Monday, March 12, 2018

It finally happened...

Well, tonight it finally happened. I cried my eyes out.

Yesterday was one month that Dad's been gone. It's been a tough few years for him, as his health slowly started to decline. His knees weren't working as well as they should have and that just led in to so many more issues. I know it was hard for him. We all think we're superhuman and that we can just truck along forever. As our parents age, things don't work how they did before and we both find ourselves in new roles. Sometimes we think we're helping - "Here Dad, let me help you eat that." Then we have to stop ourselves, take a breath, and remember that the last thing your Dad, who used to be a strong, vibrant, self-sufficient man, wants to do is to be fed by his children. And you spend a lot of time wondering how it's fair and how life got to this point.

I'm glad that Dad and I got along so well. We had our disagreements, of course, but those were few and far between. He's been Superman my whole life, teaching me basketball, giving me opportunities to dance in another country, camping trips, showing me how to fix things. We used to write each other notes nearly every day I was in high school. I'd leave it in the kitchen for him to take before he went to work, and he'd leave me one to read before school. But most importantly, I loved the time he spent being a grandpa to my kids.

My kiddos adored him. He was there at the hospital at 8 a.m. the day my oldest was born. The baby didn't arrive until 6:30 p.m., but Dad was there waiting, checking in every half hour, driving me a little crazy I'll admit. But he was there and never left that waiting room until his grandson arrived. He was the first one up to meet his granddaughter, too. We went on so many fishing outings I couldn't even count, where he taught the kids how to string a pole and attach the hook and cast without hooking someone, which they almost did perfectly except for the one time my daughter hooked him in the chin! So many afternoons were spent on the pier or the edge of the bridge with a line dangling in the water. So many evening visits to each other's homes, for dinners or birthday celebrations or cook outs or pool time or shooting a bb gun out in the field. He was one of their heroes, and I loved watching them learn from each other.

Tonight, I lost it while watching the movie Trainwreck, which I rented solely because I thought it would be mindless humor that could just take me away for a little while from the seriousness of life. (Stop reading if you don't want spoilers) But part of the movie centers around Amy's dad going into a nursing home and then passing away. And I lost it.

At my kitchen island, after the kids had gone to sleep, I broke down and really cried.

I sat at the dinner table earlier tonight, my friends, staring at my handsome husband and realized that our family has had more dinners around the dining room table in the last two weeks than we did in the entire year last year. I felt guilty picking at my food because I'm not really hungry, but my hubs had cooked this beautiful meal. The reason I'm not hungry is because for the past year, I've spent most nights eating at 8 or 9 or 10 p.m. because I was up spending time with Dad, helping him eat, tucking him in, reading to him. I am trying to get used to eating at a normal time again.

I miss being there and doing that for him. When you're going through it, it's tough because you're split between work, family, and caretaking. You get overwhelmed. And then the day comes when you aren't caretaking anymore and you miss every moment of it.

I miss the very specific smile he had when his granddaughter shared a week's worth of corny jokes on Sundays. I miss how he'd reach for my hand and we'd sit there like that for hours quietly watching MASH or Golden Girls or the History Channel or the Travel Channel. I miss how he'd be totally quiet until we started reading to him, and then he'd perk up as we read about the Wild West and Native Americans and history, and start telling us facts about those stories. I miss how his clothes smelled like Tide, and his skin like Aveeno. I miss his daily phone calls to say "I love you." It was rare we went a day without talking to each other, not just the last year but for as long as I can remember. I miss hearing him say "Hello Allison P., the P stands for pretty." I miss the sarcastic remarks and the sideways glances when I annoyed him. I even miss the days that he was in a bad mood because life wasn't what he had anticipated. I just really, really miss my dad.

I also miss the wonderful men and women who were on his unit there, and who took care of him and befriended him.

I've been trying to keep busy. Funeral arrangements, then all the paperwork, then thank-you's and then more paperwork.Trying to make sure my son is doing okay, because he really, really misses his grandpa. He feels guilty he didn't go more often to visit, but he had such a hard time seeing his grandpa decline. How do I help him heal that hurt?  Checking in on my step-mom because I cannot imagine how hard this is for her. But even with all of it, there is still so much free time. I feel like there's hours at night I need to fill so I'm not thinking and remembering how much I miss him. I woke up Saturday wondering what I should bring him for lunch, only to remember I don't need to do that anymore. I'm finding it hard to remember I don't need to have my phone at my side 24/7, because the nursing home isn't going to call me now needing to update or Dad wanting to say hello. Sometimes I still almost dial the nursing home to check in on him and remember that's not necessary, either. This past Sunday felt like an eternity because I'd typically be running errands for whatever he needed - soda, snacks, lotion, soap, etc. - and then kicking back with him to watch some television. Instead, it was an entire day not having to even leave the house.

