survivingmyboyz

tales from a stay-at-home mom of four boys

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The giant Teddy Bear that ended my marriage

 

Like most people, my wedding day was one of the best days of my life. It was full of hope, magic, and love. My own wedding caused me to cry at all weddings that I attended after that because it brought back the feelings of happiness and love that I felt on that day. Nothing is better than the way you feel on your wedding day. You hope those feeling will last forever. Things change with time, however, and not all marriages last. That is the reality I am currently trying to deal with in my life.

I love my husband, I always have, pretty much since the day I meet him. After 17 years together and 13 years of marriage though, I am no longer in love with my husband. Our years together have not been easy, especially in the last few years. There has been a lot of pain and disappointment that has taken its toll on our marriage. I continued to stick out the relationship for many years, thinking that if I just hung in there and kept loving him that things would change and get better. They never did, at least not for very long. So, when I told my husband last December that I wanted to sperate, it wasn’t me trying to get his attention in a last-ditch effort to save our marriage, it was me telling him that I was finally done with the marriage. The catalyst for this choice all comes down to a giant stuffed bear.

As I said before, things weren’t good for a long time between my husband and I. I had become a single parent despite being married. He was rarely there, and I could never really depend on him. It had gotten to the point where I would just plan life without him and hope that he would choose to show up. It was easier this way, it relieved some of the constant disappointment that I felt. Last December, when I planned a pre-Christmas trip to Portland for the family, I really didn’t expect my husband to join us, but as it got closer, he seemed so excited to go. I began to include him in the plans and the boys were excited to get to spend some time with their dad. However, when the day came to leave for our trip, my husband was not in our car as we pulled out of the driveway. I was sad and disappointed once again, but I was determined to make this an awesome trip with my boys that they would never forget. I think I did just that. They seemed happy and I definitely spoiled them, probably a little too much out of guilt. I figure that kids are resilient and that I’d kept them so busy with fun that their dad not being there wouldn’t affect them much. I was wrong about that though.

While we were I Portland, we visited Santa, and he told me to take the boys to a special toy store to let them pick out anything they wanted from Santa, so we obeyed. My second oldest, who is currently 9, picked out a giant Teddy Bear that was almost as big as him. He was so excited about his Teddy Bear and still sleeps with it in his bed. As we were driving home from Portland, we talked about our favorite parts of the trip and how much fun we had. My 9-year-old commented that he wished his dad had come and that he couldn’t wait to see him when we got home to tell him all about the trip. All the other boys agreed that they had missed their dad and wished that he had joined us on the trip. They were all very excited to see their dad when we got home. After an extra-long weekend away, they were all very eager to get home. My 9-year-old said that all he wanted to do when he got home was to give his dad a big hug with his giant new Teddy Bear and to hold them both. It was such a sweet idea that really showed how much he’d missed his dad. Then we got home.

My husband came down to greet us and help bring in the bags, but within five minutes of us being home, he had returned to his office to play more video games, something he had been doing all weekend long while we were gone. He disappeared into his office for several hours, only reappearing after the two youngest were already sound asleep and I was about to put the two older boys to bed. He didn’t spend anytime with us that evening, he didn’t listen to the stories from our trip, and he didn’t help me bathe or settle children in after a very exhausting weekend. Instead, he did what he always did, he took care of himself and did what he wanted, which didn’t include his family. It broke my heart to know that his boys were so excited to see him and had missed him so much, but that he clearly didn’t feel the same way. I could see the devastation in my 9-year old’s eyes that he didn’t get to share that hug with his day and his giant stuffed Teddy Bear like he had wanted to so badly. That’s when I knew it was time to for things to change and that I finally needed to make the hard call of ending our marriage.

Over the past few years, I felt like my husband was drowning and I was constantly trying to save him, but instead he was pulling me under with him. In those moments, after our Portland trip, I looked around and realized, we weren’t the only two drowning in that pond. Our kids were there too, and they were barely treading water. I knew I had to let my husband go and get my kids and myself back to the safety of the shore. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but I knew it was the right one and felt such relief after I told him.

Now we are in the messy processing of figuring out how to move forward while trying to keep our kids afloat. It is strange that I struggled for so long about what to do with my marriage, how to fix it, and what was best for my kids only to figure out what we all really needed because of a giant Teddy Bear.

