Blind Steps Forward

In high school, I was a lost soul. Both of my parents had died and I was just blindly taking steps forward, trying to find my way to adulthood. Before my dad died, as he lay in a hospital bed, he asked me to promise that I would go to college, a specific college that he wanted me to attend, and that I would make something of my life. I promised.

By the grace of God I managed to get good enough grades in high school and get accepted to that college. I was so relieved! (How could I renege on my promise to my dad?) But it didn’t take long for me to realize I really didn’t have what it takes to follow the path I had set out on. So once again, I blindly took steps forward, swinging my arms wildly in the dark recesses of my brain, and hit upon the idea that I should follow my passion of writing and editing. I majored in Journalism and shortly after college I was hired as an editor of a respected publisher. I was launched.

Watching my daughter Brianna head off to college this week brought back some of these memories. Attending my high school class reunion earlier this summer had brought back others. Struggling to find answers about what is going on with my daughter Kate has also brought back memories, of the many times in my life when I found myself searching, for answers, for a path, for a destination.

In high school, everyone asks us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Funny thing is, at that age we think we are grown up. We know exactly what we want to do, and we plan to do it just as soon as all the adults in our lives get out of the way.

In college, some are lucky (or blessed) to know their path, never wander from it, and easily achieve the goal. Others, like me, enter college with one goal in mind, struggle, fall off the path, pick ourselves up again, find a new path and a new goal, and eventually reach the end.

For me, life’s plan was clearly laid out from the moment I was born. You go to grade school, then middle school, then high school, then college, then you get married, then you have kids, then you have your career, then you retire, then you die. Simple.

Not quite. It is a wonder to me that I managed to find my way all those times when I blindly moved forward in life. Indeed I fulfilled that promise made to my dad, but what would he say about the person I have grown into if he were alive today? Would he agree that my life and who I have become is what he had imagined?

A few months ago many of my high school classmates and I were expressing on Facebook how eager we were to go to our reunion and see each other. All of us have reached age 50+ and I suspect we are at another natural searching spot in our lives. Asking ourselves, did I achieve what I set out to do? Am I supposed to do something else with the 20+ good years I have left? I thought seeing old friends would help me to hit on some answers, and I suspect many of them felt the same way as I. As it turned out, I didn’t get any answers while attending our reunion. I walked away with only more questions. And I’m finding comfort in watching how the Facebook stream has grown quiet now that the reunion is past. I suspect many of my high school friends shared my experience and left our reunion without the answers they had hoped to get.

Recent drama-filled events with my daughter Kate have me wondering if she’s all that happy in her life. Is she searching for answers? She is married, graduated from college, completed her master’s degree, has two children, and is launched in her career. But is she satisfied? Is she rethinking her goals, her life’s destination? I’d like to ask her, but she’s still not talking to me.

Blindly walking, searching for answers. Such a scenario has been played out throughout time, by an infinite number of people. Even Moses wandered, for years, and with a whole community of people! The shepherd David asked countless times, what am I supposed to do? What do you want of me?

I have to admit, when I was Brianna’s age and Kate’s age, I thought ahead to where I would be when I was 50+. I imagined what my life would look like and I saw goals achieved and the satisfaction from having achieved them. I saw confidence and wisdom that can only be gained from life lived. Never did I expect to still be searching for answers. I didn’t anticipate being thrown off my career path and out of the game entirely from a Great Recession. I didn’t think I would still be taking so many blind steps forward, flailing my arms wildly about me, trying to hit on something I can grasp, something that will assist me toward my destination.

Now that I’m over 50, the reality is much different than all my imaginations as a youth. Instead of asking what I want be when I grow up, I find myself asking, who do I want to be?

With all four of my daughters well on their way in life, is it time to switch my Mom hat with a Consultant or Advisor hat? With my husband and I aging (faster and faster with each passing day), do I need to exchange my Young and Adventurous attitude with a Safe and Protecting Caregiver attitude? The truth is, I am growing tired of walking blind. I really want one of those hats that miners wear, the ones with a flashlight beam providing light in the darkness.

