Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Gotta Hold the Frame Pt 1

Where to begin?

Let's rewind to Christmas time 2015. My mom is not an easy person to shop for. Closets are littered with gifts that were never used or tried once and forgotten. Even if it's exactly what she asked for. Usually we are forced to play gift roulette and spin the wheel of Mom's disappointment or confusion over what she's supposed to do with that. Birthdays, Mother’s Days, anniversaries, holidays…. And I'll tell you something else, local stores don't exactly carry cards that express my feelings for or my relationship with my mother. After more than 30 years with her, I can't bring myself to hand her a card bursting with sentiment about how she's the best mother who always put me first. And even if I could, my dad’s chortle of laughter at the message would piss her off anyway. I'm looking for: "I love you but I’m not so trusting that I wouldn't sleep with one eye open around you.”

Hmm, that might sound a little more bitter than usual. Let's move on.

I wanted to get my mom a gift that wouldn't collect dust in a corner but wasn't a gift card for a restaurant (food being her gift of choice). Since my mom isn't subtle (she thinks she is) I'm aware when I go out and about without her, that puts her in a jealous snit. I decided to do an activity with my mom as her gift. And an activity can be a dicey proposition, so something that doesn't really require interaction would be ideal. Having had a positive experience taking Mom to see a touring Broadway production a few years ago, I ordered tickets to see the tour of Dirty Dancing. She knew the story. (Easier for her to follow that way) She knew the music. (She likes music and this was mostly upbeat songs she knew.)

Life has been so busy, neither of us realized the show was coming up until I saw a reminder the day before. Those tickets?  Sitting in the Christmas card they came in, under a stack of dust-collecting crap. The good news about Mom not remembering the show was coming up is she didn’t have several days to obsess and worry about it, backing out of going every three hours. But I didn’t think about the show taking place in March, a time of great instability for her.

While I got ready, after finding clothes she insisted she didn’t have to wear and my dad making her get a shower, she tried several times to convince my dad to tell her she shouldn’t go. See, it’s not her decision if she convinces someone to say the words for her. More importantly, it gives her someone to throw under the bus later when she’s upset about the decision. 

I knew they would be searching purses at the door of the theater, standard operating procedure for just about any venue lately. To my relief, I wasn’t going to have to explain that to her and spark a fresh panic because she wasn’t going to bring her purse. She was, however, going to bring with her a big bottle for night time pills she usually takes at bedtime. She was worried about someone having a problem with her pills. I’ll skip to the end here: she didn’t end up taking them until after we were home.

The biggest hurdle I was bracing for was walking to our seats from the parking area. Which is right.freaking.there. My mother had been practically skipping around the house the previous few days. That night, out and about and around people? She was suddenly weak and feeble and kept trying to throw herself forward as she walked. I have no other way to explain it. She walked just fine and then as soon as she saw another person, she’d threaten to fall to her knees and throw her upper body forward like a diver attempting to jackknife. If we were walking to a restaurant from the parking lot, she’d have left me in the dust.

Luckily, I factored the potential for extra needed time into our arrival. What I had not factored was my mother refusing to let go of my arm as we approached security to check my purse. Thankfully, I got a guard who seemed to understand or at least empathize, who offered to come to us instead of my putting the bag on a table. I feel safe in believing had this been the TSA, I’d still be in an interview room being detained. Luck did not hold out and the ticket taker was bogged down by the folks ahead of us having ticket trouble. As the hiccup unfolded, my mother pitched wildly while we stood in one place.

I’m compelled to point out here that had I brought my mom in a wheelchair she doesn’t physically need but desperately wants in some bizarre hang-up, we couldn’t have gone. The handicap seats? Those are conveniently located in an area that costs 3 times as much as our tickets. And then there are the people who honestly, actually need those seats. The ones who can’t run into a restaurant.

I was relieved when they finally allowed us into the seating area. I was relieved until I showed them our tickets and the usher told us to go to the left and up the stairs. Stairs? With my mother? I was 75% sure she was about to meltdown and demand we leave. It was a conservative estimate. There was no elevator for that level, but I’m positive if there had been, it would have been on the other side of where we were, outside, down two flights of stairs, and in an underwater cave. Why? Because only maybe 10 stairs stood between us and our seats. You’d have thought they were asking us to hike up Everest.

