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Archive for December, 2009

As you may have guessed, I haven’t quit the blog. I talked things over with Meg, admitted how I felt like a schmuck for broadcasting my departure only to immediately start posting again, and decided I’d rather be a schmuck with a blog than a schmuck without a blog.

Writing is how I process things. Well, writing and therapy are how I process things, and let me tell you the two have gone a long way in keeping me from devouring an entire bag of Chex Mix in one sitting. Now I only eat half a bag at a time, and while you may not consider that to be a significant accomplishment, it is progress nonetheless.

Maybe what’s really keeping me from eating all the Chex Mix is that I’m incredibly busy. I don’t think I’ve ever been too busy to eat, but there have been moments lately when I just didn’t want to take the time to make a meal. But I did because the child needs to eat more than the other half of the bag of Chex Mix.

I kid.

So I’m busy just like everyone else, and that being said, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas because that’s what we celebrate in my house. And while I do have tons going on and plenty of blog fodder to see me into the New Year, this will have to be the last post of 2009.

I hope your holiday is a blessed one and I’ll see you in 2010.

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Mourning for a mother

I don’t know Shellie Ross, though at some point this year I started following her on Twitter and she followed me back. She posts under the handle “Military_Mom” and Monday evening she lost her two year-old son Bryson after he fell into the family’s swimming pool and drowned.

Shellie asked for prayers from her community on Twitter as she desperately hoped her son would survive and when he did not, Shellie later shared her grief with the same community by posting pictures of Bryson via Twitpic.

What happened next was baffling. People started questioning the validity of Shellie’s story. They wondered how a mother could possibly return to Twitter just hours after her child’s death. Some went so far as to prowl regional news outlets, searching for proof that Shellie’s story was true. They acted as watchdogs for the masses, urging the community to hold off on offering condolences or donations until the story could be confirmed.

If you’ve been following Shellie’s story on Twitter, you know it is unfortunately true and has erupted in a firestorm of nastiness from both her supporters and those now accusing Shellie of being a negligent parent.  Though I’m not proud of it, I jumped into the fray and posted an unfairly personal attack against one of her detractors, a woman who said Shellie’s presence on Twitter following Bryson’s death justified the questions people were asking.

Since I had been subscribed to this other woman’s blog and had been reading about her nasty divorce and the harassing blog comments from her brother-in-law and had watched the videos she posted of her ex husband arguing with her over custody of kitchen appliances and her lover finally proposing to her, the hypocrisy of her statement rubbed me the wrong way and I hit back.  I hit below the belt, and while I did apologize, my behavior is indicative of the behavior that has surrounded Shellie’s tragedy since it happened.

Whatever our opinions, we can’t forget there is a family in mourning. Instead of finalizing holiday plans, Shellie and her husband are now finalizing funeral arrangements. The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare and one no parent should have to endure just a week before Christmas.  Sometimes this virtual community we have created for ourselves makes it all too easy to forget there is an actual human being behind the avatar and user name.  We can’t see the grief, but it is there and it is unbearable. And while we can’t offer to hold the shaking body of the weeping mother, we can offer sympathy, kind words and understanding.

When my widowed father-in-law re-married just four months after my mother-in-law’s death, his behavior was incomprehensible. For a long time both my husband and I felt the hastiness to enter into another relationship so quickly was disrespectful to my mother-in-law’s memory and to her three sons who, it seemed, weren’t given much time to mourn their mother.  But until we experience a loss like that, we can’t know the right or wrong way to handle grief. Until we experience a loss like that, we can only guess how we would behave.  Unfortunately grief is indiscriminate and we will understand how it feels some day if we have not experienced it already.

Shellie was on Twitter only hours after her son’s death because that was her community, and for those of you who think online relationships aren’t real relationships, you obviously haven’t had the benefit of meeting some of these wonderful people in person.  There are real folks behind the avatars and user names and some of them are pretty fabulous.  As Shellie moves forward, I hope she can draw strength from those who know her best and ignore the voices of those who don’t.

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All I want for Christmas

A few days have passed and I have calmed down.  A lot. I really should not post when I’m emotional, but everyone else I know got tired of hearing me complain so I came here.

