Monday, December 22, 2014

Ending 2014: A letter to my oldest

My dear First Born,

Well it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it, Kid? When you woke up on January 1, 2014, you probably didn’t imagine that the next 365 days or so would pan out quite like they have, huh?

Yeah, me neither.

A year ago, we were in quite a different place, you and me. Things were rough. Real rough. You “hated” me, as you told me on multiple occasions (though I never in my heart believed it,) and though I loved you like only a mother could, I sure didn’t like you very much. I had exhausted every parental and maternal means of trying to control, fix, change and/or bend you to my will (aka what I thought was “right”,) but to no avail. In turn, you pulled further and further away from me and into a world where I just couldn’t touch you anymore. 

Those were some dark days, Dude. I look back and I don’t know how we survived them. But here’s the kicker. We DID. And as this roller coaster of a year draws to a close, I want you to know something that I’ve probably told you a hundred, thousand times, and I hope one day you’ll truly hear my words and believe what I’m saying.

My son, my beautiful, beautiful son - I’m so proud of you. I’m so incredibly, thankfully, indisputably, undeniably PROUD of you. I’ve said it so much I wonder – there has to be a better word than proud. A BIGGER word than proud. There’s not, really. I even looked it up. There’s no better word to explain how my heart swells when I see you and talk to you and see pictures of you and learn more about what you are discovering about yourself.

I told you before – you were my first. My experiment in parenting, if you will. You got the short end of the stick on that one, Bud, because I had NO idea what I was doing. I made some missteps that’s for sure. I did a few things right and a whole lotta things wrong. But you stuck with me, didn’t you? And you managed to go and grow up on me, didn’t you? And now look at you. 

You’re stunning. Simply stunning – inside and out. You’re everything I dreamed a son would be and a few things I never imagined. You made me realize that there’s no cookie-cutter kid – there’s no “right” way to be or “wrong” way to be. There’s just an authentic way to be – and that is you – always has been. Trouble was, that authenticity wasn’t accepted too readily, so it kind of got discombobulated and a little lost along the way.

Now I hope you see that who you are – this authentic, wonderful you – is the foundation of everything you need to succeed in whatever you choose to do with your life. And I hope you’ll have the confidence in yourself to never waver from that authenticity. Because I see the real you, Son, and it’s amazing. Truly amazing. 

As I look at recent pictures of you, I see an incredibly handsome, complex, pensive young man. But I don’t have to look very closely to also see that blond, bright blue-eyed inquisitive little boy – the one I’d say smiled “with his whole face.” Because you do. And I’ll never tire of seeing that smile – or that face. 

We started 2014 at the bottom, Son. My hardest tears I cried for you, and my greatest happiness was because of you. But you and me, we’re ending it on an uphill swing, and I see nothing left but the top, don’t you? Sure, we may slip a little here and there. But slipping's OK as long as we can regain a foothold or have someone to catch us. And you have people to catch you - even if it's not me. And honestly, it probably WON'T be me. But that's OK. You'll be OK.

And as we end this indescribably difficult yet incredibly powerful year, I want to tell you, “thank you.” Thank you for letting me love you so much. Thank you for finally telling me you love me back. Thank you for letting me hug you for as long as I want to because I need to, and for letting me hold your face in my hands to tell you how beautiful you are. Thank you for doing the work. You've worked so damn hard and I know I don’t even know the half of what you accomplished. I know there is progress I haven’t even seen. And I know you still have a long way to go. So do I. But we'll both get there.

I know life won’t be easy for you. I know you’ll have your ups and downs. I know you’re gaining tools for your toolbox and that you’ll learn when you need to pull them out and use them. But know this – and I’ve told you this before, too. I will always, always be your biggest fan. I will always, always be rooting for you on the sidelines. I will always, always be proud of you, and I will always, ALWAYS love you. You will always be my first, and you will always be my blond, blue-eyed baby boy.

To the moon and back, 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I Fear Most

Last night I received a very good piece of advice via a kind of unconventional means.

I was listening to a live webinar on my phone, hosted by a renowned author whom I greatly respect. I had gone so far as to message him about a phenomenal book he wrote, but he of course never replied. There were probably hundreds of people on the call, but at the end he said he could take a few questions, and all of a sudden I heard him saying, "Amy from Illinois has a question. Hi, Amy." Wow. So I got to talk to this amazing author and the advice I received changed the course of my thinking as only someone whom I respect could do.

He said simply, "Don't be ruled by fear." Of course, there was more, but in my starstruck daze I don't remember it all verbatim. But what he said resonated with me, because he was right. I was being ruled by fear.