Even without sherpas we eventually made it, the head of a convoy of little old ladies with canes climbing up to the nosebleed seats beyond us. The usher on this level was patiently cheering us on. “Slow and steady. There’s no rush. Take your time.” We weren’t going up a whole flight of stairs. I took comfort that there were others, quite a bit older, but there were others. I'd managed to get us aisle seats, so I figured once to our personal summit we were golden. Wrong. Mom was so flustered from those 10 stairs and her annoyance with having to go up them, she couldn't figure out how to sit. Butt in seat wasn't sinking in. Anxiously I waited for her to throw herself onto the floor, but eventually she sat. It took a bit of convincing, but I finally got my mom to relinquish her own cane for me to lean against my end-of-the-row seat. I really didn’t want people tripping over it. Or worse, Mom whacking somebody with it as she maneuvered around in her seat.

I sat simmering beside her, mentally berating myself for thinking this would possibly work out well. I’m leaving out a whole hissed back-and-forth before showtime where she let me know that she wasn’t happy about anything. I’ve kind of trained myself over the years to quickly dismiss these conversations from my mind. I can easily enough recreate one from the sheer volume if necessary, but I have made that commitment to being positive and happy. I’m positive that I’m happier letting go of what she said. So I sat silently looking to the stage as we waited. In the blink of an eye, as only my mom can, she turned to me and patting my knee, smiled benignly and told me to enjoy myself. Like the last 45 minutes hadn’t happened and I was being moody.

The show began.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

In like a lion...out like a lunatic lamb

To the trees!
Twas the night before Easter... and I've got a dozen and a half hard-boiled eggs cooling and a 20 lb ham in the fridge. This is not a drill - I've got teenagers coming dinner tomorrow. Have you ever fed teenagers at a feasting holiday (or, you know, in general)? They're a cross between rabid hyenas and starving raptors. Pile it high and stay the hell out of the way. To be completely honest, feeding them keeps the passive aggressive (or blatant antagonism) back and forth between them to a minimum. So I'll prep a double-sized po-tate-er casserole and practice hurling asparagus spears aimed for their mouths without a second thought in the name of my own personal brand of holiday sanity. Mmmm, taters...

Visiting relatives, especially of the sibling variety, bring out a special blend of my mom's personalities. This is an evolving thing lately as well though. Most of my life, Mom's managed to hide a lot of what I've seen from my siblings, which made it easier for them to believe whatever stories about me she'd make up after I hit puberty (the magical age when everything turned to shit).

The trouble she's had day-to-day over the last few years has erased some of the magic she's used to keep the facade in place and now she's more flaky, less stable and sometimes down right weird around them. It's uncomfortable for my siblings but like a day ending in -y around here. I'll admit to some mixed feelings where my mom's illness and my siblings are concerned, but they grew up with her issues, and if I'm being fair, are entitled to however they deal with it. Or not.  And for at least one or two of them, there is some kind of resentment back my way for how close I am with our parents. Which I find hilarious, but that's a topic for another day.

Just kidding. Not really. 

Girding my loins for family drah-ma aside, I had a good day today. I got errands taken care of. I finished reading a good book. I wrote. I had a carefully crafted coffee beverage. I frenetically fangirled, babbled, and extensively critiqued chatted with a friend about the latest blockbuster movie we both saw with our respective snuggle bunnies. My husband and I sat on the glider swing on our back porch while it rained. He read & I worked on some French lessons. I nuked leftovers for dinner. Winner winner, leftover bbq chicken for dinner. It was a delightfully ordinary and completely wonderful kind of day.

What came to mind as I was driving home tonight is how nice it is, at this point in my adult life, to have happily married friends. People who understand venting is at worst a blip of a rough day or period and at best commiserating shared peccadilloes of significant others. When I was first married, all my friends were young and single, some not even sure who or what they were attracted to. If my husband didn't put the toilet seat down, or some equally goofy but annoying offense, they swiftly advised me to divorce the vile heathen. FYI, I can count on one hand the number of times my husband has forgotten to lower the seat in our entire marriage. #toiletseathero

Years and a fairly clean sweep of friends later, we graduated to married, in committed relationships or divorced friends. This seemed super cool to us. Couples dates! Shared experiences! We laughed at the newer couples' foibles - "What do you mean you've never left the bathroom door open? It'll happen, just wait until you share a stomach bug or get dicey takeout one night." We watched marriages/relationships disintegrate and nervously reassured each other it wouldn't happen to us. But even there, the people we hung out with the most, whose own relationship issues erupted in public and private, seemed to thrive on our run-of-the-mill rough patches. He's a butthead, I'm a harpy. You know, the snipey stuff that comes out when you both need Midol and a candy bar. It's not like he bought drugs with the mortgage money. (Hand to God, I knew someone...) It's not like either one of us ever hit or abused the other one. (Witnessed it. Made sure the abused party got out of the relationship.) We had what was our garden variety marital growing pains. You figure out and grow closer or you grow apart. But some 'friends' seemed strangely fixated on us splitting up.

