Love In Many Forms

My son and his wife of seven days (typing that just seems amazing) are somewhere in Jerusalem right now.  In Israel.  Yes, the one that is seven hours time difference from where they live in Alexandria, VA and where I live in Connecticut. I was pondering that the other day.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I went on a Carnival cruise.  We went to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and New Orleans.  It was the first time I’d been outside of the US save for Canada (because every good Detroiter has gone drinking in Canada).   My son has been now to Spain, to Croatia, and to Israel.  He’s passed through France for connecting flights, twice.  What a different life has than I did.

What a different life he has than I ever imagined for him.

At my son’s wedding last week, after he and I shared our emotional mother/son dance, I walked him back to his new wife and hugged her hard.  Then I went back to sit at my table, with my husband and our two much younger children.  Within a minute, there was my father, red in the face and clearly just as emotional as me.

Maybe more so.

“I remember the day he was born,” he struggled to tell me, tears flowing from the corners of his eyes.   And he was right.  Of the hundred or so people standing in this room with us, there were only three of us who were there the day Zach was born.  My sister, myself and my father.  My brother was in the Navy in basic training at the time, and met him about a month or so after he was born.  Everyone else in the room met him sometime later in his life.

It was hard, at that moment in time, staring at my son and his lovely wife in this gorgeous hotel ballroom, with everyone dressed in their finery, to imagine what those days were like.  My father had literally been there since the moment this boy was born; he’d been my Lamaze coach.  He’d watched this young man come into the world, take his first breaths.  He’d been ultimately supportive after his initial skepticism  regarding my “situation”.  I was 18 and alone when this little baby came into all of our lives, and life could have turned out very, very different than the moment we were all experiencing together.

But what was overwhelming all of us, as my sister had now come to join my father and I, both redfaced in the front of the room together, was my mother’s absence.  “She should have been here,” my father said next, putting his head in his hand.  “She would have been so proud of him.”

Seeing my father cry about my mother is truly a humbling experience for me. While my father has been with his partner since before my parents’ marriage ended, it’s clear to me that he truly did love my mother.  While the demise of their marriage was fraught with difficulty, fighting and anger, eventually everything settled in to the way things were supposed to be.  In fact, I always kind of thought that my pregnancy at 18 and my parents banding together to support me and my child truly was the last step of pulling them back together as a family unit, if not a married one.  And when my mother passed, my father was there to hold her hand along with us kids.  It was my father who helped us eulogize her at her memorial.  They had a clear and deep connection, and it is easy for me to forget that on a day to day basis.  I suppose I deal with my grief often about my mother, but my father likely doesn’t.  So it is in these family moments where it comes roaring to the surface for him, still raw and harsh, even twenty years later.

In some sort of awful way, it made me feel good to see him that affected by her absence.  That while his life is very different now, the affection he had for her was real and true and honest. I held him and told him about the wedding song, and how sure I was that she had a role to play there.  That I was sure she was watching all of us here, this night and smiling from wherever she was, happy to see her beloved first grandchild so successful, so sure of himself, so clearly in love.  “She loved him so much,” I said to my father and my sister, which gave them both a fresh set of tears, but gave me a strength and surety that stopped my own.

A Long Slow Sigh

It’s been twenty years since I celebrated this day with my mother.  Her last birthday.  She turned fifty three that day, and would die five days later.  It’s hard to imagine that, that it has been twenty years.  Twenty years, a lifetime between then and now.  She knew me as a child, even though when she died I was doing very adult things:  I was a single parent taking care of my terminally ill mother.

But now, when I look back on those days, I realize how very young I was.  Twenty years will do that to you, of course.  But still, I just wish somehow that I’d been able to know her as an adult.  The way I know my father now.  The way he comes to me sometimes, seeking advice, counsel, as equals.  My mother and I certainly had much more of that type of relationship than any other 22 year old I knew with their mother, but still.

I was selfish.  I was twenty two.

