Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Grief

I have been trying to muster up the ability to write a blog for quite a while, but I can't seem to get myself to sit down and get the words out. First I was consumed by the busy everyday life of the working mom, driving kids around and helping make sure everyone has taken their medications, does their homework and picks up their bedrooms, while also staying up all night at work helping bring babies into the world night after night. The regular routine many of us are used to that swallows us up when we aren't paying attention, and leaves little room for much else. So I didn't write for months.

Then something big and awful happened.

My step-children's mother, Rebekah, died on Thanksgiving day.

It came out of nowhere and we don't know what happened, but she died suddenly and without warning and for a long while our lives just stopped moving. We have been picking up the pieces ever since, trying to help sort out the confusion that comes when someone dies.

We had a challenging relationship with Rebekah, as most people do with their exes, but for the most part we worked it out and were able to parent the kids in an amicable way without too much drama or arguments. We were able to share holidays together with the kids, and talk back and forth about the minutiae of life in a way that felt good to all of us and made the kids feel safe and secure. Although she struggled to find her path in life, she loved her kids, that much I know, and they loved her very much.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion for the four kids she left behind, to say the least. It is an unparalleled level of unfairness that they have to endure this kind of a loss this early in their lives. When they should be thinking about college, and prom, and theater productions, and middle school instead they are left feeling empty and sad and confused. All I want is to ease their burden, but I can't. There isn't really anything anyone can do or say that can make this easier for them. They just have to go through the process, and the process is hard and shitty.

There are a lot of things I am grateful for. I am grateful to everyone in our lives who have helped to hold up the kids, and Jon, and me so we can be there for them when we need to be. The amount of food and love and kind words and cards we have received has been both overwhelming and uplifting. I had no idea how helpful food was when people are grieving, and this will certainly change the way I approach helping people when a loved one dies. I don't know how much it was helpful for the kids, but it sure as hell was amazing that Jon and I didn't have to spend every waking moment in the kitchen. I am grateful that the kids were home with Jon the night that the police banged on our door to tell us the news, and they were not with her to witness such tragedy. I am grateful that her family was warm and accepting of the role that I play in her children's lives, and that planning her services was not a difficult ordeal. I am grateful for the love that Jon and I have for each other and our kids, that keeps us afloat as we wade through this deep ocean of child grief.

I just wish I could hold onto the kids' sadness for bit so they didn't have to. And at the same time I don't ever wish to feel that kind of pain. It is remarkably unfair. Helping kids grieve is a challenge I don't feel like I have the training for. Each day is up and down and I honestly never know what kind of emotions to expect at any given moment. I feel like we are grasping to the side of a fast moving train, trying to stay attached but at any moment one of them might lose their grip and fly away.

We are gearing up for everyone to go back to school tomorrow. We have had as good a Christmas as we ever could have hoped for, given the circumstances, and I think some routine will do everyone good. I am looking for the light at the end of this dark and narrow tunnel, and although I do not yet see it I am hopeful it will come soon.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Gearing Up for Summer With Teens

I love summer. It is my favorite season, which likely comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how much I love hot weather. But the one thing I do not love about summer is spending it with teens.

I don't mean to be negative about teenagers in general. Most of our kids love to go outside and do things, and I have so much fun doing that with them, but there is a small sect that would be the most content if they were able to stay inside and play video games 18 hours a day. It is unfathomable to me to think about spending even one glorious summer day indoors, let alone all of them. A couple of our kids have no interest in going to camp, or joining us on our family camping vacation (just one someone in particular, but that is so sad to me). So I dread the summer when it is my job to break out the mental jaws of life and force these kids into outdoor fun.

The hard part is that they often are too busy complaining to allow themselves to have a good time. Nate is especially good at this routine. He will not have fun, and you can't make him, so this year I am giving up on trying to make anyone enjoy themselves. I will force them outside (partially by withholding all access to video games) and then the rest is up to them. I'm hoping this takes the pressure off of me, and allows me to enjoy my own summer.

This is all likely a product of my having spoiled my kids. If I could do it again I think I would likely withhold all fun things until they were begging to go to the lake or out to ice cream, and not make it all so readily available. Jon and I are going to try changing our video game policy in our home (to no video games in our home) because who actually benefits from those horrible things anyway? I also need some creative strategies to convincing a kid to go outside and making him think it's his idea. So if anyone has any thoughts I am all ears. Summer in New England is way too short not to enjoy every second of it.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In The Trenches

Parenting  is HARD. This is not a cliché. This is not a whining mommy blog where I can't get my three year old to put on their socks (which was also hard, not to minimize the experience of people dealing with three year olds, I whined loudly on this blog during those times as well). No, this parenting of these children who are both my children and my blended children as they emerge from divorce and rocky pasts, and struggle through depression and anxiety and trauma and heartache is so much harder than I ever thought possible. I am talking the hardest fucking job I have ever had.

