Monday, August 22, 2011

When self-preservation creates more chaos, it's okay, and to be expected

Someone reminded me today that times of transitioning are when we need to have the most patience and compassion for ourselves. I tend to be rather hard on myself about "handling" things in these times. I have high expectations of myself when it comes to managing life's little dramas. I think I was conditioned by the Drama Queen herself to anticipate the daily dose of crap and now I'm on high-crap alert status all the time. Which doesn't make much room for experiencing the joys of freedom!

So recently I've been making efforts to dial back the contact with my remaining parent. Some might think this cruel and not what a "good daughter" would do. People who think like that were blessed with a normal childhood and loving, normal parents. Yes, all five of you out know who you are! Don't you go projecting your blissfully drama-free relationships with your parents on me!

Anyway, non-contact is not a viable option. She's almost 83. It's obvious that some form of dementia is setting in. And she's royally pissed about it. She needs someone to help her keep house. (We hired someone for that and she's awesome!) Her home is aging right along with her and Dad isn't around with his handy duct tape, wire ties and Super Glue to keep it all together. (We've hired gardeners, who seem to be on the cusp of getting fired every other month. I don't think they get paid enough!) It costs money to maintain her life as in the manner to which she was accustomed, and she doesn't want to pay for it! She's acting more and more feeble, but we can't tell if it's real or something she's invented because she thinks being feeble gets her something, mostly our attention. She seems to be okay with gardening and walking down the driveway to get the mail, doing her laundry, light housekeeping and cooking. And then, she suddenly quits doing it because she wants someone to do it all for her, but she wants it done her way, and for free.

Her narcissistic tendencies won't let her admit that my sister and I can't help her the way she wants to be helped at this stage of the game. We can't give up our children and our own homes, our jobs and our relationships just to hover by the side of her bed to usher her into the beyond where our father waits for her. First of all, she's not physically sick! She's just decided she's done living, and she really doesn't care to participate in life any longer. She's mad that God isn't doing His part to help her out of this situation she's in.

My sister and I keep telling her, "Maybe God wants you to live! To participate in life! To be happy!" She completely ignores that kind of talk. It makes her angry. She can't seem to articulate what she wants, at all, but whatever it is we do for her is always, ALWAYS, grossly inadequate.

So, I'm done. On Saturday, after spending the afternoon shopping for her, and after spending the week taking her to two medical appointments, running down new prescriptions for her, other errands, paying her bills and managing all her financials, working things out for her home health aide (Mom stiffed her! Paid her with vegetables from the garden. Don't know how PG&E and the telephone company would accept that as a form of payment, but apparently, the housekeeper/helper should?!)...after all that, plus daily phone calls every day except Friday (I had appointments), I was told that I hadn't spent any time helping her all week. And that if I really cared for her, she shouldn't have to tell me how to help her feel better (medically speaking), that I would already know what to do. Then she insulted the work that I do and she's mad at all my clients too. (Would that be the only one client I barely have time to work for because she's taking up all my time and creative energy? Or was that the client I had to drop because of her?)

So I told her I guess I didn't really care for her, and I am acting accordingly. I'm not calling her. I'm not going to visit her. I have to go over tomorrow to meet with a someone about my father's estate. Her next medical appointment isn't until the following week, and I don't have to take her anywhere else. My sister is going on Friday to run groceries over to her. She won't listen to reason about anything. She won't make decisions about her own life and tells me that I'm now in charge of everything, but when I do make decisions, they're all wrong. She's insulting and toxic. She's a manipulative liar. She marginalizes me, my sister and our families, keeps tearing us down. This behavior started years ago and has only increased with time. I will no longer subject myself to this abuse. I am one of the executors of my father's estate, so I have duties there and I'm performing them. Beyond that...DONE!

I'm also done talking about her. I'm done writing about her. I'm done rearranging my life for her. I'm done taking time away from my children because of her. I'm done feeling bad for not being a good enough daughter to make her happy. I don't want her to know anything about me or my kids. She's not invited to my home. And I'm not taking calls either. If she leaves one of her messages about how she's dying and she needs help now, I'm calling 911 and sending the ambulance to her house. There will be hell to pay for a while. She is going to do something really drastic. She is going to really pour on the drama. And I'm not going to respond to it any longer.

I'M FREE-I'm free,
And freedom tastes of reality
Tommy by The Who

PS) I just got a phone call...the summons to drop everything to put Icy Hot on her back because she's at death's door. I called the home health aide to help. I love that woman! Not sure why she wasn't called to begin with. It's her job!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation

Oh my! I am going home on Tuesday! I've had such a lovely holiday, away from the dramas of everyday life. It was so necessary!

It felt like I needed about four days to just shake off the guilt of being away from my responsibilities. Four days and a lot of wine and shopping! I am grateful to my friend Debbie and her girls for helping me to focus on my! OMG! Such great tutors!

Still, late one night, I had to run an emotional cycle about guilt and not checking in with my mother. I haven't spoken to her since I left home. I'm having trouble shaking off her lingering judgement as I've been enjoying my time with good friends. And I've had to reread that cycle a few times to help me get back to the point of the vacation. (You'll notice themes from previous cycles...stuff just keeps coming back. I wish that once I worked through these cycles that I'd be done with the issue, but the reality of it is my feelings don't permanently resolve themselves.) :
What I'm most upset about is . . . I'm on vacation but I can't enjoy myself because I'm stressed about not contacting my elderly mother. I was fine until my sister let me know how she wasn't going to look after our mother while I was gone like I thought she was. Our mother is bipolar and narcissistic and very, very difficult. I really needed the break from her, but I'm just as stressed now as when I'm with her.
I feel ANGRY that . . . I can't stop thinking about Mom. I'm angry that my sister told me what she told me. I'm angry that now I am losing sleep over this. I'm angry that this is ruining my time away! I'm angry that I have to deal with this whole issue on vacation!
I feel SAD that . . . I don't feel free. I feel sad that I can't seem to enjoy myself. I feel sad that I can't find rest or peace.
I feel afraid that . . . I will never be free.
I feel guilty that I . . . I can't take steps to move forward on my own behalf to create a good life for myself. I feel guilty that I feel powerless in this situation.
My unreasonable expectation is . . . that choosing to go on vacation means I will be able to enjoy myself automatically.
I expect myself to...continue to feel stress and to try to do something about it, like a cycle, when it gets really difficult. I also expect myself to find something to do that will distract me.
My positive, powerful thought: I don't have to call Mom!
The Essential Pain is . . . I will be punished when I get home.
The Earned Reward is . . . I will have spent time practicing to deal with not contacting Mom…freedom!
My Grind In: I am learning to be free of Mom.
The trick will be to be emotionally free of Mom once I get back home. That means I still do the things I need to do to help care for her, and I practice with becoming guilt-free from her expectations of me with everything else. Something she will feel the need to constantly keep heaping upon me.

Many have suggested that I should just run, move on with my life and move away. That is so tempting. Really, I cannot express how tempting that is. Is there a country where one can go and be free like that? Where one can experience liberty from oppression? Wait...I think I already live there! (Thank God!) I guess I need to learn how to make that work for me.

Here's the reality of my sons really need to stay where we are. They don't need any more upheaval in their life. They feel safe and secure right where we are. They're building connections, a solid network of friends. They're engaged in healthy activities and really growing as young men. They need stability in order to keep that going. It's really hard for children to find their bearings and keep growing when they have to move frequently. They have difficulty learning to develop the skills to maintain long-term relationships. My kids need to learn that. For them, I need to stay put for at least the next seven years, until my youngest son is in college. My boys will need a place that feels like home, even when they're at university. I am very happy to do that for them.

I can do that for them and move on with my life where I am. Really, I need to stay where I am for me. I need to be in a safe, familiar place to find myself again, to find healing for my heart, reprioritize my goals and grow in the right direction. I need to learn to trust my gut, and I need to learn to let people into my life in the right way. I need to connect with normal people in the normal, everyday world of middle-America, where I live now. I need my house to be my home, a place of my own creation, where I build good memories to sustain my later years in life. And all that requires time, investment of myself, some solitude and peace, safety and familiarity. There's a lot to be said for the familiarity of feeling at home. I long for it. I need it just as much as my sons.