So tonight I ugly cried for the first time since he died. I wish I could say I feel some relief, but I don't. I don't know if it will ever get any easier. Maybe, like with Mom, you just kind of get used to it until it just becomes a part of life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Comic Book Heroes...

Growing up, I didn't appreciate comic books. I didn't read them, only because I never gave that genre a chance. There weren't a lot of movies then about comic book heroes, except for Batman, so my literary heroes were much different storybook characters. I wasn't interested in super powers or super strength, and at the time, I thought that's all those characters were about.

But much has changed since I was nine years old. The other day, I witnessed my daughter opening her eyes to a new world of heroes for the second time as we sat in a theatre watching Black Panther. The first was when Wonder Woman fought her way across a field in the midst of war. The movies have shattered the vision I had that superheroes are about magic and superpowers. These characters are not super because of their strength, but because of their intelligence and faith and courage. They're heroes because of their morals and beliefs.

It wasn't until I really started dating my husband that I started to come around to the idea of comic books. Iron Man was the first of the movies I really paid attention to, but once Captain America came out, I was hooked. I joke that Chris Evans is a gorgeous speciman of manliness (I mean, it's not joking, he really is), but the reason I fell in love with the character of Captain America is his belief in his country, and his willingness to stand up for what is right; to push for his dreams without letting anything stand in the way. He defies rejection and anyone telling him he isn't good enough, because he believes in himself.

(Wonder Woman and her awesome
best friend, who dreams of being
an astronaut someday!) 
Since then, we've been a Marvel and DC family. Yet, it wasn't until Wonder Woman that our daughter really came around to the idea of watching the movies with us. Then when Black Panther was nearing premiere time, she was begging us to see it. Her reason? Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. From the moment Shuri stepped onscreen, my daughter was hooked. A young, smart woman who was looked up to by men - including her brother - for her intelligence and creativity. She wasn't searching for love or being pursued for her looks - she was a woman, seen as equal, accepted by everyone around her, not looked down upon because of her intelligence, and ultimately a hero saving the life of her family and her brother along with other women. In turn, my daughter just adored T'Challa more because of his utter respect and admiration of the women in his life. (And, as my children are half Hispanic and have already encountered negativity about their heritage, this movie brought about ample opportunities for important discussion about race and pride and working together to build a stronger tomorrow.)

Watching her light up every time Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye were on screen reminded me of the sheer joy she had watching Wonder Woman for the first time. When Diana climbed up the ladder, knowing the danger ahead, willing to lay down her life for people she'd never even met because standing up was the right thing to do - well, I had tears in my eyes watching the kiddo watch the scene. 

(And let me just throw out there for the record that my daughter also thinks of the ladies from Hidden Figures as superheroes. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle MonĂ¡e might as well put on some capes because watching them portray women who changed the course of history is something my daughter will watch over and over again.)

There is so much access to everything these days for kids - YouTube, television on demand, Netflix - that sometimes as a parent I worry about who they will be looking up to when it comes to people on-screen. So as a mother, I want to thank the women and men who write, produce, portray, and all those who have a part in bringing to life the characters like T'Challa, Wonder Woman, Shuri, Okoye, Nakia, and NASA engineers and specialists like Hidden Figures, because you've paved a path not just for the inspiration of adults across the globe, but for the young women (and men) who have the opportunity to make the next generation better and stronger. 

My daughter said, after the movie, that she loved Shuri the most because her brain was beautiful. When it comes to movies, how can you ask for better inspiration than that for your children? Thank you to both Marvel and DC for telling our daughters that they matter, they are strong, and they are a part of the future.

Monday, February 26, 2018

How Lucky Are We...

My mom always said if you can find a handful of really great friends in life, consider yourself lucky. What I've learned since she this imparted wisdom is that you're even luckier when that circle continues to grow over the years; when those really great friends turn into family.

There are so many types of these friends, too. Like:
  • The ones who make you smile without saying a word.
  • The ones who show up at your door to hug you when you feel most alone.
  • The ones who send you random texts during the day with hilarious memes, to make you laugh.
  • The ones who are more excited for your good news than you are.
  • The ones who you don't see much, but would drop everything to help you out.
This list could go on and on. While we always know how blessed we are to be surrounded by these angels on earth, the past few weeks have been a reminder of the many ways people love each other. From meals to errands to calls to hugs to cards with messages I will hold onto forever, I'm reminded that every aspect of our lives is intertwined with some of the finest people to ever walk this earth. 

