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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Journalists

Autumn does not know I’m a writer. I could tell her I’m a writer, but she wouldn’t know what to do with that information. I could tell her I like to tell stories and she’d probably respond by lighting up and begging me to tell her a story right then, one that involved a princess or a monster or both.

My father is a retired middle school science teacher. My mother currently works at a hardware store and spent most of my formative years working in a bank. Mom is the reader of the two, preferring biographies over anything else. My father spends his free time cataloging his extensive music collection and planning his annual trip out west. He keeps a journal during these trips, but the other 49 weeks of the year go undocumented.

Both of my grandmothers have kept diaries at one time or another, though from what my uncle says about Grandma D.’s diary (he peeked), she uses it to discuss everyone else’s transgressions. Recently Grandma D. gave my dad a journal my grandpa kept during his time in the army. This was during World War II and the journal was mainly a log of departures and arrivals, names of transport vessels and one brief mention of a young woman who kept him company during a furlough. There was very little mention of getting sick and spending over a year in a malaria camp in Australia. As my dad read the journal aloud to us, I couldn’t help but think it was a rather mundane account of an extraordinary time in my grandpa’s life.

A few days ago Autumn started carrying around a Post-It notepad and pen. She called it her notebook and I’d catch her scribbling in it from time to time. I told her she looked like a reporter. She had no idea what I was talking about.

“Do you want a real notebook?” I asked and presented her with one of the many little Springpad notebooks I brought back from BlogHer last year. She now writes in that and rips the pages out to give to me or Nathan. The most recent note was given to the dog and was lovingly placed on Molly’s pillow in the living room.

I had to take the notebook away from her last night. I found it in her bed along with her pen. “You need to sleep,” I said and placed the notebook and pen on her dresser. She was distraught but didn’t make any attempt to retrieve the notebook while I was in the room.

This morning the notebook was still on the dresser, but several pages had been ripped out and were strewn across Autumn’s floor and bed. I picked one up and observed the random grouping of letters she had scribbled on the page.

And finally it dawned on me that maybe I’m not the anomaly I thought I was after all.

We all tell our own stories in our own way.

Some people just tell them more often.

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Sunday was my father-in-law’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony and I’ve found myself already very fond of his new wife. I only just met her a few weeks ago but there’s something about her that says “grandma” to me.

I think this new wife is everything my father-in-law wanted wife #2 (Terrie) to be for us and for Autumn. She tried awfully hard but we could never get past her being the woman who was already spending nights with my father-in-law a month after my mother-in-law’s death.

Nathan and I never grew close to Terrie and because of that we never realized how much she meant to Autumn. Autumn doesn’t remember Nathan’s mom. To her, Terrie was the grandma she remembered and the one she lost to a heart attack last November.

Autumn’s feelings about Terrie’s death surfaced throughout the day on Sunday. She mentioned it a couple of times after the wedding, but it wasn’t until I put her to bed that night that she finally uncorked the bottle and let her emotions spill out.

She sobbed and said she missed Terrie and wished she hadn’t died. She didn’t want her grandma (my mom) to die,  she didn’t want to die herself and she cried for the grandma she never really knew. I held her close and tried to allay her fears, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the conversation. I explained that everyone dies sometime, some when they’re young and some when they’re old, but that we can’t go through life always worrying about losing people. We just have to enjoy the time we have with them.

The conversation left me feeling drained and I still don’t know if I handled it correctly. All I know is that she was grieving and seeing her grandpa marry someone new had obviously stirred up something for her. She processed a lot that day, from being in the wedding to meeting all her new cousins, that it’s no wonder she had a little freak-out. I’m actually impressed she held it all together as long as she did.

Someone told me these types of conversations will occur when you’re least prepared to handle them. She advised to figure out the answers beforehand so you’re not caught so off guard when they are asked. That would have been excellent advice to have received a week ago.

Have you ever had to tackle a tough subject with your very young children?  How did you handle it and is there anything you wish you had done differently?

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I spent some time today clearing out the drafts of my unpublished posts. Some were posts that had been published and retracted, some never made it past the first sentence while others were complete posts that just needed a good title.

I deleted most of the drafts today, republished some of the retracted posts and saved a few of the drafts to finish later. Of the stuff I did delete, I decided to save a few choice excerpts to publish here.

So here we go.

In the beginning I couldn’t get through a discussion without crying. Sometimes I would clean my face and remove all my makeup because I knew it was going to be bad. Other times I’d go in determined to keep myself together only to wind up a wreck when the conversation took an unexpected turn. But therapists can be sneaky like that.”

She became hysterical as Nathan and I stood there in shock. Every word was like knives being thrust into our hearts and yet we could do nothing more than stare dumbfounded as our child wept in the bathtub.

Finally I said, ‘Honey, I’ve told you before that we love you no matter how naughty you are. We’d never send you away to another family.’”

I miss working with men.”