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The other side of the coin

Sometimes I feel like I am talking, but no body is listening. It is a very lonely feeling. It hurts even more when someone I love is the one not listening. No matter how often it happens, it still seems to cut. I know I should be used to it by now, after all, I talk a lot and I am overly-passionate about things. My passion, though I love it, is often a huge turn off to people though. I tend to feel things much deeper and strongly than most people because I am bi-polar.
We live in a world where people really don’t want to feel anything. People become addicted to technology and consumerism as a means to dullen their feelings. We self-medicate with prescription pills that we over use and drugs, and alcohol to avoid pain and facing our problems. No one wants to be introspective, they all just want to live in some fantasy world like the ones on the tv. That is all a nice escape sometimes, but then people miss out on all that is around them. Sometimes I try to dull my senses like everyone else, but it never really works, at least not for long. My feelings, emotions, and passions are too great for me to contain and that’s when people stop listening.
I’m very open about talking about my depression and often write about it because it is a big part of me, and I think it is important for others out there to know that they are not alone in their loneliness and despair. I don’t often talk about the fact that I suffer from mania though. Most people don’t even realize that this is a part of me. I’m very up front and say I have depression, but I rarely say that I am manic-depressive. Maybe that’s because I don’t have frequent manic episodes or when I do, they are minor in comparison to my depression, or because mania seems a little more crazy than just straight up depression. My mania is part of what gives me my passions though. It is part of what makes my emotional capacity so great. It is a part of who I am, just another part that most people don’t seem to care for.
I work hard to maintain an even keel in my emotions. Sure, people see I’m passionate, but they don’t usually see the full range of that passion, that would be too scare. I keep close tabs on my emotions, careful clamping down when I feel they are getting too big. It would be so easy to go off the deep end and end up in a full manic state, which can be scare and always leads to a debilitating depressing afterwards. I try to tap into that manic side just enough to do the things I need to do; have that extra energy for something, to keep me going when on empty, or to be creative when I feel the need, but most of the time I keep that lid closed shut on my own personal Pandora’s box.
When I think of true, full blown mania, I think of being 19 and the beautiful chaos that was my world. Looking at it from a nostalgic view, it feels like a wonderful crazy adventure, but from the view of reality, it was a terrible, dangerous time for me that I can never ever allow to happen again. Being manic back then meant experiencing the world in such a vibrant way that could probably only be replicated with massive drug use, like tripping on acid (I can only assume, since that is not a drug I ever tried). In fact, I felt so high on life all the time that I refused to use any drugs back then, for fear it would dampen my senses, I didn’t even drink. I lived in a house full of pot heads for part of that time and I never once was tempted to use because what I was feeling was so much better than they could ever possibly feel by getting high. I was uninhibited and daring. I pulled all-nighters in college, writing papers or painting at the studio into the early morning. I went days without sleep and hardly needed food. I would dance naked in the rain and jump from highway over passes into rivers below to skinny dip in the moonlight. I had an insatiable sexual appetite that no person could quench, and I wielded my body as a sexual weapon. I had no shame, no fear, no limits. It was amazing! Expect that it wasn’t.
Not only did the mania make me reckless (I still count my blessings that I never contracted an STD during that time), but it led me to a crash. Multiple crashes, actually. Mania can’t last forever, no matter how wonderful it feels. What starts off as fun and exciting for the people around you quickly becomes too much when you are manic. They don’t experience the same euphoria you feel, and the adventures become a little too much, a little too scare for them. They eventually jump ship and you are left on your own seeking that high alone. Being alone turns into loneliness as the mania fades and the other side of it eats you alive. That’s when the crippling depression sets in. That’s when it becomes even more dangerous.
The biggest problem with being manic-depressive is the heat at which your emotions burn. Whether I’m manic, depressed, or just me, I am never able to escape the huge range of feelings that I feel. I am forever doomed to feel things at a level that most people never will. It can give me wonderful passion, but it is passion that no one else seems to share or even wants to hear about. Having such great passion and no one to share it with makes for a lonely world to live in. If only people were more interested in letting a little more passion into their lives.

The villain

I am a villain. I am a bad guy. In fact, I’m not just a bad guy, I’m the worst bad guy ever. I am mom and I am the worst. I ruin everything.
It doesn’t matter what I do or how much I sacrifice or love them, I am still the worst person ever to my children. I’m the one that says no. I am the one that lays down the law and gives out punishment. I am the one who yells when all four are screaming at me in a cacophony of noise, demanding that I do something for them at that exact moment. I am the only one and I am the one to blame.
You know who isn’t the bad guy, isn’t the one they demand things from, or blame for ruining their lives? Dad! Dad is never at fault. Mostly because Dad is never here. Even when He is here, it isn’t His job to deal with the screaming masses, that’s my job. They walk right past Dad to come ask me to do things for them as if I am their servant and it is beneath Dad to be bothered with their needs.
Today I am terrible mom because I have spent all day carting kids around where they need to be and talking my oldest to three dentist appointments in one day, and then spent over an hour at the grocery store fighting the crowd of people trying to stock up before the impending snow storm tomorrow. I fought traffic to get home and be greeted with great joy that quickly turns to complaints and hatred toward me when I tell them no. No, they can not go outside at 5:00 at night as the temperature is dropping, it is getting dark, and people are coming home from work not expecting to see three young children sledding into the street. I am an awful mother because I want to keep my kids safe and warm, knowing the snow will be there for the next few days. I have ruined everything though because they have waited all day for me to come home so they could go outside and sled, despite the fact that the one hour I had at home today, the older of the three refused to go outside, so the 7 year old wouldn’t stay outside to play by himself with me watching him from the window. Despite the fact that their Dad has been home all day with them, and they could’ve asked Him if they could go outside. So, I am the bad guy yet again, as they scream and yell at me before I can even unpack the groceries. Meanwhile, Dad is upstairs napping, free from abuse.
So, call up Disney and tell them that they have a new evil, horrible, villain to draw for their next movie and she is the worst one yet. Her name is mom and she is me and she is a villain worthy of hating.

Why this is “the year of me”