I was advised not to be too hard on my sister-in-law.  I wasn’t planning on being hard on her, but had I called her on the way home from the funeral like I initially wanted to, I probably would have said some things I shouldn’t have because I was SO EMOTIONAL.

I actually think my SIL is a great mom. Her kids are turning out to be decent humans. Or at least they’re always decent when we’re around, so I’m going to have to credit the parents for doing a bang-up job. And that will be my lead-in when I very politely ask my SIL to let me be the mother to my kid when the family gets together. It’s no doubt confusing to Autumn to have two mother-like figures trying to discipline her at the same time, one of whom IS her mother. Although Autumn never listens to me anyway, we don’t need to muddy the waters by allowing auntie to have that kind of control.

And maybe this is just me, but if I’m with a parent whose child is misbehaving, I expect the parent to handle it first and I try not to interfere.  Nathan will speak up if someone’s child is jumping off the furniture (not necessarily ours), fighting with a sibling or just acting like an idiot, but even in those instances, if the parents are there and they are competent, I don’t think adding another adult voice (which the child will tune out anyway) helps at all.  Life and death situations are, of course, a different story and I think every parent out there appreciates a little help with keeping our kids out of urgent care.

A few months ago I wrote about a public tantrum Autumn had during a quick stop to the grocery store. I did nothing to stop the tantrum. I actually laughed about it because it was so ridiculous.  Sometimes dropping everything to discipline a child is not an option, and it’s those times I find myself alone with Autumn mid-meltdown that I thank the Lord I’m not a single mother.  Taking Autumn to the grocery store is on my list of things I only do when I have to. She loves going to the store with me, but she’s not so good at the listening and most trips with her end in tears when I ultimately confine her to the cart for misbehaving.

You might handle things differently. You might have no problem with dropping everything and taking your kid out of the store during a tantrum. You might think a different voice, yours in particular, might help calm someone else’s child and offer the harried parent a welcome moment of relief.  You might be right.  I might be right.  Our parenting styles are as individual as our children, but we all at some point will find ourselves being tested by those children in public.  Our parenting styles will be put on display and we will be judged for what we are or aren’t doing.

But in most instances when your child has a meltdown in public, the first reaction from other parents is pity followed by relief that it’s happening to you and not them.

But if you’re like me and are the parent of a strong-willed little human not afraid of making a public spectacle of herself, you may start to wonder where all the other strong-willed little humans are hanging out these days because yours seems to be in a league of her own.

And if you are one of those parents, you may be wishing, as I am, to witness one furiously wicked tantrum from a child that is not your own.  Just one meltdown to assure your fragile parenting ego that you are, in fact, not doing everything wrong.

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Veruca

Yesterday it occurred to me Nathan and I are raising a Veruca Salt.

Autumn bowls in a pee wee league on Saturdays, and after every game she wants a toy out of the gum ball dispenser.  Yesterday she wanted a necklace, so Nathan put his 50 cents into the machine and handed over the plastic ball that encased her prize.  But when Autumn opened the ball she found out what she had was a bracelet and not the necklace she wanted.  She told Nathan she didn’t want it and threw it on the floor. So he got her what she wanted, some crappy fake bling hanging from a black plastic cord.

This is going to end now.

These past two days have been unbelievably bad. One tantrum after another, the last of which occurred at the church after Terrie’s funeral.  I actually had to remove my screaming child from the sanctuary and haul her outside into the freezing cold without a coat.  What made the situation worse was that Nathan’s sister-in-law cut me off.  She stepped in to stop the tantrum, leaving me even more incensed and feeling helpless and inadequate.  I don’t care how crappy a parent you think I am. I don’t care if you don’t agree with how I’m handling things or if you think you can do better. You do not get in between me and my child unless you are also that child’s parent. At  last count there was only one other person with the proper credentials and he thought his sister-in-law was “helping.”

Right now I am at my wits end. If I can’t get my kid to behave at a funeral, how am I supposed to get her behave at Target or the Secretary of State’s office (both sites of recent public tantrums)?  And what did we do to get to this point where our child thinks she’s entitled to anything and everything and throws fits if she doesn’t get it?  How much of this is the age and how much of it is her emerging Veruca?

