Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maybe Something is Getting in?

I always tell people who don't have kids that one of the hardest parts of parenting for me is not having any sort of gauge to tell if I'm doing it right. I did well in school and I thrived on getting a grade for each completed task. However, with parenting some, or even most, of the work I'm putting into my kids is an investment that won't show dividends for years or decades. I never get graded on my tasks as a mom. It is so hard to put so much work in, and not see the results of that work.

Every once in awhile I catch a tiny glimpse that maybe some of what I say is getting into my kids' heads.

Today I am sitting on the couch while my daughter and her cousin play with play dough. They are playing some sort of  what I would have called "house" when I was a kid. There is a play dough mother, father, and children. My Natalie is playing the part of the mother. This set up is very telling as everything Natalie says sounds like words that have come out of my mouth.

Some of it makes me cringe, "I said to clean up all of this mess!" she says in an angry tone.  Yup, that's me.  "You didn't listen to me!  Get to your room, you're grounded!"  Guilty.

But she also says some pretty great things. Play Dough Mom says, "You need to be kind to your brother. In this family, we treat each other with respect."  Hey, that's me too. And I kid you not, at one point she said, "People are all different, we should celebrate those differences instead of trying to make everybody be the same. That would be so boring!"

There are certain sentiments that I repeat, and repeat, and repeat but never know if they are making an impression on the kids. Today I am thankful for this little moment when I can hear my daughter repeating some of the important lessons I've tried to instill in her. Sure, it's just a game with play dough, but I choose to believe that her ability to spout them off so easily means they are in her head, ready to come out and be applied in another year, or five, or forty.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Have I Mentioned that I'm Raising My Dad?

I don't know who reads this blog, or if anyone reads this blog, but I'm going to assume you never had the pleasure of meeting my Dad.  My Dad was a loving dad and a super Grandpa. He was a good cook, really smart (in fact, he'd be the first to tell you that), and (he believed) never, ever wrong. I also never met a person in my life who liked to argue as much as he did. My Dad would argue with me just to see me get annoyed and wouldn't stop until he had proven his point.  Often his point was not even something he remotely believed in or even cared about, He just felt like arguing that point of view that day. On another day you would find him fighting vehemently to convince me of the opposing view.

Dad holding himself?
If I mentioned, for instance, that I liked rutabagas, or yellow balloons, or downhill skiing, he would spend the next hour proving to me WITHOUT A DOUBT that rutabagas (or yellow balloons, or downhill skiing) were the MAIN PROBLEM with this society. My preference for rutabagas were HURTING THE ECONOMY and LEAVING PEOPLE HOMELESS. He would cite examples of why this was true, he would quote statistics, and he WOULD.NOT.STOP. until I finally said something like, "Okay, Dad, I see your point. I won't touch a rutabaga/yellow balloon/downhill ski, ever, ever in my life."

Then, satisfied, he'd hand me a can of Diet Rite and we'd watch The People's Court.

That's Dad in a nutshell.

My Dad passed away when Ben was one year old. They didn't really get a chance to know each other, but as the years go on I am beginning to suspect that Ben IS my Dad.

Since Dad so loved to prove things, allow me to attempt to prove my "Ben is Dad" theory.

Exhibit A: One day when Ben was in the bathtub, at about 3 years old, I saw a bunny outside the window.  I pulled Ben out of the bath so he could see.  "Look at that bunny!" I said.  Ben replied, "I don't like that bunny. If I had a gun I'd shoot that bunny, dead." then looked at my face to see what kind of expression he had just caused me to have. I was, of course, shocked. Ben loved bunnies! But what does Ben love more than bunnies?  Being controversial and contrary.  I'm completely convinced that if he had the verbal skills at that time, he would have given me a lecture on the evils of bunnies in our society.