It feels a little selfish to say I’m going to make this year about me. Putting myself first isn’t something that I typically do. In fact, it feels a little weird to say I’m putting myself first and even weirder to do it. That, however, is precisely why I am making this “the year of me.”
I am a care taker, I always have been, that is just my personality. I’m always worrying about others, trying to solve other people’s problems, and putting everyone else’s needs ahead of my own. I had my first child 11 years ago, so it made sense to put my son ahead of me, he was just a helpless baby after all. As time went on though, I had three more kids, meaning I had three more little ones to put ahead of myself. I had no problem doing this, until it started to affect my health. Everything I did to try to be healthy, stay active, and eat right went further and further out the window with each kid until, by the last kid, I had such high blood pressure that it put both our lives in danger and I never recovered from it.
It wasn’t just my kids though whose needs I put ahead of my own (not that their needs weren’t enough for one person to struggle with). I put my husband ahead of me too. My husband has issues and they seemed to get really bad after our fourth child was born. I tried to help him and encouraged him to seek help as well, but things seemed to only get worse. His needs were greater and greater, and I took on more and more. Somewhere in there, my dad got sick with cancer. That was hard because I no longer lived near my parents, so I flew back to help them a few times with a toddler in tow. They had cared for me my whole life and there was nothing I wanted more than to be able to care for them in their time of need. Of course, that help was cut short when my husband’s needs and inability to care for our over three children for a week overshadowed the needs of my parents. I hopped on an earlier flight home to save my husband and children. Things like this went on pretty much non-stop for a good five years. At one point, I even took a teenaged stranger into our home to try to help him, ultimately letting him go when I realized that he needed to be on his own and struggle for awhile to figure things out.
About a year ago, I started having strange symptoms. They started off once a week or so and got progressively more frequent. My doctor had the hardest time trying to figure out what was going on with me and ran several tests. Eventually I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue. All my years of taking care of everyone except me had finally caught up to me. My body decided that it had had enough and completely gave out on me. For at least two weeks, last spring, I could barely get out of bed to use the bathroom and I would sleep for hours on end. My body hurt all over. After those two weeks, I was able to get up some, for small amounts of time, but I couldn’t really take care of myself and I definitely couldn’t take care of my boys. I did the best I could with help from others, but it was very difficult and incredibly frustrating. My whole life had to slow down, and I had to take it easy and say no to things I would normally say yes to. It took me months to fully recover and even now, if I start to over-do things, I can feel the symptoms start to creep up on me, telling my body to slow down.
During this struggle, I had given up all exercise and became the heaviest I’ve ever been (even heavier than any of my pregnancies). After the initial bout of Adrenal Fatigue, as life began to settle back in, my eating habits took another hit because I had yet again gone into survival mode and would eat whatever was easiest to make and whatever the kids liked. It was all about making life as easy and stress-free as possible for myself in an already super stressful and busy life. Admittedly, once I was feeling better most of the time, I began taking back on more responsibilities (though less than before) and I continued to put everyone else first. I continued to enable my husband’s lack of progress with his issues, I did 98% of the parenting, I drove kids to multiple activities 6 days of the week, I worked every other 7th day of the week at church, I hardly slept, and I felt overwhelmed and very alone. That’s when I finally decided that something needed to change.
So here we are in a new year and it is the perfect time to make that change a reality. The first thing I did was tell my husband that we needed some time and space apart. I told him that I loved him, but that he needed to get his shit together on his own now and come back when he was a better husband and father. That alone has been hard because it is really hard to watch someone you love fall apart and then fall apart more because they are afraid of losing you. I just know that I couldn’t put him first anymore because it was affecting my health and our kids needed at least one functioning parent. It also means that I had to face the reality that he might never pull his shit together enough for us to be a couple again and I had to be okay with letting him go if I it comes to that. Despite the inner struggle of wanting him to stay, but knowing he should go, I’ve been really strong at sticking to my guns and doing the hard thing, which I know is the right thing.
My next action for my “year of me” was to get myself healthy. That means eating healthier, exercising, and losing some weight. I’m totally addicted to sugar, which is a terrible thing. My dad has battled with his weight for as long as I can remember, and we would constantly beg him to take care of himself and do something about the way he ate. He never listened and ended up with diabetes and esophageal cancer. I don’t want my kids to be begging me to put down the cupcake, so I don’t get diabetes, so I’m determined to make myself healthy and kick the habit before it is too late. I know I can do it, I’ve done it twice before for a good amount of time and only stopped when life became too hard to handle. So, this week I am on a food detox and then for the next two weeks I have meal plans made up for me to get me back on the road to clean eating. I also got an elliptical that is up in my room and ready to use. I have promised myself that I will get on it, even if for just 10 minutes a day to start, after I am done with my detox (right now I feel like my body is starving and am too tired to do much). Despite my mother’s scoffs that it will become a clothes rack in my room, I am determined to do this. I figure I can get a quick exercise in before I shower.
My third action that I plan to put into place is to remove any negative people from my life. This one shouldn’t be too hard because one, I have amazing people in my life, and two, I don’t tend to put up with a lot of people’s crap anymore. I need people in my life who see me for who I am and love and support me. I need people who see that I’m wonder, loving, giving, passionate, and deserving of appreciation. I think the hardest person to get to see this was myself, but I have recently taken a hard look at myself and realized that I am better than the way I have been treated and I deserve more. The next hardest people to deal with will be my parents, who have a tendency to nay-say everything I do and constantly underestimate me (like the clothes rack comment). I’m going to have to figure out a way to minimize my interactions with them and only allow positive up-lifting conversations. That’s going to be hard because I usually talk to my mother every other day and because my mother and father watch way too much Fox news which just breeds negativity.
I know I’m only days into this promise to myself to make this “the year of me,” but I’m feeling positive and know I deserve it. I’ve spent so much time putting everyone else first, it is time I come first for a little while. I don’t want to run myself into the ground again or end up with something more serious than the health problems I had last year. I need to be healthy and be there for my kids, so this year I’m putting my own oxygen mask on first. I guess, in a way, my motives for my “year of me” aren’t even completely for me like the should be, but mostly for my kids, which means, even in a “year of me,” I’m still putting others first.

Stuck on the outside looking in

Facebook can be a great thing. It can reconnect you with old friends and keep you in touch with family, but it always has the downside of showing you all the things you are missing in life. I don’t mean all the fabulous vacations others are taking that you can’t afford, the the beautiful clean houses that you don’t live in, or the great restaurants that you are not eating at because you’ve got four kids to feed. I’m talking about the plans friends make with each other that you don’t get invited to.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be invited along every time friends get together, but there is definitely a tinge of sting that I feel in my heart when I repeatedly see groups of my friends getting together and I’m left out. It bothers me to know that I’m not an official part of the group, that I’m just an extra when there is room. It hurts me to know that I’m not anyone’s go to friend when they need something, have news to share, or want to go out. I don’t have a got to friend either. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in middle school and everyone has paired up, sharing their “best friends forever” necklaces with each other, but I have no one to give the other have of my heart charm to.

In Some ways I get it. I don’t live five minutes away from anyone. I have way too many kids and they are all boys. I’m also painfully aware that my oldest and his issues exclude me from a lot of plans and is a big reason I never get invited to family events with friends. He is a handful and there are times I don’t even want to be around him, so why would people who don’t have to be around him want to be around him? I’ve even had a best friend who ended our friendship completely because she didn’t like my oldest, despite knowing that I was struggling to try to help him. Of course, he is older now and stays home alone frequently to play video games, so it shouldn’t even be an issues. Then there is the issue of my husband though. Most of my friends have husbands who are also friends. They hang out as families, they hang out as couples. Well my husband isn’t exactly a social guy. He doesn’t enjoy going out, has social anxiety, and often backs out of doing group and couples things with me at the last minute. Then I end up as the odd woman out in a group of couples.