Now, in this context, he was talking about parenting. About not being afraid to do the right thing, bring up a subject that may cause conflict or put my foot down when I need to. Because, see, that became pretty tough for me - the repercussions were unpleasant and sometimes downright frightening. So I quit doing it. I quit out of fear. But he reminded me, because I had forgotten, that fear impedes progress. Fear keeps you from doing not only what you think you SHOULD do, but what you really, really WANT to do. And it's really nothing more than that. If you let fear get to you, it can not only impede YOUR progress, but that of your kids as well.

All those excuses we use day after day. How many times have you said things like:
"I'm not going to discipline my kid for breaking curfew because I want to have a good day today and just keep the peace."
"I'm not speaking up in that meeting because I don't know if what I have to say is significant."
"I'm not going after that job because I'm afraid I'm not completely qualified."
"I'm not going to broach that subject because I'm not sure of the reaction I'll get."
"I'm not going to go up and talk to that person because he might think I'm crazy, or worse yet, boring."

So what happens when we let fear rule our decisions? Nothing gets done. No progress is made. You don't do anything proactive, say anything proactive, or BE anything proactive. And the thing is, what you see as fear can be mistaken in someone else's eyes. To them, you might appear indifferent. Snobby. Passive. When in fact you're none of those things. You're just being ruled by fear.

The same thing that makes me not have those tough talks with my kid - for fear he'll lash out, or we'll have a bad night, or my best-laid plans will be ruined - is the same fear that keeps me from trying new things. I'll give a million excuses why I don't want to show up at a new church or social group when in fact I'm just terrified of walking into a roomful of strangers. Funny thing is, I've conquered that fear on more than one occasion, only to realize that 1) others felt the exact same way and 2) everyone was welcoming and understood how hard it was. And as far as parenting goes, worrying that my kids will go off the deep end if I discipline them - because it's gotten out of hand before - isn't doing them any favors. I need to work to find a way to overcome that fear and stop it from getting out of hand. Because kids are like wild animals - they can smell fear a mile away.

My son is learning about feelings. So much so that a couple of weeks ago I happened to say something to the effect of, "That made me so mad," to which he corrected me and said, "No, Mom, you CHOOSE to be mad." Interesting concept coming from a 17-year old boy, but he's right. I did choose it. I chose it because it was easy. Fear is easy. It's the excuse that is lying at the bottom of the barrel of excuses. But if you think about it carefully, you can choose NOT to let it rule your life and your decisions.

So the advice I received is my advice to you. Don't be ruled by fear. Don't let that ambiguous emotion of what "could, should, might" keep you doing what you want or need to do. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Don't be afraid to take that shot.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I just don't want to f*&k it up.

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.

And I wish he'd see it. But to him, I'm "involved." I'm the one who cries when I see him. I'm the one he rolls his eyes at when I gush over how proud I am of him. I'm the one who listens to all the cool stuff he and his dad do, who has spent less than a fourth of the time with him that I have. But I'm not his hero. He doesn't necessarily look up to me. I'm the emotional, involved parent who shows him how to do laundry and special orders his jeans because he's so damn tall. And yes, I know my reward is him. My reward is to see him thrive. Survive. Grow up to have an amazing life. Overcome adversity with skill and grace.

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

Make It So

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.
2. Climb a big rock. I took a rock climbing course at Upper Limits in Bloomington and loved going over there to climb. However, I've lost my climbing partner and don't get over to BloNo much anymore. A few years ago, I looked into a rock climbing course they offer in Southern Illinois - like the real deal. Real rocks. I wanna do that. As soon as I build up some badass arm and leg muscles and figure out a way for my pelvic region to not look all bunchy in a harness.

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

What is Dying with Dignity?

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:
Brittany moved to Oregon because of that state's Death With Dignity Law, which allows mentally competent, terminally ill adult state residents to voluntarily request and receive prescription medication to hasten their death. If you haven't read about it, here's her story:

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

Somewhere between "hate" and "great" - is 48.

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.

Looking back at my "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.
Two years ago, our family definitely took each other for granted. This one was pissed at that one for something he or she couldn't even remember. Phone calls weren't returned, emails not replied to, family gatherings complained about in advance or blown off all together. It was too easy for everyone to go about their lives that included their own families and work and friends to really remember that where they came from is what they needed to nurture, foster and be appreciative of.

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.

If you haven't tried this whole "let go and let God" thing, I encourage you to explore it. It doesn't have to be as holy roller as it sounds. It's basically just saying, "I've done all I can do, and by grasping at straws to do something else, I'm only hurting myself. So I'm giving it up to You, God, OK? See what You can do."

