Down the Rabbit Hole

June solstice? Already?! I nearly missed it. Seems I slipped into a hole a few months ago and one thing after another drove me deeper into the darkness. I wish I could say I had fun or that I lost weight or I won…anything. Nope. But I did learn a few things.

I confirmed that I’m not ready to die; I still have unfinished business and I still have some fight left in me. I learned that people cannot get rest in the hospital, laying in a bed or sitting in a chair watching your spouse lay in the bed. I validated the fact that after all these years I still love my husband and want to stay married even though he aggravates me more than once each day.

The biggest surprise came in understanding and accepting the fact that once in a while I need to put myself first instead of last. Okay, maybe more often than once in a while. It’s going to take me some time to create new habits. Awareness and acceptance are the first step.

On this longest day of the year, I see the light, and I’ve made my way up from the depths to the rabbit hole opening. I’m even putting my head out. Wave if you see me.

Re-Introduction

My eclectic group of friends have had their fill. “STOP!” one yelled at me on Facebook last week. So it’s time for me to return to my blog and speak anonymously for a while. Truth be told, I’ve missed writing in my blog. So why did I stop? It’s complicated.

One of my daughters gave up Facebook for about eight months because she felt her life was too boring and she couldn’t “compete” with all the exciting things her friends were doing and exotic places they were visiting. Eventually she and her husband bought a new house and she went on a work-sponsored trip to a foreign country, two exciting events that brought her back to posting. I had similar feelings. My four daughters have grown and are not the struggling adolescents they were when I first started this blog. All four are done with college (well, the last one will be in four months) and two are married with a third getting married in less than three months. The fourth is in a serious relationship that will likely lead to marriage as well. So the heavy lifting part of mothering is done. Well, I’d like to think that anyway. And my life as a parent had become boring, without drama, and I didn’t feel I had anything to share anymore.

I returned to my blog a few times in the last couple of years to write about the bullying I was experiencing in my (previous) job. It was a nightmare that elevated my blood pressure, caused me to gain a lot of weight, and brought on fitful nights of sleep. I knew if I stayed in the job it would kill me. Eventually I found another job and after a couple of months realized that manager was a bully too. I went silent, spending months trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I kept getting singled out on the job. Extreme soul-searching allowed me to right myself and know that I needed to respect myself as much as I showed respect to others. Just as I made that discovery and started to interview for yet another new job, my bully manager was replaced overnight with a very respectful, appreciative manager, the kind everyone wants and never gets. Pretty tough to blog about that without seeming to flaunt it. So I didn’t.

Last summer I felt a strong tug to return to blogging as the U.S. presidential campaign heated up but I just didn’t want to bring politics to my blog. My husband and I are on opposite sides politically so as the campaigns heated up, so did our discussions. I would have loved to write about my feelings but I was afraid I’d come off sounding like a left-wing lunatic when in actuality I’m a conservative centrist (yes, really).

In September I undertook a thirty-day eating plan called “Whole30” and I thought about sharing that journey. My oldest daughter was my “buddy” for the month and therefore it would have qualified as a topic for a blog about my four daughters, but I didn’t want this to turn into a dieting blog. So I squelched that idea. I am in the last days of finishing my second Whole30 and probably will share some of my life-altering lessons learned at some time in the future. But not now.

So what’s finally bringing me back to the blog? My four daughters. And my two grandchildren.

My oldest daughter is 31. She’s married and has a daughter who is 6 and a son who is 3. She teaches high school math. My second daughter is 29. She’s married and works as a medical radiology tech. My third daughter is 25 and finishing grad school and will be a veterinarian doctor at the end of the year. She’s getting married in April. And my youngest is 23 and will be done with her AA degree in May. She’s still deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.

These four daughters of mine are intelligent, compassionate, hard workers, independent, loyal, determined. They want good-paying jobs so they can own a home and raise a family and provide for themselves without relying on others. They want a good life for their children. And they want to be contributing members to the supportive communities in which they live.

We were all going along just fine until November 2015 when a candidate for president mocked a disabled reporter. There was a collective gasp among my four daughters. It got their attention. Soon they were watching the debates and two of my daughters even watched both of the summer conventions. They learned a lot about Benghazi. Three of them decided never to have a private email server and one admitted to already having one. And then Access Hollywood released a video in October 2016. My daughters could not believe a man of such stature could essentially get away with such disrespectful behavior. They turned to me for answers. I had none.