So even if I do my best to be a good friend, care for others, and try to make others smile, I’ve still got the deck stacked against me when it comes to being someone’s go to friend. Even though I’m the person that will talk to anyone, will find the loneliest looking person in the room to invite into the group, and would do anything for a friend, I’ve got lots of friends, including on Facebook, but I never get to be the friend in the picture, the friend with the other half of the heart charm, the best friend. I’m always just the person on the outside looking in.

My Story

Many women have been coming forward with their own stories of unreported sexual assault in support of Dr. Ford’s claim against Brett Kavanaugh. Many men, especially men in power, doubt Dr. Ford’s claim because she didn’t report it and view her allegations of sexual assault as a political ploy to undermine the nomination process. I fear that even men within my own family believe this to be a political ploy and dismiss Dr. Ford’s claim. I’m here to say that if they dismiss her claim, then they are dismissing my claims too, the ones I never reported and never even spoke of after they happened.

Unfortunately, I have been sexually assaulted various times, in various ways, and to various degrees; the first time happening around the age of eight. I don’t think I’ve ever confided in my parents about any of it but have spent many sessions in therapy discussing some of them. One experience kept creeping back into my consciousness as I listened to a discussion today on NPR about why women do not report sexual assault. This story, my own story, seems most closely aligned with Dr. Ford’s story and I’m guessing, many other women’s stories from their teens and 20s.

I had just finished my junior year of college and had been invited to visit a college friend in Long Island for the fourth of July weekend. This was a big deal for two reasons, one: I usually liked to be home for the fourth because my family always did a big celebration and 2: I was going to be going into NYC with my friend for only the second time unsupervised. We were going to have the freedom to go wherever we wanted and do whatever we wanted in the city. I drove out to long island to meet her and our exciting weekend began. We took the train into the city, caught up on what was going on since school ended, and she introduced me to her friends, who she had gone to high school with. It was one of those friends, who seemed so nice, that would later sexually assault me.

One night during my visit, one of her friends threw a party and we were all drinking. I’d been hanging out with these people for a couple of days now and they were some of my friend’s closest and oldest friends, so I felt safe with them. I was drinking and flirting with the boys at the party like I often would at a party in college. One of the boys showed an interest in me and I flirted even more with him despite having no real interest in him. I had a bad habit of toying with boys for attention, pretending to be more interested than I was, it made me feel powerful. Maybe that was one of the reasons I didn’t tell anyone what happened, I had felt like it was my own fault, like I deserved what happened. At one point during the party, I went off with the boy who was showing an interest in me. I think we were walking to someone else’s house in the neighborhood to get something, I don’t remember. I also don’t remember how I ended up of the ground, on the berm, between a parked car and a sidewalk. It was dark and late, and the boy was on top on me pinning me down. I was small, maybe 110lbs, and had had way too much to drink to fight someone off me. I remember him telling me that I wanted it, that I’d been flirting with him all night, and that I was a slut. I repeatedly told him no and to get off me, but he was fumbling with his belt buckle and every second I struggled he was closer to penetration. One of my greatest fears was about to happen, but then I was saved. A front porch light flipped on at the house we were in front of and an angry woman appeared at the door yelling at us to take it to our own yards or she’d call the police. I’m not sure if she realized what was really happening or ever knew that she saved me, but she in that moment was a distraction and I was able to jump up and run back to the party where my friend was.

When we got back to the party, I knew I couldn’t tell my friend. Everyone was drunk and having fun. No one was going to listen to my story. I just convinced her to take me back to her house. When I tried to leave, the guy, had taken my shoes and thrown them somewhere so I could only find one. I had to walk back to my friend’s house embarrassed with just one shoe. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I tried to decide if I should tell my friend. Would she believe me?  Would she blame me? Would she be mad at me? The next morning, I tried to approach the subject with her, but she seemed mad at me for “fighting” with her friend and sided with him about throwing my shoes, so I knew telling her that he tried to rape me was not an option. Instead, I just told her that I was homesick and wanted to go home early to be with my family for the fourth.

I drove home that morning and never said anything to my parents about what happened to me. I’m not sure I ever told anyone. I felt so ashamed, embarrassed, guiltily, and stupid. I blamed myself for putting myself in that situation and not being smarter. I felt bad for driving a wedge between my college friend and her high school friends. I felt even worse that she had seemed to side with him. I hardly spoke or eat for the next few days as I tried to come to grips with what happened. Eventually, I managed to bury the memory, push it way down inside so that I didn’t have to feel all the awful things I was feeling about it.

My friend and I didn’t talk again the rest of the summer and the following fall we started to hang out less and less until we just stopped seeing each other all together. I hated that seeing her would often bring up those memories and feeling from that night. It was just easier not to see her and to drink instead, so that’s what I did. I turned 21, started drinking more and smoking pot to escape what bothered me. I tried to take charge of my own sexuality, so I would never feel out of control of my own choices again, which lead to bad choices. At one point, I even shaved my head in an attempt to make myself a less likely target of the sexual assault and problems with men. None of that worked though and I continued to be affected by the assault even to this day.

That’s my story, or at least one of them. Some boy, who I don’t even remember the name of, a boy who probably doesn’t even remember me or this story, a boy who may or may not have done the same thing to other girls before or after me, attempted to force himself on me when I was 20, affecting me for the rest of my life. I’m sure he is out there somewhere today, a husband, a father, a little league coach, or employee of the month. His neighbors probably think he’s a really great guy and maybe he is now, but that doesn’t change what he did to me over 20 years ago or the effect that it has had on me every day since. I never reported his crime, his life wasn’t ruined by some stupid mistake he made as a teen, but parts of my life were. So, yes, I believe Dr. Ford and any other woman who is brave enough to stand up and admit that she was once sexually assaulted. Because women do not admit to sexual assault as a political ploy or for attention. They admit to sexual assault in an attempt to raise awareness and make the world a better place for women.

