Letting Go…

It’s almost comical how little I actually produce of value these days. It used to be, that when I was working, really working for a salary and running a business, that I got more done in a day than most people do in 3. As a parent, I remind myself daily how valuable my presence is to my children but I too-often find myself searching for value in my life around my work, as I continue to search for meaningful employment.

We all move in cycles. Once, in my 20’s, I had the world at my feet! I knew that I was in love, that I wanted to be with this person for the rest of my life, have kids together, make a home…everything was a rainbow of colors everyday. We had the house, the dogs, the two kids, were starting a business together, and then “poof,” it disappeared…

Years later, My life is great, and luckily I never did collapse from that fall, but I did change. I had to re-group, re-define, and try to understand who I was as a person when not with this other person. And, I needed to learn how to be a mom without the same family unit- the other parent who wished this child/children, into this world.

With many LGBT couples, the idea of having a child, whether biologically or not, adopting, fostering, whatever the case, it is a conscious choice. For me and my then partner, it was one that we planned for 6 years. It had much fore-thought, and it was very quickly successful both in the getting pregnant and birthing process once we fully committed. Almost 7 years into being a mom, which then included a 3 and a 6 year-old, I was not planning to be a single parent.  I had also not planned to see my kids only half of their lives! That idea, once it sunk in, broke my heart. 18 years later, and having lived through that time, I am a changed mother.

There are many events that I’ve missed and  don’t even know about, that my kids did with their other mom and her friends and family. There are boo-boos, fears, crushes,  friends, clothes, outings, and special meals I’ve missed. There are relatives I’ve never met, and artwork they’ve made that I’ve never known, pictures and videos that I’ve seen but not been there for… It makes up half of their beings.

Almost all of the friends I knew in my 30’s as young lesbian couples, either with young kids or trying to have kids, are now divorced. They see their kids 3 or 4 days a week, split weekends and holidays, and have either a harmonious relationship with their ex. or a completely rancorous one, and sometimes even the known is unpredictable. The toll that it takes on the kids is unknowable, but it can sometimes come out in behaviors towards parents or siblings, or trouble at school, poor eating habits or obsessiveness with technology, TV, or anything! As a parent, it’s crazy-making because you can never have consistency. It’s a new norm, this consistent lack of consistency, and it doesn’t lend itself to consistent parenting. For those of you who either are going through this now or have gone through this with an ex, you know what I mean.

It’s becoming the norm in our society to ask our friends, “do you have your kids this weekend?” When did that become commonplace?

Yes, well we have our kids EVERY weekend. We can’t always plan ahead, and our lives are ruled by game schedules every day, not just monday thru wed.

No, we do not have any privacy. Our now 13 year-old stays up past our bedtime. She’s entered the Twilight zone and will be there a good 8-10 more years, staying up into the wee hours and then sleeping as late as possible. One good thing that’s happened this year, is that we can now leave the 2 littles with her at home and go out for a short time at night without worrying too much. They fight but it hasn’t come to punches yet!

This week I’m feeling like a mother duck whose ducklings have all wandered off. I’m searching in my mind to pinpoint all of their locations, reassuring myself that they are fine, wherever they are. My oldest is off in a mid-western state and calls me once a week. My next, college student daughter is working at a camp in the Berkshires this summer. My middle child, is at a soccer tournament with her team minus either parent and away from home for the first time on a multi-night trip. She’s making grown-up choices and experiencing new worlds.

I thought I’d be home with my both of my 10 year-olds tonight, but after attending my nephew’s graduation and birthday party, my son jumped for joy at a chance for a few days of individual attention with her Aunty and family. Meanwhile my wife is representing us at her nephew’s wedding and staying over with a relative. Tomorrow, we leave early to take our “little, little girl,” to her first week at sleep-away camp!

So what’s this all about anyway?

It’s about reminding myself to enjoy my life while it’s happening. Back when my “first” family fell apart, I was mourning the loss of my everyday connection to my children. I eventually reconciled with it, but I was acutely aware everyday what the impact was on them as children. It shaped their lives, and it’s shaping all of my friends’ kids lives now. Early on in my present relationship, my wife and I grew to relish in our alone time when the kids were not there. It gave us an appreciation of how much a relationship needed to be nurtured and how as individuals, we needed our alone time as well. Guilt-free time, I suppose, when one knows that the kids are getting enough attention from someone else.