So it's nice to start having more and more friends who are clearly good matches for each other. It's nice to be able to blow off steam about some silly nothing I won't remember happened in a week with another person who gets it. Group chats with wildly inappropriate gifs, dinner out, movies, theme parks, grabbing a drink. Really, this adult thing doesn't always suck. But it probably helps that I still laugh at poop jokes like I'm in elementary school.

We're a little more cabbage patch and a little less tango.

Writing: Wrote more days this week than not.

Reading: Finished 2 books, picked up 4 at the library and promised a nibling I'd start reading his/her newest favorite book. In other words, I've fallen off the careful self-pacing wagon and reverted back to picking up too many books at once. :-D

Foreign Language: I have met my daily course goal for more than 20 days.

Coffee: Happy medium. Less than I could be drinking, but enough to keep me going.

Nap: Not nearly enough.

Positivity: Not too shabby. I'll be dreaming of ab-a-licious super heros for the next few days, so that doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Revenge of March

Spoke too soon. Or I wrote too soon, if you want to get technical. March is officially in full swing in my home, tears and all.

As I was about to get ready to head out and take one of my niblings to an appointment, I heard my parents raised voices. Well, let’s call it like it is. They were shouting back and forth, clearly frustrated with one another.

That’s my cue, one of many really, to put on my referee cap. Long story slightly shorter, Mom was upset because my dad only had time to run out to the nearest quick service food restaurant to grab them a quick lunch before I needed to run. We live a good 15-20 minutes away from the nearest drive-thru, which is good for our health but not exactly convenient when you’re in a hurry. She didn’t want the healthy, fresh sandwich option. She wanted a burger, fries and a shake - at least that’s the safest assumption of what she was after. 1950s malt shop/5 & dime counter service. My mother operates under the constant belief that life, liberty and the pursuit of junk food is being withheld from her. Oh, and that we’re going out partying instead of running errands. Cha-cha-ing the afternoon away sipping on boat drinks as I stand in line for the third day this week at the pharmacy, like the rest of the world does. You know how it is, hiding the secret ice cream and sneaking out for secret corn dogs and hidden onion rings under the guise of ‘adulting’.

I send Dad off, casually watching the clock. I had a teenager to pick up, which was only the beginning of my afternoon errands and appointments. I quickly realized my own grab & go lunch just fell off my to-do list. Mom started in. We were mean to her, it wasn’t her fault, we kept our schedules or plans hidden from her, etc and so forth. Bottom line? She thinks subs are healthy and are to be avoided unless she’s determined that she’s being left out of subs. It makes sense on an emotionally stunted level. This stems not so much (as far as I can tell) from being abused in her childhood as from feeling like her baby sibling was spoiled and ruined a lot of her own fun. You didn’t think horrific child abuse stopped things like sibling rivalry and middle child syndrome, did you? A book I read recently about another woman’s journey as she investigated the abuse of her mother and aunts confirmed that my mom’s 60-year sibling jealousy isn’t exactly uncommon in families like this. So maybe it does have to do with the abuse after all. Or just shitty family dynamics.

There’s only two ways things are going to go when I’m deflating Mom’s not so solid arguments when reality is far from her grasp: the soldier’s going to come out with sword ablazing and let me know in no uncertain terms what an evil, horrible, shitty person I have been and will always be OR painfully woebegone tears of the deepest self pity, wondering why she is as reviled and unloved as she is and what she could have possibly done in her life to be this way. Today was tears.

Lest you think from my… shall we say… snarky tone that I’m a complete dick to her, contrary to her own view, I’m not. I patiently reminded her that what was wrong with her brain was a mental illness and while she wasn’t a victim in this lunchtime bruhaha, she was casting blame with laser precision where perhaps no blame was needed. Dad returned then, both of us more grateful than a certain local grocery chain will ever know that a brand new store opened at the nearest intersection. His grocery bags caught Mom off guard. Goodbye tears. Warily, she remained where she was and watched him unload a few deli sandwiches, chicken tenders and chips. She had to be coaxed to sit at the table. Her mind couldn’t rework her arguments about what was for lunch when the picnic fare before her wasn’t what she was expecting. It took a few minutes of gentle arguing to get her to understand the ham sandwich she was demanding was the one I was handing her.