When chaos becomes the norm

“This week was super busy, but it was an off week. We had stuff going on that normal isn’t going on. Next week will be better, it will calm down and get back to normal.” I find myself saying this almost every week. I plan out my week on my dry erase calendar, all marked in color-coded activities for each kid, and something always seems to pop up that normally isn’t there. It might be a doctor’s appointment (we all need flu shots), something at school (I gave up PTSA, but am now art docent for two kids’ classes),  a meeting for homeschooling (did I mention I’m homeschooling the oldest now? That will have to be a whole other post), or some emergency (one of our puppies just spent a week in and out of veterinary hospitals needing two surgeries. Again, a whole other post.), but whatever it is, something always seems to work its way into our schedule each week, making it an atypical week. The problem is, that means there is no atypical week. Either that or, every week is atypical and chaos has just become our new norm.

I get it, I have five kids and people just assume my house is ruled by chaos, and to a certain point it is, but the chaos shouldn’t be in our weekly schedule every week. Yes, there will be some madness in the schedule, but it should be predictable madness. There is always that one day a week where you spend your entire day in the car shuttling everyone around because all kids happen to have some weekly activity on that same day. That is a predictable crazy day that you dread each week, but then it is over and the schedule is a little lighter the rest of the week. My problem is, the rest of my week never seems to be lighter. No matter what my monthly dry erase board says the week is suppose to look like, by the time I write out the weekly schedule on it’s own, sperate, color-coded weekly dry erase board (are you starting to get a picture here of what it is like to manage all these schedules?) something has popped up to be added to the schedule. When something doesn’t pop up to add as I write out the week’s schedule, then it is almost certain that some sickness or emergency will find it’s way into our week and completely throw it off. We are just in a constant state of flux and chaos. This means that every time I think I’m going to have a day to get stuff done or work on some home project that I’ve been trying to find time to do, those plans will inevitably be derailed by whatever pop up event/situation happens that week. I feel like I’m constantly spinning my wheels and never moving because, it is next to impossible to get anything more than the bare minimum done and some weeks  even that is more than I can handle. I know I’m not the only one, because I constantly talk to other busy moms who complain about similar issues. I also know that my case isn’t one of over scheduling my kids either, because I limit my kids to one activity at a time and I count therapies as activities, so that’s only 5 activities a week and three are done during the school day. So why can’t I get a grip on my life and rein in this chaos?

The truth is, I have no answer. I’m not sure that I ever can get out from under the chaos.  After all, I can’t predict nor completely prevent sickness or emergencies.  Things are always going to pop up on my schedule and many of those things will need to be done. What I can do though is, I can except life the way it is, chaos and all. I can learn that life is many moments of chaos strung together, ocassionally broken up by a calm. I can find away to work with the chaos instead of against it and use wisely the occasional down time I am granted. I’d encourage all the moms out there who are dealing with weekly chaos to do the same, because life really never is still or perfect so embrace the chaos and except it as your new norm.

Mom, her four boys, and the heinous, horrible, no good, very bad day

Of course there is poop on your shorts. Somehow, magically, there is poop on your shorts in my freshly cleaned bathroom, even though you are nearly 7 and haven’t had an accident of any sort in about 4 years. That’s just the kind of day I’m having. The kind of day where everything goes wrong from the moment you wake up. The kind of day in which you question why you had kids, let alone four of them. The kind of day you just want to be over, but everyone refuses to go to sleep despite being beyond tired. The kind of day you want to forget, but feel compelled to write about.

The heinousness of this day had been foreshadowing for at least two days prior to its arrival. That’s not to say that the two days leading up to it were anywhere near as heinous as today was, but it was definitely a “well, what did you expect?! You should have known this was going to happen!” kind of day. I had set my alarm earlish this morning, but it was a rare morning in which the kids didn’t actually both me for the hour leading up to my alarm and I was enjoying a blissful dream in which I had a totally different life, one way less stressful and kidcentric, one in which I actually got to make decisions for myself and eat warm meals. Apparently, immersed in this blissful dream, I’d managed to hit my snooze button not once, but twice, waking me 20 minutes later than I’d planned. I came downstairs to find the mess of toys I’d been yelling about needing to be picked up for two days now, still all over the floor. The boys were in different stages of undress and completely engrossed in a show that had more time left to it than we could sit in watch. They ignored me as I gave them the same two commands over and over while trying to get breakfast made for the four of them (despite the fact that two of them are perfectly capable of making their own). After about the 30th time of being ignored, I flipped the TV off and gave them the same two commands another 30 times. No one was listening and I felt like I was a ghost in the room that they couldn’t see or hear. I had a 10:30 class at the gym this morning and I’d missed every class I tried to get to so far this week because of the kids and last week we were on vacation, so I missed the gym completely, I wasn’t going to miss class today even if I had to leave to kids home to fend for themselves (okay, fine, I couldn’t do that, I’m pretty sure it isn’t legal).  We had about 30 minutes to get those who weren’t dressed yet dressed, brush everyone’s teeth, get the toys picked up enough for the cleaners to come today (yes I have cleaners, I couldn’t possibly keep up with the disastrous mess my four boys make all on my own. Don’t judge!), get four kids and myself fed, load the car for the day, and get out the door. This would be doable if my kids didn’t sabotage my efforts at every turn. There was the kid who didn’t like the breakfast he asked for and wanted something new, that same kid also peed on his shirt while going to the bathroom (personally I’ve never had that problem, but somehow it happened) ,the kid who kept returning to the trampoline to bounce after each toy he picked up, the kid who couldn’t tie his shoes, but wouldn’t wear his flip flops, and the kid who spilled his bag of Kix all over the carpet in front of the door just as I was about to walk out it.