Never believes you when you tell him what time it is.
Exhibit B: This is way more than just one incident, this is an entire category I'm going to call, "Ben knows and you don't".  This includes the time I was trying to teach him how to count to 5 when he was two years old and he spent the whole day arguing that I was wrong, the number 4 didn't exist. "You count to 5 like dis! One, two, free, FIVE!" All day he argued this.  This also includes hundreds of inquiries about the time.  "What time is it?"  "8:00"  "NO!  It's 6:30!" And (my favorite, but not really) the "You don't know how to get where we're going" series.  In which Ben tells me randomly "You missed your turn!" (when I didn't) "You were supposed to turn LEFT!" (when I wasn't) and "This is the wrong road. You should be on a different road." (No).  Also: You're driving too fast, school is the other way, you should have stopped at that light, and many, many more.

Exhibit C: This is the last one I have time for today, but rest assured, there are many, many more. This happened yesterday. Ben came home with a behavior report from the bus driver. It says he is standing up on the bus and refusing to sit down. When I asked him about it the conversation went like this:  Me: Why aren't you listening on the bus? Him: I AM listening on the bus!  Me: The bus driver says you aren't. Him: The bus driver is lying. Me: No. The bus driver isn't lying. Him: Actually the bus driver has me confused with another kid because another kid was standing up on the bus. The bus driver is confused.  Me: The bus driver is not confused.  Now go to your room and think about this for awhile.

Looks sweet and innocent. Will relentlessly critique
 your driving skills
After an hour or so, just long enough that I seriously started to doubt whether this kid had a conscience, he came downstairs.  He told me he did stand up on the bus, and he just didn't want to sit down so he didn't. With tears glistening in his eyes, he said he was sorry for not listening. Also? I'm the best mommy in the whole, whole world and he loves me so, so, so much. Have I mentioned that my dad was also very charming?

Oh well, I was satisfied enough that if I had had one, I would have grabbed a Diet Rite for both of us and sat down with him to watch The People's Court.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Peaceful Solitude

A tiny sneak peek of one shot from our Christmas
card pic photo session.  Isn't he sweet?
The sun is streaming through the fingerprint-laden windows of our living room. I have set my timer for 15 minutes to relax. My legs are draped across the couch, and I am surrounded by paper to-do lists. My day has been full of tasks accomplished in 15 minute time chunks. So far I have done two loads of laundry, cleaned out the laundry room closet, cleaned out the hall closet, done mounds of dishes, taken out trash, cleaned the downstairs bathroom, sorted through what feels like hundreds of hats, mittens, scarves, and snow pants, and made some granola 'energy bites' for the kids' after school snack.

My counselor has advised me that one area I need to work on is taking more breaks. I move too fast, barrel ahead without taking time to consider what I've accomplished, and end up exhausted and frustrated instead of satisfied.

With her advice in mind, I use this relaxation break to do some free-writing for my blog. When I take this break, as with all my breaks today, I work on deep-breathing and drinking lots of sips of cold water. The relaxing is harder for me now. The quiet times fill my mind with memories that don't usually appear during my preferred go-go-go pace.

But learning to live and be okay in the quiet is something I'm working on. At times I realize I am even enjoying the solitude of my new life. I don't talk on the phone very much these days. Since Sue died I have dropped down the amount of "minutes" on my cellphone plan because I spend such little time talking.

It's okay, though. I am just busy learning to relax.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hidden Grief Landmines and Smoothies

strawberry-banana-smoothieIn the world of living through grief, there are hidden emotional triggers or "landmines" that can seemingly come out of nowhere. These landmines used to freak me out, because I would be going along, having a normal day when suddenly I was blindsided by something that would remind me of Sue and I'd be a crying basket case, sometimes even in public.  It is scary to walk around not knowing when the next bout of grief-triggered crying might hit.

The good news is that I have gotten used to them.  The bad news is that I still sometimes find myself crying in public.