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. 
OK, that's a lie. I really haven't. But I've thought about it. And I've learned that I NEED to do a better job of communicating. Because I can't write down EVERYTHING. Sometimes my voice and my actions have to be enough, because I can't just walk around with a pencil and paper writing things like, "Sorry I'm not smiling and I'm acting kind of bitchy in the checkout line but I would rather be anywhere but here buying crap that I can't afford and have to go home and actually prepare for someone who would rather eat 10 piece chicken nuggets with medium fries every day."

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.

Because here's the deal. There's not necessarily just two paths in life, with my child standing at the fork in the road trying to choose to go right or go left. There's more hidden trails and exits and entrance ramps on and off of every one. And I can love that child no matter what road he's on. The hard part comes when I have to say, "I love you, but I will not support that decision." THAT'S where the rubber meets the road, and all the more reason to do the whole "LGLG" thing.

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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Blame Game

I have a hard time not pointing fingers. The thing is, it’s usually at myself.

Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing – all those years of intimidating priests preaching that I’m going to burn in hell and how unworthy I am to even be on this earth may have had something to do with my unending and pervasive guilt. And that started even before I was responsible for anyone else but myself. 

Throw two kids into the mix and you have a recipe for beating yourself up for pretty much the rest of your life. 

It’s not a martyr complex, I assure you. Lack of confidence maybe? Playing without a rule book? I don’t know. But I can’t help but look at any downfall my child has as a reflecting on my ability to parent. Wait a minute – what’d I do? Teach them the wrong thing? Not give them the skills they needed? Skipped a chapter in the parenting manual? Did I misinterpret Dr. Spock AGAIN? 

My son asked me the other night if my mom was a strict parent, and I really had to think about it. Growing up, I’m sure I would have said “HELL YES SHE WAS STRICT!” but looking back, I don’t think so. I was probably more timid than my kids are. And more respectful for sure. I don’t know how many times they’ve sassed me and I’ve thought to myself, “Oh, man, if I would have said that to MY mom I would have been slapped to Timbuktu!” (That was one of her threats  and one day I looked up to see if there was indeed a Timbuktu and decided that no, I did NOT want to be slapped all the way there.) I used to wonder what she did that I didn’t do. Did we respect my mom out of fear? If so, I gotta say that’s not really a bad thing. I think parents today get too “into” their kids’ lives and try to be that buddy, that friend, and to coin that amazing Esurance commercial, “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.” 

Yet I did it to an extent. I mean, I didn’t intentionally try to be a friend or a buddy. In fact, I tried NOT to be. But I did want to have a dialogue with them. Growing up, I don’t think it really occurred to me to talk to my mom about stuff. (As I got older, absolutely. But growing up? No.) But wanted my kid to know he could talk to me about ANYTHING. 

Um, LOL, right? My fault. Kids don’t want to talk to their parents about ANYTHING. They’d rather talk to the snarky cashier at Wal-Mart about their problems than talk to me. 

So maybe my kids were confused as to what their mom really WAS. The role I played. Sometimes I was the nurturing, “let’s talk this out and solve this problem” mom, and other times I was the “it’s my way or the highway” mom. So when they were in a bind, maybe they were confused as to which mom was on call that night. 

I tried; I really tried. I breastfed because I was told it would keep them from getting too many ear infections. Both kids had ear tubes. I made my own baby food. They preferred the jar. I sent them to school when they complained of the sniffles. They were sent home with pinkeye. I helped them with their homework. It was wrong. I wanted to make sure they were safe. They told me I was hovering. I wanted them to have their freedom. They made poor choices that I couldn’t fix. I never seemed to make the right decisions.

OK, before you tell me what I know you’re going to say, let me say it first. “They’re their own persons. They make their own choices. You raised them with good morals and values and you need to let them make their own decisions, good or bad.”

I get it. In my head I get it. I attend a weekly support group that is based on that very philosophy. I understand the model. 

But in my heart of hearts, I blame myself. I wonder what I missed. What I could have done differently. Because parenting is an ugly beast. It’s one of the few times in your life when you truly don’t have an answer and you just kind of close your eyes and pick one and hope for the best. Do I let you have that sleepover with that kid who I have a bad feeling about? Do I trust you will make good choices? Or do I shield you from him and say no? Is that my job? Is that where I come in? Or is this where I let go? I’m never, EVER sure. 

My kids are inherently good kids. I love them to the moon and back, and I’m proud of them even further than that. I really, truly am. And probably the worst thing in the world is to see them hurt, disappointed, upset or dejected. I have come to realize that they HAVE to have these feelings, though. That’s how they develop coping mechanisms for life. But I feel like I have failed them in giving them what they need figure those out. I feel like I didn’t give them the right tools they need for their toolbox. Instead of a socket wrench, a hammer and a pair of pliers, I gave them a ladle, a turkey baster and a pair of tweezers. 