There is one interesting thread that has remained throughout the entire fabric of my life’s journey. As long as I can remember I have been writing words on paper. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that as long as I can form coherent thoughts in my brain and transmit words to paper through my fingers or my voice, I will be a writer. That is one hat I will wear until the very end. It sustains my breath each day. It gives me strength to stand as I blindly take steps forward. And no one can take that hat away from me.


Launch Day

For those parents who need to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, today I can tell you, there is.

Many of my posts have been about my trials and tribulations trying to parent Brianna through a tumultuous adolescence. So many days I wondered if I would survive until she reached “maturity”, however anyone wants to define it. Many nights I lay awake worrying about why I wasn’t getting through to her, why she kept making the worst choices.

Today she started college.

Three years ago, I wasn’t sure she would finish high school. Never in my thoughts did I think she was incapable. But always in my thoughts was the fact that she didn’t believe in herself. I had complete faith that if she ever found a way to a safe and healthy journey, then she would make better choices and accomplish great things. No matter how desperate I tried to lead her to a good path, she always had to take the less-traveled path, the bumpier road.

Four years ago, I had a conversation with Brianna in which I told her to write down the songs she wanted sung at her funeral. That got her attention, but only for a minute. On her worst days, I watched her get handcuffed and put in the back of a police car, I watched her get escorted into court, I dropped her off at MADD classes and STS locations. I’ve lost track of the number of therapists and psychologists we’ve seen. And I cried as I watched her shrink to 85 pounds.

I can’t point my finger at any one thing that finally connected with Brianna. No magic potion. No maturity pill, although I searched every pharmacy and health food store. I know I said a lot of words throughout her journey, some good, some I’m not very proud of. Can I offer words of wisdom to another parent just starting on an adolescent journey? Sorry, no magic words either.

When my second daughter entered adolescence, it created a great deal of havoc for our family. At the time, I went to church and talked with our pastor, searching for answers, wisdom. He prayed with me. And he told me that I had done the best I could as a mom and that I had laid a solid foundation. “Let her go, let her take her path, and have faith that she will come back to the foundation you’ve put down.” Those were tough words to accept, and I didn’t embrace them. But all these years later, they ring true. So if I have anything to offer, it’s that philosophy.

Brianna will celebrate her twenty-first birthday in about two weeks. She’s a late bloomer in terms of college, but she’s there because she chooses to be there. She was just as excited to start college today as she was to go to kindergarten all those many years ago. And I am just as proud of her today as I was then.

“You did good, kid. Now go take on the world.”


Parental Leave

I’ve taken off my Parent hat. I’m taking a leave of parenting. Call it a mental health break. Call it a time out. Call it whatever you want. I’m calling it a refusal to be emotionally abused.

Manipulating. Lying. Disrespecting. Game playing. Dishonoring. Two of my daughters have recently taken these behaviors to new heights. I’ve experienced this before with Emily many times, but not with Kate. This is all so uncharacteristic. I feel like I need to call an exorcist.

My last blog post gave the sordid details about the event that was the catalyst, but I cannot help but think, now after more than two weeks of the silent treatment, that the spark occurred much earlier, in some event or happenstance that I may never know all the truth about. For Kate to carry this uncharacteristic behavior so far and for so long, something had to have happened that she is trying to hide. And since Kate never behaves like this, and because I have an active imagination (already established many times over), I figure that “something” had to be really huge. Why else would she go on and on with this behavior, days, weeks after sobering up?

It takes a lot of energy to stay angry at a person. It takes a lot of energy to keep a running game of manipulation and deception. Where does Kate, a working mom of two small children, find the energy and the time? Where does Emily, now ensconced back in grad school, find the brain power to scheme and deceive?

Rose and Brianna have been telling me that Kate’s issue is all about me not going to see her very often. Kate lives two hours away. It’s not like she’s across town and I can just pop in on my way to some store. But those two were insistent, so last Saturday I swallowed my pride and sent Kate an email offering to come spend Sunday with her and help her get caught up on chores, just spend some time together. Not surprisingly, she replied that she had all of her chores done and there wasn’t anything to do. But, she added, I was welcome to visit and they would be home all day. It was the first communication we had had in two weeks. She was telling me she didn’t need me, but that was part of the whole screaming fit Kate had performed for us on that dreaded night of Mom’s Weekend. She didn’t need me, but I’d better come anyway.