But I also have to stay for Mom. She should have learned how to take care of herself in the modern world a long time ago. But she didn't. It's easy to say that it's not my responsibility to take care of her just because she didn't learn how to do it for herself. Then there's the everyday reality of the situation. She and Dad didn't plan for her life as a widow. Mom didn't want to be the one who was left alone. She didn't create an identity for herself. She didn't maintain healthy relationships with local friends. She cut herself off from her family. Her grasp of the English language is limited. She is not schooled in money matters. She doesn't know how to get around town on her own. She has no idea how to live independantly, and she never had any intention of having to learn how to do that. Despite her toxic behavior causing me such anxiety on a daily basis, she needs help. She's not loaded, so she can't pay for help. My sister and I, we're it. And I'm the one that lives nearby.

So, on my summer vacation, I did some guilt about not keeping contact with Mom while on vacation. And then I did some wine, and then beer. And a caipirinha at The Bazaar in Los Angeles (I highly recommend both!). I did some shopping. I did laugh a lot. And I did a Coronita Rita at Joe's Crab Shack, just before I mentally did Bono at Angels Stadium on Saturday night! And then I worked through a bit more of my guilt about not being able to entirely detach from Mom without guilt while on vacation.

Good job, Geo!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I really wanted to swear!

I've been trying to be more positive and compassionate toward my mother since my father passed away. She makes it so damn hard!!!

I didn't want this blog to be solely whining about my state of life, because there are aspects of my life that I truly love. I love the home life my sons and I have built for ourselves since moving back to the US. I love spending time with my new friends and all the new things I do now. I love my work (when my mother lets me do it!). I feel like I'm really healing after getting divorced and I'm starting to see a vision for my future that I look forward to fashioning for myself. But you know when you're driving and see something in the distance that really peaks your curiosity and you know you're moving forward and you're going to get a really good look at it, but there's this giant 18-wheeler truck that keeps getting in your way and you can't seem to get around it? That's my mother!

I spent three hours grocery shopping with her yesterday. We had a nice time together. It wasn't a planned trip. First she asked me to get three things for her at the store on my way to her house after I stopped at the bank for her to get her some cash. By the time I got to the house, she had her Social Security check ready to be deposited and she wanted to go to Smart and Final to get some dried beans for her pantry (they have great pricing on their beans). So we went back to the bank, and then stopped for vitamins downtown at Sheri's, and then went to Smart and Final, and then to Safeway. I think I heard the story about how Jim (one of my father's friends who has been so incredibly kind to us and does things for my mother around the house, and lets Mom feed him twice a week...really, he's a saint!) refuses to eat my mother's offering of a sardine sandwich and how he will only eat fish at McDonald's. I'm hearing this story for like the tenth time.

I really had to get home. I had plans. Grown-up plans. Adults actually invited me out! Not me and my kids. Not me and my mother. Just me! There was going to be wine! And scintillating conversation! I needed to get home because I was going to make a kick-ass appetizer, a savory chard, onion, bacon and Gruyere bread pudding. Perfect for having with wine. And I needed a couple hours to make it, and the party was to start at 4, and it was 2:30 by the time Mom was done with me! And I explained to her while we were meandering through the bean selection at Smart and Final that I had this thing to go to...with a business 4.

And about five minutes after mentioning this thing I had to go to that afternoon that Mom started complaining about something caught in her eye, that it had been bothering her all morning, and she couldn't get it out. And she fussed about it a little more at Safeway as we looked for the organic chicken tenders. And she said she would try to flush it out with Visine just as I was bringing in all her groceries and helped her put them away.

And she mentioned it again when she called after I got home, as I was doing the prep work on the bread pudding half an hour later. And then she insisted I call her eye doctor for her to find out if she could come in and get it looked at right away. On a Friday afternoon. No, the eye doctor wasn't actually in, and I was redirected to Mom's primary care doctor, who also wasn't in. But his office said I should take her to the emergency room because that's where they had the equipment to deal with eye stuff...

(This is where the desire to swear crops's not a part of my daily vocabulary. Only two people in my life have angered me so much that I wanted to swear. I'm no longer married to one of them. The other one keeps reattaching the umbilical cord to me.)

I spent four-and-a-half hours in the ER to have two little eye lashes removed from my mother's eye. And I had to hear about how Jim wouldn't eat my mother's sardine sandwiches once more. And I missed my party. And Mom neither thanked me nor did she apologize for screwing up my plans. But she did invite me in to have some boiled greens because I hadn't eaten anything all day (I was saving my calories for the wine and appetizers). I turned her down and went home, made myself an omelet with chard, onion, bacon and Gruyere cheese (it was delicious) and I watched Numb3rs on Netflix till I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Today I have to go get some antibiotic eye drops and go back to Mom's house to drop them off. She'll probably try to get me to stay and eat boiled greens. But I'm going to turn her down. I have a lot of work to get done before I leave for my trip next week. She knows about the trip. But she won't talk as if it's really happening. She says things like, "When are you taking the boys to the airport?" And I remind her that the boys and I are leaving for three weeks. And then she says something about how she's probably going to die next week. Or that Dad came to visit her in the night and told her he'd come for her to take her with him. I don't doubt that sometime just before I leave she'll have a gallbladder attack. Or some other life-threatening event. Every time I have to leave to attend a class or a business conference, she's about to die. She's not abandoned. My sister is available. My godmother is available. Jim is available. I'm even hiring a home health nurse to check on Mom every day. But she'll still be on the verge of death, and I'll still get scolded for not calling her every day while I'm gone.

Because I'm not going to call her every day. Because I'm going to be on vacation!!!! From her!!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

My son made me breakfast in bed - no foolin'!

I'm staying home today, sick, or struggling to not let this cough and sinus thing I've been battle for over a week turn into bronchitis. Last night, I felt a big lump in my throat, my ears were plugged, I was wheezy and my face hurt. I think the fresh dose of pollen in the air exacerbated the problem. I stuffed myself with cayenne pepper capsules, cranberry pills and herbal cough syrup, sprayed my throat with colloidal silver and went to bed. This morning, still felt bad, but not quite as bad as last night.

And then Rhyan came in, felt my forehead to see if I was feverish, took the dog with him, and then later returned with a tray bearing hot Good Earth Original tea, scrambled egg whites cooked in olive oil on a piece of Julian Bakery Sourdough toast. (All my favorites!) And he told me to stay in bed and get well and he'd take care of me today.

To be honest, this is all new to me, so I was waiting for the April Fools joke. But it didn't happen! He scolded me for getting on the computer to do some work, but since I'm singing his praises, he's letting me stay on for a little bit longer.

Quinn is almost done with the Spring Cleaning in the kitchen. I think he's actually going to finish the job today! He even cleaned out the toaster!

April Fools Day 2011 totally blows away every Mother's Day I ever had!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Today was a pretty good day

This morning the sun was shining, the skies were blue and cloudless. Temperatures are warming. Good workout at Pilates this morning. Even Rhyan had a good workout and I didn't have to force him to do it.

Mom had her physical later in the morning. Doctor says she's doing great! All her blood work was within normal parameters, she happened to not experience any pain today, and was in a fairly affable mood. She didn't want to have to undress and wear the hospital gown while getting her backside examined, but the doctor talked her into it. And everything was okay.

The new gardener started today, and he was doing a great job! Mom sat in the dining room and stared at him through the window. It was like reality TV.

I did have to spend two hours with her and two hours running errands for her. It's really hard to get work done for my clients on days like this. My creative process gets hijacked and the ADD brain can't seem to get back to work later on in the day.

I came home to a very clean kitchen. Quinn got it all done! Even the floor!

I had time to make a lovely potato salad for dinner.

Chloe was snuggly and playful and she's fallen asleep on my pillow...time for me to go to bed too.

A non-dramatic day. I felt the need to record it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mom called...

It's been raining quite a bit in Northern California for the last few days. There was a break in the clouds yesterday afternoon, just long enough for Mom to have a look out her kitchen window. Then she called me.

"Can you see the sun," she asked.

"Yes! It's gorgeous! Are you enjoying it?"

"No, can you see the sun from where you're standing?"

"You want me to go look at the sun?"

"Yes, go outside and look at it."

"Okay, hang on...Yep, there it is. It's going down soon."

"Do you see the clouds just on top of the sun? The long ones?"

"Yes, I think those are called cirrus clouds. The storms are done!"

"No, those are the poison clouds that the government sprays from the airplanes to try to kill us all."

"What? Why would the government try to kill us all?"