Today I went to the gym and decided afterward to get a smoothie. Near my gym there is a smoothie place that Sue loved. She pretty much lived on those smoothies for most of the last year of her life. Anybody who regularly visited her knew what her order was at the smoothie place and would bring her one. It did not occur to me as I drove up to the smoothie place that I hadn't been there since Sue was alive and I was buying a smoothie for her.

I pulled up to the drive-thru and started to ponder my choices when I saw IT on the menu. The smoothie she would always order. Just as I noticed it, a tremendous wave of sadness for all I have lost washed over me. I can't order her smoothie and bring it to her, sit down and talk all about life. Her smoothie is there for other people to order, but she won't get one ever again. This realization felt devastating.

I started crying. It was uncontrollable. Just then the Smoothie Place Lady asked for my order. I choked out an order (not Sue's smoothie, I think that would have sent me further over the edge) and drove to the window.

That poor Smoothie Place Lady handed me my order and looked like she was really wrestling with what to do about the crying woman at the window. She ended up deciding not to say anything. I think it was the right choice.

I pulled into the parking lot and let myself cry. I used to feel scared and weird when I would have these grief episodes, but I am learning that it is just a normal byproduct of loving my sister so much. These days I am more able to have a grief incident and go on about my day. I can even have a pretty good day, like I did today. I am gaining peace about the grief process.

It doesn't make my heart stop wishing to be able to bring my sister her smoothie, though.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Honoring Sue at My Birthday Party: My Speech

This is the speech and song dedication I did at my birthday party. I think Sue would have loved it!

I want to thank Frank and Kate, for putting the party together, and Uncle Pete, for being our DJ. I love you guys and this is the coolest party!

I also want to thank you all so much for being here. As you all know, this has been a really hard year for me, and for my family. Life without my sister Sue has been so much harder than I ever imagined, and I've struggled with how to celebrate my birthday with it being the one year anniversary of losing her. I didn't know if I even should celebrate. But I know my sister, and know that she would be pissed if I didn't find a way to have fun on my 40th birthday. So we are going to party!

But first I want to tell you a Sue story. When I was 14 and Sue was 22 we decided, just for fun and to be “cool”, to make up a synchronized dance to a super hot song at the time, Paradise City, by Guns and Roses. As I recall, we spent probably a few weeks perfecting our routine in her bedroom at my dad's house.

A few months later we found ourselves at our mother's wedding. We were out on the dance floor, having a good time, when the first few notes of Paradise City rang out. We made eye contact with each other. We each gave a knowing nod. And that's all it took for us both to know what to do. Without any real forethought or effort, we were performing our routine just as we had so many nights in her bedroom.

As it often happens in these situations, there began to open up a circle of onlookers. We hadn't really prepared for this, as we had never actually imagined performing our dance in public.

We had no time to really feel self-conscious, though, because we were concentrating so much on our “moves”.

As soon as the song was over, we triumphantly strutted our awesome selves off the dance floor. Someone stopped us and said, “That was the cutest thing I've ever seen! I'm so glad we got it all on video! Hilarious!”

It suddenly dawned on us that everybody had been watching us. Somebody had videotaped us. The dance had not been meant for the public. What had we done!?!?!?!

We quickly made it our mission to never let anyone ever see that video, ever.

I spent the next five years hiding the video and then re-hiding it every time my mom would say, “what's my wedding video doing under this pile of old towels in the back of the closet?” I have no idea what became of the video. It may still be out there somewhere.

If I could remember the moves to the dance, I would surely teach you them tonight. But, sadly, I can only remember that we would go, 'take me down” (squat down) to paradise city, where the grass is green (hands out) and the girls are pretty, (point to self). I'm pretty sure there was also a lot of head-banging and air guitar involved.

So tonight, in loving memory of Sue, my super cool sister, my weird dance partner, and the one who would come up with these 'great ideas' that I would always later regret,, I would like to play Paradise City. I would love it if you would join me, and dance like you're a dorky 14 year old, or a dorky 22 year old who really should know better! I promise nobody will videotape you!