Well, that pretty much put me between a rock and a hard place so early Sunday morning I headed for Kate’s. When I arrived, I knocked on the door before opening it. Kate was standing in the kitchen. She didn’t say hi, didn’t greet me at all. Just spoke to her daughter, telling Eve who was at the door. Kate’s husband said hello, then Eve and I chatted for a bit, and then I made my way in to the kitchen to say hello to my grandson, who was eating breakfast in his high chair. I tried several different first and second lines to get a conversation going with Kate, but she didn’t engage. If I asked a question, she answered with as few words as possible and then settled into silence. Kate’s husband seemed to be busy with chores, coming and going from the kitchen, not saying much. But he never says much. Kate continued to make breakfast and when it was ready she made a plate for her, her husband, and Eve and set each plate at the table. Kate sat down and began to eat, then casually told me there was more food if I wanted any. But there wasn’t a chair for me at the table and I wasn’t really hungry anyway. So I just stood and waited for them to finish. Then Eve and I went outside to play for a bit. Then we came back inside and played for a bit. Kate didn’t want to talk about anything. Not the weather. Not her job. Not books. Not the kids. After two and a half hours of trying to start a conversation, I gave up and left. Eve gave me a big hug and kiss. Kate didn’t even say good-bye.

I came home and reported to Rose and Brianna. They continue to be as confused as I am. At least Rose was kind enough to tell me that I’ve done everything anyone, including Kate, could expect of me.

I called my ex-husband a couple of nights ago and told him I’m taking off my Parent hat. I explained that I am not on guard duty and that he is going to have to hover solely on his own. It’s his watch. There was no doubt about my determination, no confusion about my words. He clearly understood the hovering duties are his. The fact that he told me Kate has been pulling away from him all summer only served to make me more nervous. His statement that Emily is jealous about how much time Brianna has been spending with him sounded just as weird as everything else about this whole effing mess.

What will tomorrow bring or next week or three weeks later when my grandson celebrates his first birthday and Kate celebrates her 29th? I have no idea. I may not even get an invitation to the party.

But I do know, since all this drama is going to kill me, that I need to take off my parent hat for a breather. I don’t know for how long or how successful I will be at non-parenting. I’m going to take it one day at a time. And today, I’m on leave.

Dissecting Drama

In the absence of knowns, it’s natural to fill the void with imaginations. I’ve gotten a lot of practice over the years, so my sense of imagination is very well developed. With four daughters, drama is inevitable and with drama comes a lot of unknowns. It’s not always easy to understand the reason for the drama and often challenging to comprehend the accompanying hurt feelings. And when that is the case, I’m left with my imagination.

One week ago at this time I was in the final preparations for a weekend with all four of my daughters, something we had named “Mom’s Weekend.” It was borne from necessity, well, at least I believed that, since all of my daughters have such hectic lives and it’s becoming more and more difficult to get all four of them in the same room at the same time. I wasn’t able to arrange that last Christmas and so in January I told the girls we were going to have one weekend this summer and they could pick whatever dates they wanted. I was surprised when Emily replied immediately that she had only one weekend open for the whole summer and it was the first weekend in August. Emily is attending grad school out of the country and is home only for a few weeks during the summer, so I really shouldn’t have been so surprised that she had only one weekend open. As it turned out, the other three girls could make that weekend work so we all saved the date. And it happened. And I found myself thinking this would be the start of a tradition. What fun we will have over the years!

Only the daughters came, no spouses or boyfriends, and that was their choice. Kate did bring her two children and I was so happy to have them here. We had a wonderful evening Friday and on Saturday we all went to the local beach. It was a gorgeous day and we brought a picnic lunch. All the girls and the grandkids had fun, but partway through the afternoon my instincts told me Kate had something on her mind. I asked her a couple of times if everything was okay and each time she said yes, things are fine. She did make one comment that she would have liked to come without the kids just so that she could have had a “real” break from life. I remember well the hectic pace and chaos being a mom with young children. And Kate’s comment reminded me of the times I had wished there was a way I could go away for a weekend and get a break.