"I don't know why, but that's why we're all so sick. They're doing testing on us."

"How do you know this?"

"Ask any doctor and they will tell you that."

I don't quite know what to do with those conversations...

Irresistable Immovable Object

I got out of bed at 10:30 this morning. Yes, a definite sleep-in Sunday for me. It was lovely!

By noon, my 13-year-old still hadn't gotten out of bed.

"Rhyan, time to get up. Please, you've got a paper to finish writing for class. It's due tomorrow." A slight stirring under the covers, followed by a long, impatient-sounding sigh. Rhyan's laying on his stomach.

"Chloe, come on, get that boy out of bed!"

I love that dog! She hops up on the bed, reaches in and licks Rhyan's nose, right in the nostrils (ick!), and he jerks his face up. His eyes still closed but he's definitely scowling. Chloe proceeds with the wake-up facial, and finally one of Rhyan's eyes flutters open. Then she tucks her head under his chin and burrows in, flipping over onto her back and then pushes his chest so that he rolls onto his side. He finally fully opens both eyes and looks up at me.

"What do you want for breakfast?"

...Silence, coupled with continued scowling.


A slight movement indicating a negative response.


Same response. I continued getting the same response as I ran down the list.

"Eggs? Oatmeal? Cereal? French toast? You want me to fly in some beignets from New Orleans?"

Another disappointed sigh, then, "Pancakes, I guess."

"But I already said pancakes."

"I just wanted to hear the whole list before making a decision."

I'm going to beat him! "Okay, pancakes it is."

"And I want an egg, over easy, on toast with butter."

He ended up having four pancakes, three with whipped cream and chocolate chips, and maple syrup, one with an egg on top.

"Where's my toast?"

I had to take a moment before answering...

"Go to your room, get dressed, AND TAKE THE DOG OUT FOR A WALK!"

"Geez Mom! You don't have to overreact! I'm going, I'M GOING!"

A lot of the time, Rhyan maintains control over his environment by not emotionally connecting or enthusiastically participating with people in his life. He's not a "bad" kid. In fact, he's a very good boy. He's helpful. He participates in family life at home. When he loves what he's doing, it shows. He's slow to make friends, not because he's shy, but because he wants to make sure the people he brings into his life are not erratic trouble-makers. He exercises his personal freedoms with responsibility.

Rhyan doesn't like to try new things unless he knows he's already capable of doing it, and doing it well, or he's assured of not looking bad when he does it. Or it doesn't cost him too much effort to get up to speed on it. It's been really difficult getting him to step up to the fitness level to which he aspires. He wants to be an athlete, a football player. He also wants to be an automotive engineer and a businessman. But he neither wishes to train like an athlete or study like a college-bound student.

He's in taekwondo, and he loves it. This week, he achieved his blue belt. Only four belts left until he's a black belt. But the hardest training lies before him. He knows he's going to have to work really hard to strengthen his core. He's a big boy and it's not so easy for him to accomplish some moves that require a lot more agility and core strength. He's chosen to attend Pilates class with me, three times a week, in order to achieve his goals. He's getting personal training from the instructor, but at home, he doesn't really want to do the training he's been asked to do.

I'm trying to find things that are fun for us to do as a family. I'm trying to turn us into an active family. It's really difficult, because I'm running my household as well as my mother's affairs, I'm trying to work and go to school. I have so many personal goals. Taking time to get out on the weekends is hard when there's so much to get done at home. But I'm going to have to do it anyway, because my kids aren't going to achieve their goals until they learn they have to start working on them now. And we're not going to go anywhere as a family unit, or achieve any sort of family cohesion unless we make efforts toward that end.

This morning my BFF sent me a link (yes, many vie for that position, but only one wears that tiara, and she knows who she is!) to the Merrell Down and Dirty National Mud Run Series. It looks like fun! It looks like something we've never done before. It looks like something we all may need to train for together, although we will not be "in it to win it." We'll be in it to achieve cohesiveness as a family and have fun! I'm up for it!

I presented it to Rhyan. I was thinking that by the time the race rolls around, Rhyan will be 14 and have to race under the adult class. We can certainly train for this and can even go to this year’s event, but he wouldn’t be ready to participate for this, especially emotionally/mentally, until 2012. I know my kid. He's going to want to see it first, and then participate. Maybe.

I looked at the training schedule and can see that it’s totally doable! But Rhyan wouldn’t be able to do some of the obstacle course work by this October. I know I wouldn't.

And I’m asking him now, and he’s repeatedly saying, “I’m not going, I’m not going…”

“What about next year?”

“I’m not going, I’m not going…”

“You could totally do it, dude! I would train with you, for next year’s race!”

“I’m not going…”

"Quinn would do it. Would you do it if Quinn did it?"


"What about if your friends came along?"

"They won't do it."

I'm going to have to figure out a way to get him to participate. I'm going to have to figure out a way to get him to walk/run with me, everyday, for 20 minutes. Because that's what I'm going to have to do to train for this.

So, gotta go. Gotta go over the five-paragraph essay Rhyan's been writing for over a month, that's due tomorrow. About his dog. His favorite subject. After gaming. Who takes a whole month to write five paragraphs about the family dog? Rhyan does.

And then we're going out for a 20-minute walk. Maybe we'll walk to the movies, the long way.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Becoming the man I want to have in my life

Just watching Dr. Christian Northrup's most recent special on PBS this morning (instead of going to Pilates) and she said something that has seized my brain, and my heart. She said she realized sometime after turning 50 and getting divorced that she had to become the man she wanted to have in her life.

Damn, I think I want that too! I have to think about that for a bit today and then come back here and record what that means for me.

(I might need to get one of those Home Improvement bathtubs, " adjustable jets, three speeds - low, medium and who-needs-a-man...")

Okay, here's my list, so far:

Financially savvy and fiscally responsible and balanced
Very handy around the house
Supports my goals
Very smart and a deep thinker
Healthy and takes care of himself
Respects women
Good sense of humor
Genuinely self-confident
Real integrity
Has solid, long-term healthy relationships
Not overly self-indulgent
Good listener
Good conversationalist
Enjoys travel
Loves family and is an active participant in family life...but not to the point of melding with everyone
Loves to read a variety of books, from modern to the classics
Loves a broad range of music
Loves art and cultural pursuits
Emotionally available

Hmmm, I need to be all these things for myself.

I hear a question out there...if I do all these things for myself, then why would I need a man? Well, wouldn't a man equally want a woman who embodies all these characteristics? I want a solid companion with whom I can share a life!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's been two days...

My kids are now lying for me. When my mom calls, they answer the phone and tell her I'm otherwise disposed.

"She's in the shower..."
"She took Chloe for a walk..."
"I think she's in the bathroom..."
"I'm not sure where she went..."

It's been two days since I saw her, but we've chatted several times since Thursday. Today she said she missed me. And I could hear her pouting over the phone. She wants Greek yogurt and fresh spinach from Raley's. Maybe tomorrow I'll go get it. I wasn't planning to go anywhere today. I was planning to get all the laundry done, change the beds and get some work in for a couple clients. Stick to the plan!

Right now, I've got and archived episode of Blue Dog Jam playing quite loudly on my computer. Attempting to crowd out my mother's presence from my brain. I'm off to make waffles for my boys.

...Six hours later, Mom calls again.

"Are you waiting for the milk to sour?" (She's referring part of the yogurt-making process.)
"I'm sorry Mom, I couldn't get to the store today."
"Why not?" (Now we commence with the guilt-creating process.)
"I'm working and couldn't get away. What do you need the yogurt for? Are you making spanakopita?"
"No, I have itching. My feet are itching."

(Is she applying this topically?)

"Well, I can't make it till after Pilates tomorrow."
"If I'm still here...sorry to be a big bother..."

An isolated incident such as this would not even create a blip on my radar, but there's a lifetime of emotion that's dragged along with every encounter I have with my mother. I don't exactly know what to do with that. I'll have to stick to my guns...I'll only go over there twice a week, and only talk to her once a day. If I'm her only "friend", then hopefully she'll figure out that she needs to reconnect with old friends, rebuild some bridges and make some new acquaintances. And she'll have to figure this out on her own.

And I have to learn how to emotionally separate myself from her process, because even though I was "working" all day, I didn't get much done. My entire day was a struggle between trying to be creative and trying to stop being nagged by guilt. And guilt is a tremendous zapper of creativity!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Has it been a month already?