Now that we have three more, we see how important that time is still, and have always tried to build “date night” into our weeks, but we can also see that the time will soon be upon us when they are all grown and have moved on, only to arrive home on holidays.

Enjoy your kids. Before you know it they’ll be all grown and working it all out in therapy!

Modern Family Power Outages

I admit it, I’m a technology junkie. I’m just shy of a 12-step program for techno-geeks, but I haven’t hit bottom yet. This power outage due to our Halloween Eve snowstorm almost put me over the edge if it hadn’t been for a few bars left on my iphone. My computer is my sole  lifeline to the outside world 5 days a week at work plus the sporadic customers who wander into the showroom. One day last month I was so bored that I carried on a long-distant conversation with the Freight Quote guy who calls me periodically from somewhere in the mid-west!

Power went out on Saturday night at my house. I survived the night in the cold house, then proceeded to turn on (and then back off) the light switches in each room every time I entered, then cursed my forgetfulness that the electricity was out. I charged up my essential iphone using my 2 portable chargers, and ran out of my last drop of juice in the middle of the next night when my white noise app. abruptly shut off, startling me from my fitful sleep. It was a long, too-quiet rest-of-the-night for me! The lessons I learned from 2.5 days without electricity are: 1. I need to get a backup heat source in the house, 2. I need a gas-fired water heater, and 3. I have to buy several more battery backups for my electronics, not necessarily in that order.

Don’t get me wrong…I was able to deal with the primitive living. I took a cold shower, ate lukewarm leftover food heated on the gas stove, dressed in 10 layers of clothes, and played board games instead of watching TV. I was happy to see my kids enjoying themselves and not whining about the lack of TV and computers, and even heard a statement by my 12 year-old daughter who said “I like not having electricity,” and wished I’d gotten that on my iphone video, but I wouldn’t have had enough charge anyway.

I reminded her of that several times in the last 2 days since we’ve been back on the grid, but it seems like a distant memory to her. She’s back to her music, texting her friends on her phone, and has found her old friend The Sims3   computer game, much to her two mothers’ dismay! I don’t get it. I didn’t get it when my oldest daughter was hooked on the original Sims game and I’m in the dark now too. It never interested me to watch soap operas, and this just seems like the same thing except it’s electronic. Being on the outside peering in to virtual lives seems pointless to me, but maybe that’s because I have enough real drama in my life.

My wife and I debate the computer issue weekly, as I walk the fine line of defending some limited use while she teeters on the cliff, ready to throw the computers/TVs and phones to their gruesome death. As much as it bothers me to have my kids engaged in the computer to the point that they don’t hear me (my boy), or argue about getting off when time is up (again, same boy), or try to bargain for more usage or debate the fairness of time (youngest daughter who will be a lawyer someday), or my 12 year-old who is addicted to the Sims, I can justify their use with the many good things that one can get from technology. However, having to oversee that use every day usually falls to my wife, who can see no redeeming values in them when the frustration of negotiating said allotment of time slaps her in the face in loud and annoying ways.

My kids managed to live without power for 2 whole days. Now, with 3 days so far of no school, they can’t seem to live without it. It’s not like they don’t do other things…sports every season, instrument playing for everyone with daily practicing, homework, reading, church on Sundays, Boy Scouts for the son…but it’s now become such an integral part of their lives and mine, that they feel punished when they can’t partake of the activity. How to find balance…

Each generation of kids that are born have their crosses to bear. My parents grew up in the shadow of the depression, not remembering it vividly but seeing it daily in the habits of their parents. My grandparents saved their money well, made sure that their kids didn’t suffer as they had with food rations, power outages, fears of war or the lack of essentials including medicines and sometimes urgent surgeries. They knew what hardship was all about and carefully and deliberately imparted that to their kids. My generation, born in the 1960’s were very young and naive to most of what was happening around them as children. I neither suffered nor thought much about the ramifications of the Vietnam War, and was only mildly affected by the execution of 2 Kennedy’s and MLK, and I hardly remember that war except through stories and movies.

I grew up as a “normal” kid in a small town in MA in the 1960’s. I lived with my parents and 3 sisters in a middle-class home in a mostly middle-class town, with grandparents nearby and a few cousins not too far away. My two sets of grandparents visited often or we visited them in nearby Cranston, RI, where both of my parents grew up. It was an implied notion that family came first, hard work and volunteer work came next, then music and academic studies before “fun” began. I imagined that every kid lived their life as I did, or basically the same, with a few minor differences.