After supper on Saturday, Kate and Emily insisted we needed dessert so they headed out to the store. There was a small disagreement about what they should buy and who was going to contribute money towards the dessert. But off they went. None of us gave any thought at the time about how odd it was that these two needed to go off by themselves, or about how insistent they were that we needed to have a special dessert. I saw it as an opportunity for Kate to be without kids for a half hour and was glad to see her go. When they returned, we divided up the treats and chatted away the rest of the evening.

About nine or so some margaritas were made and some beers opened. Close to midnight I decided I was just too tired to stay awake anymore and said my good-nights, and was met with a loud scolding from Kate. She was not happy that I was going to bed so early. It was uncharacteristic of her to argue with me about whether I was tired or not, but I was just too tired to be all that concerned about her attitude. Besides, she already had had a couple of drinks. I attributed her stubbornness to the alcohol.

My husband woke me up about 1:30, telling me he wanted to go to bed but the girls were still partying on the deck and were being too loud. It didn’t take me long to discover he was right. They were being too loud. He crawled into bed as I crawled out and headed out to the deck. I repeated my husband’s words and told the girls it was late and to go to bed. Kate blew. It’s not like her to behave like that, so I just stood, motionless, speechless, half asleep, trying to figure out what was going on. Why would she blow up? Ah, yes, alcohol. And when I dared to mention they all had had enough to drink, Kate was even more furious. I took a quick assessment of Kate’s very uncharacteristic behavior. She was not slurring her words. She was not having trouble standing. In fact, she seemed very much in control of herself and her words. Except Kate doesn’t talk to me like that. I was called horrible names. I was told I don’t care. She accused me of being disrespectful to her and her sisters. She even declared I had not been there for her when she had needed me. My mind raced in confusion, trying to land on a piece of sanity so that I could get a strong foundation under me. But it wasn’t happening. Everything she said and did made no sense at all. So I decided to retreat to the kitchen and give us both some time to calm down.

I was in the kitchen alone for some time and cleaned up all the mess and washed a sink full of dishes. Just me and my thoughts. I could not make a bit of sense out of the words Kate had thrown at me. I do care. I have been there for her. I always treat her with respect. I hurt. My mind ached. I just wanted the nightmare to end so I could go back to sleep. By this time no one else had moved from the deck and the noise had grown even louder. So I headed back outside to begin cleaning up the mess out there, thinking that would send them all to bed.

In a matter of about one minute, maybe two, Kate was in my face, as if she wanted to take me down. If you knew Kate, you’d be totally blown away that she had done this. And I was. I decided it would be best if I just returned inside the house, but Kate followed me. Once inside she continued to yell and threw a drinking glass, shattering it on the floor. That brought everyone inside. Rose and Brianna had the same look of confusion on their faces as I had on mine. And looking back on it now, I don’t remember Emily ever coming in the house. In my mind’s eye, I cannot place her in the kitchen in that moment. It was chaos and danger. Rose and Brianna helped me clean up the broken glass. Kate disappeared, and I felt somewhat relieved that she had finally gone to bed.

But I was wrong. A few minutes later both Kate and Emily were hustling around the house, gathering up their things as if they were going to leave. By now it was close to three in the morning. I don’t believe Kate or Emily were drunk, but they both had been drinking. It was quickly apparent to us all that Kate and Emily were packing up their cars to leave, and Rose and I begged them to reconsider. “You’ve been drinking. Do not get in your car.” They didn’t respond. Neither Kate nor Emily would look at us or acknowledge that we were even present. And then I realized Brianna was also packing up and preparing to leave. And Rose realized that about the same time I did. She followed Kate and Emily as they carried things out to their cars. I hounded Brianna, asking her exactly what was going on. “I don’t know, Mom. I’m confused,” she told me. I asked her, “Why are you leaving?” Brianna stopped and looked at me. “I don’t know, Mom. I’m being told really bad things and being told I need to get out of this house immediately.” I argued with Brianna. “That doesn’t make any sense. You’re safe here. Why would you leave? You’ve been drinking. Do not get in the car.” My words fell on deaf ears. All.

