And Now Thanksgiving

Grief kicks everyone’s ass, right? Oh the holidays are the worst, they say. That first anniversary…the favorite moments…birthdays… Fuck them. Also, why do they have to be right?

I got through Halloween, his favorite holiday. I am hoping that’s the worst of it. It’s not though, is it? It’s equally as bad as the rest. Take Thanksgiving, for example. I don’t have many dad-specific memories locked up in this one. Sure, I can see him carving the turkey (Badly. He insisted on carving the breast in long slices rather than crosswise) but I can also see my grandfather (also badly) and my wife (beautifully). I can see him raking leaves but also insisting on inefficiently blowing them into the wind. I can see him kicking back in an arm chair with a martini, football on, and a fire blazing while we wiped away sweat, splattered gravy, and otherwise created a Thanksgiving Masterpiece while making it look easy. I can imagine what RR would say when he started puffing his pipe. She would be HORRIFIED.

But here I am anyway. I can’t decide how many to invite or even what to cook. And I’d argue that deciding what to cook on Thanksgiving is pretty much the easiest thing you can actually do. I love having huge Thanksgiving parties. Last year we numbered 23 and 2 turkeys. I remember gazing down the long table (yes, one long table for the grown-ups) and thinking, “A few more could fit, couldn’t they? And wouldn’t that be fun?” I do most of the cooking and I love that, too. I love hearing my friends and family laugh as they get to see new people and meet up with old friends that were new just the year before. I love getting out the punch bowl and filling it with homemade eggnog that is, let’s be honest, mostly cream and alcohol. I love putting our 1950s house to the hospitality test and finding that it’s down for a good time, every. single. time.

I’ve been agonizing over a guest list. Do we invite everyone? I cry. Do we keep it family (chosen) only? I cry. You, know, that’s still a party of 13. I cry. Should my mom come? We cry. Should she go to my sisters? I cry. How many pounds of potatoes for an unknown party of people? I cry. Should we cancel the whole thing? I cry. Do we go on vacation? I cry. My wife is probably crying in frustration, even though she politely does it out of sight.

Someone decided we would stay home and invite our chosen family. My mom has gone to my sisters. She asked me if I’ve ironed the tablecloth (that is so long it’s meant for a table of 16). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we might be eating from paper plates standing in the kitchen. I didn’t tell it because that was ripping a small part of me into pieces. I like these traditions. Not everyone gets that. I like having to hand wash the china and silver. I like wondering if that gravy stain will ever come out of the linens. I like saving our money so we can afford to entertain everyone.

I’m going to cry. Hell, I’m crying right now just thinking about it and I’m sitting in a coffee shop. This is only a tiny bit better than last week when I cried in my office, got my sandwich wet, and had to go to a meeting with no mascara and a red nose.

Fuck this. And, Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

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In the Weeds

So you guys, I’m struggling every day over here. Struggling with inner guilt and pressure, the physical and mental health of my parents, a constant longing for my sisters to help with this terrible cancer, money, my relationship, my professional success. It manifests in the weirdest ways. For instance, I spent a good five minutes this morning worrying about the amount I’m contributing to retirement which may sound reasonable but, given that it is not even remotely an issue, was five minutes too much. In the five hours I’ve been awake, I have also had to haul myself away from the traps of:

Whether RR will ever ride a bike
How I have failed as a parent for not knowing how to teach her to ride a bike or swim
Whether my blood pressure was too high
Why that guy at the gym just can’t follow the rules
How to write reference letters for three people for the same job
Why I want to eat sweet things for breakfast or whether I would kill my wife if I didn’t
Why the school board meeting is tonight and not on the regular fourth Monday
If someone broke into the car
If I would get arrested for not having my license (this, after confirming I did have it)
How warm it is and what that is doing to iceburgs, seals, and polar bears
And New York and Miami
Why I am tired of eating
Whether I would cry at my therapy appointment on Thursday
Whether I cry enough or too much
Why my wife and I don’t take advantage of our alone time
Whether we would ever have alone time when we didn’t feel like just being still
How much I miss childless Saturday afternoons
If my new boss will want me to keep more regular hours
Why I am worrying about that when the position hasn’t been posted or even written
How we will ever get our grass to regrow
Whether I am going insane

It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve been through the wringer with my parents in the last two weeks. My father asked me if I couldn’t just pray away the gay. My mother ignored me when I told her. She spent the week not speaking to us and denied it ever happened while also complaining about her entire life to my sisters and copying me. Which only reminds me how much help she needs help. And also of my dad’s cancer which has visibly taken its toll in the last two months. This leaves me thinking hateful thoughts, like how it would be better if he just passed away in his sleep which is no one’s fault but my own.

