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.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Daily Fear of Sending Your Kids to School

I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to blog about today. It's been a while, I don't have a computer so it's hard to find the time. I have a lot on my mind, but mostly I am weighed down with the heaviness of what our country is going through, day after day, week after week, with the amount of gun violence in the USA. As a mother of school-aged children, I don't feel safe sending my kids to school, or really anyplace else right now. Kids are getting shot and killed in the place that was designed to help them grow and learn, and NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Children in this country have literally been dying for years and we are so tremendously damaged as a society that we actually have stopped noticing when this happens.

It is terrifying to parent like this. I would give anything to pack up my family and move us to a country with gun control laws, but at the same time that seems so impossible to orchestrate and carry out. What do we do as parents? What can the mothers do? We have to stop this insanity and we have to make people listen. I feel powerless and it is consuming me and every one of us.

In our own  personal lives Jon and I continue to slog through each day with its individual rewards and challenges that come with managing the blended family. So many needs on a daily basis, and it often feels like none of them are going to be alright, but I hope I'm wrong about that. I feel like 85% of my life is just keeping them alive and the rest is a crap shoot. It's hard to find the joy in that idea, but somehow we must keep on trucking and hope we don't get in the way of somebody's misplaced rage.

We need help as a society, help beyond help beyond help, and so far there is not even a glimmer that anyone with any power at all gives a shit about any of us. If someone has a tactical solution for how we can effect some positive change, I am all ears and on board to fight this shit.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Five Days of Heaven: Food, Friends, and Fauna in Portland

Last month Jon and I took a couples trip to Portland, OR. We went with two other couples that we are dear friends with, to visit another wonderful couple that lives in Portland. The ladies and I have been best friends since high school, and we are all fortunate (after many years of trying for some of us) to be married to lovely, kind, funny, and compatible men. None of us had been on this type of couples-only trip before, and Jon and I hadn't been to Oregon before, so it was quite the adventure for everyone. We expected nothing less, as we never have a bad time when we are together, and leaving the kids at home always opens up the potential for total relaxation and spontaneity. We were not disappointed.

We ate, hiked, and laughed our way through Oregon, in the best way that only friends who have loved each other a really, really long time can do. The food was spectacular, with a food truck (or 20) on every corner, and amazing choices everywhere you look. The hiking was straight out of Narnia, jungle vines and moss covering million foot tall trees, overlooking wide views of the Pacific Ocean. It was easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. One day we were dipping our toes into the Pacific, while making a fire on the beach and sipping champagne, with a bald eagle soaring overhead, while the next day we were hiking through snow along the Pacific Crest Trail around Mount Hood. Ridiculous.

I am hoping we have struck a cord in each of us, and that we can make this fantasy trip a reality more often, to different cities or gorgeous spots. These friends feed a piece of my soul that no one else can, and traveling with them (and having time with Jon without our kids) is like medicine for me. I can't imagine wanting to do anything more, so the next time I scrape together some cash and some time off, you know what I'll be doing. Can't wait to see where the next adventure takes us.

The Process

I'm having a bad week. I just realized that the last time I wrote a blog post (yikes, six months ago, our computers have all died) I was also having a bad week, or at least a stressed-out parenting week. This week a few things have happened that have made me feel unsettled and anxious, but beyond that, I believe that I am moreover having a release of some feelings I have been bottling up since the divorce. I am realizing that those emotions will not simply go away when ignored, but need to be felt, dealt with, and then released so that I can be a complete person.

I think that I had some denial initially about how traumatic my split from my ex was for me and my children, and how it would affect us in the long run. In the moment (2.5 years ago) I was so focused on keeping my head above water that I didn't acknowledge the explosive intensity with which the marriage ended. The lasting effects of that ending are still felt by all of us, although none of us seem to know that's what we're dealing with. My kids' father is now living near us again, and having to interact with him on a weekly basis is incredibly challenging. We all need a therapist, and I'm working on that. Meanwhile, I cry a lot when nobody is looking.

Beyond all of that, the challenges of daily life go on. We have five full time kids in our house right now, which was a transition for the kids and an exercise in patience for Jon and me, and our wallets. Ultimately, it is turning out to be really good for them, but getting used to a new way of living is hard on everyone initially. Sometimes it's great and we all get along easily, and other nights I barely make it to bed without weeping. We are so fortunate to live in a place filled with abundance, in a beautiful home, with plenty to eat, but still I find myself struggling to find joy sometimes, and daydreaming of a life in Costa Rica or somewhere equally lovely (and with a better political climate than our current situation).

