Category Archives: Family

The Growing Cold

“She can’t breathe, John!”

I remembering hearing my mother say that to my father as I sat coughing, watching television one night. (No doubt we were watching Gunsmoke or something.) Anyway, I remember her sounding alarmed and me thinking that it was just a cold. Well, my dad picked me up and took me, wearing my flannel nightgown covered in Pirouette-style clowns, to the hospital where I was admitted with pneumonia. The doctor tried comforting me by telling me that he was building me a playhouse. (What fun!) I told him that it wasn’t a playhouse, that it was an oxygen tent. Who was he trying to kid? I watched Medical Center and I told him so. I was between three and four years old.

(The whole experience was humiliating! They made me sleep in a baby bed, for crying out loud! AND, big girl that I was, they made me wear diapers. Ugh!)

My next experience with the illness was about eight years ago when, while splitting firewood (something I well and truly suck at) I began to cough up blood. On account of I’m so smart and junk, I knowed right off something was wrong. (Okay, I didn’t. I totally called my dad to see what he thought. You can guess what he thought.) This time I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, but spent the next week recovering on my sofa snuggling with Trey. I highly recommend big, black dog snuggles to cure what ails you.

As breathing became a greater and greater challenge last week, I began to wonder if I was up for round three with it. So, I dragged myself to a doc in the box on Saturday who diagnosed acute bronchitis and infected ears. Ugly, but not pneumonia. So, I’ve got my steroids, my antibiotics, my inhaler, my sorbet (better than sherbet, methinks), my Powerade Zero, cough drops, and vegetarian soups. I’ve got books to read; but, sadly, no coloring books to color. Maybe when I feel a little better I’ll go on a hunt for those.

As I recall, they were a pretty good curative, too…not as good as a sweet, black Labrador, but, then, few things are.

Snowbound

During the worst part of my recent illness, my father came to stay with me a few days. As it happened, we had a good deal of snow and ice during that time and the poor man couldn’t have left if he had wanted to! We were snowbound.

And it was wonderful.

The amount of precipitation we had in Middle Tennessee that caused a panic and empty bread shelves at the Food Lion wouldn’t have even caused a school delay when my son and I lived in Latrobe, PA; but, they have the proper removal equipment there and we just don’t have it here. We don’t get that kind of precipitation often enough to make it economically feasible to have snow plows all over town. And, frankly, a snow plow doesn’t do much good with ice anyway; so, Dad and I were stuck in the house where we talked, rested and read in front of a fire we kept going for almost the whole week.

As I’ve told you, I adore my father. There are a great many things this imperfect man and I disagree about, but that just makes for interesting conversation. Mother nearly died giving birth to my sister and she was very, very ill after having me, as well. So, with both of us, Dad was the one who took care of us early on – and he still does it. I remember him running across the yard and swooping me up out of the fire ant bed I had climbed into, and him carrying me into the hospital when I had pneumonia as a toddler. More recently he insisted on coming to take care of me a few years ago when I had my tonsils removed and couldn’t swallow even the pain meds. (Incidentally, I certainly hope the stories are true and that it hurts worse as an adult than it does as a child. That was worse than labor!) Those are just three of the countless times Dad has been there to help me. My father is not a man who often expresses love verbally; however, he never lets me forget that he loves me and that he worries about me. Even with his expansive vocabulary, he is a man of deed more than a man of word. Words lie. Deeds don’t.

A friend at work lost her father last week in a house fire. We have all grieved for this sweet woman in her loss; but, I have to admit that part of my grief is not for her. It’s for myself. I know that the day will come when Dad won’t be there when I’m unwell. I won’t be able to call to “check his pulse.” He won’t read us ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He won’t be peppering conversations with stories of his years in the forest and with Southern idioms like “useless as hip pockets on a hog.” Someday he won’t be here and I will be devastated at the loss of my father and, again, at the loss of my friend. But, until that awful day comes, I will treasure every chance I get to be with him and, after, I will treasure the memories of being snowbound.