When I watch my father these days, taking care of his aging mother, worrying about her health and her mind and how to manage the eroding of both, I marvel that I won’t ever have to do that with mine.  She used to joke, of course, that the cigarettes she was insanely addicted to were her way of getting out of the maladies of old age, but it was one of those things that was never really funny.  Because sadly, in the end, it was all too true.

I wonder what my mother would be like, these days, if she had lived.  Would she still be working, at age 73, or not?  Would she approve of the life I’ve built for myself, of the ones my siblings have built for themselves?  What would she look like these days?   Would she be one of those mothers that visited often or not so much?  What would she think of these grandchildren of hers?

Questions I’ll never know the answers to.

I miss her.  When friends of mine lose their parents, as they are starting to, I try to help them with some kind, encouraging words from someone who has been there.  But when they ask if you ever get over it, the answer I always give them is a tough pill to swallow.  You never do.  You never stop being sad about it, feeling that a piece of yourself is missing, wishing that life had not been so cruel.  You learn to live with it, you find eventually that the white hot pain becomes a slow, deep ache that you can almost forget about if you try hard enough.  But it never goes away.  Not ever.

Not even twenty years later.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Gratitude

The day before Thanksgiving.  Today is the day before Thanksgiving.

I was going to type in a longish, ranty post about my brother again.  For those keeping score, my brother ended up not cancelling his trip to FL this Christmas, so we will in fact all be together.  He sent me a note asking what my children, my husband and myself would like for gifts.  I think the note was as close as I’ll get to an apology.  But by then I had already moved on from my anger to acceptance.  This is who he is.  Whatever.  I told him to not bother with gifts for us, gave him inexpensive ideas for my kids, and told him what options I was choosing off of his kid’s list.  He responded that they were thinking of getting a laptop for his kid for Christmas, so those would be perfect options.   My sister went ballistic again, but I’d already moved on.  My brother is who he is.  He won’t change.  I’m done trying to hope for it to happen.  It won’t.  Life goes on.

Instead, I am mulling over Thanksgiving.  We are staying at home again this year and I am pushing myself hard to not allow it to be as unsatisfying as it was last year.  Last year, R and I fought silly battles with no big meal or task to distract us from sweating the small stuff.  This year, we won’t even have my eldest home to behave a little better for.  Z is staying in DC this year, spending this Thanksgiving with his fiancee, since they plan on spending Christmas with us down in FL.  I think this marks the first time I’ll have spent this day without him.  Which makes me sad, in a way, but mostly grateful that he is doing so well and happy on his path.

Which is how I am resolving to feel about myself and our Thanksgiving together this year as well.  We are doing well financially this year; my husband’s job continues to be incredibly busy and therefore (we hope) secure.  I am getting enough website work to keep me feeling productive and justify me spending my time this way.  The two younger kids are both doing well in school.  My daughter seems to have mended fences with several of the kids who were causing her trouble at school, and did amazingly well in her role in the school play a few weeks ago.  We are planning our annual trip to Florida for Christmas, which is always a wonderful week of warmth, family and sun (hopefully).   R has worked hard in the last six months to address the needs that I laid out to him in our devastating fight last May.  It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but I think we have both done a pretty good job at trying hard to appreciate each other and not sweat the small stuff.  We’re talking more, doing more together, and not getting upset with each other when life gets in the way as much.  It’s a nice feeling.

So this Thanksgiving?  I won’t spend it thinking of years past, wondering if I’d chosen this path or that path would my life be better.  This is the path I chose, the present I have, and I am grateful for it.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Yep. I Called That One.

Here is the text of the voicemail that landed on my phone while I was out running this morning:

“Hello.  I just wanted to call and thank you for ruining Christmas, that was very nice of you, I appreciate that.  We won’t be going to Florida this year because (my fiancee) won’t come anywhere near you.  She is too mad at you for trying to bully me into going to (your son’s) wedding.  So, talk to you later!”

