing from experience how much more it hurts if I do vomit.

In the dreams I break away, and I am running away and into the darkness of night as quickly as my bare feet will take me. He is larger, quicker, more sure-footed. Every time I stumble and I fall, and he’s on me, his hands pulling my hair and then around my throat, shaking me, choking me. I cannot beg or sob, I cannot breathe, I am so scared, and my vision slowly fades to black ….

Which is when I wake up gasping and disoriented.

After all these years, M is accustomed to and in tune with my sleep habits. He is a very light sleeper most of the time, and if he senses or sees the signs, he tries to wake me, to distract my brain from completing the endless loop circuit. When I wake up from one of these, though, he does not ask me anymore what is wrong, he just scooches closer and enfolds me in his embrace, not a word spoken, and perhaps not even awake. It was just a dream, his steady breathing says to me, and I calm and fall back into restful sleep.

I do not give M nearly enough credit for what he does for me, how much he loves me, loves us, how he makes me feel and know safety. Mornings like this one, where I feel bleary-eyed from this reminder of misery in another chapter of my life, I know how rich and how blessed I am. And I made sure to tell my husband that so he knows I know.

Sentimental sappiness

M and I are not an especially romantic couple in most traditional senses of the word. We are very loving and attentive to each other. PDA is not an issue. Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries/Valentine’s day, other “just because” occasions are not occasions we celebrate with romantic trappings. I guess we have always been practical about these things.

But then there is today.

M gifted me with a song. It’s an oldie, Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” Just because he heard another version of it playing at the hardware store and it took him back to our first dating days, reminding him of how lonely he was before he found me.

Our taste in music is radically different, to say the least. But he knows I like this version of the song and love, Love, LOVE the sentiment behind it.

For every instance that he drives me to the edge of batshit crazy and tempts me to dive off and drown myself in a frustrated, destructive, angry outburst, he does at least a hundred times more things like this that make me smile and recognize again I am to so fortunate and so blessed to have someone who knows and understands me, still loves me and likes me a person.

Plus my attempt to build interest in power tools probably boost to my “cool wife” cred. Home Depot is to M what Nordstrom’s shoe department is to me, although M loves shoe shopping with me almost as much. I wish I could proclaim success in developing equal enthusiasm for his love of hardware stores. Ah well.