Food procured, set up and in hand, Mom’s mood vanished in a swirl of confused mist, her bravado deflating. I told her to color, something that has a very positive impact on her mood but she fights doing a solid fifty percent of the time, after she was finished eating. She argued that she was tired and needed to nap. I agreed that she needed the nap and likely an extra half of one of her medicines, but she needed the mental activity as well. Eat, 10 minutes of coloring, medicine, then nap. 20 minutes later, as I was racing to the door with a container of cantaloupe for lunch, she told me to drive carefully as she colored in her paisley coloring book.  

By the time I got home several hours later, she had settled into sitting alone staring out the window in unsettling silence while my dad took a nap. Creepy Mom is kind of her idling setting when she's in one of these roller coaster periods. She joined me & nibling #2 in the living room while homework was being worked on, not interacting with us in anyway, just there. She ended up taking a nap until dinner was ready. I made the safe choice and fixed one of her favorites, spaghetti with meat sauce, because God knows I wasn't about to go down a food meltdown twice in one day with her.

It's a good sign that this late at night she's sleeping. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Mom not to sleep for days at a time in March, her brain spinning increasingly more bizarre stories that get her more upset and confused.

March Madness

It occurred to me today that in just two more week's we'll be a quarter of the way through this year. Time flies when you live paycheck to paycheck, am I right? In all seriousness though, I've decided that what makes time seem to speed by so quickly as an adult is swinging from one moment/set of bills/responsibility/drama-filled meltdown/appointment/etc to the next. When I was a kid, the things I waited for felt like months or years away and time crawled across a partially inflated air mattress to get there. Christmas was always f-o-r-e-v-e-r away. Now that I'm the one in charge of holidays, they appear with no apparent warning, as though not clearly marked & advertised well in advance. 

Point being, the pace certainly has not slowed down as we skid past the Ides of March. 

My sniffly-ness has been (fingers crossed) cast aside. Although that thought reminds me that I forgot to pick up a refill on my now-empty new allergy medicine. Let's hope I remember to pick that up tomorrow. My back and I have reached an uneasy truce. I still walk funny & it hurts like a bitch, but I'm able to get around more or less and even stand up straight a little each day. I'm sure I'll push it a little too far too soon, but I'll complain about that when the time comes. 

Feeling the year racing away with me should make me feel like I'm running out of time to accomplish what I wanted to this year. And if I'm being honest, there are moments when I wonder where in the hell my life has run off to. But, however, not withstanding, so on and forthwith... Er... BUT, I feel like I'm starting to gain a bit of traction. I'm declaring the beginning of this year to be framed by the act of learning to accept what you can't change, adjust and do what you can. Decent advice in general obviously, but I'm stubborn and grumpy when it feels like life is going off the rails. It doesn't matter if I had a plan, if this is a seat-of-my-pants kind of time then go with it. 

So while life happens, writing is getting back on track. Had a minor setback when my hard drive bit it, but that set back was quickly overcome, my computer now in better shape than ever (knock on blessed, virgin wood). A few extra writing nights out to save my sanity over the last week or so helped as well. I will find a workable, productive rhythm. I will start producing enough material in order to get feedback to ultimately produce more material to publish. Deadlines here I come. You know, hopefully.

I've got to say, finally working on renewing my acquaintance with a foreign language I enjoyed learning 20 *coughchokesnort* years ago has been awesome. I am a quarter of the way through the program after 17 days of moderate use. It makes me feel good and I'm anxious to start a list of other languages offered. This is 100% just for me. It serves no definable purpose other than fulfilling a personal aspiration. And I love it. 

March is traditionally a difficult month for my mom, which in turn is a difficult time for us. She hasn't escaped the busyness of the year, be it a slew of her own doctor visits or just being discombobulated from the constant changing of schedules and coming and going of grandchildren lately. The extra chaos bothers her, but it's almost been too busy for her to have the usual DEFCON 2 level of problems. Not enough to need to be committed, but enough that day to day you know something's going to happen. Today was moderate passive aggressive martyrdom regarding my dad because he wasn't paying attention to her while he was reading. She didn't cry or become hysterical, though I think we were nearly there, but then again she had two pieces of pie today so that may have been what saved us. I'm completely serious.

I've got fun plans later on in the week, I'm productive, I may have binge-watched the Full House reboot while re-installing software on my computer & I'm almost finished with one of the two books I'm reading. Now to figure out how to humanely persuade the mockingbird outside my window to find a new home - somewhere I can't hear it's chattering from sundown to sunup. 

Doggie Update: Good days and enh days. He had been eating less and less, down to a few bites at most. And then the other day, after eating three bites of dinner and walking away, he started barking at my dad later in the evening. He ate part of a can of wet dog food and has been cleaning his bowl ever since. Today he got up and greeted me when I got home from the pharmacy. The cancer is still there. The end is still coming. But he continues to do it his way. Today goes down as a good day for him. I'm sure he would consider it a better day if he'd gotten a bacon cheeseburger. He's funny that way.