More importantly is a second lesson my mom imparted with the first: 

It's not just important to have good friends, but to be one. 

I have my faults and there's still much I need to work on in life, but I hope that I can be as good to these men and women as they have been to our family. Life is filled with joys and heartache, but both become better with the love of those we surround ourselves with.

What are some of the qualities you cherish in your friendships?



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Finding a new normal...

The smiles are finally starting to filter back in to our lives, but my heart is still quite sad.

One week ago, Dad took his last breath on this earth. While it seems odd to say, I feel so blessed to have been there with him in that moment, along with my younger brother and Dad's wife, and my husband. He was there when I came into the world and to hold his hand and tell him how much we loved him and how proud we were of him as he left us is a true gift, just as it was when we were there when Mom passed.

The next days were a whirlwind of planning, paperwork, making calls and answering them. Trying to make sure we remembered everything while worrying about Dad's wife and my two little kids who are completely devastated that their Grandpa is gone. It was different than when Mom passed because this time, it wasn't just grieving; I had a responsibility in the planning. It was wonderful to see friends and family we haven't seen in a long time, hear their stories about Dad, laugh at old jokes he used to tell. That eased a little bit of the sadness over the past week. I can't help but think how blessed we are at how many of our friends came through the wake, how many of our children's friends came through - we are surrounded by an entire community of beautiful, loving people.

Now everything is done, and I find myself with far too much free time. For the last year, I had a phone next to me 24/7 in case Dad wanted to talk or the nursing home had a question or a medical decision had to be made for him. Answering calls in the middle of the night, running over to the nursing home at odd hours, visiting every day or every other day (when we weren't sick with winter's lovely bugs) while I tried to keep life somewhat normal for the kids. (Thank God for having had some awesome help in our family here). Praying that Dad would get better or find peace, because no one wants to end their life unable to do everything they used to do. I don't regret a minute of it. I am so grateful that Dad trusted me to take care of him and make the tough calls, and even more grateful that he and I had many long conversations about his wishes in life and what he'd want if his health failed. He was a smart guy, always laying out exactly what he wanted.

Now the emptiness sets in. When I'd usually spend hours each week visiting, I'm here at home. And I really, really miss him. I miss the smiles he used to give me when I walked in, the jokes he used to tell; I miss the sidewards glances he'd shoot my way when I teased him. I miss hearing him say "I love you" or his laughter at my daughter's knock-knock jokes.

I was lucky in life. My Dad was human and had his faults, but he really was my Superman. I loved trading notes with him in the morning when living at home, sending each other sage advice for the day. I loved being his sidekick when Mom was sick, and helping to do whatever needed to be done for her. I loved talking to him every week and going fishing and the little surprises he'd stop by with once in awhile. Mostly, I love how much my kids loved him. He was there at the hospital at 8 a.m. when my son was born, even though I wasn't being induced until 9. He stayed all day long in that waiting room, just waiting to meet his new little fishing buddy. He did the same for my daughter. He took them to the beach, fishing, invited them over for ice cream sundaes. And while it could never be enough times, we spent more time together than many, I imagine. 

There are still things to take care of, no doubt, but I'm going to miss seeing his face so often and getting hugs and holding his hand, listening to Ray Stevens and Utah Phillips, watching him help get the fish off the line for the kids. It really is so incredible that we had the relationship we had. He was always there for me, even when we disagreed and even when we were upset with the other for whatever reason. He gave us an incredible life and I know I wouldn't be where I am without his love and support over the years. It makes it a little harder to be sad when I know that we spent every minute we could making the most of whatever time we had.

So if I'm a little slow to respond for awhile, please know I'm not ignoring you. I just need time to grieve, time to help my kiddos get past the biggest heartache of their young lives, time to learn how to fill the space that used to be taken up by our talks and visits and games. We'll find a new normal. But Dad will always be a part of that in our hearts.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Just One More...

Last night, I was heading to the basement to do a load of laundry because to be honest, I have about five loads sitting down there awaiting one of us to have time to do it. As I journeyed from the upper floor to the basement, my mind was racing with thoughts of how tired I am and how I just don't think I can handle one more thing that God tosses my way.

As I arrived in the laundry room, I saw the puddle of water. We have water in the basement. Not a lot, but enough to seep over to the carpet and ruin an area, as well as the bottom/back of the couch and some of the clothes that were sorted on the floor and awaiting their cleaning cycle. And as I looked at it, somehow I started laughing.