 

Time to Say Good-Bye

It’s a beautiful song, but often a terrible thing to do. Today, I will say good-bye to Trey. While I am destroyed over it, it’s time. He has stopped eating and drinking more than a couple of mouthsful – except for last night when he got a plain double cheeseburger and cheese curds from Dairy Queen. (We’re not going to discuss what I had.) He doesn’t wag his tail and the sparkle is gone from his sweet eyes. Even with medication he is in constant pain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy tireless sister has found a vet that will come to my house this afternoon. Trey will be in his home, comfortable and unafraid when he makes his journey across the rainbow bridge. My friend Sean and my niece will be here with me. My niece will take his body for cremation. I know. I know. I used to think that was ridiculous, too – cremating a pet. I don’t anymore and, frankly, I don’t care if anyone else still does. I’ve lived a highly transient life and don’t see me staying here forever either. I don’t want to leave him here. Maybe if I were living in the house I planned to retire in, I’d feel differently; but, I’m not and I don’t.

It’s been a highly emotional couple of days for me and there have been several times when I’ve wondered if I could actually dehydrate by crying. There have been times when a tiny voice in my head called me silly for grieving so over a dog; but, another voice stands up and says that he’s more than a dog – he’s a friend. My other dog Ellie is not the brightest bulb on the circuit – beautiful, sweet and lethal for squirrels, but not all that smart. She doesn’t seem to know that anything is wrong; however, she will grieve for the loss of her playmate, the one who taught her to play when she was a terrified stray. Although I will let her see and smell his body, I expect her to look for him for awhile. At this point, only the cat Bodhi seems to know something is wrong. He’s stuck very close to me and has even been snuggly with Trey.

It has been emotional here and will continue to be for awhile yet as we learn to adjust to life without the old man.

So, remember yesterday when I said that I wouldn’t always make the right nutritional choice? Well, I won’t be making it this afternoon. My sweet friend Katie has already announced that she’s coming by after work with the comfort food of my choice – ice cream, any flavor but mint chocolate chip (I really hate that one). So, I don’t know what flavor she’s bringing and I don’t care. I’m going to eat whatever she brings.

Helping my old friend across the bridge is the right thing to do and it’s time; but, I don’t know that I could do it without the help of my other friends. My most sincere and heartbroken thanks to you all.

Toilet Paper, Towels and Tears

After weeks of anticipation, my son was home for Christmas! Know how I knew? I walked into the bathroom and saw that empty roll. And, um, that doesn’t happen when it’s just me and the horde.

I had to laugh at this thing that drove me nuts when he was growing up, but which was such a welcome sight on the night of the 22nd. I knew that in short order there would also be no clean towels and that all of the used ones would be in his bedroom, somehow having made it completely under the bed. It’s Y chromosome towel sorcery, I’m sure of it. And, let me just make this clear – I loved it. Then again, he was here for only eleven days. After about 14 days of it, I’d probably have been ready to box some ears!

I’ve never been married or even lived with a romantic partner; so, my son is my only experience in dealing with the irritations that come with sharing space with someone you love every day for many years. I’ve had roommates, of course, some of whom drove me batty, others of whom I drove batty (that’s for you, Jeannie Kay). Now that my son has been away for a couple of years, I’ve gotten used to doing things my way, in my time. Having him home reminded me of dealing with another’s way and another’s time – a conversation I had with him some months ago regarding a minor dispute with one of his roommates.

At the time, he was working four jobs and, honestly, I don’t know when he slept! One night, he had cooked his dinner, but not washed up his dishes. One of his roommates was annoyed about this and said something to him about it. He was, in turn, annoyed at having been taken to task over something he would have gotten to in his own time. I don’t recall having this specific incident with any of my roommates; but, given my rather, um, freeform housekeeping style, it’s likely that I did. Being WAAAAAY on the other side of this conflict now, I asked him if the dishes that he didn’t wash were his or if they belonged to the house. “They belong to the house,” he said. “So,” I said, “when another person wanted to use these dishes, they had to come find you and get you to wash them before they could cook their own food. Is that about right?” “Well, when you put it that way….” he said.

As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and, sometimes, that’s true. Without him here, I forget all the little, really petty things about him that irritate me over time. And, hopefully, he forgets the little, petty things about me that irritate him, as well! So, after a year without his sweet little face in my house, I just looked at the empty roll, laughed and replaced it. Then, after the fastest eleven days in the history of time, I had to take him back to the airport and put him back on a plane that would return him to the adventure that is the life he is building.

But, unlike last year, this time, I left him with only a few tears and a giant hollow place in my chest. He returned to his adventure and I returned to the disappointment of toilet paper on the roll and a cabinet full of clean towels.