Generally though, I'd say life is improving (although it was never bad, just a constant state of adjustment). Jon's younger kids are getting used to me, and to the rules/routines/structure of our home. His older two are blossoming into adulthood in a way that makes me very proud of both of them. My kids seem alright, although I constantly worry about their emotional well-being. I worry that I am fucking them up beyond repair, although I think that because I am worried about that, it probably isn't the case. I am fairly certain that I do the wrong thing a lot of the time, but I'm hoping their resilience can outweigh my parenting mistakes. I am trying to remind myself that all of this is a process, but it's easy to forget. This time of year has never been my favorite, and I'm definitely struggling with it, but feeling fairly certain that I'll reach my peace with all of this, I'm just hoping it doesn't last too long.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Motherhood and the Emotional Roller Coaster

Happy belated Mother's Day all.

Tonight as I listen to the roar of kids laughing in the other room, and the chirp of the peepers beginning their song, and the tinkling of the ice in my glass I am feeling pretty relaxed. Finally. It has been a challenging week. Not anything out of the range of normal challenges, just a week filled with the constant worry of whether or not I am doing the right thing by my children. Am I listening to their needs enough? Have I guiding them well through all of our massive transitions throughout the past two years? Am I managing their anger, anxiety, fears, and social challenges well enough? Will I help them turn into decent happy adults? God I hope so, but, when you're in the thick of it, sometimes it sure is hard to tell.

I have tripled my flock of children in a matter of two years, and I am still learning everyday how to manage the emotions of this huge needy brood. The balance between day to day parenting, step parenting, and every other weekend parenting is like a juggling act, one which I think Jon and I are doing our best at, but which never fails to make me feel inadequate. Ultimately I am pretty sure they will all be just fine, but of course in the day to day it's easy to lose sight of this. The jolly smiling pictures splayed across social media say nothing about what daily life is like with your kids. It's always amazing to me how perfect it can all seem in pictures. We are good. Great even, but we have our major share of screeching, breakdowns, sob-fests, rage, meetings with the principal, fights with siblings and friends, and the everyday "EVERYONE HATES ME!" "NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND WHAT I'M GOING THROUGH!" (storm off, slam door, repeat an hour later). Good times people.

One wonderful achievement this month is that RJ will be graduating in just two weeks. One down! Five more to go! I am immensely proud of RJ and his success this year, this kid has traveled many emotional miles in his short life, and I love the person he is turning out to be. It's funny how you can not be someone's mother, and come into their life when they are already so far into it, but still be able to take them into your cocoon and help them to grow wings. I cannot wait to see what life has in store for RJ, every step he takes towards adulthood makes me immensely proud.

This is what I know about motherhood. You spend your entire life in fear that something bad will happen to your children, and that you can't/won't prevent the bad, or, worse yet, you'll cause the bad or not be able to fix the bad. The truth is that the bad is unavoidable at some point, for some far worse than others, and there is totally nothing we can do to stop it. Some of it comes before we even meet our kids or step kids, some of it is natural consequence for life events, and some of it is just hideously unfortunate. Whatever the bad comes from, or whatever they have been through before us, we can only do our best to love the crap out of them and hope that they know it. My hope is that they carry that love with them to get them through the dark times, and hold onto it for whenever they need a little light to guide them. For now I will continue listening to the peepers and keep hoping for the best.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Honeymoon in Cuba: Exploring beauty in a crumbling paradise

CUBA! We are back and I can't find enough people to tell how much I love this quirky island. I wish we'd had many more weeks to explore all that this lovely time capsule has to offer, but alas, it is hard enough finding five days together without kids, so we chose to enjoy the hell out of every moment.

The first, and most important thing I have to say about Cuba is that this island is home to the nicest people in the world. I am still in disbelief at how kind and helpful every person we encountered was to us. Not only was everyone extremely helpful and friendly, it was in a completely genuine and non-solicitous way. They were nice to us because they ARE nice, not because they felt like they had to be, or were trying to get anything out of it. In a time where it feels like Americans are frequently dropping the ball on kindness, this welcoming community was a tremendous relief.