It wasn’t until I was around seven or eight that I realized that my mother’s parents were different. They were both deaf. My grandmother had gotten scarlet fever when she was 5 or so, and with hearing aids could hear dull sounds. She also had experienced sound before she became deaf, so she was able to speak much more clearly and appropriately for the setting, whatever it may be. My grandfather, who had contracted meningitis as a baby was profoundly deaf, and a sweet, loving gentle soul who I loved dearly. He spoke in a hoarse, loud, somewhat crude way, not as easily understood, nor accepted in most “polite” society. I witnessed the stares and giggling when I happened to be out in public with them although I think my grandparents were oblivious or didn’t care. For a child, and a sensitive one at that, it was embarrassing and made me feel like I was constantly looked at as one of the “different” ones.

A few years later, when I was around 10, I remember waiting for my parents for what felt like 4 hot hours with my sisters in the blue family station wagon at a hospital parking lot. I did not know that this day would be the beginning of a life that my family would now and forever after know as “living with M.S.” The sight of my father with a leg brace built into his big brown man-who-works-in-an-office shoe solidified that in stone.

From my 10 year-old self on, I began dreaming of another life for me and my family. I lay in my bed every night before I fell asleep and cried for the dad that I was losing. I prayed to the only “God” that I knew and asked him to help my dad and make him well. I day-dreamed about finding a magic ring and getting three wishes for anything I wanted. I never needed more than one wish- it was to have magic powers whenever I wore the ring. Subsequent wishes would remedy the loss or theft of the ring and render it powerless to do evil. I had it all worked out in my child mind…until I was forced to grow up quickly and take on roles that an adult should own, at 14 years old. I was no longer a sheltered child. I knew what was going on and nothing was hidden from me.

My dad had declined in 4 years from a leg brace to a cane, to 2 canes, then a walker, to a motorized cart and a strong assistant, to a wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, then primarily a bed. When I went off to college at 18, he had daily home health aids and required an assistant and a hydraulic lift to get in and out of his bed. My mother continued to work as a piano teacher out of our home and directed the choir at her church, but otherwise, she was his nurse full-time.

To adjust to the constant loss of physical function was a devastating transition for a once active, energetic man. He was forced to retire from his job as an electrical design engineer at Texas Instruments and was now isolated at home. Anger was an abundant emotion in all of our lives, and often observed and acted out, but rarely spoken of in honest terms. My dad was angry at his losses, and rightfully so, and my mother was angry at her loss of self and the tremendous gain/burden/death-do-you part sense of responsibility. For me-and I can’t speak for my sisters-I was angry most because my dad and I had a special bond that was now shattered. It revolved around the things that he loved most besides us, working on his Model A Ford, his Ben Franklin Clock business, and tinkering on inventions in our basement. He no longer was able to walk, and doing it on stairs was an impossible feat. Instead, I was his hands and eyes. I fixed things that he’d previously expertly fixed when they broke, I did all of the “man” chores in the yard and house, and I continued to fulfill the orders for his clock business until I had no parts left to make the clocks. All of our anger seeped out around the edges of just about every interaction we had with each other and was responsible for  shaping the person who I have become.

I feel very fortunate that my life has taken most of the twists and turns that it has. I’ve been able to meet the challenges that have been hurled at me and believe that I am a stronger and better person because of it. I would never wish a life of pain, emotional or physical on anyone, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. My kids do not know real hardship or challenges. They will think that they have it rough at times, and that their parents are too tough on them when they obviously disagree with our decisions, but they have had a pretty easy life so far. Isn’t that what all parents hope for?

Last night while watching the hilarious Modern Family TV show, the almost college-bound Haley was trying to write a college essay, but was having trouble with the question “what’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve ever had to overcome?” She couldn’t think of anything and went on to blame her parents for making her life too easy. Her mom, in response, took her for a drive to “show her something” that she felt her daughter “now needed to know.” In a clever ruse, she got her daughter to get out of the car to go and “read what’s carved on that tree,” and then left her 17 yr.old stranded on a deserted road with no cell phone or money so that she’d have something to write about! The show is a sitcom, so there wasn’t any scary outcome to worry about, but it managed to highlight this feeling that I’ve been having about my kids and their simple, uncomplicated lives filled with ease.