The last month has been a jumbled mess of trotting after my mother's bipolar needs in the wake of her widowed status. I haven't had time to miss my dad, much less, mourn him. There was one moment, at the supermarket, when I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye, pushing a cart in the organic produce section. And then a few days later, I dreamed he was laying in bed, waiting to die, but he looked better than his final hours. Somehow I felt very conscious in my dream, knowing I was dreaming, and that he wasn't really there. He didn't have anything to say to me, nor I to him. And then the dream was gone.

When I go to my mom's house, I don't feel Dad's presence lingering. Mom says she still feels him, like he's in the other room, or he's coming down the hall to see her, but he never arrives. The first few days she didn't know how to stop worrying that he'd fall out of bed. Then she didn't know what to cook for herself. I told her that she probably forgot what she really likes to eat, that now was the time to get to know herself all over again.

After a week, Mom had people out to the house moving the huge collection of junk at the side of the house that Dad had collected over the last 20 years. We know it's a 20-year-old collection because that's the last time, according to Mom, that side of the house was painted. It's a different color than the rest of the house. Three truck-loads. Some very nice men came to haul it all away. Then Mom had the last of Dad's caregivers stay for another week or so, and Anna brought her sons over to do a little yard work. Actually, a lot of yard work, and the front yard looks really nice again. The old fence is gone in the front yard. I designed that fence when I was in high school, drew up the plans in my mechanical drawing class and Dad built it. It hadn't been maintained so it slowly rotted and fell apart. Damn! That fence was 32 years old! Damn!

Next Mom started taking things out of the closets. All evidence of Dad's infirmity is gone. No pills, no hospital paraphernalia, no paperwork, no pamphlets from it never happened. And this last week, his clothes have been removed from the closets and drawers and are ready for Goodwill. Quinn kept my dad's socks, of all things! Plus, since he's mad for coats, Quinn's got Dad's raincoat. A really nice one too. Plus a wool sports coat that will need a little altering to fit properly, but it's nice. Rhyan got Dad's red plaid flannel shirt jacket. He wears it everyday when he takes Chloe for a walk. He tried to use his charms on my mother to make off with Dad's leather recliner, but Mom's not ready to let that one go just yet. He thinks it'll look nice in his bedroom.

So, after some really vigorous work and a lot of people buzzing about the house, Mom's decided to let everyone go. I had to spend nights with her for a week, but then I eased out of that because my kids were really missing me...or that's what I told her. The first night alone was rough, but she's fine now. I started taking her to get a regular weekly massage with Joanne at Perfect Balance Day Spa. Mom never got a regular massage before, but she's now seeing the benefit in it. I get a treatment at the same time, so it's not a complete waste of time for me. My nails are looking pretty good these days!

Mom's grateful for all the time I spend with her, but I have to say, I'm not getting much benefit from it. Her house is looking pretty damn nice, and mine is absolute bedlam. All her bills are paid and her life is in order, and I can't seem to get any of my school work done, I'm not spending enough time with Rhyan on his school work, and I am way behind on my paperwork for my business. I have two clients who's work I am so grateful to have because when I tell her I have to get to work, she refrains from calling me more than once a day. I still see her three times a week, and we talk at least once a day. And I have to keep reminding myself that we are NOT BFFs.

In 10 days, the traditional Greek mourning period of 40 days will be up. I'm thinking that's when Mom is going to start venturing out to meet new people at the senior center. If I can get her to be brave enough to use the local public transportation, she'll be able to get herself to where she wants to go. But then I should probably start expecting surprise inspections.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Billy G. Lewis (1933 - 2011)

Billy G. Lewis, age 77, of Lodi, passed away peacefully at home with his family at his side on February 1, 2011. He was born in French Camp, California on May 20, 1933, to George H. and Goldie (Vasiliou) Lewis. Billy graduated from Lodi Union High School in 1951 and served in the Radio Corps in the United States Army. He was an electrical contractor by trade for over 40 years, and he owned and operated Lewis Electric. 
Billy was a peaceful man who was known for his dry sense of humor. He enjoyed making things and tinkering in his garage, watching the stars, sitting under trees and eating fruit, and riding his bicycle around town. Billy was a longtime member of the Grace Communion International Church of God where he served as a deacon and participated in the Spokesman's Club. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend and will be dearly missed.

Mr. Lewis is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years: Dimitra Lewis of Lodi; daughters: Georgia Lewis and Goldie (Skip) Hineman; grandchildren: Quinn and Rhyan Daugherty and Lacey, Delaney, and Marcus Hineman; and brother: Leo Lewis of Acampo.

Monday, January 31, 2011


My dad's pain has become increasingly worse. He's now on a lot more pain meds. I'm so grateful to the people of Hospice of San Joaquin for helping my dad have a more comfortable existence in his last days. He's finally in a hospital bed. Mom finally agreed that she needed help 24 hours a day, help that was a lot more effective than she, my sister and I can give. Visiting Angels has provided two really awesome people to help us, Anna and Eddie. And there have been additional angels in our lives who have acted on my parents' and my behalf, loving family and friends, wise counselors, additional caretakers.

It's the waiting game now. Not sure when it's going to happen, but all the signs are there. No one really tells you what it looks like as someone who's been sick for a long time approaches death. It's so hard to watch and not know what to do about it while we wait. I'm busying myself with the crossing of T's and dotting of I's. Trying to help my mother take care of herself. At least she can sleep more now that we've got the overnight care. Hoping to take her out in the sunshine later this week. It would be great if she let me schedule a massage for her. With all the right help in place, she's calmed down a lot. We've had a good talk and she seems to accept, just a little more, that she's not going to have Dad around much longer. She still wants to die first. But I'm not letting her do that.

I'm sticking to exercise, eating right, getting better sleep. I could use one of those massages too! I'm keeping up with writing the blogs, because it feels good to chronicle all this. Someday, my kids may go back and read all this and have some perspective on this period of time in our lives.

It's really hard to learn to remain at peace through this transition. Plenty of time later to go tearing around getting things done. I need to keep still and learn to accept the next stage, where I'll still be taking care of a parent, but we'll have to make more changes to her life, and quite possibly mine as well. It's hard to find a way to let my dad go when I haven't had the relationship I wanted with him. And he can't play along any more either. It's hard to bring my sons to see him when he's not even close to being the grandfather they once knew. They're frightened. My youngest is scared of seeing him die. My oldest is emotionally distant about the whole thing. It's just how he's dealing with it all. But both the boys are keeping their own lives moving forward.

I'm trying to find moments of joy in every day. The sun's out today. It's still cold (for Lodi), but there are no clouds, blue skies all around. My sweet little puppy is curled up on the bed, taking advantage of the two-square-feet of sunlight shining through my bedroom window that warms my comforter. My son Rhyan is enthusiastically killing zombies with online friends on the XBox in the living room. It's fun to listen to him interact with his friends through a headset.

I'm going to take a nap now to save up a little rest. I'm staying with Mom tonight. She needs family with her in case Dad passes tonight.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The "Difficult" Elderly Parent

It's so sad that I am not alone in the dilemma of the difficult elderly parent...I had a rough evening. Trying to help my parents and take care of my kids. My parents have a team of people caring for them. My kids have only me. And so I picked my kids, because the team was in place. And still, I'm the bad child.

So I came home, drank wine, cried a little, did laundry, and surfed the Internet looking for answers. Instead, I found this: mind.expressions: The "Difficult" Elderly Parent. The amazing thing is that the post was written three years ago, but people are still leaving comments about the difficulties they face in caring for their difficult elderly parents.

I hope to be done with the laundry soon. And then I'm going to sleep, I hope.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How I'm taking care of myself

Okay, I was raised by a Class One Martyr. Class One Martyrs don't know how to teach their children how to care for themselves. They care for themselves in secret, so as not to mar the martyr-like illusions. Or they guilt others into caring for them. Or they take steps to care for themselves when "pressured" by well-meaning people.

So I never cultivated the whole regular-trip-to-the-salon-for-a-manicure thing. And I didn't develop my save-yourself-so-you-can-save-your-kids thing either. Not until I had a good bit of therapy. While all the other mommies were off on spa/shopping/lunch dates with friends, I was...not taking care of my kids...because at the time I had maids for that. I was in my room having a big cry over how lamentable my situation was, what with the unfaithful spouse, and being stuck in the expatriate fishbowl of life, and nothing meaningful to focus on other than bridge and quilting (hate them both!!!!!), and not trusting that I had the resources to leave with my kids and survive on my own.