It is not the daily arguments or tantrums that overwhelm me, but the emotional sadness that they all feel at different times. It is usually staggered, but sometimes it's all at once, and it is a deep, deep sadness. It is an intense pull of emotional turmoil that they need to let out, and sometimes they do and they feel better. Other times they don't let it out but instead it festers into a dark and scary explosion, which splatters our lives with the heavy, sticky paste of raw emotion gone wild. It is both emotionally depleting and heart-wrenching for us to muddle through with them. Even when they express these emotions and feel better, as a mother I can't help but absorb those emotions in to my own being and hold onto them for my children, and it drags me down into sadness and misery right along side of them, as they seem to rise out of it I feel wasted and vacant.

The part that also saddens me is that they don't really seem to rise out of it. Most of our kids seem alright for a few moments, maybe a week or even a couple of months, but then we're back to the pit of sadness again, with threats of suicide and hurting themselves, trips to the doctors and therapists, and anger and crying that is often worse than the last time. The older they get, the more intense the emotional rise, and the harder the crash.

What is also alarming is that it is every single one of them. We have six kids, and not one of them is OK. I thought for a while that maybe they were feeding off of each other, and I do think that the amount of attention paid to a child in crisis does affect the overall morale, but these kids are individually feeling the pain of their lived experiences. There is nothing that either Jon or I can seem to do to ever make it better for any of them. We try and we fail, and although I believe that we are not terrible at this, I can't help but feel like a failure most of the time.

I get a lot of "those kids are lucky to have you" which, like adoptive or foster parents know, is not actually true. These kids would be lucky to have not gone through all of the shit that got us here in the first place. All of our kids deserved two loving parents from the inception who loved each other enough and were stable enough to create a healthy home. Our kids deserved to not witness the collapse of their families. Our kids deserved to not have terrible things happen to them. Our kids deserved to have a life free of emotional abuse. Our kids deserved to be able to express their emotions and have them validated. Our kids deserved all of this before they were so old that they were broken and harmed from it. All kids deserve these simple things from the beginning.

I hope we can get them all safely to the other side. I don't know what will happen or how their lives will pan out but as any parents knows, all you really want is for your children to be happy, in whatever way that is possible for them. I absolutely hate not knowing what to expect next. I wish I was a religious person who could pray loudly to my deity for salvation of their souls, but I don't believe in any of that, and I am pretty sure it wouldn't do much anyway. Right now we live in the trenches of parenting, and here we will remain for many more years. Here's to hoping we all make it out safe.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Last Night in Cuba


It’s our last night in Cuba as I write this, and I really don’t know that I am ready to leave. I miss my family and I am anxious to get back to them, but I cannot believe what an excellent trip this has been. I love traveling and I love the Caribbean, but there is something about Cuba that is so distinctly unique and special, it’s almost beyond words.

Cuba is relaxed in a way that is unlike anywhere else. It isn’t just an “island time” kind of relaxed. Cuba is relaxed in that the people who live here are not stressed and worried about life all the time. They are neither starving to death, nor rushing around to get everything done all the time. Cubans are not worried that someone will rob them, or shoot them, or about where they will find their next meal. Above all, the people of Cuba are the nicest, most welcoming people on Earth. There is virtually no crime here. Women are generally very respected, and there is minimal racism. Also, it’s warm and beautiful, and we have seen no mosquitos.


This week I have hiked in the mountains and swam in the cleanest river water I’ve ever seen. I dove into the turquoise blue of the Caribbean and danced to the twirling hypnotic rhythm of salsa with talented partners who brought me back to my early 20’s in Miami. I climbed to the tops of tall old castles and took in the endless miles of stunning landscape, and I absorbed the deep, meaningful history of this island that is so remarkable in its triumphs. I spent a week with my mom and didn’t have one argument. In fact, we have had a fantastic time and I would be more than happy to do it again.


This week we have been unplugged from all of our outside lives. There is minimal wifi in Cuba and when you do find a connection it is spotty at best. I managed to find a signal for about 20 minutes on Tuesday, so I could call home and check in, but other than that I have no idea what’s going on in the world outside of this island and I love that. I have read an entire book, I can’t remember when I last put my phone down long enough to do that. I have used my iphone to take pictures and check the time, and nothing else, and I do not look forward to picking it up again. I do not remember the last time I felt this relaxed, it may have been the last time I was in Cuba. I need to make some adjustments to the way I do things at home and the way I prioritize my time, because I would like to feel this good more often.




I think everyone should come to Cuba. It is magical here, and it sinks into your bones slowly and without you even realizing it, until, as my mother announced a few days into our trip “I really love it here”. Every single person we have met this week has treated us with unwavering kindness, from the hosts at our casas particulares, to the people on the street who we asked for directions. I have asked multiple Cuban people if this is their experience with everyone here, and they tell me that yes, it is. Someday I will come back and bring my kids to experience this slice of paradise and hope that they feel the magic as deeply as I do.




Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Saying Goodbye With Love and Hats

This weekend we laid my grandfather Nathaniel Harrison Hartshorne to rest. Our family gathered together and donned his many hats to parade in a line (in order of our age) to the Blawenburg cemetery and bury his ashes. We held hands and took turns throwing dirt into the spot and saying a few words of thanks or "love you". My grandmother started it off with a smile saying "save a space for me!" Tears were shed, then we shared a moment of silence on a cold, crisp, spring morning that he would most certainly have loved. It was short, sweet, and a perfect send off. We will have a large memorial service in the summer, with the many friends and extended family members who were touched by Bumpy's life, but this week it was just us, and we all needed that.

My grandparents' house feels so different now. It is cozy and warm as always, and my grandmother is the most adorable and hilarious person in the world (putting things away in the most bizarre places, plates slid in among the cookbooks, orange juice on top of the washing machine) who is still able to laugh at herself and see the joy in life. But it is so strange to have spent the past 37 years coming into a house and now suddenly not find Bumpy in his office writing, or out chopping wood in the barn. Death is the most unsettling of situations, because even when you understand it and are at peace with it, you still find yourself looking around for that person and feeling the hole they have left in you. We each took one of Bumpy's hats home, and I will hang mine in my closet and look at it daily when I get dressed, to remind myself of the pride Bumpy took in getting dressed each day. Forever a dapper gentleman, wearing button down shirts right up until the end, I will strive to take that kind of pride in myself.

Thank you, Bumpy, for always listening, and for teaching us all to be the best we can be. Farewell.




Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Ultimate Responsibility

Man, my kids have been giving me a run for my money lately. It's really not much fun sometimes. It's interesting to try and figure out how one can simultaneously love being a mother and hate all of the responsibility that goes along with parenting at the same time.

I have come to the conclusion that I really do not want to be ultimately responsible for whether or not these kids turn out to be good humans. It's certainly a lot to shoulder. But yet I have no choice, there will definitely be some raging internal guilt and harsh judgement from others if I totally drop the ball and don't see them through to adulthood.

My son was particularly challenging this week. This child has been difficult from about the time he could walk. I love him dearly. As in throw myself in front of a bus to save his ungrateful ass kind of love. But uuugggghhh, is he hard to manage on the day to day without going bald from ripping out my hair. He is smart, and charming, and has the potential to be kind when he wants to be, and really, really mean, angry, anxious, depressed, and selfish a whole lot of the time. We are working on that, along with all of the other intense 12 year old emotions that come with middle school, divorce, moving, and blending families.

I realize that other people have it much worse. Nate isn't challenging in the intense ways that many kids I know are challenging, he doesn't have an attachment disorder, or autism, or any physical or learning disabilities, or any other major issue that I see making so many other parents struggle. I am lucky to have him and his sister and their ultimate health and good fortune. Nate is just a run of the mill kid who was given an adult body and hormones far before he was ready for them, and who has always pushed me to my limits, ever since he could talk. The combination of the two, along with a whole lot of change that he didn't ask for has made him unbearable most days. For me, when managing the emotions of five other struggling teens and tweens, this is enough to make it hard to deal.

This week (before all the struggle) we had planned an event for just the two of us to go out for his birthday. I debated cancelling this event, it was a major plan, had cost a lot of money and was his big birthday gift, but in the end I decided that I still wanted to go and spend time with him one on one. I am extremely grateful that I made that choice, because ultimately what I always find is that when one of my kids is acting out it is often in response to them trying desperately to get my attention. We had the best time together that we've had in years, and at the end of the night he was laughing with me and taking selfies, and connecting with me in a way that I really had worried for a while wasn't possible anymore. I am so relieved to know my boy is still in there, masked most of the time by teenage resentment and hostility. The glimmer of his true self gives me hope, and helps me get up in the morning to keep trying to see them through to adulthood.





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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Final Months of a Beautiful Life

This week I am in New Jersey helping to care for my dying grandfather, a man we call Bumpy. Bumpy has always been the pinnacle of strength in our family, a man we all look up to and ask for advice on how to navigate life. Growing up Bumpy taught me many important lessons, including how to correctly tie a bow tie (always a distinguished gentleman) and how NOT to put your elbows on the table during dinner. His steadfast and adoring love for my grandmother is still going strong, even as he is too weak to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.

In order to leave us all something to remember him (not that we won't have a plethora of memories) in the past month Bumpy published his own book of letters. This collection is a treasure trove of various letter he has written to friends and family members over the years, a true testament to who Bumpy is. We all received countless penned letters over the years, it was truly a gift of his. Bumpy had a way of writing letters that made the recipient feel incredibly lucky to have such an interested correspondent.

Watching my grandfather come to the end of his life has been an enlightening time for me. Our family is incredibly lucky, and to die in your own home, with your wife of 65 years by your side, surrounding by all of your loved ones and with all of your faculties intact, is an enormous gift. It really is beautiful, may we all be so lucky.