Maybe part of it IS the age, but I know most of it has to do with how we spoil her and let others do so. Nathan and I discussed how Autumn needs a healthy dose of perspective. She can be told over and over again that there are many people out there who have much harder lives than we have, children who haven’t a fraction of the toys or love she has, but she’s never going to get it until she’s shown what it means to serve others instead of being served.

So we talked about looking into volunteer opportunities, something we could do as a family.  Right now I have no idea what that would be, but I think this whole family could use a healthy dose of perspective.  We also sat Autumn down and discussed her behavior this weekend and how disrespectful it was to her grandpa and everyone who loved Terrie for her to have a fit in the church.  I don’t know if any of it got through to her, so I said the next time she feels the need to make a public display of herself like she did today, she will be forced to pick one of her toys to donate to Goodwill. And if she doesn’t want to pick, I will be more than happy to pick for her.  Because right now I am fresh out of ideas.

And for those of you who are wondering.  Yes, did say I was quitting, I did say I wanted to keep my stories private and I even e-mailed a few of you saying I should probably stop writing so many stories about my child.

But sometimes a mother needs to vent, and for the past four years this is where I’ve come to do it.  Old habits die hard, I guess.

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Gone and yet not gone

While I said I had blogged my last here, something has happened that begs my return.

Nathan’s stepmother has passed away.  She had a massive heart attack on Thanksgiving and died at the hospital Wednesday evening.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you may know that Nathan’s mother died of kidney failure two and a half years ago.  His father was already seeing someone by Father’s Day. They announced their engagement in July and were married in September at a University of Michigan football game.

Nathan and I did not celebrate the marriage, mostly because it seemed his father was hell-bent on filling the hole his mother left in our family as quickly as possible.  In the weeks following her death, Nathan and I would visit and come away with more and more of her stuff.  His father would continually ask if we wanted this thing or that thing of hers and it just became too much.  We stopped visiting after the engagement and didn’t return until after Thanksgiving.

That first trip back was the hardest, especially since his father had succeeded in erasing all traces of Nathan’s mom from the house.  The house had been remodeled and nothing looked as it did when his mom lived there.  The kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and even the spare bedroom were all completely different. The only room that hadn’t been touched was, ironically, the master bedroom.

The first Christmas without Nathan’s mom was painful, even more so because the new wife was signing the tags on the gifts as “grandma.”  I looked at the tags in disbelief because surely someone would not be so insensitive as to assign herself the title of grandma when the family was still mourning the mother and grandma they had just lost.

That’s what really got us.  It felt as though we were being denied the opportunity to mourn.  His dad was intent on moving on as quickly as possible so that his grief wouldn’t overwhelm him and we were denied the chance to mourn with him.

After that Christmas I called up my father-in-law and told him what we thought of the tags.  He didn’t see a problem with it.  “Well what do you want us to call her,” he asked.

“We’ll call her Terrie,” I said, because that was her name.

We had a good, long talk and my father-in-law said that he felt Terrie would be a better grandma to Autumn than Nathan’s mom would have.  He didn’t elaborate on the statement, but I assumed it was because his mom’s health problems and numerous surgeries had left her so fragile.

The last time we saw Terrie was in August to celebrate the birthday of Nathan’s twin nephews.  The last time she and my father-in-law were at our house was on Autumn’s second birthday. I was never able to completely erase the resentment I felt towards her, resentment that was compounded every time I heard the twins call her “grandma.”

When Nathan called me from the hospital Wednesday night to tell me Terrie had passed, I felt an incredible amount if guilt.  I had never taken the time to get to know her.  I assumed I’d get more time to warm up to her, but nobody thought she would be gone after only two years, least of all Nathan’s dad.

The guilt has abated some as I mourn for my father-in-law.  He’s been left a widower twice in the past two and a half years.  Yesterday Nathan took off work to spend the day with him and came home with an overripe bunch of bananas.  His dad didn’t eat bananas, he said.  They were Terrie’s.

Terrie’s funeral is Sunday and I know exactly how painful this is for her family. The heart attack was unexpected, as they always are, and I’m sure none of them imagined they would be without their mother and grandmother this Christmas.

But as we do head into the holidays, I can’t help but think that our family will finally get the Christmas we should have had two years ago.  A Christmas where we deal with the loss instead of covering it up.  Instead of some of us feeling angry and betrayed, we can all feel the sadness of being left with a hole in our family yet again.

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