I started getting daily texts from Shine which have a pithy saying (Today: “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”), then suggest a general plan of attack (Today:”Give yourself positive motivation through action. Take one small action to help you feel present.”) and sum it all up with some strategy (Today: “Stop waiting for the perfect time to write that short story, your dissertation, or a thank you card. Just do it.”) And so, while what I suspect I need is to resume a meditation practice, instead I’m spending 10 minutes writing to you, which is often just as good.

Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.

 

**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.

Enough. Just enough.

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This week I had two people mention that my work calendar was a bit behind. This actually isn’t that unusual since I frequently forget to change over weeks into any given month. But January. You guys, I’m not sure I worked more than five full days in my office.

I worked from the hospital while I watched my dad uncomfortably shift around, without any arm or leg strength. I worked from the ER while they checked him for broken ribs from yet another fall. I worked from the ambulance even, on my phone, emailing what I thought was a “be in tomorrow” but turned out to be a “be in next week. probably.” I worked at the Rehab center while he lied to the physical therapists about how and how often he falls, while my mother alternately refused to care for him anymore and tried to leave on a vacation, while biting my tongue as he ranted about his roommates, the conditions, life.

I worked in between putting our remaining and beloved cat to sleep and cleaning the house, trying to rid it of the smell of sickness. I called HR while picking my daughter up that day, hammering out some long-standing and stagnating issues, and then sat with her while I explained that our cat wouldn’t be coming home. On the way to the car, I held her hand and mentally ticked off the list of things I needed to get done the next day. “We’re all out of cats!” she proclaimed from the backseat, eyes welling up and so we cried a bit together while I ignored the constant pinging of chats from my staff.

I worked while I talked to her school that morning, jotting notes while hearing that she maybe had lice. Or maybe it was awhile ago. But probably there was nothing alive there, now. I dictated an email to my computer while scanning my phone for a lice solution and texting my wife.

I worked with a broken finger, crushed by the car door I thoughtlessly slammed on it. The nail is destroyed, the tip shattered, but now I have a new split, which makes typing emails on my phone easier. It’s still my dominant hand though so showering takes much longer, giving me ample time to decide which issues to push forward and which interpersonal dilemmas to handle first.

I stopped working, momentarily, when my phone fell in the parking lot and the screen broke into a million pieces. And then when I was at the gym, for about 30 minutes, until I tried to dismount the stationary bike at the front of the gym and fell flat on my face, banging my splinted finger. I was thinking of the evaluation I had yet to turn in and how to frame my accomplishments in a way that would still merit an increase but not oversell.

I also did not work while bandaging my wife’s finger, after she cut the tip off and passed out on the floor. She and I are both bandaged now and are significantly more knowledgeable about wound care.

It may look like I haven’t been working. But I’ve been bending the limits of my own multi-tasking and every bit of technology I have, often at the same time, in order to not fall behind. My staff are understanding but I’m exhausted. I hope I’m hiding it. I’d like to actually work*, from my office, during actual working hours.

*I am aware, of course, about family and medical leave, and the importance of self-care in general. But my boss is pretty understanding and so I had the time I needed. The self-care I need is a series of uninterrupted, boring days, not punctuated by my mother’s outrageous behavior, my father’s debilitating illness, and my everyday woes. I am also not a workaholic (which my wife would confirm wholeheartedly) but I am responsible and diligent and refuse to let life get the better of me.