My Favorite Guys

I’ve been off the grid for a little over a month now and: 1. I can’t believe it’s been a whole month already!, 2. I hope you noticed, and 3. I hope you missed our visits as much as I have. While I haven’t sat down and written with my laptop, I’ve continued our visits by writing in my head. However, now that both peak season at work and my annual after-peak cold are done, I’m ready to sit down and type again.

794_37696208196_8125_nAs I shared with you in November, I was eagerly awaiting my son’s Christmas visit in December. He arrived home on the 22nd and I was so thrilled I could hardly stand it! My father was in Nashville that day for the funeral of a friend’s wife. As you know from our chats in July, my father has had a really rough year; so, he followed that really sad event with two happier ones: lunch with me and my cousin Laurie, and coming to the airport to welcome home the grandson he adores.

Dad and I waited at the seating area at Starbucks near the Terminal B concourse exit. Now, normally when I pick my son up, I wait in my car at the cell lot. He texts when he has his luggage and I drive up to the terminal, scooping him up from the Arrivals area. I hadn’t told him that this trip was going to be any different; so, I was excited to surprise him by being inside the airport and by having Papa with me. In fact, I was practically vibrating with the excitement.

Wouldn’t you know it, his plane was five minutes late. Curses!

Papa sat patiently at a table while I bounced on my cowboy booted toes looking down the concourse. Also waiting were a man, a woman and four children. That arrival party had signs and balloons, which was both sweet and adorable. I imagine that their people were touched by the welcome. Still, all I could think was, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re cute. You’re also in my way. So, move it. I’m waiting on my boy and you’re blocking my view.” I was considering how many of the group I could move with a few well-placed elbows when their people arrived and they moved of their own accord. Incident averted!

I continued to bounce on my toes for several minutes before I saw the tall, thin, ginger man coming towards me. He expected me to be outside; so, I got to watch and appreciate the man my son has become for a few minutes before he noticed me. He is thinner, taller and more adult than ever. My baby is solidly grown. I was wistful for that instant; but, when he finally saw me bouncing there, I saw that my baby still loves his mama and all was right with the world again.  After I finally let go of him, I told him that I’d left something at my table – Papa.

Watching the two of them embrace, I thought of all their adventures together. Over the years, there have been many: fishing, hunting, building, caving, rafting, other chest-thumping-guy-stuff and just talking. We had no fanfare; but, right there, I had a welcome far better than poster board and balloons – my two favorite guys.

Friends Happen, Too

Having worked in aviation for well over two decades, I’ve been around aircraft hangars for so long that I don’t really appreciate how huge they are. They were always just everyday items that I didn’t really think much about – kind of like spoons, albeit really big spoons. Then, in Seattle visiting my son, we drove by the Boeing hangars. Holy cow! These things are so massive that although my eyes saw them and knew them as familiar objects, my mind could not wrap itself around the massive buildings. I looked into familiar looking doors, but rather than seeing eight-passenger Lear jets, I saw village-capacity 777s. I couldn’t process what I was seeing. They were just too big.

Kind of like realizing that people who don’t have to, love you anyway.

When my father told me that he wanted my son home for Christmas and that he would buy the ticket, I was way too excited to keep it to myself. I went to work glowing and told a couple of people what my father was doing. I told a couple of people.

Throughout the night, way more than a couple of people came up to me and said that they had heard that my son was going to be able to come home for Christmas, after all. I accepted their congratulations, but thought it was a little weird that so many people that I hadn’t told knew about it anyway. Well, then, one of them told me why so many of them knew.

It seems that one of them had decided to take up a collection to buy the ticket and that several others had already contributed or were planning to at payday.

Wow.

I found out about this over a week ago and it still stuns me. Like the hangar, my mind is struggling to process the information it has received. I really do love so many of those young people I work with. It was overwhelming to find out that they love me, as well. It’s just too big for my brain to process.

You know, love sneaks up on you sometimes. When I first showed up to work, I was nervous, knew no one and was resentful that my life was not going the way I wanted it to. I had bills to pay and this was how I was going to do it. I wasn’t looking for friends. I was just there to do a job. Days passed and I settled in to do the tasks before me as best I could. In my position as peer coach, I spoke directly with many of my coworkers, learning about them, how they came to be there, what they wanted out of the job and some of their aspirations. I heard stories of people out to earn a little Christmas cash, of people who (like me) had hit a hiccup in their careers, of people whose retirement funds were not lasting the way they needed, of people working their ways through school, and of people who don’t plan that far ahead. They lived one day at a time. I heard stories from people whose life experiences were similar to my own and from people whose lives I could not even imagine. I grew to admire and love many of them. They (like me and my beloved son) are not perfect, but I do love my work children and they love me back – warts and all.