I just hope that someday, somehow, they will appreciate all that they’ve gotten in life and that some lessons will be learned. If growing up in a 2-mom home is their biggest challenge, then I hope the positive role modeling that they receive from all of the people who are important in their lives will enable them to become wonderful adults! So far I have 2 who have made it, three more to go!

Gumby Brains and Bumper Stickers

I realize, that at 51 years old, I am one of the “older” parents of my 3 younger kids crowd. I also will note that after doing this parenting thing for 22 years now, I sometimes feel like an “old” parent. I’ve experience the tumultuous adolescent girl years for 2 of my kids already, and while we’ve all managed to live through them, there were a good number of rough patches to mow through. Now, 7 & 10 years later, I’m doing it again and it feels a LOT harder this time!

Each of my kids are very different and although I know that each child has to go through his or her stages in their own time, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. I clearly remember the early days of parenting, reading through a plethora of books in my “supermom” effort to find the “expert” answers to all of my first child’s major hurdles. I eagerly employed my new knowledge of all of my child’s stages from “Your One-Year Old Child”, then “Your Two-Year Old”, etc., until I finally gave up or they ran out of books around age seven. By that point, I was armed with many great parenting tools and had moved onto “1,2,3, Magic,” much to my then 8-year-old daughter’s dismay. I will never forget her taking one look at the book and saying “You are not going to make me do that!” Apparently, the “magic” rumor had already circulated among her cohorts!

That same child is now living in Minnesota, taking a year off between college and grad school, so she’s in her “early 20’s” stage. She’s living the life of a young adult, rooming with several other college students in a college town, working at slightly more than minimum wage in a job that she will likely enjoy.

My next daughter is living it up in her second year at college, taking advantage of a wonderful education, playing on the ultimate frisbee team and enjoying her “college years” stage. She’s in no rush to hurry her stages along, which is great, and seems to be basking in the comfort and security that college life offers.

As a quick side note, I was the third of 4 girls in my family, all born within 5 years. My family’s photo albums were full of the 4 of us dressed in matching or complimentary attire, posed in a stair-step fashion of oldest to youngest. I ruined that tradition, when between 7th and 8th grade I sprouted about 5 inches and have towered over my sisters ever since. I remember that it was a pivotal year for me as I gained a much greater self-confidence about my body, liking the changes that being tall brought with it. When I was about 10 or 11, I overheard my mother saying to a friend, “there’s something special about a third child.” It made me feel special and I’ve held onto that feeling for a long time. Lately, I’ve started thinking that “special” meant a whole other thing! I was in a crazy time in my life, riddled with questions about sexuality, rebellious and wanting more independence, and resentful about the changes that were happening to my family. I’ve often wished she were alive so that I could ask her, “how did you make it through that time?”

So…meet my 3rd daughter who has hit seventh grade and is in that “tween” stage of caring about how she looks, what she wears as she attends school, goes to dances and plays on her soccer team. She now has access to most of what high-schoolers do since she is part of a small school that includes grades 7-12. While physically, she’s a tall girl and has an “older girl” look, emotionally she’s still 12 years old. Intellectually, she’s a very bright girl, does well in school, and has a promising future. Unfortunately, making good decisions and having common sense aren’t things that she will get naturally just by getting older…those things, as well as many more character traits, have to be learned.

To my friends, I’d call these the “lost years,” as she traverses the gap between an adolescent and an adult. She’s pretty much lost from us as she finds her way in the world of friends, the pressures of societal norms, exposure to the media and all of the messages she is bombarded with from music to fashion to boys, etc. She rarely responds loud enough for us to hear her, doesn’t like any overt displays of affection in public, and seizes any opportunity to criticize or tease her siblings about anything and everything!

To my wife, I call her a “gumby brain!” It doesn’t matter what I tell her I need her to do, she’ll forget it. Unless I threaten to take away her phone or computer, any requests are routinely “forgotten!” Gone are the days of outstretched arms when I come home with the big scream of “mommy’s home!” along with the cooking projects and fun trips to the park. Now, I have to knock and wait for her to get off her bed and unlock her door in order to not have to shout to her. I’ll admit it, I have texted her while in the house just to avoid that scene at her door. At least I get a response! When I ask if she wants to come to the park and ride her bike around with the other kids, I’m met with a shrug and a mumble of “not really.” I have the same requests every week for her to PLEASE PUT YOUR CLEAN CLOTHES AWAY AND YOUR DIRTY ONES IN THE HAMPER IF YOU WANT THEM WASHED! We rarely see her unless it’s feeding time, and I’ll spare you the details of the difficulty of getting her to go to bed at a reasonable hour and getting her up in the morning.