I kept the worst mess of a bedroom throughout adolescence, and it was actually my husband’s willingness to clean that room for me that led to me falling in love with him. No one had ever offered to clean my bedroom before.”

To this day I have no idea why I chose the sombrero. It was huge, monstrous even, and there was absolutely no place to store the thing on our bus. It didn’t fit in the overhead bins and I wasn’t exactly going to wear it all the way home. I wound up shoving the thing under my seat, from whence it emerged dirty and misshapen.”

I smiled at her. ‘Yes, this is your song.’ Mama was so proud, not only because the girl had been shaking her thing to the likes of Al Green and Michael Jackson all evening, but it was the second time that night she recognized a piece of music from something she had seen weeks earlier. We had heard Leslie Gore sing ‘It’s My Party’ at the grocery store and Autumn asked me if it was the song from the ‘naughty kids.’ I didn’t know she was talking about until I recalled the song had played during the birthday party sequence of Problem Child, a movie we unwittingly exposed her to a couple of weeks ago.”

My husband has lately been yearning for an apocalypse or some other such catastrophic event that would put his survival skills to the test. I don’t know if it’s boredom or if he misses his X-Box 360, but he has said on a couple occasions recently how cool it would be to be in the middle of something like that. We’ve also been watching episodes of ‘Jericho’ through Netflix and I guess the whole post-apocalyptic lifestyle appeals to him. I found this a little disturbing, especially since these gun-toting, survivalist fantasies of his don’t take into account the well-being of his three year-old daughter.”

There are two kinds of fat women.”

So the New Year is now upon us and I am very much looking forward to it. I have a list of resolutions for the next twelve months. I don’t usually make a list because my goals are the same; lose weight, exercise more, yadda yaddda yadda. In fact as long as I’ve been able to put pen to paper I’ve only made a list of resolutions once and I was drunk at the time. I can’t recall if I ever stuck to what was on the list, but I can tell you it was pretty funny finding that list years later in the pocket of the coat I wore that night.”

And what about the tech? Back in 1988 mobile phones were a luxury and certainly not compact enough to conceal in your back pocket or stuff down your bra. Back then when the phone lines were cut they were CUT and your only way to communicate with the outside world was to toss a dead terrorist out the window and onto an unsuspecting police cruiser. But today? Today John McClane could simply borrow someone’s iPhone or Blackberry to stay connected to the outside world. And when he’s done dispatching terrorists he could consult Urban Spoon for suggestions on where to find a quality post-hostage crisis meal.”

As you can see, I’m all over the place with these, but I like to think they represent what this blog is all about. Life, humor, family, sadness and joy.

And, of course, Die Hard.

Do you care to share what’s in your slush pile? If so, leave a link to your post in the comments. Who knows? This could be fun.

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Narratives

On the drive home yesterday I found myself telling Autumn stories about when I was a kid. I don’t remember the particular story that started it all, but as each story ended she begged for another, forcing me to search the recesses of my memory for something interesting.

One of the stories I told was how my brother and I would walk to school together in all sorts of weather and how, sometimes, I’d forget the house key and have to go next door to our neighbor’s house to borrow the spare.

My neighbor’s oldest son, who was forced to walk me to school before I was forced to walk my brother to school, did not like me. He did not like me knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell since his father worked the graveyard shift and was often sleeping in the afternoon. I was scared of him and only asked for the key if the weather was really bad.  Otherwise my brother and I would sit on the porch and wait an hour for my father to come home.

As Autumn and I pulled into the driveway, she asked a question that has popped up frequently these past few weeks.

“When am I going to have brothers and sisters?”

I have come to hate this question. I hate it because no answer ever seems to be the right answer. If I had the right answer she’d stop asking the question, right? But no. She has asked and asked again for something Nathan and I will not be giving her. She has expressed her desire for siblings to us and to her teachers and the guilt I feel for denying her that can be crippling.

This time, however, I decided to push the guilt aside and answer the question as I would any other.

“We’ve talked about this, honey. Daddy and I are not bringing home any more babies. You aren’t going to have any brothers or sisters.”

“But why?” she asked.

So I told her what I had told her before, that her daddy and I just wanted a small family and it is and always will be just the three of us.

“But I want brothers and sisters,” she said.

We were parked in the garage by then, so I turned around to look at her. “Why?  Why do you want brothers and sisters?”

“Because I don’t want to be lonely,” she said.

There it was. The guilt. It was coming back and trying to rip out my heart.  I’m not unfamiliar with the woes of only children. I know they can feel isolated and alone, but we’re talking about my child here, the one who makes friends wherever she goes. I do not see the threat of loneliness looming in her future.

“I don’t think you have to worry about being lonely,” I said.

“But who will sit with me if I get locked out of the house?” she asked.

Ah. So that’s what it was. My story had sparked some separation anxiety, so I told her we’ll make sure there’s always someone around to welcome her home.

I don’t know if she heard the answers this time. The question will come up again, but nothing I do short of providing a sibling will keep my daughter from feeling like a have-not in a world full of haves. Everyone she knows has a brother or a sister, even her parents, and I know how much it hurts to be told you’re not going to get what you want.