Amazing. Humbling. And still bigger than my head can wrap itself around.

Dads Happen

Last week I shared with you my extreme sorrow that I could not bring my son home for Christmas. In addition to telling you about it, I also had to tell my father. Dad’s response was both quick and direct, “Nope. Not this year. I want to hug that boy’s neck.” So, it’s Papa to the rescue once again.

And my heart sings! 😀

Those two have been thick as thieves right from the get-go. My father has this wonderfully resonant voice that rumbles when he talks. I think that all babies love the sound of it. I KNOW that my baby did. On the rare occasions when the baby was fussy, Papa could calm him just by talking to him. As soon as he was mobile, Jaegar became my father’s shadow at any and every opportunity. If Papa was on the couch watching baseball eating chips and salsa, then so was a diapered toddler. I had never seen a small child eat salsa like that before. If it was pickled herring in cream sauce for Papa while watching the news, then it was absolutely the same for Jaegar. (He’s still a monster salsa eater, but not so much on the herring anymore.) They built things. They fixed things. They went fishing. They went hunting. They went camping, canoeing, and just did all kinds of chest-thumping-guy-stuff. They were – and are – buddies.

And the buddies will be together again for Christmas.

So, just as I told you some things that Children Don’t Know last week, I learned something that this child had forgotten: wonderful fathers hurt for even their grown children and those fathers will do all within their power to make the hurt go away. And, yes, with a doubt, I have a wonderful father.

Forward Ho!

(But don’t call me Ho.)

I’ve been on a reading kick for a few months now and have annihilated my library’s Robert Crais collection. I just love his main two characters: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I was truly upset when I read the last of the books. I will miss those two friends until Crais publishes another one. (Psst! Mr. Crais, if you’re reading this – do a woman a solid and write faster, huh? I miss the guys and the black cat.) Elvis is verbose and irreverent while Joe is silent and unreadable. Joe has distinctive red arrow tattoos on his deltoids. The arrows point forward and are a testament to his belief that the only thing to do is to keep going and that the only way to go is forward.

In addition to what I shared with you yesterday, during our text conversation on Tuesday, my son also said to me, “We’ll make it Mother dear. There is only direction and it is forward.” My boy – Joe Pike.

If you’ve been with me through this blog’s journey, you know that the last couple of years have been very difficult for me and, really, for much of my family. I’ve tried to be honest with you throughout everything without oversharing. I’m pretty sure that sometimes I still overshare; however, I have come to believe that even that “error” is a good thing. While most of you don’t comment in the section here (ahem), many of you send messages to me behind the scenes. Overwhelmingly, the common theme to those messages is: I thought I was the only one.

No, you’re not the only one.

wagon-train-walter-colvinWe share a common human condition even if we try to put a brave face on it. I believe that a sense of humor is absolutely crucial for enduring difficulties. However, as you know, I lose mine from time to time.  I begin to feel overwhelmed by my current trials or by the trials of those I love and cannot help. Sometimes, it just seems like too much to bear. And it would be, if we had to bear it alone.

But we don’t.

We are more superficially connected than ever before in the history of mankind; however, we simultaneously often feel more isolated than ever. We post the highlights of our lives on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and, and, and. We know that we are showing a highly edited version of our lives where checkbooks always balance, dogs never poop in the floor, alarm clocks always go off and socks never go missing in the wash. But, we see the red ink in our checkbooks and  know that we are presenting only a partial truth. Yet, we see the posts of others and assume that their posts are the Whole Truth, the Real Truth. We see our friends in Pleasantville while we struggle in Amityville. And we feel worse. Somewhere in our minds we know that they live just down the street in Amityville, too, but we are still more apt to believe the Pleasantville fiction.

Well, I’m going to sit right here and tell you that I’m in Amityville and that I’ve seen your mailbox on my street. I’m not alone and neither are you. There is only one option for us and that is to continue to work through our difficulties. There is only one direction for us and that is forward. So, forward ho!