When my daughters were young, answers were easy to provide. I guess there’s a lot of truth in the old saying that with small kids there are small problems. Now that they are grown women, successful in their own ways, they have expectations of being treated respectfully and fairly. And they expect that others will be as well. Witnessing events unfold since the new administration landed in Washington, DC, my daughters are disappointed, frustrated, depressed. Each wants to know what she can do, one woman among four in a big, scary world. And the fact that I can’t immediately solve the problem or tell them what to do only adds to their disappointment. I’m grateful to have a relationship with each of my daughters and it warms my heart that they still come to me for answers. However, they need to form their own beliefs and philosophies. Even so, I welcome the opportunity to talk with them as we walk along life’s path at this moment in time. Maybe in the process I’ll find the answers I’m searching for.

And so, I’m returning to my blog where I can write about the changing world and how it is affecting my four daughters and me. A therapeutic exercise for me, perhaps a finding of common ground for you.

Standing By My Man

It’s no secret that my husband and I are on opposite sides politically. We met and fell in love before we knew that about each other. Shocking statement, I know. But it wasn’t a problem because we both did a lot of bi-partisan work and we each were well-versed in compromise, finding common ground, and negotiating. Besides, the political divide in our country was just a small one at the time. Our core philosophies were the same—work hard, do the right thing, treat each other as you want to be treated, watch out for the less fortunate, help others whenever you can.

I’m old enough to remember when Monica Lewinsky made the evening news, along with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and others. I remember the backlash Hilary received for standing by her man. I even joked at the time that it was a good thing they lived in a big house with more than one bedroom because that meant Bill had somewhere to sleep.

When Al and Tipper Gore divorced, I was caught by surprise. And I wondered, how is it they didn’t make it but Bill and Hillary have survived as a couple? Political ambitions trump all else? Or maybe having more than one bedroom really did make a difference?

These last few months have challenged my marriage in ways I never expected. At first, I laughed out loud and teased my husband. “Did you hear the latest?” I would ask with each breaking story about Donald Trump’s behavior or bold lie. My husband usually justified whatever it was by saying Trump was misunderstood or misinterpreted. But then the news media began playing videos. Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter, and the media ran video of him doing just that. Trump said he never opposed the Iraq war, and the media gleefully ran old video of Trump saying he opposed it. Trump claimed no one respected women more than he did. Access Hollywood video proved that a lie.

Over the course of this election, I’ve witnessed a shocking turn of personality in my husband. Ten years ago I married a man who valued women as equals, who supported my desire for a career, who would never consider saying a derogatory or defaming statement about anyone. And now he supports a man who has repeatedly verbally abused, bullied, and sexually assaulted women; a man who has ridiculed POWs; a man who has laughed at the grief of a fallen soldier’s parents.

Funny thing about life. The older you get, the more of life experience you have to draw from and sometimes, not always, you’re wiser as a result. Many years ago I was desperately trying to get my daughters and me safely away from their father. Abuse and violence were a daily occurrence and I just wanted to get us out alive. I swore I would never allow myself or my daughters to find themselves in that situation again. Divorce was welcome relief and it saved our lives.

Fast forward to present day, to the political climate we are in. Events of the summer caused me to no longer talk about the election with my husband. Not because I fear for the safety of my life, but because I fear for the preservation of his soul. He has been brainwashed to the point of believing it is okay to joke about a person’s disability, that locker room banter can include sexual assault language, and that there’s little need for truth. His delusional mind now believes he needs to go buy a gun because civil war is going to break out if Trump loses.

No, I do not fear for my safety in the same way I did in my first marriage. But I am concerned about how I’m going to get my husband to walk away from the ledge of the extreme Right and bring him back closer to center. He is lost and needs help. No other woman would have him now. I am his only hope for a nurse to restore him back to a world of respect and love of country. I’m standing by my man. And if our country is going to have a successful future, I pray other women will do the same with their husbands. Gently, lovingly let’s bring these brainwashed souls back into our hearts. Maybe in the process we can restore civility and lessen the political divide.

The Big Boy

As a parent, I found life frustrating and filled with a sense of powerlessness when I could not get my child to do something I wanted her to do. It might have been as simple as picking up toys before bed, or doing homework, or cleaning her room before company came for a visit. As my daughters got older, such challenges were more complicated. Coming home from a date on time. Going to school instead of skipping class. Attending church. I remember when I was growing up my dad used to tell me when I asked for his advice, “It doesn’t matter what I think because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. So is the fact that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I raised independent thinkers and doers. I like to think of them now as strong and successful women, because they are.