No matter that my father shared with me yesterday that my brother had already contacted HIM to complain about my reaction to the news of him not attending my son’s wedding.  No, that’s completely fine.  But I am a completely terrible person (once again) for going to my father to seek advice on how to handle my brother and his absence at my kid’s wedding.  I didn’t ask him to speak to him (in fact, I expressly asked him NOT to, but he did anyway).  I didn’t even tell him anything he didn’t already know; my brother had already told him about not attending and my father is aware enough to know that this would hurt my son’s feelings.  He’d already been trying to convince him to change his mind, and my email yesterday just gave him another push.

Whatever.

Having my son’s affection is something that my brother no longer deserves.  That’s how I feel.  And I’m fine at this point with helping him through the disappointment of seeing my brother (yet again) let him down, rather than having this type of animosity ruin what should be a wonderful, incredible, important day for my kid.  If my brother feels it is “bullying” to want him present there, then I don’t want him there.  I don’t want him anywhere near me or my family.  Because he doesn’t deserve us in his life.  Not if this is truly how he feels.  I’m over it.

Again.

UPDATE:  While I was writing this blog post, the following email arrived in my box:

After much discussion with xxxx we’ve decided to cancel our trip to Florida.  We are not going to go down there and try to enjoy a holiday with all the tension you have caused over xxx’s wedding hanging over everything.  It would be uncomfortable and awkward for everyone and I’m not going to spend my Christmas under that dark cloud, let alone ask (my fiancee) to and force (my son) to.  Christmas is supposed to be a joyful holiday.  Unfortunately it has all been soured and I don’t see any way to salvage it.

As I told Dad, xxx announced his wedding one month after we accepted Dad’s offer to go to Florida.  We can’t afford to do both.  Now, because of your wailing and gnashing of teeth, we will probably do neither.  You have upset xxxx and I both and neither of us wants to spend any time anywhere in your vicinity.  At least with the money we won’t be spending we can get xxxx an awesome wedding gift.

Family and Frustration (Again)

So, in a very strange turn of events, my brother and my son are getting married in the same calendar year.  I have known this for a while now, as my brother asked his on again/off again (but mostly on lately) to marry him nearly a year ago.

Now, in case you haven’t followed my blog for long, you may not realize that this isn’t exactly a warm, fuzzy relationship I have going on with my brother.  Long story short:  my brother, who has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, reacted badly to my parents’ divorce when I was seven, and I spent several years being his punching bag (not figuratively, but literally his punching bag).  He was institutionalized several times before my father took custody of him when I was 15.   For much of our adult life, his focus on himself above all others has been a constant source of frustration and angst for me.  Click here for far too many posts about how my brother and I go constantly around in circles of either speaking or fighting or not speaking because we recently fought.

All that being said, it’s kind of a miracle that he is getting married, and I am glad that he’s finally found happiness.  The fact that they are still together after nearly a year of living together and being engaged is astounding, and I’d been looking forward to the wedding they planned for next November.

My brother called me a few weeks ago to ask for some addresses for the family for his wedding guest list.  I of course had them on hand from my Christmas card list and told him I’d send them along.  He lamented that his side of the aisle would be kind of light and asked for suggestions on who else he should invite to the affair.

I told him we would likely have the same problem, and that I fully expected that some people from the family would likely be forced to choose which of the two family weddings to attend this year.  I told him that I expected more of the people from great distances to choose his wedding over my son’s.

That’s when he dropped the bombshell.

That he was going to make that choice too.  That he wasn’t going to be present at my son’s wedding.

Now, this shouldn’t have surprised me.  My brother always has time and money for himself and what he finds important in his life.  But, he told me, he was busy saving for his own wedding, and couldn’t sacrifice the money that going to an out of town wedding would take away from his own special day.

If I agreed with him, if I truly felt that he couldn’t afford to do both, I would understand.  I would.  But my brother has a way of making sure he is able to go out for karoake and drinks with his friends once a week, buying the latest technology for himself, and smoking hundreds of dollars of cigarettes a month.  Tightening his belt is a foreign concept.  Why should he sacrifice his fun for a family affair peopled with people he hardly ever sees and doesn’t often get along with?  But he expects us at his own wedding.  He worries the crowd will be “thin” for him.