Eventually the aroma of my misery stew started to really stink up my life, enough so that I understood that no one was going to care for me or anticipate my needs like I could (and this lesson was really a loooooong time coming - because I can be soooooooooo dense!). Plus, my one really dear friend, who was going through a divorce whilst holding together her professional life and raising her autistic son on her own, was looking so damn good! Why wasn't she falling apart?! Well, she was, but she was taking care of herself. Ohhhhhhhhh! Maybe those spa days she was always proposing were really worth the money...

When I was living in Indonesia, I started to indulge myself with a cream bath. It's an Indonesian thing, a deep-moisturizing hair treatment and scalp, neck and shoulder massage. Oh, I miss those so much! Everyone should get one! If the Palestinians and Israelis got these on a regular basis, they'd have worked things out a long time ago! Instead of neutral zones, there should be cream bath zones! Really, they're that good. Having the monthly cream bath convinced me to have the weekly massages. Granted, massages can be expensive, but while I lived in Indonesia, Ibu Upik would only charge me $5 for an hour massage. And it wasn't a fake little massage, it was a good therapeutic one.

When I eventually came back to California, permanently, at the start of the divorce process, I remembered how great the regular massages were. I started going to the spa up the street on a weekly basis for a massage. A damn site more than the $5, but I was worth it. Because I understood that when I cared for myself properly, I could make wiser decisions about how to run my life, my household and raise my sons with more love and compassion than my mother could ever muster for me. My health started to improve, caring for myself spilled into eating better, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep. And I committed to going back to therapy, participated in an EBT group (I highly recommend this as well for effective self-care) and re-focused on my education. I shed the martyr mantle that Mom was trying to hand me and actively moved on with my life.

I don't get weekly massages any longer. I've stretched them out to monthly, but I've added the mani/pedi and the facial on other weeks. And when I get my hair cut/colored, my stylist gives me a lovely little scalp, neck and shoulder massage. Not quite up to par with the Indonesian version, but wonderful nonetheless. I'm due for a massage this week. Going to see either Joanne or Stephanie at Perfect Balance Day Spa a few blocks from me. Joanne does this really awesome Thai stretch massage, and Stephanie gives a marvelous deep-tissue Swedish massage. I've been working extra hard at Pilates and weight training this week, so by Saturday, a massage is going to feel really good!

And while I'm getting my massage, the Class One Martyr is going to call and leave me a message, wondering where I am, and would I please call her back because she's lonely and has nobody to talk to but me (because she didn't talk to the team of people that cater to her and Dad everyday). And when I call her back, she's going to ask me where I was, and I'll tell her how much I was enjoying my massage, and then she'll say she wishes she could leave Dad for an hour and get a massage, and I'll offer to make arrangements so that someone can stay with Dad and I can take her for a massage at the spa, and she'll say it's too expensive and that I should know that she can't leave Dad for even one minute, not even to take a shower, and I ask what her team does all day that she can't go take a shower...

Damn! I gotta go! Pilates starts in 15 minutes!

Monday, January 24, 2011


I wish I had time to read some fiction, but at the moment, life is providing all the drama, comedy and pathos I can handle. Instead, my list of books on my to-read list include all sorts of self-help and advice.

Boundaries, by Dr's Henry Cloud and John Townsend, was assigned to me by my therapist. I haven't finished it yet. Actually, I only just got through Chapter 1: "A day in a Boundaryless Life". That alone was tough. I identified with it so much! Parts of it made me cry. I saw behaviors and decisions I've made due to not being able to keep appropriate boundaries up with family and friends. I was heartened because I'm certainly not as bad as I once was. And I was angry because some people, for whom I had been "supportive" and "dependable" and "faithful" decided they no longer needed me in their life the moment I started creating balance for myself and told them "no" a few times. I'm still healing from that. I'm hoping reading this book will help with any further estrangements caused by my "selfishly" creating more balance in my life, and I'll be able to connect in true intimacy with old and new friends and family in more appropriate ways.

I'll write more about this book later, once I've read it, and share how it's impacting me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

All quiet on the homefront

Quinn's all better now. He had strep since last week, and we finally went to the urgent care clinic and got a prescription last Saturday. The drugs started working pretty quickly, but it took him all week to get well enough to leave the house. Today he managed to clean the living room, where he's been camping out for the last three days. I have my bedroom back, and now the living room and dining room (I did his laundry, but he left the clean clothes on the dining table all week).

Quinn lost between 10 and 15 pounds while he was sick. All his pants are hanging rather unattractively between his crotch and his knees. He has no ass! I sent him to the mall in Stockton today to buy a few pairs of jeans to wear to school. I'm sure he'll be stopping by the Barnes and Noble to see his girlfriend. She's "studying".

You know, I went to the same community college. I too had a boyfriend while I was enrolled there. I even took "night classes".

I am laying low today. I have a lot of file boxes to go through, things to sort and put away in my bedroom, somewhere. Pandora is playing Vivaldi right now. Love it! Mournful strings. I loves me some good cello!

Rhyan is on the XBox today. He did his laundry this morning, then helped me make him some healthy burritos for the freezer, then did the dishes. He walked Chloe. Practiced bass. I'm cool with the XBox today.


Oh, I spoke too soon! I'm beginning to see that my mother's the one in control of under-medicating my dad. She is so busted! My sister and I are headed to speak with Hospice people tomorrow. I don't know what this means for us, but we may be finally putting Dad into Hospice House. And Mom may need to go into an elder care facility. There is nothing that my mother reports to us about Dad's condition and his care that we can take seriously. She fabricates conversations, manipulates everyone, just so she can keep Dad at home so she can feed him.

The boys and I are going to checkout for a couple hours. With the Green Hornet.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Taking an ADD break

(Not taking a break from ADD. Taking a break because I have ADD.)

The sun is shining today! It's so gorgeous outside. I know, normal people think, "Hey, the sun is shining...I know what let's do! Go outside!" But not me. I'm weird that way. I'm cleaning my bedroom.

I let things go for the past few weeks, since Christmas. And then I started squeezing my office into my bedroom because Quinn decided to abandon the studio behind our house (it was damn cold in there!) and moved into the room I was using as my office. Ishsh...I really had my heart set on keeping that as my office/sewing room. Instead, the sewing machines are stacked by my closet, the new business computer and desk are squeezed into the bedroom corner. And I just moved the bookcase (and my substantial library) next to my bed. Time to do some deeper dusting (the stuff that the Merry Maids like to miss) and vacuuming in the corners. And then there's all those electrical cords I need to tuck away somehow.

The boys are hiding from me, because they know I'm about to start making demands of them. So I thought I'd put Pandora on mix-mode, to keep us motivated with the right music, and sit down to do a little writing. Because writing distracts me. Actually, my thoughts distract me, and writing helps me to collect them all, make a plan and get to work.

"I'm movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches," by The Presidents of the United States. See, it's practically spring!

(Do you think they're actually singing about peaches? I'm singing out loud and the boys have quizzical looks on their faces. I may start singing about bananas.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The waiting game

Once more, my parents flirted with the idea to have Dad move to Hospice House. Once more, the idea was abandoned for a free but ineffective solution. I know health care costs money, a lot of money, but is all the pain, drama and trauma worth it?

Dad called me yesterday to tell me it was probably the last time we were ever going to speak. So I collected the boys and we went over to the house to have this final conversation face to face. He was in a lot of pain...A LOT of pain. I don't understand why he isn't getting more pain medication. I don't know if it's my dad's choice to not remain so medicated that he can't feel anything, or if my mom's not giving him enough just so she can feed him (because she lives to feed), or if Hospice isn't leaving enough meds. I don't know because no one is answering any of my direct questions about this. And I don't know what to do about this. Obviously, someone wants to be in more control of this situation, so I'll let them have all the control.