If I could do it again would I make different choices? Hell yes, in some respects. But again, I don’t have the answers. I never have. I’m a regular person raising two regular people with not a clue how to do it, even after 17 years. 

I hope they never blame me. I really do. I hope they know I shoulder enough blame without them adding to it. But if they DO blame me, I won’t blame them, you know? Because the Catholics are right. I’m not worthy to parent – no one is. We just do our best and hope for the best. 

To quote the illustrious 80s song by Howard Jones, “Some break the rules and live to count the cost; the insecurity is the thing that won't get lost … no one is to blame.” But I bet we think we are anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2014

26 weeks.

It's been six months, Mom.

Half a year. When I go back and look at my pictures, which I cherish, the dates are still measured in weeks. 26 weeks.

Some days it seems like just yesterday; other days it seems years ago. But what doesn't change is how much you're in my thoughts. Some days it's a fleeting moment. Most often when something interesting, accomplished or bumming happens and I think, "I gotta call Mom and tell her..." only to catch myself and realize that I can't. Not anymore. Not like before, anyway.

Other days, it's those signs. I've determined that any time you come into my head, whether it be something I think or something I see, that's your sign. For me, it's seeing or hearing that singular mourning dove who likes to perch on the top of the trampoline. Mourning doves mate for life, and I always see them together. It's been only since you passed that I see one alone. Other times it might be when I see someone who resembles you. Or I catch myself watching one of those commercials for the Carol Burnett video tapes. :)

The other day I went to visit you, and told you I really needed to know that you were there and watching out for the boys. In my heart of hearts I know you are. Sometimes I wonder if that's why you left when you did, because you knew I needed to know that someone was watching over that precocious grandchild of yours. You know which one I'm talking about.

The day you left us we had a snowstorm. Odd for the first of March. It was a Saturday, and we had all done our normal Saturday hospice visiting rotation that had somehow just fallen into place over the past five weeks. I spent the late morning and early afternoon by your bedside, reading. Dad came later, as he usually did, after going to ReStore. He was going to go to church that evening and Chris and I told him not to come back because the roads were getting bad.

I debated making plans that night, but decided to stop back over and see you instead. In true Dad fashion and against his kids' "suggestion" that he stay home, he braved the snowy roads and showed up after church. Logan was at a friend's house but I had decided not to let him spend the night, and around 10:00 he started texting me asking me when I would be there to pick him up.

It was so snowy, but for some reason, Dad and I stayed later than usual. I asked the nurses if we should stay because you were just so unresponsive and they said no, they didn't see any change to warrant it. Funny how your language sidesteps the real question. To this day I still can't ask it.

I knew I had to get Dad home. It was an unspoken rule among us kids that the last one at hospice was to make sure Dad went home. We left there at 10:25, because I remember telling Logan I'd be there by 10:40. Dad kissed you and told you he loved you, just as he had every single night. I told you the same, but instead of my normal, "See you tomorrow," for some reason I said, "Get some sleep." We walked out and I turned to look at you. I'll never forget it, and I'm glad I did. You looked peaceful, with those two battery-operated candles I brought for you flickering against your face as you slept under that fleece Chicago Bears blanket. As we walked down the hall, Dad said, "This is gonna be tough." I linked my arm in his and we walked out into the snow.

I arrived home about 10:50 pm and put my phone in the bedroom to charge. At 11:05, I went in and saw I had a missed call from hospice. My stomach dropped, and I called the number back. There had been a change, the nurse said. "Should I come?" I said. "I'm sorry," she said. "Since we called you last, she has passed." At 11:01 pm.

I never want to have that feeling again, though I know I will. That's all I can say about that.

26 weeks.
Here's what I struggle with. We were there every day. Dad was there every, single day. Yet you passed not 30 minutes after we left your side. You did that on purpose, didn't you? I know you did. You didn't want us to see you pass. You didn't want Dad there then, did you? I have to believe that. I know the nurses were there, and I asked them if they prayed with you and they said they did. But I struggle that we weren't there. Is that my selfishness? Did you do it your way? I have to believe you did. I have to believe that.

I have to believe you see this. I have to believe you are there and seeing my boys grow and protecting them and being their guardian angels. You must. I can't think of anyone better for the job than the Man himself. I know you're watching over Dad when we can't, and I know you are with him as he struggles to live his life without you. He just loves you so very much. But you know that.

It's been six months, Mom. I miss you so. Keep showing up, OK? In my thoughts, in the mourning doves, and wherever else. Remember I told you to promise me? And I know you'll be creative about it. I'll be looking. I promise.