I think it’s the hypocrisy of it that really grinds my gears.  Well, that, and the fact that my son will be supremely disappointed in his uncle.  He has a firm grasp of the person my brother is, but I don’t think even he imagines that his uncle, who has always talked about how proud he is of my son, would not attend this most important day in his life.  I don’t think it has even entered his head.

So I don’t know what to do, here.  I know from past experience that I never win an argument with my brother.  Conflict is always my fault, always.  When he told me, in fact, I simply said that I was disappointed but would get off of the phone before we both said things we would regret later.  I don’t want to have my father (again) offer to pay for my brother to attend.  My feeling here is that my brother can afford it, if he chooses to make this event an priority.  But there is no way I can make him do that.

Yesterday, my brother sent me, my sister and my father his son’s Christmas list.  It was full of gifts that had a price tag of between $100-$200 each.  He plans on getting “several” of the items on the list himself for his kid.  It brought it all to the forefront to me again, this frustration that I have with him, that he is more important than any of the rest of us.  In a fit of frustration, I sent an email to my father about the situation.  I don’t want him to fix it, I don’t want him to pay for it, I just want some advice from someone who knows both my son and my brother; who they are and how to handle this situation in light of who they are.

I don’t know what he will say.  Probably, my brother will be angry with me for making him “look bad” to our father.  Maybe I’ve made a bad situation worse.  I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

Trying to Change the Voice In My Head

I’m still here.

The reason I haven’t posted in the last two weeks is pretty simple….I am trying, truly, truly trying, to not be such a downer all of the time.  I find myself formulating these posts in my head about this or that, and I am shocked to realize how truly negative my self talk can be sometimes.  What the hell is wrong with me, I wonder on sometimes an hourly basis.  I’m not sick, I’m not going through some major life tragedy, my finances are stable and I have three amazing kids.  Focus, focus, focus.

That being said, here’s where I am at:

1.  My husband is truly trying.  I see him trying to communicate more (sometimes horribly; last night he insulted my whole family with a comment he made, but at least he was talking; baby steps) and he is trying to be more present.  It’s not perfect, but the effort is there.  So that’s something.

2.  I still don’t have a therapist.  I think this is where I’ve floundered so much in the last ten years.  I used to have a therapist, but when we moved from my hometown, I lost that contact.  I have to wade through the myriad of insurance and paperwork and get there.  Unfortunately the school year is nearly done and now I can hear my inner voice wondering when I would find an hour here and there to see a therapist during the summer.  I am procrastinating, and I know this is important.  I need to find someone to talk to, but it hasn’t happened yet.

3.  I ran our local 5K and was featured in the paper.   I live in, quite obviously, a super small town, which is the only way this “chunky runner” would get featured for a 38:24 5K time.  Still, it was kind of nice to have that pat on the back; I still am running and I still am trying.

4.  I went back to Michigan for my nephew’s high school graduation.  It was another surreal trip.  There’s something about being back there and being confronted with my very different past while I’m living my current life that always makes me contemplative.  I had lunch with my friend (ex? former teacher?  adulterous friend with benefits?) Dennis while I was there, and it left me feeling oddly empty where our previous get together had filled me with wonder and happiness.  Maybe it is just where I currently am in my head, or maybe it’s an acknowledgement of the reality of who we really were to each other.  I am still reeling a bit from it.

5.  My eldest is doing very well at work and in life in general.  Every time I want to feel badly about the choices I’ve made over the last twenty years, I need to seriously remind myself to look at him and where he is.   Most of those choices were either because of him or made with him in mind, and I simply have to allow myself some credit for how well he has turned out.  He’s gotten a big raise at work and continues to live and thrive on his own.   Having him at age 19 might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s clearly also the best thing I’ve ever done.  Must remember that.

Must figure out a way to change the voices inside my head.

 

The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

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