Saturday, November 22, 2014
Tonight my son told me that someone told him I was a "very involved parent."
I don't think it was meant as a compliment. But it's not the first time I've been indirectly or directly "accused" of that.
I don't get it. I just don't get it.
I'll admit - I pretty much helicopter-parented my first kid. I didn't know what the hell I was doing and I was scared out of my mind. I questioned every move I made - all the time. But here's what I think about my spin with helicopter parenting. I think, in my case, the task of parenting was and still is such an incredibly overwhelming experience that I JUST DON'T WANT TO FUCK IT UP. Therefore, I have this subconscious or even conscious feeling that if I fuck up, it's my fault. If my KID fucks up, it's STILL my fault. Because I birthed him. I brought him into this world. I planned to make him exist. Not him. ME.
So I don't take the parenting thing lightly. Maybe that's my problem. I stressed when I was pregnant about eating the right things and exercising and staying away from fumes. Shit, I lay inverted on an ironing board for days trying to get him to turn from the breech position. I had a doula and a birth plan and am sure to this day that the vacuum they had to use to get him out is the reason for any issues he's ever had.
As an (unplanned) stay-at-home mom I stressed over making sure that his brain was stimulated, that I wasn't relying on TV as a babysitter, that he socialized with other babies, that he was on par with where all the books said he should be, that he wasn't too hot, too cold, too selfish, too friendly, not friendly enough, got enough exercise, napped at consistent intervals, ate the correct amount from all the food groups, and believed that his father and I paid extra to have the house sprayed for monsters.
When I got divorced, I made sure the kids knew that dad and I were not at odds and still friends. I never said a bad word about him in front of either child. His dad came to every family and holiday celebration when he wasn't working, and has spent every Christmas Day at my house since the year we were divorced. We've all traveled together, stayed in hotels together, sat together at soccer games, football games, parent/teacher conferences and counseling appointments. BECAUSE IT'S GOOD FOR THE KIDS. We're lauded for our relationship and how wonderful it is for our children. It's like they never really had to face the divorce - we took the brunt of it for them, and continue to do so.
Too involved? I don't get it. When my son had problems, I sought help. Answers. Whatever it took. And it took a LOT. Granted, there's not a lot of quality help OR answers around here - so I expanded my search. Tonight I was told basically that the help around here was useless, but the help OUTSIDE of here is great. Know what I wanted to say? I DID MY BEST. Followed closely by, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Because I'm paying now. He's got the help that he hopefully needs, and I'm beyond thrilled. I'm beyond hopeful. It's beyond worth it. I'm also beyond broke.
Yet somehow, I'm "involved," and not in a good way. And OK. I get it. I get that I ask questions. I get that I even question the answers. I get that I ask for alternatives, and that I offer up my own ideas. I get that I don't agree with everything and fight to do things the way I think they should be done.
But here's what you need to get. I EARNED THAT RIGHT. He's MINE. More than 17 years ago, HE BECAME MINE. And I have spent nearly every day with him since then. My life became forever changed when I became his mom. My career changed. My life plans changed. My body changed. My relationships changed. EVERYTHING CHANGED. And it was worth it. It was all worth it to see his smile and hear his deep voice say, "Hey, Mom, how's it goin'?" So I'm not complaining. I'm explaining.
Last night, I attended the saddest visitation I've ever been to in my life. A friend from high school's son took his own life, at age 18. I cannot even begin to imagine her grief, but I can tell you that from the moment I found out about it, my heart broke for her, and I grieved and still grieve her loss. I have not been able to get her or her son out of my mind. And when I looked at every one of the hundreds and hundreds of pictures of this boy last night, this beautiful light with a smile that literally lit up his face - just like my son's, I felt my heart break even more. There was so much to say, yet nothing to say. There were so many thoughts. One of them seems horrible and shallow and inappropriate, but it was a thought I've had before about my son and I thought it last night. It was this:
So much work.
So much work. This friend of mine, this mom, is like me. I don't know about the helicopter parenting part, but she was in it, man. She was at every game, every school function, every family event. She had pictures like I have pictures - tons of them, scrapbooks like I had scrapbooks - pages and pages of brightly colored paper and stencils and stickers. She had captured every minute of her son's life just like I had with mine. She fought for her son like I fight for mine.
And now he's gone. Just like that.
So much work. And yes, so much love. The work is the love. The love is the work. That's probably why they say that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love. But what they don't tell you is that motherhood will break your heart every day. You'll do the job, oh, you'll do the job like your life depended on it. You'll do the job when you're happy, sad, energized, exhausted, angry, disillusioned or just plain spent. You do it because you love this child so much and YOU DON'T WANT TO FUCK IT UP.