Secondly, the Cuban people were greatly open to talking about life in Cuba, which is fascinating on many levels. I can definitely see both sides of the struggle, where people are upset about their lack of progress and upward mobility, but yet no one is starving, you see nobody begging in the streets, bleeding to death from untreated medical issues, or the rounded bellies of malnutrition. Nobody flaunts their tremendous wealth, and nobody is left to flounder in poverty. Everyone is educated, but everybody earns an extremely small salary (as in $10 per month). No one we met had more than one or two children, as birth control is wide spread and accessible, and abortion is safe and legal. In Vinales, a mountain town in the north of the country, no one locks their doors, even at night, because they just do not steal from each other. Crime is almost non-existent.

We spent the first two days in Vinales, hiking through the valleys where the country grows the tobacco for their famous cigars. We hiked on foot, instead of the widely offered horseback tours, and we were so glad we did, as we learned more from our guide Claudia than from almost anyone else on the island. The horseback tours offer beautiful scenery, but not a lot of conversation with the guides. We hiked into the Valley of Silence, a green lush landscape dotted with farm animals (interesting side note: cows are all owned and sold by the Cuban government, if you kill a cow in Cuba you get more jail time that you do if you kill a person. Beef is only sold in government restaurants).

We watched a local farmer roll cigars and bought ourselves cigars directly from him. The farmers are allowed to keep 10% of their tobacco to sell, while 90% of the tobacco gets taken by the government and made into the famous brands like Cohiba and Monti Cristo that are so highly sought after and expensive.

It was striking in Vinales how all of the food that was eaten and served was fresh, local, and in season. There is very little that is traded so the Cuban people work with what they grow and raise, which seems a million times healthier to me. There is almost no pre-packaged foods, and everyone goes straight to the farm to buy their goods, or lets the vendors come to them with their wheelbarrows full of bread or fruits. We ate fresh papaya and pineapple daily, rice and beans of course, and many other delicious concoctions cooked up by Dayanette, the owner of the Casa Particular we called home.

In Cuba, the most popular way to visit is to stay with someone in their home, in a sort of Air bnb type scenario. Homeowners can rent rooms out to tourists for a fraction of the price of what a hotel room would cost (we paid $30 per night). The rooms that we stayed in were clean, private, with our own bathroom and a private terrace, and both had a rooftop patio where we could see a tremendous view of the mountains or the ocean, and the stars at night. The casa owners were a tremendous help arranging tours, taxis, and just giving us ideas of where to go and what to do. Hosting tourists is their livelihood, and they take great pride in providing us with all of the makings of an excellent trip. Casa owners will provide meals for you, and this is absolutely the way to eat in Cuba. Restaurants are not excellent, but home cooked meals are spectacular. We had breakfast and dinner each day in the two casas where we stayed, and what a fantastic choice.

We spent our last two days in Cuba at the beach in a town called Guanabo, just east of Havana. We traveled to Guanabo via a 1953 Plymouth taxi driven by a man named Alexis, who made a pit stop at a local waterfall in Soroa, and natural pool where we ate lunch and swam in the cold fresh water. Alexis charged us $80 for the day and was happy to wait for us as we explored Soroa. The only glitch was keeping him awake for the second half of our four hour drive as the rice and beans had him nodding off while driving. Yikes!

We wanted to avoid the city this trip, as we were coming and going quickly, but we wanted some time at the ocean. The casa we rented was run by a woman named Marlene, who rents two rooms upstairs from the family's home. This casa felt more like a hotel and less like a home share, with the rooms having a separate entrance. The beach was a quick walk, and although it was quite removed from the town of Guanabo, it was nice to have a private stretch of gorgeous beach to enjoy on our own. Guanabo is a town where the Cuban government sends its employees for vacation. The government owns tons of crumbling houses along this strip of beach and rents them out for a week at a time to Cubans and their families. Locals told us that in the summertime the town and beach are packed to the gills with vacationers, but in the off season it was not the most exciting town to visit. We found the beach in Guanabo to be relaxing and unassuming, a great place to kick back and enjoy a rum and coke and a book.

The saddest part about our Cuban honeymoon was the fact that it ended so quickly. We will definitely be returning to this magical island, feeling more confident in our destination choices now that we've gotten a bit of a feel for how to get around. Cuba is a place of unexpected beauty and crumbling infrastructure, huge smiles, and deep connection to what's really important in life. Visiting Cuba has awakened a part of me that has been closed for a long time, the desire to travel again to places that are real and beautiful and not made shiny in the name of tourism. Let this be the beginning of many more adventures to come.