I was at my EBT class in Folsom earlier in the week and we talked a little about guilt. Guilt was described as the emotion we feel when we don't do something the way we wish we could have done it. That helped me to realize some things about my relationship with my parents and my role as a part-time caregiver.
  1. I shouldn't feel guilty about how my relationship with my parents has turned out. They had expectations about what the relationship would be, but they've done nothing that supports that level of closeness. I am only responsible for my side of the relationship.
  2. It is inappropriate for me to step in to care for them to a degree that abandons my children and myself, or costs me money, especially if they can afford to pay for extra help for themselves.
  3. I am not my mother's therapist. And I can't fix her, or choose how she is going to live her life after Dad is gone.
  4. My parents are difficult people, despite their good hearts and religious beliefs.
I really am unable to help them without letting go of my sons and myself right now. Do I wish I could do more? I don't know. Yes and no. I wish I could find out exactly what was going on so that I could make sure my dad's pain-relief needs were met. I wish I could get inside my mother's head and straighten things out in there. I don't want to neglect my sons, because I'm their only involved parent and I need to be at home, in their lives, actually parenting them. I don't want to be so caught up in the stress of this whole situation because I can't sleep, I overeat from the stress, I've got constant headaches, I miss Pilates class and other opportunities to exercise and care for myself.

And I feel guilty that is seems like we're all just waiting around for Dad to die. There has to be a balance, between actively living my life and honoring my father at the end of his life. I can accept that this is a difficult time, and the emotional roller coaster will remain in play for some time. I know there are expectations of me, because they hover, unvoiced but menacing, whenever I go to my parents' house. Sometimes I can handle it, other times, not so much.

I'm grateful to the local Hospice people. All the volunteers and the entire organization do so much for the patients and their families. We're donating a car this month, and later, I'll be donating money. They really do great works!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to motivate a teen aged boy

Really, I have no idea how to do that...

Oh my god! OMG!!! OMFG!!!!

I really had to get that out of my system. College boy has strep throat. He's been on meds for only two days. He hasn't eaten for three days and the first thing he managed to eat, well, that's not staying down at the moment. Okay, so, perhaps it's not the best time to get mad at him for flunking out of Japanese 101 and screwing up English 101 because he didn't read the syllabus properly and didn't complete 30% of the assignments, and somehow, with the new semester starting tomorrow, he's only signed up for one class, even though he paid for four.

It took all my self control to speak calmly to him to try to figure out what was going on. And even then, I got all sorts of attitude from him! This man-child, who keeps telling me how much more mature he is than his fellow schoolmates, plus most of humanity, is quite a bit more clueless than he realizes.

I have stepped away from helping him figure this out. He will have to learn to handle his own life. He's not spending enough time studying, certainly not even close to get him to his Plan A college (USC), and most likely not even his Plan B college (UCSC). He is not actively seeking employment. He thinks he's actively seeking employment, but really, he's not. And right now, he's sleeping in my bed, and I'm sleeping on the sofa with the dog, because his room is too close to the main road and he can't get adequate sleep from the street noise and street lamps, and he needs to sleep in order to get well. I don't want to get strep, so I won't sleep in his room until he's washed all his bedding, and he needs to wash all my bedding too now.

There's a reason why kids are supposed to go away to the parents will have an opportunity to forget all their crap and come to miss them.

I think my son needs someone like Alfred the butler in his life.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Four phone calls before noon...

After I got back from my Pilates class, my son told me that my father had called to talk with me. He wanted me to call him back. So I did, but it really wasn't Dad who needed me. It was Mom.

"Where were you!!" She sounded really frantic.

"What's wrong?"

"Norma's going in with your father now, my finger is throbbing and I can't clean anything, the oven exploded and Diana is coming in five minutes! I need you here now!"

(Norma is the Hospice home health care aide that comes in several times a week to bathe Dad. Diana is the Hospice counselor assigned to my parents. Mom cut her finger a few days ago and it's not healing as quickly as she wants.)

"What exploded in the oven?"

"I put a sweet potato in the oven so I would have something to eat for breakfast and it exploded all over the oven. I need you to come clean it for me now. Please, please, please come now."

"Mom, you know that Rhyan's got school until 3 p.m. and I can't come until he's done with his work. Can you wait until then?"

This is when her voice changes from sheer panic to whimpering. "Oh, not until 3? I guess I'll just have to live in these conditions until then...and did you order my vitamins? I'm afraid I'm going blind! Please, please, please get them to me. Call the lady. Tell her I have cataracts." And then she hung up.

(She doesn't have cataracts. The eye doctor said they need to check for cataracts. Mom want's me to order these vitamins that are supposed to prevent cataracts. They are only available online, for nearly $70 for a one-month supply.)

She called again, twice, to ask me to pick up some dish-washing liquid at Sheri's Sonshine Nutrition Center. And to look for some non-toxic oven cleaner (but her oven is self-cleaning, she just doesn't trust it). And to confirm that I'm still coming over at 3.

Okay, I don't know what to do with this behavior. I'm not going to drop everything to go clean her oven. That's a ridiculous expectation. I have a son that needs me! I have a business plan to write for my own business and clients who'll pay me as soon as I get their work done. And I have my own home to maintain. My parents can afford to hire someone to clean, but they won't. And I am not responsible to teach Mom how to manage her neuroses. Or to be her best friend. Or her only friend. Plus, she has another daughter she can call!

Okay, I think I'm done with this for now. I hope.


We ended up logging six phone calls that day. And by 3 o'clock, my mother had cleaned her oven by herself. It only took 10 minutes. So when I got there, I was told how difficult the day had been...all because the sweet potato exploded. My mother is under so much self-imposed stress. She's in panic-mode. Thankfully, her doctor has her on anti-psychotic meds. It really helps!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm kinda proud of myself at the moment...

I was looking over my old posts and found one from 2009 where I talked about what my personal goals were. And as I read over them, I realized that nearly every one of them was definitely under construction! This is the first time in my life where I've experienced the realization of my goals. It feels really good!

  1. I am living in my dream home now. It's exactly in the neighborhood I wanted to live in. I don't own it, yet, but we did sign a lease-option-to-buy agreement. It needs work, but there are a lot of tall windows in the living room that let in light from the backyard. I'll eventually be putting in a folding glass door that leads to an outdoor living space. There's a small outer structure I'm going to convert to a studio. Only the bathrooms and kitchen need renovating (the house was built in 1952) and the entire electrical and plumbing system will need to be replaced. And the central air unit will need to be replaced as well. And I'm going to install glass doors on the fireplace. I can absolutely see my dream car parked in the driveway!
  2. I'm definitely on the road to better health. I'm no longer on blood pressure medication. I'm still controlling the type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise, even though I'm getting older. I'm managing stress a lot better, and all the divorce drama is over. I'm more active than I used to be, and I have to thank the Pilates classes for that.
  3. I am raising my sons on my own. They are happy right now, feeling safe and at peace. They have friends, activities, places to go. They are involved in their grandparents' lives, even in this difficult time. We're still working on a lot of issues, but that's all a part of the parenting timeline.
  4. I'm just getting back to school. The scope of my education has broadened to enhance my current career goals.
  5. I haven't started writing the books and plays yet. I'm still gathering life experience. But I have started my web design business, have published one client's website, have another one in the pipeline plus four more serious prospects. I have a new desktop computer and all the resources needed to get my work done, and I've even hired a business coach to help me stay focused on my goals, even when my mother calls to disrupt my life everyday.
  6. I have chosen to put off finding a life partner. My life is very full. I do not have time for dating and everything that goes with that. It would be too distracting. I'm still trying to get solid with who I am, a complex, non-traditional woman. They don't make men for women like me. Or at least, I've never met one. And I don't believe there are any in my small town.
I don't have any new goals to add to the list. Just the regular micromanaging the laundry today, file papers in the office, walk the dog. And I want to find out if I can redo my sprinkler system all by myself. And there's a stump in the side yard I want to get rid of. And learn how to prune roses.

Becoming impervious to guilt

Yesterday I didn't call my parents all day. I get to do that, not call them for a whole day. I didn't check in on them at all. I get to have a day off from that...this is something I allow for myself once or twice a week. I'm supposed to have Fridays off when my sister comes to town to handle my parents' requests for a day. She doesn't always make it. And she doesn't actually call them and check in on them everyday. And if she doesn't call them during the day, Mom doesn't call her to remind her of her duty. Like she does with me.

We made it to around 3 p.m. without contact. My boys and I were having a lovely, peaceful Saturday afternoon at home. We had a fire going in the fireplace. I had made turkey and dumpling for a late lunch. Nothing was going on. We get to have that, a lazy day every once in awhile where nothing is going on.

But she had to call me. And she didn't say "hello" or "how are the boys today". It was a summons.