My friend didn't fuck it up. She was - and is - amazing. I look up to her. She has my awe.
Yet still he's gone.
Yes, I'm an involved parent. And I will never apologize. If I ever crossed a line, I hope I acknowledged it. Believe me, there were times I had to sit back and think, "Stop. I have to trust this person and that they know what's best for my son AT THIS POINT." And I'm OK with that, as long as it's quid pro quo. As long as that person realizes that my opinion matters too. Because I know my son on a level that they never will. And no matter what level you may know him on, mine COUNTS.
Don't think for a second I'm not grateful for this kid. Don't think for a second that I regret being "involved." I don't. I'm damn proud of my son. But if somebody would have told me how my life was going to play out before I ever had him would I have thought twice about it? You bet your ass. I'm sure I would have thought, "There is no way in HELL I am capable of this. Why would ANYONE in their right mind take this on?"
Because the reward isn't obvious. It's not often. It's not prodigious. No one could have told me that my reward would be a smiling, clear-eyed boy, and that would be enough to take away years of pain. No one could have convinced me that hearing my son say casually, "Love you too, Mom" (because I always say it first) would wipe away any bad thing that happened that day. No one could have sold me on motherhood by telling me it is the most painful, heart-wrenching, soul searching, mentally and physically exhausting, moral-questioning lifetime commitment in which the rewards are a small as a smile, as minute as a "Love you too, Mom." I would have told them that seems like a pretty raw deal.
And here's the deal now. I see 18 looming like a freight train in the distance. Because when my son turns 18, my powers fade. When my son turns 18, I sit back and wonder if everything - or ANYTHING I did was all for naught. So I'm desperately trying to exercise my "right to be involved" before I'm told, "He's 18 now. Thanks for playing." Oh I know I'll still be involved - but it will be different. And I know that every time he fails, I have a feeling I'll still think that I somehow fucked it up. And when he succeeds, I'll be happy that he did it in spite of his "involved" mom.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Every once in awhile, I'll see or read something and think, "I'm gonna put that on my Bucket List." Then I promptly forget about it until the next time I see or read about it. I never actually Make It So. When you write things down, you Make It So. They're there for everyone to see, and for you to be held accountable. Years from now, someone could approach me in the grocery store and ask, "So how's that Bucket List coming?" and I can say, "Well, I've done #3 and #7, and I'm working on #8 - thanks for asking!"
OK, that probably won't happen. But it could.
Anyway, I decided that instead of randomly remembering things I want to do during this interesting and unpredictable life of mine, only to have them slip into the ether of my mind minutes later, I'd write them down, and thus Make It So.
So here goes - in no particular order, because that's how my mind works.
1. Learn sign language. I've always been fascinated by this language and would love to be able to become fluent. Then I'd like to volunteer my skills in helping with those who are deaf. And I'd also like to be able to teach it to my best friend so we can secretly communicate at parties.
|Climbing a silo. Not the same.|
3. Go to Canada. I have no idea why. I don't even really know what's up there, other than coldness and hockey and maple leaves. But I'd love to go to French-speaking Canada, since I will probably never make it across the Pond. I took a total of six years of French - one year in grade school (an after-school class - how dorky was I?) four in high school and one year in college. Surely there's more than "Comment allez-vous?" and "Quelle heure est il?" in the depths of my consciousness somewhere?
4. Lambeau, Baby. I know, right? This Marquette grad, former Milwaukee resident and HUGE Packers fan has NEVER BEEN TO GREEN BAY. It's just criminal. It has to happen - preferably with someone who is as much of a fan as I am, because it'd be lame to take someone who was just doing it as a favor. Because it's gonna be cold, yo.
5. Play the bass in a band. Yeah, this prooobbbbaaaabbbbllllyyyy isn't going to happen, but you never know where life is going to take you. When I'm trying to pass the time during a workout or standing in line or trying to fall asleep, I sometimes fantasize that I'm a bass player in this garage band. You know, the one who kind of hangs back all cool like and sways back and forth to the beat just thumping away - most likely while wearing a hat. It's all about the hat. And the swaying. And the thumping. Oh, and maybe some backup singing, too. This one may take some work.