Fortunately, we made it to the gym and I managed to get everyone into day care so that I was only 2 minutes late for class and there was still room in the corner for me to squeeze into class. I thought maybe this meant that my day was going to turn around, but boy was I wrong. After the gym, we had some time to kill before it was our time to swim at the pool. I needed to get the boys lunch, which you’d think would be a nice thing that they’d appreciate, but instead they just whined and complained because two of them wanted Panda Express and two of them wanted Taco Time. I took them to a local sandwich shop I’d been wanting to try. They all whined and complained that they wanted brownies and cookies and chocolate milk. Then the oldest messed with everything he could get his hands on to make a mess while my youngest darted for the open door and attempted to kill himself in the parking lot. We sat outside to eat where it was “too sunny,” “too windy,” and “too cold.” My youngest tried to kill himself in the parking lot again while the older ones chased him and encouraged him to run to his death. There were also food issues, crow issues, and sticky issues. I should’ve just loaded them in the van and taken them home right then, but no, I was determined to make this a better day.

So, stupid me, I took them back to the gym after lunch to get bands so we could swim. I’ve been promising to take them swimming at the gym for two months and we hadn’t gone yet, so today as going to be the day. We had a half hour to kill, so I brought mad libs to do with the boys, only I didn’t have a sharpened pencil with me. So the boys entertained themselves by running around like idiots, climbing on things, and the youngest tried to go up the stairs every time I looked away. When it was finally our time to swim, I told everyone to go to the bathroom before going to the pool. My four year old refused because he had gone after lunch. My two year old attempted to flush himself down the handicap toilet after escaping under the door of the stall I was in. I took the two older boys to do their deep water test so they could go down the water slide and play in the more fun section of the pool. Unfortunately, they wanted to boys to swim a lot further than their swim instructor had made them, so they couldn’t pass the test. I was then informed that you are only allowed to have two kids per adult that are “non-swimmers” and since my older two boys couldn’t pass the test, they really weren’t supposed to let us in the pool (despite the fact that both older boys could touch in all parts of the pool and were going to be required to wear life jackets too – I think it is a racket to get people to sign up for more swim lessons). I must have given her a “you’ve got to be shitting me!” look, so she allowed us to do it just this once, but we had to stay in the toddler section of the pool. Well that went over like a ton of bricks with my older boys who have been eyeing the water slide for two months now. I was instructed to stay within arms-reach of all four boys at all times while in the pool. Let me tell you how easy that wasn’t, especially since I only have two arms. It didn’t help that we had just returned from vacation where the two older boys swam all around the pool at the hotel and went down the waterslide without me needing for be arms-length away. Even my four year old was swimming all around the pool with his life jacket by the end of the trip. So these restrictions naturally lead my oldest to melt down and cry, partly out of frustration and partly out of embarrassment that they didn’t think he was as good a swimmer as we knew him to be (I’m sure he felt disappointed after working so hard at his swim lessons the beginning of the summer too). While he melted down, my two year old decided that he wanted to jump in unassisted, and my four year old decided that he suddenly needed to poop…NOW! I had to get all four boys out of the pool, but couldn’t convince the two older ones to come into the bathroom with me so I told them to wait outside the bathroom and not to go near the water. Of course, none of this was quick enough and my four year old and he crapped himself just before I could get him on the toilet. Luckily, my boys have a fear of wearing swim suits without underwear, so all the crap landed in his underwear, not his bathing suit, so I just threw them out. As I dealt with that crappy situation, my two year old decided that it would be fun to play with the soap dispenser in the bathroom and get it all over himself and wouldn’t stay away from it no matter how many times I pulled him away or yelled at him. When we were finished in the bathroom, I came out to find that my older two hadn’t changed their usual behavior of not listening to me and were in the pool. That was it for me! I told my younger two that they had three minutes and then were out of there, vowing to never bring them back. My oldest ran off to the locker room without his dry clothes, so I had to herd him back out and the three others into a private changing room so I could get them all showered off and changed. That was a fun experience, said no mother ever.

We left the gym all unhappy and angry. I looked at the clock and realized that we still had an hour and a half until the farmer’s market opened and it was too late in the day to drive home without kids falling asleep. I also felt bad that the pool had been such a disaster, so, still determined to turn this day around, I decided to take my kids over to the library for a bit because, you know, that’s where you take four, rowdy, pissed off, tired boys. That went over better than I expected. My oldest was actually good and took a real interest in researching computers and technology, take many books out on the subject. My six year old also found some good books and practiced his reading. I only had to yell at my four year old a handful of times not to run or scream in the library and my two year old only had two or three full on screaming melt downs.

Thinking this might be a turning point, I took the boys to the park for a bit before the farmer’s market opened. I was feeling renewed hope by the time we walked up to the market. “This is it! We are finally going to have the nice day I’ve been striving for all day. We’ll get food, have fun, make good memories that will overshadow the rest of the day, and then head home for an early bedtime.” I mistakenly thought. It quickly became apparent though that these kids desperately needed food because they had only pretend eaten at lunch. So as I waited in line for quesadillas for some of the kids and then walked my six year old to every food stand trying to convince him to pick something, my other kids dug ice cubes out of the drink coolers at the food stands and threw them at people. Once my six year old finally decided to get dumplings (which were only supposed to take 5 minutes, but took 20 to cook), I got my kids seated to eat their quesadillas, only now they all wanted dumplings. As I went back and forth to the various food stands we had bought our food at, picking up the food, my kids sat quietly in the grass. No, that didn’t happen at all. What happened was, they chased each other, threw shoes at each other, and eventually my four year old threw a container of soy sauce at my six year old and got it all in his eye. I’m sure the people who were sitting not so close to us were all thinking that my kids had just escaped from some wild zoo exhibit. My oldest, who ate most of his own quesadilla, then circled the six year old like a vulture once he finally got his dumplings. The cries for dumplings from those who got quesadillas began again, so I ordered more dumplings for them to split. When they were finally finished eating, they all acted surprised and indignant that I wouldn’t let them get some Hawaiian shaved ice, like their shoe and soy sauce throwing behavior shouldn’t be held against them.  Despite everything, I still braved more of the farmer’s market with the goal of being there late enough that it would be okay for the littler ones to fall asleep on the care ride home. So we wandered the venders while the kids touched things they weren’t supposed to, ran off on me, whined more, fought over popcorn (yes I bought more food), and were just generally exhausting and irritating. I knew it was time to go when the two year old melted down for the 97th time that day. We made one last stop at the bathroom, which I had to force my four year old into and good thing too because he clearly needed to pee, braved the gauntlet of the parking lot, and made it to the car. The kids were given strict instructions that it would be a quiet ride home. Knowing I had them all at least temporarily contained, I took the long way hope and silently prayed that at least two would fall asleep and stay asleep once we got home.