"Come over now."
"What's going on?"

This is where she mumbles in confusing disjointed statements, something about Dad dismantling the phones and not being able to put them back together and how he might cut himself with his tools and he wanted me to come over to fix everything (like I know how to fix a phone) and how he's really mad at her for telling him to be careful.

This is where I have had to start using judgment on the matter, because I get summoned like this all the time, three or four times a week. As if I'm Servicemaster. And it's never a quick trip. It's a two to three hour event. Every time. Usually for nothing.

So I turned her down.

"I'm sorry, I can't come today. I was planning to be there tomorrow."

"Why, what are you doing today?" Really, do I need to justify what I'm doing with an activity of higher importance?

"It sounds like Dad's handling whatever it is that needs handling and I don't need to come over right now."

A brief pause, then, "Okay, are you going to be at home for the rest of the day?"

Really? "In case I need to call you for an emergency."

"Mom, if it's an emergency, call 911. Then call me."

And then she just hung up.

I used to go running over when she called, but found that my household was slowly falling apart over time if I indulged her fears like that. Mom has never been able to work through her own crap. She's always used the family to manage her emotions for. And it always took its toll on us, sometimes for days, while she just moved on as if nothing happened. Once I recognized that, I would get so angry!

One time I was working on becoming a more perfect Christian woman and tried to learn about forgiveness. I studied the Bible, read other people's work, prayed and meditated about it. Eventually, I came to a state of forgiveness with my mother and knew I could walk away from all the hurt and sorrow from the past and move on with my life in love. I thanked God for the lesson. And, I swear, in the very next moment, Mom called and pissed me off all over again! Did she not know that I had forgiven her and she didn't have to go on being the person that she was, that she could move on and be a wonderful woman and not be tied to her past?!!!!!

Yeah, I had a big laugh over that one too. And once again, it was made clear that I can only change myself and that she will never, ever change. I can go on being angry and suffering the effects of that for the rest of my life, or I can learn to see her actions and behaviors for what they are and respond accordingly. Mostly I'll get it right, and I can forgive myself if I get it wrong.

After I stopped with the knee-jerk reactions to Mom's summons, I had to learn to deal with nearly unbearable guilt for not being there for her like I used to. It's definitely a process and it takes time. I don't like guilt. I don't like it hanging around my heart like a shadow. I don't like the knots it produces in my stomach. I don't like being manipulated by it and I don't care to let it motivate me. I find it a useless, damaging emotion. I refuse to be mired by it in my life any longer!

And when guilt is out of the picture, I can continue to grow with purpose into a much happier woman, at peace with where I've been and more hopeful about where I'm going.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to be supportive without getting swallowed whole...

No, I don't know how to do that. But I'm determined to learn how, if its even possible. I wonder how the Hospice people do it, or if they struggle with it too.

My dad's going to die soon, I think. This week the Hospice nurse had to increase his pain medication again. The pain has now moved forward into his front rib cage. Even in his really fuzzy thinking, Dad's scared to die. He's scared to let go. He still wants to buy vitamins with his credit card over the phone and find that miracle cure. He wants to ride his bike one more time. He wants to feel like he belongs. I don't know how to make that happen for him. He calls us all to have a family gathering at the house, but he can't take all the people in the house any longer. He just wakes up, gets bathed and fed, just to go back to bed to sleep for the next round of eating.

Mom called yesterday. She's really stressed.. She's stressed when the Hospice people come to help because she has to hover to make sure they know what they're doing. She's stressed because she thinks the house is a mess, but its not, not even remotely. Cleaning is what she does to feel like she's in control of her life. She's stressed because Dad's not eating enough, and he's not awake enough to eat, and she doesn't know what she can cook to make him well (that's her dream) or just keep him alive and engaged just a little bit longer. Because she let go of living a long time ago, let go of friends and joy and meaningful activities, and when Dad passes, she won't have that in place. And she won't even listen when we offer to take her out, to go to the local senior center, because she feels she needs to stay in the house because Dad panics if she's not around.

And I'm not sure how to deal with this. I'm no longer thinking about what's my responsibility to them, as one of their daughters. I'm observing how my old tendency to swoop in and emotionally take care of my mother no longer appeals to me. I'm not responsible for walking Mom's emotional path through the end of Dad's life, through the grief that's to come, and help her construct a new life on the other side. I'm angry that she's not taken responsibility for herself. I'm angry that my parents didn't think to downsize their lifestyle so they could better manage it in their later years. They've lived with this cancer for 11 years. They knew what was coming. Neither of them stepped up for their own parents' later years, and yet the expectation hovers over me and my sister to be there for them and make everything right.

(There are times when I wish I could cry, for them, for the situation, for myself. but I think the divorce and the constant stress sucked all that out of me. I'm not feeling any tenderness any longer. So I've learned a trick. I put on Pandora's ESP [Deep Relaxation] Channel, and I sort of experience deeper emotions of sadness and pathos through the music. I get a glimpse at my heart through the music. It's how I know I still have one.)

I watched Eat, Pray, Love late last night when I couldn't sleep. I wasn't going to watch it, but there was nothing else I cared to do. I can't comment on the book, because I never read it. I don't know how closely the movie follows the book. I thought the movie was rather predictable. A beautiful, middle-aged woman (and Julia sooooooo represents us all?) travels the globe to find herself. And is rewarded at the end of the movie with what could be the love of her life. Javier Bardem...oh so yummy! She is his reward as well. Beautiful people having achieved enlightenment, moving forward with contentment into their beautiful life Bali.

What I identified with was the hunger. Hunger for balance, hunger for peace, hunger for something I can't quite put my finger on. Everyday I'm hungry, for something (not pasta or pizza). Actually, contentment and peace don't seem to satiate me. That's a state that can't be maintained without effort, and usually I need fresh underwear and the dog needs a walk somewhere in between. Contentment and peace shouldn't be a state one achieves and maintains in stillness. It's something you want available in a crisis too. And I think it's something I can find as long as my actions, my choices, my breath is sincere and entirely my own. Living with intent gives me peace. I find contentment in moments throughout my day, on some days more so than others. I think that's a function of fully participating in living my life.

A larger part of me wishes I could impart that to my parents. They pray, but from what I can tell, they look at God as a magical genie who will bless them with what they want if all the conditions are right. They include in their prayers something about God's will being done, but I don't observe that they really mean it. I'd like to pray that I could recognize what his will is in my life. Maybe then I wouldn't be struggling so. Maybe we just can't accept that dying a very slow and painful death would be God's will. Because if it is his will, then who are we dealing with here?

And that's a whole other blog!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Whoever invented Christmas vacation didn't consult single parents about it!

My youngest is back to school, finally. My oldest has two more weeks of uselessness remaining.

I gave Quinn a work list today. I expect him to get it all done in the next nine days. I handed him the list then walked away from micro-managing the situation. That was tough! It's going to be a daily challenge for me. I have to come up with a consequence for the things he doesn't get done. He's 18-year-olds still living at home with Mom get consequences?

  • I can't take car keys and driving privileges from him since he doesn't have is license yet.
  • I can't take away the XBox, or his computer. That's just a little too juvenile.
  • I can't dock his allowance, he's still working off about $400 and he's not getting any money from me.
  • I can't stop feeding him.

I could use some suggestions...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Transitioning my boys (and my parenting) to modern American life

My sons have both grown up in an overseas expatriate environment, right up till just over a year ago. It was a charming lifestyle, full of travel and adventure, daily maid service, exceptional education, instant friendships. They never had to work hard at anything, never had to develop ambitions. This lifestyle did absolutely nothing to prepare them for life in the US, as gainfully employed, self-motivated, worker bees. It's starting to take it's toll on my eldest. He doesn't understand that privilege isn't guaranteed for life. He doesn't find value in extra effort. How does one teach that?

There really was no guidance on how to raise children to later be reintegrated into their home society when we moved overseas. I've since read many books and articles on the aftermath of the expatriate child's upbringing, also known as "third-culture kids". It wasn't until we were committed to the overseas work assignment that we were told how these sorts of children have difficulty with maintaining long-term relationships later in life, never feel that they belong, frequently experience restlessness. We also didn't exactly know how to deal with the outside pressures on parenting styles from other expatriate parents while living in a small, closed community. (When one kid got a Game Boy, everyone had to get one!)