I’m learning that it’s an entirely different challenge when it’s my spouse who doesn’t want to do what I want. I lost the battle long ago about keeping the toilet seat down. I’m just thankful that he’s willing to put out more toilet paper when the old roll is gone. I wish I had won the battle about bringing in the garbage cans on pick-up day or emptying the dishwasher. Maybe I should have fought harder. I remember arguing once about something (can’t recall what exactly the something was) and my husband yelled, “Stop mothering me!” That stopped me cold in my tracks. I wasn’t mothering him, was I?

The learning moment I have right now is that my husband needs to change his way of eating or he’s going to die. Maybe not this month or next, but he’s going to die a lot earlier than he should if he keeps drinking five sugared sodas a day, eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and eating an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. My husband’s doctor says he has diabetes. My husband says the doctor is wrong. This is going on year four.

About three months ago my husband got a sore on his leg, just above his ankle. The sore is still there. This week a sore showed up on one of his arms looking just like the one on his leg. He wants me to pull some magical lotion out of the cupboard and heal him. “Go see the doctor,” I have told him countless times. He doesn’t like what the doctor has to say, so he won’t go.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to do a Whole30 eating plan for the month of September. I’ve been contemplating this for some time and a few things came together to make it the right moment for me to do this. He claimed he’d never heard of Whole30 (although I know that’s not true) and wanted to know what this was going to mean for his meals. After explaining the program and showing him the meal plan I put together, he came on board too. I was thrilled!

My husband has a lot of aches and pains. None of his clothes fit right anymore. His sleep schedule is a mess, and he’s tired all the time. We all know it’s the diabetes taking hold of his body but he won’t admit that. Following a meal plan for 30 days that will allow him to reset his body makes perfect sense. I want this for him. I want to see him free of pain and sleeping through the night. I want him to have energy to go out and do things with me. I want him to live a long life with me so we can grow old together, witnessing each other’s life to the end.

He didn’t even make it past Day 3. I caught him finishing up a bottle of sugared soda and a large bag of peanuts. I was so disappointed, and hurt. The plan I put in place for this month of Whole30 eating was the best offer he’s going to get from anyone to reset his eating habits. And he couldn’t do it. I love this man and yet, I have to wonder if he loves me. Obviously he doesn’t love himself enough to try to improve his life. I can’t mother him through this. I can’t force him to eat right. I can’t take the keys away from him to prevent him from going to the store and buying these snacks.

Remorse is sitting like a big stone in his stomach today and he says he promises to not cheat anymore. Does the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” apply to eating habits? Probably.

I’m not going to let this derail my plans. Maybe after 30 days there will be enough of a difference in me that he’ll be more willing to try it. If not, then he will suffer the continued deterioration of his body and an early death. And maybe after all is said and done I’ll feel good enough that I can go to Hawaii with some of the life insurance money. (I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

 

Challenge of the Ordinary

A few months ago I didn’t want to write. Everything that came to mind was a whine and I didn’t want to be that person. So I made a conscious effort to focus on living an ordinary life. It was an easy decision. Instead of fretting about how we would pay our bills that month, I walked in my backyard and took photos of my flowers. Rather than screaming in frustration from being overwhelmed, I sat on my deck and looked at the moon and stars. I thought my plan was working because life became a bore.

What I didn’t realize was that several issues were simmering and I was trying to ignore them by insisting on the ordinary, not the real. Instead of acknowledging my emotions and feelings, I was dismissing them. Had I known what I was doing (and I should have seen it), I would have changed course. Hindsight is perfect. Unfortunately, everything came crashing down this past weekend when something happened to cause hurt from nearly 40 years ago to rise to the surface. And when it did, it dragged a couple of my daughters along for the nasty ride. I’m still processing all that transpired so I’m not ready to write about the weekend’s events just yet. But I do need to acknowledge the overwhelming hurt so I can ease the pain in my heart and put myself back on my feet.

It’s always a surprise to me when something in the present day brutally tosses me back to the mid 1970s when both of my parents died. For as often as it has happened, you’d think it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. But it is because it’s always unexpected. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy doing the “good work” all the experts told me I needed to do to live a normal life. Evidently there’s a difference between normal and ordinary.