Two kids did fall asleep before we got home, but fate was not kind enough to me to allow them to stay asleep for me so we could have an easy bedtime.  Instead, my six year old began talking loudly the minute we got hope and then the UPS truck made a loud noise as it put out a ramp to deliver several packages to a neighbor. I finally managed to get the youngest back to sleep and sneak out of the room so I could deal with the other three, but by then, the other child who was sleeping was awake and hungry. Then the other boys were hungry too despite eating their weight in food from the different food stands at the market! It was as I doled out snacks to those awake that I heard the six year old call me from the bathroom to inform me of the mysterious poop smear on his shorts. At that point I about completely lost it, but I held it together just long enough to herd the boys upstairs and hear the youngest wake up.  Perfect, just perfect!

My Dad’s Legacy

While sick with cancer, my father once expressed concern about how his kids would remember him when he was gone. I think he thought that some of the things we give him a hard time about were the things we were going to remember the most about him after he died. In our family the rule tends to be, if we love you, we give you a hard time. Well my dad has live 69 years and I have known him for almost 40 now which means I’ve had plenty of time to give him a hard time, but those jokes and razzings aren’t the things I’m going to remember most about my dad when he’s gone because there is so much more to him.

I’ll remember my dad traveling for work a lot when I was little and always anxiously waiting for him to get home. He’d bring me treasures like giant pencils or cheap plastic wallets purchased at airport gift shops in exotic locations like Dallas and Denver.

I’ll remember my dad for the times he’d sit on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons with us. He’d laugh louder at Bugs Bunny’s shenanigans than any of us.

I’ll remember his obsession with cleaning his car. Sometimes he’d let us help him wash it in the driveway on the weekends. Other times he’d let us ride through the local car wash with him, always waiting until we were at the sprayers and then cracking our windows just enough to get us wet. He never failed to get us, even when we knew it as coming. He’d always keep paper towels and Windex in his trunk and before any long car ride he would be sure to pull them out and clean his windows.

I’ll remember him as a fire buff. He was a member of the Boston Sparks Association and was even president at one time. He had a fire scanner blasting in almost every room of the house (it drove my mom nuts). He’d turn the volume way up to listen if there was a fire. If the fire was big enough, he’d race out the door to go to it. Sometimes he’d go with the BSA and bring their canteen truck to serve food and beverages to the fire fighters on the job (if I was lucky, I got to go with him). Other times he’d just go to watch and talk with the people there. It often seemed like my dad would talk to just about anybody. He was like a little kid when it came to the fire department. He even owned an antique fire truck with a couple of friends for several years. I loved it because we got to ride on it in parades. Plus not many kids could say their dad owned a fire truck! I’m sure it was his love for all things fire department that led to my brother becoming a fire fighter and my dad couldn’t be prouder.

I’ll remember my dad’s love for all things Boston, the city in which he grew up in. My dad would take us for special days into the city and teach us about the city’s history. He took us to places like the Boston Tea Party ship, the top of the John Hancock Building, Bunker Hill, Copps Hill, to see Old Iron Side, to walk around Castle Island, and Faneuil Hall. He made me love the city and sparked a keen interest in the revolutionary war. He also took me to my first Red Sox Game at Fenway Park when I was about 3 or 4 years old. Most of my life he had season tickets just behind third base. I spent many summer evenings there with him. We’d always park kind of far away and walk in past the Fens, grab some peanuts from the old singing peanuts and pistachio guy, enjoy some Fenway Franks and a large pretzel inside the park, and he’d tell me about all the players. He taught me that, up until the past decade or so, the one thing you could count on the Red Sox for (and all Boston area sports teams) was to get your hopes up and then let you down hard. He’d get mad when they were losing, changing to channel temporally if we were watching the game on TV at home, but he’d always come back to them.  He took me to Celtics Games too as a kid, back when Bird and Parrish played and their shorts were short. We’d sit a few rows back from the Celtic’s bench and my siblings and I would get all the players’ autographs. Despite my begging, he wouldn’t take me to a Patriot’s game (he said the crowd was too rowdy), but he taught me to love them too. Every Sunday in the fall was dedicated to football. I still remember watching most of the Patriots-Bears Super Bowl in ’86 with my dad. I knew they had lost by my dad’s disappointed shouts echoing up the stairs as I lay in bed trying to sleep.

I’ll remember my dad as the man who was known by everybody. Like I said before, he loved to talk and would talk to just about anybody. He was a member of several social groups including the BSA and the local Rotary Club. Almost every place we went my dad saw someone he knew. At the baseball games he’d always run into several people he knew, having a lobster roll up in Maine he’d run into someone he hadn’t seen in years, even all the way down in Florida at Disney World he’d run into people he knew. I will never forget the time we were parking our car in a parking garage several stories up on our way to a Celtics game, he got out of the car, looked out at the building across the way from us and there, hanging out a window trying to talk on a phone while the smoke alarm was going off in his apartment was a guy my dad knew waving at him. He knew people everywhere!