Surely, we can do this if we help each other. (But, don’t call me Shirley, either.)

What Children Don’t Know

So, after throwing my little pity party on Monday, I spent a large part of Tuesday pouting and a larger part of the day telling myself to get a grip (for crying out loud!). In the writing of Monday’s post, I determined what my real problem is. As I wrote, my real anxiety crystallized for me. The motive behind my violent snacking was (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) my inability to fly my son home for Christmas.

As you well know, I adore that man – and I do recognize that he is a man. He’s 21, after all. I relish conversations with him and take great joy in seeing the man that my baby, my boy has chosen to become. I was texting with him yesterday and told him that I could not buy the ticket for him to come home. I wanted to give him time to maybe crash Christmas with a friend or to arrange to work at a soup kitchen or whatever. His response was, “Mom, it’s okay if I can’t come back for Christmas. My first one away from home had to be sometime.”

Here’s what I didn’t get at his age and what he didn’t get, either: It’s not about him. It’s about me – the mother.

My response to him was, “You could be 40 and I still wouldn’t be ready. [Explicative] whether you’re okay with it. I’m not!” And that, my friends, is the honest, selfish truth.

In my eyes, he is a handsome, full-grown man; but, in my heart, he is the baby who was jaundiced and had to be hospitalized at three days old. He is the toddler who played peep-eye by hiding under throw pillows. He is the boy with the wonderful imagination who could entertain himself for hours with a funnel. He is my baby chick and this mother hen wants him beneath her wing for the holiday.

But that’s not always how it works, is it?

Children are born wanting to do for themselves. They test their physical wings the moment they begin to hold their own heads up. We are delighted when they find their hands and feet; but, then they use those self-same hands and feet to explore the world and move away from us. Particularly as teens they test their emotional and mental wings. They have their own opinions. They form their own friendships. And, sometimes, we parents aren’t keen on either one!

Nevertheless, this is how it has been since we stopped existing in nomadic hunter/gatherer tribes. Children grow up. They establish lives of their own. They often move away.

And that is how it should be.

I must find the strength of my Scot and Dane foremothers who sent their babies across the ocean, never to see them again. Years ago, I saw some letters sent from the parents in Denmark to their children (my great-great grandparents) in Memphis. The letters were newsy and full of the banalities of life back in the Old Country. There were no photos. There were only words on paper to keep lives in touch. Just a few generations later, those lives no longer touch at all. I know none of my Andersen, Schultz or Schütt relatives. And I’m even further removed from my Scottish MacKenzie and McPherson relatives, and from my English Doty and Carson ones. So it goes in family diasporas.

Grateful I live in the age of the internet, I have the capability to Skype with my son on Christmas, and, better yet, his promise that we will.

 

 

Love Is a Rheostat

On Sunday morning just after Leah died, my father and I were exiting the hospital hand-in-hand when he said, “She really loved you.” To which I replied, “And I really loved her.” But, then, I realized that my statement wasn’t true. I didn’t love her in the past tense: I love her in the present tense.

light-switch-and-dimmerLove isn’t a toggle switch. It’s a rheostat.

Leah’s precious spirit isn’t here anymore; but, that doesn’t mean that my love for her toggles into the off position. It’s not that easy even with romantic love after it all goes to Hell in a handbasket. (And how many times have I wished that it was a toggle!?) I still love Leah and always will. She was a wonderful woman. My dear friend Joey died over 21 years ago. My friend Sandy died seven years ago. I still love them and think of them daily. Of course it’s different than it was when they were alive because love among the living can be nurtured and allowed to grow. Now, I love memories of my friends. Love for memories cannot grow. Its light dims to a comfortable glow. I’m not sure that “dims” is the right work here, but I think you know what I mean. The love doesn’t diminish – it doesn’t disappear, but it may not burn as brightly as it once did.

The conversation with my father reminded me of a scene from the movie Phenomenon. John Travolta’s character George is dying. Kyra Sedgwick’s character Lace is sitting with him. They have this exchange:

  • Lace: I tried so hard not to love you.
  • George: How’d you make out?
  • Lace: Terrible.
  • George: Hey, would you, uh, love me the rest of my life?
  • Lace: No. I’m gonna love you for the rest of mine.

Corny as it might sound, that’s how it is. When we love someone, we don’t love them until they die. We love them until we do.