 

 

 

And Didn’t Even Proofread This

I’m sitting in the parking lot of a local park like a creeper which is something I wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t raining which it is, and has been, which is making it hard to look on the bright side of things.
Things.
Things like my having to call an ambulance for my gasping and uncomfortable dad after my mom cheerily left. “Call the doctor honey, dad fell this morning and I’m worried about his ribs!”
Things like spending the better part of the last four days in the hospital keeping him company even though I haven’t been to work for more than a couple of hours this month.
Things like a text from my mother at 1am telling me that she couldn’t spend the morning with my dad and would I please followed by a last minute call to say that he was probably being discharged and couldn’t I go because, well, she just can’t.
She can’t. She can’t do anything. Follow instructions (mom, don’t go back to your house, I’ll take care of it). Keep her new house clean (mom, where is the walker for dad? under that heap of…things?). Keep her wits together (mom, we’ll find his wallet, relax, it’s in the house. mom, stop trying to flip the bed over.). Be there for my dad (mom, why aren’t you going  to come say goodnight to dad or have dinner with him?) Be there at all (mom, you’re not dressed, or rather you’re half dressed. mom, you can’t leave without shoes. mom, please open your eyes so you can help me pack a bag for dad).
I need her to pull it together. Somehow. My wife and I moved them to an apartment last week. Her sister and our friends chipped in to pack boxes and watch our daughter. We packed everything when she left the house for a hotel, leaving dishes in the sink and blood on the bathroom wall. We unpacked everything before she walked into the new place so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. Yesterday she drove an hour to her old house “to get dish tabs” and even though she realized on her way out of town that she could just go to the grocery, she still went. My sister came for 24 hours to get the dog and in the process stirred enough around that she snapped my mom out of the carefully complacent place I’d settled her into and suddenly she was 16 places at once and doing everything poorly. She won’t set up an appointment with a psychiatrist even though the office is just waiting (I’m just too busy to do that, she says). She won’t take a breath (I have so much to do, she says, while doing nothing at all). She’s letting the crazy spill all over everything and asking me to mop up the mess.
I’m stretched about as far as I can go. Well, I thought I’d reached that point already but here I am tapping into something more so clearly things are capable of getting worse, I’m capable of handling worse. I wish I wasn’t. I wish I could be as fragile as she and my dad are.
And so, I’m in this park. Eating a sandwich I don’t like because it was the thing advertised as a deal and my capacity for complicated choices, like sandwiches, ran out yesterday. Watching the water splash onto the empty basketball court and wondering how deep this reserve really is and how I can possibly replenish it.

What’s Next

These are the things that have happened since the new year.

My mother decided to move with my dad to town.
She signed a lease.
My dad sort of signed the lease since he can no longer hold a pen.
My dad had a nose bleed that covered the bathroom in blood, according to my mother.
My dad fell, so many times.
I packed some of her essentials.
Debra packed more of her essentials.
Debra changed all of her utilities.
This made my mother cry.
My mom packed things like a double boiler she only uses for candy and most recently used to scoop up sewage.
Because the plumbing failed again,
And the heater. Again.
Both need major replacements.
They moved to a hotel.
My dad spent 15 minutes meowing like a cat.
My sister informed me that her therapist told her to check-out since she is stressed, and pregnant.
We had to take in my parents large dog. Now we have three. She is not potty-trained but our new rug is pretty absorbent.
It snowed and the car got stuck on the ice.
And then the heat stopped working.
Because the heating coil failed and the oil pan cracked. And I don’t have $2400.
But that’s okay, since they can’t fix it until Friday.
So we have to rent a car to go pack more of my mother’s things since the movers come tomorrow.
And my mother, well, she blamed me for “taking her husband” and “taking everything” but you know that I didn’t.
The next appointment is today, four weeks early, to see what’s wrong.
Something MUST be wrong.

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Interventions Edition

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You all, my mom, who was volatile? fragile? difficult? to begin with, has pushed my sisters too far. I’d say me, too, except that I’m pretty sure I stepped over the brink years ago. In fact, I emailed her therapist for the three of us, asking for her support in helping mom get to a psychiatrist who can diagnose and manage medications instead of relying on her own diagnosis that she relays to her general practitioner who prescribes what she asks for.

The therapist suggested we meet with my mom and she was receptive, although we told her that it was to help find ways to support her which is not entirely the truth. My sister is in town for the week, thank goodness, because I was not doing this on my own. I don’t have the greatest relationship with my mom to begin with and when she starts looking for someone to blame, she going to land directly on me. I spend some of every day afraid of her. It’s exhausting.

But! Without the cancer we wouldn’t have had the chance to do this with her. She would have never had a therapist. And now we have the chance to get through to her, maybe. It won’t be the first time we have tried, but she’s so conscious of what other people think of her, that she’s likely to stay put and listen since it’s good manners. So there’s your latest awful, terrible, no good cancer silver lining.