So even though I thought I had done all the hard work, apparently there’s a lot of hidden baggage I carry around from the past. Those forty years seem a lifetime ago. So long ago that in fact I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a child, to have parents. I’ve forgotten their voices, their laughs. Without photos I would have forgotten their faces. But I haven’t forgotten the hurt from some of the decisions that were made at the time by others that impacted my life and hurt caused by the way a couple of siblings treated me then and off and on for the last 40 years.

So much time has passed that sometimes my brain plays tricks on me and I wonder if it’s created a revised version of my life. It’s as if I was plopped into this world at the age of 16, the youngest sibling in a dysfunctional family that didn’t want the burden of another member. No parents to guide us. No adult to show me the way. Yet, I had received enough teaching and training that subconsciously kept me standing tall, capable of supreme independence, driven to survive. No matter how often or how hard I fell, instinctively I found my way to getting back on my feet. And even though I thought I had conquered each dragon, the ashes of feelings and emotions still had some warm embers, albeit buried deep.

Events of this past weekend stirred the fire. I managed to stay calm and talk to my daughters so they feel a little better but this new hurt left marks on them too and it’s going to take a long time before they can put it behind them. I’m not sure I will ever be able to let it go, knowing that I’ve carried this for a lifetime already. An expert would correctly label this a core hurt, which means my current anger and hurt latch on to and dredge up every single moment of hurt I’ve felt since becoming an orphan. How is that even possible? I’m a finite being but these feelings are infinite! I’m past the middle of my life, and I truly thought I was done with all this old hurt. “Fat and Sassy” had become my new motto. So why in the world do I have to go through this again?

It was a painful way to learn there is indeed a difference between living a normal life and living an ordinary life. Ordinary is much more challenging than I thought. It requires balance. It requires that I keep an eye on the real. It requires that I feel and experience emotions. Maybe the best I can do is strive for “my normal” and put ordinary back on the shelf.

Kate Needs (and gets) a Miracle

I started writing this blog and had gotten part way through writing exactly why my daughter Kate needed a miracle, when Kate called to tell me she got it! If it was so easy to get, it couldn’t have been a miracle, right? Wrong. It was a miracle because it wasn’t so easy to get.

Over the course of the last month or so, Kate has been opening up to me about the degree of stress she’s been dealing with for the last several months—no, make that years. I’ve been waiting a long time for her to initiate this discussion, so I’m glad she finally did. But at the same time, the fact that she’s finally talking underscores how desperate she has become to find a solution for each of the many problems she is dealing with.

The most pressing problem she is facing is the physical and mental health of her husband, John. Ever since John was about nine years old, he’s had major problems with his knees. He’s had several surgeries and each has brought him some relief from intense pain but only for a few months. Nearly all of his life he’s suffered extreme pain and has just learned to accept it. Oh, and take several doses of ibuprofen each day, which has now rotted his stomach. Essentially John needs to have his knee joints replaced. But he is only thirty years old and doctors and insurance companies don’t like to replace knee joints in someone so young.

About eighteen months ago, John was in so much pain that he couldn’t even walk. After several appointments with a specialist, John ended up back on the operating table. The doctor couldn’t see anything in an MRI and had no idea what he would find. Turns out, John’s ACL was nonexistent. It was completely gone. No idea where it went. So they stopped the surgery and made plans to build a new ACL from John’s hamstring. So a couple of months later, another surgery and an extremely painful and long recovery. Almost eight months later and he’s still not better. The specialist cannot explain why there continues to be so much pain, and John was handed a bottle of Percocet and told to deal with it. John’s been “dealing” with it far longer than anyone should have to and he’s become hopeless about the situation to the point that Kate and John’s family are concerned about his safety.

A little more than a month ago Kate called me to tell me they had put their house up for sale. It’s a small house, split level, sitting on about five acres about 15 minutes from the nearest small town. It only has two bedrooms but it’s a nice house and, being out in the middle of nowhere, there are no comparable properties. So it makes it difficult to sell. Kate told me that John had reached such a low point with despair that she didn’t feel they had any choice. They must sell the house and get into a smaller house with less upkeep and no stairs. Already at 30 John needs single-level living. I was surprised that there were houses without steps located in the middle of nowhere. They found one and put in an offer but lost out to a higher bidder. They found another and again lost out to a higher bidder. The third time was the charm and their offer was accepted. But their purchase agreement was contingent upon selling their current house. And that was the challenge. The seller was willing to hold their offer for about three weeks. We all started praying for a miracle.