They say God doesn't give someone more than they can handle, and lately I'm wondering exactly how much that is. Dad's got pneumonia, not a good thing for anyone over seventy and definitely not good for someone with dementia. We're treating it and trying to keep him comfortable in the process, but my heart is always worried that the phone call is going to come where I need to get there right away. With my mom, I only had a job - where I wasn't a boss - and no other responsibilities. I could be there in the morning and the evening and all night. I could be there every day. Now, I have two kids and a husband, a job I love, and many other responsibilities. I'm trying to keep the kids' lives some semblance of normal amidst the chaos, and trying to be there for Dad as often and for as long as I can. But I feel guilty still that I'm not there with Dad all the time, and guilty that I'm missing some of the things the kids are doing because I'm with Dad. Combined with work, kid activities, school events, working odd shifts, and so on, coming down to the water was an unwelcome surprise.

So there I am, laughing at this puddle and feeling for a moment that ironically, God has heard my pleas to make me stronger so I can handle anything else added to my plate; to give me energy to do something with the basement so it's more fun for the kids when they hang out down there; to find joy amidst the chaos. And like always, God and the universe don't always answer our prayers how we want. But perhaps it's the way I need them to be answered. 

Staring at the mess to clean up, and noting the work and money that is going to have to go into the project, I should have been overwhelmed. I should have felt that rush of anxiety wash over me as I wondered what in the world we are going to do to fix this. Instead, I looked like a weirdo, laughing in my basement! 

Sometimes, I think these things are a blessing in disguise. I always joke that anytime we manage to save a little money, something breaks - but on the other hand, when stuff like this happens, we've always been lucky that we've been able to fix it because we had that little bit saved. Hubs and I haven't had much time together because we're running kids around or I'm with Dad or we're working odd shifts, and when we're home we're taking care of separate to-do lists in different rooms. We miss just talking to each other. Well, over the next week, we'll be spending plenty of time together cleaning up and reorganizing. Maybe it's not how we wanted to spend time together, but it's going to give us some time to just be in the same room and talk.

The point is, there are little blessings in everything and those are what we have to find when it seems like the world is too heavy to hold up. Hearing Dad's voice whisper "I love you." Being lucky to have an older brother who can fix ANYTHING who drew up plans at 1:30 a.m. for us to remedy the problem. Spending time with the hubs fixing a mini-flood. These are gifts that I would take for granted and not cherish if I didn't have the bad to put it in perspective. Even in the trying times, there are moments to appreciate.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Learning the Hard Lessons...

Monday was a tough day in our household, in regards to homework. And parenting. I don't like seeing my kids disappointed or hurt or anxious, but I also am a firm believer that as a parent, we cannot rush in and fix everything for them every time a tough situation occurs. Sometimes, of course, we need to step in. That goes without saying. But we also have to teach them how to grow and handle situations, even though it is hard on both parties. I always tell them I'm not going to call their college professor and ask for an extension on a paper - they need to learn coping skills now in organization, planning, and responsibility.

Maybe I've not done exactly what a parent should in the past.

Me: "Did you study?" 
Kid1: "No. Can I go outside instead?"
Me: "Sure. But you know X gets taken away if you bring home C or lower." 

Sometimes he studies. Sometimes he fails a test or to reach a grade he really wants. But it's those failures that have the most impact; that leaves him with a reminder of what he should have done better. Then, miraculously, he doesn't ask again to skip studying - he figures out how to allow time for both that and what he wants to do. It won't work for every kid. If I tried to do this with Kid2, she'd gladly go outside and play instead and then still ace the test because she has a photographic memory. Then she just gets cocky and says, "See mom? Told you I'd be fine." (Grumble.) But Kid1 learns better when the choices are his to make.

So when kid1, now 12-years-old, was rushing around in the morning, I wondered what exactly he was looking for. It was obvious he was bothered by something. 

Me: "Hey kiddo, what's going on?"
Kid1: "I can't find my jump drive, and it had my rough draft on it!"
Me: "Where did you leave it?" 
(Kid1 rolls his eyes in the EXACT same way I do when someone asks me that question - if I knew where I left it, I'd know where it was!)
Kid1: "I had it at school. The zipper on my pencil case was open, and some of my pens are missing, and my jump drive. And yes, I know, 7:32 on a school day is NOT the time to tell you about this, I should have been looking yesterday but I let myself get preoccupied with other things. The rough draft is due today. If I don't have it, it's really going to hurt my grade."

(Note: While he has As in all his other classes, he currently has a C in this particular class because of a poor test score despite good grades on homework - there is only one test so far this trimester. And he strives to be on the honor roll, so it hurts him when he doesn't succeed as he feels he should.)

Me: "Well, then you need to have a discussion with your teacher about what next steps you should take." Then, I have a moment of weakness and ask, "Do you want me to email her today?"