Our reasons for having just one child are complicated and she’s not going to understand them until she’s an adult. Maybe she’ll never understand. Maybe our reasons will seem petty and selfish and she’ll end up resenting us. Who knows?

I tried to soften the blow of the finality of my answer by telling Autumn she can have as large a family as she wants when she grows up. Maybe that’s how it works anyway. Your parents’ family planning subconsciously affects your own.  I didn’t have the best relationship with my brother, especially in our teen years, and it’s usually our worst moments that come to mind when I think of what I’ll be sparing Autumn by not adding to our brood.

But as I think of all the “good” stories from my childhood that I told yesterday, almost every one of them included my brother. So I know exactly what she will be missing, too.

Hello, guilt.

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Serial matrimony

It’s official. My father-in-law is getting married.

Again.

Nathan broke the news the other night. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who learned something from the second marriage. FIL and the wife-to-be want the family to attend the wedding this time. So instead of getting married in a parking lot in Ann Arbor (FIL and Terrie got married during half time at a U of M game), they have wisely decided to involve more than just their tight circle of friends.

They have unwisely decided Autumn would make the perfect little flower girl. More power to them, I say. I have no doubt she’ll adore whatever dress they pick out for her, but I can’t wait to see what happens the first time someone tries to touch her hair. Won’t that be fun?

Mommy will be amused.

Also? Autumn + audience = trouble. Shenanigans will ensue.

I’m going to put on my serious hat for a moment and say I have mixed feelings about this marriage. I am happy for my FIL because obviously the guy cannot survive on his own. We have vowed to be nice and not keep our distance for months at a time like we did when he was married to Terrie. We’re actually amused at how quickly he’s moved on. Again.

But I guess that’s also the problem. This marriage has become a punchline. Everyone I’ve talked to about it has busted a gut because it’s just. so. funny. that my FIL would be marrying again so quickly.

At least he’ll have waited six months this time. Last time he only waited four.

It’s hard for me to take the relationship seriously when my FIL chooses marriage over dating. It seems like just another social activity to him. He could be widowed a hundred times over and he would always wind up living with a new woman within two months of the last one’s death.

And really, why get married? Shouldn’t two people past the age of 60 be able to fool around without feeling obligated to stand in front of an official and bind themselves together for eternity?

Obviously I’m making these statements never having lost a spouse, so I don’t know for sure what I would do if I were widowed. I think I know myself well enough to know I’d be okay on my own. I do know I’d be a wreck for a long while. I’d be a single mom with a headstrong daughter and I’d be lonely as hell. If I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with my kid now, I can’t imagine doing it all alone, but even then I also can’t imagine getting married again just to have someone take care of me.

Engagement Ring
Creative Commons License photo credit: dareppi

I’ll let you in on a little secret; my marriage to Nathan is his third. He was married and divorced twice by the time he was 25. I jokingly say he married the other two women because he hadn’t met me yet, but it’s true. They were completely wrong for him and he never should have married them in the first place. I didn’t know either of them but I know they were wrong for him because he’s completely right for me.

Nathan reaches out when I draw back. He bites his tongue when I speak out of turn. He’s judgmental when I am neutral and we both indulge in a shameful level of geekery we seldom come across in others.

So my standards are high and I don’t anticipate ever lowering them. And when I tell people our marriage is Nathan’s third, I never say it’s my first because that implies there’s more than one in the cards for me. But honestly, I think I’ve found the one and only man in the world willing to put up with my shit.

And I intend to keep him.

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Right on schedule

Nathan’s dad called Sunday night. Apparently Nathan left his dad a message to call and I guess the conversation went something like this:

Nathan: We need a fourth for bowling. Want to join?

FIL: Sorry, can’t. By the way, I’ve got a “special” friend.

Seeing as we just caught up with our episodes of “30 Rock”, I was going to make a joke about Japanese body pillows, but no, FIL is seeing an actual live human being. And to think I was going to be a smart ass and ask if the guy was married yet.

The woman in question is someone I don’t think I’ve ever met, though she is apparently already tied to the family. I think Nathan said she’s his dad’s cousin’s husband’s cousin’s widow or something like that. I’ve met her son before, a former NFL football player and seemingly nice guy with a pretty wife.

This time we couldn’t help but laugh. The call ended and both Nathan and I LOL’d it good. Now that we can see there’s an actual pattern in the way his dad hooks up with women, it doesn’t hurt this time like it did when he married Terrie. I don’t think Terrie’s sons will be laughing, though. They might not take the news as hard as we did two years ago, but I don’t think there will be laughter.

If my FIL’s marriage to Terrie taught me anything it’s that I can’t waste time being bitter. If he gets married again, so be it. We’ll embrace step-grandmommy #2 and hope she makes my FIL happy because he does deserve some happiness. The last time I talked to him I could tell the spark was gone from his voice.

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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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