6. Find my go-to volunteer place. My dad has two go-to volunteer places - Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Midwest Food Bank. He's there a lot and is getting to know the people there. I'd like to become a part of something like that someday. The last time I really felt a part of something volunteer-wise was when I was on the board at Charter Oak School. Man - I felt like I owned that joint and I knew everybody. What a great feeling to be around a group of people who all like each other and believe in what they're doing. Too bad Old Lady Lathan put the kibosh on all that. But they're good memories and I'd like to recapture that spirit of giving back and that sense of community someday.
7. Write a book. Yeah, yeah, everyone tells me "You should write a book." That's usually because a) I'm a writer and "don't all writers write a book?" b) because I seem to have an unusually quirky life or b) I have an unusually quirky way of looking at my life. My book won't be fictional - other than names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty.)
I have an immense amount of respect for those who can come up with story lines, characters, plots, and write chapter after chapter over the course of years that turns into - well - a story. I'm more the "extended blog version" kind of writer, and I have far too many thoughts in my head about real life to make room for imaginary friends. (Sidenote: I just read Carry On, Warrior - The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton - which, if you like my writing, you will LOVE hers. I highly recommend this book.) Anyway, I read that stuff and think, "YES! THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO WRITE! THAT'S IT! SHE GETS ME AND SHE WROTE IT AND PEOPLE READ HER!" And yes, I say it in all caps.
8. Fall in love. Obviously this isn't something I can just go and do, but I'd like to cross it off someday. It's probably more likely that I'll go to Canada. Or climb a real rock. Or learn sign language and how to play the bass. WAIT A MINUTE. Maybe I need to do ALL those things before I can meet my soulmate - a deaf yet musically-inclined Canadian rock climber! That's IT!
I gotta get busy. Make It So.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
My first thought when I read about Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who took medication to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was, "You go, Girl."
The Oregon, Washington, and Vermont Death with Dignity laws allow mentally competent, terminally-ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to hasten their death. This is one of many end-of-life care options available in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. - See more at: http://www.deathwithdignity.org/access-acts#sthash.pBkIu0Sc.dpuf
Brittany Maynard, advocate for "Death with Dignity" dies
She was young. She knew she was going to die. And she knew it wasn't going to be pretty. And I'm going to assume that those close to her were on board with it.
A Vatican official denounced it, calling it an "undignified absurdity." My faith and my upbringing tells me that it's wrong, and that we can't play God. That the cards we are dealt is the hand we are stuck with. We don't get to decide when we come into this earth we don't get to decide when we leave. Those are the rules.
Then I put myself in Brittany's place. I don't have a husband, but I have children. If this happened to me, I can't imagine them having to go through all that, even though I wouldn't have had it any other way with my mom than to go through what she went through with her. See my dilemma here? I certainly don't have the funds to withstand years of treatment or hospital care. And I don't want to die a long, painful death if I don't have to. I want quality of life.
That's what my mom wanted. That's why she sought out the oncologist she did, because he believed in quality of life. She knew that he would provide her with the options that would allow her to be treated yet maintain quality of life. And she knew he would tell her when it was time to stop.
And he did. And I often wonder what she thought during those final months. Did she wish for death? Or was she valuing each and every day she had left? Or maybe a little of both? If given the option, I am nearly 100% sure that her faith would have prevented her from taking the measures that Brittany did - but then again, her situation wasn't the same as Brittany's.
So though I was accepting of Brittany's decision, because the non-judgey side of me realizes that I haven't walked a mile in her shoes, I really did wonder how I felt about it and if I would do the same thing if I was ever in a similar situation. Then I read this article, ironically in the Jesuit Post (I attended the Jesuit Marquette University, as did my mother and my oldest brother), written by Jason Welle, SJ:
On Love and Dignity and Dying
In short, the author tells the story of his brother's struggle with cancer and his initial thought of ending it all versus riding it out."I don't know," he tells his brother. "... what I do know is that we love you so much, and we want to be able to love you all the way through this; we would support you, and it would never be a burden on us to be with you and care for you even in your suffering. Tony, please, let us do that for you. Let us love you to the end, whenever that may be.”
Mr. Welle takes offense that the option of taking one's own life, even as a relief from dying a painful death, is known as "death with dignity." That the real dignity "isn’t opposed to suffering; sometimes in suffering dignity reveals its truest face."
I'm not saying this very eloquently, so read the article. It's hard to explain. If my mom would have chosen to move to Oregon to take advantage of this law, I would have supported her. But when she became sick, there was no doubt in my mind that I would go through this with her. I wanted to do that for her. I wanted to love her until the end.
And there was no doubt that she suffered. Were there parts of it that were undignified? Certainly. Did she suffer with dignity? Yes, she did. She made sure of that, her family made sure of that, and hospice made sure of that. Did she die with dignity? Absolutely.