So now I'm working at helping my sons get back into modern American life, and it's no easy task! They went from school with low student-teacher ratios (5 to 1) to public classrooms of 32. Some suggested private education at local Christian-based institutions, but those schools' scores didn't show me the value in that. And then there's the provincial nature of the local kids are well traveled! They came back to students spewing their parents' MSNBC or FOX News biased commentary about race-relations, economics and an isolationist world-view. (What information do 6th graders manage to collect about political views on their own? I don't even recall having a political opinion until I started getting a paycheck and voting.)

I'm not sure what I can do for my 18-year-old at this point. Community college seems very much like the TV show to me, somewhere between high school hand-holding and collegiate pseudo-independence, filled with colorful not-so-mainstream characters. Quinn's still hanging out with his high school friends, good kids with higher ambitions. I'm hoping he clings to all his goals and it all works out for him. There's a girlfriend in the picture now. She's so quiet. I have no idea who she is or what her intentions are with regards to my son...I'm so unprepared to be the mother of boy who is sexually active. I'm constantly monitoring their interaction. I'm recalling what I did when I was at the same community college...I'm visibly cringing right now!

I'm hesitant to get Rhyan into 8th grade, with a year of middle school experience before he heads into high school. Middle school is an experience that no one relishes, but I don't see how continuing home school will benefit him socially. It's time to get out there and learn how to interact with other people, how to make the right choices when it comes to friends, how to stand up for himself in certain social situations. That sort of thing is new to me. I didn't get that from my parents, who chose the ostrich method of parenting (if we don't see it, then it doesn't exist in our world and we don't have to teach you how to handle it). They only taught me how to cook and clean and be quiet...fat lot of good that did me!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Home schooling a 13-year-old boy

Every night it's the same battle...getting the boy into bed. At 8:30 p.m., I tell him that the electronics have to be turned off and he has to get ready for bed, and then spend at least 30 minutes on recreational reading. Then there's an argument over semantics:

"If you make me read, then it's not recreational. I don't like to read, so it's never going to be recreational. Why can't I just watch TV until I fall asleep?"

This argument goes on, down a variety of trails, until I get angry. Then the argument switches to a deeply hurt child that can't believe he was spoken to in such a manner. Bathroom cabinets are slammed, drawers are thumped, lasers shoot from his eyes.

Eventually he's in bed, by 10. Still wearing his taekwondo uniform.

Ten hours later, I send the dog in to wake him up. She's effective, but that was only Stage 1. He doesn't actually get out of bed for at least 30 more minutes. He mutters something about not being able to go to sleep the night before. I let him know what my expectations are: get out of bed, get cleaned up and dressed, eat breakfast, walk the dog. I leave for my Pilates class and don't return until 10:30. He's watching cartoons with the dog on the sofa. Sometimes he's done everything I've asked him to do, sometimes he doesn't. It depends on the tone of voice I've used before I leave the house. I still haven't identified the specific magical tone that motivates him. It seems to change daily.

If I tell him to start school, he gets angry. If I don't tell him to start school, he won't start. I'm not allowed to go over his work with him, but at the end of the school day, if he didn't complete something, it's because I didn't go over it with him. If he completely skips an assignment, it's because it wasn't a naturally easy thing for him to do. He doesn't like thinking, or writing. Or reading.

If I exert my will over him, remain in a state of anger and use it to control him, then everything gets done. I don't mind that he "hates" me, as long as it all gets done and he's learned something. As long as he's prepared to go to college when all this is done. But I don't like the stress of it all. I don't understand why I have to be a bitch in order for him to get to work and produce quality work. He's a very intelligent boy. He will become an engineer some day. It's how his brain works. He's just so resistant! An endless, bottomless well of resistance!

Next year he's going back to public school for 8th grade. I can't take this much longer!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I skipped a whole year!

I have a new computer and I've migrated a lot of my files to the new desktop, which is how I stumbled upon my last entry here. Oh yeah, I used to blog regularly. I used to do a lot of things regularly. Before my parents hijacked my life, even more so this last year.

Since last we spoke, the divorce was finalized, I became a single parent (ex has, for all intents and purposes, checked out of the boys' lives and has married what I am assuming is a mail-order bride from the Philippines), graduated a kid from high school and got him going to the local community college (for which I am part-time chauffer), I've been home-schooling my younger son for the last year, we adopted a Jackabee puppy (Chloe - so darn cute, clever and wicked!), we've moved to a new house (good thing and I moved everything myself!), I started attending Pilates classes, started my own freelance web design business and just published my first website for a client, and started back at school (finally).

Things have drastically changed for my parents. In July, my dad suffered additional injury to his ribs when he reached up for a bag of ice at the local market and it came crashing down, wrenching his back and cracking a couple ribs in the process. He's got cancer, multiple myeloma, and his bones are really weak and thinning. The pain was excruciating for him and he was bed-ridden for quite some time. Eventually the doctor got him to get some radiation treatment on his ribs in hopes that the localized killing of the cancer cells would promote regrowth of the bones and help alleviate the pain. He was also started on stronger pain meds. After just six treatments, my dad decided to end all cancer treatment and opted for Hospice to commence with palliative care. I think my dad thought he was going to die in a few weeks. It's now been six months, and he's not dead yet. The problem is his organs and immune system are still in good shape and he's not going to die right away. It might be another two years. And he's really surprised by this.

This is where I've come to be disappointed by my dad. He made this decision because, frankly, he's a big baby when it comes to pain and difficult stuff like that. he'd rather spend thousands of dollars on vitamin supplements hoping to give him a miraculous cure that do nothing but deplete his bank account. He's now mentally out-to-lunch but still thinks he's functioning properly. And since my mother has never gotten up to speed on finances, etc., I've spent the last few months slowly taking over the fiscal running of their household, when my dad allows me to. He still maintains car insurance thinking he's going to drive the car, while on massive doses of morphine! Thankfully, the car's been disabled.

This is all making my mother's life really too much to take. But they refuse to hire housekeepers. Actually, they did, briefly, but decided they didn't want to pay for it. They waited for me to step in and take over the housekeeping and other aspects of their life, and for a brief time, I did, and they slowly stopped doing things for themselves. Things they were perfectly capable of doing for themselves. I recently woke up to that realization and quit doing a lot of things for them. I still run errands and take Mom to her medical appointments, and sometimes I do a few household repairs or call someone to do them. But even though Mom's 81 (or 82, or even 83, depending on who she's talking to), she can still do her laundry, make meals and do light housekeeping. Hospice sends someone to bathe Dad and do a little more housekeeping. Dad finally agreed to hire gardeners (after my sons broke both his old lawnmowers), and a very nice man that lives nearby helps out with some maintenance work around the house for free.

I still get daily phone calls. Mom whimpers when she needs me to do something for her. Or she lies and says Dad needs something, as if dropping his name will make me run over there that much faster. Whenever I tell her about something I intend to do for myself, like take my sons to the movies or host a small dinner party for friends, she does her best to guilt me out of having a good time. She wants to be invited so she can turn me down and whine about how bad the end of her life has become. She wouldn't recognize joy if it whacked her between the eyes! I am constantly offering to take her out, to find someone else to sit with Dad so she can go get her hair done or to take her out for lunch. She refuses all the offers. And she pouts when she sees that I'm moving on with my life.

And that is exactly what I must do. I must move on with my life, with my plans. Someday, both my parents will be gone, and all their gratitude for my help, their legacy of the years of emotional abuse and inadequate upbringing, and the small inheritance that they wish they could leave me but are in the process of spending on vitamins and health supplement claims that do nothing for them will leave me with nothing upon which to build a life for myself. My kids will move on, and I'll be stuck in a small town that offers little for someone like me.

I'm terrified that my vision of my future is going to be co-opted by long-standing bitterness over missed opportunities because I was a dutiful wife/mother/daughter/friend. I'm scared I'll get sick and die from the stress before I actually do something on my own, for myself. Someone keeps telling me about my reward in heaven, but I'm never going to get to that if I'm so angry about the life I've had in the present.

I'm determined to find balance, I cling to hope and exercise faith in my resilience and intelligence. I don't know what the coming year has in store for me. I hope there's a meaningful holiday in there, some good progress with friendships, a better economy that will support my business efforts. I hope my health holds out. I pray my sons are safe and that I can be a more effective parent. And I'd like to train my dog to come when called, no matter how interesting the other side of the street looks.