Writing: Writing several days a week for the last two weeks. Working my way back to where I want to be.

Reading: Averaging about a chapter a day, more depending on doctor appointment wait times. Ready to move on to new books I just so happen to have already picked out. Shocker.


Coffee: Synapses say thumbs up. Not too much but still room for more. 

Positivity: Still on board. Life is beautiful. Life is difficult. Still believe it's worthwhile to practice & share positivity. Basically, yeah, still trying to be positive and happy. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

I have to hope as this year continues, that there are some really awesome things in store. Because the ridiculousness and chaos of the year just keeps coming.

So being sick and having the tubes in my ears swell shut for several weeks ended up being from allergies. Adjusting my allergy medicine and adding a nasal steroid has me on the mend. Yes, just a high pollen season is enough of a weapon from Mother Nature to throw me on my butt for weeks at a time. Coming out of that, I hurt my back. Laundry, the real menace of the aging population. The fun thing about getting older is thinking you just pulled a muscle and coming to find out ACTUALLY you've got bulging discs because your vertebrae are aging and "losing integrity". 

This puts a bit of a damper on my brand-spankin' new annual pass to one of our local theme park resort type places. Apparently it's a good thing I rode 2 of the 3 thrill-ish rides I like before this happened, because for the time being I'm not even sure I can walk around one of the parks, let alone ride anything that has a warning on it. The idea of renting a scooter makes me grumpy, but I'll do it if I have to. Incidentally, I've got a sudden interest in full torso braces....

Anywho, I figured the crazy busy schedule that was February would give way to a less busy March, illness and injury aside. Ha. Ha, I say! Back to back to back doctor's appointments, minor surgeries, suture/stitch removal, various nibling assistance. This week alone there are 7 medical appointments, 3 nights of driving niblings places and near endless hours of school work help. To say nothing of the drah-ma involved in why the niblings need help. 

On the dog dying of cancer front, we're 5 months to the day after he was given 2 weeks to live. The last week he's become noticeably more sleepy and sluggish. He's famous (in our house) for checking the house at night to make sure the perimeter is secure and everyone is okay. That's stopped. He usually spends our dinner under the dining table. There's now a 50/50 chance he didn't bother to get up from his nap when we eat. He's a notoriously picky eater, so his refusing food or only eating part of his meals isn't necessarily something that we worry too much about on a regular day. (Before you freak out, his skipping a meal or only finishing part is usually made up for with gusto, if a scathing review of the cuisine, on his next meal.) But, today when we upped the tasty factor, he ended up eating about 2/3 of his dinner. The point being, it's coming. He doesn't appear to be in pain, some arthritis in his back legs from his age aside. What comes next, will we have to have him put down, will he die at home & everything that goes with that has us all on edge. I'm trying to do casual advance research to have in the back of my mind because when decisions will have to be made, I'm going to be a mess. A hot, toddler-level, mess. I pray every night now for the not just the strength to handle his loss and appreciate each day he's still here, but for the grace to do right by him and a painless, comfortable end for him. Sorry, that probably should have had a huge flashing trigger warning before I started. Give me a second to swallow back my burgeoning tears and I'll pass around a box of tissues. 

Writing: Bits and pieces. I have restarted a short story to get myself back into the groove. 

Reading: Still slowly going through the Stephen King short story compendium I've had for a while. Hoping to knock out the other book that I'm maybe 20 pages into during one of this week's doctor visits. Woefully behind on a advanced copy of a manuscript. 

Coffee: 3 today. Today was a good day for coffee. 

Language: Progress! Got into a free online language program a friend of a friend has been using for the last year. Duolingo. Create an account, choose a language, set a daily goal, download the free apps so you can practice where ever. I've met my goal 8 of the last 8 days (which is how long ago I signed up). I really like it. Some days I meet the minimum, some days I blow it out of the water. If you're interested (they really do have a wide variety of languages to learn or brush up on - you can test out of skill sets based on what you may already know) and/or want someone to friend up with on the site, just let me know. 

Positivity: I'm hanging in there, you know? I think I'm so busy with so many things changing every freaking day that it makes me appreciate the positive and not focus on negativity. I'll take it. There's a lot to look forward to this year, a lot of daily victories in the darnedest places. 

To the End

When I began this blog 5 years ago, it ended up being a catch-all for whatever slogged through my brain, mostly writing and the difficu...