But I get it. I get both sides. And I'm torn. Then it occurs to me, I don't have to be on one side or the other. My heart breaks for Brittany and her family and what they must have gone through and are going through. My heart breaks for the thought process that got Brittany to realize her fate and the bravery (mind you I say bravery, not courage) to publicly make the decision she made, and how many waverings she must have had in her own mind to come to that decision. But again, if she had the support of those who loved her, then that's the whole battle right there.
And if it was me, in her situation, I don't know that I wouldn't have thought of doing the same thing. I just don't know if I could have. I don't know if I could have played that last hand that's supposed to be God's call. I guess it would depend on who was left in my life and the role they played. For Brittany, it seemed everyone was accounted for, so maybe that made it "easier." My struggle, I think, would be with not so much who is left behind, but who is waiting ahead.
Monday, November 3, 2014
So my year of being AK47 has come to a close. Which is fine, since I'm pretty much anti-assault rifle, as well as any other kind of gun. I'm square like that - don't judge.
What it's like to be AK47" post from a year ago, I noticed that although I wrote what I was thankful for, I designated the year as "one of the hardest of my life."
Guess what? This year makes last year look like a walk in the park.
BUT! But, dear readers, before you click away thinking this is going to be another one of those morose posts from yours truly, give me a chance. I'm trying to do the whole "silver lining" bit here. And I will say that though this year has been extremely challenging on almost every level of my being, I believe I have learned more and grown more than probably any other year I've been alive. And that doesn't include the few extra pounds from what is apparently premenopause, which is the least of my problems right now.
Maybe this is the wisdom/experience you acquire with age. Maybe it's "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Maybe it's a little of both, with some open-mindedness thrown in for good measure. Maybe that's why I'll look back at the "Year of AK47" with mixed feelings - somewhere between "hate" and "great," wherever that is.
So here's what I've learned. And like with every self-help article you may read, take what you need and leave the rest behind. Works for me, anyway.
I've learned that family is first.
|Last year's birthday card from Mom.|
My mom's illness seemed almost like a cruel ploy to bring our family together, something that had always been of utmost importance to her. She often lamented and lost sleep over our petty sibling fights. She sent emails and kept calling even if the response was sometimes lukewarm at best. She knew in her heart that in a crisis, each and every one of us would be there for the other.
And we were. When Mom got sick, we came together as a family and began to realize what she had been trying to drill into our heads all our lives. Family is important. Family is for life. Family is what you have when you have nothing else. And for the last months, weeks, days and hours before her death, she had just that - family beside her every single day. And some of us remain close now, for the most part - almost clinging to each other because we get it now, and we know we owe it to Mom to stick together.
I've learned that parenting truly means LGLG.
I got so sick of hearing that phrase, "Let go and let God." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Let go of WHAT? I'm not letting go - I got this. I can FIX this myself, thank you.
No, I can't. Which is a realization of which I'm still coming to terms. But, on a cold day in February, I let go. I turned my son over to God. Not without second-guessing, mind you. Not without remorse, regret, and a lot of tears. But deep down - deep down in that place you try to squish when you want to believe something the way you want to believe it, I knew I did the right thing. I knew I did a very brave thing. And in "letting go and letting God," I not only did the one thing that I believe saved his life, but I think I may have saved mine as well.
I've learned and grown right along with my son, and have a completely new perspective on my life as I know it versus my life as I thought it would be. I understand even though I may not accept, and I accept even though I may not understand, if that makes any sense at all.
For the record, don't think I'm good at this every day. Sometimes God and me, we play tug of war. Well, at least I do. He basically just stands there and holds the rope - WITH HIS MIND. Because he's God.
He just sits there patiently waiting and I say, "Screw you, God. You're not moving fast enough. I don't have the patience for this. I've been waiting to see the results of me letting go and letting you and I'm just not seeing them. So let me just grab this away from you because I am SURE that I can turn this around faster than you can." Yet every time I do that, I'm blinded by worry and uncertainty and what-the-hell-do-I-do-nextness. So I meekly reach for the rope again and tell God to go ahead and pull me over the line.
Sidenote: I heard a great thought from someone just the other night about worry. He said, "Worry is almost admitting to God that you don't trust Him." Good point. Very good point.
I've learned how to communicate - better.
But through the village of individuals whom I've had the pleasure to meet over the past year, I want to say to you - I have learned from all of you. Across the country we've converged to help one another, teach one another and comfort one another. And I've learned so much.