I watched with horror as both of Kate’s kids were yanked out of their beds and placed in the car. Rose cried, standing in the driveway, trying to persuade the three of them to stay. Kate drove away in her car with her two kids in the back seat and Brianna riding in the front. Emily led the way in her own car. In the end, only Rose and I were left, wondering, filling in the void with our imaginations.

I never did get to sleep that night. My husband slept for about two hours. Rose and I talked as the sun rose, going through each moment of the entire weekend, trying to dissect every action, every word, looking for answers. None were found. About eight or so, I received a text message from Brianna with a few facts. When they had left our house, they had traveled about a half hour to land at Emily’s house. Except along the way they stopped at a gas station because Kate had a flat tire, and Kate’s four-year-old needed to use the bathroom, and Kate threw up. Despite all those things they had made their way to Emily’s house. And now Brianna was sober and wondering how in the world she had been persuaded to come there. She didn’t want to be there. Since Emily had planned to be at our house all weekend she had no food. And both she and Kate were taking turns getting sick in the one bathroom in Emily’s place. Brianna didn’t understand why it wasn’t safe for her at home. And she felt trapped without a car. She asked Kate and Emily to bring her back home but they refused. They told her she could never come back home again, it wasn’t safe.

After a couple of text messages, Emily gave up and called me. It was easier to communicate with spoken words. She was tired, confused, angry. Would I please come and pick her up? I took my time to think it over. Rose and I debated it a hundred different ways. In the end, we both agreed that Brianna had been played. On a good day Brianna struggles with anxiety and Rose and I believed the other two girls had manipulated Brianna. How or why we didn’t know. But we believed Brianna was an innocent participant.

Rose fell asleep as I headed out to get Brianna. And when I did pick her up, Brianna looked horrible. Every emotion she was feeling shown on her face. Her body language was screaming loudly but not a word was coming from her mouth. We rode in silence until we were nearly back home, then Brianna apologized. She didn’t know why she had gone with her two sisters. She couldn’t explain why they had bolted in the middle of the night. And she was coming to terms with the fact that she had blindly followed her two sisters into a path of dangerous actions.

It took me a couple of days to reign in my hurt and anger, but eventually I reached out to Kate via email asking her to help me understand why she had felt the need to leave my house in the middle of the night, taking with her two kids, and driving after she had been drinking. Kate answered back with more hurtful words, more accusations, and told me she would not be coming to my house ever again. I ended the conversation.

Rose and Brianna remain as confused as I am, and neither of them have any desire to reach out to the other two. Rose and Brianna are hurt and angry and feel they were treated with just as much disrespect as I was. My husband and I have talked it through so much that there is no combination we haven’t considered in our imagining. There are no answers. There are only unknowns.

Kate and Emily do not do drugs. They are not big drinkers. What caused a switch to flip in Kate’s mind, to the point that she felt in such danger that she risked her life and that of her kids to leave my home in the middle of the night, to drive her car even though she had had a few drinks? Is there something in Kate’s life that is placing her under a tremendous strain or stress? Is her marriage solid? Will time heal my wounds? Will time temper Kate’s feelings, enough so that she will be able to talk with me? Will I ever see my grandkids again?

As for Emily, if she had pulled this off all by herself I would have chalked it up to her severe hatred of me. I thought I had made progress with her in that regard while she had spent her first term at grad school, out of the country. Our communications had improved and she was finally talking to me without an entitlement attitude. I had come to the decision that she was finally maturing. But all that progress has been erased. Today I am convinced Emily and I will never have a sincere relationship. I don’t know that I will ever be able to trust Emily or the words that come out of her mouth.

And I will never again try to bring all four of my daughters together. If it happens spontaneously, then so be it. If it happens on their terms, so be it. But it won’t happen in my house. And wherever it happens, if I happen to be present, I will have an escape plan in place.

For now, I am trying to come to terms with the overwhelming grief I feel, the sadness and anger and hurt.

I love my daughters. Unfortunately, not all of them love me. It’s a very difficult truth to accept.