I’ll remember my dad as the man who worked hard to take care of his family. He worked hard to give us a beautiful house in which we each had our own room and a large beautiful backyard which he spent days every summer mulching. He provided us with family trips to amusement parks, Lake George, Disney World, and even a winter break at a hotel with a pool just so we could swim even though he didn’t know how to. He worked multiple jobs while I was in college to help keep me from having enormous debt in the form of student loans when I finished. He also took on the traditional role of father of the bride, despite it being an outdated custom, and paid for my amazing wedding.

I’ll remember my dad as the doting grandpa we call “Papi.” He might not have the energy to play for very long with the kids, but he loves to watch them play. He will swoop in, grab them, flip them upside-down, and tickle them, and they love it. Whenever he visits he brings them fire shirts to pass along his love for the profession. He’s also notorious for buying his grandkids donuts, even though they don’t need the extra sugar. He just loves to spoil them.

I’ll remember my dad for a lot of things after he is gone; for all the things he taught me, all the things he instilled in me, for all the traits I get from him, for all the things he did with and for me, and for all the love he gave me. So Dad, you don’t have to worry about the legacy you are leaving behind or how we will remember you when you are gone, because you have given us a lifetime of memories and hopefully we will have many more years to make new ones too.

Parenting my parents

When you are a kid your parents seem invincible. They are like superheroes, always there when you need them, seem to have eyes in the back of their head, have an answer for everything, and are strong enough to help you get through anything life can throw at you. As you get older though, you start to notice the cracks in their armor and begin to realize that your parents are people too. As a teen you might question whether your parents really know what is best and you begin to challenge their authority. When you become a parent, you see your parents in a new light, gaining a new sense of understanding and respect for your parents as well as for all they did for you growing up. Still, your parents seem pretty invincible, like they will always be there. Unfortunately, parents aren’t invincible superheroes and we all learn that at some point. The weight of this truth can feel crushing.

I can still remember the first time I saw my dad as vulnerable. I was in eighth grade, sitting upstairs in my brother’s room attempting to beat one of the early Mario brother games when I heard a strange noise downstairs. My brother and I ran downstairs to the kitchen to find my dad doing something we had never seen before, he was crying. My dad had just learned that his best friend had died of a heart attack and was grieving openly in our kitchen. We had no idea what to do or how to react. Here was our strong, unmovable father, crumpled and heart broken. This was the first time it occurred to me that my dad was human and that he too felt emotions other than joy and anger (the two most commonly expressed by him). It was hard to see and it left me with a deep sadness, but also a new view of my dad.

My view of my dad changed again, many years later, when I was an adult and a parent myself. We were at my grandfather’s wake, my father’s father, and my last living grandparent. I wasn’t super close with my dad’s parent and they had lived very long full lives, so I mostly just felt really sad for my dad because he had lost both of his parents now. The thought that struck me in that moment of standing there, watching my dad grieve again, this time for his own father, was one for panic and sadness. All my life I’d had grandparents around me, growing older, getting sick, and dying, but now there was no longer a generation between my parents and death, they were now the ones that would be getting older, sick, and dying. I felt like a clock had been started, like a countdown to their expiration date. I realized that there was only a finite amount of years left before they would be gone and I’d have to figure out how to live in a world without the two people who had always been a part of my life. This thought formed a pit in my stomach that I pushed deep down inside of me.

Years have passed since my last living grandparent died and my parents have become grandparents several more times since then. There have been health scares with my parents since then, my mom fought breast cancer, dad’s got diabetes and had a pacemaker put in, but nothing that has truly worried us about their age and mortality, until now. At the beginning of this year my dad was diagnosed with esophageal and stomach cancer. He was classified as stage 2-B and had radiation and chemo for a few months. At the beginning of last month he had part of his stomach removed in an attempt to take out whatever cancer was left. He spent two weeks in the hospital and came home on a feeding tube. I flew out to help my mom with caring for him and to give her moral support after he came home. I was able to stay and help out for a week. While I was there they found out that he has been reclassified as stage 3-B and would need to undergo 4 ½ more month of chemo, this time a much heavier duty type of chemo (the killing kind as they call it).

The week I spent at my parent’s house was very different from anything I’d ever experienced, but it seems to be an all too common experience shared by many adults around my age that I know. I was no longer the child my parent’s cared for back for a visit, instead, I had become the care taker. My parents were both in vulnerable positons, my father due to illness and my mother due to stress and exhaustion from caring for my sick father. They both needed me in a way I had never experienced before. My father was physically weak, unable to do much for himself, he was thinner than any recent memory of him, and he expressed his concern over needing more chemo almost the first moment I talked to him. He was not the dad I had known all my life. My mom was emotionally zapped. In the days leading up to my visit, she called multiple times, expressing how anxious she was for me to get there; I felt like the countdown to my arrival couldn’t move fast enough for her. She was so relieved to have help and company when I got there. Her exhaustion showed and the worry was visible on her face. I just hugged her hard and long, wanting to somehow convey that feeling that everything was going to be alright that she used to make me feel during tough situations.

Seeing my father so sick also hit home the mortality of my parents. That pit that first formed at my grandfather’s wake grew larger and began to feel more overwhelming. Despite anything my family may say about my dad and his lack of caring for his own health over the years, no matter how unhealthy or sick he might get, we are not ready to say goodbye to him. Losing a parent just isn’t something I’m ready to deal with yet, I’m not sure I’ll ever be, but it is something we all have to deal with eventually.

As our parents get older our roles tend to switch. We go from our parents caring for us, worrying about our health and safety, and planning for our future, to us being the ones taking caring of our parents in their old age, calling to check-in after ever doctor’s appointment, and worrying about a future without them. We, in a sense, become our parents’ parent.

My dad is doing better now, though still recovering. He recently had his feeding tube out, but is still on a liquid diet and he has been getting out of the house more, though he tires very easily. He has also recently made a decision about his future. After weighing his options and all the possible outcomes with his doctor, my father has made the decision that he will not undergo more chemo. So, like a good parent always does, I am supporting my father’s decision, because I only want what is best for him, but I still worry about his future. For now I will relinquish my role as parent back to him and I pray that we will get many more good years before I have to become my parents’ parent again.

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