Kate and John were lucky in that they had several showings for their house, but no one put in an offer. It was frustrating since so many houses were being sold just days after listing. Their house sat. And sat. And with each passing day, John grew more depressed and Kate grew more frustrated. About a week ago, John’s siblings and parents did a little intervention because they were scared John was so depressed he would be harmful to himself. It was all too much for Kate. So while John’s family was trying to counsel him, I was trying to support Kate and keep her thinking positively.

Two days ago Kate was in tears. She loves John and cannot stand to see him suffer. She feels the “world” is against her because all she wants to do is save her husband and her family and have a simple life. I want that for her too, but I am not in a financial position to help them. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent. All I could do was continue to pray. Yesterday morning Kate called to say one of her students had killed himself and their school was in mourning. It was the last straw for Kate and I could hear her emotions shutting down as we talked. She was tucking away her feelings under lock and key, putting herself into survival mode. She too was without hope that they would sell their house, even though there was one more showing scheduled for the inconvenient supper hour. It was a long day at school dealing with the tragedy and the last thing Kate and John felt like doing was taking their kids out to dinner.

I wasn’t with them, so I can’t speak to the mood. I can guess both parents were short on patience. If they talked, it would have been in short, clipped sentences. I can imagine both young kids had lots of energy and didn’t want to sit still and only ate half of their meal. The showing time had ended so they returned home and began their nightly ritual.

It was about that time that I found myself sitting at my computer, trying to deal with my own feelings of helplessness. I needed to write about it, to reassure myself that it isn’t my job to financially support my adult daughter and so I don’t need to take on any guilt or shame because I can’t. I needed to process my thoughts and start thinking about how to support Kate in the next steps, whatever those steps would be.

As I began to draft the story of Kate’s need for a miracle, she called. The couple who had scheduled the showing during the supper hour had put in an offer. It wasn’t the full amount that Kate and John wanted, but it was doable. Kate was ecstatic! As the parent, it was so good to hear emotion in Kate’s voice. I got off the phone and immediately said prayers of thanks.

An offer is just that, so the days ahead will be critical. I will continue to pray that all the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner and that everything goes smoothly. Kate sees this as the only way to save her husband’s life. I see the miracle of restoring hope and preserving a family.

This Year’s Christmas Miracle

I’m tired because the phone rang at one o’clock this morning. I was deep in sleep and for a moment had to think about what day it was, what time it was, where I knew my kids were supposed to be. In the dark, I reached for the phone and discovered it was my daughter Emily. When I had gone to bed, Emily had just gotten on a plane for the third leg of a long journey home from Grenada where she is a veterinarian student. She is halfway through her grad school program and today is her twenty-fourth birthday. She was so thrilled and relieved to be coming home. I knew her plane was supposed to land around midnight, so I was concerned when I heard her voice on the phone. She apologized for waking me up, then wanted to let me know she was home safe. She sounded happy, not something I was expecting from someone calling me in the wee hours of the morning. And then she said, “I wanted you to be the first to know.” Her long-time boyfriend had just proposed to her and they are engaged.

“Congratulations! I’m so happy for the two of you!” I said, with sincerity. He is a wonderful young man and I think the two of them will make a good life together. I promised to keep her secret until this afternoon, when she was able to share her news with all of her sisters and her dad when they gathered to celebrate her birthday.

It took me a while to fall back asleep, which is why I’m tired today. But this morning I woke up with the realization that after all the struggles Emily and I have gone through—the months of not talking to each other, the horrible things she said to me all through high school and college, threatening to sue me on more than one occasion—when the moment mattered to her, she wanted her mom to be the first one to know. It brought tears to my eyes.

As a mom, I’ve always tried to do the best job I could with whatever circumstances I was in at the moment. Some days were easy and joyful, other days—and there were many—were fraught with drama and worry. Sometimes I had to make decisions that I knew would not be warmly received by my four daughters. Sometimes I knew that saying the right thing would inevitably cause one of them to say horrible and mean things and shut the door on our relationship. But my guiding light was always how I would feel at the end of my day when I sat down in prayer and held myself accountable for my actions and thoughts. I followed that “spirit” as my “mother guide.” It was the one true thing I could place faith in. Getting Emily’s call last night, knowing she wanted me to be the first to know, was a reward I never imagined I would receive. I’m holding the moment in my heart as this year’s Christmas miracle. It’s a reminder to every parent: no matter the struggle, no matter how long the silence, don’t ever give up hope. If you worked hard and laid a good foundation, your child will return to your life on the other side of adolescence. You must believe. Always.