There seems to be nothing that we do or say that’s of interest to her unless it’s about her or her activities, and everything that she needs bought or cooked or completed for an assignment seems to always come at the 11th hour! And, a recent surge of text messaging (and hell yes, I look at my phone bill often to see her usage), has caused us to take her phone at night for charging in our room!

Now I know, that anyone else who is a parent or even those who aren’t, can identify with what I’m saying. Sure, this too will pass. It’s a stage and she’ll move through it. Soon she’ll enter the real high schooler stage where the true pressures of being a student athlete/band geek will set in. She’ll get a boyfriend(alas, we’ll be dealing with that for the first time!), she’ll start thinking about college, and then it starts over with our next girl(and boy, but he’s a whole other story)!

As for our 9 year-old, soon to be double-digit twins, they are imaginative, musical, and sporty kids who keep us hopping and the house humming with constant singing and instruments, yelling and chasing. Life is good for them. Not much to worry about, not going hungry, clean clothes, loving parents, and totally oblivious to most of what keeps their lives moving along.

Remember when you were a kid, and an adult would say “oh my goodness, you have grown so much since the last time I saw you!” People do that to my kids all the time. I do it myself frequently to other people’s kids who I haven’t seen in ages and am astonished that they’ve continued to grow and change when I wasn’t looking! As if somehow time would stand still. I do believe that change is good, and it’s a good thing I’m a Gemini because change is my middle name!

Yet, as we reach adulthood, and continue to evolve, to move from teenage years to young adult, we think we’re immortal and time seems to stand still for a while. That “baby face” that people told me I had at 22 hasn’t exactly hitched a ride into my 30’s, 40’s & now 50’s, and, the wrinkles that shocked me when I first noticed them in my 30’s, I can barely see without twisting my glasses on my face to see out of the reading part of my progressive lenses. And don’t even get me started on the random hairs that sprout from areas on my face that I can’t see without a bright light and magnifying mirror! Yet, no one comments on these stages we go through once we get past 30!

It’s no wonder that as we get older we forget things more. Yesterday when I was driving my 3 youngest and one of their friends, my 9 year-old daughter started asking her older sister, “do you remember that time we were at the (and I wasn’t really listening to where)…” and went on to recount some past funny situation. “How do you remember things like that?” said her older sister?

“Because she doesn’t have much else in her brain she needs to remember!” I said, sarcastically.

Kids don’t, really. Sure, as they get older their brains fill up, but if I can’t remember every single one of my kids’ birth weights or the exact time they were born, that doesn’t mean I’m ready for the Alzheimer’s ward. I remember that Murphy Brown was on the TV when I had my first pregnancy(second child) , so there! How many of you even remember Murphy Brown! I don’t need to remember phone numbers anymore, as long as I can remember who I’m calling, and I set up every appointment to alert me on my iphone twice before it happens! If there’s something special in the future that I really can’t forget, and a phone alert won’t do, I can send an email to myself into the future and it will arrive on any date I set it to send!

My wife is at her own stage which seems to have moved from “caring for the kids,” to “caring for others who are ill or dying.” She’s moved from caring for her mom (until 2008) to her sister (last week), with her dad throughout that time, and then who knows what. It’s a “big Catholic family” side-effect, that although the good times are great, there are a lot of relatives, so the bad times can be plentiful.

I think that my stage in life now is mainly maintenance, yet I haven’t given up on any growth. I don’t want to lose anything mentally, physically (OK, maybe a few pounds), and any gains are just bonuses! I would certainly like a better job that is more meaningful and rewarding and that utilizes my skills best, but I’m happy to just be working when there are so many unemployed skilled workers. I have plenty of hopes and dreams that I plan to accomplish and I know that things will fall in place when it’s time. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m open to the Universe for whatever is in my future.

My motto comes from a bumper sticker I saw once…it said, “Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely!”

(quote attributed to Karen Kaiser Clark)

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