Like how to validate someone's feelings instead of trying to change them or give them reasons why they shouldn't feel that way. So instead of saying, "Don't be silly. You're not hopeless." when someone says, "I feel so hopeless!" you say, "I hear you feel hopeless. That's an awful feeling. Tell me more about it." And then if they do, listen. Because by the time they've talked through it, they might have helped themselves with their own problem, or at least found a way to get to a solution that's best for them, and not just necessarily what you might tell them to do.
Sure, you can offer insight if you want, but if YOU'RE not feeling hopeless, you don't have the answer. And the answer is different for everyone. Sometimes, we all just need someone to listen. And validate. Especially kids. While you want to make everything all better for your child, your best bet is to listen and help them work it out themselves. By fixing everything, you do a huge disservice to your children in a world where people don't generally give a shit about what's going on beneath the surface of your bitchy resting face - and your kids need to learn that sooner rather than later. Especially if they have bitchy resting face.
I've (sort of) learned that it's not (completely) my fault.
I've learned that no matter how awesome of a parent you try to be, it's not necessarily your fault if things don't turn out the way you planned, or wanted, or dreamed of, or hoped for. (And yes, Mom in Heaven. I do realize I'm ending these sentences in prepositions. It's for effect, OK?) Oh, I'm still definitely working on figuring out that not everything that my child is or isn't is not my fault, and I still blame myself for a lot of crap. But I'm getting better at realizing that I did the best job I knew how to do with what I had, and at some point the ball is in my child's court.
In that same vein, I've learned that relationships end for a reason, whether they be my doing, his doing, or by mutual agreement. I've spent waaaaay too long beating myself up over what I should or could have done differently when in reality, I did what I thought was best at the time. And though hindsight is 20/20, I venture to guess that if I had to do it over again, I'd probably do the same thing.
That sucks, and I'm not saying I don't still spend countless hours rehashing what I could or should have done differently. But I think what I'm really thinking is this. "I wish I would have been the person that would have been OK with all that. I wish I could have been the person for whom that was enough. I wish I could have been that person who was SO good at communicating that everything was out on the table with no margin for error." But regretfully, I am not that person, so the cards fall where they may and I move on and try to do better next time.
I'm learning to just keep going.
I haven't mastered this yet, but I'm more cognizant of the theory, and it's making more sense. I just read a great post entitled, "Work Like You Don't Need Money and Love Like You've Never Been Hurt." In a nutshell, it basically reminds us to quit letting the past define our future. Life isn't fair, sometimes it sucks, get over it. Do what you do because it puts a smile on your face, not because you get a big fat paycheck at the end of the month even though you're miserable. Do what you do because you truly believe it's your best option, then don't look back at all the other choices you could have made. Nobody's looking to be in love with life every single day, but if you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK with the person looking back at you, you're more than halfway there.
This passage from the article sums it up best:
"It’s not because you’re paying for your earlier sins; you’re just living and things are just happening. You can try to control as much of your life as possible, but you will always be left with countless variables of uncertainty. So what does this all mean? I’m still trying to figure that out. The way I see it right now, it doesn’t change a damn thing. You’re still going to want what you want. You’re still going to dream the dreams you dream. You have only one choice: keep going."
So I can sit around lamenting that it seems like it's been one thing after another this past year. A long relationship reluctantly put to rest, like a dog that you didn't want to have put down but knew it was suffering too much. You know it was for the best, but you still miss it.
An unspeakably unfair end of a journey with the woman who brought me into this world. A journey she nor my dad deserved, but made me realize all too late that beside every Superman is a Superwoman. And grief that doesn't follow a timetable because six months later you will burst into tears when you hear them sing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park, because that was her favorite Neil Diamond song.
A parenting nightmare that turns you into "that parent you never wanted to be." Crying tears of such such extreme sorrow and frustration and loss, then tears of utter joy when you see your son standing at the top of that hill in the middle of the woods, dirty from head to toe but with a white smile that's bigger than you've seen in years and striking, clear blue eyes. And all you can do is run to him as fast as you can, grab his face and repeat over and over, "You are so beautiful. You are so beautiful." Yet also knowing that your journey - and his - has just begun.
Life is messy, and you just have to keep going. Try to find a little good in every day, and try to find someone who does the same, and makes you feel like you want to keep going even when you don't want to for yourself. Try to live your life somewhere between hate and great, even though you'll have those two extremes every now and again. They're OK. You'll learn from both of them. But the real meat of life is what's in between hate and great. For me, maybe that will be 48.