And just like that, the guilt fades as he utters the words I am happy to hear:

Kid1: "No mom. It's my project. It's my disorganization that got me here. I hope she'll let me redo it tonight, and I'll just sit down and get it done if I'm that lucky. It's my responsibility to handle and my consequence if I get points off. It'll be a good reminder next time to plan ahead and keep better track of my stuff."

I'm not claiming to be a parenting expert. I make plenty of mistakes. I give bad advice sometimes. I cave on the "you have to clean your room first" threat (daily?) more often than I care to admit. Sometimes there are tears from one or both of us. And sometimes I bail on responsibility to take a break and have fun (do as I say, not as I do, kids!) But, just for this morning, I feel as though I've gotten something right. If at 12 he can see his mistake, admit it, face the boss, plan out the next steps, and make it a learning experience, maybe letting him fail once in awhile isn't such a bad thing.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Letter to My Pre-Teen Son...

Dear son,

You're getting closer to being a teen, and I'm noticing a shift. Truth be told, I'm struggling with that shift. It's sort of like when I get that call that you made the All-Star team and we'll get to watch you play four more weeks of baseball but also lose any chance at vacation the last month of the summer - I'm half cheering for it, and half like, ohhhhhh, yayyyyy sarcastically.

But no matter what, I'm always rooting for you. I'll always be your obnoxiously loud #1 cheerleader in life, so embrace it and accept it and prepare for more!

I know sometimes you get embarrassed when I'm cheering so loudly for you at whatever sporting event you're taking part in. I had a good run of about eight years where it didn't phase you to have mom yelling how proud she is of you or telling you to move your hands up higher on the bat. Now we're at the stage where you let me do my cheering but once in awhile, slip in the side-eye to show me that you already know everything there is to know and you need no more guidance. I get it. I do. I've been there, thinking the same thing about my mom.

I walk down and you're playing video games with your friends, chatting away on the headphones. When I was a kid, we talked on a phone but today, I feel like I'm saving on phone bills because you'd much rather talk through a mouthpiece on your headphones. When I ask who you're playing against, you're like, "Mom, just Jimmy and Corey, and don't say hi to them!" I used to be cool but apparently, that's faded. I get it. I do. I've been there, asking the same thing of my mom.

I know I'm nagging you more and more now, but there's just so much more to nag about. It's not just brush your teeth and make your bed and do your homework; it's wear deodorant and please pack all your homework so you don't get a zero and no you cannot bring your phone to school. And sometimes you oblige my nagging and say "Yes, mom," and sometimes you just wait until I'm done and shut the bedroom door. I get it. I do. I've been there, tired of hearing my mom's voice nagging me to do the same things day after day.

I am sitting here on my laptop, tears falling from my eyes, because I remember being twelve and thinking that my mom just didn't understand; that I knew more than she did; that she was just out to drive me crazy. And I find some peace in remembering that despite all that, I loved her so fiercely even on the days I'd never tell her so. I know you love me. Even on the days when we're both a little harder to love. I get it. I do. I've been there, and you will be someday, too.

We're both going to stumble and we're both going to fail at things; that's just life. I've been a pre-teen but times are different (school research is easier - thank you internet) and growing up is different (and way scarier) today (also, thank you for that, internet). While you're doing your best growing up and I'm doing my best to stand by you and guide you, it's not going to be a perfectly paved road. There's going to be bumps and potholes and obstacles in the roadway but just like you're there saying "It's okay Mom, tomorrow will be better," when I have a rough day, I'll always have your back in life. I'll be there to help when you need it, and be there to celebrate your achievements.

Here's the thing: I take for granted all the little things in life, including you sometimes. When you were little, I was so excited for the next big phase of your life: walking, talking, little league, kindergarten, junior high. And it's cliche and it's been said before but time really does fly. I am still so excited for each new phase of your life but as a mom, I hope you can cut me a little slack because with every new phase in your life comes a moment where it hits me that you're not so little anymore. Every day you're a little more independent; every day, you're a little bit taller; every day, you're a little bit closer to a driver's license and graduation and a thousand other things that I am so, so excited about but also so, so not ready for.

So when I hug you for an extra couple seconds, it's not to embarrass you. It's because I'm trying to squeeze in every single possible hug before, in the blink of an eye, you're grown up and moved out and getting the side-eye from your own kids.

And whether you like it or not, I'm going to cheer louder than anyone else at your games, I'm going to say hi and get to know your friends, and I'm going to nag you to do your homework and clean your room and be a good human being. You may not love it now, but I know just like I did with my mom, you'll look back one day and hopefully never have any doubt of how incredibly much I love you and how proud I am of you.

Love you always,



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